Monday, June 30, 2008

Prayers, Tears, and Truth

He lived in a kind of rapture and perpetual ecstasy. He prayed without ceasing, wept, fasted, yearned. Each of his syllogisms is as a concretion of his prayer and his tears; the kind of grace of lucid calm which his words bring to us springs doubtless from the fact that the least of his texts retains invisibly the impregnation of his longing and of the pure strength of the most vehement love. While he was living, did not the mere bodily sight of him procure, according to his contemporaries, a grace of spiritual consolation? The masterpiece of strict and rigorous intellectuality, of intrepid logic, is thus brimming over from a heart possessed by charity.
On his return to Naples after the death of Thomas, Reginald was to exclaim: "As long as he was living my Master prevented me from revealing the marvels that I witnessed. He owed his knowledge less to the effort of his mind than to the power of his prayer. Every time he wanted to study, discuss, teach, write or dictate, he first had recourse to the privacy of prayer, weeping before God in order to discover in the truth the divine secrets, and, though he had been in uncertainty before praying, as a result of his prayer he came back instructed." When doubtful points would arise, Bartolommeo di Capua likewise reports, he would go to the altar and would stay there weeping many tears and uttering great sobs, then return to his room and continue his writings.

--Jacques Maritain, St. Thomas Aquinas, 47

Sunday, June 29, 2008

St. Bernard : He Gave Me Back Myself

I must love Him more than I love myself because, besides myself, He gives me also Himself, a gift of infinitely greater worth. [....] If, then, I owe myself entire to my Creator, what shall I give my Re-Creator more? The means of our re-making, too, think what they cost! It was far easier to make than to redeem; for God had but to speak the word and all things were created, me included; but He Who made me by a word, and made me once for all, spent on the task of my re-making many words and many marvellous deeds, and suffered grievous and humiliating wrongs.
[...]

By His first work He gave me to myself; and by the next He gave Himself to me. And when He gave Himself, He gave me back myself that I had lost. Myself for myself, given and restored, I double owe to Him. What, though, shall I return Him for Himself? A thousand of myself would be as nothing in respect of Him?

--St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Love of God, 5.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Need a Laugh? : Psychiatrist and Proctologist

Got this in an email:
Two doctors, a psychiatrist and a proctologist, opened an office in a small town and put up a sign reading:
"Dr. Smith and Dr. Jones: Hysterias and Posteriors"

The town council was not happy with the sign, so the doctors changed it to read,
"Schizoids and Hemorrhoids"

This was not acceptable either, so in an effort to satisfy the council, they changed the sign to
"Catatonics and High Colonics"

No go. Next, they tried
"Manic Depressives and Anal Retentives"

Thumbs down, again. Then came
"Minds and Behinds"

Still no good. Another attempt resulted in
"Lost Souls and Butt Holes"

Unacceptable again! So they tried
"Analysis and Anal Cysts"

Not a chance. "Too graphic," said the council. So they tried
"Nuts and Butts"

Definitely not.
"Freaks and Cheeks"

Shot down, again.
"Loons and Moons"

Forget it. Almost at their wit's end, the doctors finally came up with:
"Dr. Smith and Dr. Jones:
Odds and Ends."

Everyone loved it.

Krauthammer on Obama :

First, there was Fund (amongst others). Now, Krauthammer's "The Ever-Malleable Mr. Obama" continues to reveal more about Obama's politics:

"To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies." -- Obama spokesman Bill Burton, Oct. 24, 2007

That was then: Democratic primaries to be won, netroot lefties to be seduced. With all that (and Hillary Clinton) out of the way, Obama now says he'll vote in favor of the new FISA bill that gives the telecom companies blanket immunity for post-Sept. 11 eavesdropping.

Back then, in the yesteryear of primary season, he thoroughly trashed the North American Free Trade Agreement, pledging to force a renegotiation, take "the hammer" to Canada and Mexico and threaten unilateral abrogation.

Today the hammer is holstered. Obama calls his previous NAFTA rhetoric "overheated" and essentially endorses what one of his senior economic advisers privately told the Canadians: The anti-trade stuff was nothing more than populist posturing.

[...]

The truth about Obama is uncomplicated. He is just a politician (though of unusual skill and ambition). The man who dared say it plainly is the man who knows Obama all too well. "He does what politicians do," explained Jeremiah Wright.

When it's time to throw campaign finance reform, telecom accountability, NAFTA renegotiation or Jeremiah Wright overboard, Obama is not sentimental. He does not hesitate. He tosses lustily.

