Corrupting the Youth

Every day my 18-month-old son displays his growing and developing vocabulary, and I've taken advantage of this progress and his eagerness to learn and to please his parents. Taught him I have such important words as whiskey, scotch, vodka, rum, beer, and wine.

When he gets a little older and more capable of polysyllabic propositions, I'll be teaching him fine words like philosophy, theology, hermeneutics, and phenomenology. I mentioned my plans to a friend at work, and she declared unequivocally that she would not be allowing her son to be friends with my boy.

Not everyone likes philosophy, I've learned. Pass the hemlock.

The Hermeneutics of Bush Hatred

President George W. Bush will give his final State of the Union speech this evening. His presidency, not to mention his person, has inspired a lot of hatred, more than the usual from what I can tell. Bush seems to inspire frothing at the mouths and the spewing of negative superlatives. I suppose the president represents things his critics hate, such as dynastic and corporate politics, publicly and proudly lived religion, Texas.

I admit, Bush hatred is tempting, because I really, really don’t like many of his policies. But Bush hatred is bad, for the obvious reasons that all hatred of persons is bad. It is also bad because it leads to bad hermeneutics, what I might call a hermeneutics of hatred.

What I have to remind myself of is that I don’t know President George W. Bush. I don’t know the man. I’ve never met him, and to my knowledge, I know nobody who knows him personally. My idea of President Bush has been formed by what I’ve witnessed from the media. Suffice it to say that my understanding of President Bush is grossly inadequate.

If a hermeneutic of hospitality seeks to welcome the other as he or she is but with the awareness that the other is always more than what I perceive and interpret, then a hermeneutic of hatred seeks to wound the other by limiting him or her to my negative idea.

An example?

From The Huffington Post:
A liberal advocacy group plans to spend $8.5 million in a drive to ensure that President Bush's public approval doesn't improve as his days in the White House come to an end.

Americans United for Change plans to undertake a yearlong campaign, spending the bulk of the money on advertising, to keep public attention on what the group says are the Bush administration's failures, including the war in Iraq, the response to Hurricane Katrina and the current mortgage crisis.
This group's stated objective is to define the legacy of President Bush, which means they want the historical memory of him to match their idea. More precisely, they want to define the historical idea of President Bush, and they're willing to spend a hell of a lot of money to be the official dictionary entry of the man.

As a deconstructionist (not to mention as a Catholic), I find this very troubling. This, folks, is what we postmodernists call an act of intellectual violence. Americans United for Change isn’t simply interested in setting the record straight, compiling a list of failures, or criticizing in the name of the common good. No, they want to define the meaning of President Bush!

While they do claim to be interested in improving the country, their project is at heart an act of hateful violence. Their criticism, if in part a means to improving society, is also a means of tearing down the president, reducing who he is to their pet construct. There is no love or hospitality for the person of President Bush in their criticisms of him, and that is the problem.

As someone who believes some of the president's policies to be intrinsically evil, I cannot tolerate hatred for the president. For one thing, hatred doesn't persuade; it distracts. For another, hatred doesn't improve what is hated. It usually destroys the souls of those who hate. Criticisms that rise out of hatred do not seek the truth of what is hated. Rather, they present the other as nothing more than what the hate-filled interpreter sees, and that ain't much.

If groups like this want to remind the public about the failures of the president, so be it. I have no problem with that, so long as it's done in a spirit of love and truth. What I have a problem with are projects that seek to de-mean President Bush to a group's limited (and if anything like mine, inadequate) idea of him. All such projects are hateful at heart.

Criticism should take place within a hermeneutic of hospitality. We can and should criticize, but we should know that we do not know what or who it is that we criticize. Our criticisms should not totalize, but respect the other as more than our understanding, and certainly more than our criticisms. Criticism should always be constructive, even while being deconstructive.

Chestertonian Reviews Juno

Sean P. Dailey, the Chestertonian keeper of The Blue Boar, reviews Juno:
Juno is a sweet, funny, provocative, and touching film. I urge everyone to see it.
Read the whole review; it's one of the best I've read.

I Love YouTube...

Particularly because I never plan to run for office. Here are two examples of brilliant film editing: This is funny. And this is hilarious, if you watch until the tail end. The second video is less than two minutes in length and delivers the unexpectedly obvious.

