Sunday, July 30, 2006

NWW mooving to Wordpress

I might as well make it official...

North Western Winds is moving to Wordpress fulltime.

You're all invited to visit me at:

Let's get things rolling!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

New posts

I am beginning to think seriously about making Wordpress my new home. If you are looking for new NWW material that will be the place to look - for now.

I still have a few questions to have answered before I commit, but I am leaning that way. In the meantime I'm learning by doing, and that means "doing" over there.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


My move to Mac has been very happy except for two issues - gaming and blogging. For websurfing and multimedia, a Mac is of course a terrific machine.

Games on the Mac platform are often ports of games made for the larger PC market and that means a Mac gamer will have to wait for the port. I'm not a heavy gamer by any means but I am very happy that the Mac port of Civilization 4 is finally here. Well, my copy isn't here quite yet - but it has been ordered and ought to be here soon.

The blogging issue is more complicated. I'm not fond of writing my posts in a browser window. This goes back to when I was first blogging and I lost one or two large posts into the ether. After that I moved to w.bloggar - a great little app that let me compose on my desktop and then click send when all was said and done. I have not been able to recreate that experience on my Mac, and not for a lack of trying! I looked at Marsedit, but that forces you to compse while staring at a bunch of HMTL code. No thanks, sometimes my own philosophical code is about all I can handle. I had high hopes of using the Mail program, which has a very nice interface. However - it generates a slew of formating code that plays havoc with my posts, and as the icing on the cake the links it creates disappear when posting. Performancing, the Firefox extention, is pretty slick, but is a browser window and that raises the save file isssue. I also looked at Nvu, the open source HTML composer that had it's origins in the Mozilla suite. That might be promising in the future but right now it's a bit slow and I don't know what information FTP wants in order to let me use it.

There is also the issue of some frustration that I have had with blogger over the years - lost posts, template corruption and the like. I started to look around at other hosts and while I've made no decision yet, I find Wordpress intriguing. The templates look better to my eyes, and the posting / management interfce is certainly more sophisticated. Here is what I have created so far. I think it looks alright but it needs some images to give it some personality and life but I see no way to edit the template. I know some Wordpress blogs are customized but I suspect that these are running the software themselves. The documentation for Wordpress is extensive and I have not been able to sort this issue out yet and it is something that I need to resolve. If I move I plan to take my blogrolls with me and for that I'll need access to the template. At least, I think that's so.

I haven't yet tried using Mail to write to Wordpress. It would be great if that worked because in my efforts to use Mail I did manage to create an posting app with Automator. I suspect, however, that the browser window is the way of the future given all of the growth in web services we've seen in the last year.

Comments on Wordpress service would be most welcome. Perhaps someone can tell me why the Wordpress composer does not work in Safari or Camino, but does in Firefox. I know that Safari uses KHTML instead of Gecko, but Camino is Geko and it's no better.

Isn't technology grand!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Close the Windows on Eugenics

Here is another reason to stay away from Windows software - as if you needed another. This came out after Warren Buffett anounced he would give Bill Gates' charity a mountain of money:
Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, issued a statement pointing out Buffett's track record of supporting pro-abortion organizations and related projects in the developing world. He reported that Buffett's foundation also gave a grant to the U.S.- based Center for Reproductive Rights, which fought bans on partial- birth abortion, and Catholics for a Free Choice. "The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have also given millions of dollars to organizations pushing abortion around the world," Fr. Euteneuer reported.
I have no idea why Gates and Buffett support the organizations they do, but I suspect it might be something along these lines:
Nature is astonishingly cruel. Science, by contrast, has the power of mercy. One can only be dazzled by the inventiveness and compassion of the scientists involved in this [embryonic] screening breakthrough... Admittedly genetic screening means that embryos carrying disabilities and diseases will be discarded. It is a stretch, however, to use the word destroyed, or even killed, as the test is done on embryos that are only three days old. And what is appealing about this early screening is that it offers the hope that, in the foreseeable future, abortion and late abortion will be less frequently used in dealing with serious defects and disabilities. It will be easier and better in every way to get rid of a tiny collection of cells. This is indeed playing God, as all the usual campaigners were quick to point out last week. But what on earth is wrong with humans playing God? I am all for it, especially as God doesn't seem to be doing it.
This sort of muddle headed bafflegab is such a sickly sweet confection that it seems brains are not an adequate defense against it. Minette Martin, who wrote this in the Times UK, seems to think that an abortion performed on a embryo three days old is somehow - she does not explain how - not an abortion. She neglects to say at what point an abortion is in fact an abortion, or how she arrived at her conclusions. She goes on to disparage disabled people who point out that they are quite happy to be alive, even if the nature of their existence troubles Martin's conscience. Martin, for her part, tries to escape her disabled critics by saying that she thinks no less of them but if they were less than three days old, she'd flush them down the toilet and never think twice about it. So much for intellect uber alles. The bedrock of Martin's argument lies in the claim about the non human nature of the three day old embryo, but this is not a claim built on science. Martin, if she was truly a critical thinker, would know this.

