The Most Deranged Bloggers

My congratulations to Nathan P. Origer for making popular radio talk-show host Mark Levin’s list of “most deranged bloggers.” Nathan joins other conservative bloggers who have criticized Levin from positions outside the boundaries of Levin’s brand of conservative orthodoxy, thereby making themselves enemies of the Great One, as he calls himself.

Levin made news among these conservatives a little while back when he told a caller, “I don’t know why your husband doesn’t put a gun to his temple. Get the hell out of here.” Yes, he said this, and said this after asking her if she was married and, for no logical reason, why she hates his country, his Constitution, and his Declaration of Independence. Conor Friedersdorf called Levin out on the indecency. I think Levin started his list shortly thereafter.

The indecent incident mention above isn’t out of character for Mark Levin. Insulting people with whom he disagrees is a constant feature of his show. His delivery is loud and mean. He calls Hilary Clinton “Her Thighness,” for example. His language isn’t directed toward persuading others to embrace his political philosophy. Levin uses language violently to demean and destroy. His rhetoric has the opposite effect of persuasion: it alienates.

It therefore does a disservice to conservatism, which is one reason why Conor, Nathan, David Frum and other conservatives have constantly criticized the talk-show host. Conservatism, as the name indicates, is about conserving, preserving, maintaining. Levin’s verbal violence does none of these things. He gives conservatism a bad name, associating it with violence towards and hatred of others.

Nathan and the other “deranged bloggers” have my thanks. Both conservatives and liberals have much good to offer one another and society. For us to benefit, though, we need to be open to the other and dance what E.D. Kain calls “the civilizational tango.” Otherwise, we lose our balance, step on one another’s toes, and fall to the floor.

They Didn't Fall from the Sky

Brandon over at Siris blogs about different lists of the parts of speech. Yes, there's a history of difference and debate behind that list you learned in elementary school. I plan to teach my son the rules of grammar well before he gets to them in the classroom, and I think I'll also instruct him in the reasons and history behind the rules. I can see him a few years from now, in second grade, asking his language arts teacher whether and why she thinks an article is a type of adjective or an entirely different part of speech.

Presenting "The Other"

The unofficial wine label of Journeys in Alterity.

Best. Headline. Ever.

From the BBC: 'Stoned wallabies make crop circles'
Australian wallabies are eating opium poppies and creating crop circles as they hop around "as high as a kite", a government official has said. Lara Giddings, the attorney general for the island state of Tasmania, said the kangaroo-like marsupials were getting into poppy fields grown for medicine. More.
H/T: Sam Rocha

Still at It!

Riding my bicycle to work, that is. Well, my wife's bicycle, to be specific. Hers has better gears and mine has a flat tire which I haven't bothered to fix. Because her bike is better. And I'm lazy. And she's not riding these days anyway.

Texas summer has finally hit us. Temperatures into the hundreds these past few days. Strangely, my path is still hindered by the occasional jogger. I'd have thought the heat would have kept folks off the sidewalks, but they're still there, only now they're shirtless, sweaty, and occasionally rather hairy.

My "outfit" remains about the same. I give those who notice me something to stare at or reason to avert their eyes. I feel somewhat safer looking as I do, although the other day I almost had to slam my fist on the hood of a car just to get the driver to notice me at an intersection. I get annoyed when drivers don't look left and right before almost running me over, but this fellow didn't even look where I was. Straight ahead. Like right in front of his windshield, obstructing his vision of the road. Ah, Texas drivers. There's a reason I stay on the sidewalks most of the time.

I haven't taken any recent pictures, but the image below captures what I looked like a year ago. I appear pretty much the same now, minus the long hair and backpack. And now I ride a girl's bike with a kid seat attached. I'll have to get the wife unit to take some new photographs. Because, you know, there are not enough freaky pictures on the Internet.

Justice Sees

"The law is a schema that tries to cover as many cases as it can, as fairly, equitably, and even-handedly as it can. But it never quite can. The law inevitably, structurally, falls short of individuals, because it cannot see what it is aimed at, about which it systematically, structurally, keeps itself in the dark.

