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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Meatless Monday


V for Vendetta.

As a vegetarian, I don't really have much trouble with trying to establish a "vegetarian day" once a week, like the current campaign for "Meatless Monday." But really, how can they be so clueless as to try to start all over, proverbially reinventing the wheel, instead of conforming to the established tradition of 50% of Canadians that Friday is that meatless day?

In any case, to anyone who understands human psychology, Monday, the first day of the work week, is the worst possible day to ask people for some special sacrifice.

Speaking of vegetarianism, apparently someone has perfected a mock chicken that tastes so much like chicken it fools the experts in taste tests. And it's cheaper than real chicken. This one is going to go through the roof, if governments do not stop it somehow. I think everybody feels a little guilty about eating meat, and if you can make it a no-sacrifice, or better, meat cannot compete.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

NCAA, Paterno, and Penn State


Paterno statue at Penn State: now reported missing in action.


The NCAA, in imposing their recent sanctions on Penn State, are giving us a textbook example of hypocrisy.

This is a scapegoating of Paterno,who never was and could probably not have been convicted of any wrongdoing, but who now cannot defend himself. And it is a sacrifice of the interests of thousands of students, athletes, and employees of Penn State who had nothing to do with pedophilia.

The worst thing is deleting from the official record all of Penn State's wins going back to 1989. Besides punishing the innocent, this is a deliberate falsification of history. And the wins, of course, had nothing to do with pedophilia or the coverup of pedophilia. What does this say to young people, to college students everywhere? 1. That it is okay to lie. 2. That there is no point in trying hard; someone else can just come along and erase everything on you later.

It seems to me as heinous in itself as, and very similar in nature to, Jerry Sandusky's original transgression.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Left Explained in 2000 Words or Less


It's not hard to understand the modern left, really. So long as you jettison all that bunk about the working class and the poor. Pierre Trudeau said it fairly straight, long ago, when he was asked, running for the Liberal leadership, if he was a Marxist. He replied that his political philosophy came from Plato's Republic.

The True Founder of the Left.


The left's fundamental belief is that of Plato: that the ideal society should be run by a meritocracy of the best and the brightest, of the enlightened, of the learned.

Besides Plato, it is the teaching of Confucius. It is also in the spirit of Rabbinical Judaism.

So why conceal it, consciously or not, behind a smokescreen of Marxist talk about the working class? The working class really just does not figure here. First, I think, because their idea is undemocratic, and so a bit of a challenge to get past the majority of voters who become the ruled. The obvious ploy is here used: claim it is all for their best interests, that they are under threat from some powerful enemy (the rich capitalists), and that they, ordinary folks on the street, are somehow the ones being empowered.

The Leftist is on the Left; the Red is wearing Red. Aristotle is in Tory Blue.


But in reality, the power must be held, perhaps “temporarily,” by a “vanguard” movement. Which is of course not working class at all. Trudeau, Rae, Obama, Kerry, Gore, Kennedy, Castro, Guevara, Mao, Lenin—none of these are working class, or even a generation away from working class. They are all professionals.

If they get away with it, it kind of proves their point: that the working classes are easily manipulated and so not competent to mind their own affairs.

"Relying on Mao Zedong Thought; Making the Revolution."


The second problem with telling the truth about the agenda of the left is that this doctrine of rule by experts goes against Christian gospel, which condemns the professional class in very plain and consistent terms, as the “scribes and Pharisees.” The suggestion is that such a system is inevitably oppressive over time. And so it has been, historically. Such a rule by a professional elite was the essence of Communism in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia over the past century. In Bulgaria, I met an older tour guide who lamented that, nowadays, nobody cared about his proper credentials any more. Just about anyone could be a tour guide now if they could do the job.

This is why leftist regimes always emphasize health and education: more money and more power for doctors and academics.

Nazi Germany, although it had its genuine working class element, was also a rule by professional elite. The party's support was nowhere stronger than among university students and academics. As is the left's support today.

The third problem with telling the truth is that the idea of meritocracy tends to violate the idea of human equality. True, a real meritocracy would not discriminate on the basis of class, race, or sex. But it assumes, on the other hand, that human capacities are radically different on the basis of education or training. This in turn is concealed behind a smokescreen of stressing equality in terms of race and sex.

Soviet Poster: "The Illiterate is a Blind Man."


Yet against all this, it seems only common sense that those most qualified to run the world are the professionals, the experts, the well-educated. What's so wrong about that? Wouldn't everyone be better off? I listened only recently to a MSM commentator, an editor for Slate magazine, making just this argument for the case that China currently had a pretty good government.

