Happy New Year


It's already here some places.

Christians & Hizbollah

I've been trying to figure out why many Christians seem to be on Hizbollah's side against the Signoria government in the face of the way Hizbollah treated them during the war this summer. The indispensable Michael J. Totten provides insight:
I asked the two Aounists if I could join them at their table, if they would be willing to explain to a primarily Western audience why they formed a political alliance with an Islamist militia.
“Of course,” they both warmly said and gestured for me to sit.
“Pull up a seat,” said the man in the hat. “Can I buy you a coffee?”
Note carefully that at least for these two guys, it has little to do with Israel (contrary to press). And a lot to do with their view of the US:
"We love America, but have doubts,” Jack said. “They let Syria come in here in 1991 for help in Iraq.” snip
“The US will hand us over to the Syrians again for help in Iraq,” Antonios said. “That is what Washington is speaking of doing right now.”

Portrait Of A Painter


This photo doesn't do the finished portrait of Gen. Doolittle by Sam Ryskind justice (really, it doesn't --the man's a much better portrait artist than photographer) but I'm posting it to give context to Ryskind's eulogy of one Joe Funaro, a professor of painting at Paier College of Art. Take it away, Mr. R:

According to the Paierisite (my bible), Joe Funaro's favorite scotch was Chivas Regal. He was implicated in the disappearance of a student who uncapped a tube of Prussian Blue in his life painting class, and in 1974 it took 12 New Haven riot police to pull him off the skinny frame of [a student] who mistook his Paier diploma for a draft card and tore it to pieces on the graduation stage.

A lot of students were terrified of Funaro. I don't know why. I got along with him great. Some might point out that I never looked him in the eye as if not to challenge his dominance and I reflexively curled up into a ball to protect my soft vital organs when h e approached...mere coincidences and exaggerations I assure you.

But Joe Funaro did command a certain air of authority more typically given to masters living in Renaissance Florence than to art teachers in this age of familiarity. That was what intimidated students, that and his forthright assessment of students' work. Let's face it, art schools attract a lot of people who have no real desire to draw or paint but have falsely concluded that they must be artistic because they scored so poorly on the math and verbal portions of the SAT. And arts schools do little to disabuse tuition payers of this false bit of logic. Quite the opposite. This type of student is an essential part of the art school ecology. As a result many art teachers evolved a vocabulary specifically for the purpose of accommodating this species of student and can validate even the crummiest artistic efforts.

Funaro wasn't quite so evolved. He was strictly old school. I think the highest praise I ever got from him was when he took my pencil and eraser, sat down in front of my drawing which involved a complicated bit of foreshortening, examined it for about two minutes comparing it to the model and said "That's reasonable," and handed me back my pencil. That didn't happen much.

Almost all of my drawings from his class sport his clear, expertly rendered thumbnails showing me where my drawing went astray-- how I had missed the way the model torso and hips were offset, or reminding me just how the biceps tucked under the deltoids or the hinge-like structure of the ankle.

Joseph Funaro once explained, "I'm not an artist, I'm a painter. Picasso was an artist." He said it, but not in that worshipful way people say Picasso WAS an ARTIST. It was a flat assessment of his skill set, sort of the way a surgeon might say I'm not a doctor. "Surgeon" seems to fit when I think back to all the triage he performed on student's sketches and paintings.

I distinctly remember in his head painting class-- that beginning rubout phase where we were supposed to not worry about getting a likeness but to render the head as an entire form. I considered the directions and right away decided I'd distinguish myself by going for a likeness. After about two hours of intense rubbing, smearing, scratching, rag twisting, wiping, dabbing and daubing, I had distinguished myself by failing to produce a head or even a likeness by the time Funaro, making his rounds, got to me. I had the sense he was a little disgusted. "Give me your rag." I gave him my rag.

"The model's head is darker then the background," he said. He was not trying to make conversation. He was cluing me in on how he approached a painting: first things first-- what is dark, what is light. In my painting the background and the model still had the same values. I hadn't even thought about it. And then with the very same rag that had been failing me for hours, he takes three big swipes atmy canvas, lightening the background and causing the head to stand out in sharp relief. And a likeness so strong even the pitifully misaligned features I had been spending all class sweating over couldn't spoil it. He hands me back the rag and says, "The shape of the head creates the likeness," and moves on to rescue the next student.

It's been 10 years since I've had Funaro as a teacher and two since the last time I saw him. We weren't great friends or pals. He was the teacher, I was one of many students. Still, I am saddened by his passing this Christmas Eve and wanted to write down a few words about him in tribute to our Italian master. Perhaps someone else can do better. Maybe look up old [aforementioned student] and finish the beating Joe intended to give him. Or, better yet, since New Year's Eve is coming and we are all scattered around the country, sometime before midnight pour a shot of Joe's favorite scotch and we'll all drink a toast to a painter.

That's a portrait in itself, isn't it?
UPDATE: Another student has a photo (isn't this just how you pictured him?Except I expected splotches on his shirt) and one of Funaro's portraits up.

Regensburg Via Paris

It's the time of year when I pass along bits of gossip from a friend in Paris who teaches at University there. Friend says post-modernism is now declassé in France. Everyone's neo-Kantian now. That's an improvement? I ask. But if you need to be philosophically au courant, there you are.
Asked about the Pope's Regensburg lecture, friend passes along this twist. Says he for years the Archbishop of Paris has been inviting French Muslim leaders to "dialogue" about all kinds of things, especially terrorism, the relation of the Koran to violence, etc., and has always been rebuffed because the leaders said (paraphrasing)
If we talk openly about these things, our throats will be cut.
So friend's view (echoing others) is that the Pope was deliberately provocative, forcing the essential questions into the open and making dialogue possible --not so much for us, but for them. Not sure I buy that, but I toss it into the mix.

Should Saddam Hang?

With Saddam due to die at any moment, there's a fair amount of crowing and hand-wringing going on in the blogosphere. What should Catholics think (besides praying for his repentance)? The best discussion of the Church's position on the death penalty is here at Against the Grain. He begins with a summary of arguments and makes the basic point, from Card. Ratzinger's famous letter to Card. McCarrick:
While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
And carries it even further:
if the present Pope of the Catholic Church has affirmed the possibility of disagreement among Catholics over the application of the death penalty, we should take this as an invitation to examine this issue further.
This is one of those issues, like the application of Just War, where I always have the sinking feeling the columnists have no idea what they are talking about --they don't even see what's at stake. In this matter, I happen to share John Paul the Great's skepticism of capital punishment, but I hate hate hate the way most people write about it.
For example, on whose authority is a determination made whether the death penalty's called for? As in the case of Just War, it's not ultimately the Church's call. As one theologian put it:
In matters governing social stability and public safety, prudential judgement is inevitable. Moreover, the authority for judgement in this sphere is not given to the Church. It is the province of the secular arm -- the legitimately constituted civil authority -- to decide what is and is not sufficient to protect public safety.
Examining the claims of one person critical of Saddam's execution, Against the Grain notes a tendency I also find troubling --the desire to excommunicate interlocutors who don't share one's prudential judgments.
In a recent post, Michael takes a jab at "those who purport to understand issues of justice and peace better than the Cardinal" and "desk chair bloggers will likewise claim an expertise in the areas of Catholic social doctrine and global socio-poltical conditions from the limits of their laptops." While I agree with Evangelical Catholicism that any Catholic expressing their disagreement with Martino should do so with the respect that should be accorded to a Cardinal of the Church, I am concerned about the assumption that if a member of the Vatican curia pronounces this practical application of the death penalty to be "a crime," his doing so effectively rules out any disputation to the contrary.

