Core: noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the Latin cor, meaning heart.

The View from the Core by E. L. Core
America's Small Town Webzine

 Volume 1.8 Front Page April 1, 2002 


The View’s Featured Webpages
(links to offsite pages)

Columns, essays, and news articles

We shall not fear (David Warren) new
“We hang not on the Cross, but on Christ’s Resurrection. At the centre of all Christian doctrine — and according to Christians, at the centre of everything — is this one moment. It is not understood as a miracle, but as the miracle at the heart, explaining all miracles before and after. It was, or rather it is, the grand intersection between the eternal and our own transitory world of space and time. Everything in nature and in ourselves was — is — transformed by it. It casts backwards through history as well as forwards, it gathers together every strand of meaning, into one knot, into one flame, and is of the moment with the Creation. And in prayer, and contemplation, the Christian apprehends, through the fact of the Cross, and shining through the Cross, the Resurrection. It is the lifting of the burden, the weight — of sin, of mortality, of fate. Christ, according to the Gospels, came into the world to abolish death. To abolish the tyranny over us, to free us from our greatest fear. In the moment of contemplating Christ’s Resurrection, we know the truth, and the truth has set us free.”

Bogus bias at MIT (John Leo) new
“The sad truth is that MIT, one of the world's great centers of scientific education, has now produced and accepted two astonishingly unscientific studies of its own administrative behavior. In response to these studies, nobody on campus has spoken out. ‘The people on the gender committees control the airwaves on this story, and nobody will speak up,’ Steiger says. ‘And with good reason. If they speak, they will be branded as misogynists, and their careers will be in jeopardy.’ Worse, the culture of MIT is being changed. Gender equity has replaced scientific merit as the value administrators will be judged by. And as always in preference schemes, women on the faculty will now come under suspicion as people who wouldn’t be there except for politics. And all without any real discussion or open debate. Amazing.”

Listening for the Voices of Women (NYT) new
“In the two decades since she wrote In a Different Voice and went on to identify a crisis of confidence in adolescent girls — a phenomenon Ms. Gilligan famously dubbed ‘losing voice’ — her work has attained the status of public gospel, inspiring pop psychology books, feminist lobbies and op-ed columnists, and galvanizing policy makers. Ms. Gilligan is often cited as an impetus behind the 1994 Gender Equity in Education Act, which, with an eye toward improving girls’ test scores, banned sex-role stereotyping and gender discrimination in the classroom.... Meanwhile, social scientists were busy challenging her research. In a Different Voice was attacked almost as soon as it appeared. Some researchers rejected Ms. Gilligan’s claim that women were more likely to consider their obligations to others (what she called an ethics of ‘care’) in making moral decisions, while men were more likely to rely on abstract principles of fairness (what she called an ethics of ‘justice’). Ms. Gilligan was accused of using unorthodox interview methods, of lacking control groups and of failing to publish her data in peer-reviewed journals. In a 1983 article in the journal Social Research, Debra Nails, now a philosophy professor at Michigan State University, dismissed In a Different Voice as ‘social science at sea without anchor.’ Since then, trying to replicate Ms. Gilligan’s findings has become a virtual social-science subfield, employing a small army of researchers — with little success.”

What You Say Reveals How You Think (David Stolinsky) new
“The same paper, like most papers, takes great care to refer to anyone who has not yet been convicted of a crime as an ‘alleged’ or ‘accused’ murderer or rapist. This wording avoids lawsuits, and more importantly, it follows the American tradition that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. So why is it that this paper began a story about child abuse in the Catholic Church with the front-page headline ‘Mahony Won’t Name Abusers.’ Not one of these priests had been charged with a crime, much less convicted, or their names would already be a matter of public record. But those Cardinal Mahony didn’t name were not referred to as ‘alleged’ abusers. Somehow the fear of lawsuits, and the devotion to civil liberties, were forgotten in the rush to condemn the Catholic Church — and, by extension, Christianity in general. Accused murderers and rapists in jail awaiting trial are ‘alleged,’ but priests not formally charged with anything are ‘abusers.’ How inconsistent. But how revealing.”

The slyer virus: The West’s anti-westernism (Mark Steyn) new
“The Arabs say America is to blame for the Middle East. And Britain and America don’t disagree, not really. The Durban Syndrome — the vague sense that the West’s success must somehow be responsible for the rest’s failure — is a far slyer virus than the toxic effusions of the Chomsky-Sontag set, and it has seeped far deeper into the cultural bloodstream. At its most benign, Durban Syndrome manifests itself in a desire not to offend others if one can offend one’s own instead. We saw this after September 11 in the incessant exhortations from government, public service announcements, the nation’s pastors and vicars, etc., that the American people should resist their natural appetite for pogroms and refrain from brutalizing Muslims. Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine percent of Americans had no intention of brutalizing Muslims but they were sporting enough to put up with being characterized as a bunch of knuckledragging swamp-dwellers, understanding that diversity means not just being sensitive to other peoples but also not being too sensitive about yourself. Similarly, at airports across the continent, eighty-seven-year-old grannies waited patiently as their hairpins were confiscated and their bloomers emptied out on the conveyor belt, implicitly accepting this as a ritual of the multicultural society: to demonstrate that we eschew ‘racial profiling,’ we go out of our way to look for people who don’t look anything like the people we’re looking for.... I am woman, hear me roar! Say it loud, I’m black and proud! We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it! The one identity we’re not encouraged to trumpet is the one that enables us to trumpet all the others: our identity as citizens of a very particular kind of society, built on the rule of law, property rights, freedom of expression, and the universal franchise. I am Western, hear me apologize!”

A Turn from Tolerance (WP) new
“Long before Sept. 11, many white Europeans had deep-running concerns that their countries were involuntarily becoming multicultural as guest workers and refugees, mostly Muslim, established themselves in residence. There are about 15 million Muslims in Europe, making Islam the the continent’s largest non-Christian religion. The post-Sept. 11 concerns underscored a paradox that has cycled through European politics for years: The continent needs foreign workers to gird an aging workforce but is queasy about accepting them, especially if they are Muslim. ‘There is this fear for national identity combined with a fear of Muslims that has fueled this debate on immigration,’ said Jan Niessen, director of the Migration Policy Group, a research organization in Brussels.”

As the Web Matures, Fun Is Hard to Find (NYT) new
“Just 11 years after it was born and about 6 years after it became popular, the Web has lost its luster. Many who once raved about surfing from address to address on the Web now lump site-seeing with other online chores, like checking the In box. What attracted many people to the Web in the mid-1990’s were the bizarre and idiosyncratic sites that began as private obsessions and swiftly grew into popular attractions: the Coffee Cam, a live image of a coffee maker at the University of Cambridge; the Fish Tank Cam from an engineer at Netscape; The Spot, the first online soap opera; the Jennicam, the first popular Internet peephole; the Telegarden, which allowed viewers to have remote control of a robot gardener; and the World Wide Ouija, where viewers could question the Fates with the computer mouse. The Web was like a chest of toys, and each day brought a new treasure.... The problem facing the Web is not that some of these particular sites have come and gone — there are, after all, only so many times anyone can look at a coffeepot, even online — but that no new sites have come along to captivate the casual surfer.”

What’s news for the experts is common knowledge to most (Kay Hymowitz) new
“Not so long ago, everyone knew that children — boys and girls — were cruel, aggressive, Darwinian creatures who needed adults around to teach them self-restraint. William Golding’s classic 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, a disturbing story of English private school students deserted on an island after an airplane crash, illustrated the point most dramatically. It was common knowledge that, while girls didn’t often resort to fisticuffs, they were prone to back-stabbing, manipulation and scheming, a fact known to everyone from William Thackeray, who created the infamous Becky Sharpe in the novel Vanity Fair to Charles Schultz, inventor of Charlie Brown’s nemesis, Lucy. But in the late 1960s, development experts began revising the commensense view of children’s natural ethical state. This was partly because of the influence of the liberation movements of the time, partly to address changes in the family such as divorce and working mothers that made autonomous children a necessity.... But after a dramatic rise in juvenile crime and bullying, a slew of suburban school shootings, and just the daily grind of adult-child warfare, this theory was bound to disappoint.”

U.S. maintains the upper hand (David Warren) new
“As I reported in this newspaper on Friday, the ‘jailing,’ or rather probationing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been taken over from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, by U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney. It is an extremely significant step, not because it ‘disempowers’ the Israelis, but because it puts the United States forward directly in the role of Israel's protector, negotiating on Israel’s behalf. While lost on the western media, the point has been taken in several capitals of the Arab world: Mr. Arafat and his terrorist groups are no longer simply confronting Israel. They are now confronting a United States that is increasingly aware of their international connections. Mr. Cheney set the conditions for a meeting between himself and Mr. Arafat in Cairo yesterday, which did not take place because Mr. Arafat did not meet them. The essential, verifiable condition was that Mr. Arafat would deliver a public address, to his people, in unambiguous Arabic, demanding an immediate end to all terrorist strikes against Israel, and be seen delivering like orders to all the Palestinian militias under his ultimate command. Instead, he appeared on Palestinian TV looking as if he were a hostage reading a prepared statement by his kidnapper. He condemned, after the fact, only one particular suicide bombing in Jerusalem. This was 11 eggs short of a dozen.”

