Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Babylonian Puppet Shows and Thought-Terminating Clichés

Have you ever wondered if people who create memes are in some kind of competition to produce thought-terminating clichés? I recently saw a someecard written by a petulant unbeliever: “I don’t need your Babylonian puppet show to tell me to share with others. I learned that from Sesame Street™.”

Okay, smartass. Where did the writers and creators of Sesame Street learn it from?

What’s the Right Question?

If Christ was and is who we Catholics believe him to be, it shouldn’t be surprising that the natural order or that evolution would produce in us a moral need to be nice to each other.[*] It shouldn’t be surprising that some idea of justice, mercy, benevolence, and every other common moral imperative should manifest in other cultures. Jesus didn’t come primarily to be an ethical philosopher; God is the ultimate Source of all natural ethoi.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that you could learn from Sesame Street what the Church has taught for a couple of millennia, and the Jews taught for centuries before us. Nor should it be surprising that the Church teaches some moral principles other religions teach. In that much, it shouldn’t surprise us that some things Jesus taught weren’t “original” … save in that the Logos is the Origin. It surprises me that some would find his “unoriginality” significant.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ask Tony: A feast for Mary Magdalene?

Blavatskaya, Mary Magdalene.
(Image source DeviantArt.net)
On June 10, the Congregation for Divine Worship released a document raising the liturgical observance of St. Mary Magdalene’s traditional day from a memorial to a feast. Released along with it is an accompanying letter, Apostle to the Apostles, over the signature of the secretary of the congregation, Abp. Arthur Roche. Now would be a good time to explain who she is in the Catholic tradition, and why the Holy See has taken such an extraordinary step.

Who was Mary Magdalene?

“Mary” (Heb. Miriam, Aram. Maryam, Gr./L. Maria) was a common name among the Judeans, and due to the influence of both the Blessed Mother and the Magdalene would be common in Christian lands for the next twenty centuries. (Maryam is also frequent among Moslems, among whom the Blessed Virgin Mother is honored.) So in the New Testament there is a surfeit of women named Mary, not always kept distinct from each other.

There are two locations named “Magdala” in Talmud: one in the east on the River Yarmouk near the modern town of Umm Qais, the other on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, abandoned just prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, near the town of Migdal. Given the number of Galileans among Jesus’ disciples, Mary most likely came from the latter.

We know very little about Mary’s story. According to Luke, Mary joined Jesus’ ministry early. He tells us that “seven demons had gone out from” her, indirectly attributing it to Jesus, and that she was one of several women who accompanied Jesus and the apostles, “[providing] for them out of their means” (Luke 2:1-3) After the Easter narratives, Mary of Magdala drops out of the scriptural record.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Catholic Stand: Men and the Rape Conversation

Recent events in the story of convicted rapist Brock Turner force the conversation about rape into a deeper understand of this complicated subject. It is a multifarious conversation, touching upon sex, consent, sexual differentiation, women’s equality, and college campus culture, among other things. But in many respects, it is the wrong conversation, full of false assumptions and askew stereotypes. It is also a conversation from which, as I hope to make clear, men cannot and should not be excluded.

Men as Victims of Rape

Rape is commonly presented in the conversation as a “women’s problem”; that is, as a crime only women suffer and only men commit. Sixteen percent of women, according to statistics gathered last March, experience attempted or completed rape, as opposed to only 3% of men — at least as far as the sources know. An estimated 95% of rapes on campus, and 60% of rapes overall, are never reported. Whenever we discuss rape, we almost take it for granted that men are only raped in prison.

This trope is false and misleading. As Hanna Rosin reported in Slate a couple of years ago, sexual assault against men is vastly under-reported. Men are almost as often victims of sexual assault as are women, and women are very often the perpetrators. The 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey found that 38% of the incidents reported were against men. Because the U.S. military is predominantly male, it should be no surprise that more than half of military sexual-assault victims are men. Last year, Huffington Post ran an article detailing male experiences of sexual assault on campus; one advocate estimated that as many as 1 in 6 males are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.