Deconstruction, which 'is justice,' on the other hand, keeps its eye peeled for the little bits and loose fragments easily lost sight of by the law. Deconstruction is on the watch for the exclusion, the victims, the injustice produced by the law, which even the best laid laws inevitably produce. Laws always silence, coerce, squeeze, or level someone, somewhere, however small. Deconstruction's justice does not aim at disinterested impartiality but at a preferential option for the disadvantaged, the differends, the losers, leftovers, the little bits and fragments. Far from being blind, justice cultivates a fine, suspicious eye, one might even say a 'prophetic' eye, an eye too many as far as the law is concerned."

- John D. Caputo, Against Ethics

Father to Vivian

My wife and I learned during Holy Week that our daughter in the womb has a fatal condition called anencephaly; since then we have struggled to share with Vivian the little bit of life she has. My wife has done what she can to stay healthy, exercise, and eat well. She’s made our daughter birthday gifts to present to her at her hoped for day of birth. She’s felt her roll and kick in the womb, savoring those precious gifts from Vivian.

Prior to this experience, when pondering the meaning of fatherhood, I would have thought of showing my children affection, forming their character, teaching them their parts of speech, instructing them in the faith, or playing games of all sorts. I have been able to do these things and more with my son. My daughter will not likely have the opportunity to see me smile at her, hear my words of affection, or feel me holding her. Anencephaly doesn’t generally allow for such sensations.

I have come to the conclusion that what it means to be a father to Vivian is this: I am there with her, suffering with her, even if she cannot know me. Is this experience of fatherhood in any way akin to the fatherhood of God, who loves and weeps for his children? God doesn’t always get what he wants. He is our loving Father, not a cosmic engineer who prevents all disasters or fixes all breakdowns in the system. We certainly can’t fix our daughter’s condition. Nor could we have prevented it. It happened as many sad events happen. I love her and suffer with her, and therefore I am a father to her. I pray for the grace to be a good one.

The Alterity of Tom Bombadil

I felt confused and a little irritated at first meeting Tom Bombadil in the Old Forest and also when getting to know him at his house by the Withywindle. Tolkien created a number of unique, unusual, and different peoples, but Tom Bombadil sticks out as singularly different. That bothered me because I wanted to place him in one of Tolkien's mythical categories, and I couldn't. Tom wasn't a man or a hobbit; he wasn't an elf or a wizard. He seemed to defy even the fantastic classifications of Middle Earth. He wasn't the same as anyone else.

I've since come to appreciate Tom much more than I did when first encountering him with the heroic hobbits. Tom, you see, is an expression of alterity, something I've also come to appreciate more with the passage of time. Tom is different in a way that other characters in Tolkien's tale are not.

John D. Caputo distinguishes between two kinds of differences, a distinction that is relevant here. There's the difference we note in multiplicity and variety. In Middle Earth we meet a variety of different peoples, a multiplicity of creatures: elves, men, ents, dwarves and so forth. Each group is different from each other, and within each group are found different kinds: wood elves, high elves, etc. There's another kind of difference, though. That is the difference of alterity, the difference of "the other one of the two, the other one, with a force of singularity, not multiplicity, not one more among many others, but just one, just that other one, over there." Alterity, for Caputo, means "being one-on-one with the other," an experience Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin and I had with the adventurous Tom Bombadil.

Tom doesn't seem to be one of many. He differs from others because he is fundamentally singular. At first I found that singularity irritating. Now I find it a wonderful visitation of alterity, startling but strangely reassuring. To paraphrase Hamlet, there are more things in Heaven and Middle-earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies. It's okay that I cannot categorize the whole of the world; the whole of the world cannot be categorized.

A Case for Ignorance

"An Unpredictable Earthquake"

In November 2002, Jacques Derrida discussed the link between deconstruction and Christianity. He saw Christianity as more apt to transform itself and more prepared for unpredictable transformation than other religions. You can listen here and here.

H/T: Sam Rocha

Uninformed Comment

Much to my disappointment, I notice that I, on occasion, passionately hold opinions about matters of which I have little to no knowledge. On these occasions, when I come upon a view contrary to my own, I almost instinctively draw my sword, raise the banner, and launch a thousand ships, ready to battle in a fit of Homeric rage. Of course, my opponent has but to breathe the slightest breath in support of his position, and my sword is shattered, my banner is torn, and my fleet is lost to the stormy sea. I retreat and seek shelter in the labyrinths of Wikipedia or Google, hoping against hope that I might find some posthumous support for my uninformed opinion.