Stranglehold on Speech (Robert Samuelson) new
“Free speech is not selective speech, respectable speech or popular speech. Free speech does not exist unless it can include speech that you — and perhaps most people — despise. People must have, as individuals and as groups, the routine right to express themselves, even if their expressions offend. Somehow these truths escape the supporters of ‘campaign finance reform,’ whose crusade threatens free speech.... In the final 60 days before the 2000 election, more than 135,000 political advertisements were run by sponsors who weren’t candidates or the political committees of candidates, reports the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. The new campaign finance legislation — known variously as McCain-Feingold and Shays-Meehan after its main Senate and House sponsors — aims to remove many (if not most) of these ads by non-candidates from the air. Unless political advertisements aren’t ‘speech,’ this represents a massive suppression of free speech.... Free speech must be a concept that ordinary people can grasp in most ordinary circumstances. It must not become a lawyerly collection of qualifications, footnotes and regulations, and that is where the campaign finance crusade is leading.”

Bleak future looms if you don’t take a stand (Dan Gillmor) new
“This is a quiz about your future. It’s about how you view some basic elements of the emerging Digital Age. 1. Do you care if a few giant companies control virtually all entertainment and information? 2. Do you care if they decide what kinds of technological innovations will reach the marketplace? 3. Would you be concerned if they used their power to compile detailed dossiers on everything you read, listen to, view and buy? 4. Would you find it acceptable if they could decide whether what you write and say could be seen and heard by others? Those are no longer theoretical questions. They are the direction in which America is hurtling. Media conglomerates are in a merger frenzy. Telecommunications monopolies are creating a cozy cartel, dividing up access to the online world. The entertainment industry is pushing for Draconian controls on the use and dissemination of digital information.”

The Great Terror (Jeffrey Goldberg) new
“Gosden believes it is quite possible that the countries of the West will soon experience chemical- and biological-weapons attacks far more serious and of greater lasting effect than the anthrax incidents of last autumn and the nerve-agent attack on the Tokyo subway system several years ago — that what happened in Kurdistan was only the beginning. ‘For Saddam’s scientists, the Kurds were a test population,’ she said. ‘They were the human guinea pigs. It was a way of identifying the most effective chemical agents for use on civilian populations, and the most effective means of delivery.’ The charge is supported by others. An Iraqi defector, Khidhir Hamza, who is the former director of Saddam’s nuclear-weapons program, told me earlier this year that before the attack on Halabja military doctors had mapped the city, and that afterward they entered it wearing protective clothing, in order to study the dispersal of the dead. ‘These were field tests, an experiment on a town,’ Hamza told me. He said that he had direct knowledge of the Army’s procedures that day in Halabja. ‘The doctors were given sheets with grids on them, and they had to answer questions such as “How far are the dead from the cannisters?”’ Gosden said that she cannot understand why the West has not been more eager to investigate the chemical attacks in Kurdistan. ‘It seems a matter of enlightened self-interest that the West would want to study the long-term effects of chemical weapons on civilians, on the DNA,’ she told me. ‘I’ve seen Europe’s worst cancers, but, believe me, I have never seen cancers like the ones I saw in Kurdistan.’”

The good, the bad and the Gallic shrug (Mark Steyn) new
“Countries A and B may be at war, but there is no good side and no bad side, just two parties ‘trapped’ in a ‘mindless’ ‘cycle of violence’ that ‘threatens the peace process.’ The ‘peace process’ tends to be no peace and lotsa process, in which Western panjandrums have invested considerable amounts of their prestige. That’s why in Paris this weekend most of my dining companions were outraged not by the deaths of Palestinians or Israelis but by the shelling of Palestinian Authority buildings. ‘These buildings,’ one indignant Frenchman told me, ‘were built with money direct from the Union!’ — i.e., the European Union. ‘We have given billions, and now it is rubble.’ ‘Oh, your money's perfectly safe,’ I said. ‘Its sitting in the Hamas bigshots’ numbered bank accounts in Zurich.’ .... Forget the ‘cycle of violence’ and the ‘peace process.’ History teaches us that the most lasting peace is achieved when one side — preferably the worst side — is decisively defeated and the regime’s diseased organs are comprehensively cleansed. That’s why National Socialism, Fascism and Japanese militarism have not troubled us of late.”

Households Divided (Jean Bethke Elshtain) new
“Wilson argues that the destructive features of a world without fathers are by now so well documented that they are beyond challenge. No responsible person wants to see that world expand, given its clear and present dangers. But how did it come about, and how are we to bring the second nation closer to the standard of the first in order to ensure that, in the parlance of the moment, no child is left behind? Wilson reminds us that when Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan first alerted the country in 1960 to the troubles looming on the horizon as the world of fatherlessness and rising out-of-wedlock birth was coming into view, he was denounced, accused of everything from racism to sexism to cultural imperialism, even as many people within the black community were saying the same thing — that a leap in fatherlessness was a ‘pathology.’ But that made no difference to the mainstream media or scholarship. As a result, it was easy for the first nation, irresponsibly, to ignore the problem of the second. Forty years later, facing an epidemic in teenage motherhood — by 1995, ‘three out of every four births to all teenagers were to unmarried girls; for black girls, it was nine out of ten’ — the alarm bells finally went off as politicians and social analysts converged on the same point: This trend cannot continue, as too much measurable harm is being done to children. As the evidence piled up, even those most resistant to the notion that fatherlessness as an independent factor generated risk factors for children, whatever the family’s socio-economic status, were forced to acknowledge the data. ‘Children in one-parent families, compared to those in two-parent ones, are twice as likely to drop out of school. Boys in one-parent families are much more likely than those in two-parent ones to be both out of school and out of work. Girls in one-parent families are twice as likely as those in two-parent ones to have an out-of-wedlock birth.’”

How Oscar Ghettoized Poitier (John Podhoretz) new
“The spin on the evening was that it made history because two black performers won Best Actor and Best Actress on the same night that the first black movie star, Sidney Poitier, received an honorary Oscar. But there was something terribly retrogressive about the way all this was treated. The Oscar show worked overtime to make us think of Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and Poitier not as unique and remarkable talents but rather as tokens. Why were only black actors and actresses given a chance to speak in the three-minute film tribute to Sidney Poitier? Did Poitier’s career really have meaning only to black performers? Of course not. His extraordinary dignity and power gave the lie to the racist idea that white audiences could only respond to white performers and white stories. In a magnificent speech that was the highlight of the otherwise-unspeakable ceremony, Poitier himself paid a powerful and modest tribute to the directors, producers and studio heads who made history by casting him in the films that made him a star. They were all white. So is Poitier’s wife Joanna. Poitier had two daughters with Joanna, who are therefore both black and white. He is an integrationist not only professionally, but personally. For him to be seen as an inspiration only to black people is to ghettoize an extraordinary man who simply refused to accept the limits of race.”

Dumbing Down the SAT: The very existence of intelligence differences in America is about to become a forbidden truth. (Stanley Kurtz) new
“There was a time when Americans believed that finding and training the country’s finest minds was in the national interest. Certainly, all American children ought to have access to quality education. But, ultimately, it is to our collective advantage as a nation to have a way of identifying students of high aptitude. And it is fairer to students themselves — especially those from lesser schools — to have a way of recognizing intellectual potential that has not yet come to the surface. The irony is that support for destruction of the SAT test comes from a liberal elite that is itself the product of our educational meritocracy. Guilt about success combines here with a hidden craving for moral superiority over the benighted middle classes. Those in the middle — and many minorities as well — still believe in the principles of liberty and equality that created the meritocracy in the first place. But once again, the liberal elite, in a conversation amongst itself, is managing to turn our most basic values and practices inside out — with nary a peep from a public that would fight these changes if they were honestly told what is happening.”

Of conscience & cowardice (Robert Going) new
“I happen to believe in the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. While perhaps a minority view, it is generally not considered an extreme position except by those who take delight in yanking babies feet first three quarters of the way out of their mothers’ wombs, sticking a needle in the head and sucking the brains out. Those people would doubtless find my views radical. Still, if I had written what I’ve just written, or said it aloud in a public place at any time from 1985 when I first became a candidate for judicial office until I left the bench in 2001, I would have been subject to discipline, even removal, by the Commission on Judicial Conduct. Some members of that commission and its staff have even gone so far as to state that accepting the nomination of the Right to Life Party is judicial misconduct.... After I became a county-level judge, the death penalty was restored in this state. As a cross-assigned judge I was offered the opportunity to take special training that would allow me to sit on capital cases. I declined, and wondered what I would do if such assignments became mandatory. Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to the death penalty. I never did, truthfully. But when faced with the real possibility that you might someday decide who lives and who dies, you’d sure better start thinking about it. I likely would have ended up as one of those who should have resigned rather than follow the law. But would I have? I believe in the sanctity of human life from birth to natural death. It’s such an easy thing to say. Now.”

But Seriously, Folks (Larry Miller) new
“But, you see in all of American life there has, for a long time, been a battle of sorts to define what is serious and what is not, and all the wrong people are consistently winning. No matter how stupid, wrongheaded, or immoral some of our leaders and representatives have been over the years, if they can affect an appearance of troubled thoughtfulness when they address our problems, if they speak in a measured way, if they look around and nod with gravity, and if they use coy, calculated gestures — biting a lower lip, say — they will always be considered ‘serious’ people, and there’s no telling how far they can go. And I just don’t get it. P.J. O’Rourke has created some of the most immensely funny things in the history of immensely funny things, and I consider his work to be wise, large, insightful, and practical; in short, serious. The problem for me, you see, is that I don’t know what to call the ‘serious’ people of today, because I don’t think they are. When Mr. Daschle holds forth on our war effort, everyone thinks he’s serious, he certainly thinks he’s serious, but all I see behind those unblinking blue eyes is a man thinking, ‘Boy, I sure would look good stepping off that big, green helicopter and saluting.’ The ‘support’ Messrs. Daschle, Leahy, Biden, et al. have given to our war effort has the same sincerity of the wrestling bad guy who spends two minutes gouging the face of his opponent with an awl and then, when confronted by the referee, slips the iron into his shorts and holds up his hands like a Vegas dealer going on his break.”