We are speaking, after all, not of a ruling class by birth, but one by proven merit.

Unfortunately, as a Christian, I am inclined to believe that Jesus was right about all this, and Pharisaism is not a productive or moral way to run things. As he noted, and as history seems to prove, meritocracies of this sort become oppressive.

First, it is intrinsically unlikely to suppose that another person, who does not know you, can tend to your best interests better than you can, even with all the best motives in the world. He does not know you as well as you do, and people do not vary that greatly in their intellectual capacities. This is where the left really believes in extreme human inequality. Only on this assumption of extreem human inequality would the rule by experts make sense. Christianity teaches, instead, that we are all equal in the sight of God, and all necessarily competent, independent moral agents—otherwise there is no salvation.

Second, not ourselves being God, how do we determine who is an expert? Classically, other experts decide—but how do we know they are truly expert? We have to have some objective test to ensure that we have something more here than a randomly self-selected, self-perpetuating clique. The education system is the one the meritocrats tend to rely upon. But that retains the problem: are those who set the curriculum and the tests the real experts, and are their solutions the best? Might a lone genius always fail the test by seeing something better?

The two most obvious checks are, firstly, a free market in expertise, and secondly, a democracy, in which the popular will is sovereign over the legal and educational system. The left, and professions generally, is rather opposed to both of these checks. Indeed, forming into an profession is by its essential nature a restraint on the free market and the popular will.

The religious priesthoods have their own such checks and balances: celibacy, for one, as a test of sincerity. The left, inevitably, is opposed to this as well. For military professionals, the success or failure of actual military operations is the great objective check. Science and engineering have their own objective check, that of reproducible results; and, even more, of bridges not actually falling down.

Interestingly, these professions that face regular objective checks tend to be less leftward-leaning than the others. Indeed, to the extent to which a profession or area of expertise is identifiably political, ideological and leftist in its corporate stance, and opposed to objective checks, to that extent we can fairly assume it is not a real collection of experts but a self-selecting, self-perpetuating clique.

The third problem with this sort of professional meritocracy, as hinted at previously, is that there is an inevitable danger that even true experts will not be, by that qualification, paragons of disinterested virtue. Give any group special powers and privileges, and they are entirely likely to exercise them, not for the public good, but in their own self-interest.

The stance of the left is based, implicitly or explicitly, on the assumption of the moral superiority of the professional class. They are to be given power because, unlike the merchant class, they are not motivated by money, greed, or profit. Unlike the working class, they do not cling in ignorance to their guns and their religion.

Yet there is absolutely no basis for this. Once, when any academic training necessarily included a rigorous education in a religious tradition, and any awarded degree was a ministerial license, it might have had some theoretical basis. Although the New Testament will not accept this argument. But now, when there is no moral or theological component to the typical education, there is no argument for professionals being any less greedy, power-hungry, slothful, deceitful, or lascivious than the average man. Giving them special powers and privileges, therefore, is simply giving them a license to exploit the rest to their own advantage. As Adam Smith observed, no group of men involved in the same trade can ever meet, even in relaxation, without the meeting becoming in time a conspiracy against the public good. We understand this, and act accordingly, in the case of merchants and manufacturers. We act as if the opposite is the case in the professions. This is mad.

Besides comparisons of Denmark to Bulgaria, we can see the failure of the left-wing meritocratic ideal in detail in real life. Compare the urban-planned spaghetti junction suburbs of the fifties and later with organically-developed older towns and inner cities. Which is a more amenable environment—that created by the urban-planning experts, or that created by people working out what they wanted for themselves? To my mind, there is no question.

Consider the quality of “journalism” since reporters formed themselves into a profession in about the nineteen-sixties. Have newspapers and magazines and television news gotten better since? No, they have entered a downward slide, to the point that traditional newspapers, magazines, and network news are dying now all around us. Yes, it is the technology, but that is not the whole story. Established news organizations should have been able to move to the new technology and still dominate, with a superior “professional” product. The problem faced by the journalism profession is that they are too easily faced now with open competition from outside the profession, and cannot compete successfully. The professionals simply are not as good as amateurs outside the profession.

One sees the same deterioration in the public schools, since “educators” formed themselves into a profession at about the same time. Quality goes down and costs go up as a profession turns from serving the customer to serving their self-interest. The boom in homeschooling, and all the available statistics on it, show that the amateurs here too can consistently outperform the profession.

