Principles and Principal Strategies

The endorsements of Barack Obama's candidacy from two high profile pro-life Catholics, Doug Kmiec and Sen. Bob Casey Jr., have sparked a firestorm of passionate criticism and discussion on Catholic pro-life blogs, which are hardly home to lukewarm sentiments on the abortion issue to begin with. The heated response comes as little surprise, especially given Obama's particularly ardent support of reproductive rights, which Jay Anderson summarizes:
(1) voted against protecting babies born alive during botched abortions;
(2) said that his "biggest mistake" in the U.S. Senate was voting to help Terri Schiavo;
(3) pledged to Planned Parenthood that he "will not yield" on the "fundamental issue" of abortion;
(4) stated that he has a pro-abortion litmus test for Supreme Court nominees; and
(5) vowed that his first act as President will be to sign the "Freedom of Choice" Act
Skepticism over Kmiec's and Casey's pro-life credentials is of no short supply. Anderson says that actively campaigning for Obama belies one's "claims of being 'pro-life' in any meaningful sense." Mark Shea writes, "Try as I might, I can't conceive how you get from 'As a Catholic...' to endorsing a man who is eager to make it possible to stick as many scissors in as many baby's brains as possible." Jeff Miller of The Curt Jester accuses pro-life Obama supporters of throwing the pro-life cause under the bus. Gerald Augustinus of The Cafeteria is Closed remarks, "I wouldn't call it treachery. I'll call it early-onset senility, to be generous. Or reminiscent of the girl who goes out with the abusive guy everyone's warned her about. If that creep becomes president, Mr. Kmiec will experience the consequences of having gotten into bed with Obama." Some regular commentators on Gerald’s blog are less generous to Catholic supporters of Obama:
"Doug Kmiec, who is very anti-abortion is a shocker. Regrettably, I consign him to the category of fake Catholic. He must be looking for his 15 minutes of fame and adoration by the abortion loving media."

"Catholics for Obama are not Catholics anymore than Catholics for Hitler were Catholics. You can fool yourselves but you can't fool the Almighty!"

"They're a bunch of worms studying to be slugs. If I ever get absolute power, I'll impose a confiscatory tax on idiots who get advanced degrees in philosophy or theology; but first we'll kill all the lawyers."

"It is a sin to vote for Obama. Liberalism is a crime. Go ask the dead unborn."
Is it hot in the Catholic blogosphere, or is it just me?

Jay Anderson argues that Catholic supporters of pro-choice candidates need to make a pro-life case for their support, and given the gravity of abortion, I tend to agree. I’m not a supporter of Obama or Clinton (or McCain) , though, so I don’t feel compelled to argue the pro-life benefits of either candidate.

However, I’m not ready to dismiss someone’s pro-life credentials because that person supports a pro-choice candidate, even one who so willingly plays offense on abortion rights as Sen. Barack Obama. Why?

That ending abortion may be a non-negotiable issue doesn’t mean that there is only one non-negotiable strategy to that end. The abortion issue can be treated as a political or a philosophical problem, a cultural malaise, a consequence of social/economic conditions or an uneasiness about parenthood, a symptom of a our consumerism, or a result of Machiavellian moral thinking. To name a few. How we respond to the reality of abortion will partly depend on how we see abortion as a problem. Moreover, each perception of the abortion problem carries with it multiple means of responding to it.

Someone who sees abortion primarily as a political problem may favor the means of overturning Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion state by state. He or she may instead favor programs such as this aimed at reducing abortions. One may argue for the restructuring of American society so that the fate of millions is not dependent on the will of nine un-elected justices with near-perfect job security.

When a pro-life voter declares support for a pro-choice candidate, I react not by doubting his or her devotion to the defense of life, but rather rather by wanting to ascertain the reasons for the choice. Does the voter believe that the cause of defending life (unborn life included) would be better served by a pro-choice candidate rather than a pro-life candidate? Whether I agree with the reasons is a separate matter from whether I think the voter is acting out of a pro-life persuasion. I may find the reasons wanting but nevertheless see them as pro-life reasons.