The 1930s, Again: A hard rain is going to fall. (Victor Davis Hanson) new
“And so we Americans, like those 70 years ago who so wanted a perpetual peace, pray for a return of sanity in the Middle East. We chose to ignore horrific stories of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia — the embryo of 9/11. We are more amused than shocked that madrassas have taught a generation to hate us. When mullahs in Iran speak of destroying Israel we wince, but also shrug. We want to see no real connection between madmen blowing themselves up to kill us in New York and the like-minded doing the same in Tel-Aviv. We put our trust in peace with a killer like Mr. Arafat, who packs a gun and whips up volatile crowds in Arabic. All the while, no American statesman has the guts to tell the Arab leadership that statism, tribalism, fundamentalism, gender apartheid, and autocracy — not America, not Israel — make their people poor, angry, and dangerous.... I don’t listen any more to the apologies and prevarications of our whiney university Arabists, our equivocators in the state department, and the really tawdry assortment of oil men, D.C. insiders, bought and paid for PR suits, and weapons hucksters. The truth is that a large minority of the Middle Eastern world wishes a war with America that it cannot win — and much of the rest is apparently either indifferent or amused. So we should stop apologizing, prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and accept this animosity — just as our forefathers once did when faced by similar autocrats and their captive peoples who threatened us in 1941.”

New Analysis Says Women’s Studies Prism Emits a Distinctly Feminist Coloring (FOXNews) new
“The modern woman is plagued by stereotypes imposed by a male-dominated society, which keeps her relegated to rearing children, keeping home and working in low-paying, menial jobs. That is the universal claim found in women’s studies textbooks on college campuses today, according to a critical analysis by the Independent Women’s Forum, a women’s group that has often tangled with the traditional feminist establishment. The treatise, set forth by Christine Stolba, a senior fellow at IWF, has already drawn fire from scholars who see Stolba as an ‘ultra-conservative’ with an ax to grind against traditional feminists.... She said many of the textbooks ignore the advances women have made in order to push an anti-male, liberal agenda that is rooted more in the stone age of gender relations than in 21st-century culture. ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged in women’s studies textbooks that women have been and continue to be the victims of oppression,’ wrote Stolba. ‘Women’s studies textbooks support a large number of factual inaccuracies. Many of these are deliberately misleading sisterly sophistries.’”

Keyes’ challenge: Return nation to principles (Pensacola News Journal) 
“The people of faith in America bear a special burden to return the nation to its founding principles, Ambassador Alan Keyes told a crowd Friday in Pensacola. ‘God Bless America? Yes, but I keep hearing the question,’ Keyes said. ‘Why?’ Afghanistan terrorist Osama bin Laden did not introduce America to evil on Sept. 11, he said. ‘Don’t think you can escape responsibility for your own.’ The moral challenge is simple, he said: ‘Cease to do evil, and learn to do good.’ .... ‘We do not stand on the same ground the nation was founded on. We do not stand on the same principles the country’s strength was built on,’ Keyes said. ‘It reminds me of the old cartoons we used to see when I was a kid. Roadrunner would get halfway across the abyss, and he would suddenly realize where he was. I sadly believe that in one respect, that’s where we are in terms of our freedom. There’s nothing underneath us anymore.’ .... ‘We have made the name of God obscene in our public schools. In ancient Greece, obscene was something you could not show in public. The name of God has been an obscenity in our government-run schools for the last 30 or 40 years. Don’t say it, don’t show it, don’t speak it. That’s all been run out by this auspicious principle of separation (of church and state) they're always telling us about.... ’The most terrible departure... is the fact that we have embraced an understanding of our rights that now encompasses the lie that the most fundamental right — which is the right to live at all — is not a matter of God’s will, but of human choice. ‘In the Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court told us the right to life for each human being... comes from human choice. How do we think we can have it both ways? I don’t understand this contradiction. It can’t be God’s choice and my choice, too.’”

What Hollings’ Bill Would Do (Wired News) 
“If Hollywood and the music industry get their way, new software and hardware will sport embedded copy protection technology. A bill introduced by Senate Commerce Chairman Fritz Hollings would prohibit the sale or distribution of nearly any technology — unless it features copy-protection standards to be set by the federal government.... Anyone selling — or creating and distributing — ‘digital media devices’ may not do so unless they include government-approved security standards.... It would be unlawful to import software or hardware without government-approved security standards.... Network-connected computer systems may not delete markers indicating a file is copy-protected. Knowingly removing copy-protection markers from digital content is prohibited.... It would be unlawful to knowingly distribute or send someone any digital content that has been purged of its this-is-copy-protected marker.... One part of the bill overrides a landmark lawsuit that said the Rio MP3 player did not violate copyright law.”

France’s Bloody Hands (NYP) 
“France is hardly in a position to lecture the United States about justice, the death penalty or civil rights. The last time that France was involved in a major terrorist campaign, in Algeria from 1954-62, French security forces routinely tortured rebel suspects — while murdering uncounted thousands in summary executions. Only recently, retired French Army Gen. Paul Aussaresses published a sensational memoir calmy recounting his own role in these atrocities, which were carried out with the approval of French government figures — such as future President Francois Mitterand. Even today, the French criminal justice system is so weighted against defendants that the accused is practically guilty until proven innocent.... In any case, it’s one thing for France — which has officially abolished the death penalty at home — to register its unhappiness at the prospect of Moussaoui’s execution, but it’s quite another for this ‘ally’ to threaten non-cooperation with the Sept. 11 investigation. It is early in this war against terror, but you can be sure the United States will not forget the countries which stood beside her. And those that let her down.”

Religious leaders waste their energy (Bill Wineke) 
“The question I have this morning is whether Jesus Christ went to the cross to encourage us to drive Saturns. Because Sunday is Palm Sunday, the first day of the Christian season of Holy Week, I don’t think that’s an impertinent question. Yet, I have on my desk a letter signed by ‘48 Wisconsin Religious leaders’ telling me that God wants sport utility vehicles to get better gas mileage and I’m asking myself, ‘why does the church keep doing this?’ .... Among other conservation measures, the letter calls on the senators to support policies to ‘raise substantially vehicle fuel economy across the board in the shortest feasible timeframe, and require SUVs, minivans and passenger cars to meet the same standard.’ But the letter doesn’t stop there. It also calls for more investment in wind, geothermal and biomass technologies, regulation of carbon dioxide emissions and greater energy efficiency. It is signed by leaders from liberal Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic and, even, Zen religious bodies. For whatever it’s worth, I agree with most of the ideas expressed in the letter. What I don’t understand, again, is why religious leaders are issuing such exhortations in the name of God.”

Saudi newspaper editor “apologizes” for Purim blood libel (Jerusalem Post) 
“A Saudi Arabian newspaper editor yesterday issued a backhanded apology for a column published last week which resurrected the medieval blood libel against Jews by claiming they use the blood of Christian or Muslim ‘mature adolescents’ to prepare special Purim pastries. Al-Riyadh editor-in-chief Turki al-Sudairi wrote that the article, written by Umayma Ahmed al-Jalahma of King Faisal University, was ‘not fit to print.’ The paper had been sharply criticized by the US government before Al-Riyadh published the apology. On Monday, the Voice of America aired an editorial praising Saudi Arabia for its peace initiative, but criticizing it for not doing more to reduce Israel-Arab tensions. ‘In the meantime,’ said VOA, ‘there is something that Saudi Arabia and other countries could do right now to ease tensions in the Middle East. They could stop newspapers and radio and television stations, especially those controlled by the state, from inciting hatred and violence against Jews.’”

The fundamentalist question (Josie Appleton) 
“So why did radical Islam begin to emerge in the West in the 1990s? The emergence cannot be explained by the strength of the doctrine of radical Islam. Rather, the reasons some young Muslim men began to be gripped by anti-Western religious dogma should be sought in changes within Western society. The key factor in the rise of fundamentalism in the West was the end of the Cold War in 1989. This effectively unfroze politics — dissolving the left-right axis that had structured political and social identities for much of the twentieth century. With the collapse of the left, the right could no longer sustain its coherence — and in Europe and the USA, right-wing governments tumbled. Society was left increasingly atomised and directionless. This malaise was compounded by the erosion of long-standing institutions which had helped tie individuals into society, including the family, the church, the monarchy and civic organisations. The ideology of Islamic fundamentalism grew stronger in this vacuum left by the end of the Cold War. Where post-Cold War politics seemed uncertain and unconfident, Islamic fundamentalism promised firm rules, a coherent sense of identity, and a sense of belonging to a global Islamic community.”

Epidemic of fear (Frank Furedi) 
“Since 11 September, speculating about risk is represented as sound risk management. The aftermath of 11 September has given legitimacy to the principle of precaution, with risk increasingly seen as something you suffer from, rather than something you manage. Of course, taking sensible precautions makes a lot of sense. But continually imagining the worst possible outcome is not an effective way to deal with problems. Allowing speculation to dominate how we think about risks may even distract us from tackling the everyday problems and hazards that confront society. We don’t need any more Hollywood-style brainstorming. We need a grown-up discussion about our post-11 September world, based on a reasoned evaluation of all the available evidence rather than on irrational fears for the future.”