The post then launches into a concise and interesting discussion of why Catholic teaching on the death penalty is a bit muddled right now. Or I should say in what way it is muddled. I believe the "why" is that John Paul II threw an insight of his at us precisely for the faithful & theologians to chew on and develop --but that can't exactly happen as long as everyone who raises a question gets shot down as a heretic, can it?
There are other questions to be covered, and I appreciated Against the Grain's modesty in demurring from what he knows he doesn't know:
I do not feel particularly qualified to discuss the legitimacy of the execution based on deterrence -- to do so would require specific knowledge of the Baathist resistance in Iraq, the threat posed by those who would hope to restore Saddam to power, and other societal factors which are beyond my competence. (I don't think Martino is especially privy to this kind of information either, hence I question his judgment).
Right --and I'm willing to bet no one else writing on the topic is fit to make such a judgment either, but it won't stop the columns and letters to the editor from once again denouncing "vengeance," as if anyone were defending it. Against the Grain leans in one direction:
I have to wonder if the case of Saddam Hussein isn't just one of those situations, where the gravity and extent of his crimes constitute one of those horrific situations where the death penalty is deserved for the preservation of the moral order?
But concludes:
The Catholic Church's position on the death penalty is fairly complex, and requires careful study and reflection -- much confusion abounds as to its present position. It is not as permissive as some conservatives hope it would be. But, as Cardinal Dulles demonstrates, neither can it be construed as abolitionist.
If this topic obsesses you as it does me, click the link --he's rounded up everyone's opinion, links to reports of all Saddam's crimes, lengthy explanations from Cardinal Martino, Cardinal Dulles & everyone else of their positions.

Send The Ethiopians To Iraq

They made short work of Islamic extremists in Somalia. NYT (which to its credit has had the best reporting on this war --don't say I never say anything nice about it) reports:
most of the Islamist foot soldiers have abandoned the cause — shedding their uniforms and shaving their beards
although the leadership vows to return and is gathering in a city along the South coast. Might just be tough talk, however, as the Times notes:
The Islamists made similar promises to fight for the death of Mogadishu, their former stronghold, which they quickly vacated when the Ethiopian-backed forces reached the city’s outskirts.
Over at The Remedy, Seth Liebsohn thinks there's a lesson for us in the past 6 days.
Since about June of this year, the West has been wringing its hands over what to do about the bin Ladenist take-over of Somalia. Ethiopia knew what to do...
this proves yet again, when you fight hard against Islamists, they will crumble--you've just got to allow the fight.
The milbloggers are saying similar things:
I focused on the frustrations that I hear from milblogs to MSM reports to reports from my own sources that the ROEs [Rules of engagement-ed.]have devolved to the point of absurdity and our forces are more fearful of UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] violations than they are of enemy insurgents. This devolution of the ROEs in Iraq originated from an institutional CYA instinct by the DOD and senior commanders resulting from sensationalist media coverage of such events as Abu Ghraib, CIA "secret prisons", and various manufactured Gitmo abuse claims.
The Ethiopian Army has imposed no such constraints on itself and is doing to islamist forces in Somalia in days what the UN, and the US weren’t able to achieve in years.

Isn't that what you've suspected for a long time? We have the world's greatest army, but it's not being allowed to fight. I'm not suggesting we give up on ROE (I believe in Just War), only that we not let them be set by al-Jazeera propagandists. Bill Roggio reports on Ethiopian ROE, e.g.:
Several American military and intelligence sources have informed us that the Ethiopians are not taking 'foreign' prisoners on the battlefield - al-Qaeda fighters are being summarily executed.
I note two other stories today: Muslim insurgents are driving out Buddhists in Thailand. And Egypt is sending arms to Abbas with Israel's blessing. It strikes me that without September 11, I doubt we would note these things or even care all that much --we'd be sad for "those" people but not worried about the particulars --writing it all off as clan warfare and continuing in line at the drive-thru. Which goes to show what a colossal jackass bin Laden must be. Islamic insurgents could have swept into control in all sorts of places in the past few years if he hadn't needed to show off and get the U.S. & its allies ticked off. Islamic militants would have been in a much better position to drive Israel into the sea and truly harm the Great Satan. A gross miscalculation to which he's prone, according to this.

M. Night Woodward

He interviews dead people. This latest instance isn't so egregious --Woodward seems merely to be stretching the implications of what President Ford said about Iraq, rather than making it up. But really: Casey lying in a coma, Mark Felt after he had dementia, Ford "tell them only after I'm gone."

A Ford, Not A Lincoln

I always like the line Vice-President Ford used on himself. This is my favorite eulogy so far. This is my favorite photo (from ninme's friend Bubblehead). And Ford's address upon taking the oath of office is worth reading. It's short, it tells you his character, and it suggests a few things about the changes in the country since the 70s too. Every President since has been more publicly religious than Ford, yet I can't recall a more overtly religious speech (the close deliberately echoes Gettysburg, obviously). Nor can I remember any President since praising the Constitution or pledging to uphold it (outside his oath of office) in a speech.

My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.

As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.

In the beginning, I asked you to pray for me. Before closing, I ask again your prayers, for Richard Nixon and for his family. May our former President, who brought peace to millions, find it for himself. May God bless and comfort his wonderful wife and daughters, whose love and loyalty will forever be a shining legacy to all who bear the lonely burdens of the White House. I can only guess at those burdens, although I have witnessed at close hand the tragedies that befell three Presidents and the lesser trials of others.

With all the strength and all the good sense I have gained from life, with all the confidence my family, my friends, and my dedicated staff impart to me, and with the good will of countless Americans I have encountered in recent visits to 40 States, I now solemnly reaffirm my promise I made to you last December 6: to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best I can for America.
God helping me, I will not let you down.

Godfather of Soul Was A Patriot

Here's a side of James Brown the obits aren't including. In an October, 2001 interview with a local radio station here, he said:
Thinking about our country, now is the time that we should come together and be one -- like we should be. It was founded by our forefathers, for this to be a melting pot with liberty and justice for all. We need all those things, and we need the love, especially the love.
He then added:
One thing we need and we can't get enough of is prayer, we need more prayer and we need to get prayer back in our schools. I don't wanna get political; I'm not a political man. I'm a humanitarian, and I think about the things that are good for your kids and my kids.

He said what people saw at his concerts was:
a lot of energy, a lot of funk, and a lot of love and respect for our country.
Now don't that make you feeeeel good (na-na-na-na-na-na-nunh)?

Vote For The Pope

Because unless you're a Cardinal, you'll never get another chance.
  • LGF is running his Idiotarian of the Year Contest (you're on your own there --they're all good choices; I had to go with the media, using not only idiocy but actual harm done as my standard).
  • Then there's Anti-Idiotarian of the Year. Many good choices there, too --sentimentally I almost voted with the current front-runner, John Bolton. But c'mon, who could most fittingly be called the absolute antithesis of idiocy? Plus, the award is called the Oriana, and you know she'd give it to B16. Do it for her.

You can only vote once, and voting closes with year's end.

Peace Accord Reached

Blogger & my server have laid down their arms. Or at least, if you're seeing this post they have.

Christmas Potpourri

The Pope sends you his Christmas greetings. Here's his beautiful homily for midnight mass. I'll quote you my favorite part in a minute, but first here's a charming detail he includes. So much of our traditional mental images of scripture seem to come from nowhere. I have a priest friend who wants to write a book about stuff everyone knows is in the Bible that ain't. Eve's apple. Paul's horse. (Look 'em up.) But the Pope tells us towards the end here how it came to be accepted that there were an ox and an ass in the cave of Bethlehem: Isaiah's prophecy.
Reading Isaiah (1:3), the Fathers concluded that beside the manger of Bethlehem there stood an ox and an ass. At the same time they interpreted the text as symbolizing the Jews and the pagans – and thus all humanity – who each in their own way have need of a Saviour: the God who became a child.
Kind of neat, no? Although I ain't touchin' the question of who's the ox and who's the ass. But on to the meat:
nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God ’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty.


God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love.