Given that the majority of American’s believe abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, I’d say the pro-life movement has enough persuading work ahead of it without alienating from its ranks genuine pro-lifers who pursue means to ending abortion alternative to the declared non-negotiable strategies. Which strategies should be principal in eliminating abortion is a question of prudential judgment. Let's debate them while we work to build a culture of life.

Something to Focus the Soul

Busy day today, replete with repeated tornado sirens. I need something to focus my thoughts:

Herbert von Karajan conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker playing Beethoven.

Thought for a Sunday

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice.

- Portia in The Merchant of Venice by William

No Worries

Darwin Catholic concisely discusses Catholics and evolution.

Working Together for the Cause of Life

The life of the unborn deserve legal protection, but such measures are only one part of building a culture of life and a society that respects the life of the unborn. There's more to the cause of life than overturning Roe v. Wade.

On that note, I read news (h/t: Jay Anderson) that Sen. Sam Brownback and Sen. Edward Kennedy are cosponsoring a bill "aimed at reducing the number of abortions tied to genetic disorders." A pro-lifer and pro-choicer working together to reduce abortions? Who'd of thought it?

Read the story here.

My Practical Pacifism

I am a practical pacifist. I do not think it is possible for most (if not all) of today’s acts of war to meet the criteria for a just war. I deny neither the right to self-defense nor the theory of just wars, but that war today can be a just means of self-defense.

One of the criteria for a war to be just is that the war cannot produce evils graver than the evil to be eliminated. I hold the position that there is no way to guarantee that a war doesn’t produce graver evils than the evil to be eliminated because there is no way to reasonably calculate the consequences of war.

Generally when we speak of even defensive war today we’re not speaking about residents of a city marching out of the city and onto a battlefield against an invading army, where the consequences to consider would for the most part be the defeat of the aggressive army—and associated evils such as loss of life and loved one’s suffering—and the destruction of the city, its inhabitants, and its culture and way of life. In such a circumstance, there would undoubtedly be unintended consequences (war never disappoints in those), but the leaders of the city could reasonably compare the consequences of taking up arms versus the results of refraining from any resistance.

War as fought today—with pre-emptive invasions, bombing campaigns, and battles within cities—renders war not only a dangerously indiscriminate exercise, but also an unfocused one. Even actions of war within a city that focus on specifically military targets result in evils spreading to civilian centers of life; for the parts of the city are bound together, electronically and economically, to name two.

Add to this the fact that today’s world is and is becoming more and more interconnected, and what we see (and cannot see) is that an act of war, even seemingly focused on one part of a nation, can produce countless consequences around the globe. The worldwide effects of even a local war especially make calculating the consequences of war impossible. Unable to calculate the consequences of war, we are unable knowingly to meet the criteria for just war wherein we do not produce graver evils than the evil to be eliminated.

So what then? Do we do nothing in the horrid face of aggressors? Are we forbidden to take up arms in defense against clear, certain, and lasting damage? Should we just allow our enemies to win?

So long as war is an unjust option, it’s off the table, morally speaking. A fact of our human limitations and fallen world is that we may be faced with situations in which the only effective actions available to save our lives are evil actions and the only just actions available may spell our death.

What are some long-term options, then?
1. We rethink and develop just war theory in light of the contemporary character of war and the world.

2. We seek to modify the art of war so that its consequences can reasonably be calculated.

3. We work to end all war.
Which if any of these or other options is the best I’ll leave for discussion. I also welcome comments with the aim of persuading me that my position is wrong.

In explaining my practical pacifism, I haven’t exhausted all my thinking on the topic of war. I am certainly not proposing that this position is the only reasonable one for a Catholic or other to take. I think my application here of the just war principles is sound, but I don’t fancy my position dogmatic or any such thing. It is my judgment based on the principles of just war and the current state of affairs explained above.

The Magisterium of the Internet

Should Catholic webmasters position themselves as authoritative judges of the orthodoxy of other Catholic websites? That question is explored in a post today by Henry Karlson.

Quote for the Day

"Occasionally, I am a human being like everybody else."