The same is doubtless true of many other professions. Moreover, the domination of the professions, which has grown by leaps and bounds since the Second World War, can be seen to account for a lot of our current financial problems in the developed world. The growing cost of education; the growing cost of health care; the growing cost of malpractice insurance; the growing pension burden in the public service. They are largely due to the parasitism of the professions on the larger society.

One possible partial solution would be to reintroduce a religious underpinning to all professional education. That, I think, would help, but the New Testament says it would not be enough.

More promising is the growing role of technology and globalization in creating a true free market in expertise. Let's hope.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Disneyland Lost in Time



Took in Hong Kong Disneyland with my two kids just last week. Disneyland is fantastic—don't get me wrong. It is one huge work of art, revealing the genius of one mind. But it also struck me, this time, as a little outdated. Main Street USA, for example, reproduces a small town main street in the US circa, I'd say, 1910-1920. When Disneyland opened in 1953, that would have been thirty to forty years ago—the childhood of grandma and grandpa, or of Walt Disney. It would have been a wonderful attraction for them, evoking their own distant childhoods. Now it evokes no one's childhood, and, I think, loses its prime raison d'etre. When, as here, they build a new Disneyland, they really should update it accordingly—right now to around 1970-1980—in order to reproduce the original effect. 

Main Street in Anaheim Disneyland, 2010.


On the other hand, inadvertently, “Tomorrowland” worked more or less like Main Street USA for me. The vision of tomorrow it presents is absolutely the future foreseen in the space-crazy, science-mad fifties, and now looks fantastically dated; not like “tomorrow” at all, but like 1953.

Tomorrowland, Anaheim, 2010.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Rice for Vice Would be Nice

The fact that I personally have a massive crush on Condoleeza Rice has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Drudge Report is headlining a claimed leak that Condoleeza Rice has suddenly jumped to the top of the list for Romney's VP choice.

I've said here before that she'd be a perfect matchup with Romney. If he's smart, he'll go with her, instead of rumoured alternatives Portman and Pawlenty.

Rice balances Romney well because she adds foreign policy expertise, which Romney lacks. She also balances him South/North. Obviously, if it matters, she balances him male / female and white / black. She is seen as on the right of the party; he needs that too, for the base. I suspect she will help a lot of voters feel better about voting against the first black president; she insulates them, in their own minds and in the public eye, against accusations that they are voting against Obama because he is black. It would also be helpful in terms of the social consensus in this regard; it would prevent blacks from feeling they had been rejected in such a vote. That would make Romney's presidency easier if he won.

But the biggest reason is this: Romney has an enthusiasm problem. People find him boring. The worst thing he could do, therefore, is just what he has been rumoured to be planning to do: a "safe" choice for VP. A traditional sort, a man in a suit, a Pawlenty or Portman. He needs someone interesting, someone charismatic, someone who can draw the public interest. It is my sense that Rice has just that kind of charisma, and that kind of personal story.

Apparently, she can also deliver a fiery speech.

Give it to her: don't offer the American public four years of pure boredom.

Bethune

There ought to be controversy over funding memorials to the legacy of Norman Bethune.

Dr. Bethune, I presume?


Not because he was a Communist. Nothing shameful about misplaced idealism. The problem is that we seem to be honouring him _only because_ he was a Communist. Only a slight awareness of the history of China and the Far East demonstrates that there were many great Canadian medical missionaries to the Far East, with accomplishments and innovations rather greater than Bethune's. His career was very brief. Yet none of them are memorialized as Bethune is.

Why? Literally, because of all of them, only Bethune was Communist. The others were all Christian missionaries.

Bethune in China. He's on the left. But you knew that.



Bethune has been lionized by the Chinese government for seventy years not because he was a great medical missionary, although he was, but because, for propaganda purposes, they needed someone Communist to hold up against the legions of Western medical missionaries on the "other" side. And Bethune himself surely got the idea from the Christians. his father was a Presbyterian minister.

The Bethune Memorial Home in Gravenhurst. Oddly reminiscent of Green Gables.


In the end, it just makes financial sense to make a fuss over Bethune. It's good for tourism from China. We use the same argument, after all, to justify the Queen. But let's not buy the propaganda ourselves. We ought to make clear, in all our internal references, that Bethune was just one of many. He went in the name of Karl Marx; but all the rest went in the name of Jesus Christ.

Telegraph Writer Says What I've Been Saying for Years

Might the sun yet rise, and never set again, on the Anglophone Empire?


...Britain would have a great future economically and politically  allied with the Anglosphere instead of the EU.