And more, of course, but then I'd leave no room for other stuff. Go read! Next up: the Urbi et Orbi blessing. It answers the question: Do we still need a Savior? His answer isn't surprising, but he gets there in elegant fashion. He talks about progress --going to Mars, mapping the genome. But then he catalogues the dark side too:
Others see their own bodies and those of their dear ones, particularly their children, maimed by weaponry, by terrorism and by all sorts of violence, at a time when everyone invokes and acclaims progress, solidarity and peace for all. And what of those who, bereft of hope, are forced to leave their homes and countries in order to find humane living conditions elsewhere? How can we help those who are misled by facile prophets of happiness, those who struggle with relationships and are incapable of accepting responsibility for their present and future, those who are trapped in the tunnel of loneliness and who often end up enslaved to alcohol or drugs? What are we to think of those who choose death in the belief that they are celebrating life?
That last remark is a rather pointed take on Italian current events, which you can read about here. Then he prays for peace in the various flash point regions of the world. That paragraph bears further study. Other commenters have noted the prayer for peace in the Middle East, but notice what he says about Europe & Latin America too. And what he says about the conditions for peace. Then he prays for Christians to give witness to Christ by the way they live their lives, and ends with classic B16:
Only by rediscovering the gift she has received can the Church bear witness to Christ the Saviour before all people. She does this with passionate enthusiasm, with full respect for all cultural and religious traditions; she does so joyfully, knowing that the One she proclaims takes away nothing that is authentically human, but instead brings it to fulfilment. In truth, Christ comes to destroy only evil, only sin; everything else, all the rest, he elevates and perfects. Christ does not save us from our humanity, but through it; he does not save us from the world, but came into the world, so that through him the world might be saved (cf. Jn 3:17).

The Angelus entrusts Christian martyrs to Mary. Today's audience is further catechesis on Christmas. And here, if you scroll down to post #5376, are some personal details about how the Pope celebrates Christmas --the decorations, the cuisine, the guests.
Next we have a trio of hopeful stories about Muslims & Christians.
  • No Christmas violence in Indonesia --thanks in part to Muslim volunteers (no, I don't mean people volunteering not to bomb anyone, smart guy.)
  • Here's a story about a Muslim shopkeeper who hung a Merry Christmas banner outside his shop in Pakistan:
    The Christmas message “is one peace and social harmony, something that I wish the most for my country. For this reason I celebrated with my Christian friends and hanged banners in different parts of the city wishing Christians a “Very Happy Christmas”, said Summer Adeel, 29, a shopkeeper in Warispura, a well-known area in Faisalabad, and a Muslim.
  • And my personal "good news story of the year," from The Weekly Standard --about the resurgence of Christianity in...Holland? Yes, Holland. The liberal churches continue their decline, but orthodoxy's on the rise among the young. And here's the most interesting part of the tale for those of us who worry about Muslim immigrants: Holland's flooded with Christian immigrants:
    The reason the Christian population of Holland has stopped shrinking and is likely to avoid further decline is a phenomenon that until now has been largely overlooked by commentators on Dutch politics and society: Christian immigration. Analysts usually focus on the one million Muslim immigrants and their offspring who have made the Netherlands their home since the early 1950s. But in the past decade, Muslim immigration has been overtaken by a larger stream of immigrants, namely Christians from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe. An SCP estimate puts the number of Christian immigrants in Holland at around 700,000-- and rising fast. Recent immigration reports suggest that for every new Muslim moving to Holland, there are at least two new Christian immigrants.
    Heh. It seems my plan to deport our Mexican immigrants to Europe where they could really do some good wasn't so nuts after all --someone had already thought of it! This is why Mark Steyn, as much as I love him, is too gloomy. He's the ghost of Christmas future, showing us the shadows not of what will be but of what may be if there are no changes. Anyway, Happy 3rd day of Christmas! Don't you feel better?

Finally, read NCRegister editor Tom Hoopes' lovely piece on the passing of his mother --I'm praying for a dose of her spunk for myself and the whole of Western Civilization right now when we really need it. Debilitated by Lou Gehrig's disease, she was recently asked how she could keep smiling when she was suffering so much.

She typed back: “Whining is a bad exit strategy.”

Well, that woman deserves to have her final wish fulfilled --you can help here if you'd like.

Now: back to the egg nog.

The Troops Speak


John Kerry in Iraq. Curtsy to Powerline

Merry Christmas


I've had dozens of things to bring to your attention the past few days, but my server and the new blogger upgrade mix like Sunni & Shia unfortunately. So I'll leave it at Merry Christmas, blessings upon you, Dear Readers, and we'll "talk" in the new year, or whenever the peace accord between blogger2 and familink takes place.

Christmas Colors


"Red & Green" From The Ryskind Sketchbook

Balanced Education

While trying to rear holy kids, one also worries about turning them into pious little weenies. On the way home from Confession & Holy Mass the other night, we heard a story on the radio about al-Qaeda planning Christmas plots all over the world. From the back seat arose the strains of a familiar carol:

On the fifth day of Christmas, Osama gave to me

5 cell phone rings
to trigger 4 exploding planes,
3 IEDs
2 backpack bombs
and a video from al-Zawahri.

Not to worry on that score, I guess. Maybe about some other things.

Back In The News 2


Remember this? Look who's willing to testify in the Libby case. And who isn't.

Back In The News

It's traditional to close the year by updating your biggest stories. Here goes: Remember how Sandy Berger's defenders said the explanation for his document trespass was his absent-mindedness and penchant for clutter? And yet:
Former National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger, fined $50,000 for taking classified documents from the National Archives, hid the papers under a construction trailer where they later could easily be retrieved, a report yesterday said.
I'd be more horrified about this, except I recently learned that a member of my own family once purloined materials for his first book from the Library of Congress by having his wife drop them out a window to him. So I guess I have no room to point fingers. (For the record, nothing classified, and everything was returned.)

Reuters Claims To Be A News Agency

This is good news, but where was similar skepticism of, say, Hesbollah claims during the war in Lebanon? US Forces Say Sieze A Top Al Qaeda Leader In Iraq. Curtsy: lgf.

Not So Fast, Comrades

When Alexander Litvinenko died, I turned in Putin's direction like everyone else, but a tiny little something's-not-right flickered in the back of my mind, not coalescing into a thought, when I read he'd converted to Islam on his deathbed. Then yesterday I heard a snippet of the guest-host for a 2nd or 3rd tier radio show saying that Scotland Yard is looking in a different direction now, because Litvinenko's body had a $10 million dollar dose of polonium 210, and if the KGB or CIA wanted to kill you, they could do it for considerably less. And now Pat Buchanan's on the case.
What benefit could Putin conceivably realize from the London killing of an enemy of his regime, who had just become a British citizen? Why would the Russian president, at the peak of his popularity, with his regime awash in oil revenue and himself playing a strong hand in world politics, risk a breach with every Western nation by ordering the public murder of a man who was more of a nuisance than a threat to his regime?
A quick google search reveals many people are also looking in the direction of Islam and away from Putin. Well, I don't know what to think. But Pat was right about John Djmanjuk (or however you spell it) not being Ivan the Terrible. Hmmm.

Christmas In The Melting Pot

The late lamented Michael Kelly once tackled the most ticklish Christmas controversy of all: white lights versus colored lights.
White lights make the statement that one is a refined sort who appreciates that less is more and who celebrates Christmas (and life in general) in such a fashion that one would not be absolutely mortified if Martha Stewart dropped by unexpectedly for tea. Colored lights make the statement that one is the sort of person who believes that Christmas is not Christmas without an electric sled and reindeer on the lawn, an electric Santa on the roof, an electric Frosty by the front gate and an electric Very Special Person in a manger on the porch.
I used to be a white lights sort of person, but now that lights are inexpensive and come pre-shaped to the countours of one's roof and garden, there's no longer an "ooh, ah" quality about amazing light displays. Every other house in the neighborhood is a lovely masterpiece...and a bit dull, frankly. I find my taste for colored lights is growing. Or maybe it's that we live with three boys. As Kelly notes:
Boys are naturally colored-lighters.

Remember The Stingy Americans?


Apparently some peoples' generosity was just for show.
Communist China pledged $301 million to Sri Lanka but has so far delivered just $1 million. France promised $79 million but has only delivered $1 million. Spain pledged $60 million but has yielded -- you guessed it -- $1 million.
Now, to be fair, our own govt's pledge is but 38% fulfilled. But Americans are still more than their bureaucracy:
The U.S. Navy and other arms of the military made the rescue and recovery effort possible. The cost is known but to Pentagon bean-counters, perhaps not even them. Then there is private charity. A recent study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found that private U.S. donations to tsunami victims totaled $3.16 billion. Twenty-five percent of Americans gave.
Well, sure, because we're rich and can afford it, right? Actually not. This allows me to belatedly note Who Really Cares, the book that reveals the generous Americans are, on the whole, religious, Conservative, and the working poor:
the idea that liberals give more is a myth. Of the top 25 states where people give an above-average percentage of their income, all but one (Maryland) were red -- conservative -- states
and the people who give give everything:
Conservatives are even 18 percent more likely to donate blood.
Conservative households, incidentally, are poorer than liberal ones --and it's the poor in America who give. Not the middle class, who think they can't afford it. Not those on welfare programs, who have very different attitudes about giving. Not the rich.
[while] the rich give more in total dollars, low-income people give almost 30 percent more as a share of their income. Says Brooks: "The most charitable people in America today are the working poor."
But the most reliable predictor of generosity is religious commitment. And they're not just giving to the Church, either:
Religious Americans are more likely to give to every kind of cause and charity, including explicitly nonreligious charities. Religious people give more blood; religious people give more to homeless people on the street.

