Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Quotable Mr. Warren

David Warren, writing another of those little gems he calls "Essays in Idleness"--

"The moral order is no more subject to revision than the observed physical laws. It might be explained differently, to one generation or another. But what is wrong is wrong at all times, no matter how many people are doing it; and what is right stays right, no matter how few. It is among the beliefs of post-modern nicompoopery that this order is subject to human choice. But attempts to alter what is founded in Nature will never end well."

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gratitude needs a giver

...Perhaps most noteworthy is the clear religious tone of the Thanksgiving proclamations. [President Abraham] Lincoln did not call for vague, general gratitude of the sort we find in modern Hallmark cards. Rather, he called [in 1863] for “thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens,” and even more strongly in 1864, “thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.” Lincoln couldn’t have been clearer in his belief that thanksgiving must have an object, and that the proper object—the Giver to whom thanks is due—is Almighty God.

(from How the Civil War Gave Us Today's Thanksgiving and What it Can Teach Us, by Jayme Metzger in The Federalist)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Entertainment, times two

I agree with Sheila O'Malley, who reviewed the movie Megan Leavey for the late Roger Ebert's web site: This war biography and canine hero film is worth watching. I really enjoyed it the other night (and in fabulous company, too!). It's a thoughtful tribute to war dogs and their handlers.

On another note entirely, the Weasel Watchers have another current events forum up, and that's worth reading, if you're in the mood for political commentary. We watchers don't always agree with each other, but we do try to write thoughtfully.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A character study

An Air Force attaché and a CIA station chief at the American Embassy in Moscow discuss the Russian character in a 1988 novel by Nelson DeMille:

Hollis opened the cabinet and took out a six-inch statuette of a man in riding livery. He said "What is it, Seth? The Tartar influence? The Kazak influence? Why aren't they exactly like us? I know they can look Scandinavian or Germanic, like Burov, but it's something more than genetic. It's a whole different soul and psyche, an ancestral memory; it's the deep winter snow, and Mongols sweeping over the steppe, and always feeling like they're inferior to the West and getting shafted by Europe and Cyrillic letters and Slavic fatalism and an off-brand Christianity and who the hell knows what else. But whatever it is, you can spot it, can spot them, like an art expert can spot a forgery across the room.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Anger management issues?

Bill O'Reilly's books:
Killing Lincoln
Killing Reagan
Killing Kennedy
Killing Jesus
Killing Patton
Killing England
Killing the Rising Sun

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Two different inspirations

Because I could do with the reminder, and maybe you can, too:

"Victory is won not in miles, but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later, win a little more." -- Louis L'Amour

Greatness in Texas after Hurricane Harvey

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The magic number

I noticed while watching the old Sylvester Stallone action movie "Cliffhanger" on TV that St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals both ask specifically for donations of $19 per month. The same sum can "save a child" or "save an abused animal." There's a reason for that.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

An open letter to Rabbi Marc Gellman

(this "unity of stripes" has metaphorical possibilities)

Dear Rabbi Gellman,

I'm a lay Catholic writing to you on the advice of my friend Chuck, who says you read and respond to "God Squad" email from readers.  

Chuck forwarded your column of August 17 to me, because he thought your summary of Christian history in response to a question from a reader in Long Island, NY was informative and interesting.  

I agree with Chuck, but think you veered off the rails in this paragraph of your otherwise-cogent response:

"The split between Judaism and Christianity occurred after Jesus' death with the Apostle Paul in the first century," you wrote. "Paul found that Jewish laws concerning circumcision and not eating pork had severely limited his work in converting gentiles to Christianity, and he began to preach that keeping such ritual provisions of Jewish law [was] no longer necessary for new Christians. This violation of Jewish law plus of course the claim that Jesus was the Messiah caused a final split between Paul and the Jerusalem church led by James, and with it a final split between Judaism and Christianity."

Assertions in that paragraph are wrong for several reasons (please bear in mind that I am not a professional theologian, but I do know my Catholic catechism):

First and most importantly, Jesus himself said that He came "not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it." (Matthew 5:17). One who fulfills the law has not violated it.