The Special Relationship with Washington would only be strengthened, not weakened, as America looks beyond the emperor with no clothes in Brussels to a resurgent Britain freed of the shackles of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defence Policy. And it would only be a matter of time before a free trade agreement was negotiated and signed between the US and UK, reinforcing the biggest bilateral investment relationship in the world. It would also be a major opportunity for Britain to reinvigorate ties with the Anglosphere nations of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India, as well as important English-speaking trading partners in Asia such as Singapore and Hong Kong. 

Link. 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Tota Pulchra Es

Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, Vilnius, Lithuania

Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu laetitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Tota pulchra es, Maria.

You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
Your clothing is white as snow, and your face is like the sun.
You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you give honour to our people.
You are all beautiful, Mary.

--traditional prayer to Mary, dating at least to the 4th century AD.


One of the things non-Catholics always get wrong about Catholicism is the Immaculate Conception. Typically, the uncatechised assume it refers to Jesus being conceived without sex. Wrong on two counts. It refers to Mary being conceived without original sin.

If Mary was conceived without original sin, as according to definitive Catholic dogma she was, that leads to certain other fascinating possibilities. Death came into the world through sin, for example--”the wages of sin is death.” If Mary was conceived without original sin, and never sinned personally, it follows that she never died. Hence the doctrine of the Assumption, that she ascended into heaven body and soul.

So far, so doctrinally certain.

The grotto at Lourdes. The inscription features Mary's first words to St. Bernadette, in the local dialect: "I am the Immaculate Conception."


But this also implies something else, suggested in the ancient prayer above. Nature fell with man. If Mary never fell, her physical nature also never fell. Her body, too, was the one one would have in Eden. Hence a body fit for heaven.

Unfallen, it would be a perfect body, as originally intended by God. This is what is suggested in the ancient prayer quoted above: her earthly clothing would be immaculate too, her face like the sun.

Would Mary not have been, therefore, necessarily, the perfection of feminine beauty?

After all, as Plato rightly points out, there are in out experience three transcendent values; three things that are divine and eternal, a priori values that give value to all else: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

God, as supreme being, must necessarily be, by his nature, perfect truth, i.e., perfect reality or being, perfect good, i.e., all-good in a moral sense, and perfectly beautiful. We tend to forget the last, for some reason, but it is there from the beginning. “Too late, O ancient beauty, have I loved thee,” lamented St. Augustine.

Because God is perfectly good, anything he created must also be perfectly good, and perfectly beautiful. He would not create anything with a flaw. Therefore, his creation as well, in its own nature, would necessarily be good, and beautiful, prior to the fall of man. If not, as Descartes pointed out, God would not be perfectly good, and he is by definition.

The Assumption; from the National Museum of Catalan Art, Barcelona.


God's own beauty is a spiritual beauty, the beauty of the Logos: the beauty we experience in an elegant mathematical equation or logical deduction. God is spirit.

But Mary, as his one never-fallen creation, represents perfect physical beauty.

No wonder she is such a popular subject for visual artists. In principle, she is the ultimate subject for the visual arts.

Why is it, then, you may ask, that Mary is not famous for her beauty in the way Cleopatra or Helen of Troy were? Why is it that great wars were not fought over her, and a thousand ships launched? Why did successive Emperors not court her? Instead, she found at her door only an old carpenter from Nazareth. An old carpenter who was content never to have sex with her, in the end.

A good question. But consider this: for the past two thousand years, artists of all kinds have sought to portray her. Following the standard of the ancient prayer, they have as a matter of course sought to portray her as the most beautiful woman their imaginations and their craft could achieve.

And yet, how many men, gazing on a statue or a painting of Mary, have feelings of lust? How many think of her sexually?

A beautiful body is one thing. A beautiful body combined with a beautiful spirit, even implied, is something else. That enters the realm of art.

And that is one way to understand Mary: as the great Muse. She personifies what all art aspires to be: perfect physical beauty combined with perfect spiritual beauty.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

How Not to Reform Education

The Great Dictator



Michelle Rhee's demise in Washington was, I think, deserved. To my mind, she was always an illustration of Aesop's fable of the frogs who asked Zeus to send them a king. Because she acted decisively and harshly, she was popular with the public. Teacher-bashing plays well in current politics, as Chris Christie and Scott Walker have demonstrated. And teachers have no one but themselves to blame that this is so. But that does not make any approach that is hostile to teachers right.

Rhee had a grand time grandstanding to the media. Nobody wanted to notice, for a while, that she was acting capriciously. It really all just amounted to Rhee firing people she personally disliked. Everything was up to the “judgement of the chancellor”--that is, Rhee. Challenged, she made unsubstantiated, defamatory McCarthy-like blanket accusations against teachers she fired. She hinted that those fired were child molesters, no less.