Walk Like An Egyptian

Says Abombnjihad of Britain, the US & Israel:
The oppressive powers will disappear while the Iranian people will stay. Any power that is close to God will survive while the powers who are far from God will disappear like the pharaohs," he said Wednesday, according to Iranian news agencies.
Or like the Caliphs.

To Leave Anbar, Go To Anwar

The Santorum exit interview (quite Churchillian, by the way --Santorum for prez? If not 2008, then thereafter?) reminds me of a VDH column I meant to post weeks ago. Here are two "hawks" whose study of the threat of radical Islam has radicalized their thinking on domestic drilling, conservation and alternative energy.
S: we finance our enemy either directly or indirectly. We don't buy directly from Iran, but the price of oil is greatly influenced by the consumption of Americans. And the lack of production in this country has an impact on world supply and therefore on world price. Our lack of using alternative resource has the same impact.
V: only collapsing the world oil price to below $30 a barrel can stop Iran's ability to fund terrorists, buy costly weapons and develop its nuclear program
Move over, Leonardo D --we're all buying hybrids now. I know it gives me the urge to walk to the grocery store.

How 'Bout That Iranian Election?

Seen any results yet? Prior to the elections, Asia News ran a story on Abombnjihad's social crackdown. This line remind you of any newspapers, operas or airport authorities you know?
the grey areas have shrunk: social control is growing not least thanks to self-censorship
Then a story appeared Monday suggesting the referendum on Abomb hadn't gone too well for him --a few of his henchmen may even have been defeated.
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Friday elections were not a test for the government, it was clear what he meant. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani won and reformers are back.
Today it's Delays in vote count raising fears of vote rigging in Tehran, subtitled:
Interior ministry has not yet released any results. Reformist candidates fear vote rigging after Ahmadinejad’s supporters appear to lose.
Did Abomb get a thumpin' equal to Bush's?
Although news of reformist victories spread throughout the country early on Saturday, and the results of both the Assembly of Experts and city council elections were announced in many cities, no official news came out of Tehran
Rooz reports that the interior ministry is allowing only certain reporters to visit tallying centers, and, for the first time in the Islamic Republic’s history, the task of securing election sites has been delegated to Basiji militiamen, who are loyal to President Ahmadinejad, instead of regular police forces.
Two of the most radical conservative figures, former Basij commander Bagher Zolghadr and Samareh Hashemi, Ahmadinejad’s advisor in political affairs, have been charged with the task of monitoring the election process.
At least our president takes his licks like a man. And PS, they're arresting Christians for Christmas there, too.

Potpourri of Popery, Gaudete Edition


This morning’s Audience was a reflection on Christmas, of course.
It is not hard to imagine how they [Joseph & Mary] spent the final days of their wait to hold the newborn child in their arms.” May their approach become ours, so that “born among us, he will not find us distracted or simply embellishing our homes with lights”. Rather let us prepare our hearts to welcome the “advent of Christ, the only redeemer of man and all mankind” in a worthy manner.
I think the Pope favors nativity scenes, however:
In a few days, it is Christmas and I imagine that final preparations for the crib are under way in your homes, that depiction of the Nativity that remains as striking as ever. I hope that such an important element, not only of our spirituality but also of our culture and art, will continue to be a simple and eloquent way of recalling he who came to ‘live among us’.
On Gaudete Sunday, the Pope prayed especially for the suffering Church –young people in alienation, Christians all over the world who are suffering:

We cannot fail to confront today's liturgy and its invitation -- "Rejoice!" -- with these tragic realities.

As at the time of the prophet Zephaniah, the Word of the Lord is addressed precisely to those who are being tested, "to life's wounded and orphans of joy." The invitation to joy is not an alienating message, or a sterile palliative, but rather a prophecy of salvation, an appeal for rescue that starts with inner renewal.

To transform the world, God chose a humble maiden from a town of Galilee, Mary of Nazareth, and called her with this greeting: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you." In these words is found the secret of the authentic Christmas. God repeats them to the Church and to each one of us. Rejoice, the Lord is at hand!

Let’s do keep our fellow Christians in prayer this Christmas. Those living Advent as refugees from their home country. Or as refugees in their own country. In Mosul they’re being threatened by sharia, including attacks on --soap?!
soap is forbidden, because “it did not exist in Muhammad’s time.”
Insert your own caustic comment here. One Christian cleric laments:
We are living the period of Advent, the happiest of the whole year, as if we were in prison. The world is preparing to celebrate while we prepare to die. Who will listen to our cries, who can help us now that we feel like strangers in our own homeland?

Whatever one thinks about the war in Iraq, one can't deny the Vatican was right about what would happen to Christians there.
Here's an interesting cultural tidbit:
The Patriarch of Babylon for Chaldeans, Emmanuel III Delly, urged all Chaldeans of the world to observe the “Bautha” fast of Nineveh (a feature of the Assyrian liturgy to commemorate the fasting of residents of Nineveh during the time of the prophet Jonah) on 18 and 19 December “so that the Lord may concede the gift of peace to our Iraq,
(Mosul roughly corresponds to Ninevah of old.) Meanwhile, in Indonesia, 18,000 policemen are being deployed to protect Churches under threat of Christmas attack.

On the lighter side, the Pope’s Christmas gift to the Christians of the Holy Land is a cool million euros to construct a new pastoral center in Nazareth (where there currently is none –which means pilgrims tend to short-change all the sites of Christ’s public ministry, which are well worth exploring.) And Taiwan has the first Vatican art exhibit on Chinese soil. Even the Red Chinese have to admit Roman Catholicism is growing in their country (which perhaps explains the recent crackdown).

I always find what the Pope says to various ambassadors interesting. They’re boilerplate, of course, but he always finds something to praise in every country –and not always the same things—and he always has a tailor-made word of advice, too. To the new guy from Krygyztan, for example, he says:
As the Kyrgyz Republic continues to forge its national identity, it must be borne in mind that the important component of economic development contains a moral aspect, of crucial importance to the well-being and peaceful progress of a nation.
What he emphasizes to Uganda is quite different.
  • But if you have to choose one item from the potpourri this week, do read this lecture on the Pope’s thinking from the Vicar’s vicar (Cardinal Ruini, the vicar of Christ’s vicar for Rome). Scroll down past the commentary for the text. It's a print and meditate on kind of thing.

Careful What You Wish For

I do like James Bond (hangs head in shame). Still, I've always longed for the movies to be true to the Ian Fleming novels, which I loved when I read 'em as a yoot (hangs head deeper in shame). At least, I thought that's what I wanted. After reading this review, I'm not so sure. 'Cause the scene she finds so objectionable (and I agree I'd rather not see) takes place in the book.

"Do Something But Not That"

The Times (London) accurately sums up world opinion of American foreign policy. You'll feel better, trust me. Curtsy ninme.

Save The Brits From Themselves

Don't let them label Tony Benn their "living political hero." Vote for the Iron Lady. (Choosing Benn would be a bit like voting for Noam Chomsky over Ronald Reagan, if Chomsky had ever held political office. And Reagan were still alive.) I think "hero" ought to include actually saving or liberating someone, but what do I know? Do it for Red. We don't want him walking around with a hang-dog look on his face in the new year.

"Best Issue Ever"


Abombnjihad Loses!

Dear Reader: Belated congratulations! You are TIME's man of the year. Don't let it go to your head, though --you weren't one of the "People Who Mattered."