Second, you've tried to pin the Christian split with Judaism on Saint Paul. That's wrong-headed. It is true that Paul preached that converts to Christ did not need to adhere to ritual Mosaic restrictions, but Paul was not alone in saying that. In chapter 10 of the Acts of the Apostles, it's Peter (not Paul) who has a vision of all kinds of food from all kinds of animals, and a voice from heaven telling him (three times!) that "what God has made clean, you are not to call profane."

With that in mind, you are also wrong to claim that there was a split between Paul and "the Jerusalem church led by James." There was no split or schism. There was, instead, a council -- the Council of Jerusalem -- to resolve apostolic differences over how Jewish a gentile had to be before he or she could become a Christian. By the end of that council meeting, Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and James were all of one accord.  

Christian scriptures note that meeting attendees in Jerusalem sent representatives to the church in Antioch with instructions to that effect, and clarification for the "brothers" (meaning other followers of Jesus) there. The next chapter of Acts even notes that followers of Jesus were first called "Christians" in Antioch. Ergo, Saint Paul was not leading his own faction. He famously rebuked Saint Peter when Peter was behaving like a hypocrite by being too scrupulous in whom he chose to eat with, but Peter accepted that fraternal correction, and the two of them resolved their differences.

I'm sure you are better informed than many other people on these matters, but may I gently suggest that your summary made the mistake that Saint Peter warned about in 2 Peter 3:15, when he said of the letters from "our beloved brother Paul" that "there are some things in them hard to understand, that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction."? 

You seem to have fallen for the misguided idea that Christianity owes more to Paul than to anyone else. Although he was critical to the spread of the new faith, Paul himself would dispute that (see, for example 1 Corinthians 15:8). Saint Peter was the one on whom Jesus said he would build a church -- and (incidentally) wouldn't that action implicitly refute your quip about how if being Jewish was "good enough for Jesus," then it's good enough for you?

Peter was also the one apostle for whom Jesus paid the temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27). And if it's anecdotal evidence of unity between Peter and Paul (indeed, all of the apostles) that you want (apart from scriptural texts like Galatians 2:9), please note that the Catholic liturgical calendar celebrates Peter and Paul together (annually on June 29). 

I know I've stood on the proverbial soap box too long.Thank you for letting me bend your ear about all this, and for treating theological questions with the respect they deserve in your "God Squad" columns.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Penalty box?

Careful observers of politics and culture usually learn how to spot the dominant narrative, which is a set of presumptions influencing how most of the top-tier actors in the "infotainment" complex see the world (not coincidentally, professional influencers expect the rest of us to share their presumptions, because they sleep better when they think they work for us, rather than for each other).

Anything that influences Google doodles, underscores Yahoo News headline choices, wins Academy Awards, or makes regular appearances in the monologues of late-night comedians with TV shows is part of the dominant narrative. In the first hour of his August 1 radio broadcast, Rush Limbaugh described the dominant narrative as an "east coast parochial" mindset that can be found "in media and in life." (His point was that he hadn't recognized the reach of that mindset -- meaning the influence of the prevailing narrative-- when he started his career almost 30 years ago).

The dominant narrative, for example, maintains the fiction of "unbiased" journalism. It also refers to acts of terrorism as "tragedies," thereby removing moral culpability for murder and mayhem from terrorists (just in case they're simply over-zealous people with legitimate grievances). Those of us who care about the meanings of words know that a hurricane demolishing a seaside town is a tragedy, but when a bomber blows up a crowded mall or a school in that same town, it's not just "tragic," it's wrong.

Scrolling through the web sites that aggregate news stories can be both a time sink and an invitation to cynicism, which is why I don't do it much. But every once in awhile, a confluence of stories gets my attention because it seems to subvert the dominant narrative. That happened this morning.

Regardless of your personal views on the matter, the only correct answer to the question, "Which major political party in the United States officially supports a woman's 'right to choose,' when that phrase is understood to mean deciding to abort her unborn child at any time during her pregnancy?" is "the Democrat party." Imagine, then, the consternation among defenders of the status quo when some Democrats themselves take exception to that policy.

Conventional wisdom also has it that President Obama restored America's reputation in the world, and that our national reputation needed what polish he could give it because President George W. Bush before him had been a "cowboy" with insufficient appreciation for -- to pick one obvious example -- the complexities of Muslim life in the Middle East. But suppose conventional wisdom is wrong? Suppose further that Nikki Haley, America's ambassador to the United Nations, is winning plaudits not because she continues to toe the line established by her recent predecessors, but because she (and the president for whom she works) have deliberately departed from that line?