Her methods did improve performance on most measures. Most dictatorships do—for a few years. But I doubt her achievement would have been sustainable. For a while, raw fear can make everyone work harder in hopes of waiting out the firestorm. But fear is a brittle motivator. The moment there is the slightest opportunity instead to subvert the system, or to escape it, the dictatorial approach becomes disastrous; and such a moment always comes. Strong and efficient institutions are built instead on a shared sense of purpose, shared ideals, and a sense of fairness.

This is also an important lesson to understand for discipline within a classroom. Harsh and arbitrary measures may look good for a day or a month, but are self-defeating.

Rhee was and is the worst possible enemy of any true educational reform. Why? Because education reform is desperately needed, and McCarthyites like Rhee are instead likely to give it a bad name. Just as McCarthy almost single-handedly discredited the claim that there were Communists in the US State Department.

Yet there were.

The best approach to improving education, and teaching, is the simplest one. It is also the most democratic. Require a free market in education. Each family can then decide for themselves who is and is not a good teacher or a good school.



Friday, July 06, 2012

A Feminist Writes

Dressing like Mary.
Dear Abbot:

You are so wrong to defend the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. You are wrong to defend the abaya as simply modest dress. Where do I start? I am 55 years old. I was raised Catholic. No I don't ever remember ever being told to 'dress like Mary'. I remember having a kleenex pinned to my head by nuns in 'habits' before a school outing to mass. Was that done to make a child of six or seven less sexually appealing? Anyway the 'winds of change' swept through the church in the sixties and seventies and even the 'Brides of Christ' no longer cover their hair. Here's the thing. I have no problem with a woman choosing to wear a scarf around her head. What I have a problem with is lack of choice for women or men for that matter. There is something wrong with a system that uses physical punishment to enforce a dress code. And it's not only about dress. For instance women are not allowed out without a male relative escorting them. Do you realize how constricting that would be? And the power that gives to the man? I never said that women could not be held responsible for their own choices. Social pressure is something that both sexes are subject to wherever one lives. It comes with being part of a community. And women in the west are indeed in positions of great power and responsibility now and doing quite well with it thank you very much! I'm not sure of what point you were trying to make about prisons and not sure of the statistics but if there are less women in prison I submit that is because they don't commit as many crimes as men. As for women never being blamed for anything and not accepting risks and responsibilities toward society? I'm not exactly sure what your talking about there. In the west women are allowed to participate and contribute to society and we not only 'expect all the rights and privileges', we have them. That's why I'm proudly a feminist. My generation broke through some pretty sturdy glass ceilings and made things better for the next generation. By the way as soon as women were allowed to join the armed forces they did. It's not that we weren't 'called on' to fight and die for our country...we weren't allowed to. I most definitely do not see women as 'precious fragile icons' and not sure how you surmised that. And I don't think it is really about sex or equality but CONTROL."

Baby Boomer Feminist



The Catholic Mantilla


Dear BBF:

Where do I start?

Let's just take it in order.

If you did not pay attention in Catechism class, that is of no relevance to anyone else.

Of course, as you note, covering the hair of young girls is not something they need at that age. It is part of their education, all of which is intended to be useful to them when they grow up, not right away. This is actually what education means. Some get it, some don't.

Your argument that this is no longer done is irrelevant—I pointed that out myself, and you cannot argue that, just because a thing is so, it must be right, and at the same time demand that current Muslim practices be changed. By your very logic, if they are so, they must be right.

If you are now in favour of choice for women, you must withdraw your original objection to Islam: the argument for the abaya I posted was from a Muslim woman, and you were refusing to allow her that choice. This, at least, is progress. I hope soon you will also be prepared to accept choice for men.

Yes, women have the right to be soldiers, if they decide they want to. Men, by contrast, have the duty to be soldiers, not the choice. They do not, unlike women, have the right to stay home if they prefer. Consider combat deaths. American men killed in Vietnam: around 50,000. American women killed in Vietnam: 6. Interestingly, the women have their own separate monument in the capital; the men don't. Your point will be valid if and when conscription for combat automatically applies to both men and women. 

The Separate Memorial for American Women Who Died in Vietnam, Washington. D.C.


It is actually the same with regard to working outside the home: women have the right to work outside the home, if they decide they want to. Men have the duty to work outside the home, not the choice—though their wives might give it to them. Women, in sum, have rights and no responsibilities; men have responsibilities, and no rights. This is not equality; this is a heightened inequality, in comparison with almost any other human society in history.