Hardly Pro-Choice

John Connolly reports:
The Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Assembly passed legislation on January 23 forcing all hospitals to offer "emergency contraception," even religious hospitals that object to dispensing the contraceptives/abortifacients on moral grounds.

The bill, which has been blocked by pro-life Republicans for six years, passed by a vote of 61-35 and will go to Governor Jim Doyle's desk, where it is expected to be signed into law. The bill requires hospitals to offer "emergency contraceptive" measures to victims of sexual assault. "Emergency contraception" includes the abortifacient morning after pill and the use of an intrauterine device (IUD) which would cause an abortion.

Facere Figuram

My wife Genece has added a few recent pieces to her fine art blog. Check it out here. Her paintings, drawings, and sculptures tend to be in the field of figurative art. From her "About Me":
My blog is called "facere figuram," literally "to make a figure," the idiomatic translation is extensive, because for as long as I can remember I have been crazy about people, their shapes, expressions, interactions...I think people are the most beautiful thing on God's green earth. I take great joy in expressing this love in my art.

Cutting through the Crap

I have to admit to not being able to make heads or tails of the whole global warming debate.

There's a branch of philosophy called phenomenology, the realist version of which says that in order to get at the thing itself, the essence, we have to bracket aside all of the subjective aspects of our knowledge.

Well, I'm finding it near impossible to get at the essence of climate change.

Whatever the facts are, they are buried beneath (and maybe inseparable from) a heated political debate that's polluted with attempts to silence opposition, corruption, conflicts of interest, and ideology. On the one hand we've got Exxon-Mobil funding scientific studies. On the other we've got ideologues telling us that the only way to save the world is to implement their particular political and social structures and programs. Uh-huh.

Then there is Al Gore claiming the debate is over while pointing to a consensus among scientists. Sorry, but I'm a skeptic of consensus, whether about the reality of global warming, who wrote Shakespeare's plays, or the existence of weapons of mass destruction. And really, if you have to say that the debate is over, then it's probably not over.

I'd like to have a better understanding on this issue, as it seems, well, important. And perhaps urgent. Any guidance or direction would be most appreciated.

Just for the Record

If the Democrats think there will much change in our foreign policy from putting a Clinton in the White House, they are probably deluding themselves.

I know that there are a lot of people who would like to see President Bush impeached. I don't see it happening, even had the process begun in 2003. The alleged crimes of the current Republican president are not particular to him, to his administration, or to his party.

H/T: The Anchoress

Bradbury Renominated

The New York Times reports:
President Bush on Wednesday renominated Steven G. Bradbury to be an assistant attorney general in a move certain to be controversial because of Mr. Bradbury’s link to Justice Department memorandums authorizing the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects.
See here for more specifics on Bradbury's relation to the secret endorsement of interrogation techniques.

No Comment

The Guardian reports:
The west must be ready to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt the "imminent" spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, according to a radical manifesto for a new Nato by five of the west's most senior military officers and strategists.

In Defense of Diagramming

You might think that I would have an aversion to the study of grammar being as I am a dabbler in the dark arts of deconstruction and a famished-like drinker from the poisoned wells of postmodernism. Not so. Grammar is of great importance, or I'm no over-user of alliteration.
But aren't we postmodern types obsessed with the oppressive use of language, of which grammar is an authoritative underbelly? Well, sure, we are a bit focused on language, sometimes at the expense of our interest in reality, and you don't have to be a reader of Orwell to know that language can be used quite effectively as a tool of oppression. Any politician knows that, and they are not the most philosophical bunch. Sorry, Plato, but it's true.

Postmodern though I am, I am quite serious about the study of grammar, for grammar is the structure by which we understand reality. And the man who taught me that abhorred deconstruction and all things postmodern. He's a classical Aristotelian, a realist in no uncertain terms.

Why is the study of grammar so important? It is because the rules of grammar, if not absolute and eternal, are nevertheless based upon the framework of reality--at least in so far as we understand reality. To be correct grammatically does not necessitate flawless understanding of reality, but real ignorance of and errors in grammar (not simply careless typos) will affect our understanding of reality. Grammar errors can mean errors in understanding.