The Social Psychology of Modern Slavery (SciAm) 
“To many people, it comes as a surprise that debt bondage and other forms of slavery persist into the 21st century. Every country, after all, has made it illegal to own and exercise total control over another human being. And yet there are people like Baldev who remain enslaved — by my estimate, which is based on a compilation of reports from governments and nongovernmental organizations, perhaps 27 million of them around the world. If slaveholders no longer own slaves in a legal sense, how can they still exercise so much control that freed slaves sometimes deliver themselves back into bondage? This is just one of the puzzles that make slavery the greatest challenge faced by the social sciences today. Despite being among the oldest and most persistent forms of human relationships, found in most societies at one time or another, slavery is little understood. Although historians have built up a sizable literature on antebellum American slavery, other types have barely been studied.... Human trafficking — the involuntary smuggling of people between countries, often by organized crime — has become a huge concern, especially in Europe and Southeast Asia. Many people, lured by economic opportunities, pay smugglers to slip them across borders but then find themselves sold to sweatshops, brothels or domestic service to pay for their passage; others are kidnapped and smuggled against their will. In certain areas, notably Brazil and West Africa, laborers have been enticed into signing contracts and then taken to remote plantations and prevented from leaving. In parts of South Asia and North Africa, slavery is a millennia-old tradition that has never truly ended.”

The Social Life of Paper (Malcolm Gladwell) 
“Computer technology was supposed to replace paper. But that hasn’t happened. Every country in the Western world uses more paper today, on a per-capita basis, than it did ten years ago. The consumption of uncoated free-sheet paper, for instance — the most common kind of office paper — rose almost fifteen per cent in the United States between 1995 and 2000. This is generally taken as evidence of how hard it is to eradicate old, wasteful habits and of how stubbornly resistant we are to the efficiencies offered by computerization. A number of cognitive psychologists and ergonomics experts, however, don’t agree. Paper has persisted, they argue, for very good reasons: when it comes to performing certain kinds of cognitive tasks, paper has many advantages over computers. The dismay people feel at the sight of a messy desk — or the spectacle of air-traffic controllers tracking flights through notes scribbled on paper strips — arises from a fundamental confusion about the role that paper plays in our lives.”

Propaganda at its best (Cal Thomas) 
“Last week, ABC News allowed entertainer Rosie O’Donnell to take over two hours of airtime for a one-sided infomercial promoting ‘gay adoptions.’ All of the elements required for breaking down what few social norms remain regarding the family structure were present on ‘Primetime Thursday.’ First, the celebrity factor. In our postmodern, post Christian, post objective truth generation, celebrity equals credibility. Celebrities have replaced God. When they speak, some people think the rest of us should listen.... Rosie is right because she says so. She says President and Laura Bush are wrong when they say that the ideal setting for a child is in a home with a mother and father. End of discussion. The celebrity goddess has spoken.... There are credible scientific, legal and religious arguments against ‘gay adoptions.’ ABC didn’t present them because if they had, Rosie O’Donnell would not have appeared on ‘Primetime Thursday.’ This was journalism at its worst but propaganda at its best.”

They Died for Lack of a Head Scarf (Mona Eltahawy) 
“The fire was a tragedy that could have struck anywhere. Fifteen girls between ages 13 and 17 were trampled to death and 52 others were hurt when a blaze swept through their school.... Firefighters told the Saudi press that morality police forced girls to stay inside the burning building because they were not wearing the head scarves and black cloaks known as abayas that women must wear in public in that kingdom. One Saudi paper said the morality police stopped men who tried to help the girls escape the building, saying, ‘It is sinful to approach them.’ Girls died because zealots at the gate would rather see them burn than appear in public dressed inappropriately.... What kind of virtue is it to allow girls to die in a fire because of what they were not wearing? Whose Islam is it that allows these men to dilute the faith I and millions of others cherish for its teachings of compassion and justice to nothing more than a dress code and sexual segregation? I grew up learning God is merciful and that faith was based on choice — you could not force actions on anyone in the name of religion.”

Zero tolerance means educators cannot practice what they teach (Dave Lieber) 
“I keep waiting for Rod Serling to pop out in the story of L.D. Bell High School student Taylor Hess and tell us it is another episode from his old television show, The Twilight Zone. Hess was expelled from school because his grandmother’s bread knife was found in his pickup parked on school property.... ‘What they’re trying to do is incomprehensible,’ Robert Hess, Taylor’s father, told me. ‘I just can’t believe it. Zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero brains. You have to use your judgment.’ .... This is so sad, what our public education system has been reduced to, as administrators and teachers try to cope with the very real threat of student violence. We have taken away from them the very concepts that we try to teach our children. We have removed their ability to use their own good judgment, their reasoning powers and their ability to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. If justice is not examined on a case-by-case basis, then it is not true justice.

You’re the Doctor: What’s as Easy as ABC? Only a Little Farther Up the Alphabet? A PhD. (WP) 
“These days, PhDs are like opinions and pie holes — pretty much everybody’s got one. You can earn a PhD: in human nutrition at Michigan State University; in social work at the University of Texas; in recreational studies at the University of Florida; in family studies at the University of New Mexico; and in fashion merchandising at Texas Women’s University. A candidate for a PhD in creative writing at the University of Georgia can submit poems instead of a dissertation. At the University of Michigan you can get a PhD in literature without reading Shakespeare.... In fact, all kinds of people are picking up PhDs. This year about 42,000 people will earn doctorates in the United States, according to the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, which conducts research for the National Science Foundation and five other federal agencies. Most striking is a trend toward more PhDs in the humanities — up more than 11 percent between 1999 and 2000.... Candidates in the past were required to possess a breadth of knowledge bearing on a given subject. Often they had to study additional languages. And their labor — which usually took years of intense study in required courses — was subject to review by outside scholars. In many cases, the requirements have been eased.”

Mein Kampf for sale, in Arabic (London Telegraph) 
“An Arabic translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf which has become a bestseller in the Palestinian territories is now on sale in Britain. The book, Hitler’s account of his life and anti-Semitic ideology written while he was in prison in the 1920s, is normally found in Britain in academic or political bookshops. But The Telegraph found it on sale in three newsagents on Edgware Road, central London, an area with a large Arab population.... Copies of the translation are understood to have been distributed to London shops towards the end of last year and have been selling well. In the preface, Luis al-Haj, the translator, states: ‘National Socialism did not die with the death of its herald. Rather, its seeds multiplied under each star.’ The book was on sale alongside newspapers, magazines, cigarettes and sweets at a newsagent’s kiosk.”

Web Critics Take Aim at Old-Style Publishers (FOXNews) 
“A small but growing contingent of amateur and semi-professional media critics are taking aim at newspapers and periodicals, picking up where those papers’ ombudsmen (if they have them) leave off. One of the first to appear was SmarterTimes.com, a site that painstakingly points out flaws in The New York Times. Since then, similar sights have cropped up that skewer the Los Angeles Times (LAExaminer.com) and the San Francisco Chronicle (Chronwatch.com).”

Occasionally, some links are moved from this section into the Featured Webpages Archive.

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Classic articles (that are, or should be, famous)

There is No Time, There Will Be Time
(Peggy Noonan)
Forbes ASAP (November 18, 1998)

“When you consider who is gifted and crazed with rage... when you think of the terrorist places and the terrorist countries... who do they hate most? The Great Satan, the United States. What is its most important place? Some would say Washington. I would say the great city of the United States is the great city of the world, the dense 10-mile-long island called Manhattan, where the economic and media power of the nation resides, the city that is the psychological center of our modernity, our hedonism, our creativity, our hard-shouldered hipness, our unthinking arrogance.”

Networks Need a Reality Check: A firsthand account of liberal bias at CBS News
(Bernard Goldberg)
Wall Street Journal (February 13, 1996)

“There are lots of reasons fewer people are watching network news, and one of them, I’m more convinced than ever, is that our viewers simply don’t trust us. And for good reason. The old argument that the networks and other ‘media elites’ have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it’s hardly worth discussing anymore. No, we don’t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news. We don’t have to. It comes naturally to most reporters.”

A brilliant parody:

Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity
(Alan Sokal)
Social Text (Spring/Summer 1996)

“There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook, which can be summarized briefly as follows: that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in ‘eternal’ physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the ‘objective’ procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.”

... and, in explanation, ...

A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies
(Alan Sokal)
Lingua Franca (May/June 1996)

“For some years I’ve been troubled by an apparent decline in the standards of rigor in certain precincts of the academic humanities. But I’m a mere physicist: If I find myself unable to make heads or tails of jouissance and differance, perhaps that just reflects my own inadequacy. So, to test the prevailing intellectual standards, I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies — whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross — publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions? The answer, unfortunately, is yes.... What’s going on here? Could the editors really not have realized that my article was written as a parody?”