As to the statistics on male and female incarceration, which is to say, punishment for crime, the stats are easy to look up on the Internet, if you cared to. Currently in the US, about 7:1. That's a much higher proportion of females than it used to be, apparently for one reason: zero tolerance on drugs. This means judges and prosecutors can no longer give women a bye, at least on those crimes.

You want to argue this is because men actually commit more crimes; let's let you do that, because feminism is in the wrong either way. Then you also have to accept the argument that the disproportion of men in senior executive positions (before governments forced women's promotions) could have been because men are more responsible and more committed to their jobs. You cannot have it both ways--affirmative action when it favours women, and not otherwise—and in the same breath claim to want “equality.” Your position is, instead, all rights and no responsibilities for women; all responsibilities and no rights for men.

Women are allowed out without a male relative in Saudi Arabia; perhaps you were thinking of somewhere else? Possibly Afghanistan under the Taliban? Manhattan before Giuliani? The Wild West? In each of these cases, it may simply be a practical necessity, if one values women's safety over that of men. But stop and think for a minute: if this is constricting for the woman, isn't it at least as constricting for the man, who must drop whatever he wanted to do in order to accompany her? Why see this as something done to women, and not as something done to men? Are you really only concerned with the welfare of women, and whatever is done to men is okay?

And if so, why disguise it all by pretending to want equality? Why not at least be honest about it?

Abbot



Thursday, July 05, 2012

Ten Major Artists You Did Not Know Were Catholic


Determining someone's religion is not an easy thing. People's views change throughout life; and for many, their deepest convictions are a very private matter. It involves something very close to mind-reading. As a result, different sides sometimes claim the same prominent figure. Both atheists and theists claim Albert Einstein. I was surprised recently to see an artist I thought of as a prominent Catholic featured in a list of “Ten Atheists to be Proud Of.” Based, it turned out, on one anonymous and ambiguous anecdote.

As a Catholic, I think I encounter less temptation to fake anything—there are enough real Catholics that there generally no need. And this is especially true in the arts. For important theological reasons, Catholics are naturally more drawn to the arts as a field of endeavour than are Protestants or Muslims. Atheists? That depends on whether they are Catholic atheists, or Protestant atheists.

Still, the ambiguous figures are often the most interesting ones. There is a certain triumph in discovering that some prominent artist nobody realized was Catholic actually was, and having this suddenly shine a new light on their work.

So, here is a list of prominent artists who are Catholic, and whom you might not realize to be.

For those who are departed, I propose a simple rule: if someone has a Catholic funeral, he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic in the understanding of those who knew him best, and he is a Catholic in good standing in the eyes of the Church. As often as not, such thing are also stipulated in one's will. And we know that, whatever thoughts he may have had previously, his own meditations upon life led him to this as his ultimate conclusion.

Ergo, for example, contrary to claims by some atheists, Hitler was not a Catholic. He may have been raised Catholic, nominally, but he showed no desire for the Catholic last rites at his death, and specified a non-Catholic funeral. He even demanded cremation, which would have been understood by Catholics at the time as an implicit denial of the resurrection. He made anti-Catholicism his final statement.






10. Andy Warhol.


Born, raised, and died Catholic; he apparently never wavered. He attended mass regularly throughout his life. Funeral at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, with a memorial at St. Patrick's Cathedral, NY.

Yeah, he's a gay icon. But there is apparently no clear evidence he ever practiced gay sex.

And in his case, this revelation really does shed some new light on his work. His pop “iconography” is pretty plainly a direct extension of Christian iconography.




9. Salvador Dali.


Commonly thought of as the court painter of Freudianism and psychoanalysis. Funeral at Church of Sant Pere, Figueres, Catalonia, Spain. Although raised Catholic, his final Catholicism was the result of a long journey. He took a good deal of flak from his surrealist pals for so openly returning to the Catholic fold in his later years.

His final works were generally explicitly religious, and traditionally so.




8. Alfred Hitchcock.


He's the one who has been claimed by the atheists, as noted in the intro above, but I think entirely illegitimately. Educated at a Jesuit school—he was three-quarters Irish--he had a proper Catholic funeral at Beverley Hills' Good Shepherd Church.

This ought not to be a surprise: don't his films show a stereotypical Catholic sense of guilt? Actually, Catholicism seems to be a good background for writing murder mysteries: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the inventor of the murder mystery, was also Catholic; as of course was G.K. Chesterton. The field of film direction is also especially heavy with Catholics, I think because Protestantism is more hostile to the visual.

Hitchcock sometimes wore his Catholicism on his sleeve--”The Wrong Man” turns on a miracle effected by prayer.