People who subvert the dominant narrative are chided (penalty box!) or ignored if they seem to be properly credentialed, and dismissed as outliers if they move in the "wrong" circles to begin with (hence snarky comments from progressives about Michele Bachmann's "scary eyes" when she was a conservative member of Congress, and Senator John McCain's longstanding but recently voiced contempt for people who disagree with him).

In short, while peacefulness and perspective can still be found in this polarized world, it's a fascinating and unsettling time to follow news, provided you keep a wary eye on the pet assumptions of the establishment, which never likes its own faults exposed.

(This is cross-posted from WoW magazine, which has a slightly more polished version)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


"I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death." -- Leonardo da Vinci

Monday, July 17, 2017

Worth pondering

David Warren recommends this essay by Remi Brague, and it's quite good. One striking paragraph from the piece:

...beauty is lovable. But the love of beauty is of a special kind: It does not aim at getting its object, but keeps the distance necessary to contemplate what is beautiful. One cannot relish the beauty of a statue by embracing it. This is nicely captured by the word “amateur,” from amare, to love, but with the suggestion of a degree of detachment. The amateur relishes his avocation, but recognizes that to draw the activity too close would make it into a job, and thus spoil its pleasure.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Friday, June 30, 2017


Popes, saints, and sages have written about bees. I found an affectionate 1948 address by Pope Pius XII to the apiarists of Italy, but my favorite bee quote (so far) is Shakespeare's description of them (in Henry V, Act 1, Scene 2) as "singing masons building roofs of gold." That's not just an evocative line, either -- it's one of more than 20 lines that a character (in this case, the Archbishop of Canterbury) uses to describe bee society while offering geopolitical advice to King Henry V.

Summer bees make me feel fine...

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Now watching weasels...

I've long admired the blogging collective that started as "weasel watchers" and became the brain trust behind WoW magazine, so it was an honor to be asked to join them recently. I've accepted that invitation. The WoW gig won't change the focus of this blog, but it does mean that if you read my musings, you won't have to trawl through links in the sidebar to find more good stuff, because I'll feature that content front-and-center. Here, for example, is the current harvest of tasty and thought-provoking commentary from other bloggers in the merry band:

Watcher of Weasels
Another Win – Trump and India PM Modi Speak At The White House   Michael Brown: Eternal Martyr  Julian Assange: "Why The Democrat Party Is Doomed"   Collins, Rubio Help Muslims Pass Senate Resolution 118 to Criminalize Free Speech   Forum: What Is Your Reaction To The Special Elections   The Actual War On Women, Part 1   Whadd’ya Know…Illinois is Bankrupt!  Answers to my questions about America’s opioid crisis   The Secret behind Amazon’s New Bestseller On Palestinian History  The Democrat party is hamstrung because it can’t tell the truth about itself  ReasonTV: College Students ‘Think Freedom is Not a Big Deal’   Venezuela: Leopoldo Lopez cries out to wife he is being tortured  [VIDEOS] Paul Joseph Watson on Muslims and Leftists   Israeli Envoy: Anti-Israel Campus Campaigns ‘A Real War’   The Expanse: Forget Star Trek and Watch This Show  At a University of California campus, learning a life lesson about socialism  California travel ban: Blatant hypocrisy about LGBTQ (etc.) rights  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

An old tune

"Before he left for America [from his anchorage off the Island of Groix near L'Orient in northwestern France], [John Paul] Jones needed to live up to his promise to get his men paid and rewarded with their prize earnings. This seemingly straightforward task would require literally decades to accomplish. By the time the U.S. Congress voted to compensate the crew of the Bonhomme Richard for the prizes taken on their famous cruise of September, 1779, the year would be 1848. The men and officers of the Bonhomme Richard were all dead by then. The money -- $165,598.37-- was ultimately paid to their descendants."