This essay on Critical Thinking today observes that:

... we teach science as a collection of facts and theories about a certain category of phenomena, rather than as a set of principles for understanding the world. A course in "Science, Pseudoscience, and Anti-science" would stimulate broader critical thought than the typical Chemistry 101 class. But the problem is deeper than this. Full-blown critical thinking is not coterminous with good scientific thinking. Critical thought is the principles of scientific thought projected to the far reaches of everyday life, with all the attendant demands and complications. This expansive generalization of the scientific method is hardly spontaneous or self-evident for most people. Just as learning the truth about Santa does not shatter the typical child's credulous worldview, learning the principles of science can easily fail to fully penetrate the larger vision of science students-and indeed, of scientists. By themselves, science classrooms are poor competition for the powerful obstacles to highly developed critical thinking that reside in human social life and in the wiring of the human brain. ... It is naive to expect social-science education, natural-science education, or education in general-at least in their present forms-to elevate critical thinking to something more than a pedagogical fashion that everyone applauds but few conceptualize very deeply. This leaves the skeptical community. We identify ourselves as champions of science and reason. But this is a broad mandate. We should avoid concentrating our skepticism too narrowly on the realms of superstition, pseudoscience, and the supernatural-for the ultimate challenge to a critical thinker is posed not by weird things but by insidiously mundane ones. If we hope to realize the promise of critical thought, it is important that skeptics affirm a multidimensional definition of critical thinking -- reasoning skills, skeptical worldview, values of a principled juror -- that exempts no aspect of social life.
This is all well and good. I endorse a good deal of what Howard Gabennesch has written here, and I'm heartened to see that he's broadened the circle of his criticism to include things that seem obvious, or which the culture has glommed onto. Unlike Gabennesch, however, I do not think there is a neutral ground from which to begin this process. One simply can't be skeptical about everything.To cite an obvious example in his essay, Gabennesch endorses Dawkins' three skeptical points:
1. Skeptics do not believe easily. They have outgrown childlike credulity to a greater extent than most adults ever do. 2. When skeptics take a position, they do so provisionally. They understand that their knowledge on any subject is fallible, incomplete, and subject to change. 3. Skeptics defer to no sacred cows. They regard orthodoxies as the mortal enemy of critical thought-all orthodoxies, including those that lie close to home.
Is there anything provisional in his endorsement of these points?

On the contrary, he is quite dogmatic in this "skeptic's orthodoxy". In number three especially, he's in the position of a doctor who needs to heal himself first. Since there is no obvious way to do this, I think it best to admit that one chooses to believe in capital T Truth and in rationality and all that is bundled up with it.

To bring us back to the beginning, one chooses to value human life. There is no intellectual proof for it. Because we choose to value human life, most of us would not agree to bomb a house if there might be someone inside it. Buffett, Gates and Martin have all avoided this non rational but still reasonable constraint by saying that they know the house is empty. Let's be real critical thinkers and ask how they know this to be true - ask them how it is that this is not a sacred cow or wishful thinking on their part. And if it is a sacred cow - one that competes with placing a high value on human life, why should we choose it when doing so places all of us at risk? A serious brain injury is not hard to come by.The stakes on this question are high. Let's not be hasty or sloppy in answering it; let's affirm that we stand behind one another as human beings. We hear it often enough, but the follow through is questionable. We need to be more critical not less, and really hear the arguments - even the one that gets maligned in most of the public press.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Little Big Town

