Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Interesting Poems

By David Gascoyne (1916-2001), an English poet. You can read Ecce Homo as a poem that says "away with your religious Christ, let us worship the Christ of us!" Or you can read it as a call for something deeper, vital, in the religion whose history and rituals Gascoyne seems to discard. Of Pieta, I can only say it leaves me stunned.
Ecce Homo

Whose is this horrifying face,
This putrid flesh, discoloured, flayed,
Fed on by the flies, scorched by the sun?
Whose are these hollow red-filmed eyes
And thorn-spiked head and spear-stuck side?

Forget the legend, tear the decent veil
That cowardice or interest devised
To make their mortal enemy a friend,
To hide the bitter truth all His wounds tell,
Lest the great scandal be no more disguised:
He is in agony till the world's end,

And we must never sleep during that time!
He is suspended on the cross-tree now
And we are onlookers at the crime,
Callous contemporaries of the slow
Torture of God. Here is the hill
Made ghastly by His spattered blood

Whereon He hangs and suffers still:
See, the centurions wear riding-boots,
Black shirts and badges and peaked caps,
Greet one another with raised-arm salutes;
They have cold eyes, unsmiling lips;
Yet these his brothers know not what they do.

And on his either side hang dead
A labourer and a factory hand,
Or one is maybe a lynched Jew
And one a Negro or a Red,
Coolie or Ethiopian, Irishman,
Spaniard or German democrat.

Behind His lolling head the sky
Glares like a fiery cataract
Red with the murders of two thousand years
Committed in His name and by
Crusaders, Christian warriors
Defending faith and property.

Amid the plain beneath His transfixed hands,
Exuding darkness as indelible
As guilty stains, fanned by funeral
And lurid airs, besieged by drifting sands
And clefted landslides our about-to-be
Bombed and abandoned cities stand.

He who wept for Jerusalem
Now sees His prophecy extend
Across the greatest cities of the world,
A guilty panic reason cannot stem
Rising to raze them all as He foretold;
And He must watch this drama to the end.

Though often named, He is unknown
To the dark kingdoms at His feet
Where everything disparages His words,
And each man bears the common guilt alone
And goes blindfolded to his fate,
And fear and greed are sovereign lords.

The turning point of history
Must come. Yet the complacent and the proud
And who exploit and kill, may be denied--
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry--
The resurrection and the life
Wrought by your spirit's blood.

Involved in their own sophistry
The black priest and the upright man
Faced by subversive truth shall be struck dumb,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
While the rejected and condemned become
Agents of the divine.

Not from a monstrance silver-wrought
But from the tree of human pain,
Redeem our sterile misery,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
That man's long journey through the night
May not have been in vain.


Stark in the pasture on the skull-shaped hill,
In swollen aura of disaster shrunken and
Unsheltered by the ruin of the sky,
Intensely concentrated in themselves the banded
Saints abandoned kneel.

And under the unburdened tree
Great in their midst, the rigid folds
Of a blue cloak upholding as a text
Her grief-scrawled face for the ensuing world to read,
The Mother, whose dead Son's dear head
Weighs like a precious blood-incrusted stone
On her unfathomable breast:

Holds Him God has forsaken, Word made flesh
Made ransom, to the slow smoulder of her heart
Till the catharsis of the race shall be complete.
Does anybody know more about Gascoyne and his poetry? I'd love to learn.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Four Reasons Why I Love Christopher Hitchens

Taken from his review of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (courtesy of Mark Shea's blog):
One: He's got wit.: "I have already said that Moore's film has the staunch courage to mock Bush for his verbal infelicity. Yet it's much, much braver than that. From Fahrenheit 9/11 you can glean even more astounding and hidden disclosures, such as the capitalist nature of American society, the existence of Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex," and the use of "spin" in the presentation of our politicians. It's high time someone had the nerve to point this out."

Two: He's Got a Healthy Sense of Proportion.: "The president is also captured in a well-worn TV news clip, on a golf course, making a boilerplate response to a question on terrorism and then asking the reporters to watch his drive. Well, that's what you get if you catch the president on a golf course. If Eisenhower had done this, as he often did, it would have been presented as calm statesmanship. If Clinton had done it, as he often did, it would have shown his charm. More interesting is the moment where Bush is shown frozen on his chair at the infant school in Florida, looking stunned and useless for seven whole minutes after the news of the second plane on 9/11. Many are those who say that he should have leaped from his stool, adopted a Russell Crowe stance, and gone to work. I could even wish that myself. But if he had done any such thing then . . . half the Michael Moore community would now be calling him a man who went to war on a hectic, crazed impulse. The other half would be saying what they already say—that he knew the attack was coming, was using it to cement himself in power, and couldn't wait to get on with his coup."