I take some comfort in knowing I am not alone. Walking down the street in my neighborhood would bring me into the presence of people who hold adamant and various views on climate change but who couldn’t tell me the difference between climate and weather. I would not have to look far to find advocates and opponents of same sex marital unions who couldn’t tell each other anything substantial about the institution of marriage. I need only peruse the Internet for a short while to come across defenders and detractors of socialism who couldn’t precisely define social without the aid of a dictionary.

Why am I known, on occasion, to spout uninformed comment? Looking back on such occasions, I observe that I have sometimes repeated the views of someone I trusted without bothering to understand those views. I find myself hearing an opinion that suits me well, that perhaps fits with my fashionable worldview, and, because I hold the speaker or writer as an authority, I put in on and wear it with pride. If asked where my new suit was made, I am at a loss. If questioned about the fabric, I cannot say with certainty, though I might hazard a guess based on the feel. If asked why I wear the suit, I can at most respond by saying that I got it from an authoritative tailor who sews only those fabrics of the good and true. I’m not always right about this tailor, though.

My wife and I watched the movie Thank You for Smoking over the weekend. In the film, the protagonist, a smooth-talking lobbyist played by Aaron Eckhart, discusses argumentation with his school-age son. He shows him that some arguments you can’t win the conventional way, so you have to switch from debating the agreed upon subject and show instead that your opponent is wrong in some larger sense. While his son defends chocolate ice-cream as the best and all he needs, he admits to needing more than chocolate, more than even vanilla. He says he needs freedom, choice when it comes to ice-cream, liberty. “But that's not what we're talking about,” his son objects. “Ah! But that's what I'm talking about,” Eckhart’s character retorts. He then explains to his son that to win the argument, he didn’t need to prove that vanilla was better than chocolate, he only needed to show that his son was wrong because he opposed liberty. “But you still didn't convince me,” his son remarks. “It’s not you I’m after. I'm after them.”

I would like to say that I am never susceptible to such rhetorical tricks, that my mind always and everywhere functions in a logical and analytic manner. I would like to say that I am never one of “them,” but I cannot say that truthfully. I have fallen for fallacious reasoning because I liked the conclusion. I have shouted statements to the heavens without having done the work to determine if they are true. I have sought attention by agreeing with what sounded like it could be true. Yes, to my disappointment, I am, on occasion, one of them.

Cross Posted

Five Years Today...

...of happy marriage to my stunningly lovely, wonderful wife. For you, my dearest:

Under Pressure

Much of the legal debate over the Bush administration's interrogation policy centers on the question of whether the lawyers who argued that the interrogation techniques were legal were giving legal advice in good faith or whether they were following orders to give legal cover for a desired program. Recently released emails written in 2005 by then-deputy attorney general James Comey don't settle this question, but they reveal, assuming Comey was telling the truth, that the lawyers were under pressure to draft some of the legal memos. Dan Froomkin reports:
In his April 27 e-mail, Comey describes telling Gonzales directly about his "grave reservations" about the second memo. Gonzales's response? "The AG explained that he was under great pressure from the Vice President to complete both memos, and that the President had even raised it last week, apparently at the VP's request and the AG had promised they would be ready early this week."

Comey also notes that OLC lawyer Patrick Philbin had previously reported that then-acting OLC director Steve Bradbury "was getting constant similar pressure from [White House counsel] Harriet Miers and [Cheney counsel] David Addington to produce the opinions." Comey adds: "Parenthetically, I have previously expressed my worry that having Steve as 'Acting' -- and wanting the job -- would make his susceptible to just this kind of pressure."
What I want to know is what this pressure from Cheney, Miers, and Addington entailed. Were the lawyers under pressure to give whatever their legal advice was as quickly as possible? Or were they under pressure to give the administration the legal cover it wanted for its desired interrogation policy?

Peace and the Environment

Father Heines begins a series on peace with a post on the environment. He writes:
In the tradition, creation is not just something “created.” Creation is understood as an on-going and living process. Only in this context can we appreciate the honor bestown upon it by St. Francis and other saints and theologians, including our current Holy Father who has drawn attention to this issue by, well, paying attention to this issue.