I've been vocal here about how much I like iTunes. It lead me to my first Mac, after all. And that's all good - I love my Mac, and I'm very fond of the entire iLife suite. I do have a growing gripe with the iTunes country music selection here in Canada, however. I know that Americans have a much better selection that we do here because somehow or other I once found myself logged in as a Yank. That allowed me to view a cornucopia of songs and videos that I had not seen available before (and which I could not download). Example... Little Big Town has been on the airwaves around here for months and for months I've been waiting to downlowd a copy of their second recording. What's worse is that I check for what's new fairly often and too often there's nothing at all, or something old. I love a lot of the oldies (Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys rocks the house) but not everything that's old is golden. A wider selection is a must going forward. Maybe the recent contract settlement with the some of the record labels will spur things along. If you haven't had the chance to check out Little Big Town yet, you can see them performing on this site at AOL. Check them out! Great harmonies and great songs! If you have time for only one song, make it "Boondocks." As of tonight, the record is visible on iTunes, but it has no content. With any luck that will be fixed very soon.

Monday, May 29, 2006

There's still no free lunch

Here, Nicholas Carr explains why Google and Yahoo have an active interest in subsidizing the creation of free internet content:
The enforcers of the new model are the search-based ad-placement services, mainly, at the moment, Google and Yahoo. Their business comes down to scale - in particular, the overall scale of internet use. To expand the scale of use, they want to ensure that there's as much content as possible available on the internet for free. Think about it. Every piece of content - indeed, every service - on the internet is simply a complement to these companies' ad placement business (and the underlying search business). It's thus in their interest to drive the price of those complements down as far as possible, preferably to zero. Subscription pricing, and any other barrier to the free availability of online content and services, is anathema to them because it necessarily constrains the use of the internet. I am not criticizing these companies. I am simply pointing out that they are very powerful presences on the internet and that their core business turns all other web businesses into, in their view, complements that should be free. For Google and Yahoo, the so-called "gift economy" is indeed a gift.
This is, of course, why they fund programs like Performancing and services like Blogger.

Tanstaafl lives on, even in Web 2.0.


This is a test post to see how's new blogging extention for Firefox performs. It's called Performancing and it allows for posting from within Firefox. It works on the Mac just fine, even if it has an interface that is reminiscent of MS Word for Windows. My first impression is that this is a very good idea. It seems to be integrated with Technorati, allowing you to quickly pull up information about the current website - likely the one you're blogging about. There is also a tab for del icio us (which I don't use). If I could change one thing about this program, it would be to make the editor appear as a tab. As it stands now, it's awkward to get the composer window out of the way so that you can refer back to the web page at hand.

powered by performancing firefox

Saturday, May 27, 2006

DVD libraries

What sort of criteria do you use in forming a personal library of DVDs?

Do you think a library like that is a waste of time, since you only need to see a movie once? Or do you think a personal copy of your favourites might be a fun thing on a rainy night? If you have children a library for them might make good sense as a way to reduce rental costs and keep them away from less savoury fare. DVDs might also be useful to you as training materials, for excersize of language training, perhaps.

I don't fall into any of those categories, but I do think a few good choices are fun to have around the house. Here are some of the things I think about before making a purchase.

First, since I think this is a very frivolous purchase, it has to be cheap. Usually that will mean previously viewed copies that sell for well under $20 Canadian. Around $10 is the sweet spot, if I can get it.

Then, it has to be a movie that I think has a much better than average chance that I will sit down and watch it again. This is where things begin to get tricky.

What will lead me to watch a movie more than once? Certain genres are dead in the water as far as I'm concerned. Teen age comedies and horror flicks are to be avoided like the plague. So are musicals, because I simply hate them. There are very few well made comedies, so I'm seldom drawn in that direction.