Precisely because all forms of sexual assault are under-reported, it is impossible to say for certain whether proportionally fewer male victims than female victims report being raped. At least part of the under-reporting problem for men, though, is the cultural emphasis on alpha-male machismo: men are discouraged from “whining”, and expected — by both men and women — to shut up, “put on their big-boy britches,” and get over any problems they may have. Also, our culture takes it for granted that men are irresponsible about when, where, and with whom they have sex. We find it especially difficult to believe that a woman could force a man to have sex against his will, due to the assumption that rape must involve penetration of the victim by the assailant.

Under-reporting also diminishes our knowledge of the incidence of same-sex rape. According to Men Against Abuse Now (MAAN), being assaulted by another female, especially a partner, can be more traumatic for women “because of the levels of trust, attraction, and love involved.” Gay males have greater difficulty finding help because of “attitudes that gay men are promiscuous or that rape is something that only happens to women”. And a study done by the CDC in 2010 revealed that women tend to be more physically aggressive and controlling than men in intimate partnerships. In sum, women are not the only ones affected by rape in our society.

Read more at Catholic Stand!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Crazy He Calls Me 2 — The Liberals’ Turn

Back in November 2011, I reported on a paper by University of Tampa professor Marcus Arvan which, in the words of Allahpundit at HotAir, purported to find “‘significant’ correlations between key antisocial traits and bedrock conservative views, like opposition to gay marriage and support for capital punishment.” As I said at the time, “It’s a sad sign when progressivist advocates stoop to jury-rigging ‘scientific’ studies in order to write off the opposition as Machiavellian psychopaths.”

Four and a half years later — just as I was getting ready to believe it — comes Retraction Watch: “Researchers have fixed a number of papers after mistakenly reporting that people who hold conservative political beliefs are more likely to exhibit traits associated with psychoticism, such as authoritarianism and tough-mindedness.” (Arvan’s paper was not among them.) Now it appears that liberal political beliefs are linked with psychoticism, while neuroticism and “social desirability (falsely claiming that you have socially desirable qualities)” are linked to conservatives. It’s beginning to sound like a fourth-graders’ argument: “You’re a psycho!” “No, you’re the psycho!” And so on, ad nauseam.

But wait! There’s more!

We’re not clear how much the corrections should inform our thinking about politics and personality traits, however, because it’s not clear from the paper how strongly those two are linked. The authors claim that the strength of the links are not important, as they do not affect the main conclusions of the papers — although some personality traits appear to correlate with political beliefs, one doesn’t cause the other, nor vice versa. [Bold font mine.—ASL]

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Barbarians and Footballs and North Koreans (Oh My!)

Air Force officer with nuclear “football”.
(Image source: BusinessInsider.com.)

Football On My Mind

Yesterday, a Catholic Stand colleague posted on her Facebook status a cri de coeur over the general state of affairs. Early on, she wondered why so much activity was being devoted to arguments over the morality of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings when North Korea had just tested-fired a ballistic missile.

I must confess the answer should have been obvious to me right away. However, I’d had no sleep the night before. So it didn’t occur to me until I was on my way home from running an errand, half an hour later.

Think about who’s defending the bombings. Then think about the person to whom they want to give access to the “football” — the briefcase containing the nuclear launch codes that an Air Force officer always carries near the Commander in Chief — come next January. That’s why the argument is relevant today. That’s why you should be scared.

Those of us who came to our majority in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s ought to remember that we grew up in the shadow of “brinksmanship” and “mutual assured destruction” (the acronym, “MAD”, perfectly described the situation). We were fortunate to have civilian leaders who feared the possibility of having to give the “go” for launch, and who kept a communications line open between us and Moscow so that our President and the Soviet General Secretary could talk each other down from the ledge. We were fortunate that most of our leaders realized a victory in such a war could only be Pyrrhic; whatever would be left would not likely survive the following “nuclear winter”.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Taking Exception to an Experienced Writer’s Rules

A version of this post was originally published in January 2012.