Why, the man even tossed his own grandmother overboard back in Philadelphia -- only to haul her back on deck now that her services are needed. Yesterday, granny was the moral equivalent of the raving Reverend Wright. Today, she is a featured prop in Obama's fuzzy-wuzzy get-to-know-me national TV ad.

Not a flinch. Not a flicker. Not a hint of shame. By the time he's finished, Obama will have made the Clintons look scrupulous.

Ouch.

Fund on Obama's Gaffes

In "The Obama Gaffe Machine," John Fund reveals a very telling side to Sen. Obama and the media coverage of his campaign:

As smart and credentialed as he is, Sen. Obama is often an indifferent speaker without a teleprompter. He has large gaps in his knowledge base, and is just as likely to dig in and embrace a policy misstatement as abandon it. ABC reporter Jake Tapper calls him "a one-man gaffe machine."

Take the Auschwitz flub, where Mr. Obama erroneously claimed last weekend in New Mexico that his uncle helped liberate the Nazi concentration camp. Reporters noted Mr. Obama's revised claim, that it was his great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald. They largely downplayed the error. Yet in another, earlier gaffe back in 2002, Mr. Obama claimed his grandfather knew U.S. troops who liberated Auschwitz and Treblinka – even though only Russian troops entered those concentration camps.

That hardly disqualifies Mr. Obama from being president. But you can bet that if Hillary Clinton had done the same thing it would have been the focus of much more attention, especially after her Bosnia sniper-fire fib. That's because gaffes are often blown up or downplayed based on whether or not they further a story line the media has attached to a politician.

When John McCain claimed, while on a trip to Iraq in March, that Sunni (as opposed to Shiite) militants in Iraq are being supported by Iran, coverage of the alleged blunder tracked Democratic attacks on his age and stamina. (In fact, Iran may well be supplying both Sunni and Shiite militants.) Dan Quayle, tagged with a reputation as a dumb blond male, never lived down his misspelling of "potatoe."

Mr. Obama, a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, has largely been given a pass for his gaffes. Many are trivial, such as his suggestion this month that America has 57 states, and his bizarre statement in a Memorial Day speech in New Mexico that America's "fallen heroes" were present and listening to him in the audience.

Some gaffes involve mangling his family history. Last year in Selma, Ala., for example, he said that his birth was inspired by events there which took place four years after he was born. While this gaffe can be chalked up to fatigue or cloudy memory, others are more substantive – such as his denial last April that it was his handwriting on a questionnaire in which, as a state senate candidate, he favored a ban on handguns. His campaign now contends that, even if it was his handwriting, this doesn't prove he read the full questionnaire.

Mr. Obama told a Portland, Ore., crowd this month that Iran doesn't "pose a serious threat to us," saying that "tiny countries" with small defense budgets aren't much to worry about. But Iran has almost one-fourth the population of the U.S. and is well on its way to developing nuclear weapons. The next day Mr. Obama had to reverse himself and declare he had "made it clear for years that the threat from Iran is grave."

Last week in Orlando, Fla., he said he would meet with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez to discuss, among other issues, Chávez's support of the Marxist FARC guerrillas in Colombia. The next day, in Miami, he insisted any country supporting the FARC should suffer "regional isolation." Obama advisers were left explaining how this circle could be squared.

In a debate last July, Mr. Obama pledged to meet, without precondition, the leaders of Iran, North Korea, Syria and Cuba. He called President Bush's refusal to meet with them "ridiculous" and a "disgrace."

Heavily criticized, Mr. Obama dug in rather than backtrack. He's claimed, in defense of his position, that John F. Kennedy's 1961 summit with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna was a crucial meeting that led to the end of the Cold War.

Not quite. Kennedy himself admitted he was unprepared for Khrushchev's bullying. "He beat the hell out of me," Kennedy confided to advisers. The Soviet leader reported to his Politburo that the American president was weak. Two months later, the Berlin Wall was erected and stood for 28 years.

Reporters may now give Mr. Obama's many gaffes more notice. But don't count on them correcting an implicit bias in writing about such faux pas.

Over the years, reporters have tagged a long list of conservative public figures, from Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, as dim and uninformed. The reputation of some of these men has improved over time. But can anyone name a leading liberal figure who has developed a similar media reputation, even though the likes of Al Gore, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have committed substantial gaffes at times? No reporter I've talked to has come up with a solid example.

A Weak Democratic Party, Obama, and McCain's Real "Bipartisanship"

In "Democrats and Our Enemies," Senator Lieberman takes the Democratic Party to task for turning away from the strong, pro-America foreign policy of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy (and even in a way Clinton). As he does so, he brings up an interesting point:

When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years.

Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party's left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.