Drama is my bread and butter, and there are two things above all that will make a film leap out for me. One is that the story simply has to be good, and not trite. Oh look, here's another film about the false idol of marriage and life in America. ** Snork **, whatever. American Beauty would be a stellar example. Crash is a better vehicle for this kind of tale it but has so much swearing in it that I would not want it in my house. Action movies tend to have very weak stories and be vehicles for stunt-work and effects; as a result they bore me to tears. Stories don't have to be original. Look, there are only so many story forms. What it must do is make me willing to overlook - or, if it is very good - to temporarily lose sight of the form.

Anytime we're dealing with film and moving images, we also expect those images to be at the very least interesting. Ideally they will be arresting. That doesn't mean bloody, explosive or sexual. Those things tend to make me feel exploited as a viewer, as if somehow this was the only way I could be captivated and entertained.

I like a film to treat the screen like a canvas and to fill it with rich imagery of the sort that don't get to see a lot of in day to day life. I love historical settings, when attention is paid to the costumes and the details of day to day life in strange times and places. Memoirs of a Geisha, for example, is a rich film in this regard, and it also has a good story. Ridley Scott can usually be counted on to make stunning visual films. Kingdom of Heaven is gorgeous to look at, for example. The story isn't terrible but it isn't quite up to the level of the visuals. (The stills above are from a HD Kingdom of Heaven clip on the Apple website. I used Quicktime to capture them; clicking on them should give you the full image.)

It's probably my fondness for films that look good that prevents me from having much affection for older film, despite the fact that a lot of them have stories I might like. Most films before the 1970's have cameras that are too static. The look like they are filming a theatrical production, with the odd close up of an actor's face thrown in. And while I might be willing to overlook this flaw on occasion - for Alfred Hitchcock, for example - as a general rule the oldies are a wasteland.

Today's picks (it's not like I do this often) were:

Pride and Prejudice, the recent version with Kiera Knightly. This is a great story and gorgeous cinematography make this the one I was looking for for weeks. Finally got a copy today.

Walk the Line. I really enjoyed this one. The acting is very strong and the music is wonderful. I don't have a copy of Ray, but it's also one that I would consider.

An Unfinished Life. This one stars Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jenifer Lopez. Rebecca and I saw it a while back and enjoyed the rustic life it portrayed, and the enduring friendship portrayed by Redford and Freeman. Lopez was ok.

The one the got away: Memoirs of a Geisha.

Still on the lookout and losing hope: Kingdom of Heaven.

Outside chances: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (best in the series thus far); Last of the Mohicans, and Minority Report. These just happen to available to me at the moment and since I didn't get them today, odds are I won't.

DVD gripe zone: Why do film makers insist on releasing DVD's that force you to sit through previews and ads? I'm just going to turn the sound down and make popcorn anyway. Idiots. The menu system exits for these kinds of things and you go and disable it so five years from now people will still be forced to find a way around your hopelessly dated ad.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Technical note

As you can see, I am trying to pull this blog together after some down time. I'm trying to post more regularly and made some changes to the template, to make it more reflective of what I'm reading currently. I am still having some technical problems, however, so your patience (and advice!) is appreciated.
I'm still trying to settle on what to use for post composition. Using Pages was Ok, but somehow or other my links seemed to get lost on the way to the blogger servers. I'm now using Apple's Mail client, which is pretty good, but it seems to be struggling with formating. It seems to generate a lot of HTML code when text is posted, especially when I quote text from outside sources. To try and get around that, I've switched to forcing Mail to use "plain text" in the composer. That ought to help a lot. If you are seeing things like gigantic text or other really weird bits of formatting, do let me know. As far as I can see, republishing the post via blogger's composer window fixes most of the anomalies that I see on first posting from Mail. If it does not, I will probably revert to using G-mail and simply saving a copy of longer posts in a Pages file for safekeeping.
In addition, when I made some updates to the template on the weekend blogger managed to cut off the end of the document, leaving the right column truncated. It's not that serious as I was paring it down anyway, but it looks odd at the moment. If I get some time I will try and straighten that out.
It may not sound like it, but I am getting more proficient with the Mac everyday. Finding out where all the cool kids hang out sure does help. Here are some resources that have come in handy:
The Apple site itself is useful, of course, but it does not seem to carry links to much in the way of free-ware.
On the book side of things, I've finally started one I have long been meaning to start - Victor Reppert's C.S. Lewis' Dangerous Idea. Since Lewis has been influential on me, and since I also have a copy of Dennet's Darwin's Dangerous Idea from a few years ago, this ought to be interesting. If it is, it will find its way here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The philosophy of Happiness