WaPo Figures It Out

The daughter of a sperm donor tells her story.
where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the "parents" -- the adults who can make choices about their own lives. The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his "donation." As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?
Not so.
The children born of these transactions are people, too. Those of us in the first documented generation of donor babies -- conceived in the late 1980s and early '90s, when sperm banks became more common and donor insemination began to flourish -- are coming of age, and we have something to say.
She gravitates to other fatherless kids --and feels jealous even of their absent and dysfunctional dads. She tracks down the donor, of whom she says:
I'm certain he has no idea how big a role he has played in my life despite his absence -- or because of his absence.
The point of the piece is that no one thinks of the implications for the kids. But of course, someone has (see #2376), many times over. Curtsy: NLT.

Another Front

Somalia's about to go to war with Ethiopia. I have nothing to say about this story in itself (besides "yikes!"), but I note a few details. First, reporter Martin Fletcher observes some saber-rattling in Somalia, reports the scene and adds:
The performance is obviously stage-managed for a visiting journalist, but it makes the point.
Note to AP: see, real journalists know when they're being played. Secondly, thank God for the guilelessness of radical leaders. If they were a little cagier they could fool us and do more harm. Instead they tend to follow heated denials of their radicalism:
“Americans say all Muslims are al-Qaeda and terrorists,” he snapped,
a lengthy defence of attacks such as 9/11 on the grounds that they were the only way Muslims could hit back at a country that deprives them of freedom, sovereignty and weapons.
He also urged the West to accept Somalia’s right to pursue its faith, and argued that Bin Laden could, like Nelson Mandela, eventually come to be seen as a freedom fighter, not a terrorist.

Ah, the old, "How dare you say I'm like Osama, may 1000 camels enter his corral" defense. Then: what is it with the Islamic world and the cat comparisons?
“If Ethiopia is supported by the Americans, why should we not get support from the Muslim world?” asked Sheikh Inde’Adde, adding: “If you shut a cat in a room and beat it, it will jump at you.”
Finally, I'm not sure all folk wisdom survives translation. Do I get this?
A mad woman runs through a village of straw huts with a burning torch. An alarmed villager warns her not to set the village alight. “You’ve just reminded me,” the mad woman said. And she starts burning down the homes.
So is the sheikh saying Westerners who speak about peace are only reminding terrorists to blow them up?

Strauss' Favorite Carol

Meant to post this for Gaudete Sunday --which fell on the 17th this year-- on the meaning of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Hope you're not sick of it yet (since in most parishes it's the only Advent song they know), because now's when its significance kicks in. Each of its verses corresponds to the great "O Antiphons" --7 prayers that start the liturgy from the 17th to the 23rd of December. Take it, Fr. Guy:
Each one begins with the acclamation "O," and addresses Christ by one of His messianic titles from the Old Testament, (Wisdom, Mighty Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Radiant Dawn, King of the Nations and Emmanuel) and ends with a heartfelt plea for His coming. While using Christ's messianic titles they look to His future coming and because they are from the Old Testament they also hearken to the past at the same time. In this they reflect the duality of the season as a whole.
That's nice, but here's the cool part (and where my inner Straussian kicks in):
One of the most interesting features involves a kind of encoded message via these antiphons. The initials of each of these titles in Latin (Sapientia, Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex Gentium, and Emmanuel) combine to form the word "SARCORE". When this is arranged backwards, it spells the phrase "ERO CRAS", which means "Tomorrow, I will be." This coincidence was very suggestive to people in the Middle Ages because the beginning of the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation on Christmas Eve (December 24th) falls on the day after the singing of the antiphons.
With God & Straussians, there are no coincidences.

Dash Away All

8 Virginia Flocks Break Away. A 9th (Episcopalian) church will announce its results later, and a 10th joined a Ugandan diocese two weeks ago. Not even close, which surprises me.
The vote in the eight parishes that reported results was overwhelmingly in favor of leaving the Episcopal Church, with the closest vote coming at St. Stephen's Church in Heathsville, 75 percent of whose members voted to leave.
There's a battle royale brewing, however, over who owns the parish properties.

It's A MAD World


"Mosque Vs. Mosque" From The Ryskind Sketchbook

Difficult Choices

Should we try to cure diseases by creating tiny babies in petri dishes and killing them --or by getting haircuts?
Epidermal neural crest stem cells are found in the bulge of hair follicles and have characteristics that combine some advantages of embryonic and adult stem cells, according to lead researcher, Maya Sieber-Blum, Ph.D., professor of cell biology, neurobiology & anatomy. Similar to embryonic stem cells, they have a high degree of plasticity, can be isolated at high levels of purity, and can be expanded in culture. Similar to other types of adult stem cells, they are readily accessible through a minimally invasive procedure and could lead to using a patient's own hair as a source for therapy without the controversy or medical issues of embryonic stem cells.
Golly, it's tough to choose.

Plague, Ebola, Mad Cow


For the friend who has everything: Plush microbes. Shown is the flesh-eating virus --ain't he cute?

Fridays With Ratzi

Attention homilists:

What role does God really play in our preaching? Do we not normally avoid the issue and shift to matters that we deem more "concrete" and more urgent --to political, social, economic and psychological questions, to questions of Church reform and criticism? We think that everyone knows about God already, that the subject of "God" has little to say to our everyday problems. Jesus corrects us: God is the practical, the realistic topic for man --in Jesus' time and in every
time. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to give men what they most need --communion with the living God.
Are we not all infected to varying degrees with an unacknowledged deism? We think that God is too far away, that he does not reach into our daily life; so, we say to ourselves, let's speak of close-at-hand, practical realities. No, says Jesus: God is present, he is within call. This is the first word of the gospel, which changes our whole life when we put our faith in it. This has to be said to our world with completely new vigor on the authority of Christ.

--from Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism

Free Speech Advocated

As you know, Abombnjihad is doing the world the service of studying whether the holocaust actually happened. He's a big free speech advocate:
Iran says it organized the conference to shed light on the reasons behind the formation of the state of Israel after World War II and to allow researchers from countries where it is a crime to question the Holocaust to speak freely.
"Iran is your home and is the home of all freedom seekers of the world," Ahmadinejad said. "Here you can express your views and exchange opinions in a friendly, brotherly and free atmosphere."
He urged countries where Holocaust denial is a crime to respect freedom of speech and not to take action against any of the conference participants on their return.
Scrappleface notes a counter-conference, which opens the possibility of other international conferences which should be held--in a climate of openness and intellectual freedom, of course. A few suggestions:
  • Is Dick Cheney The Hidden Imam?
  • Whether There Is Any Such Thing As A Palestinian
  • Honest Answers To Manuel II Paleologus' Question
  • What Air Bases in Saudi Arabia? (could be held in conjunction with: Does Syria Exist?)
  • There Were Just An Amazing Number Of Smokers In Hiroshima & Nagasaki Conference
  • Was There Any Such Thing As The Carter Presidency?

Honestly, That Is So Old-School

Ninme linked to this Telegraph article which in all honesty I've not read but simply note the title: Drugs are the curse of our land and turn women into prostitutes. Here in the New World, however, we know what's really to blame. Writing of a crack whore found murdered earlier this month, the Miami Herald reports:
soon after she turned 30, the world of the well-liked, stay-at-home mom began to dissolve. Perhaps it was the continuous round of school trips, the endless birthday parties, the numerous visits to the park.
See? Nothing to do with her having an affair with a
convicted felon with a lengthy criminal history that includes multiple arrests for felony cocaine possession, disorderly conduct and charges of soliciting a prostitute.
Nope, it was marriage and kids what dunnit. And endless birthday parties (she had two kids). Curtsy: Tim Blair.

Another Painfully Insensitive Christmas Tree Display


We're Not Here To Solve Any Problems

So, what are the Democrats going to do about Iraq?
"I never understand that question,” answered Charlie Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “You have a President that’s in deep ----. He got us into the war, and all the reasons he gave have been proven invalid, and the whole electorate was so p---ed off that they got rid of anyone they could have, and then they ask, "'What is the Democrats’ solution?’”
Ah, leadership. Curtsy to tks.