-- from the book, John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy, by Evan Thomas

In a doff of my cap to all things nautical, here's a lively arrangement of "Fisher's Hornpipe"

Bonus track: The Navy Hymn --

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

After the rain

I like that this little bird looks both bedraggled and determined. That's how I feel, these days.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Not unity, but civility

In the wake of yesterday's attempted assassination of a Republican Representative and other people at least nominally sympathetic to Republican principles, conservative commentator Mark Steyn makes a point that I had not thought about, but find myself agreeing with:

"If your organization calls people haters, you are the hater. I would like to disagree with the tone of what we have heard here today [on several Fox News broadcast segments], including in the last hour [from on-air talents]  Martha MacCallum and Brit Hume, when they were talking about unity and [asking] 'will this unity last?' "

"Obviously, the unity won't last, because ultimately [Republican Senator] Rand Paul has very little that unites him with [Independent Socialist Senator] Bernie Sanders [who caucuses with the Democrats]. We don't actually need unity. We need robust, civilized disunity -- people honestly recognizing that they disagree with each other on health care, on immigration, on Islam, on transgender bathrooms, and a bazillion other things, but that doesn't make the other person a hater. Simply put, the left has to be willing to actually engage in debate with people that disagree with them."

Steyn's point complements what I've written several times about argument being a lost art. What passes for debate these days is too often less than that, especially on the political left, where a proliferation of idols keeps jealous guard over little fiefdoms with names like Tolerance, Diversity, Fairness, and Sustainability. This is because leftism is hell-bent on finding substitutes for what the (almost touchingly old school) Pledge of Allegiance calls "one nation under God."

It's no good to point at bogey men of the "alt-Right" and claim that the right and the left are mirror images of each other, because the vast majority of conservatives won't give the alt-right the time of day, whereas progressives, propped up by fellow travelers in the media, tend to dismiss conservative concerns as "-isms" or phobias unworthy of engagement (until the shoe is on the other foot and those same little dogs who barked at the parade going by have somehow created a "climate of hate").

Hyperbole and double standards not only exist; reflexive adherence to them is the price of admission to inner circles. When an appeal to reason makes an impression, leftists move the goalposts with variations of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. One example of that is the idea that Communism would work "if it had ever actually been tried properly."

The air these days is thick with Twitter quips, sound bites, insults, and angry assertions (For example: it's not just Donald Trump who is either cartoonishly or frighteningly evil in the eyes of some progressives -- even his budget is evil). People raised on sitcom laugh tracks think a bon mot from someone in their ideological camp is today's version of a speech from the Lincoln-Douglas debates. But the aforementioned items are declarations rather than arguments, because arguments are built from the brick and mortar of premise and evidence. Arguments attempt to persuade by shedding logical light on cause and effect; they're not simply flags to mark holes on the "Golf Course of Disagreement."

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Style points

You don't often hear anyone say "Great googly-moogly" anymore, but it certainly fits this context (which is astonishment at the ideological blindness and willful error of a professor of history at Harvard University).

In an ill-advised tweet, one Joyce E. Chaplin (professor) declared that "The USA, created by int'l community in Treaty of Paris in 1783, betrays int'l community by withdrawing from #parisclimateagreement today."

Non-historians with more common sense were quick to point out the several things wrong with that assertion. In no particular order, here are my favorite rebuttals, as culled from the original post and comments on it:
  • Her dates are wrong."The United States wasn't founded in 1783, but rather 1776. July 4th, 1776, to be precise. I believe we have a document floating around from that time period with that specific date on it."
  • The Treaty of Paris "wasn't some sort of international, multi-lateral agreement that created a new country, it was just a peace treaty between two sovereign nations."
  • There was no "int'l community" in 1783. "There was no UN or EU or League of Nations. None of that globaloney crap had been invented yet."
  • The French "gave us a nice statue, not a nation, thank you very much."
  • "That's not stupidity...that's just another blatant attempt to re-write history to push the current agenda."
  • "The U.S. was one of the parties that signed the Treaty of Paris, so we've got some seriously messed-up causality if a country can sign a treaty creating itself."
  • "The first country to recognize the United States of America was Holland, on November 16, 1776."
  • "Our founders were still referring to THESE United States. THE United States wasn't completely settled upon until another war some four score and seven years later."
  • "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the International Community, and to the kleptocracy for which it stands, one Community, under despots, with misery and bloodshed for all."
  • "The comparison breaks down because the climate accord was never a treaty. This is how her intended irony falls flat."
  • "So the International Community okayed slavery in the country they formed?"
  • "If there was anything approaching the 'international community' in 1783, it was Britain and all its colonies and possessions, so yeah we got the okay from the international community because we kicked its ass for our freedom."

