"This year we had an opening for a scholar of Asian history. We had several candidates but obviously the most qualified one was from Stanford. Yet he didn’t get the job. So I went to the chair of the search committee and asked him what had happened. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘you’re absolutely right. He was far and away the most qualified candidate and we had a terrific interview. But then we went to lunch and he let out that he was for school vouchers."
In his Guardian column this week, our old friend George Monbiot argued persuasively that poverty made people happier: "In southern Ethiopia, for example," wrote George, "the poorest half of the poorest nation on earth, the streets and fields crackle with laughter. In homes constructed from packing cases and palm leaves, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do behind our double glazing, surrounded by remote controls."
He's so right. That's why I'm glad I made the effort to attend the opening gala of the Earth Summit, truly a night to remember. The banqueting suite of Johannesburg's Michelangelo Hotel was packed as Bob Mugabe warmed up the crowd with a few gags: "I don't know about you," he said, "but I'm starving millions of people!" The canned laughter - an authentic recording of happy Ethiopian peasants clutching their bellies and corpsing - filled the room.
By the way, my son and husband and I started reading Mitch Frank's Understanding September 11 this weekend on the way to my aunt's Labor Day weekend gathering. We had tried to read it earlier in the week, but we can only do so after school, and my son let me know in no uncertain terms that he didn't want to read it at night. "It might give me nightmares," he explained. He is a pretty big boy now, but this interchange reminded me that he's still a child, and sometimes we need to tread carefully.
I was hoping that the book would spur conversation, and it certainly did. Our general modus operandi is that we take turns reading the text aloud, but the listener may interrupt at any time (other than in the middle of a sentence) to question or comment. Sometimes the conversation can go pretty far afield before we return to the written word, and that's usually just fine. So yesterday we spent a good deal of time talking about Pearl Harbor, Timothy McVeigh, and the seige on Koresh's Waco compound as examples of attacks on Americans. The book didn't mention Waco, but since it was McVeigh's stated reason for the bombing of the Murrah building, I brought it up. My son was fascinated by the whole thing. What is a cult? Were the Branch Davidians a cult? How did Koresh interpret scripture? Why were his interpretations so persuasive? Who attacked whom and when and why? Was the U.S. government a terrorist agent in this attack? Once again we're trying to go beyond the "black hat/white hat" dichotomy, the idea that some people are always right and others always wrong. He's just now maturing to the point that he can begin to think about these things with any amount of sophistication.
A rather negative review of Colleen Carroll's The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. NB: I haven't read this book and so can't say anything about it. But the reviewer's biography is instructive: Peter Manseau is an editor of the online religion magazine KillingtheBuddha.com, which is definitely an edgy Gen-X thing. Read the "Manifesto" on the left sidebar to get an idea of where Manseau is coming from.
And why not? I've worked as a professional proofreader, with two books in print to my credit.
To be frank, I'm not NO, the Big Brother of grammatical correctness. Big Brother probably is not watching me, however. I do check in at his/her website occasionally, and I'm never mentioned. He/she (its gender is unknown) must not read me, because I certainly do make errors--but very, very infrequently, of course!
After reading recent postings on NO's blog that survey the identity debate, I thought how fun it would be if someone would falsely claim that he was It, and then watch NO's knickers get all in a knot: "No, he's not me! I'm me!" (or should we insist on the excruciatingly correct "I'm I!"?).
Alright, it's obvious I haven't started my real work yet this morning. But one last little teeny article to post before I pull the plug (the modem's plug, that it). Take a look at this article from (gasp!) Britain comparing Bush to Churchill--favorably. A personal note: I've been reading Churchill's The Gathering Storm for the last few months; it's part of my two-fold interest in the years between the wars as exemplified in the Mitford sisters as well as my desire to learn from history (appeasement, Munich, the rise of Hitler) and apply its lessons to our own time.
From the article:
Depressed by the warnings of his father's old friends against taking action against Iraq, he is looking for support in the life story of the supreme anti-appeaser. Churchill's refusal to be silenced by the peacemongers during Hitler's rise to power, a refusal all too painfully proved right when war came, sets an example President Bush finds reassuring.
...Churchill would see the opportunity and, if in power, would grasp it. He would ignore the timidity of yesterday's men and strike.