Three: He Thinks.: "The same "let's have it both ways" opportunism infects his treatment of another very serious subject, namely domestic counterterrorist policy. From being accused of overlooking too many warnings . . . the administration is now lavishly taunted for issuing too many. (Would there not have been "fear" if the harbingers of 9/11 had been taken seriously?) We are shown some American civilians who have had absurd encounters with idiotic "security" staff. (Have you ever met anyone who can't tell such a story?) Then we are immediately shown underfunded police departments that don't have the means or the manpower to do any stop-and-search: a power suddenly demanded by Moore on their behalf that we know by definition would at least lead to some ridiculous interrogations. Finally, Moore complains that there isn't enough intrusion and confiscation at airports and says that it is appalling that every air traveler is not forcibly relieved of all matches and lighters. . . . But by this stage, who's counting? Moore is having it three ways and asserting everything and nothing."

Four: He Don't Back Down.: "I notice from the New York Times . . . that he has pompously established a rapid response team, and a fact-checking staff, and some tough lawyers, to bulwark himself against attack. He'll sue, Moore says, if anyone insults him or his pet. . . . However, I think we can agree that the film is so flat-out phony that "fact-checking" is beside the point. And as for the scary lawyers—get a life, or maybe see me in court. But I offer this, to Moore and to his rapid response rabble. Any time, Michael my boy. Let's redo [their debate at] Telluride. Any show. Any place. Any platform. Let's see what you're made of. . . . If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq. And Iraq itself would still be the personal property of a psychopathic crime family, bargaining covertly with the slave state of North Korea for WMD. You might hope that a retrospective awareness of this kind would induce a little modesty. To the contrary, it is employed to pump air into one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture. Rock the vote, indeed."
Unless he's writing about Catholicism, a subject which for some reason always unbalances him, Christopher Hitchens is one tough cookie and, to that extent, a hero of mine.

Via Poncer's blog, here are the movies I've seen from the top 100 grossing films of all time. Movies I've seen are in bold. Movies that I thought to be a total waste of my time are in italics.

1. Titanic
2. Star Wars

3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
4. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
5. Spider-Man
6. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
7. Passion of the Christ
8. Jurassic Park

9. Shrek 2
10. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
11. Finding Nemo

12. Forrest Gump
13. Lion King, The
14. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
15. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
16. Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
17. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
18. Independence Day

19. Pirates of the Caribbean
20. Sixth Sense, The (1999)
21. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

22. Home Alone
23. Matrix Reloaded, The
24. Shrek
25. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
26. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
27. Jaws
28. Monsters, Inc.
29. Batman
30. Men in Black

31. Toy Story 2
32. Bruce Almighty
33. Raiders of the Lost Ark
34. Twister
35. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
36. Ghost Busters
37. Beverly Hills Cop

38. Cast Away
39. Lost World: Jurassic Park, The
40. Signs
41. Rush Hour 2
42. Mrs. Doubtfire
43. Ghost (1990)
44. Aladdin
45. Saving Private Ryan
46. Mission: Impossible II
47. X2
48. Austin Powers in Goldmember
49. Back to the Future
50. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
51. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
52. Exorcist, The
53. Mummy Returns, The
54. Armageddon
55. Gone with the Wind
56. Pearl Harbor
57. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

58. Toy Story (1995)
59. Men in Black II
60. Gladiator
61. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
62. Dances with Wolves
63. Batman Forever
64. Fugitive, The

65. Ocean's Eleven
66. What Women Want
67. Perfect Storm, The
68. Liar Liar
69. Grease
70. Jurassic Park III
71. Mission: Impossible
72. Planet of the Apes
73. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
74. Pretty Woman

75. Tootsie
76. Top Gun
77. There's Something About Mary
78. Ice Age
79. Crocodile Dundee
80. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
81. Elf
82. Air Force One
83. Rain Man
84. Apollo 13
85. Matrix, The