- Hillary Clinton

A Question

Is it inconsistent to believe that with God all things are possible and also to claim that certain evil people are so monstrous that the only hope for stopping their evil is for us to destroy them?

An Online Superhero Musical

From Joss Whedon? Staring Firefly's Nathan Fillian? For real?

From the Annals of Great Headlines

This one from Fox News:

"Woman Goes for Leg Operation, Gets New Anus Instead"

Baleful Juno

That a story’s protagonist chooses a certain course of action doesn’t necessarily mean that the story is presenting that course of action as a good one or even as one preferable to others. A story need not be a courier of a message in order to be a story, or to be a good one.

Not everyone agrees. There are those who approach a story looking for messages by which to evaluate the quality of the story. They approach the story as primarily a vehicle for transporting a moral to the minds of the audience. In such an approach, the aesthetic qualities of the story are subservient to the truth qualities: the purpose of a story is to impart some truth judgment. Stories are message-bearers.

The basic problem with such an approach is that it moves fallaciously from what is depicted in the story to the conclusion that the story itself must be administering judgment about what is depicted. This is not to say that stories never contain judgments, as is evidenced anytime a story distinguishes between hero and villain. But just because a story depicts something doesn’t necessitate that the story is judging that something as good or bad.

Take for example Juno’s decision to keep her baby rather than abort it. While there are apparent reasons for her choice, the movie itself doesn’t depict her choice as objectively good or as objectively preferable to alternatives. Juno avoids giving us a pro-life or pro-choice message. It tells us nothing about whether abortion is ultimately good or evil. It’s not a message movie.

Phyllis Schlafly disagrees. In an article published at, she writes that Juno’s message “is that no man should have anything to say about a baby for whom he is financially responsible.” She continues:
The theme of this movie isn't love, romance, or respect for life, but the triumph of feminist ideology, i.e., the irrelevancy of men, especially fathers. The men in the movie are likable, but marginalized; beyond their sperm and paychecks, they have no value worth considering, and can be thrown overboard by independent women and girls.
That theme might be news to the movie's male director! If the men in Juno are minor characters, they are nevertheless supporting characters. Moreover, nowhere in the movie is there evidence to support Schlafly’s claims that Juno definitively declares the irrelevancy of men. Even if all the men in the movie were irrelevant, as Schlafly thinks, it remains illogical to conclude that the movie makes a statement about all men from the depiction of the few men presented in the film.

Schlafly sees Juno as an affront to the family values she defends. (I wonder if she’s bothered by the lust-appeal used to sell t-shirts on’s sidebar). Now a feminist interpretation of Juno stands on pretty solid ground, and Juno doesn’t present anything resembling Schlafly’s ideal family, but these do not translate into a promotion of what Schlafly calls feminist ideology, or any ideology for that matter.

Thought for an Easter Sunday

This one from a letter of J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher:
And I conclude by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest "eucatastrophe" possible in the greatest Fairy Story -- and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love. Of course I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest. Man the story-teller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story.

What is Truth?

From Frank Sheed:
St. Paul's words, "redeem" and "reconcile" and "justify" are the fundamental ways of saying what Christ came to do; for they state the ways in which His one single action solved the twofold problem set by the sin of Adam.

As we have seen, the race had lost its oneness with God, and Our Lord did the work of at-one-ment or reconciliation, restoration of man to sonship. In the restored sonship lies man's right relation to God, which St. Paul calls "justification". But also the race had, by its sin, put itself in dept to God's justice, and Christ paid the dept: for He offered to God an act that expiated, balanced, compensated for the act by which the race had chosen itself as apart from God. This is the root idea of the word redeem, which literally means to buy something back, pay the price for the recovery of a captive.
How's that for loving hospitality?

A God of Hospitality

Our God is a God of hospitality. He who is communion itself invites us and welcomes us into that holy community. God approaches us and welcomes us where we are, and yet, he calls us to be perfect and gives us the means of being perfected. What we need for perfection is grace, and God gives us that sanctifying grace in the sacraments.

The Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament and all it contains, is a gift of perfect hospitality, for it is God’s gift of divine self to us, a gift of a host and of a guest, a gift that welcomes us into God’s divinity by participating in our humanity. God became man so that we could be like God. The celebration of the Eucharist, according to Monika Hellwig, is “the celebration of the divine hospitality made present to us in the person of Jesus.” In the Blessed Sacrament, God welcomes us into himself; as the host, he serves us the food—himself—that perfects us. Yet we are not only guests at the banquet of grace; God calls us to make of ourselves a hospitable home for him. To really welcome Jesus to reside in our heart, we must strive to make our heart whole.

God tells us to make ourselves at home in him; and as that home is perfect, we are bound by hospitality to allow ourselves to be made perfect by the host. When we receive the Blessed Sacrament, we are inviting God into ourselves and asking God to make himself at home in us. Hospitality demands that we strive to make ourselves into a suitable residence, and the only suitable residence for God is a perfect home.

Hospitality breeds community; we harvest community by giving birth to Christ in the world through our deeds of love. This is a reason why God founded a Church: to be that community that is born from divine and human hospitality. The Church is purposed to bring us into communion with one another and with God. The Church exists in part to teach us and to give us the power to be hospitable—to be proper guests in the Kingdom of God and to be proper hosts to the King of Kings.

Grace and Salvation

Policraticus of Vox Nova gives us timely biblical reflection on how grace saves.

Martyrdom as a Personal Act

Novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco says, "Fear prophets and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them."

I take his point, pointedly in our age of terrorism, but we needn't fear all those prepared to die for the truth, provided we look into the manner of their martyrdom.

Genuine martyrdom is a personal and communal act, a venerable sacrifice that provides loving witness to the truth and beckons for a loving response from those who see, hear of, and even commit the murder. Those willing to murder in the name of truth do not serve the truth, for their cause is not personal but a bloodless abstraction. Truth is personal; indeed, Truth is a Person!

The martyr worthy of the name dies not merely for the truth, but as a witness to the truth for others. Christian martyrdom, for example, contains within it an implicit, if not explicit, love of persons: God, friends, family, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies. Always enemies. In his sacrifice, the Christian martyr says to his murderer: I die for Christ who died for you.

Martyrdom as a personal act is not exclusive to Christian martyrs, a truth to which history could, I'm sure, testify. Nevertheless, Christian martyrdom, that which is rooted in and united with Christ's sacrifice, is always personal.

I don't fear it; I fear only that I myself have not the strength for it.

Oblivious on the Journey

Reading St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle has for me been an experience of the foreign, ironically because the foreign land she describes is my own soul. It is as if I’m reading some work of fantasy or some system of idealism that exists in a distant world of its own, with only glimmers and shadows in the world I can sense.

I perceive in our world the images and sounds of distant violence and war displayed across the television and computer screens, yet I am blind and deaf to the interior war waged in my own soul. Teresa writes:
Can any evil be greater than the evil which we find in our own house? What hope can we have of being able to rest in other people’s homes if we cannot rest in our own? For none of our friends and relatives are as near to us as our faculties, with which we have always to live, whether we like it or not, and yet our faculties seem to be making war upon us, as if they were resentful of the war made upon them by our vices. “Peace, peace,” said the Lord, my sisters, and many a time He spoke words of peace to His Apostles. Believe me, unless we have peace, and strive for peace in our own home, we shall not find it in the homes of others. Let this war now cease.
War wages in my soul, in my castle, between my vices and my faculties and between my faculties and my very inner self. I am at war with myself. It is a war with many fronts, and yet I am scarcely aware of its engagement. Whereas Alessandro in Mark Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War "was still able to hear sonatas, symphonies, and songs" over the thunderous shock of field guns, I am seemingly incapable of hearing the blasts of war that blow within my soul over the superficial noises of this noisy world. Like Shawn of the Dead, I walk about my daily business, unaware, despite all of the obvious signs screaming to me, that there are zombies in my midst.

How zombie-like I am! Deaf am I to my inner cries of pain. Blind am I to the spiritual advancements of the enemy. Numb am I to the weapons that wound and wrack my soul. I cannot smell the putrid stench of sin and death. I cannot taste the bitterness of blood poisoned by my wrongs. I cannot feel the waters of grace that keep me in the fight. I neither laugh nor cry at this state of affairs. I am a stranger to my own castle, an unnoticed guest with no movements toward being noticed. I am oblivious to the spiritual battle that may send me to oblivion.