He would avoid by any means the need to make the speech that he was impelled to deliver to the Commons after Munich in 1938: "Do not suppose that this is the end. It is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first taste of a bitter cup that will be proffered to us year by year unless, by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time."
Britain did arise, at terrible cost. It could not have arisen had Hitler acquired nuclear weapons. The signs are, thank goodness, that President Bush is determined not to fall.
Fordham (not associated with the university) collected essays from 23 authors addressing the September 11 attack on the U.S. Rather than engaging in sentimentality or political correctness, this teacher's (and parent's — what parent isn't a teacher, too?) helper aims to begin to answer some real-life questions about "one of the defining events of our age, of our nation's history and of [children's] lives": "What happened? Why did it happen? How should we think about it? What are we doing about it? What should we do about it? How can we keep it from happening again?"
As Chester Finn, president of the Fordham Foundation — and NR contributor — told NRO, "The NEA's real sin is one of omission: their hundred-odd lesson plans contain little real history, civics, heroism — or good and evil. It's mainly about feelings. Our report contains lots of tough-minded content: what schools really need to teach and children really need to learn about September 11."
Christians read the Bible, both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and consider both testaments canonical and inspired by God (we got this straightened out early in the second century in response to Marcion, who set up the now-familiar dichotomy between the "God of wrath" in the OT and the "God of love" in the NT). It is true that the New Testament does not do much inciting to violence. Far from it, actually: "Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you." Interestingly enough, though, Jesus himself says, "I did not come to bring peace but the sword." These "contradictions" serve an extremely valuable purpose, however, in demonstrating that the sacred scriptures of these monotheistic religions can be seen as supporting both peace and violence. But the early Christians followed the "love your enemies" command, not the permission to "take up the sword." There is not one instance of Christians taking up arms against the Romans up through the end of the empire in the fifth century.
There's no denying that there's violent stuff in the Old Testament. The following is infamous:
Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem's fall,
how they said, "Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!"
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock! (Psalm 137:7-9)
There are in addition to this the words ascribed to God in the Book of Joshua, where the deity commands the invading Israelite armies to slaughter men, women, children, and animals. But even in the centuries before Christ, Jews found these acts of their ancestors and especially these words of God so repellent that they rejected them. But they couldn't reject the scripture itself. Thus they developed interpretational strategies that allowed them to keep the baby but throw out the bathwater, if I may indulge in a cliche. In other words, they developed an intricate allegorical reading of scripture (the Greeks did the same with their "canonical" text, the Iliad). We see this most beautifully in Philo, who takes the Torah and spiritualizes it.
The allegorical method has fallen out of favor in the last 700 years or so among Christians, but we have our own ways of dealing with scripture that offends us. We use it sparingly in our lectionaries (the Book of Revelation almost never appears in the readings, the recent feast of the Assumption a notable exception); we say that it was "culturally conditioned" (attitudes about women and possession of slaves); we never mention some parts at all (Ps 137). Most especially, no Christians or Jews, to my limited knowledge, use Ps 137 or the words of God to Joshua to rationalize or legitimate attacks on other people.
What about the Koran? Does it, too, have both violent and peaceful words, sometimes in contradiction to each other? Yes, it does, and I'll give examples of both.
The following are from the Koran itself, not from someone's citation of it, online here:
[2.191] And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.
[9.73] O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.
[9.123] O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness; and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).
[2.256] There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the Shaitan and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.
So we've seen that Jews, Christians, and Muslims hold inspired scripture that urges love, tolerance, and forgiveness as well as violence. The relevant point, however, is that Christians and Jews don't claim the nastier parts of their scriptures as a rationale for evil deeds at this moment in history and for some centuries past. How about Muslims? Some of them do, and they mean what they say. Bin Laden's fatwa against Americans and Jews, for instance, is absolutely essential reading. I think every schoolchild in America should know what it says, and it should be posted on every wall of every United States government agency in the world. For purposes of space, I'm excerpting from it here, but you have the link and can read the whole thing:
Praise be to God, who revealed the Book, controls the clouds, defeats factionalism, and says in His Book "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)"; and peace be upon our Prophet, Muhammad Bin-'Abdallah, who said "I have been sent with the sword between my hands to ensure that no one but God is worshipped, God who put my livelihood under the shadow of my spear and who inflicts humiliation and scorn on those who disobey my orders." The Arabian Peninsula has never--since God made it flat, created its desert, and encircled it with seas--been stormed by any forces like the crusader armies now spreading in it like locusts, consuming its riches and destroying its plantations. All this is happening at a time when nations are attacking Muslims like people fighting over a plate of food. In the light of the grave situation and the lack of support, we and you are obliged to discuss current events, and we should all agree on how to settle the matter.