This brings me to sentence diagramming. I taught English for a few years, until the school and the community realized I was illiterate, at which time I set my eyes on becoming a blogger. As a teacher of English, I required daily sentence diagramming. Students foolish enough to ask why they must diagram were treated either to my five-minute lecture or to my thirty-minute lecture, depending on what mood I was in. I'll spare you both, but suffice it to say that diagramming sentences is something worth practicing and defending.

Alas, diagramming is a lost art and sometimes even a shunned art among English teachers. I find it particularly helpful. First, however, let me say that it is akin to playing scales in band or running laps in football practice: it is a tool, a means to an end, not done for its own sake but to make the student a better reader and writer.

Those who think they can get away with never diagramming are deluding themselves: we diagram sentences every time we read, listen, or write sentences. We diagram mentally. We attach a verb to a subject and associate particular words with other particular words in a sentence. If I write, "The blue cat sat on the purple mat," readers will link the adjective "blue" to the noun "cat," the word "purple" of the noun "mat," the prepositional phrase to the verb "sat," and the verb "sat" to the subject "cat." To read is to diagram, albeit in the mind. Same goes for listening and writing.

How does actual diagramming help? It trains the mind to recognize the parts of speech and other structures of language, making explicit and visual what is implicit and mental, and thus familiarizing the diagrammer with the structures of grammar, with the structures by which we understand reality. Knowing those structures well will help readers, especially in our hyper-visual age, to understand the meaning that is being expressed through language. It helps particularly with sentences written in less-than-familiar construction, such as "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York," a sentence a proficient diagrammer will see immediately as "The winter of our discontent is now made glorious summer by this sun of York."

Knowing the structures of grammar with intimate familiarity will give the writer greater freedom to write what he or she means by supplying him or her with a repertoire of structures and combinations from which to draw. Granted, that won't help much with blogging, a type of writing that makes little use of revision, but for any writing worth reading diagramming is a helpful skill to have.

So I say diagram, daily if possible. You're doing it already; you're doing it right now.

Nominations for "Juno"

Juno received four Oscar nominations today for best picture, director (Jason Reitman), actress (Ellen Page) and screenplay (Diablo Cody). Of the contenders for best picture, I've seen only Juno, though I want very much to see Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, in the theater if I can.

I don't put much stock in the Academy Awards for measuring artistic merit, but the movie world seems to value them, so I'm happy for the artists involved with Juno and that the film has received its much deserved recognition.

I'm told Bill O'Reilly thinks Juno should win. I won't hold that against it.

Heath Ledger, Rest in Peace

What a sad story. Here's hoping Heath is now entertaining the angels and the saints.

Now is the Winter of our Discontent...

"I went to see a medley of Shakespeare scenes tonight rather than live-blogging. Oberon vs Titania. Lady MacBeth vs MacBeth. Richard III vs Lady Anne. When I watched the debate, it seemed weirdly familiar."

- Andrew Sullivan
Sullivan missed the Democratic debate for an evening of Shakespeare. I don't think the seeming familiarity had anything to do with the wit and eloquence of the candidate's answers, but then, I didn't see the debate.

Questions from Around Town

Is morality reducible to the material realm? Darwin Catholic deconstructs Steven Pinker's article, "The Moral Instinct."

Is Talk Radio losing its influence? Talk radio host Michael Medved thinks so. He opines: "The big loser in South Carolina was, in fact, talk radio: a medium that has unmistakably collapsed in terms of impact, influence and credibility because of its hysterical and one-dimensional involvement in the GOP nomination fight."

Are U.S. allies beginning to question our methods? David Ljunggren reported that Canada's foreign ministry had put the United States on a watch list of countries where prisoners risk being tortured. They also classified some of our interrogation techniques as torture. It didn't take long for us to be removed from the list.

Does Norman Podhoretz know Iran better than the US intelligence community? He makes the case that he does, and that we'd better bomb Iran soon.

Does Huckabee have connections to Christian Reconstructionists? Rodak wonders with not a little worry. Could be worse, though. We could have a popular candidate with ties to Christian deconstructionists. ;)

Are you a grammar stickler? Mrs. T. has some fodder for you. I'm, uh, just giving others a chance to answer...yeah...

Are there harmful effects of displaying graphic images of abortion? Brian Killian on Catholic Exchange offers some examples.