The Doomslayer
(Ed Regis)
Wired
(February 1997)

“The world is getting progressively poorer, and it’s all because of population, or more precisely, overpopulation. There’s a finite store of resources on our pale blue dot, spaceship Earth, our small and fragile tiny planet, and we’re fast approaching its ultimate carrying capacity. The limits to growth are finally upon us, and we’re living on borrowed time. The laws of population growth are inexorable. Unless we act decisively, the final result is written in stone: mass poverty, famine, starvation, and death. Time is short, and we have to act now. That’s the standard and canonical litany.... There’s just one problem with The Litany, just one slight little wee imperfection: every item in that dim and dreary recitation, each and every last claim, is false.... Thus saith The Doomslayer, one Julian L. Simon, a neither shy nor retiring nor particularly mild-mannered professor of business administration at a middling eastern-seaboard state university. Simon paints a somewhat different picture of the human condition circa 1997. ‘Our species is better off in just about every measurable material way,’ he says. ‘Just about every important long-run measure of human material welfare shows improvement over the decades and centuries, in the United States and the rest of the world. Raw materials — all of them — have become less scarce rather than more. The air in the US and in other rich countries is irrefutably safer to breathe. Water cleanliness has improved. The environment is increasingly healthy, with every prospect that this trend will continue.’”

An Explosion of Green
(Bill McKibben)
The Atlantic
(April 1995)
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“In the early nineteenth century the cleric Timothy Dwight reported that the 240-mile journey from Boston to New York City passed through no more than twenty miles of forest. Surveying the changes wrought by farmers and loggers in New Hampshire, he wrote, ‘The forests are not only cut down, but there appears little reason to hope that they will ever grow again.’ Less than two centuries later, despite great increases in the state’s population, 90 percent of New Hampshire is covered by forest. Vermont was 35 percent woods in 1850 and is 80 percent today, and even Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have seen woodlands rebound to the point where they cover nearly three fifths of southern New England. This process, which began as farmers abandoned the cold and rocky pastures of the East for the fertile fields of the Midwest, has not yet run its course.... This unintentional and mostly unnoticed renewal of the rural and mountainous East — not the spotted owl, not the salvation of Alaska’s pristine ranges — represents the great environmental story of the United States, and in some ways of the whole world. Here, where ‘suburb’ and ‘megalopolis’ were added to the world’s vocabulary, an explosion of green is under way, one that could offer hope to much of the rest of the planet.”

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This View’s Column

Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing

Perfidious Priests and What Must Be Done About Them (Part Four)

The column is also available on This View’s Column page, without the links on the left- and right-hand of the page.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? says the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will repent of the evil that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will repent of the good which I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.” But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’”’” (Jeremiah 18:1-12 RSV)

Some Spots of High Ground in the Morass

The news, which I have been reviewing extensively, is not all bad.

I mentioned last time how Archbishop Elden Curtiss, of Omaha, wrote scolding letters to two parishioners of the archdiocese, after each had written to a local secular newspaper criticizing how the archbishop had handled two cases of clerical misbehavior. I was happy to learn that Curtiss has since apologized to the two, as reported in the Omaha World-Herald, Mar. 25:

Archbishop Elden Curtiss announced Monday [Mar. 25] that he is apologizing for his written rebukes of two Roman Catholic parishioners who publicly criticized his decision to reassign a priest who had viewed Internet child pornography. “I am sorry that my previous letter to you was interpreted as being demeaning or even insulting,” Curtiss wrote to Frank Ayers and Jeanne Bast. “I never meant it to be such.” When informed of the apology, which Curtiss said he mailed Saturday, Ayers said it was not necessary for the archbishop to apologize directly to him, “but I do definitely accept it.”

“I will continue to pray for our church leadership and for Father (Robert) Allgaier and most definitely for Archbishop Elden Curtiss in these most difficult times,” Ayers said. Bast said she is glad the archbishop wrote. “I thank him and I accept his apology,” she said, “and I will continue to pray for Father Allgaier and the church.” .... Curtiss also attempted to explain his previous letters to Ayers and Bast. He said his earlier letters expressed his private frustration that a fellow Catholic “would be so negative about the accusations leveled against a young priest without knowing all the facts of the case; and negative against me without knowing the process I was following with professional advice.”

And my own bishop, Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, has been singled out as an outstanding example of how cases of clerical sexual abuse ought to be handled, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 29, which begins with a quotation from Wuerl’s homily at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, the previous day:

“What has led us to where we are today in the scandal around a number of priests who have abused minors is not so much the abhorrence of the moral failure itself but, added to it, the sense of failure on the part of church leadership to respond adequately to this sin, which is also a crime.” Wuerl did not speak of his own track record, which is widely regarded as one of the best. A current editorial in the Jesuit magazine America, which urged the bishops to make a public act of penance, singled Wuerl out for his refusal to reinstate a pedophile when the Vatican’s highest court ordered him to do so in 1993. Wuerl has said that he has never knowingly returned a child molester to ministry.

Yesterday, however, he tried to explain that bishops who returned child molesters to parishes years ago did not act out of malice. Twenty years ago society did not recognize that the desire for sexual contact with minors was a psychological compulsion, so bishops treated it as they would any other moral problem requiring repentance and forgiveness, Wuerl said. He continued that his own perspective on the issue changed during his first months as bishop, when he met the young victims of three priests, their parents and the traumatized people of the parishes where the abuse had taken place. “While a bishop must consult with his staff representing many disciplines, legal, financial, canonical and pastoral, he must always respond as a pastor. ... The first obligation of a pastor is the care of those entrusted to his care.”

Wuerl is not the only bishop who has dealt appropriately with these situations, acting primarily as a pastor of both clergy and laity. Of course not. But, as in every other area of life, those who have botched up the job get the headlines: bishops and priests who serve well and faithfully don’t warrant much attention from the media, just as bad parents or physicians or police officers make the news while good parents and physicians and police officers go largely unrecognized.

I would like to single out one priest for special recognition, but unfortunately I cannot name him nor give but a few details: I cannot find the documentation that I thought I had saved. He eventually found himself physically attracted to younger people, and succumbed to the temptation several times. When he finally realized that he would never be able to trust himself around young people again, he resigned the sacred ministry and retired to live a solitary life in a lonely cabin in the woods, in reparation, and he resolved never to be alone with a teenager again. I think his case of self-aware self-sacrifice is a heroic example of courage, of which there are far too few in this whole sorry mess.

A Few Caveats

One sentence quoted above may have come as a big surprise: “A current editorial in the Jesuit magazine America, which urged the bishops to make a public act of penance, singled Wuerl out for his refusal to reinstate a pedophile when the Vatican’s highest court ordered him to do so in 1993.” After reading, for weeks, of how this or that bishop is removing this or that priest from his position because of sexual involvement with young people, one may wonder how Church courts may be involved. Does not the bishop have the right to place, or remove, a priest from a given position? Yes. And no. For priests have rights, too, and especially a priest who is a pastor.

Though the Church is not a government (in which there may be checks and balances between branches), theology, practice, and law have developed in response to varying circumstances over the centuries to hinder the abuse of autocratic authority. One of the developments is the recognition that a parish pastor has a right to a stable ministry: neither he nor his parish and parishioners is well-served if he is subject to removal willy-nilly by the bishop. (There are situations, however, in which a pastor may be appointed for a limited “term of office”.) Though a bishop may suspend a priest from exercising his ministry if he thinks there is just cause, he cannot do so indefinitely if the priest objects: there may very well be a trial, which may very well result in appeals. An entire section of the 1983 Code of Canon Law deals with The Procedure for Removal or Transfer of Parish Priests. (There are also “administrative acts” that can be employed, but I know little about them.)

Similarly, theologians who have been lawfully appointed or elected to certain positions are not necessarily subject to removal summarily by higher authority, even in the case of obvious, perhaps even deliberate, error. (My remarks earlier on the bishops’ failure to discipline theologians in the wake of the promulgation of Humanae Vitae unintentionally implied otherwise.) Again, procedures have been established over the centuries to protect the freedom of legitimate theological speculation and development. (See Canon 218.)

Indeed, one of the complaints raised by bishops at Vatican II was that, in the preceding 100 years or so, progressive theologians were sometimes silenced by Rome without a real chance to defend their positions. The pendulum, as the saying goes, has now swung too far the other way.

One of the reasons that actions against an accused priest (or theologian, for that matter) must be taken with care is that an accusation is not a conviction. Ironically, this point came up in an essay, Mar. 29, on media bias, by Dr. David Stolinsky, a retired teaching-physician who writes on social and political issues:

The same paper [the Los Angeles Times], like most papers, takes great care to refer to anyone who has not yet been convicted of a crime as an “alleged” or “accused” murderer or rapist. This wording avoids lawsuits, and more importantly, it follows the American tradition that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. So why is it that this paper began a story about child abuse in the Catholic Church with the front-page headline “Mahony Won’t Name Abusers.” Not one of these priests had been charged with a crime, much less convicted, or their names would already be a matter of public record. But those Cardinal Mahony didn’t name were not referred to as “alleged” abusers. Somehow the fear of lawsuits, and the devotion to civil liberties, were forgotten in the rush to condemn the Catholic Church — and, by extension, Christianity in general. Accused murderers and rapists in jail awaiting trial are “alleged,” but priests not formally charged with anything are “abusers.” How inconsistent. But how revealing.

Stolinsky notes, too, another peculiar aspect of reporting about the current scandal:

Also revealing is the fact that the kids allegedly abused are referred to as “victims,” “accusers,” “teens,” “youths,” and other terms that leave us to guess their sex. The word “boys” is rarely used. If the sex of the alleged victims had been reported, we could judge the truth of the claim that 90 percent of them were boys. But as it is, we can only wonder whether that claim is correct. And we can wonder whether the reluctance to report the sex of the victims is due to a reluctance to offend gays. Perhaps the 90 percent figure is incorrect. Perhaps there is no bias in favor of the gay agenda. But the incomplete reporting lends credence to our suspicions. Can’t reporters and editors see this? Or don’t they care?

(No, they can’t see it.)