All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, his messenger, and Muslims. And ulema have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries. This was revealed by Imam Bin-Qadamah in "Al- Mughni," Imam al-Kisa'i in "Al- Bada'i," al-Qurtubi in his interpretation, and the shaykh of al-Islam in his books, where he said "As for the militant struggle, it is aimed at defending sanctity and religion, and it is a duty as agreed. Nothing is more sacred than belief except repulsing an enemy who is attacking religion and life."
On that basis, and in compliance with God's order, we issue the following fatwa to all Muslims:
The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God."
Interesting, isn't it, how he uses the Koran and the words of other Muslim scholars and texts to justify what he wants? Religious people who base their faith on inspired scriptures have done similar things for thousands of years, obviously. But few in the last several centuries have put their money where their mouth is the way bin Laden has.
E. G. asked What is it about Islam that makes it so important to you that it should be clearly linked and even branded co-conspirator with the actions of a perverted few?
I hope by this time it's clear (and I think it was before, too) that I don't link Islam with the evil actions of a perverted few. I do think it is important to discuss and analyze Islam, though, because there are enough of those "few" to do a good deal of damage to us, as they have, and to the rest of the world, as they have. One must ask, too, why some Muslims who are not themselves violent applaud the acts of the few or simply don't condemn them. It's an important question, and one that deserves clear-minded, rational, and, most importantly, unemotional analysis. It's obvious that at the moment no one has the definitive answer to those questions. The diversity of opinion about them demonstrates that. There's much more to say, but it's late and time to stop.
E.G. asks some challenging questions about my perception of Islam, particularly in terms of how it compares to Christianity in its use of violence. He writes that I argue
that Islam has bred more misguided killers and committed more bloody acts than have Christians.
Is there a study you have read that has counted all the Muslims and Protestants slain by Jesuits and Christians, and finds that number less than all the Christians and Jews that have been slain by Muslims? What is the point?
No one lays the sins of Hitler at the feet of all Christians, nor the sins of each corrupt Pope that commissioned assassins and armies to kill Rome's enemies. So why lay the sins of Bin Laden and the Taliban at the feet of every Muslim by arguing that Islam somehow breds more misguided, murderous cowards. Finally, he says,
What is it about Islam that makes it so important to you that it should be clearly linked and even branded co-conspirator with the actions of a perverted few?
There are many things to say to respond to these remarks, and, actually, I'm glad for the opportunity to think it all through and arrange it semi-coherently. Let's start with a very minor point that can be addressed quickly: Hitler was not a Christian. He was brought up as one but decisively rejected Christianity as an adult, adopting instead a paganism based on German heroic mythology. Hitler killed Jews, but he also exterminated Catholics, most notable among them St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Edith Stein. Protestants weren't exempt either (don't want to be accused of not being inclusive here) as we see most famously in the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Now to the main points. I have nowhere argued that Islam has bred more killers and committed more bloody acts than have Christians. That was not the point at all. I thought very carefully about the time frame I chose in my post:
I hope the children who read it have another place to go to learn about the Christian suicide bombers of the last 30 years, because they won't find it here.
I chose 30 years because of the Black September attack on Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in 1972 (see link to very good story on this in post below). The attack was a watershed event that perhaps could be called the beginning of the modern era of Islamic terrorism. In that time period, 30 years, have Christians committed unprovoked violence upon civilian populations, especially in the name of God? The only example I can think of is the bombing of abortion clinics, which is an unspeakably hypocritical abomination from anyone who calls himself pro-life. If you insist on talking numbers, however, there have been many fewer abortion clinic bombers than Palestinian suicide bombers. But to continue on topic: this example addresses an important idea E. G. brings up: we should not generalize the evil deeds of individuals to the group to which they belong. As a pro-life advocate, I certainly would not want pro-abortion people believing that since I am Christian and pro-life, I am the same as someone who is Christian, pro-life, and a terrorist. Nowhere at any time in this blog have I even suggested that all Muslims are terrorists or otherwise murderous. What I was addressing in today's comment was Mitch Frank's moral equivalence in his statement "Is Islam violent? No more than any other religion."