Is the Catholic Answers voting guide the best guide for "serious" Catholics? The Cornfield Philosopher thoughtfully explores that question.

In Gratitude

My thanks and appreciation to the contributors at Vox Nova for including this blog on their blogroll. If you haven't visited their site, they are an impressive group of diverse and insightful Catholic thinkers. Definitely a daily read.

Postmodern Conservative

Mark Wegierski reviews The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk by Gerald J. Russello. Definitely a book for the Cupp library, and one I may even read!

A Forsaken Experiment

In movie review news, Steven D. Greydanus of Decent Films Guide finally published his review of Juno, which he liked. I mention his review of Juno because according to my site meter, most hits that I've received lately from google searches have pertained to Juno. And, well, I want more hits. Juno.

On that note, I thought of engaging in an experiment to boost my site traffic by mentioning names like George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Gillian Anderson, Jessica Alba, or Monica Bellucci, but I wasn't sure that would really have increased my readership in the long run, so I decided to abandon the experiment. Hey, at least I wasn't considering typing Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. Now that would have been low point, even for this blog.

A Proposal

Thinking out loud here…

Abortions do not happen in a vacuum. Nor do they occur merely because they are legal. While I’m all in favor of unborn life having protection under the law, I believe that we have a social obligations to address the causes and circumstances that lead women to choose abortion, and moreover, to assist pregnant mothers with carrying, delivering, and rearing her child.

What I would therefore like to see is a national establishment of privately and publicly funded pregnancy centers that offer free prenatal and post-natal care for women, particularly pregnant mothers and women wanting to become pregnant. Such centers would not offer abortion, but neither would they counsel for or against it. Some pro-choice advocates accuse existing pregnancy centers of luring women in and exposing them to antiabortion propaganda while they await results of a test. While I don’t object to expectant mothers being fully informed of what abortion is, given our political climate on this issue, I wouldn’t incorporate such instruction into the program—unless, perhaps, if it were asked for on an individual basis.

These centers would employ nurses, obstetrician/gynecologists and pediatricians, as well as adoption agents. They would offer prenatal assistance such as routine doctor appointments, sonograms, vitamins and supplements, as well as procedures to respond to hormone imbalances or other issues that could result in miscarriage. Deliveries would be possible at such centers, free of charge. To help alleviate the financial burdens of childcare, these centers would also provide diapers, food, lactation consultants, and pediatricians.

This program wouldn’t infringe upon a “woman’s right to choose,” so it could conceivably be supported by both pro-life and pro-choice legislatures. The ideal circumstance is that any woman who becomes pregnant in the US would not have to worry about the financial burdens of carrying, delivering, and if needed, even raising a child.

It would be great if this program could be offered effectively through private charities, but I just don’t see the private sector being sufficient here. Someday Roe v. Wade may be overturned and some states (not all) will outlaw abortion. At that point, there will be legal protections of unborn life, but that alone will not remove the burdens, situations, and circumstances that influence expectant mothers to seek abortion. Putting pregnancy centers in place could be of great benefit to women and their children. It would be a mark of a pro-life society and of a civilization of love and solidarity.

Some People Have No Conscience

Hot baby formula is repackaged and resold at grocery stores.

H/T: Radical Catholic Mom

Pick-up Lines for Philosophers

Please read disclaimer* before using.

For Followers of Nietzsche:

Eternal recurrence would be bliss with you, baby.

For Heartfelt Fans of Rousseau:

Care to create a Social Contract?

For Helpless Hiedeggerians:

I'm the Being-Towards-You, Sweetheart.


The Form of Beauty ain't got nothin' on you.


Let's get metaphysical!

*Disclaimer: This blog is not responsible, morally or legally, for any suffering experienced as a result of using these lines. Suffering may include, but is not limited to, being mocked, laughed at, banned from an establishment, lynched, administered hemlock, scowled at, or slapped. However, should you wish to share any unpleasant experiences that you incur as a result of using these lines, you are welcome to share them with us. I, at least, am not above schadenfreude.