In this, Sen. Obama stands in stark contrast to John McCain, who has shown the political courage throughout his career to do what he thinks is right – regardless of its popularity in his party or outside it.

Hmmm. Apparently, McCain is more the "post-partisan," "bipartisan" candidate.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz

My next purchase: Chant: Music For The Soul by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, an ancient monastery in Austria.

You can watch a little intro to the monastery and the CD here: "The Cistercian Monks Of Stift Heiligenkreuz - EPK."

Or watch this:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ajami and Anti-American Hype

Whenever Fouad Ajami publishes something, I try to read it. His Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey is a great read which leads the reader into many of the key events of the intellectual (mostly literary) world of 20th-century Arab life and culture. His latest essay makes the case that "Anti-Americanism Is Mostly Hype." Is it?

I grew up in the Arab world in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and anti-Americanism was the standard political language – even for those pining for American visas and green cards. Precious few took this seriously. The attraction to the glamorous, distant society was too strong in the Beirut of my boyhood.

[...]

No Turkish malady is caused by America, and no cure can come courtesy of the Americans. The Turks giving vent to anti-Americanism are doing a parody of Europe: They were led to believe that the Europe spurning them, and turning down their membership in its club, is given to anti-Americanism, so they took to the same fad. Turkish anti-Americanism is no doubt fueled by the resentment within Turkey of the American war in Iraq that gave protection and liberty to the Kurds. No apology is owed the Turks; indeed, it is they who must reconsider their intolerance of minorities. If the Turks were comfortable with the abnormality of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, it is they who have a problem.

And if there is enthusiasm for Barack Obama on foreign shores, his rise to fame and power must be a tribute to the land that has made this possible. Where else would a boy of marginality and relative poverty find his way to the peak of political life? Certainly not in his father's Kenya, where the tribal origins of the Obamas would have determined young Barack's life-chances. In an Arab world hemmed in by pedigree, where rulers bequeath power to their sons and the lot of the sons is invariably that of the fathers, the tale of Obama is fantasy.

[...]

Meanwhile, a maligned American president now returns from a Europe at peace with American leadership. In France, Germany and Italy, center-right governments are eager to proclaim their identification with American power. Jacques Chirac is gone. Now there is Nicolas Sarkozy, who offered a poetic tribute last November to the American soldiers who fell on French soil, before a joint session of the U.S. Congress. "The children of my generation," he said, "understood that those young Americans, 20 years old, were true heroes to whom they owed the fact that they were free people and not slaves. France will never forget the sacrifice of your children."

The great battle over the Iraq war has subsided, and Europeans who ponder the burning grounds of the Islamic world know the distinction between fashionable anti-Americanism and the international order underpinned by American power. George W. Bush may have been indifferent to political protocol, but he held the line when it truly mattered, and the Europeans have come to understand that appeasement of dictators and brigands begets its own troubles.

It is one thing to rail against the Pax Americana. But after the pollsters are gone, the truth of our contemporary order of states endures. We live in a world held by American power – and benevolence. Nothing prettier, or more just, looms over the horizon.

A thought-provoking read, even if you disagree.

Weigel on Church Latin : Sic et Non

"Latin Days Are Here Again?" George Weigel asks, Are they? Well, sic et non:

Will this Benedictine reform-of-the-reform mean that every Catholic parish will soon have at least one Sunday celebration of mass in Latin, using the Missal of John XXIII? It seems unlikely, not least because very few priests today are competent Latinists. But in those places where the Latin mass of 1962 is celebrated reverently and without nostalgic accretions (lace-bedecked older vestments, for example), it will be a source of spiritual nourishment for the minority that prefers this way of worship, even as it introduces a new generation to what will be, for them, a new form of liturgy. In international settings, the use of this rite in Latin may help revive that ancient tongue as a common Catholic language for common worship--no small matter in an increasingly diverse and pluralistic church. Among scholars and parish clergy alike, the more widespread celebration of mass according to the Missal of John XXIII may prove to be the reformist magnet that Benedict XVI wants it to be, encouraging those who are already at work re-sacralizing the liturgy.

And the net result, over time? Almost certainly not "Latin days are here again" in every Catholic parish but rather a more reverent, more prayerful celebration of mass according to a reformed missal of 1970--and according to what the Second Vatican Council actually prescribed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Finally! Schall on Sokolowski's latest : Phenomenology of the Human Person

I have waited some time for this book to come out: Phenomenology of the Human Person by Fr. Robert Sokolowski.

From Fr. Schall's review, it sounds like the book will outdo all expectations:

"The kind of life that incorporates intelligence clarifies what life is. We are, therefore, special, after all, in the way we are 'selves.' These are all issues in the philosophy of being. There is no such thing as epistemology separated from metaphysics." -- Robert Sokolowski [1]

[...]