The road to bad writing is paved with Experienced Writers’ rules. Developing a literary style is a long process with no real proven method to it; it takes guesswork, constructive criticism, and a bit of an ear for poetry. Suggestions from established writers are generally helpful. However, every now and again, an Experienced Writer will try to impose on others a set of rules that are almost guaranteed to generate bland, undistinguished prose.

For example: About three years ago, Grammarly.com published a meme titled, “How to Write Good”, by Frank L. Visco, listing 23 rules that Visco said he’d learned in “several years in the word game”. Let’s go through them, shall we?

  1. Avoid Alliteration. Always: If you’re going to alliterate that badly, by all means, refrain. Starting three successive words with the same letter is bad alliteration. However, Anglo-Saxon poetry was highly alliterative, and Shakespeare was a master of distributing alliterative sounds. Trust your ear.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with: This is the sort of absolute rule up with which no one should put.
  3. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.): Okay, I’ll give him this one.
  4. Employ the vernacular: I think he means that polysyllabic words are pretentious and obfuscatory. Alas, unless he’s truly concerned that people might write essays in Latin, Cherokee, or Hindi for publication in English-language media, his choice of vernacular is singularly unfortunate (see No. 21 below).

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bolton’s Hiroshima Defense Worst Kind of Patriotism

Pres. Barack Obama embraces survivor of Hiroshima bomb.
(Source: AP/Toledo Blade.)
The bromide tells us that “hindsight is always 20/20.” Well, perhaps individual humans can objectively recognize mistakes they made in  their pasts as individuals. But when it comes to history, hindsight is often just as myopic as foresight, as public discussion over Pres. Barack Obama’s apologetic non-apology at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park so tellingly demonstrates.

The President’s Highest Duty

Example: In the New York Post this last Thursday, former UN ambassador John Bolton (who, I am shocked to discover, is an executive with the American Enterprise Institute) defended the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “An American president’s highest moral, constitutional and political duty is protecting his fellow citizens from foreign threats,” Bolton declaims with a patriotic consequentialism verging on moral imbecility. “Presidents should adhere to our values and the Constitution, and not treat America’s enemies as morally equivalent to us. If they do, they need not apologize to anyone.”

Pearl Harbor was “a date which will live in infamy,” in Roosevelt’s words. Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) came after four years of brutal war and a desperate race against Nazi and Japanese efforts to develop atomic weapons. We won the race, and Truman acted decisively and properly to end the war.

Truman understood that not using the atom bombs would have condemned millions of service members to death or debilitating injury. Japanese resistance grew significantly as US forces neared Japan, and, expecting fanatical Japanese resistance, American military planners repeatedly increased projected US casualties. The calculus could not have been clearer.

This isn’t the first time Bolton has publicly defended the bombings. In 2001, while an Undersecretary of State, he published an essay in Duke Law School’s Law and Contemporary Problems arguing that the US should not be a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, arguing that a “straightforward reading” of the statutes’ language would leave the US open to charges of war crimes for its bombing campaign of Germany and Japan. “A fortiori, these provisions seem to imply that the United States would have been guilty of a war crime for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is intolerable and unacceptable.”

Friday, May 27, 2016

Interlude: The Shepherd and the Stranger

Image source: raykliu.wordpress.com.
Now there was in that same country a shepherd abiding in the fields, keeping watch over his flock one day. Suddenly a stranger appeared unto him, driving up the road toward him in a brand-new BMW. The stranger stopped his car and stepped out of it carrying an iPad, which he began to play with.

The shepherd approached and said, “Say, that’s a nice car. And a nice gadget.”

The stranger replied, “Yep. And I’m a whiz with this iPad, my friend. In fact, I’ll make a bet with you. If I can tell you how many sheep you have on this hillside, will you give me one of them?”

A little bemused, the shepherd said, “Okay, I guess.”

Friday, May 6, 2016

Why You Should Vote Third-Party

So, have you read Matt Walsh’s spittle-flecked nutty in The Blaze? If not, let me give you the quick-’n-dirty on it: Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, so Walsh is quitting the party. That’s it, stripped of all the Sturm und Drang worthy of a Hollywood diva.