7. Jack Kerouac.



Yep, the founder of the counterculture. He's one the Buddhists regularly claim. He is quite properly credited with introducing Buddhism to North American culture, and making it cool. This does not mean he was ever a Buddhist. He insisted publicly late in life, during an interview with William F. Buckley, that he was Catholic. He is also on record as calling himself a “solitary Catholic mystic,” a “Jesuit,” and “a field marshal in the Jesuit armies.” I can't find him ever claiming to be a Buddhist. Funeral at St. John the Baptist Church, Lowell, Massachusetts.

Catholicism is the original counterculture, in America and in the English-speaking world. It is natural, therefore, that Catholics tend to countercultural ideas. Most of the big names of the Sixties seem to have had a Catholic background.




6. Oscar Wilde.



Yep, the poster boy of the Gay Rights movement and the sexual revolution. I can recall being ridiculed when I expressed my opinion, back as a college undergrad, that Wilde read a lot like a Christian mystic. But he probably would have been appalled to learn of the associations he is forced into today. Wilde was not raised Catholic, and went to Protestant schools; he was a member of the Anglo-Protestant Ascendancy. But, having grown up in Dublin, he was certainly exposed to cultural Catholicism from an early age. He showed deep interest in Catholicism throughout his life, and formally converted on his deathbed. His “De Profundus” is the great confessional poem in English.

Married with children, he also always denied, by the way, being a practising homosexual.





5. Sean Connery.


Yep, James Bond, the ideal “Englishman” is not just Scottish, but Catholic. In fact, an uncanny proportion of cinema's tough guys and “savoir-faire” types have been Catholics, by birth or by conversion. John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, Gregory Peck, James Cagney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudolph Valentino, Nicholas Cage, Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner), Patrick McNee (The Avengers), Liam Neeson, Martin Sheen, Clark Gable ... charisma, it seems, comes with the territory.





4. William Shakespeare.


We don't know this directly, but the case is generally considered proven. We know his family was Catholic, and analysis of his plays has produced the critical consensus that Shakespeare's world view was and is that of a believing Catholic. Alexander Pope, John Dryden, and many other prominent English poets were also Catholics, despite this being a dangerous minority position.

Incidentally, if the picture doesn't look like Shakespeare to you, you're out of date. Recently discovered, this is believed to  be the only surviving portrait of Shakespeare from life. That bald guy with a pointy beard? Who knows--the more familiar conventional image was painted many years after his death.





3. Tennessee Williams.

Another gay icon. Though raised Episcopalian, he converted to Catholicism late in life. His funeral was held at St. Malachy's Catholic Church, NY.

He had been a practising homosexual, but apparently later repented of it. It is striking how many with homosexual tendencies have felt drawn to the Catholic Church—counter to what you would think from modern gay activists.





2. Bob Newhart.

Because he is still living, this could still change. But he was raised a Catholic, attended Catholic schools and a Catholic university. He has raised his own children as Catholics.

This one even surprises me. Newhart's style seems to me essentially Protestant, which is to say, taciturn.





1. Ernest Hemingway.


Hemingway converted to Catholicism in adulthood, and received a Catholic funeral. That, given that he was a suicide, gives him a strong endorsement from the Church. Some have wondered about this, but it was probably doctrinally correct. It seems clear that at time of death he was not in his right mind. He apparently had a hereditary physical disease which caused severe secondary mental effects.

Another tough guy Catholic.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Ex-FBI Employee Claims She Saw Angels at Flight 93 - ABC News

Ex-FBI Employee Claims She Saw Angels at Flight 93 - ABC News:

'via Blog this'

The First Noble Truth


“I raise my glass to the awful truth
That must be kept from the ears of youth
Except to say it isn't worth a damn.” - Leonard Cohen, “Closing Time”

The gesture shows this is an image of the historical Buddha (Sakyamuni) delivering the Deer Park Sermon, enumerating the Four Noble Truths on the fingers of one hand.



The First Noble Truth, the essence of Buddhism, is that all existence is suffering, “dukkha,” “ill-being.”

This truth has not been entirely lost, either, on the rest of the world. The Greeks used to say, “count no man fortunate until he is dead.” Thoreau observed, “the majority of men live lives of quiet desperation.”

In the Christian world, the Gospel says that the “God of this world,” or “Lord of this world” is Satan. The “Hail, Holy Queen,” a classic Catholic prayer, refers to life as “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”

Obviously, not everyone agrees with this. In fact, it is officially heresy. Just say this out loud consistently, and you are liable to be labelled “clinically depressed,” i.e., not entirely in your right mind. You will be ostracized and set upon.