Santorum against McCain, Monaghan for Romney

This is my post on Kathryn Jean Lopez's column on Rick Santorum's interview with talk-show host Mark Levin. Lopez writes:
On the issue to which Santorum has devoted much of his post-Senate life thus far — the war — while calling McCain “solid” on Iraq, Santorum noted to Levin that McCain “was the one who was out there blocking our ability to adequately question . . . detainees. . . . He did not come down on the side of what I think is appropriate and proper for the kind of war we are fighting today.” Santorum told National Review Online on Sunday: “He was bad on Gitmo and detainees generally, interrogation, borders, [and] FISA-related issues. He helped to drive us to the huge bureaucracy of the Transportation Security Administration.”
This is illuminating. Santorum criticizes McCain for blocking our interrogation techniques. And which techniques exactly has McCain been blocking?

Meanwhile, Tom Monaghan endorses Romney.

The State Defining

Huckabee wants a "constitutional human life amendment and an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman." His reason for amending the Constitution:
"But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God...And that's what we need to do, is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards."
Foolish it would be to try to change God standards, but it is foolish as well, in my opinion, to grant the federal government the powers to define person and marriage. Dangerous precedents, those.

The New Pro-Choice

One of the major arguments in favor of torture--an argument made even by those who proclaim themselves to be pro-life--is that our leaders ought to have the option of using torture if they deem it necessary to save lives. While a terrible practice, torture ought to be legal for our leaders to use in dire circumstances where the lives of many could be saved only by extracting information using torture. Our leaders need the leeway to choose torture when its necessary for the defense of life.

This is the same reasoning behind a pro-choice argument for the legalization of abortion. Most people who believe in a woman's right to choose do not see abortion as a wonderful thing; they are not pro-abortion, but they argue that due to particular circumstances, a woman ought to have the legal freedom to choose an abortion if she sees it as necessary.

Those today arguing for the allowance of torture are not necessarily pro-torture (NRO's Deroy Murdock would be an exception); they know that torture is bad, but see it as sometimes necessary for saving life and limb. They are pro-choice on the issue of torture. They believe that our leaders should have the right to choose torture.

A key difference between the pro-choice position on abortion and the pro-choice position on torture is that the former grants a right of choice to women (the people) while the latter grants a right of choice to our leaders (the government). How very...interesting.

A Question for Goodman

Referring to recent movies Knocked Up, Bella, and Juno, Ellen Goodman remarks: "Here is a cinematic world without complication. Or contraception. By some screenwriter consensus, abortion has become the right-to-choose that's never chosen." Goodman is upset at this, seeing it as a bad thing.

Question for Goodman:

If, in the real world, women were free to choose abortion but always chose to deliver their babies, would this be a good thing or a bad thing, and why?

If a bad thing, would it be accurate to call Goodman pro-choice?

Catholic Responses to Juno

Catholic website Vox Nova and magazine First Things reflect on Juno.

My thoughts on the marvelous movie here and here.

Defending Unequal Pay for Equivalent Work

Zippy Catholic goes there.

Bite-Sized Portions...

...can still be dangerous if you choke on them.

There is little time in televised debates to do justice to complex ideas such as evolution, human rights, global climate change, or freedom, to name a few. These ideas get cut up into skittle-sized munchies for the candidates to chomp once and swallow (or spit).

To make matters worse, pundits and moderators ask for yes or no answers to loaded questions such as "Do you believe in evolution?" or "Do you think America caused 9/11?" In a Republican debate in Iowa the moderator asked for a show of hands from those who believed in global warming and that it was man-made. Fred Thompson, to his credit, refused to play the game, and made the point that such a question (two questions, really) needed a minute answer, not just a pantomimed yes or no.

A minute answer?

Turn now to a litmus test from Andrew Sullivan yesterday:
"It's a deal-breaker for me too. If a candidate cannot accept Darwinian evolution, then I simply lose all respect for him or her. I do not trust their empirical judgment, which means I don't believe their political decisions will be affected by, er, reason."
My question: What do you mean by Darwinian evolution? The observable fact that species change over time? That changes take place at the genetic level? Darwin's particular understanding and explanation of how that works? Theorizing about implications of evolution?

If the first, okay; I can understand doubting the reasoning of someone who denies what is empirically verifiable, but if he means that for a candidate to be reasonable, he or she must adhere to Darwin's scientific interpretation of those empirical facts, then I part company.