What a Primary Season!

I quit the Republican Party a couple decades ago. Even back then, it seemed the GOP’s sole interest was in punishing poor people and returning us to a laissez-faire economy under the guise of saving taxpayer dollars, working just hard enough for pro-life initiatives to keep the “values voters” in their camp. Despite all the press ballyhoo about the “Religious Right”, there was nothing really religious about Republicans save in their devotion to Mammon.

Nevertheless, I never predicted that the GOP, the Party of Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, and Reagan, would devolve so far as to become an inept, mindless pack of howler monkeys who couldn’t pick a suitable candidate if God Himself told them who to vote for.

Yesterday, a Republican in Indiana told the media she’s voting for Trump because he’s a “different kind of liar.” The day before, Cruz attempted to have a reasoned dialogue with a couple of Trump supporters who responded to all of the senator’s arguments by shouting slogans and pumping their fists. Trump fans perform even less admirably in cyberspace, where an impassioned collection of anti-Semites and white nationalists work tirelessly to confirm every negative and cartoonish stereotype liberals have ever concocted about Republicans.

For awhile, the Democrat primaries were actually interesting to watch. For a few months, it looked like the Dems actually had some steel in their spines and wouldn’t just lay down for Hillary Clinton to walk all over them. That is, it was interesting until it became clear even to hopelessly romantic dummies like me that the Democrat primary system was rigged from the beginning to produce a Clinton nomination. Now it’s become a dreary exercise in waiting for Bernie Sanders to throw in the towel.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Postscript: Voris, Victims, and Witch Trials

Scene from Columbus State University production of
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. (Image © CSU.)
Yesterday, in this blog, I published a post in which I took exception to Michael Voris’ brief but startling allegation that the Archdiocese of New York was seeking to discredit himself and Church Militant. Voris’ charge was based “on very good authority from various sources”, sources whose names and credentials Voris didn’t reveal. Since I’ve reported on at least two incidences in which third parties used journalists to smear others by remote, I questioned Voris’ prudence in naming the archdiocese without qualification, especially as the charge necessarily implicates the Archbishop of New York, Cdl. Tim Dolan.

Clerical Skullduggery

A friend of mine, to whom I’ll simply refer as “Valeria”, disagrees with my assessment. Voris’ statement, Valeria says, is “hauntingly familiar”, because she and her family has had an unpleasant experience (putting it mildly) with her local bishop and diocese, about which legal counsel has suggested she reveal little and with great circumspection. Valeria therefore wholeheartedly supports Voris, as have others. “As much as people wish to believe that the Church is infallible,” Valeria told me, “people are not, and thus a significant number of the clergy openly choose to lie and discredit the innocent to protect their mission.”

Agreed once, a thousand times agreed. It would be nice if all our shepherds were honest, wise, good, sane, and zealous for the faith. Unfortunately, just the last fourteen years by themselves have illustrated in sordid Technicolor the fact that the clergy are all too human … that they can be crooks, fools, liars, cowards, and sociopaths just like any one of us. And while in strict justice we’re entitled to leaders who live the gospel message with integrity, if we’re paying attention to our own doctrine, we realize that the hierarchy will have weeds among the wheat just as will the laity (cf. Matthew 13:24-30).

(I can’t help thinking about the elderly Irish monsignor Fr. Andrew M. Greeley once quoted: “Faith, the Bark of Peter must be divine, else we boys would have kicked the bottom out long ago.” Or the reaction of one French cardinal to Napoleon’s claim that he would destroy the Church: “Absurd. We’ve been trying for several centuries to do so without success.”)

However, it’s precisely because of stories like Valeria’s, or the Boston boys abused by the late Fr. John Geoghan, or any other number of stories, that we’re primed to give credence to charges of clerical skullduggery even before the evidence is out in the open. And, unfortunately, malicious people take advantage of this predisposition. For instance, Dave Pierre of The Media Report has spent several years documenting false abuse claims made against priests … claims that, in the wake of the “Long Lent” of 2002, were given automatic credence precisely because the accused were priests.