86. Beauty and the Beast
87. Tarzan (1999)
88. Beautiful Mind, A
89. Chicago
90. Three Men and a Baby
91. Meet the Parents
92. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
93. Hannibal
94. Catch Me If You Can
95. Big Daddy
96. Sound of Music, The
97. Batman Returns
98. Bug's Life, A
99. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
100. Waterboy, The

Monday, June 21, 2004

Here It Is

The official statement of the USCC on the problem of pro-death Catholic politicians receiving communion According to ZENIT, it was adopted by a vote of 183-6:


We speak as bishops, as teachers of the Catholic faith and of the moral law. We have the duty to teach about human life and dignity, marriage and family, war and peace, the needs of the poor and the demands of justice. Today we continue our efforts to teach on a uniquely important matter that has recently been a source of concern for Catholics and others.

It is the teaching of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, founded on her understanding of her Lord’s own witness to the sacredness of human life, that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified. If those who perform an abortion and those who cooperate willingly in the action are fully aware of the objective evil of what they do, they are guilty of grave sin and thereby separate themselves from God’s grace. This is the constant and received teaching of the Church. It is, as well, the conviction of many other people of good will.

To make such intrinsically evil actions legal is itself wrong. This is the point most recently highlighted in official Catholic teaching. The legal system as such can be said to cooperate in evil when it fails to protect the lives of those who have no protection except the law. In the United States of America, abortion on demand has been made a constitutional right by a decision of the Supreme Court. Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good.

As our conference has insisted in Faithful Citizenship, Catholics who bring their moral convictions into public life do not threaten democracy or pluralism but enrich them and the nation. The separation of church and state does not require division between belief and public action, between moral principles and political choices, but protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life.

Our obligation as bishops at this time is to teach clearly. It is with pastoral solicitude for everyone involved in the political process that we will also counsel Catholic public officials that their acting consistently to support abortion on demand risks making them cooperators in evil in a public manner. We will persist in this duty to counsel, in the hope that the scandal of their cooperating in evil can be resolved by the proper formation of their consciences.

Having received an extensive interim report from the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, and looking forward to the full report, we highlight several points from the interim report that suggest some directions for our efforts:
We need to continue to teach clearly and help other Catholic leaders to teach clearly on our unequivocal commitment to the legal protection of human life from the moment of conception until natural death. Our teaching on human life and dignity should be reflected in our parishes and our educational, health care and human service ministries.

We need to do more to persuade all people that human life is precious and human dignity must be defended. This requires more effective dialogue and engagement with all public officials, especially Catholic public officials. We welcome conversation initiated by political leaders themselves.

Catholics need to act in support of these principles and policies in public life. It is the particular vocation of the laity to transform the world. We have to encourage this vocation and do more to bring all believers to this mission. As bishops, we do not endorse or oppose candidates. Rather, we seek to form the consciences of our people so that they can examine the positions of candidates and make choices based on Catholic moral and social teaching.

The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.

We commit ourselves to maintain communication with public officials who make decisions every day that touch issues of human life and dignity.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic life. Therefore, like every Catholic generation before us, we must be guided by the words of St. Paul, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). This means that all must examine their consciences as to their worthiness to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord. This examination includes fidelity to the moral teaching of the Church in personal and public life.

The question has been raised as to whether the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life is necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand. Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action. Nevertheless, we all share an unequivocal commitment to protect human life and dignity and to preach the Gospel in difficult times.

The polarizing tendencies of election-year politics can lead to circumstances in which Catholic teaching and sacramental practice can be misused for political ends. Respect for the Holy Eucharist, in particular, demands that it be received worthily and that it be seen as the source for our common mission in the world.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Appropos of Nothing

Here are the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, according to The Hobbit Name Generator:
Popo Sackville-Baggins
Olo Bramble of Willowbottom
Drogo Sandybanks
Grigory Boffin of Needlehole
Bungo Boggy-Hillocks of Dwalling
Podo Bulge of Hobbiton
Esmereldat Bleecker-Baggins of Fair Downs
Mungo Burrows
Ruby Gamwich of the Bree Gamwiches

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Tootin' My Own Horn, Sort Of