Here's romp through three articles that take on the subject of human happiness - and why Liberal notions of what that is will make you miserable.
First, this WAPO review looks at a new book on Benedict Spinoza. The book claims Spinoza as an important forerunner of the kind of Liberty that would be made famous by books like JS Mills' famous tome.
Spinoza recognizes that he needs what he himself calls his "cumbersome, geometric order." People, he shows, are constantly being led astray by the randomness of their sensual experience, by their imaginations and passions. Only mathematics provides a model for conclusions that cannot be refuted, that are either right or wrong: "I will write about human beings as though I were concerned with lines and planes and solids."
Surprisingly, the Ethics opens by establishing basic truths about God and nature. Everything that exists is part of the single substance of the deity, who, in fact, is identical with Nature, or as Spinoza invariably writes "God, or Nature." Because everything is inherent in God eternally, there are no goals or ends for man or the universe. As Matthew Stewart says in The Courtier and the Heretic (Norton), a highly recommended new biographical study of Spinoza and Leibniz, "To the fundamental question -- what makes us special? -- Spinoza offers a clear and devastating answer: nothing."
Nihilism isn't a promising beginning for finding out what makes people happy. Spinoza's mistake - and it's repeated in much Liberal thought - is that he can put his heart to one side and simply muscle his way into Nirvana with his brain. Of course, relying on one's brain is an act of faith, so one hasn't really discarded faith after all. All that's really accomplished is here is closing one eye and wondering why you can't read twice as fast. I think that lopsided outlook is likely what leads Spinoza to fail to differentiate God from nature as well, and this leads to a whole mess of problems not relevant here. (And why on earth is is surprising to begin a book on ethics by sketching ontology and epistemology? Where else would you start?)
Jumping to our own period, The Toronto Star recently carried this story about a team at Harvard studying - what else? - happiness. They find that most of us do a very poor job of predicting what will make us happy or sad in the future:
The Harvard researchers have also done extensive interviews with sports fans who just know they'll never smile again if their team loses but, of course, recover speedily after a loss.
"The human brain mispredicts the sources of its own satisfaction," Gilbert says, "and the reason is that we fail to understand how quickly we will adapt to both positive and negative events. People are consistently surprised by how quickly the abnormal becomes normal, the extraordinary becomes ordinary. When people say I could never get used to that, they are almost always wrong."
Gilbert believes we have an emotional immune system that helps us regain our equilibrium after catastrophic events.
"The studies of Holocaust survivors are clear - most went on to lead happy and productive lives," he says.
These findings brought to my mind almost immediately the terrible Teri Schaivo story of last year. I talked to a lot of people on the net about that and lost track of how many of them told me they supported Terri's "right to die" because they thought that no one could ever be happy in that condition. Even if it were possible, they said, it was extraordinarily unlikely. I didn't think so then, and I certainly don't think so now. I also don't think babies can be aborted because the parents can't buy clothes from Baby Gap. A centered person knows that this has nothing to do with happiness. The Liberal, on the other hand, sees someone contemplating doom and despair and offers the equivalent of a shrug. "It's up to you," they'll say, as if they were heroic or something.
The Star article goes on:
Is there a better way to predict what will make us happy than using our imagination?
"Yes," says [Gilbert], "but no one wants to use it. It's called surrugation, and it circumvents biases and errors. If you want to know how happy you'll be if you win the lottery, ask a lottery winner — it's a mixed blessing. Will having children make you happy? Observe people who have them."
People discount this approach because of what Gilbert calls "the myth of fingerprints."
"Most of us have the illusion of uniqueness," he says. "We believe that other people's reactions won't tell us about our likes and dislikes. But we are remarkably similar. We share the same biology, and others' experiences can teach us a great deal about our own.
"As long as we maintain our illusions about our uniqueness, we will continue to ignore information that's in front of our noses."
I see in this an affirmation that it is right to take important clues about moral ups and downs from the community that we are in, provided that that community has a tradition of affirming everyone's right to a respectable place in the social fabric. The record will likely not be perfect, but then kids don't sing opera on day one either. Our everyday "sensual experiences" are not random, as Spinoza contended, they are rooted in social traditions and norms that survive only because they are well adapted. Thus they do not deserve the scorn Liberals direct at them. They keep us connected and keep us from drifting into into billions of isolated islands when we are a human pangea of past, present and future.
Roger Scruton puts it like this in the WSJ:
Taking On Liberty and Principles together we find, in fact, a premonition of much that conservatives object to in the modern liberal worldview. The "harm" doctrine of On Liberty has been used again and again to subvert those aspects of law which are founded not in policy but in our inherited sense of the sacred and the prohibited. Hence this doctrine has made it impossible for the law to protect the core institutions of society, namely marriage and the family, from the sexual predators. Meanwhile, the statist morality of "Principles" has flowed into the moral vacuum, so that the very same law that refuses to intervene to protect children from pornography will insist that every aspect of our lives be governed by regulations that put the state in charge.
Mill famously referred to the Conservative Party as "the stupider party," he being, from 1865, a member of Parliament in the Liberal interest. And no doubt the average Tory MP was no match for the brain that had conceived the "System of Logic"--an enduring classic and Mill's greatest achievement. Yet Mill suffered from the same defect as his father. He never understood that wisdom is deeper and rarer than rational thought. He never understood that the intellect, which flies so easily to its conclusions, relies on something else for its premises. Those conservatives who upheld what Mill called "the despotism of custom" against the "experiments in living" advocated in "On Liberty" were not stupid simply because they recognized the limits of the human intellect. They were, on the contrary, aware that freedom and custom are mutually dependent, and that to free oneself from moral norms is to surrender to the state. For only the state can manage the ensuing disaster.