Let's unpack that. Frank brings up the Crusades. Yes, they were awful all around. Everyone killed everyone else. Later in the Reformation violence of Christians directed to other Christians and to Jews continued as Protestants slaughtered Catholics, Catholics Protestants, Protestants unpopular forms of Protestantism (i.e., Huguenots), until everyone was so exhausted, and so many were dead, that they all signed the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The advent of the historical-critical "objective" methods of reading scripture actually owes a good deal to the wars of religion following the reformation. Spinoza and others wanted a person simply to read scripture without killing one's opponents for differing interpretations. Thus was ushered in the Enlightenment, and Catholics and Protestants have for the most part allowed one another, and everyone else, to worship in physical safety, even if the doctrinal battles of the intellect continued. As they should, if the goal is to reach the Truth.
Islam, however, has not experienced anything similar to the Christian experience of Reformation, Counter-Reformation, wars of religion, and Enlightenment, codified in our country by the often uneasy balance of the First Amendment with the "separation of church and state." (I've written at length on these topics previously as well, if there are any new readers here.) Shortly after 9-11, Andrew Sullivan wrote an article that has been thoroughly discussed ever since, "This is a Religious War." His theme is precisely that Islam may not yet be ready to be "tolerant" of other religions because it has not yet experienced anything like what we did in the 16th-17th centuries. He writes,
For unlike Europe's religious wars, which taught Christians the futility of fighting to the death over something beyond human understanding and so immune to any definitive resolution, there has been no such educative conflict in the Muslim world. Only Iran and Afghanistan have experienced the full horror of revolutionary fundamentalism, and only Iran has so far seen reason to moderate to some extent. From everything we see, the lessons Europe learned in its bloody history have yet to be absorbed within the Muslim world. There, as in 16th-century Europe, the promise of purity and salvation seems far more enticing than the mundane allure of mere peace. That means that we are not at the end of this conflict but in its very early stages.
The above is one difference between Christianity and Islam that has great bearing on the conduct of each religion today. Next I want to take a look at the scriptures of the two religions, and, much more importantly, how each interprets scripture. I'm going to post this and continue.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Dear brother in Islam, thank you very much for having confidence in us and we hope our efforts, which are purely for Allah’s Sake, meet your expectations.
Answering the question, Dr. `Ali Jum`ah, professor of Islamic Jurisprudence, Al-Azhar University, states the following:
“Originally, the word “terrorism” is a Qur’anic word that means warding off the aggressor and bringing people back to the straight path. Allah Almighty says: “Make ready for them all thou canst of (armed) force and of horses tethered, that thereby ye may dismay the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others beside them whom ye know not. Allah knoweth them…” (Al-Anfaal: 60)
Here, it is clear, on the one hand, that terrorism is meant to terrify the enemies of Muslims who are in the dark about the truth.
Mass media, on the other hand, have used this Qur’anic term out of its context and now the equivalents of the word terrorism are aggression, injustice, tyranny, killing innocent civilians, etc. All these forms are categorically rejected in Islam. Allah Almighty says: “…and do not transgress limits, for Allah loves not the transgressors.” (Al-Baqarah: 190)
To say that Ibn Laden and his group are terrorists is something related to personal judgement rather than a fatwa. It is better that such matter be left for an impartial judiciary to decide, by probing into evidence and addressing related issues that will help it reach final decisions, instead of playing tricks with people’s minds and avoid dealing with the issue extensively.
Actually, some people have wrongly tampered with concepts, distorted facts, thus mixing up doubtful matters with charges, placing charges in the same category with condemnation, and put condemnation in the same category with applying punishment. Finally, they put this punishment in effect and started carrying out the punishment they decided without proper evidence and justifiable reason.
O Allah ! Have mercy upon all Muslims from the clues of their enemies and guide them so that they might act as a means in guiding others, Amen.”
After following the flap about the NEA's lesson plans on 9-11 (see below for link), I decided to email my son's social studies teacher and ask her what she planned to do and say regarding the anniversary. Her response was disturbing. She plans only to emphasize that the students should be good citizens, she wrote.
I wrote back. Are you going to teach about Islam, Afganistan, bin Laden, the Taliban?