Saturday, June 3, 2017

My cup runneth over

There are things to worry about in my life (such as employment, finances, college tuition for my children, and whether the car and the household HVAC system will need simultaneous replacement), but there is also much -- so very much -- to be grateful for.

The mighty goblet-looking fountain pictured here is the most prominent feature in a new park down the road apiece from my own domicile. Kudos to city leaders in Cary for approving the design.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


I hope that's just stupid hyperbole that Mr. Fisher let slip in a moment of weakness that came to the attention of a copy writer who has never read Frank Sheed's Theology for Beginners.

If not, then the only suitable reply is --

You keep using that word.

I do not think it means what you think it means.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Thomas Sowell fillets tax rhetoric

Economist Thomas Sowell officially retired from column writing earlier this year, but he's still the no-nonsense sage that he's been for decades:

"How is the claim of "tax cuts for the rich" false? Let me count the ways. More important, you can easily check out the facts for yourself with a simple visit to your local public library or, for those more computer-minded, on the internet.

One of the key arguments of those who oppose what they call "tax cuts for the rich" is that the Reagan administration tax cuts led to huge federal government deficits, contrary to "supply side economics" which said that lower tax rates would lead to higher tax revenues.

This reduces the whole issue to a question about facts — and the hard facts are available in many places, including a local public library or on the internet.

The hardest of these hard facts is that the revenues collected from federal income taxes during every year of the Reagan administration were higher than the revenues collected from federal income taxes during any year of any previous administration.

How can that be? Because tax rates and tax revenues are two different things. Tax rates and tax revenues can move in either the same direction or in opposite directions, depending on how the economy responds.

...Before we turn to the question of "the rich," let's first understand the implications of higher income tax revenues after income tax rates were cut during the Reagan administration.

That should have put an end to the talk about how lower tax rates reduce government revenues and therefore tax cuts need to be "paid for" or else there will be rising deficits. There were in fact rising deficits in the 1980s, but that was due to spending that outran even the rising tax revenues.

Congress does the spending, and there is no amount of money that Congress cannot outspend.

As for "the rich," higher-income taxpayers paid more — repeat, more tax revenues into the federal treasury under the lower tax rates than they had under the previous higher tax rates.

That happened not only during the Reagan administration, but also during the Coolidge administration and the Kennedy administration before Reagan, and under the G.W. Bush administration after Reagan. All these administrations cut tax rates and received higher tax revenues than before."

Saturday, April 8, 2017

It was (is) a great film

Earlier this week I saw this film again, and (like one of the original reviewers on IMDB) was blown away, again. 

The King's Speech (2010) has a wonderful script by David Seidler that takes only minor liberties with what actually happened, plus top-shelf acting from Firth, Rush, and Carter, and an inspiring message about courage. Even the film's stirring soundtrack suits the story perfectly.

On my second viewing, I also had truly marvelous company.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Music in Durham

The Blue Eyed Bettys put on a fun concert in Durham tonight to wrap up their spring tour, even pausing good-naturedly near the end of their second set so microbrewery patrons could watch the last minute of the "March Madness" basketball game on the screen next to their stage, a regional final between the UNC Tarheels and the Kentucky Wildcats that UNC won in a squeaker.

A review of The Stand

The StandThe Stand by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This behemoth of a book is an extended meditation on good, evil, and human fallibility. The publisher's summary on the back of many paperback editions is a bit misleading because it suggests larger roles for protagonist and antagonist than those memorable characters actually have. For example, Mother Abagail, the unwilling 108-year-old leader of the "can't we all just get along?" remnant of people who survive a terrifying epidemic of weaponized "super flu," makes her entrance late, and not until eastern and western strands of the story have begun to coalesce. Her opposite number, the unrelentingly evil Randall Flagg, shows up first -- but even he does most of his work through other characters, which to him are disposable. You wouldn't know either of those things by reading the publisher's summary.