Add to this that even scientific facts cannot be entirely divorced from the scientific projects in which they emerge. There is a subjective aspect to even our empirical knowledge; it as well is shaped by language.

If I were asked if I believed in evolution, I'd first respond with some clarifying questions about whose theory, or to use a postmodern term, whose construct the questioner means.

A Core Republican Principle?

Now here's a quote of the day, from National Review editor Kathryn Jean Lopez, on McCain's victory in NH:
I don’t see how such a man wins the Republican nomination. I’m second to none in praising him on his surge leadership. But on a whole host of issues — including water boarding, tax cuts, and the freedom of speech — he’s not one of us. Rush Limbaugh has emphatically stated that McCain is not a conservative — and he has more than a few listeners with similar instincts. McCain’s not going to be handed this nomination. Conservatives suspect that he’s a recipe for heartache.
Andrew Sullivan offers the obvious response:

It's pretty staggering to see a Khmer Rouge torture technique now being touted as a core Republican principle.


I wish I didn't care about these caucuses and primaries, but despite my better inclinations, I've been periodically checking the results of the NH Primary in between posting, dishes, picking up and organizing my son's toys, and watching the DVD of Columbo with Peter Falk.

I have no horse yet in this race--no offence meant to horses. Several candidates repulse me (one of them won tonight); those I respect I disagree with on half of their issues. I'm also torn between what I think government should do and shouldn't do.

On the one hand, I see the State as an instrument for meeting needs that cannot adequately be met by private enterprises and market solutions. I don't buy the argument that benevolent programs lead to the "nanny state." We are dependent on the State, and that dependency is okay, for it means that we are dependent on one another. The rugged individualism of American mythos is a delusion. So is ownership, really, if death and the nothingness from which we are made has anything to say.

On the other hand, I think our particular government in the States is frightfully powerful and needs to be reduced in size, reach, and influence. That implies cutting back on many of the government programs, and not just those of the warfare state. My pet issue in politics, the number one thing I want to know about a candidate, is how he or she understand the blessings and curses of power. Power corrupts, and the more powerful the State, the less free are you and I. To get my vote, a candidate must show awareness and concern about his or her own corruptibility and have a plan to check and limit her or his own power.

Healthcare may provide a telling example of my turmoil. I don't think the private sector or the "free" market can sufficiently meet our right to healthcare (care of life), and so I'm open to government programs that provide people with the healthcare they need. That said, I have strong reservations about government controlled healthcare, especially given the moral complexity and controversy surrounding certain medical procedures.

What to do?

For me, it is wait and see. I have no illusions about finding a perfect candidate. Truly, the candidate who would best match my politics would have to be politically undecided and tossed about by the flux, unsure of his or her own positions, waving neither the banner of progressivism nor conservatism, nor a moderate standing still.


The root of the word means to drink together. Nowadays it refers to any academic conference, though it would be ironic to speak of a symposium on the merits of prohibition.

I bring up the term because--and you'll forgive me for adopting the Democrats word of the day-- if I had any power to change the way political debates are done, I'd model them after the idea of a symposium, drinking included, of course. Come on, who wouldn't want to see some of these candidates buzzed while talking about their plan for America?

I'd also make each one of the symposiums an all day event.

The morning could be focused on domestic policy, while the afternoon, preceded by a lunch and much drinking, could turn to issues and arguments of foreign policy.

Would drinking be required? Not necessarily, but we citizens should know who drinks and who doesn't, and why. There are good reasons not to drink, and good reason to drink. Actually, the question of to drink or not to drink could take up the morning session.

Why an all day event?

First, it would require candidates to show us that they've thought through the issues, the principles they follow, and the philosophies they live by. Having an eight hour debate is not conducive to soundbites and talking points, unless your goal is to sound like a broken record or Sean Hannity.

Second, it would give them ample time to explain the complexities and nuances of their positions. I'd get rid of the whole question/answer format, but keep a moderator there to facilitate the discussion and to make sure professional candidate Alan Keyes gets his turn.

Third, no television network would be willing to record and play the whole event. The symposium could be filmed and played in real time on the web. Devotees, nerds, and Ron Paul supporters would be able to edit YouTubes of their favorite moments for their blogs.