No, she said. The upshot is that, in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings of 1999, she attempted to explore the root causes of that tragedy. Parents were upset at her treatment. She was unhappy. Therefore, as she wrote, another wonderful opportunity to teach children is going to slip away.
So much for the concept "teachable moment."
Two days ago I bought Mitch Frank's Understanding September 11, a book for children ages 12 and up. The good thing about it is that it gathers information about that day, terrorism, Islam, the Middle East, Afganistan, bin Laden, and al-Qaeda in one place. The bad thing about it is the information itself. It's full of gems like this:
"Is Islam violent? No more than any other religion." This after a discussion of the sins of the Christians in the Crusades, the date for which is given as 1095. I hope the children who read it have another place to go to learn about the Christian suicide bombers of the last 30 years, because they won't find it here. Or is that because there aren't any Christian suicide bombers? Oh, sorry, forgot to mention that.
I'm picking on the negative. There are positive things in this book. But one of its main teaching benefits will be demonstrating how to evaluate documentary history critically.
"When a master technician of words and phrases sets himself the task of revealing the product of the unconscious mind of a moral monster, a pervert and an invert, an apostate to his race and religion, the simulacrum of a man who has neither cultural background nor personal self-respect, who can neither be taught by experience nor lessoned by example, as Mr. Joyce has done in drawing the picture of Leopold Bloom, and giving a faithful reproduction of his thought, purposeful, vagrant and obsessive, he undoubtedly knew full well what he was undertaking, and how unacceptable the vile contents of that unconscious mind would be to ninety-nine men out of a hundred, and how incensed they would be at having the disgusting product thrown in their faces. But that has nothing to do with that with which I am here concerned, viz., has the job been done well and is it a work of art, to which there can only be an affirmative answer."
Blogging has been light and, frankly, will continue to be light. I'm devoting myself to the dissertation, which is using up much of the space in my brain. Long thoughtful posts will appear occasionally. But if they appear too often irrefutable evidence exists that I'm not doing much dissertation work.
Sami al-Arian is, in a word, despicable. He roots for terrorist murderers and lies about it on national television. He raises money for terrorist organizations and then says he didn't do it. He says one thing in Arabic and another thing in English, and then pretends he didn't say what video cameras clearly caught him saying.
The long-standing idea behind tenure is to protect scholars from reprisal when they advocate ideas that do not meet with general approval. That's not the argument against Sami al-Arian. His ideas may be repulsive to me, but it's unquestionable that someone who believes terrorism against Israelis and Americans is a legitimate form of protest has every right to express that view.
But there is a difference between expressing an opinion and the active creation and management of a network of organizations to offer assistance in carrying out acts of terrorism.
Good choice on the list: Lord Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists prior to WWII, husband of Diana Mitford.
Unbalanced choice: Mary Tudor, labeled "Bloody Mary," who "revelled in burning heretics at the stake ". We'll grant that Catholic Mary did persecute Protestants. But the English seem congenitally incapable of recognizing that Mary's Protestant half-sister "Good Queen Bess," Elizabeth I, hunted down and executed Catholics.
By the way, Monty Python should have been on the earlier list of best Brits. Raising the laughter quotient of several nations is a real service to humanity. NB: I don't like "Life of Brian" either, and "The Meaning of Life" is even worse in my opinion, but the "Flying Circus" and "Holy Grail" outweigh the sins of the former two.
All of the following is directed to middle schoolers (grades 6-8):
This of course goes without saying:
"Circle of Feelings"
Give students the opportunity to discuss and have validated their feelings about the events of september [sic] 11 in a non-judgmental discussion circle.
In "Let It Begin with One" the teacher can integrate math into the remembrance of the tragedy. How?
To use math in understanding the scope of the Sept. 11th tragedy and how the world could be a better place if ONE person does a good thing for two people and then asks each one to do one good thing for tow [sic] OTHER people.
Keep in mind that this is for grades 6-8.
The NEA even suggests music as part of the lesson plan, ranging from folk dances and Scott Joplin rags to "Latin and tango selections". The one sort of music they don't suggest? Patriotic songs.