That said, shortcomings in teaser text on the back cover are easy to forgive, because King leans hard on his storyteller's art to deploy a large cast here. Larry, Stuart, Glenn, Frannie, Tom, Nick, Rita, Harold and Nadine are all memorable for different and eminently believable reasons. A sad-sack pyromaniac nicknamed "Trashcan Man" almost steals the story out from under the other characters. And in what might be a tip of the cap to a favorite trope of fellow horror writer Dean Koontz, King even creates an effective role for a dog named Kojak.

Some of the plague aftermath described in Book One went on too long for my taste, and a feral child to whom we are introduced seems to become an afterthought once King decides to make him a guitar prodigy and send the teacher who had taken him under her wing off to her gruesome destiny for reasons never fully explained. In a book of this length, however, neither of those missteps proves fatal to the momentum and dread for which King's writing is known.

The book has some deeply poignant scenes also, especially near its end, when a confrontation with evil in Las Vegas and an unexpected Christmas in the Rocky Mountains are written particularly well.

This is not a novel I'd recommend to the squeamish, but it's memorable and worth reading, and I am grateful to my friend Debbie for having brought the story to my attention.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscar (but not Felix)

I watched more of the Academy Awards telecast than I should have, while doing dishes and eating dessert. I missed the messed up announcement for Best Picture, because I was asleep before the original mistake was corrected on the air. But I did see La La Land. Like Neo-Neocon, I liked it. Wonderful movie-watching company influences how I feel about a film, and I had truly wonderful company. Nevertheless, I think Robert Tracinski's curmudgeonly critique of the film has considerable merit.

Writing in The Federalist, Tracinski points out that La La Land is a messy homage that has more regard for success (in monetary terms) than for love.

In the theater, I remember wondering how Sebastian (Ryan Gosling's character) could honk the horn of his Chrysler (?) convertible so obnoxiously even when the car's engine wasn't running. More than a few cars make that impossible.

As for the Oscar telecast itself, I thought Viola Davis did an excellent job of emoting all over the stage when she picked up what was presumably a well-deserved nod for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, but I could have done without her misguided homage to artists like herself on the grounds that "we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life."

Ha! That statement that deserves only incredulity.

Emma Stone's promise to "hug the hell out of my friends when the numb feeling in my body wears off"(I think she said that -- it was something close to that, at any rate) made me smile.

Jimmy Kimmel seemed to be in over his head as the host of the show. Defending an actress accused of being overrated by emphasizing that she had been nominated 20 times for an Academy Award over the years would seem to make precisely the point Kimmel was trying to refute, would it not?

Most of the awards were predictable. It was the Hollywood version of Rock, Paper, Scissors, where black beats white, gay beats straight, and movies from any countries that a Republican president might want to keep a special eye on are automatically more artistic than comparable work by Indian and European filmmakers.

Arrival intrigues me, although I have not yet seen it. Hacksaw Ridge got robbed. It was, however, good to hear that Jackie Chan had finally won an honorary Oscar.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thinking out loud

My friend Bookworm wrote a blog post explaining why she was recently indignant about Facebook acquaintances on the political left who tried to shame her into compliance with the dominant narrative about immigration. I'm not on Facebook and did not follow the argument, but it sounds like the people trying to shame Bookworm are, for all intents and purposes, open borders activists. I bet they were or are concerned about our allegedly mean-spirited president and anyone else who has the temerity to think that immigration laws should be enforced. But Bookworm's having none of it.

"America is not a shame culture," she noted. "It's never been a shame culture. And I'm for damn sure not going to accept it being turned into a shame culture now."

 I think Bookworm is right, but I started wondering why. I suspect that the reason that America is not a shame culture is that America is not a tribal culture. This country was founded on an ideal of equal justice before the law, and that's something you can subscribe to and celebrate regardless of social class, skin color, or any other characteristics commonly used as tribal identifiers. Shame works best as an incentive for behavior change in tribal societies, but tribal societies don't scale well.

Native American leaders realized that even before making contact with European culture (hence their formation of what would eventually be known as the Iroquois Confederacy). Ben Franklin, that genial master of cultural appropriation, was riffing on the same insight when he said in the eighteenth century that delegates to the Continental Congress had best throttle back on any consuming loyalties to their own colonies because if they didn't hang together in the fight with Great Britain, they'd all hang separately. And (to cherry pick a final example) Abraham Lincoln came along four generations later with a famous "house divided" speech that made the same point but drew on the bible for inspiration.