Little Town of Bethlehem

It's one of the cities most deeply affected by the security wall --and was the topic of conversation between the Pope and PM Olmert yesterday:
Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh told a press conference Dec. 11 that a serious drop in Christian tourism to his town, emigration and Israel's erection of a security fence cutting many Bethlehem residents off from jobs in nearby Jerusalem were having a disastrous impact on Bethlehem and its residents.
After speaking with the Pope,
The prime minister promised to do everything possible to alleviate" the community's suffering and to ease Christians' access to Bethlehem over the Christmas holidays, the ambassador said.
Olmert also renewed his invitation for the Pope to visit Israel.
the pope said he really wanted to make such a trip, but was looking for "a moment of calm."
PM's response:
You can bring the calm.

Senator Scofflaw

What do The Logan Act & the laws of fashion have in common? Both violated in one fell swoop by Sen. Bill Nelson. The Logan Act:
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commence or carries on any kind of correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
Ninme points to an even more flagrant violation:
who the hell wears light slacks and brown leather slip-ons (with blue socks) to meet a foreign (Arab!) leader in a formal drawing room! Augh!

They're Gaining On Us

Obesity is epidemic all over the world --even in Africa.
More than one-third of African women and a quarter of African men are estimated to be overweight, and the World Health Organization predicts that will rise to 41 percent and 30 percent respectively in the next 10 years.
Only there you can't go on a diet because:
if you lose a lot of weight, people automatically think you have TB or AIDS. It's not like in America and Europe where you go on a diet to lose weight.
I blame the Peace Corps. Teach a man to fish... and he'll get fat.
UPDATE: See what happens when you eat your veggies? First spinach, now lettuce.

Can I Get An Amen?


"New Religion" From The Ryskind Sketchbook

If You See Tony Blankley, Kiss Him For Me

For this column, he deserves a big sloppy smackeroo (on the cheek, of course --what kind of gal do you think I am?)
rarely has a president stood more alone at a moment of high crisis than does our president now as he makes his crucial policy decisions on the Iraq War. His political opponents stand triumphant, yet barren of useful guidance. Many -- if not most -- of his fellow party men and women in Washington are rapidly joining his opponents in a desperate effort to save their political skins in 2008. Commentators who urged the president on in 2002-03, having fallen out of love with their ideas, are quick to quibble with and defame the president.
One of his erstwhile friends even complained the other day that he doesn't look troubled enough --not worn out by the office. Which is not only insipid, it's not even true. The man has aged markedly in six years if you care to compare the pictures.
If Washington gossip is right, even many of the president's own advisers in the White House and the key cabinet offices have given up on success. Official Washington, the media and much of the public have fallen under the unconscionable thrall of defeatism. Which is to say that they cannot conceive of a set of policies -- for a nation of 300 million with an annual GDP of more than $12 trillion dollars and all the skills and technologies known to man -- to subdue the city of Baghdad and environs. Do you think Gen. Patton or Abe Lincoln or Winston Churchill or Joseph Stalin would have thrown their hands up and say "I give up, there's nothing we can do?"
Thank you. Thank you SO much for saying that. And then a little comparison with the consensus opinion that we should have abandoned Ft. Sumter.
Lincoln was alone in the self-same rooms now occupied by George W. Bush. All his cabinet and all his military advisers had counseled a path Lincoln thought would lead to disaster. He was only a month in office and judged by most of Washington -- including much of his cabinet -- to be a country bumpkin who was out of his league, an accidental president. Alone, and against all advice he made the right decision -- as he would do constantly until victory.
And then --I must be in a weepy mood, because this got me all teary --(which makes twice today --and I never cry. The other time was hearing a replay from a Bush speech earlier this year when that Iraqi Kurdish woman rose to praise Bush and thank America for the freedom of 27 million people.)
Mr. President, you are not alone. The ghost of Old Abe is on your shoulder. God Bless you and Merry Christmas.

Inquiring Minds Don't Wanna Know

Fr. Thomas Berg isn't too impressed with the Center for Inquiry. You'll be happy to know that if you're an American, you disdain science according to them. Snort. I'd like them to explain how they reached that conclusion resorting solely to science and reason as they purport to do. Fr. suggests they take a page from their own mission statement and
embrace a “thoroughly scientific outlook,” to question “beliefs… to see if they are well grounded by reason and evidence.”

Fr. Berg, executive director of the Westchester Institute I've plugged before, has recuntly begun blogging there. See his first two installments on B16's Regensberg lecture, for example.

Potpourri Of Popery, Santa Lucia Edition

Links, links, links: there are several must-reads from the Holy Father today. First a few standards: Sunday's Angelus, in which he discusses dedicating a Church --about which he had more to say at the actual event:

The Holy Father spoke about the meaning of a sacred building as a house of God and house of men, and did so by referring to the rebuilding of the People of Israel, of the holy city of Jerusalem and the Temple after the return from exile. An external reconstruction cannot progress "unless the people as such are reconstructed first, if there is no operative common criterion of justice that unites all," Benedict XVI explained.
Today's Audience, continuing the series on the Church, he covers Timothy & Titus, will be here later. The two must-reads are these. Saturday the Pope addressed the Union of Italian Catholic journalists, for which I can't find a text yet (except Italian), but there's a very good account of it here. (Summing up: "secular" doesn't mean what you people think it means.)
The Church, the Pope reiterated, cannot intervene in politics, because that would "constitute undue interference." However, "'healthy secularity' means that the State does not consider religion merely as an individual sentiment that can be confined to the private sphere." Rather, it must be "recognized as a ... public presence. This means that all religious confessions (so long as they do not contrast the moral order and are not dangerous to public order) are guaranteed free exercise of their acts of worship."
Secondly, the Pope's address at the close of his meeting with Swiss bishops last month is here. I've already posted his homily in the mass with them and his address to the beginning of their meeting. He apologizes for not having prepared remarks or a Grand Discourse, but what he says seems grand enough to me. For those who wonder why the Pope doesn't swiftly clean house (one wag told me he could wish for a "German" pope!):

We should not allow our faith to be drained by too many discussions of multiple, minor details, but rather, should always keep our eyes in the first place on the greatness of Christianity. I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and '90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems.

If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith -- a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us.

Isn't that interesting? Coming from someone who knows those questions aren't unimportant and who isn't going to give way on them? (Plus I'm amused by the image of the religion reporters always approaching him with their utterly predictable "gotcha" questions.) He then turns to Augustine's insistence that God is logos and God is love. So faith is reasonable and can be transmitted through reason, but it doesn't all boil down to a mathematical equation:
this eternal, immeasurable reason is not merely a mathematics of the universe and far less, some first cause that withdrew after producing the Big Bang. This reason, on the contrary, has a heart such as to be able to renounce its own immensity and take flesh. And in that alone, to my mind, lies the ultimate, true greatness of our conception of God. We know that God is not a philosophical hypothesis, he is not something that perhaps exists, but we know him and he knows us. And we can know him better and better if we keep up a dialogue with him.

The fundamental task of "pastoral" care therefore: teaching people to pray
--and to do so personally, better and better.
Everything else --these "trivialities" that keep arising, springs from prayer --or lack of it. Why is our world hopeless, seemingly? Because it doesn't pray:
In St Thomas Aquinas' last work that remained unfinished, the Compendium Theologiae which he intended to structure simply according to the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, the great Doctor began and partly developed his chapter on hope. In it he identified, so to speak, hope with prayer: the chapter on hope is at the same time the chapter on prayer. Prayer is hope in action.
Only then does he turn to "morality," where he identifies a "split." The world does seek morality --but of a certain kind:

Modern society not merely lacks morals but has "discovered" and demands another dimension of morality, which in the Church's proclamation in recent decades and even earlier perhaps has not been sufficiently presented. This dimension includes the great topics of peace, non-violence, justice for all, concern for the poor and respect for creation. They have become an ethical whole which, precisely as a political force, has great power and for many constitutes the substitution or succession of religion. Instead of religion, seen as metaphysical and as something from above -- perhaps also as something individualistic --, the great moral themes come into play as the essential which then confers dignity on man and engages him.

This is one aspect: this morality exists and it also fascinates young people, who work for peace, for non-violence, for justice, for the poor, for creation. And there are truly great moral themes that also belong, moreover, to the tradition of the Church. The means offered for their solution, however, are often very unilateral and not always credible, but we cannot dwell on this now.