Sitting alone at her table, Priscilla Owen faced a long panel of outraged men and two rabidly pro-choice women. Feminists not only remained silent, but watched gleefully as four powerful men took turns verbally assaulting a woman. Schumer hounded Owen with a series of questions, refusing to let her answer. At one point, an exasperated Senator Orrin Hatch came to her rescue. "Senator Schumer," he exploded, "let the lady answer the question." What if the tables had been turned, and a crowd of conservative women looked on eagerly as a lonely woman, suspected of being pro-choice, faced a predominantly male panel of outspoken pro-lifers who wouldn't let her speak at her own hearing? Feminist activists would have declared that the poor woman had been psychologically gang-raped.
...The political lynching that we witnessed that day left us wondering what chance we have of succeeding in the public arena. If feminists will ardently attack a woman based merely on the assumption that she's pro-life, what will happen to those of us women who are more vocal and visible in the pro-life movement now? A movement that was once admirable, opening many new doors to women, has now degenerated into one weary choice — to be, or not to be, pro-abortion. The message to young women is clear: The wrong answer to the abortion question will damn you and your ambitions to an invisible glass cage. If feminists had their way, we are two young women who would stay barefoot and pregnant.
Wow, I could spend the rest of the day analyzing this. Diana, Princess of Wales: of course she's on the list. But George Eliot is not. Boy George, yes, Boy George, but not Sam Johnson. Ireland and the Irish are included in this survey of "Britons," and Bono makes the list, but not James Joyce.
Satisfyingly, however, Thomas More is listed. As is Henry VIII!
The intensity of the contest, which played on racial issues as well as international relations, showed itself in the turnout. State and county election officials said about 45 percent of the district's registered voters turned out -- the highest for any major race in the state.
McKinney herself had fueled much of that passion with comments this spring implying that President Bush had evidence the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were about to occur -- but didn't act because his friends stood to gain financially.
On Monday, state Rep. Billy McKinney (D-Atlanta) dismissed Majette's candidacy and spelled out the reason for his daughter's tough fight: "J-E-W-S," he said on television.
You've probably already heard about or even seen the al-Qaeda video CNN showed. The one where the wretches test their chemical weapons on dogs. Rod Dreher in The Corner writes, "It's horrible, but even worse is to imagine your spouse and children writhing on the floor, twitching, screaming and dying like those poor hounds. That's what al-Qaeda has in mind for us -- and what Saddam has the capability to do to us."
Busy day today. My son starts school tomorrow and needs a haircut, among other things. The wait is always long at our favorite barbershop. Then we hop over to the university, where we must undertake my first task of the new school year: carrel moving. The joyful news is that I get a carrel with a window! And not just any window, but one with the ultimate view: the Vietnam Memorial Fountain, the the Golden Dome, and the basilica, all lined up in a neat row. This is very, very good, as I'm devoting this year to finishing the dissertation. Sunlight will help speed the process immensely.
Coming up: a stab at the best college novels; an analysis and prognostication of the state of Catholic biblical studies as observed at the meeting of the Catholic Biblical Association a few weeks ago.
Essential reading for anyone interested in the continued availability of good books. First Daniel Akst talks about Borders' new marketing strategy, which some critics have likened to the promotion of snack foods (hence the Pop-Tart reference). I'm a big fan of capitalism, as is my husband, but for the last couple of years we've been discussing one of the major pitfalls of the system. Namely: if the goal is to make lots of money, retailers necessarily need to target the largest market. And, unfortunately, the largest market isn't necessarily going to be afficionados of the finer things in life, from food to movies to books. I'm trying hard to avoid sounding elitist here, but it does seem that most people really don't care about paying a higher price for good cheese or watching movies at art theaters or reading "literary" books. I don't want to make any comparative arguments about taste, just to make this simple point.
So, will the new marketing strategy of Borders eventually but ineluctably exclude quirky novels and any poetry? That's my interpretation of the first question Akst asks. (Yes, that collision of words was purposeful--couldn't resist!) The second theme is one that many thinking readers have been discussing for the last couple of years: are chain bookstores like Borders or Barnes & Noble ultimately beneficial or detrimental to the general availability of all kinds of books? One side argues that the chains crowd out and destroy "boutique" bookstores (the "You've Got Mail" argument). They say that we don't get less popular books at the chains, only the best sellers. The other side, which to my mind probably has the better end of the argument, says that the chains have brought books to places that didn't have them before; the big stores don't stock just Clancy and Danielle Steele, but do indeed carry many interestingly off-beat things. In addition, the chains can order anything you want.