One can see that this is not helpful, to those with this appreciation of things, and a “cure” seems unlikely. After all, if the deepest thinkers of most times are right, the “depressed” are simply seeing things as they are, and the psychiatrists are out of touch with reality. You cannot easily unlearn what you know.

Society, people in groups, do not want to hear these things; all the more so because they are true. Most men, as Julius Caesar observed, will believe to be true whatever they want to believe.

Hence this construct called “mental illness.” Why is it so scary to most of us? It would not be frightening if it were just a matter of the “ill” getting things wrong. The danger is that they are right. Calling it an “illness” gives us, if we are sufficiently self-delusory, a license not to listen or deal with it intellectually. Lock 'em up—they are “unclean.” (That's the literal meaning of “insane.”)

If you think this view of life is too grim, I urge you to study history, or travel to the Third World. I think you are forced to conclude that the great majority of men have lived difficult lives, and at the majority of times and in the majority of places, injustice was (and is) the usual experience.

There is, it is true, a tendency for truth and justice to win out over time in this world. The world is not wholly depraved. But the amount of time is the problem. Consider the case of the Soviet Union—a regime guilty of mass murder and general repression, as well as preventing its citizens from living in the material prosperity experienced in the West at the same time. It lasted roughly seventy years—the threescore and ten allotted to the average man, though the Russian life expectancy at the time was really much shorter. So, even though justice in some sense was ultimately done--the regime collapsed-- it took longer than a human lifetime for it to happen, so that those who suffered most were not those who were compensated, and those who offended most were not those who were punished.

Some people, it is true, live fortunate lives. As a former girlfriend once said of Leonard Cohen, "What does he have to complain about? He's rich and famous." But that doesn't matter, does it, so long as you have much human empathy? One cannot really be happy while aware of the suffering of so many others, can one?

That is a big reason why that particular girlfriend is former. It is also a big reason why depression turns out to run in families pretty consistently--by marriage.

Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes


Now, those who are going to be most depressed are going to be those who are smarter than average, who can therefore see things the way they really are; those who think more, and think for themselves more; those who are most honest with the world and themselves; and those who spontaneously care for other people. So Jesus said in the Beatitudes: “blessed are they that mourn.” Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And that's the good news: the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

God Is


Michelangelo's God the Father.


This point is not really open to debate. Leaving aside direct experience (and why should we?), there are at least a half-dozen sound philosophical proofs for God's existence; some enumerate several dozen. Aristotle, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Pascal, the Kalam Cosmological argument; go have a look. It may be possible to remain unconvinced by all of them, but cumulatively, they mean that God's existence is a good deal more certain than any other item of human knowledge. Nobody seems to loudly doubt the existence of the material world, or of other people, or of the truths of science, or of himself. Why God?

Some complain, of Descartes's proof, that it leaves us with a supposed “mind-body” problem. Personally, I have never seen why positing the existence of two distinct types of thing is a problem. But never mind. If so, Berkeley resolved it neatly—by rejecting the existence of the body.

God as cosmic architect, "arch-builder." French, 13th century.


Some assert that Hume exploded all such proofs, by denying the very relationship of cause to effect. I think his argument is tautological. But if you accept Hume, this deals proofs of God only a glancing blow; on the other hand, it entirely invalidates science.

Some assert that Hume exploded the use of miracles as proof, by arguing that miracles are so intrinsically unlikely we must dismiss all such accounts. But no philosopher relies on miracles as their proof of God. And Hume's argument here is also tautological: if we dismiss all claims of miracle as improbable, how do we establish how probable they actually are?

Richard Dawkins asserts, at this point, “Which God?” as if this is a real problem. No, it is a nonsensical question. God is by definition the Supreme Being. There can be only one, and the name one uses is conceptually irrelevant. Monotheists necessarily do not believe it is possible to worship different Gods. Nor, for that matter, do polytheists—the Romans uncontroversially identified their Jupiter with the Greek Zeus and the Carthaginian Baal, their Mercury with the Greek Hermes and the German Wotan, and so on and on. There is a limited, universally recognized, pantheon. Only atheists are apparently confused by this.

Hittite "weather god," i.e., Zeus, Jupiter, Baal, or Thor. All the same guy.


So, there is a God. And the fact of there being a God is an overwhelming fact. It changes everything. If there is a God, nothing is random, nothing is chance, nothing is secret, and nothing is too improbable to have happened. If there is a God, nothing else matters, but understanding him and his will for us. It is surpassingly odd that we are not all hard at work at this.