The big split, of course, comes with the so-called "life issues," because of a false --and ultimately incoherent-- understanding of freedom.
I believe we must commit ourselves to reconnecting these two parts of morality and to making it clear that they must be inseparably united. Only if human life from conception until death is respected is the ethic of peace possible and credible; only then may non-violence be expressed in every direction, only then can we truly accept creation and only then can we achieve true justice. I think that this is the great task we have before us: on the one hand, not to make Christianity seem merely morality, but rather a gift in which we are given the love that sustains us and provides us with the strength we need

He really wants the whole enchilada, this Pope! Speaking of which, perhaps this'll mean nothing to you cradle Cats, but for us former Protestants, here's a delicious little can of worms B16 opens in his opening remarks for that same meeting:

Two generations ago, it [faith]might still have been presumed natural: one grew up in the faith; in a certain way, faith was simply present as part of life and did not need any special seeking. It needed to be formed and deepened, but seemed something perfectly obvious.

Today, the opposite seems natural: in other words, that it is basically impossible to believe, and that God is actually absent. The faith of the Church, in any case, seems something that belongs to the distant past. Thus, even practicing Christians are of the opinion that it is right to choose for oneself, from the overall faith of the Church, those things one considers still sustainable today. And especially, people also set about fulfilling their proper duty to God through their commitment to human beings, so to speak, at the same time.

This, however, is the beginning of a sort of "justification through works": the human being justifies himself and the world, in which he does what clearly seems necessary yet completely lacks the inner light and spirit.

Luther as the author of "works righteousness." Heh. The cafeteria is indeed closed!

Our Lady & Apocalypto


Well here's a piece that finds the secret teaching of Apocalypto, tying it to today's feast. Here's the culture the film portrays:
Month after month, year after year, in temple after temple, sacrificial victims came down the long roads leading to the pyramids, climbed the steep steps to the top of the platforms, were bent backwards over convex slabs of stones. An immense knife with a blade of midnight black volcanic glass rose and fell, gutting the victim open. His or her heart was torn out while still beating and held up for all to see, while the ravaged body was kicked over the edge of the temple where it bounced down the steps a hundred feet below. This scene is graphically portrayed in Apocalypto.
My mom used to read us the juicy portions of Prescott's Conquest of Mexico with a little too much glee, I thought, when she was preparing her history lessons. The obsidian knife of Aztec sacrifice has traumatized me enough in my childhood imagination; I don't need to see it again. However:
One of the last scenes in the film is the sight of the ships of Hernando Cortez of Spain -- black crosses on their sails -- landing on the beaches. What most viewers of Apocalypto probably do not know is that Cortez lands on Good Friday, April 22, 1519. This begins a remarkable story that culminates with Our Blessed Mother's appearance to St. Juan Diego on December 12, 1531.

Gibson's made rumblings about his latest being an anti-Bush flick, but perhaps it's really an Ann Coulter flick --remember her original remedy for the war on terror? Perhaps the secret teaching is that Christianization is a good thing.



Big Story In Iraq

George Weigel recalls the definitive work on the Tet Offensive and relates it to Iraq.
An American equivalent of the "Madrid effect" is the goal of the Saddamists and jihadists who continue to fight in Iraq, even though they know they can't possibly win - they fight in order to degrade the political will of the American people, who are fed a steady and (rightly) disturbing diet of Iraqi chaos and mayhem by a press corps which is repeating the same mistakes in its war reporting that Braestrup (an old-fashioned liberal) identified in his painstaking study of coverage of the Tet offensive.

Yanks Bugged Diana

One begins to understand why our Middle East intelligence isn't what it ought to be. What, was Dodi part of the Muslim Brotherhood?

Bolonium 79

Yet to find anyone in this town who isn't cynical about the ISG report. Most take the view that Baker knows Bush well, isn't going to cross him, and therefore is providing cover for him. Cover for what? A disheartened Prez who wants to quit is one view. Which sounds plausible but doesn't mesh with presidential rhetoric even slightly. Then there's the other view, which is that when Baker suggests "diplomacy" he means of this variety. Michael Ledeen finds light along those lines in the ISG report.
The Surrender Commission Report underlines the basic truth about The War, which is that we cannot possibly win it by fighting defensively in Iraq alone. So long as Iran and Syria have a free shot at us and our Iraqi allies, they can trump most any military tactics we adopt, at most any imaginable level of troops. Until the publication of the report this was the dirty secret buried under years of misleading rhetoric from our leaders; now it is front and center. Either deal effectively with Iran, or suffer a humiliating defeat, repeating the terrible humiliation of Lebanon in the Eighties when Iran and Syria bombed us out of the country (thereby providing the template for the terror war in Iraq).
He seems to be right. The delicately phrased message of ISG is: we're at war with Iran.

Be Kind To Your Web-Footed Friends

Chimeras A-OK in Britain. Front page of today's WaTi. Will link when they get their site up again. Here.

Researchers will be allowed to create test-tube embryos that are part human, part animal under a proposal to be announced by government health officials this week.

A child's need for a father no longer will be a consideration when a woman seeks fertility treatment, but the creation of a human embryo from two women, which would make men obsolete in reproduction, would be forbidden.

When Stories "Disappear"

A reader notes a shocker for which there were no words from the Dec. 6th Jerusalem Post, which he got by way of powerline, which quotes the story as follows:
Meanwhile, sources close to the Hamas-led government claimed that Hamas representatives recently held talks with officials from the US Democratic Party at a secret location.
The sources told the Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency that Hamas representatives have also been holding secret talks with European government officials, including Britain and France.
However, the linked article contains no such reference today. No explanation is offered.

Infant Makes "Inappropriate Contact" With Mother's Breast

That will be next after this. (Filed under "educators" have no clue what children are like.)

Rummy's Last Town Hall

A class act to the end. Look at the amusing but touching remarks Gen. Pace makes about him at the top of this transcript. And then Rummy speaks. He manages to be hilarious all the way through.
When I think about these past years, there are a number of moments that stand out.
I think of those proud Afghan girls that were sitting in the front row at President Karzai's inauguration in Kabul, when he became president -- the first president elected by the people in the 5,000- year history of that country.
They were standing there, and then they sang. And, of course, under the Taliban rule, it was against the law to sing. And the reports of the Afghan children flying kites that day. And, of course, it had been against the law to fly kites.

Given all we've heard about "snowflakes" and how much Pentagon types hate him, I found the discussion towards the end of the decision and consultation process very interesting; you can also "feel" the affection for him in the room. A few quips from the Q& A:

Q: QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how do you want history to remember you?
RUMSFELD: My goodness.(LAUGHTER) Better than the local press.

Unloads on Congress a wee bit, in response to a question about bureaucracy:

This first conflict of the 21st century is so different, just enormously different from the World War II conflict. And yet the institutions, the committees of Congress, the subcommittee system in Congress, the turf fights over jurisdiction that exist and the micromanagement of the bureaucracy in so many instances leads to a situation where the bureaucracy can't respond.
We're well behind in Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of the development of the police in those two countries. Why? Well, because there was no line item for the Department of Defense to do anything about police. It was over in the State Department. And they didn't have the people to do it. And the Congress didn't authorize the money to do it.

And they're at least, what, two years behind -- thepolice from the military? And that's harmful. That's costly. And yet it's because the federal government has not had a Goldwater-Nichols, in a sense. They haven't decided that, in this different era, we have to have different arrangements among the various departments and agencies, and greater flexibility to move rapidly to try to avoid problems rather than to wrestle with them well after the case.

Asked about his best and worst day:
You know, clearly the worst day was Abu Ghraib and seeing what went on there and feeling so deeply sorry that that happened.
And I guess my best day, I don't know, maybe a week from Monday. [When he's out.]
Last word:
we have every chance in the world of succeeding in both those countries, but only if we have the patience and only if we have the staying power.There have been -- in every conflict in our country's history, there have been those who said, "Toss in the towel; it isn't working."The Revolutionary War, by golly, George Washington almost got fired. He didn't win a battle that I can recall for a whale of a long time. You think of the beginning of World War II and all the battles that were lost.You think of the Cold War, when Euro-communism was in fashion and millions of people -- hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating not against the Soviet Union, against the United States, saying we were the ones in the wrong.
But, by golly, something important isn't easy. And this isn't easy. And, by golly, it's important and we better do it right.