Comedian Jackie Mason, with Raoul Felder, is another voice for restraint when considering accusations, in a Washington Times essay, Mar. 29:

When there is an allegation of child abuse made against a member of the clergy, logically there are but three possibilities: The allegation is true; the allegation is knowingly false and made for the possibility of financial gain; the allegation is in fact false, but the accusers believe it to be true. Yes, Virginia, believe it or not, there are people who would make false allegations for profit. To these people, the Catholic Church in America represents a seemingly bottomless pocket. Additionally, there is a perception that the church would pay off on even a false claim. With lawyers working on contingencies, it is a no-lose situation for an individual who wakes up one morning and decides he or she was abused by a priest 30 years ago....

The church should be held to no greater or lesser standard than should any citizen or other responsible entity. If there is a sexual harassment allegation by an employee against General Motors, General Motors investigates that allegation. If the harassment rises to the point where force or a criminal act is clearly involved, General Motors or any other organization in a similar situation should rightfully direct and assist the complainant in going to the criminal justice system for aid. However, for the Catholic Church, as suggested, to immediately report every complaint to the authorities, on a presumptively guilty basis, puts the accused in an impossible position, and places the church in harm’s way in terms of civil litigation, if the accusation is later determined to be unfounded. The Catholic Church is an institution that represents the core beliefs of, and is the moral compass for, tens of millions of people. It is not only unfair, it is unwise, to undermine this relationship by a response more visceral than thoughtful.

A Few Bits of Anti-Catholic Bias in Mainstream Media

Just as it would be unwise to accept at face value every accusation of priestly misconduct, so is it unwise to accept at face value every report in the mainstream media. A recent news article, and two opinion pieces, especially caught my attention.

An article in the Boston Globe, Mar. 24, reported the following:

Thomas Blanchette, another man who alleges that [Rev. Joseph E.] Birmingham molested him in the 1960s, said he approached [Cardinal Bernard] Law at Birmingham’s funeral in 1989 and told him about the abuse. Blanchette said Law silently prayed for him, but then instructed him to keep the information secret.

“He laid his hands on my head for two or three minutes,” Blanchette, who said his four brothers were also molested by Birmingham, said of Law. “And then he said this: ‘I bind you by the power of the confessional never to speak about this to anyone else.’ And that just burned me big-time. ... I didn’t ask him to hear my confession. I went there to inform him.”

“I bind you by the power of the confessional....” Ooooh. It sounds so mysterious... so ominous... so awful.... I’m sure non-Catholics must be wondering what it means. Catholics must be wondering what it means, too. Because there is no such thing. It sounds, to me, like something out of the wackier fantasies of somebody like Charles Chiniquy. The Boston Globe, though, prints it without a second thought: had they investigated, just a little, they would have had to leave it out.

An essay by somebody named Johanna McGeary, in Time, Mar. 24, contains the following remarkable passage:

The Roman Catholic Church is a stern hierarchy that has always kept its deliberations secret, policed itself and issued orders from the top. An obedient priest moves up in power by keeping his head down, winning rewards for bureaucratic skills and strict orthodoxy. When Cardinals are created, they take a vow before the Pope to “keep in confidence anything that, if revealed, would cause a scandal or harm to the church.” When it came to sex abuse, the Vatican essentially told bishops, You’re on your own. But if saving the church from scandal was literally a cardinal virtue, then the bishops of America’s 194 dioceses who had direct responsibility for priestly misconduct would make it their first principle. Better by far never to let the public know.

Let’s pass by the astonishing notion that “strict orthodoxy” is required for a priest to “move up in power” in the Catholic Church in the USA. (One need read no further to understand that the writer is quite clueless.)

What caught my attention was the equally astonishing notion that a cardinal takes a vow to “keep in confidence anything that, if revealed, would cause a scandal or harm to the church.” I would not waste either McGeary’s time or mine to ask her for a citation. But I had seen that little bit of fantasy related elsewhere, too, as fact, so I thought that I should point it out.

Finally, a column by one Michael Kramer in the New York Daily News, Mar. 24, relates a quite fanciful “history” of mandatory celibacy:

Ending celibacy wouldn’t be heresy: A married priesthood was the original and traditional Catholic condition for more than 12 centuries. Until they were forced to choose between their families and the priesthood in 1139, many Catholic clerics, including 39 Popes, were married. It’s crucial to understand that embracing celibacy did not reflect some purer interpretation of God’s will. In fact, it was mostly about money. A string of worldly medieval Popes had gradually worked to impose mandatory celibacy on the priesthood to increase their political power and enrich the church’s coffers. Married priests quite naturally left their holdings to their heirs. The Popes wanted those riches for the church — and Innocent II got the job done for good when the 2nd Lateran Council ended optional celibacy in 1139.

Actually, what really is “crucial to understand” is that Kramer’s “history” is almost entirely wrong, except for names and dates. This made-up history — this fundamentally anti-Catholic history — is so commonplace, though, historian Philip Jenkins (whose book was quoted at length in Part One) published an article in the Washington Post, Mar. 31, to set the record straight:

The notion that mandatory celibacy wasn’t imposed until the 12th century, stated as “fact,” seems quite damning to the church’s insistence on the practice. If true, modern Catholics would be insisting on an innovation that has been around for less than half of the history of Christianity, one that dates to the Middle Ages, a period that enjoys a dreadful reputation in modern thought. Through guilt by association, celibacy seems to be linked in many people’s minds with such horrors as witch-burning, the Inquisition and the Crusades. Worst of all, the reasons often cited for the invention of celibacy are not even spiritual, but rather involve land rights. According to a scholarly myth widely held among historians, the church was just trying to ensure that the children of priests could not become legitimate heirs to church land. Literally, according to this story, the modern Catholic Church is keeping alive a survival of feudal times.

This pseudo-history is wrong at almost every point. Mandatory celibacy goes much further back than Medieval times, if not quite to the days of the apostles. Priestly celibacy was the usual expectation in the West by late Roman times, say the 4th century, and Medieval statements on the subject were just reasserting discipline that had collapsed temporarily in times of war and social chaos. Of course we can find married priests throughout the Middle Ages, just as we can find priests committing molestation today, but that does not mean that, in either case, they were acting with church approval.

In making this point about dates, I am not just nitpicking in the worst academic tradition. I am stressing that priestly celibacy is a product of the very early church. Just how early? It was celibate priests and monks who made the final decisions about which books were going to make up the New Testament, and which would be excluded. If, as most Christians believe, the ideas and practices of the early church carry special authority, then we should certainly rank priestly celibacy among these ancient traditions.

So if they were not defending land rights, why did successive popes try to enforce celibacy? Odd as this may seem, the main reason seems to have been the increased frequency of the Eucharist or Mass. Because of the need to focus on spiritual rather than worldly interests, married priests in the 3rd and 4th centuries were supposed to abstain from sex the night before saying Mass. As Mass became a daily ritual, this effectively demanded permanent celibacy. Out of this practical need came a whole theology of self-sacrifice. The idea of celibacy is based less on a fear of sexuality than on a deep respect for its power, and with proper training, a celibate could transform or channel this power into a source of strength. Modern psychologists would later invent the term “sublimation” for this complex process.

(Jenkins, by the way, is an Episcopalian.)

I have decided that it may be very instructive to show that historical documents demonstrate the absolute correctness of Jenkins’ assertion about the main reason for the rise of mandatory clerical celibacy. The Roman tradition of clerical continence (married clergy abstaining from sexual activity) can be traced back, demonstrably, to the end of the fourth century. Indeed, it can be traced back specifically to a decree issued by a small group of African bishops who met in council in June 398 — who themselves were merely handing on (Latin traditio) and reaffirming rules that had come to them from earlier times.

I quote from The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, by Christian Cochini, S.J. Preceding this section, Fr. Cochini relates how the decree has been explicitly cited and quoted by bishops and popes from the fifth century right through the Reformation in support of clerical celibacy:

Here then is the document that was to play such a part in the history of ecclesiastical celibacy:

“Epigonius, Bishop of the Royal Region of Bulla, says: The rule of continence and chastity had been discussed in a previous council. Let it [now] be taught with more emphasis what are the three ranks that, by virtue of their consecration, are under the same obligation of chastity, i.e., the bishop, the priest, and the deacon, and let them be instructed to keep their purity.

“Bishop Genethlius says: As was previously said, it is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e., those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavor to keep.

“The bishops declared unanimously: It pleases us all that bishop, priest, and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from [conjugal intercourse] with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.”

This text is interesting in many respects. Mention is made of the clerics’ wives, and particularly, the wives of the hierarchy’s high-ranking members: bishops, priests, and deacons. Most of those — or at least a large number — were thus bound by marriage. Such men are being asked by the African synod to give up no less than all conjugal intercourse and to observe perfect chastity. Because they are ministers at the service of the divine sacraments, it is deemed that marital life would prevent them from carrying out simpliciter (in all simplicity) their intercessory function. (p. 5)

Clerical celibacy was not an invention of greedy popes in the Middle Ages. But that’s the kind of flat-out nonsense that passes for historical understanding in mainstream media. Clerical celibacy was a practical outgrowth of ecclesiastical tradition and liturgical practice going back to no later than the fourth century — to the days, indeed, when the very canon of Sacred Scripture had not yet been definitively determined.