The book is nothing less than a masterpiece of philosophical clarity and depth of understanding. The book draws on a lifetime devoted to teaching, writing, conversing, and meditating on the great issues and minds--Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and particularly Edmund Husserl, though not neglecting the moderns before and after him. The great questions are asked: "How do we know?" "What is it we know?" "Why do we know?"

Sokolowski does not think that the task of the philosopher is only to ask questions but also to give as clear and basic, yes, as truthful an answer to them as possible. The purpose of philosophy, as he often says, is to "make distinctions" whereby we can finally understand what is. Fully to understand something is to know its truth. It is also to speak this same truth to others, to listen to others speaking of it. All the while we know that we are not gods. The gods know the truth; we human beings only seek it, love it. But our seeking is not a form of skepticism that denies any possibility of knowing anything. Rather it is a step by step verification of what we do know. Our ignorance comes from too much light, not from no light at all. "Truth is the conformity of the mind with reality," as Aquinas often said. This book explains this sentence.

[...]

On finishing this remarkable book, my judicious advice to all past and present students of philosophy, or theology, or any thing else for that matter, is simply to drop everything. Read this book! It is a free education in everything you ever wanted to know but never found out where to go to find it. Indeed, it is an education in what you wanted to know even if you did not know you wanted to know it. This book comes as close as any that I know to putting everything together in a concise, intelligible way.

[...]

If there is any one problem with which the book is most concerned, it is the so-called epistemological problem. That is, how is it that we can know reality and not our own "image" of reality? How is it that we know that we know and at the same time know that what we know really exists? Sokolowski is at pains to show where this epistemological problem came from in the history of philosophy. He presents a careful thesis about how one is to explain what a philosopher wants to articulate but, in the process, often ends up making things worse. The way we know "things" and not "representations" of things is in some ways the most fundamental problem of particularly modern philosophy.

[...]

Yet, it is a surprise. It is this "surprise" that each of us is, in our very being, an "agent," that is, an actor in the world that we did not cause to be. Truth, Aquinas said, exists in the "mind." But it is in the mind affirming what is there, what is not in its own mind. Something is there besides ourselves, but we can know it and in knowing it, also know our own knowing and its ways. But knowing involves truth. We all must begin here. This is what Sokolowski's penetrating book is about. This is a book of our time, a time that needs to know that it can know the truth—and that it can also lie to itself if it doesn't.

Ours is a time that needs to know that time is itself under the sway of being, of the metaphysics that begins in wonder and seeks to know the why of things, including the things of itself and those with whom it converses. The human person is an "agent of truth." This is what we are. Something "new" is at the "margin of the world." The something new is indeed "me" who, with all who come to be in their time, stands at the world's "edge" affirming, as Plato said, of what is that it is, of what is not, that it is not. The world itself cannot do this for itself. It needs an "agent of truth" within it.

Get the book.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Laffer and JFK : The Wonders of the Market

Economist Arthur Laffer to graduates of Mercer University:

Pursuing your dream of prospering will benefit everyone . . . When I graduated from Yale University, we had a serious commencement speaker not like the one you are stuck with today. The commencement speaker was President John F. Kennedy. And the point I'm making today is the same point he made all those years ago. He said, "No American is ever made better off by pulling a fellow American down, and all of us are made better off whenever any one of us is made better off." He concluded by using the analogy that "a rising tide raises all boats."

Never forget or be ashamed of the fact that pursuing your own self interest furthers everyone's interest. Without you, the poor would be poorer.

Johnny Cash and U2 : The Wanderer

Cash and U2:

(H/t: FirstThings though with a different video version above)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Don't Like Being Grounded? Sue Your Father

Huh? Really. A true news article:

A 12-year-old Quebec girl who felt so strongly about her end-of-year school trip that she took her father to court after he forbade her from going is at the centre of a case that challenges the authority of parental discipline.

And she won.

The dispute between father and daughter began when he cut off her Internet access over her misuse. When she continued to find a way to use the Internet, he told his daughter she couldn't go on the three-day school trip.

The girl's mother allowed her to go on the trip, but because the school wouldn't allow the girl to go unless both parents consented, the girl, with the mother's support took legal action against her father.

According to Ms. Beaudoin, the judge ruled that denying the trip was unduly severe punishment.

The father, who is appealing the decision, was "devastated" by the ruling, and is refusing to take his daughter back "because he has no authority over her."