The German Child and other jokes

This Guardian article, by an English stand up comic on his work experiences in Germany, was unusual in that it managed to be funny and fascinating at the same time.
Here is a snippet that begins with a joke:
An English couple have a child. After the birth, medical tests reveal that the child is normal, apart from the fact that it is German. This, however, should not be a problem. There is nothing to worry about. As the child grows older, it dresses in lederhosen and has a pudding bowl haircut, but all its basic functions develop normally. It can walk, eat, sleep, read and so on, but for some reason the German child never speaks. The concerned parents take it to the doctor, who reassures them that as the German child is perfectly developed in all other areas, there is nothing to worry about and that he is sure the speech faculty will eventually blossom. Years pass. The German child enters its teens, and still it is not speaking, though in all other respects it is fully functional. The German child's mother is especially distressed by this, but attempts to conceal her sadness. One day she makes the German child, who is now 17 years old and still silent, a bowl of tomato soup, and takes it through to him in the parlour where he is listening to a wind-up gramophone record player. Soon, the German child appears in the kitchen and suddenly declares, "Mother. This soup is a little tepid." The German child's mother is astonished. "All these years," she exclaims, "we assumed you could not speak. And yet all along it appears you could. Why? Why did you never say anything before?" "Because, mother," answers the German child, "up until now, everything has been satisfactory."
The implication of this fabulous joke is that the Germans are ruthlessly rational, and this assumption leaves us little room to imagine them finding time to be playful. But be assured, the German sense of humour not only exists, it actually flourishes, albeit in a form we are ill-equipped to recognise.
It seems to me that all of his observations are true. I'm from a German family but was born and raised in an English country - Canada. English is not only my first language, it is what I studied in University. Germans do indeed have a very hard time with irony and double entendre and that probably goes a long way towards the English description of them as humourless. It must also play a role in the peculiar nature of German jokes. If you've listened to them in translation, or even if you read the ones at the end of the article, you'll know what I mean.
Our linguistic and cultural blinders are usually opaque to us; the blessing of the stranger is that he or she reveals them to us.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Beware the inquisition