Teresa warns me:
It is absurd to think that we can enter Heaven without first entering our own souls—without getting to know ourselves, and without reflecting on the wretchedness of our nature and what we owe to God, and continually imploring his mercy.
The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. And so, I pray the prayer of Eliot: Teach me to care and not to care; teach me to sit still.

I have a long way to go, and the real agony and misery lies yet ahead of me. Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm, "I am driven far from thy sight." But thou didst hear my supplications, when I cried to thee for help.

Expanding My Horizons

Wanting a book that I could read in those short moments that avail themselves throughout the day, and knowing that a) philosophy books are not conducive to comprehension when read in spurts and b) I’ve focused too much on philosophy reading lately, I picked up St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle off the shelf. My boss, an expert in Christian spirituality, admonished me for thinking Interior Castle was a book that I could just “pick up.” Well, in my defense, let me say that I’m in the fourth mansion, and I think I’ve acquired a decent sense for what St. Teresa is getting at. Granted, there is a word she uses repeatedly that caused me some confusion and prompted my picking up the dictionary—prayer—but once I get a handle on its meaning, I think the whole book will come together for me.

Thought for a Sunday

“I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden.”

- Saint Augustine

An Inhospitable Inferno?

I have a number of diverse philosophical interests, including the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas, the aesthetics of F.W.J. Shelling, the sociology of Max Scheler, the hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur, the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida, the economics of Wilhelm Röpke, the existentialism of Gabriel Marcel, and the political theory of Russell Kirk. And many more besides. If I had to name my own philosophy, I’d settle for the hermeneutics of hospitality, by which I mean, in a nutshell, a hermeneutics whereby we welcome the other and strive to understand the other while recognizing that the other is, and always will be, more than our understanding.

That I use the prepositional phase “of hospitality” shouldn’t imply that I am myself a hospitable person. When pressed on how he could write on ethics when he led an unethical life, Max Scheler is said to have pointed out that a sign for a town isn’t in the town, but outside of it. I’m inclined to use the same excuse. A hermeneutics of hospitality is for me a goal, something that is to come, something I hope to reach.

My initial response to ideas other than my own, or ideas blatantly erroneous, ranges from pathetically witless ridicule to swift containment in an easily dismissible construct. I sometimes mutter a few choice obscenities about the person whose ideas I deem stupid or dangerous. Not very hospitable of me, I know. Not very understanding of me either, so I fail on the hermeneutics part as well. So much of our discourse on ideas succumbs to the temptation to paint the other as nothing but our negative ideas of the other. I’m one of the fallen.

Just as hospitality doesn’t dictate that one welcome a hostile intruder into one’s home, a hermeneutics of hospitality doesn’t demand that we uncritically welcome ideas that are the intellectual equivalent of a hostile intruder. Some ideas are false. Some are dangerous. Some are abhorrently evil. A thinker doesn’t welcome ideas into his mind without some affect upon his mind. The effect of some ideas may be destructive to the intellect and spiritually harmful.

This brings me to the topic of book burning.

Despite my admittance that there are ideas hostile to one’s spiritual health, as a rule I’m against book burning. Not everyone agrees, of course. Jeff Martin at What’s Wrong with the World has started an inferno and invited readers to submit books they’d burn if opportunity presented itself. There’s quite the virtual blaze being kept aflame over there with titles from such authors as Karl Marx, Niccolo Machiavelli, Immanuel Kant, and the great idol-smasher Jacques Derrida. If book burning is your thing, you may want to click on over with some titles. They’re not interested in firefighters, though; so don’t bother.

As mentioned, I’m against the practice, for a few reasons.

1. Destroying the work of an author because we think his work is altogether evil or worthless presupposes that we have a complete understanding and the only valid interpretation of his work. I see this as a confusion of our idea of his thought with his thought itself.