Justice — even plain and simple honesty — demands that columnists and reporters acknowledge these historical facts, not ignore or distort them.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Support from Likely (and Not So Likely) Sources

In Part Two, I noted the following:

Am I saying that “dissent” from Catholic faith and life caused the outbreak of immoral priests in our midst? No. But there is, indeed, a very good argument to be made that confusion about Church teaching, caused by deliberate and public deception by prominent “Catholic” “theologians”, contributed to the outbreak and “justification” of immoral behavior among Catholics of all stripes.

Catholic scholar Michael Novak wrote about this in a “Good Friday meditation”, Mar. 29:

After a daily diet of sexual-abuse scandals, American Catholics came into Good Friday this year with a new way of observing Lent: mortification, shame, and the bitter herbs of public humiliation. But also with a powerful conviction that “dissent” has failed. Okay, there was a sexual revolution; okay, there is a “new morality.” Problem is, had the old morality been followed, there would be no scandals, which so many now suffer from. Child abuse comes not from celibacy nor vows of chastity. Neither women priests nor married clergy make it go away — just examine the record of churches that have gone that route....

The reason the American Church today stands accused of hypocrisy is that it has been teaching one thing (semper fidelis for two millennia), while in that deeply conflicted generation ordained during the Sixties and Seventies (hit simultaneously by Vatican II and the sexual revolution) a small but significant body of its priests including some bishops has been flagrantly violating that teaching. That traditional teaching holds that our bodies are holy, the temples of the Holy Spirit, the physical manifestation of our personalities and of the graces poured out on us through the sacraments. We are embodied souls; every part is body, every part is soul, there is no dualism here. Our persons have been anointed. Our persons are sacramental. These teachings, exemplified in the life of Christ, are the ground of Catholic thinking both about loving sexuality in marriage and about the fire that gives celibacy its beauty, the purposive struggle for purity of heart. To engage our bodies in sinful acts, which slap the face of God and pierce anew His wounds upon the cross, is a kind of blasphemy. It is a dreadful misuse of sanctified bodies, bodies united in the Eucharist with Christ’s own. These acts wound the holiness of a partner, destroy innocence, breed contempt and anger, awaken hatred for God. They are especially horrible to contemplate when they have injured the unspoiled and trusting young.

How can people who studied long and prayed hard before taking vows turn in such a direction, in some cases habitually and nearly hardened in it, with a full-scale ideology to rationalize it? How can that happen? It could not have happened without a culture of “dissent,” especially regarding the theology of the human body. Its partisans call it “dissent,” which of itself is a healthy thing within a loyal brotherhood, but in its recent American form has been a sullen, silent rebellion, a separation of the heart from the leadership of those popes that followed the greatly loved and much-misinterpreted John XXIII (d. 1963). Paul VI and John Paul II have been the butt of the progressives’ ire. “I think the Church is being governed by thugs,” one Jesuit is quoted as dismissing them. (emphasis added)

Catholic columnist Phil Brennan traces, Mar. 27, the roots of “dissent” back much further — back to the nineteenth century, in fact, and the attempt of one American priest (Isaac Thomas Hecker, founder of the Paulists) to make the Catholic faith more palatable to Americans:

The scandals rocking the Church in America today had their roots in what might be called “Heckerism,” the ideology that gave birth to political correctness in the Church — the doctrine that insists that if a tenet of theology gives offense to anyone it must be either toned down or abandoned....

Slowly, covertly, the cancer variously identified as Americanization or modernism, or simply as heresy, has eaten away at the vitals of the Catholic Church in America. The Church in America that once stood like a rock in the sea of uncertainty, corruption and immorality that is modern secular society — the Church which could claim to be the staunch guardian of the immutable principles of Christianity handed down from the Apostles — has become an instrument of confusion and doubt, a betrayer of its faithful and a haven for the worst kinds of perversion and heresy. (emphasis added)

Recall that, in Part Two, I also asked this:

If professional Catholic theologians and pastors and religious — on the Church’s payroll, at all levels — effectively compromise Catholic faith and life to the point where they are becoming indistinguishable from the prevailing secular milieu, why are these men and women not called subversive traitors and expelled?

According to Cal Thomas, a conservative Protestant columnist, Catholic author Ralph McInerny pegs the rejection by professional Catholic theologians of Humanae Vitae as the beginning of the “modern decline from Catholic orthodoxy”, which I have already identified as the time of the collapse of the “moral authority” of the Catholic bishops in the USA. As Thomas wrote in a column, Mar. 30:

McInerny dates the modern decline from Catholic orthodoxy to 1968 when liberal theologians rejected the pope’s Humanae Vitae, which restated certain boundaries for sexual expression. The “moral theologians” who rejected the document displayed an attitude, says McInerny, which was “antithetical to Christian morality.” His point, and it is a good one, is that the leaders of the Catholic Church in America (and one might also argue the same applies to many Protestant leaders) were compromised because they feared the criticism of the world more than they feared disapproval from God. The same attitude prevails in many churches today.... Too many churches abandon doctrine at the first sign of secular disapproval for fear of being called names and being rejected by the unchurched masses....

Instead of orthodoxy and discipline, some in the Catholic Church and other churches have sought the world’s approval.... What they’ve received in return is corruption in their souls and in their leadership. Too many Catholics, as well as others who call themselves Christians, think they should be able to create God in their image. Catholics want to remain Catholic while at the same time rejecting some of the basic teachings of their church. Can one be a member in good standing of the NAACP if he’s a racist? Whether the issue is divorce, or sexual expression of any and every kind, these theological lone rangers think they are God and get to decide right from wrong.... The best approach to solving the problem of a few priests who prey on minors, and theological liberalism in general, is for the Catholic Church to return to the original rulebook, Scripture, which was written and delivered for the protection and redemption of humanity, and stop listening to the siren call of the world, which is headed in another direction. (emphasis added)

This column will continue next time in The View.

ELC 2002

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Important series and multi-part articles of news or opinion

A chronicle of high-level USA government actions in September 2001, at two websites:

Ten Days in September (WP)
“This series is based on interviews with President Bush, Vice President Cheney and many other key officials inside the administration and out. The interviews were supplemented by notes of National Security Council meetings made available to The Washington Post, along with notes taken by several participants.”

Response to Terror (Austin American Stateman)
“This is an eight-part series by The Washington Post describing the response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the highest levels of government.”

Coverage of September 11 and the aftermath:

Fighting Terrorism: America Retaliates (BG)
“Archive stories from the Boston Globe: Tuesday Sept. 11 – Sunday Sept. 16”

Attack on America (Guardian Unlimited)
Special Report with continuing coverage

A three-part series on Environmentalism by Diane Alden @ NewsMax:

The Green Matrix (Part One)
“The people who rule the green matrix seek to centrally plan our lives. They have adopted the same philosophy as those who drove the peasants off the land in Russia. They are of the same mind as the Red Guard in China. They are willing to sacrifice science, the truth and freedom, as well as the well-being of humans and the environment, in order to promote their utopian vision for the world — a vision that considers man a cancer on the land. Strangely, the term ‘green matrix’ comes up in many of their studies, claims and policy papers. But this isn’t a movie. It is the new totalitarian vision.”

The Green Matrix (Part Two): They Blinded Us With Science
“The more serious problem, however, is that over the years agencies have been co-opted by those with a much larger agenda in mind. It is not just about listing one species and shutting down one or two forests for public use, i.e., ‘managing federal lands.’ As the greens say, ‘Think globally and act locally.’ That mantra is at the core and heart of U.S. environmental policy. It is fair to say that in the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service ‘science’ got dumped years ago. It was a process that began in the ’70s but received official imprimatur under Bill Clinton in 1993. At that time, philosophy replaced ‘science.’ Conservation biology became the ‘science,’ and ‘ecosystem management’ and ‘precautionary principle’ the tools. The end game was to reconnect ‘ecosystems’ from the Yukon to Mexico.”

The Green Matrix (Part 3): Weird Science – Think Globally
“Modern environmentalism has become the best single tool to fulfill the fondest wishes of the international control freaks and central planners. It is the new ideological agenda replacing communism and capitalism. It is, in fact, a lethal mix of both. Alan Caruba of the National Anxiety Center calls it ‘fascilism.’ In implementing the various environmental wish lists, we don’t get cleaner air and water. But we do get a new religion and a new economic system. In addition, the old time religion is being replaced by a green Zen Buddhism on one hand, and tyranny and repression on the other. If you follow the logic of ‘ecosystem’ management, that is where we're headed as we wend our way through the holistic approach for the ‘collective good.’”

A three-part series “Driving a Wedge” in the Boston Globe:

Why bin Laden plot relied on Saudi hijackers
“Senior US officials and Saudi Interior Ministry officials involved with the investigation into the involvement of Saudi nationals in the attacks say they now believe bin Laden’s Al Qaeda actively sought out young Saudi volunteers from this region for their ‘jihad.’ The investigation is beginning to reveal a picture of how bin Laden, a native of the Saudi southwest, exploited the young hijackers by playing off the region's deep tribal affiliations, itseconomic dis-enfranchisement, anditsown burning brand of Wahhabi fundamentalism which the kingdom's religious hierarchy fosters in the schools.”

Saudi schools fuel anti-US anger
“US diplomats and Saudi specialists say Saudi schools are the foundation of the broader society in which the House of Saud has for decades tolerated extremists within the religious hierarchy to set a tone — in schools as well as on national television and radio airways — of open bigotry toward non-Muslims, contempt even for those non-Sunni Muslims from other branches of the faith such as the Shiite, and of virulent anti-Americanism. This, US and Saudi observers here say, has been part of an unofficial deal: The kingdom gave the religious establishment control of the schools as long as it didn’t question the legitimacy of the monarchy’s power. The United States went along with this tacit agreement as long as the oil kept flowing, its troops stayed in the country, and the House of Saud remained on the throne.”