I'm enjoying keeping up on my predictions for 2004 Here's another one that's come true, well, mostly. Responding to William Safire's prediction that the Supreme Court will deadlock (4-4, with Scalia recusing himself) on the constitutionality of using the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, I wrote:
The Supreme Court wouldn't touch the Pledge of Allegiance with a barge pole. I'm betting it will issue a ridiculous, self-contradictory and tortured opinion that will reverse the Ninth Circuit's decision while leaving everything else undecided. I anticipate lots of hilarious to-ing and fro-ing as the solons who run America's school districts try to write "inclusive" and "neutral" pledges that will express the shimmering, insubstantial essence of the Supreme Court's opinion to the satisfaction of the vengeful imps known as District Court judges.
Well, the Supreme Court recently held that it wasn't going to touch the Pledge with a barge pole. You can read the full text of the Court's opinion (in PDF format) here. The Court's opinion proves me both right and wrong. I'll elaborate.

Wrong. When I wrote that the Court will issue a "ridiculous, self-contradictory and tortured opinion that will reverse the Ninth Circuit's decision while leaving everything else undecided," I had in mind something on the order of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), in which Justice O'Connor swapped her judicial robe and gavel for a mumu and incense before gibbering, "At the heart of [the Fourteenth Amendment's idea of] liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." She -- and the two other judges who smelled the bong smoke -- proceeded to junk the trimester framework which was the centerpiece of Roe on the following grounds: (a) keeping the framework would allow advances in medical science to erode Roe beyond recognition; (b) doing so would allow the states to restrict the number of dead babies produced by Planned Parenthood abortion mills; and (c) since the Court has the power to say that something which was once essential is no longer essential, it should lift itself out of the dilemma by its own bootstraps.

Rather than repeat history as farce, the Supreme Court used the obscurities of federal "standing" law to duck the case. Basically, "standing" means that parties to a lawsuit have to have a sufficiently-recognizable stake in the outcome of the litigation before courts will decide their claims. The Pledge plaintiff, Michael Newdow, was suing because his poor daughter was subjected to a recitation of "under God" by California schoolteachers, thus interfering with his right to present her with a bunch of atheist twaddle, encouraging her (for example) to believe in an unfettered and inalienable right to define her own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life etc. -- perhaps even, someday, joining Justice O'Connor (and maybe Justice Souter, we're not sure about him yet) in the Mumu-ed Sisterhood of Judicial Goddesses. Unfortunately for Mr. Newdow a rare outbreak of judicial sanity in California left him without legal custody of his daughter. So the Court pounced: (1) If Newdow doesn't have custody, he doesn't have parental rights over his daughter. (2) If Newdow doesn't have parental rights over his daughter, the recitation of the pledge in her presence can't interfere with his rights. (3) If the recitation of the pledge can't interfere with Newdow's (non-existent) parental rights, he's got no business using the courts to get his fifteeen-minutes-of-fame. Next!

Right. The net effect of the Court's decision is to vacate the decisions of the District Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on federal establishment-clause grounds. But only as to Newdow and his daughter. Whether using the phrase "under God" is constitutionally permissible is left undecided, save that everybody's shown their cards at this point. Californians know that federal district judges will invalidate the pledge's use of the phrase on first-amendment grounds whenever the case gets brought by somebody who has custody. They also know that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will uphold that decision. Lastly, they know that when they get to the Supreme Court, five justices are so uncomfortable with the constitutionality of "under God" that they made themselves into judicial pretzels (read Justice Rhenquist's skewering of the "standing" opinion) to avoid saying one way or the other just right now. Not to mention Justice Sandra "Define Your Own Mystery of Life" O'Connor's adherence to the ephemeral "endorsement test" which can provide endless grounds for nitpicking pledge-recitations to death. (Does the teacher stand so close to the American flag as to suggest an "endorsement" of "under God" as an attribute of citizenship? Did Colonel Mustard define the mystery of life in the library with a candlestick?) Well, that question's going to be answered by someone who's stupid enough to write this:
Even if taken literally, the phrase ["under God"] is merely descriptive; it purports only to identify the United States as a Nation subject to divine authority. That cannot be seen as a serious invocation of God or as an expression of individual submission to divine authority.
Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, No. 02-1624 (O'Connor, J., burbling).
So if I say, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done," I'm only identifying myself as a person subject to divine authority, which cannot be seen as a serious invocation of God or as an expression of my individual submission to Him. Pity that Jesus didn't have Sandra O'Connor clerking for him. He would have been more clear. Seriously, though, how infirm is the mind which can produce such nonsense?