You won't find anyone who loves a quirky little used bookstore or specialty boutique more than I do. But they're usually available only to those who live in large cities. I grew up in a tiny Midwestern town, population 15,000 or so, that had no bookstore for a 60 mile radius. I read everything in the little red stone Carnegie library (or thought that I did, which amounts to the same thing) and then spun my wheels until college. There was no internet, and I had no idea that I could order books from any catalogue (my parents weren't readers). While my hometown still has no bookstore, at least most people know about Borders, can search one out, and can be exposed to a number of good books. This is a net gain for the greatest number of people. I hope that Borders thrives, and that it continues to stock many different sorts of books, not just top sellers.
We're home, thanks to the grace and kindness of the Lord, but with very little assistance from American and United Airlines.
To start at the penultimate point of our wanderings (they weren't epic wanderings, so I won't begin in the middle):
We drove to Bush Airport in Houston on a partly cloudy Friday afternoon around 3:30 p.m., bade an affectionate farewell to our friends (more on our activities with them later), and checked in with nothing but an expectation that our plane would take off on time. As you've picked up from my foreshadowing, however, such was not the case. Our flight was delayed two hours. My son was heartsick, longing for the extra two hours he could have had with his friends. But wait: we could take another flight to Dallas that would connect to a flight to Chicago and get us there only an hour later than we had planned. This sounded good, as my husband was due to fly from Boston, where he's on a big consulting project, to Chicago, where we were to meet 8:00-9:00 p.m. and thence to MI for the big highly anticipated bow-wow pow-wow.
So we get on the flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth. When we land, we find the American flight to Chicago is cancelled, but they'll put us on a United flight. Alright. We rush to the other terminal to catch it, and no one is at the desk. We sit. It's been delayed to 9:30. We sit, make lots of phone calls, and can't eat anything because all the vendors have rolled up the sidewalks. It's delayed again. It's delayed again. We take off at midnight and arrive in Chicago at 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning, meet the poor husband, who's been waiting at O'Hare since 9:00, and decide to drive home instead going to MI, of course. We fall into bed at 4:00 a.m.
We're pretty tired, of course, and get to the Vizsla party way too late to swim in the lake, although we hear all kinds of stories about doggies from 8 weeks to ? years old swimming amongst the lily pads, Vizslas riding on boogie boards, Vizslas eating barbeque. I was so disappointed I could cry. But we did at least have a chance to socialize with everyone in the evening amidst the mosquitoes, who were without doubt the most successful minglers there. One must simply put aside the thought of West Nile Virus and enjoy.
Gotta relate a brief note about a little female Vizsla named Jag. She is the baby of her owner, who's probably 6'4" and 230 lbs. One second the little girl was at his feet; the next she had leaped from a full standing position to a human wrap. Her back legs were wrapped on either side on his stomach, the front on either side of his neck, and her head, of course, face to face with her love, licking him in the face. A true picture of a Vizsla.
Sunday was the second half of the dog show that had started the day before. Our dog won several events, earning numerous ribbons, a Vizsla trivet and a set of four embossed Vizsla glasses! That's something you'll never find at Burger King.
My husband had to stop at the Bass Pro Shop on the way home. It was too hot to leave the dog in the car, so he came in, too. Being an outdoor shop, it didn't object to the presence of a gun dog. Bass Pro Shop is a pretty incredible place. Even more than a retail establishment, it's almost a museum. There are exhibits with stuffed (formerly living) animals all over. It has a huge aquarium stocked with game fish, which the dog observed with rapt attention, paws up on the wall, nose to glass. It has a little creek running through the middle of the store with live birds in it. The dog was far too interested in the birds, but he behaved. The funniest part, however, was how he responded to the life-size ceramic Golden Retrievers. They were so life-like that our guy took the liberty of smelling their behinds! A dog is a dog, but our real dog did figure out that they were fake dogs, and he turned away with a sniff.
And they're off! Tomorrow morning, far too early, we're flying to Houston to visit a dear friend for a week. Directly after returning, we travel to Michigan for a Vizsla party. Our dog's handler is hosting this canine shindig at her house, and we're anticipating swimming, cookouts, good company, and a dozen rambunctious Hungarian Pointers--all Vizslas, all the time. We'll return on August 19.