Doubts are cast on the viability of Saudi monarchy for long term
“The House of Saud — the 30,000-member ruling family headed by 3,000 princes — has long been so riddled with corruption that even Crown Prince Abdullah has said the culture of royal excess has to come to an end. It has ruled over the kingdom with documented human rights abuses and, as one Western diplomat put it, a form of ‘gender apartheid’ for women. Democracy has never been part of the equation. These palace indulgences have been tolerated by Washington for far too long, critics say, because of a US policy dependent on Saudi Arabia'’s vast oil reserves, Riyadh’s purchase of an estimated $4 billion a year worth of US weapons, and its pivotal role as host to 5,000 American troops. Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt agreed a half century ago to defend the kingdom in exchange for ready access to oil, the balance between US interests and US ideals in Saudi Arabia has always tipped in favor of Washington’s economic and strategic interests.”

A three-part article on some current thinking on the Koran in The Atlantic:

What is the Koran? (Part 1)
“Some of the parchment pages in the Yemeni hoard seemed to date back to the seventh and eighth centuries A.D., or Islam’s first two centuries — they were fragments, in other words, of perhaps the oldest Korans in existence. What’s more, some of these fragments revealed small but intriguing aberrations from the standard Koranic text. Such aberrations, though not surprising to textual historians, are troublingly at odds with the orthodox Muslim belief that the Koran as it has reached us today is quite simply the perfect, timeless, and unchanging Word of God.”

What is the Koran? (Part 2)
“Deviating from the orthodox interpretation of the Koran, says the Algerian Mohammed Arkoun, a professor emeritus of Islamic thought at the University of Paris, is ‘a very sensitive business’ with major implications. ‘Millions and millions of people refer to the Koran daily to explain their actions and to justify their aspirations,’ Arkoun says. ‘This scale of reference is much larger than it has ever been before.’”

What is the Koran? (Part 3)
“Gerd-R. Puin speaks with disdain about the traditional willingness, on the part of Muslim and Western scholars, to accept the conventional understanding of the Koran. ‘The Koran claims for itself that it is “mubeen,” or “clear,” he says. ‘But if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn’t make sense. Many Muslims — and Orientalists — will tell you otherwise, of course, but the fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible. This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible — if it can’t even be understood in Arabic — then it’s not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not — as even speakers of Arabic will tell you — there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on.’”

A “classic” two-part article, by Bernard Lewis, with a recent related essay, in The Atlantic:

The Roots of Muslim Rage (Part One)
“Like every other civilization known to human history, the Muslim world in its heyday saw itself as the center of truth and enlightenment, surrounded by infidel barbarians whom it would in due course enlighten and civilize. But between the different groups of barbarians there was a crucial difference. The barbarians to the east and the south were polytheists and idolaters, offering no serious threat and no competition at all to Islam. In the north and west, in contrast, Muslims from an early date recognized a genuine rival — a competing world religion, a distinctive civilization inspired by that religion, and an empire that, though much smaller than theirs, was no less ambitious in its claims and aspirations. This was the entity known to itself and others as Christendom, a term that was long almost identical with Europe. The struggle between these rival systems has now lasted for some fourteen centuries. It began with the advent of Islam, in the seventh century, and has continued virtually to the present day. It has consisted of a long series of attacks and counterattacks, jihads and crusades, conquests and reconquests.... For the past three hundred years, since the failure of the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 and the rise of the European colonial empires in Asia and Africa, Islam has been on the defensive, and the Christian and post-Christian civilization of Europe and her daughters has brought the whole world, including Islam, within its orbit.”

The Roots of Muslim Rage (Part Two)
“The accusations are familiar. We of the West are accused of sexism, racism, and imperialism, institutionalized in patriarchy and slavery, tyranny and exploitation. To these charges, and to others as heinous, we have no option but to plead guilty — not as Americans, nor yet as Westerners, but simply as human beings, as members of the human race. In none of these sins are we the only sinners, and in some of them we are very far from being the worst. The treatment of women in the Western world, and more generally in Christendom, has always been unequal and often oppressive, but even at its worst it was rather better than the rule of polygamy and concubinage that has otherwise been the almost universal lot of womankind on this planet.... Slavery is today universally denounced as an offense against humanity, but within living memory it has been practiced and even defended as a necessary institution, established and regulated by divine law. The peculiarity of the peculiar institution, as Americans once called it, lay not in its existence but in its abolition. Westerners were the first to break the consensus of acceptance and to outlaw slavery, first at home, then in the other territories they controlled, and finally wherever in the world they were able to exercise power or influence — in a word, by means of imperialism.”

What Went Wrong?
“Muslim modernizers — by reform or revolution — concentrated their efforts in three main areas: military, economic, and political. The results achieved were, to say the least, disappointing. The quest for victory by updated armies brought a series of humiliating defeats. The quest for prosperity through development brought in some countries impoverished and corrupt economies in recurring need of external aid, in others an unhealthy dependence on a single resource — oil. And even this was discovered, extracted, and put to use by Western ingenuity and industry, and is doomed, sooner or later, to be exhausted, or, more probably, superseded, as the international community grows weary of a fuel that pollutes the land, the sea, and the air wherever it is used or transported, and that puts the world economy at the mercy of a clique of capricious autocrats. Worst of all are the political results: the long quest for freedom has left a string of shabby tyrannies, ranging from traditional autocracies to dictatorships that are modern only in their apparatus of repression and indoctrination.... It was bad enough for Muslims to feel poor and weak after centuries of being rich and strong, to lose the position of leadership that they had come to regard as their right, and to be reduced to the role of followers of the West. But the twentieth century, particularly the second half, brought further humiliation — the awareness that they were no longer even the first among followers but were falling back in a lengthening line of eager and more successful Westernizers, notably in East Asia. The rise of Japan had been an encouragement but also a reproach. The later rise of other Asian economic powers brought only reproach. The proud heirs of ancient civilizations had gotten used to hiring Western firms to carry out tasks of which their own contractors and technicians were apparently incapable. Now Middle Eastern rulers and businessmen found themselves inviting contractors and technicians from Korea — only recently emerged from Japanese colonial rule — to perform these tasks. Following is bad enough; limping in the rear is far worse. By all the standards that matter in the modern world — economic development and job creation, literacy, educational and scientific achievement, political freedom and respect for human rights — what was once a mighty civilization has indeed fallen low.”

A two-part article @ Salon, by Andrew O’Hehir, on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:

new The book of the century
“It’s unwise to read The Lord of the Rings as allegory in any strict sense, but this commonplace personal odyssey, one shared by millions in the modern age, is strikingly echoed in its plot. Frodo, the child-size hero, must leave his beloved Shire and travel into Sauron’s domain of Mordor, with its slag heaps, its permanent pall of smoke, its slave-driven industries. When he returns after much danger and difficulty, he discovers that the malicious wizard Saruman — as Shippey points out, a techno-Utopian who began with good intentions — has industrialized the Shire itself, cutting down its trees, replacing its hobbit-holes with brick slums and factories and poisoning its rivers. In this regard, then, The Lord of the Rings belongs to the literature of the Industrial Revolution, a lament for the destruction of England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ that belongs somewhere on the same shelf with Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence and William Blake. But Tolkien saw something wilder and stranger in the Sarehole of his childhood, and in himself: a fading but still tangible connection to the distant, mythic past. If his Shire hobbits are the West Midlands rural bourgeoisie of 1895 or so, they have been catapulted backward into a world where they themselves are the anachronisms, a realm of elves, dwarves (Tolkien insisted on this nonstandard but ancient plural, although he would have preferred ‘dwarrows’), wizards, dragons, goblins and black sorcerers.”

new A curiously very great book
“It is not merely the scale of mythic invention or the grand storytelling that distinguishes it but also its tragic vision, the profound melancholy mentioned by Lewis. Few if any heroic quests have ever had such a sense of human frailty and weakness; although Frodo brings the Ring all the way to the Cracks of Doom where Sauron forged it, in the end he is overcome by temptation and claims it for his own. He is redeemed only by chance, or by divine grace, which in Tolkien’s world comes to the same thing. He has shown mercy to the treacherous and miserable Gollum, who becomes the accidental agent of Frodo’s and the world’s salvation. But Frodo, the book’s ostensible hero, fails in his quest and is left, like the knight who guards the Holy Grail, with a grievous wound that can never heal (an Arthurian parallel Shippey has not noticed). Even the victory wrought by the Ring’s destruction is a sad affair, in many respects closer to defeat. Much of the magic and mystery drains out of Middle-earth after Sauron’s fall, leaving behind an ordinary, only slightly prehistoric realm dominated by human beings. Tolkien’s most beloved characters — Gandalf, the High-Elves Elrond and Galadriel and the hobbits Bilbo and Frodo, both of them indelibly marked by the Ring — depart over the western seas to a paradisiacal nowhere that none of us on this shore will ever see. Tolkien liked to present himself to friends and readers as a contented fireside hobbit, fond of tobacco, simple food and late mornings in bed, and there can be no doubt, reading his letters, that he was immensely gratified by the outpouring of love and enthusiasm his work engendered. (And immensely irritated by some of it; when a woman wanted to name her Siamese cats after his characters, he replied that they were “the fauna of Mordor.”) But in reality he was a strange and complicated man who wrote a strange and sad book, whose complex of meanings we will likely never determine.”

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The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”