Infirm enough to be swayed, the next time the issue metastasizes to supreme-court proportions, by evidence in the record that pictures of firemen, police officers, and soldiers were displayed simultaneously, thus suggesting to a neutral observer a symbolic endorsement of their offices as representations of divine authority. I could make a poster: "This is your brain. // This is your brain on strict scrutiny."

So, that's six more-than-possible "no God" votes the next time around, depending on what Justice O'Connor drank with lunch, and that's not even starting with the independent and adequate state grounds argument which could invalidate "under God" solely as a matter of the California swiss-cheese scrap of paper Constitution. As noted, it's all up for grabs. Stand by for lots of hilarious to-ing and fro-ing as the solons who run America's school districts try to write "inclusive" and "neutral" pledges that express the shimmering, insubstantial essence of the Supreme Court's opinion to the satisfaction of the vengeful imps known as District Court judges. Or, if you like, exercise their liberty to define their own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
We're Shocked, Shocked!

Crux News beat me to the reference, but the reaction of so many people to news that the Bush Administration is trying to find a legal justification for torturing people in order to (turn off your irony sensors, to avoid feedback) fight the war on terror reminds me of Captain Reneau, the Vichy policeman who was "shocked" to find gambling going on at Rick's Cafe Americain. Of course I haven't read the Bush torture memos. No one outside the apparatus of state security is supposed to read them. They're classified, and as any good fascist will tell you, the legal principles which guide the state must be kept secret in order to protect the people. We can't have a bunch of sleazy trial lawyers making stupid arguments about human dignity and the rule of law. There's a war on, you know.

But the documents are available nonetheless. Or at leas one of them is -- a Department of Defense memo classified by Secretary Rumsfeld himself. The best and brightest who came up with this stuff have performed to their usual "Vietnam's not a war, it's a police action" standard. For example, the memo explains why U.S. laws criminalizing torture do not make it a crime to torture people (Americans or otherwise) who are in the United States. (Section III(A)(1)). With respect to torture inflicted on persons (Americans or otherwise) who aren't living in Dubuque, the memo explains that since the statute only criminalizes actions "specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain," it can't be violated by someone whose actions are specifically intended to obtain valuable information by means of severe physical or mental pain. (Section III(A)(1)(a)). A note to that section goes on to warn the Administration that juries are legally empowered to reject that argument and find specific intent despite the torturers' high-minded desire to protect schoolchildren from those identified (mistakenly or otherwise) as terrorists.[1] Nasty things, juries. A bunch of ignorant yahoos empowered to put spokes in the wheels, like they do in all those frivolous tort cases, at the behest of sleazy trial lawyers. We probably ought to get rid of juries too. There's a war on, you know.

What really bothers me is that there's nothing shocking about this. Our present Administration is searching for legal justifications for torturing U.S. citizens. So what? Back in Clinton's day, the U.S. Marine Corps conducted a study to find out if Marines would gun down "U.S. Citizens who refuse or resist confiscation of firearms banned by the U.S. government."[2] Bobby Kennedy had Martin Luther King's telephones tapped, as well as the phones at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, for reasons of "national security." [3] It gets beaten to death, but it's still true that the Nixon administration attempted to affect the conduct of a presidential election. The only thing that really ticks me off about the constant references to Watergate is the same thing that sticks in my craw about how "shocked" everybody is about Donald Rumsfeld's "the Dog Ate My Constitution" memos. This isn't shocking at all. It's business as usual.

Using law to evade the law is what governments do. All governments, all the time, everywhere. Hell, even King David used "national security" to get Uriah killed and sleep with Bathsheba. If I had to pick one text for required reading in every civics class, it wouldn't be Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws, The Federalist Papers, Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France or any similar work. It would be 1 Samuel Chapter 8:
And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beer-sheba. And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment. Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.

And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.

And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles. And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.
Or, as the legal scholar Roscoe Pound observed, the same elements of human nature which make governors a necessary part of civilization also make them a constant threat to civilized life. I'm not making an argument that "godly societies" shouldn't have kings, presidents, or national security agencies. I don't think that government is purely a consequence of the Fall. But I am reminding all and sundry that even if government isn't a consequence of the Fall, it's nonetheless a human phenomenon which is affected by the Fall.

Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush suffer from depraved appetites and darkened intellects. As do we all. That fact, and not some good-government instinct for organizational tidiness, is the real reason for checks, balances, and governmental transparency. To paraphrase another President who was prone to tearing up the Constitution in the pursuit of noble goals, Satan can tempt some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but he can't tempt all the people all the time.

Whether George and company have deluded themselves into believing that the ends can justify the means, or whether they're suffering from a form of "combat fatigue" that's caused them to quail at the burden of defending the legal order while also obeying it, the fact remains that this is what happens to everybody, albeit on a much smaller scale on the order of worldly things. George Bush thinks he can inflict severe mental pain on people to get needed information. An assistant manager at Wal-Mart thinks he can humiliate a worker to get needed productivity. John Ashcroft thinks he should refuse to disclose the torture memos. A bank vice president thinks he should hide his bank's losses. And all these fellows have really, really, good reasons for what they're doing. It's all part of a whole, which is why our Lord exhorted us to be faithful in small things first, because the moral challenges that come with big jobs really aren't all that different.

Now that's shocking.

[1] You can find the memo in PDF format here.

[2] Col. Charles Dunlap, Revolt of the Masses: Armed Civilians and the Insurrectionary Theory of the Second Amendment, Tennessee Law Review, vol. 62, no. 3. Note #3. The text is available here. Colonel Dunlap attempts to minimize the implications of the story by saying that "the question turned out to be merely part of a graduate student's project aimed a studying unit cohesion and whether Marines understood the difference between lawful and unlawful orders." Sure it was. And it also "merely" a study which told the Marine Corps just how far Marines will go in enforcing federal law as well. The results of the graduate student's project are also classified.

[3] David Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, in The Atlantic. You can find the whole text here.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Thanks, All For Your Prayers

My wife is fine, except for being in post-op pain and very woozy when she stands up and tries to walk.

I, on the other hand, am having a heck of a time maintaining "overwatch" on the perpetual-motion activities of our daughter, Hannah.

Last night was the bear. Hannah took a perfect header off a chair she was standing on to visit with mommy (a/k/a "ummah"), forehead BANG into a large metal tablestand. She was very tired when she got home, kept trying to sleep on top of her Pooh Bear with the Magic Blankie, eschewing all play and even her evening milk. After thinking to myself, "I AM THE WORST FATHER IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF MANKIND," I decided I better stay up all night and wake her up every hour or so to be sure (a) that the large bruise on her forehead didn't start developing eyes and a nose, and (b) that she wasn't developing some mind-numbingly-terrifying brain injury.

So, with DVDs rented while Dad was watching Hannah, managed to see the Lord of the Rings third episode (nice movie, but I'm not a Tolkien fan) and just about the whole Band of Brothers cycle (again!), and a lot of caffiene, I kept waking her up. She was so cute, I was really teed off about having to wake her up. She'd open her little eyes, stare into my face, stare at the wall over my shoulder, and then -- FLOP! -- onto my shoulder and go back to sleep again.

She was fine, woke up singing. She sings a lot. Little soft songs that fill the air like silver clouds. La la, . . . loooooohhhhhh lalalalalaaaaahhhhhhh . . .

Ate a whole Jumbo-sized scrambled egg for breakfast with buttered toast-tips and some mango. She didn't like the mango, gave it the "chew - display - discard" treatment. She loved mango 6 weeks ago. Now mango's on the ash-heap of history.

The Dog's having serious rejection issues. Usually one of us (my wife or I) can pet him a bit and give him some attention. Right now that's not possible in the mornings. Poor dog hasn't had his morning walk in three days. He spends a lot of time moping around and giving moon-eyes. I tell him, "Dog, we bought the lot next door. The grass is high there. Go kill a zebra." And he does, usually, bring down a gazelle or two by lunch. Not to mention discovering the dynamite Nazi commandoes left to destroy the aircraft-factory. Gets a medal and a milk bone every evening. He's got a good life, that dog.

Off to do the bath thing, then MILK. That's all capitals, M I L K. It's the essential part of the bedtime routine -- warm milk in the microwave, counting down audibly from 10 to giggles, then off with Pooh and the Magic Blankie to sleep.

As my daughter says, BAI! BAI BAI! Bah bah . . .