Past is prologue, they say, but it can sometimes be ignored. Because there are now more than 300 million of us and progressives have been saying for about fifty years that "the personal is political," we sometimes self-segregate into tribes. When we do, we're egged on in that "us vs. them" endeavor by community activists and other players in the "professional grievance" industry.

Fortunately, there is an accessible corrective for that tendency: all it takes is a walk back through the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution to see that the Founders set this country up as a nation of laws rather than as a nation of men. Our founders were acutely aware of the dangers of tribalism, and designed a system of checks and balances to avoid that. Even the simple Deists among them were familiar enough with Christian scriptures to see parallels between tribalist politics and what Saint Paul warned the Corinthians about in 1 Corinthians 1:12, which can be paraphrased as "If you all are running around saying things like 'I belong to Paul' or 'I belong to Apollo' or 'I belong to Cephas,' then you've lost sight of the unity in Christ that we said you all share."

Laws are meant to unite, and shame is meant to divide. That's not to say that shame is not an effective weapon in the arsenal of any functioning conscience, but shame depends on honor, and law sets the bar a little lower, requiring only simple obedience. There are sound reasons why societies built on shame have more than their share of capricious "off the rails" moments (think of the Salem witch trials,  the multi-generational and basically intramural feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, and the justification for vigilantes and dictators everywhere). It's much better to be "a nation of laws" than "a nation of men."

For all the carping about President Trump's megalomania, he's not the one who put the bully back into the "bully pulpit" or justified executive orders with the pithily arrogant and stunningly dismissive "I've got a pen; and I've got a telephone."

Tribalist thinking encourages a cult of personality, which is why I'm impatient with pundits who talk in terms of "Barack Obama's America" or "Donald Trump's America." Yo, peeps -- ours is one nation, under God, indivisible. No president, good or bad, can lay claim to the American ideal, because it's bigger than him (or her) by design.

Paul Bolt had Thomas More explain the virtue of the law in his magnificent screenplay for A Man for All Seasons. More has a famous conversation while in jail when he's visited by his son-in-law, William Roper, who remonstrates gently with him for not making an effort to get with the program (because only 'getting with the program' will save More's life). Roper correctly surmises that More would give even the devil the benefit of law, but that rectitude shocks him:

Roper: So now you give the devil the benefit of law?
More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the devil?
Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Thomas More was not alone in his enlightened humanist and Christian respect for law. It's not hard to imagine that his contemporary and fellow martyr, John Fisher, could have had a very similar conversation, albeit without an admiring biographer to immortalize his words later. Neither More nor Fisher would be shamed into abandoning principle, because neither one of them confused shame (or honor) with the law founded on recognition of inherent human dignity that Christian influence made bedrock for Western civilization.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The things you learn...

At 0815, flight-deck signal officer Ozzie Osborne (!) whirled a checkered flag in broader and broader, faster and faster eights over his head. First in line, Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle turned down his wing flaps and revved up his throttle. The heavy plane shook against the brakes. Jimmy had under five hundred feet of taxi before him and a mere six feet of clearance between his right wing and the tower. Even after their Eglin training, the runway looked awfully small to the army fliers, while the waves crashing over the deck seemed mountainous.

Osborne felt in his bones the Hornet's rise and fall, waiting for precisely the right moment. "You knew how long it would take them to run down the deck, and you wanted to start them as the bow started down because it would take them that length of time to get within fifty or seventy-five feet of the bow, and then, as the deck started to come up, you'd actually launch them into the air, or at least horizontal but on the upswing, in fact giving them a boost," said Steven Jurika. This meant that pilots spent most of the taxi heading straight at the waves.

Osborne's flag shot down, Doolittle yanked his feet from the brakes, the carrier tilted, and the lead B-25, filled to the max with fuel and bombs, began its slow shuffle. "He won't make it! He can't make it!" one navy pilot shouted over the din, but when Doolittle was asked later how he felt at that moment, he said, "Confident." The man flying number two to Doolittle, Dick Cole, remembered thinking: "It'd be a pretty bad feeling for everybody behind us if we took off and dropped into the water."

(From the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid on Japan as described in the book, Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness, by Craig Nelson)