2. We may have something to learn from an author whose books we declare are worthy of burnin’. A perceived enemy may turn out to be a friend. I found that out when I actually read Derrida. And if, for arguments sake, the book really is the work of an “enemy”? Well, it’s good to know what the enemy thinks, if for no other reason than to strengthen one’s arguments against his positions. St. Thomas Aquinas could tell you that.

3. On a related note, if we want to have a society in which there is freedom to express and discuss one’s ideas, we have to keep open the possibility that books will be written that are devilish and dangerous. To impose some authority to destroy books deemed to be evil hinders the freedom of thought and expression of everyone. It may be all well and good if the authority has the moral sense to discern which books are suitable for the public good and which are not, but I see no way to guarantee that the authority has such moral sense. In our morally bankrupt society, I certainly wouldn’t trust any authority with that power.

4. Book burning responds to an author’s ideas not with truth, logic, understanding, or persuasion, but with destruction and suppression. As one commenter on Martin’s post put it, “I really just came here to burn his books, not debate them.” Personally, I say if an author's ideas are wrong or dangerous, let them be shown as such in open, hospitable discussion. Destroying an author’s work does nothing to show whether the ideas are good or bad. It’s a distracting spectacle of ashes, shadow, and flame.

Your thoughts?

Why a Hermeneutics of Hospitality?

One reason:

“It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”

- G.K. Chesterton

The Media: The One and the Many

Any adjective predicated of the media oversimplifies, obscures, and conceals its reality. This is the case whether the adjective applied is conservative, liberal, corporate, mainstream, or even the article the.

Tune into conservative talk radio and you're sure to hear complaints about the liberal media, against which these talk show hosts, somehow separate from the media they criticize, position themselves as the better ideological alternative. Liberal critics of the media sometimes refer to the networks and newspapers as the corporate media, emphasizing its consolidated corporate structure and how that shapes its form and content, negatively from their standpoint.

My interest here is not whether liberal or corporate or any other description is an accurate assessment of the media. Rather I am interested in showing that what we call the media, specifically its interpretive framework, is more than what our adjectives contain.

By interpretive framework I mean the ways in which a person or group of persons interprets and understands the world. We each have a unique perception of the world, a personal way of seeing things. Our perception is more than how we see with our eyes; it includes the angles and limitations of how we see and how certain factors such as language and values shape, reveal, and conceal how and what we see. As perception is both objective and subjective, so is interpretation. All of the factors that limit, shape, and open our interpretation of the world make up our interpretive framework. Our interpretative framework could also be called our hermeneutic. No media entity or institution, indeed no human person, will be perfectly objective or purely in line with the way things are. There are bound to be biases, angles, agendas, revelations, and obscurities.

To speak of the media as one thing, while in a sense true, can also blind us to its complexity and its plurality. A media entity may of course tend towards a particular ideology or way of seeing the world. The worldview espoused on the Rush Limbaugh program is fairly consistent and clearly at odds with the very different philosophy proclaimed on the Thom Hartmann program. The Nation prides itself on its progressivism and anti-corporatism, while the American Conservative advertises itself as a defender of real conservative thinking. Newspapers like The New York Times say they strive for objectivity and balanced opinion, but cases can certainly be made that they are in some ways liberal-minded (and in other ways opposed to particular tenets of liberalism). Any judgment of the bias or the angle of a media entity is always a generalization. Any judgment of a media entity’s interpretive framework will likewise be a generalization. Not only are there exceptions, but also the worldview of a media entity is a plurality of cooperating goals and competing projects, hospitable beliefs and antagonistic interests. In short, a plurality of hermeneutics.

The editorial board of a given newspaper may be predominantly liberal, and that persuasion will undoubtedly affect the content and style of the paper. But that paper also has readers to keep and to gain. It is motivated by profit. Its owners and operators have their own values and interpretive frameworks. Each of the "liberal” writers or editors differs in how each perceives and interprets the world, and therefore differs philosophically. If a media's bias stems from its multitudinous interests, views, and interpretations, then its bias is dynamic and difficult to pin down.