All of creation is a living and breathing work that redounds back to its creator. Its existence reflects two realities at least: the order of the universe lovingly planned, and the continued being of a universe, continually kept in existence by a loving will. When our twenty-first century consumeristic attitude comes into contact with certain revealed truths, such as the fact that creation is given for man’s use, it is a deadly coincidence. In our society use means ownership and disposability. Ergo, a certain fundamentalistic interpretation of this passage would mean (in our time, for even the language of fundamentalists is conditioned by the age in which they live), that God gave us the earth, the animals, the planet and we can dispose of them as we will.

It is for this reason the concept of stewardship is so very important. Jesus loved to use analogies involving major domos, of stewards, of those who were caretakers while the master was away. This image is far closer to that which we should possess than any other.

Now what does this have to do with peace? This image of creation speaks of balance. It speaks of harmony. It speaks of a certain necessary detachment, of a temporary state of being while here on this rental property called earth. Internalizing these ideas would forcibly evict other ideas which are firmly planted in our heads: ownership, control, power, manipulation. The whole basis of the stewardship idea is that we are given a time and a place in which to become. It is contingent, it is fleeting. It is given to us in trust and an accounting for it must be rendered.
The whole post is worth reading, as is the comment by Malignant Narcissism. I am reminded of Gandalf's statement to Bilbo that every wizard should have a hobbit in his care to teach him the meaning of the word. Hobbits are creatures at peace with their environment and, for the most part, with each other. Why? In part because they care for the Shire, for the environment, for the grass beneath their bear feet and the dirt and vegetables in their hands. Because of that care, they live in harmony with hills, the trees, and the water. Well, not the water so much. When Saruman comes, he disrupts the peace of the Shire not only by enslaving the hobbits, but also by destroying the land, which was in a sense even worse. Peace couldn't fully return to the Shire until the land had healed.

Living up to Death

Charles Reagan reviews Living up to Death by Paul Ricoeur:
This is a strange book requiring a strange review. It is the publication of some of Paul Ricoeur's previously unpublished writing, which he himself did not intend to publish. The first part of the book comes from notes he made in 1995-96 on the topic of death. After they were written, they were left in a folder and he never returned to them again. In the second part of the book are some of the "fragments" he wrote during his last days, mostly brief reflections on topics which preoccupied him such as life and death, Christianity, his faith and his philosophy, the Bible, his friend Jacques Derrida and resurrection.
H/T: Farhang Efrani

A Fragment on Alterity

We Catholics talk a lot about truth, and we do so with good reason. Lately though, I written a lot more about something called alterity, a word a friend of mine thinks I made up. I’d love to take the credit, but I didn’t come up with the concept.

My fascination with alterity might raise a suspicious eyebrow here or there, for normally one hears the word alterity while treading those treacherous and poisonous swamps where dwell the dreaded deconstructionists, postmodernists, and other subversive philosophers. Yes, I admit, without reservation and without apology, that I frequent the company of these supposed enemies of truth. Indeed, they’re my kind of thinkers—they think about alterity. A lot.

Brian Treanor defines alterity as “that aspect of things, and others, that is (absolutely) unfamiliar, alien, or obscure.” Alterity refers to that to which we have no clear or direct access. Alterity itself cannot be spoken or heard, written or read. It is something that words and other human constructs cannot express.

I remember once looking into my brother’s face and being struck with the sudden realization that I did not know who he was. I had my idea of who he was, an idea that I think was basically true, but in that moment his face revealed to me the truth that I could never exhaust the full meaning of my brother. No amount of words could ever encapsulate him. There would always be something inexpressibly other in him. In this encounter with my brother, I experienced that which was familiar and unfamiliar, known and alien, clear and obscure. I experienced sameness and alterity.

Philosophers of alterity are sometimes accused of being enemies of true philosophy, villains intent on destroying tradition and truth. These philosophers don’t seem interested in the pursuit of truth or holding tight to what we know, but instead seem almost obsessed with pointing out the cracks in the road or that what we think we grasp eludes our knowledge. They don’t often write books about Truth, Goodness, or Beauty, but rather texts about what is otherwise than these things. They spend more time deconstructing than constructing or reconstructing. I more or less agree with these observations, but not with the conclusion that these thinkers are therefore enemies to be feared.