Sad. Very sad.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The War in Iraq : Bush Did Not Lie

Here is a must-read from the assistant editor of the New Republic:

"Bush never lied to us about Iraq"

Touring Vietnam in 1965, Michigan Gov. George Romney proclaimed American involvement there "morally right and necessary." Two years later, however, Romney -- then seeking the Republican presidential nomination -- not only recanted his support for the war but claimed that he had been hoodwinked.

"When I came back from Vietnam, I had just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get," Romney told a Detroit TV reporter who asked the candidate how he reconciled his shifting views.

Romney (father of Mitt) had visited Vietnam with nine other governors, all of whom denied that they had been duped by their government. With this one remark, his presidential hopes were dashed.

The memory of this gaffe reverberates in the contemporary rhetoric of many Democrats, who, when attacking the Bush administration's case for war against Saddam Hussein, employ essentially the same argument. In 2006, John F. Kerry explained the Senate's 77-23 passage of the Iraq war resolution this way: "We were misled. We were given evidence that was not true." On the campaign trail, Hillary Rodham Clinton dodged blame for her pro-war vote by claiming that "the mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress."

Nearly every prominent Democrat in the country has repeated some version of this charge, and the notion that the Bush administration deceived the American people has become the accepted narrative of how we went to war.

Yet in spite of all the accusations of White House "manipulation" -- that it pressured intelligence analysts into connecting Hussein and Al Qaeda and concocted evidence about weapons of mass destruction -- administration critics continually demonstrate an inability to distinguish making claims based on flawed intelligence from knowingly propagating falsehoods.

In 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously approved a report acknowledging that it "did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments." The following year, the bipartisan Robb-Silberman report similarly found "no indication that the intelligence community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."

Contrast those conclusions with the Senate Intelligence Committee report issued June 5, the production of which excluded Republican staffers and which only two GOP senators endorsed. In a news release announcing the report, committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV got in this familiar shot: "Sadly, the Bush administration led the nation into war under false pretenses."

Yet Rockefeller's highly partisan report does not substantiate its most explosive claims. Rockefeller, for instance, charges that "top administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and Al Qaeda as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11." Yet what did his report actually find? That Iraq-Al Qaeda links were "substantiated by intelligence information." The same goes for claims about Hussein's possession of biological and chemical weapons, as well as his alleged operation of a nuclear weapons program.

Four years on from the first Senate Intelligence Committee report, war critics, old and newfangled, still don't get that a lie is an act of deliberate, not unwitting, deception. If Democrats wish to contend they were "misled" into war, they should vent their spleen at the CIA.

In 2003, top Senate Democrats -- not just Rockefeller but also Carl Levin, Clinton, Kerry and others -- sounded just as alarmist. Conveniently, this month's report, titled "Whether Public Statements Regarding Iraq by U.S. Government Officials Were Substantiated by Intelligence Information," includes only statements by the executive branch. Had it scrutinized public statements of Democrats on the Intelligence, Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees -- who have access to the same intelligence information as the president and his chief advisors -- many senators would be unable to distinguish their own words from what they today characterize as warmongering.

This may sound like ancient history, but it matters. After Sept. 11, President Bush did not want to risk allowing Hussein, who had twice invaded neighboring nations, murdered more than 1 million Iraqis and stood in violation of 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions, to remain in possession of what he believed were stocks of chemical and biological warheads and a nuclear weapons program. By glossing over this history, the Democrats' lies-led-to-war narrative provides false comfort in a world of significant dangers.

"I no longer believe that it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam to stop communist aggression in Southeast Asia," Romney elaborated in that infamous 1967 interview. That was an intellectually justifiable view then, just as it is intellectually justifiable for erstwhile Iraq war supporters to say -- given the way it's turned out -- that they don't think the effort has been worth it. But predicating such a reversal on the unsubstantiated allegation that one was lied to is cowardly and dishonest.

A journalist who accompanied Romney on his 1965 foray to Vietnam remarked that if the governor had indeed been brainwashed, it was not because of American propaganda but because he had "brought so light a load to the laundromat." Given the similarity between Romney's explanation and the protestations of Democrats 40 years later, one wonders why the news media aren't saying the same thing today.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fr. Norris Clarke, SJ ... RIP

Fr. W. Norris Clarke, SJ, has passed away. He was a tremendous influence and help in my understanding of philosophy, metaphysics, and St. Thomas (especially the role of participation, not to mention his way of explaining "Existential Thomism" and how personalism and Thomism need not conflict). He will be missed.

Fordham University has a page for people to comment.
And, in Fr. Clarke's own words, here is a brief account of his intellectual life: "Philosophical Journey." (Scroll down to part VI.)

Friday, June 06, 2008