The symposium would provide deeper and broader look at the candidates' merits (or lack thereof) and supply us lowly citizens with much food for thought and debate.

If nothing else, we'd have cause to drink away our sorrows.

A Deserved Pummelling

Counseling Kevin hits hard and true, head-locking Mark Davis' moral reasoning and pounding out the morally bankrupt consequentialism for all to see.

What had the talkshow host written to receive such a pounding?

In the Dallas Morning News:
"Saving American lives is the principle that matters above all others, and nothing we do that measurably achieves that goal deserves derision."
That was the the crux of his argument used to defend the practice of waterboarding (which Davis describes with deceptive inaccuracy) against the "finger wagging and hand wringing of people who cannot tolerate winning on those terms."

Well, Mr. Davis, I will not tolerate the means of waterboarding or any torture to keep us safe. I suppose that means I'm having a "hissy fit" and am "simply not serious about protecting our nation"?

Not at all.

I simply know, as Kevin knows, that it profits us nothing to save our skins if we lose our souls in the process.

Are We a Society of Self-Giving?

Common to service, sacrifice, family, sexuality, community, education, care, religion and many other human acts is the giving of oneself as a gift to another. The giving of gifts is a distinctly personal act, an act that requires freedom and intent. It is also the act by which we transcend ourselves yet become more ourselves than when we keep our selves entirely to ourselves.

We seem to be made to give of ourselves and to be in communion with others in a reciprocity of self-giving. We cannot really serve unless we give. Sacrifice denotes giving oneself. Families and communities need perpetual self-giving to survive. Religion is the means by which God's creatures give themselves to God and to each other. We might say that the human condition is marked by self-giving, yet corrupted by a failure to give oneself or to give oneself appropriately.

Given that self-giving is so integral to being human, is the giving of gifts a mark of our contemporary culture and society? Is our society at all structured on a spirit of generosity?

We have of course just celebrated Christmas, today is the Feast of the Epiphany, and I just recently had a birthday. These past few weeks have been times of gift-giving, of showing our love by the giving of gifts. We designate special days and occasions for the giving of gifts, but is the spirit of generosity made manifest in these special occasions present throughout the year in our relations with others? I wouldn't expect nor desire every day to be one in which presents are exchanged, but I wonder if by designating particular times for the giving of gifts we somehow absolve ourselves from living as reciprocal givers of ourselves the rest of the time.

What do you think? Is the spirit of generosity alive throughout the seasons? Do our social structures relate at all to the giving of ourselves? If not, how might our society be centered on a spirit of generous giving?

Juno, A Postmodern Tale

How's that for a shamelessly self-serving headline?

Juno has received a well-deserved amount of heartfelt praise from critics and movie-goers, and from people on all sides of the abortion debate. Yes, both pro-choicers and pro-lifers have recommended the movie. The fact that pro-choice people have applauded a movie about a teenager who chooses not to have an abortion should indicate to us in the pro-life camp that they are not demons intent on killing babies. Frankly, I think it's wonderful that sides--so antagonistic that we speak of them as being at war--can agree that a film that deals with the possibility and rejection of abortion is a marvelously good film. That gives me hope.

Ross Douthat argues that Juno is "decidedly a brief for not getting an abortion," while Ann Hulbert explains that "among Juno's distinctive charms is that it seems to have disarmed both sides of the family values debate." Matt Zeitlin, however, writes: "Juno is a brief for why the main character, Juno, made the best decision for herself in keeping the baby. It is a brief for tolerance, acceptance and being sympathetic to girls and women who have unplanned pregnancies. And while there is much for both pro-lifers and pro-choicers to like, the celebration of tolerance and autonomy is also a celebration of what being “pro-choice” means, in its highest form."

Publius thinks the film has more to say to the pro-life camp than the pro-choice camp. Barbara Nicolosi: "Juno is first and foremost a humane film. It's wonderfully humane. Not sure how to expand on that. You have to see it to know what I mean. But without being a political message movie, Juno is also pro-life, in the way that just about every Gen-X movie about pregnancy is pro-life, and more so." Connie's Daughter sees a pro-life element, but is disturbed that "Juno is struggling to make sense of life and love, and she is doing so mostly with the help of her fellow 16 year olds."

My take?