Applying an adjective to the media involves a dance between the modifier and the one and the many. It is a dance that keeps that adjective in perpetual motion and in fragile repetition. The descriptor may seem to dance well with the subject, but a change in tempo or a misstep can send the descriptor away and invite a new adjective to the dance.

You Just Can't Do That

Attorney and contributor to Harper's Magazine Scott Horton recounts what happened when he used the word "torture" in interviews to major media in reference to interrogation techniques approved by the Bush Administration:
I discovered that when I gave interviews to major media on this subject, any time I used the word “torture” with reference to these techniques, the interview passage would not be used. At one point I was informed by a cable news network that “we put this on international, because we can’t use that word on the domestic feed.” “That word” was torture. I was coached or told that the words “coercive interrogation technique” were fine, but “torture” was a red light. Why? The Administration objected vehemently to the use of this word. After all, President Bush has gone before the cameras and stated more than three dozen times “We do not torture.” By using the T-word, I was told, I was challenging the honesty of the president. You just couldn’t do that.

In early 2005, I took a bit of time to go through one newspaper—The New York Times—to examine its use of the word “torture”. I found that the word “torture” was regularly used to described a neighbor who played his stereo too loud, or some similar minor nuisance. Also the word “torture” could be used routinely to describe techniques used by foreign powers which were hostile to the United States. But the style rule seemed very clear: it could not be used in reporting associated with anything the Bush Administration was doing.

America Reviews Blood

The Catholic magazine America reviews Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliant film, There Will Be Blood.

Two strands in the American character brought a successful conclusion to the building of a nation in the wilderness: the American entrepreneurial spirit that made the United States the richest, most powerful nation in history, and a spiritual heritage that makes it to this day the most religious in the industrialized world. Both strands hold the power to loose demons. Anderson sees these traits of the American character as locked in a symbiotic but mutually destructive relationship. The dark side of the Protestant work ethic spurred the energetic and the saved to seize upon the opportunities gushing from a new country. It created a generation of robber barons, whose greed created both misery for the working classes and ecological catastrophe. At the same time these men also created unprecedented wealth for their nation. The churches too echoed the economic drive of their secular counterparts. In many instances, godliness became a splendid business opportunity that led religious charlatans and heavenly empire builders to victimize the ignorant and impoverished no less than had the captains of industry. Their energy, dedication and inventiveness stir admiration; their ruthlessness stirs loathing.
The site also have a podcast discussing the biblical and Catholic imagination of Paul Thomas Anderson.

Conveyor Belts

Teachers are known for the occasion digression from the pertinent topic, sometimes evolving into an emotional rant or sharpening into a biting quip.

At my high school, students unprepared to give their speeches in Public Speaking could often defer their presentation by beginning the class with an inviting question to the teacher about his experiences in the Vietnam War or his passionate admonishments on the perils of drunk driving. In college, where professors are generally free from daily parental inquiries into what students learned that day, the opportunities for diversions and heartfelt pronouncements may be more frequent.

A good portion of my class notebooks from college contain witty, impertinent, telling, and insightful quotes from professors. They're buried in boxes at the moment, though not so buried that I'd need Indiana Jones' assistance to unearth them. I'm just too lazy to pull them out for perusal. And I know I'd feel guilty looking at the sporadic traces of discussions that took place in rooms where I frequently sat, unengaged.

I remember one comment in particular though that has stayed with me these years, strangely, because I'm not so cynical as to utter it from the heart. It came from one of my philosophy professors:
"Life is like a conveyor belt to a dumpster."
Why does this despondent statement linger in my mind? It could have something to do with the weather here, the first wintry mix this season that has followed in the hastily-retreating heels of 70's and sunshine. Whatever the cause, I'm sure that it has nothing to do with the Texas Primary being tomorrow and I remaining as unimpressed with the pickings as an appraiser of Homer Simpson's job performance.


I have heard it said that the power of the President of the United States over the practice and legality of abortion is limited to the judges he or she appoints to the various courts. This is false. The president has the opportunity to speak to the public every day and make a persistent effort to persuade Americans to adopt a particular position. The extent to which a president takes this opportunity should indicate to us how seriously he or she takes the abortion issue.