I would really like to post a picture of our beautiful dog, but I still haven't made the effort to figure out how to do it. If you want to see examples of the breed, you can go here. Click on "Calvin's picture gallery" # 17 on the left to see lots of Vs in their favorite settings: in the field and on a human's lap! I don't know these people or their dogs, but the pictures are good. Hope you enjoy them.
I don't know if I'll be able to blog for the next ten days; maybe, but maybe not. If not, see you 8-19.
It's a week late, yes, but I just now got around to reading Peggy Noonan's column on meeting the pope. I've never met the pope, but I've seen him from a distance in person, and I've seen him on TV, and I always have the same physical response that Noonan talks about--tears. Why is that? Why tears? What does this man evoke in so many people to produce tears?
Ralph McInerny, professor, author extraordinaire of many murder mysteries and much else, has an office on the 7th floor of Hesburgh Library. He obligingly makes available free copies of Crisis magazine to anyone who cares to take them, and I wander up there every couple of months to get them. Sometimes I run into the man himself. We're acquaintances and chat a little bit.
The last time we spoke was perhaps over a year ago, and I complimented him on his truly brilliant adaptations of Shakespeare's sonnets that appeared in First Things. He very kindly asked me if I wrote poetry. I said I did, a little, and, amazingly, he asked to see it. What a gentleman. Most real poets would pay to avoid reading amateurs' work. I politely and sincerely declined; my poetry is not ready for prime time.
Then he asked, "Who are your favorite poets?"
"T. S. Eliot and ... Wallace Stevens, even though he was an atheist."
Prof. McInerny's response to this was positive. He, too, thinks Stevens is a superb poet and enjoys him.
This little exchange came to mind when I nabbed a few copies of Crisis yesterday. Stevens' allegiance, if I remember correctly, was to aesthetics above all. Ruminating on this, I recalled a quote by Keats: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know." As a Christian I don't quite agree with the latter portion of that statement, but let's think about the former portion for a minute and relate it to Joyce and Tolstoy and how each author handles, for example, the issue of adultery. Both Joyce and Tolstoy write truthfully about adultery, Joyce most famously from the perspective of Molly Bloom, who is quite clearly in favor of the act and says something like "if that's the worst people do, they're not doing too badly." I'm not saying that I agree with this sentiment, only that it's true that many people believe it. Tolstoy, on the other hand, portrays the terrible cost of adultery in agonizing detail. Both are true characterizations of the deed; both are stunningly written in their own very different ways, and so both are beautiful. That much I'm sure about. But I'm still struggling with the idea of ultimate truth, and whether that need be present for a piece of literature to be considered truly good, and not just aesthetically so.
T. S. O'Rama in the comments below gives some really interesting but rather disturbing quotes from Shelby Foote addressed to Walker Percy:
"..The best novelists have all been doubters; their only firm conviction, the only one never shaken, is that absolute devotion and belief in the sanctity of art which results in further seeking, not a sense of having found."
Against all modern evidence to the contrary, I want to disbelieve that "a sense of having found" kills good art. Past masters belie this opinion. Augustine, having been ravished by God, writes prose that ravishes his readers: "beauty ever ancient, ever new ..." Dante's Divine Comedy is the supreme example of "finding," ending as it does with the beatific vision, "the Love that moves the sun and other stars." I'm not yet willing to give up hope that our times and our God can inspire good that is beautiful and true in every sense.
The conference in Cleveland was excellent, and a number of topics we talked about there might be of interest to readers here. I'll get to them later this evening if all goes well. In addition, I would like to say a little more about literature, truth, and beauty, by adding to the mix Ralph McInerny and Wallace Stevens. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, however, you may want to click on the Finland/bears link above. According to his own story, a Finnish man picking blueberries experienced quite an unusual encounter with a mother bear. What I found so terrifically amusing in this story was the deadpan way in which it was told. Is this the way Finnish reporters always talk, or is the tone, almost a catechetical sing-song, due to translation?
Who is the Lady of Shalott?Click here and find out. Why do I call myself the Lady of Shalott?
In addition to being a blogger, I'm a wife, mother, and Ph.D. student specializing in scripture and the Graeco-Roman world, and I'm just a little bit pregnant with a dissertation (but we're not going to talk about the dissertation, are we? No!). In hopes of receiving tenure someday at a university as wonderful as the one I now attend, this blogger will remain resolutely anonymous. Nothing like yards of politically incorrect off-the-cuff statements to derail the tenure track. But we'll have lots of fun anyway.