Bad Dreams, Or: All This To Get The Dems On Board?


Last night I was lying awake in bed thinking about that videotape of Osama bin Laden bragging to the Saudi sheik about 9/11:
when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse
I don't know about "like" him, but certainly most people will try not to be trampled under his hoofs, and in that context, even if ultimately no one pays any attention to Baker/Hamilton, all this public hand-wringing over the next phase of the war has got to be doing us tremendous harm.

I started to imagine press coverage of an American pull-out of Iraq -- the footage beamed all over the world and likely reaction to it. I pictured the glint in the eyes of Abombnjihad, Zawahiri, Nasrallah, Sadr, Putin, Kim & Chavez as they heard the news. I thought about the Chinese. I thought about bin Laden being confirmed in what he thinks he knows about Americans:
paper tigers who after a few blows ran in defeat
--and felt sick. Maybe he will be proven right, I thought; however valiant our military men, maybe the rest of us no longer have the stuff to face anything that interrupts our lives of perpetual excess. Maybe we no longer have what it takes to be free.

Then I tried to imagine myself looking into the eyes of Iraqi policemen putting their lives on the line for their country or anyone in the Middle East who'd ever trusted us or dared to hope for freedom --and I tried to imagine what I would say to such people to explain why we were giving up so quickly --with hardly a fight. Then I had to stop because I can't bear to think of America in that vein.

Next I tried to think how nuclear war with Iran & its allies could be avoided if we pulled out now, demonstrating to the bad guys that we are all talk and may be defied with impunity, and I couldn't. Strangely that made me feel better --because surely the Democrats see that too. Bush & Blair's presser yesterday makes me feel better too. It's too long to excerpt but you'll feel better if you read it. They both use that magic word "victory," neither seems to have backed off even slightly, and they both seem to think Baker/Hamilton is so general that they can bend it to their will and call it a unity solution. Maybe that's the point of this whole depressing exercise -- to move us from "Bush's war" to a national re-commitment. I don't think Bush will mind the Dems taking credit for victory --as long as we win.

How Do You Make John Bolton Cry?

Every week when I pass her house on the way to my office, I wonder what Jeanne Kirkpatrick would say about our foreign policy if we were to ask her, and fantasize about Bush appointing her to replace John Bolton (who apparently is going to inherit her office at AEI). Comes the news this morning that she passed away last night.
Bolton, who formerly worked with Kirkpatrick at AEI, became emotional as he recalled her influence on him. "I benefited very greatly," he said, his voice quaking. "She spoke clearly for liberty in the world [and] made it clear during tensions in the Cold War that America's interests here at the U.N. were advanced when the cause of liberty was advanced," Bolton said.
I will never forget this speech --one of the electric moments of my adolescence-- and doesn't it put Baker-Hamilton to shame upon the re-reading? And I won't forget her brave service to us --and freedom-- especially during her time at the U.N. Her colleagues at AEI posted this notice. Steve Hayward is eulogizing here in installments here, and Commentary has a selection of her articles for them.

Perhaps there is something providential in the timing of her passing? I think Ronald Reagan's passing when he did affected public mood about Bush and the war in 2004 --as if he saved his country once again. Thinking about Jeanne Kirkpatrick's achievements would be salutary for us now.

How North Korea Pays For Its Russian Oil

Pyongyang's oil imports increased from 62,000 dollars in 2001 to 4.4 million dollars last year.
An expert who lives in North Korea, anonymous for security reasons, said: "The city from where the oil is coming does not have its own energy resources. It exports oil to North Korea on behalf of the federal government of Moscow and in compensation receives labour instead of money due to North Korean incapability of making payments."
I checked my Palm Pilot and yes, it is the 21st century.

China & Turkey & Advent, Oh My!

Potpourri of Popery, Immaculate Conception Edition

But First
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones...
Not that Ezekiel's vision had anything to do with finding St. Paul's remains, but someone has --in excavations under St. Paul's Outside the Walls-- and I felt the need of musical accompaniment. Now then.
A week or so ago, just as the Bishop of Hong Kong left for Viet Nam, the Chinese ordained another illicit bishop. He did not receive this news with Zen-like tranquility:
in order to achieve their purpose, the methods they used this time are not only threat, allurement, and deceit, but also forceful abduction and kidnapping!
The Vatican's official response was equally blunt. Here's the account of a bishop who had to escape kidnappers to avoid participation in the illicit ordination. Cardinal Zen says China could learn a thing or two from Viet Nam:
I noticed that the government is truly opening up to religious freedom: it has removed all limits on priestly ordinations and recruits to the seminary. This is very important, because it is precisely these limits that created many problems for the local Church. Now there is much more freedom, even in this respect. The Chinese government should take Vietnam as an example.
And he's also written the preface for the recently-released (271 pp!) Red Book of Chinese Martyrs. He says what needs to be said about the Church under communism, but ends nicely:
These pages are not only pages of suffering and pain; they are above all pages of joy. No one will be able to take away from us the joy and beauty of being disciples of Jesus.
Just about everything I've read is tosh (Pope going soft; aged Pope "learned something" from Regensberg; Pope not really the pope because he prayed in the Blue Mosque blah-blah-blah). Howzabout we stick to what His Holiness has to say about his trip? What does he think he accomplished? He spoke about it briefly in Sunday's Angelus:
I want to thank the Lord once again, along with you, for the apostolic journey I undertook over the past days to Turkey: I felt accompanied and supported by the prayer of the whole Christian community. I address to all my cordial gratitude!
and more at Wednesday's audience (no official translation yet, but scroll down here for a stab at it). The pope says all papal pilgrimages involve concentric circles of mission work --to Catholics, Christians and humanity at large-- and describes his experiences with each circle as it were. The outer circle of civic leaders and Turks:
Turkey is a country with a very large Muslim majority, but is regulated by a constitution that affirms state secularism. It is, therefore, an emblematic country in regard to the great challenge in course today at the worldwide level: on the one hand, we must rediscover the reality of God and the public relevance of religious faith; on the other, we must ensure that the expression of this faith be free, exempt from fundamentalist distortions, and capable of firmly repudiating every form of violence.
For those who fear His Holiness may have converted to Islam while in the Blue Mosque, he clues us in on what he prayed for:
Pausing for a few moments of recollection in that place of prayer, I turned to the one Lord of heaven and earth, the merciful Father of all humanity. May all believers recognize his creatures and bear witness to true brotherhood!
Which is a nice way of saying, Lord, convert these people whom you love! Tell them to stop killing themselves and us in your name. I won't go on, but do read it for yourselves. It's short but evocative and you'll have a sense of how much the Holy Father enjoyed his trip. The zenit interview with papal spokesman Fr. Lombardi is interesting too.
We read B16's homily for the first Sunday of Advent as he departed Turkey, and he added to that a little in his Angelus message, linked above. Mostly he prepared us for today's feast of the Immaculate Conception, which, for you religion reporters, refers not to the Virgin Birth, but to Mary's being preserved from sin from the moment of her conception.
To live this Advent period more authentically and fruitfully, the liturgy exhorts us to look at Mary most holy and to undertake spiritually with her the path to the cave of Bethlehem. When God knocked on the door of her youth, she received him with faith and love. In a few days, we will contemplate her in the
luminous mystery of her Immaculate Conception. Let us be attracted by her beauty, reflection of divine glory, so that "the God that is coming" will find in each one of us a good and open heart, which he can fill with his gifts.

He had a few more words on that topic for us this morning --and invited us to celebrate the feast with him this afternoon at the Spanish Steps. (Unfortunately, I read the invitation just as the event was getting started.) One more Advent thingy: Amy Welborn quoted some Episcopal priest a few weeks ago pertinent to the apocalyptic readings of the Advent cycle. Ah, here it is:
Advent is a penitential season filled with prayer, study and the terrible reality of having, at last, to pay the heavenly piper. ...The idea is to prepare for the coming retribution and then be overwhelmed and astonished when God's act is the gift of a child rather than hell fire.

Happy Feast Day!