Generally speaking, these philosophers are not motivated by a passion for destruction or an obsession with our limitations. They are rather intent on affirming alterity. Whereas a metaphysician, for example, may look for the right words to describe Being, a philosopher of alterity seeks to keep the other as otherwise than being.

Instead of seeing these philosophers as enemies of truth, we might view them as having a different philosophical vocation. They respond to something other than the call of Being.


Operation Follicle Freedom

Father Timothy Heines is having way too much fun at my expense.

Corrupting the Youth

While my wife is insanely busy trying to teach our son good manners, a sense of right and wrong, and that actions have consequences, I'm wasting time giving him naughty philosophical books to read:

Yes, I know, I'm so going to burn.

Words, Words, Words

E.D. Kain defends the less/fewer distinction and the capacity of the English language to evolve. I liked this paragraph very much:
So I say the more the merrier when it comes to this glorious English language of ours. I want all sorts of words. Let’s make them up. Let’s steal them from other languages. Let’s give them new meanings. Let’s give them old meanings. Let’s give them double and triple meanings. Let’s spell them with lots of silent letters.
It is not at all surprising that E.D. enjoys good fantasy literature, a genre in which creative wordsmithing regularly goes into hyperdrive. I can think of no fantasy author, and maybe no author period, who more merrily made up, stole, and gave meanings to words better than J.R.R. Tolkien.

Time to Gain Some Weight

"Daddy, I'm sleepy. May I rest my head on your bony shoulder?"

So says my son to me this morning.

Remember the Beanie Babies

I got my first job in 1996 while in high school, and I kept it through my college years. I have a lot of fond memories of working under the golden arches. Some days of the week I would open the restaurant and arrive at 4:00 in the morning; other days I would close and leave at 2:00 a.m. When the place was already exceedingly messy at day’s end, we’d occasionally engage in some late night food fights. My specialty was filling one palm with hot fudge, the other with hot caramel, and attacking the face and hair. Of all the memories, though, none return to me as frequently as those few occasions we sold Teenie Beanie Babies in the happy meals.

Whenever I hear the word consumerism I recall arriving at McDonald’s, two hours before we opened, to see cars already lining up in the drive-thru. I think of the drive-thru line a couple hours later, stretched out of the parking lot and down the street a couple blocks. I remember the police soon coming to direct traffic.

During the Beanie Babies promotion, we couldn’t distinguish rush hours from regular hours. There was no down time. From opening to closing, the lobby was packed with people, most of them more intent on acquiring every Beanie than on getting any particular meal. When customers came through drive-thru at midnight and ordered several happy meals with cokes, we knew the order wasn’t for their kids.

We sold each Beanie type until we ran out of it, then we started selling the next toy. Duck, then goldfish, then turtle, etc. We’d usually get through a few different stuffed toys in a day. A customer could probably have stopped in at morning, noon, and night and have been able to buy each of the toys, but some really devoted customers, unwilling to take any chances, would stay whole days. It was surreal seeing the same faces first thing in the morning that we’d seen the previous night when we locked the doors.

These really devoted customers would wait in line for the 45 minutes it took to get from the back to the front. If, when they arrived at the register, we were selling the next toy, they would purchase it and happily return to the back of the line or sit down for a short break. If we were still selling a toy they had already obtained, they would likewise return to the back, hopeful that when they reached the front again we would be on the next toy. I sometimes felt as though I should pour libations over each new box of beanies I opened.

The phone rang non-stop. We eventually stopped answering it – doing so was a full-time job – and recorded an answering machine message explaining what Beanie we were currently selling. Occasionally, to lighten the mood, we recorded fake mocking messages full of profanity. I’m not sure if customers accidently heard any of those. I’m sure we wouldn’t have cared.

Sure, I had my obsessions as well, so I can’t be too hard on the collectors. Around the time of the Beanie Babies promotion, I spent every waking hour not at work immersed in Final Fantasy VII, avidly intent on getting every last item and character ability. But I didn’t spend a ludicrous number of hours waiting in line to purchase the game!