If "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are understood as political terms, and I think that is how they are most often employed, then Juno is neither pro-life nor pro-choice, for it offers no prescription for political policy. It has no agenda but to tell the story of Juno and the choices of her own and others that affect her. It says nothing about whether or not Roe v. Wade should be overturned or whether abortion should or should not be legal.

Juno is a movie about a smart but somewhat immature teenager who makes major moral choices in a postmodern condition of not-knowing and undecidability. As Connie's Daughter points out, Juno makes choices without much guidance from parents or other authorities. There’s a scene in Juno where Juno’s step-mom admonishes the ultrasound technician for judging on matters she doesn’t know, namely that the 16-year-old Juno wouldn’t make a good parent. What the film depicts throughout is the choices made by people who don’t have knowledge, who are situated in a pluralistic, postmodern society that doesn’t have a core system of belief, a well systematized knowledge of what it means to be human, or even an agreed upon set of principles. Juno herself admits that she doesn’t know who she is, or what kind of girl she is. Deciding and acting without certain knowledge is a theme of this tale.

Juno moves, I think, closer to some sense of who she is, but the movie is not about providing the solution to Juno's postmodern condition of not-knowing and undecidability, but rather about depicting the failings and triumphs, despondencies and hopes, ambiguities and clarities that pervade her heart and mind, and the hearts and minds of people living today struggling to find and to formulate meaning.

Juno doesn’t seem to have the benefits of a formed faith or even a formulated philosophy, ethical or otherwise. She walks in darkness. And yet, even in the dark, she chooses life, she sees something about her unborn baby that pushes her to forgo an abortion and pursue a plan to give the new life in her to another. Even in the darkness, she senses that marriage and love should last for life. She's grasping for truths of life that evade yet pervade her experience and understanding. She sees, but vaguely.

We may want to provide her with the answers, show her the clear and enlightened path through the dark and vague ambiguities of life on this earth. Principles and precepts would have given Juno a better framework for choosing. Nevertheless, we, like Juno, walk in darkness. We, like Juno, do not know what kind of people we are. We, like Juno, do not have all the answers and have to make difficult choices not always knowing whether they are the right choices or what will come of them.

The Evil Within

While I hesitate to use labels that encapsulate too broadly, I think it's safe to say that American society is hyper-legalized and hyper-politicized, in that in many cases we tend to treat as political or legal problems issues that would be better addressed primarily or altogether by instruments outside the State. The violence of abortion is, I think, a problem that won't be solved ultimately by congressmen, presidents, or judges. Nevertheless, there are pressing problems whose solutions require political means. Torture is one such issue.

Why is torture a problem for us in 2008?

First, torture is an intrinsically evil act that our current government has itself engaged in and may continue to practice depending on who wields political power in the future. Our leaders have not simply allowed torture to be practiced with impunity or allotted funds for institutions that torture; they have authorized and engaged in torture and attempted to establish its legality through the Office of Legal Counsel. Because it is the government itself that tortures, abolishing torture requires changes in the government. Hence part of the solution to the problem of torture must be political and legal.

Second, while the practice of torture is always a grave matter, its danger is compounded when practiced by a government that holds as one of its powers the power to define the enemy. The President of the United States has had the powers to capture, to interrogate, and to kill terrorists, but also the powers to define the meaning of terrorist and to determine who falls within the category. We have yet to see the full range and degree of abuses this frightful power engenders, as whatever the faults of our leaders, they seem to prioritize the safety and security of Americans. That may not always be the case, and if current history is any guide, one may be tortured by the US government merely on the basis of being a suspected terrorist.

Third, the conservative political movement, once a steadfast defender of Natural Law and eternal moral principles, has insofar as it has accepted and defended torture, embraced the ethics of consequentialism and adopted a disordered hierarchy of values in which safety is placed higher than justice and human dignity. The justification of torture by conservatives is a moral tragedy.

Fourth, by dismissing basic human dignity in the defense of torture, prominent moral thinkers of today have hindered the building of a culture of life. Those who justify torture lose credibility in arguing against abortion and other offenses against human dignity; they undercut their own arguments by making cases where human dignity can be sinned against or where evil can be justified in the name of the greater good.

I hope that in 2008 we will not hesitate to put an end to the practice and justification of torture.