The always erudite Wretchard quotes Andrew Sullivan and then goes on to note something interesting. First, Sullivan:
a follower of Opus Dei, Ruth Kelly, is now the Equality Minister in the Blair cabinet, bringing calls for removal from some gay groups. I think those groups are mistaken. Kelly has every right to her religious faith; and she has also publicly insisted that as a public servant, her first loyalty is to uphold the laws as they stand. That's exactly the right position; and exactly the right distinction between faith and politics.
Writes Wretchard:
One indicator of how much the early 21st century has come to resemble the era of religious wars is the revival in various guises of the concept of cuius regio, eius religio "a phrase in Latin that means 'whose rule, his religion'." The Free Dictionary notes that cuius regio eius religio forms the basis for state sponsored religions, and once granted that Political Correctness constitutes a religion in all but name it becomes apparent that all candidates for high or official positions will become subject to a doctrinal test. The Inquisition returns in its modern form, asking after Blasphemy and Witchcraft - put differently of course.
It is perfectly understandable that a democratic populace would want to be sure that members of its government will uphold the laws as they stand. That is what the Rule of Law is all about, after all. Yet surely this cannot be legitimately extended to mean that government members cannot argue for appealing or even repealing current laws. Nether can it be argued that some "sensitive issues" are simply beyond the reach of public debate. To do so would impoverish our democratic institutions and our understanding of the issue at hand. Such Democratic ghettos can't be the solution; this is the step to the unnamed state religion Wretchard notes above.
The only thing beyond debate is the Rule of Law itself - and, I argue, the inherent dignity of every human being. Bringing either of those into question is a recipe for disaster. Thankfully in Canada, no one is seriously questioning the rule of law. The Conservatives fiscal starving of the gun registry might be creative use of federal power, but the budget is fully within the legitimate powers of the government. The opposition could have failed to pass the budget but were unwilling to pay that price. That is their choice. As far as electoral abuses go, this is probably on shakier moral ground. Unless those involved stop hiding who they are by claiming to be "everyman".
If you're "everyman", who is your opposition? Power. This is delegitimization, pure and simple. Opposition to MP Emerson's crossing the floor will have to use legal means to bring about the changes it seeks, and that means any amendments will be too late to affect Emerson himself.
Of course, we still have a long way to go as regards the dignity of every human being.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Doctor, heal thyself

Spengler comes through with a colunmn on the anniversary of Freud's birthday that's definitely worth mulling over:
Having cured society of repression by making sexual pleasure a commodity, enlightened opinion is shocked, shocked to discover an epidemic of depression. In consequence some 70 million Americans have taken anti-depressants. Psychotropic drugs, I hasten to add, work miracles for many who suffer from imbalances of brain chemistry, and I mean no criticism of psychopharmacology in general. But the vast numbers involved suggest that a spiritual ailment is epidemic for which anti-depressants cannot be the solution. ...
Human beings are not beasts content with daily fodder and rutting in season. To be sentient is to be sentient of one's mortality. The status of wife and mother in a family within a community offers women an honored position and a link to the eternal. Sexual objectification leaves women with a foretaste of death, and it should be no surprise that Freud's program drives women into deadly behavior. It will take long and painful efforts to repair the damage, but putting a stake through the old reprobate's heart is not a bad way to begin.
I don't like the old coot either - meaning Freud, of course. Spengler I like just fine. The Left will say that I'm trying to force everyone into the same box, but that's not the case at all. It makes their job easier to paint me into that box, but that's about all it does. Of course not everyone wants to have a family. Some occupations and vocations are ill suited to it and make no mistake we need people to fill those roles. What I am saying is that more people want a happy home than can admit it publicly, and that's a situation that might be connected to depression, as Spengler contends. For most of us, a job will only be a job. Fulfillment - that comes from a safe place in a social web with ties to a future and a past. When you live in the moment, nothing ever blooms, because nothing is planted and tended.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Da Vinci: It bleats, it leads

The trouble with The DaVinci code is certainly this:

the fundamentals of the Christian creed can be summarized in a few sentences easily learned by schoolchildren and recited aloud from memory by the whole congregation on Sunday. They are great mysteries to be sure - Trinity, incarnation, redemption, salvation, crucifixion, resurrection - but they are simple enough to explain. Contrast that with the account Mr. Brown offers of a centuries-long fraud, sustained by shadowy groups, imperial politics, ruthless brutality and latterly revealed by a secret code "hidden" in one of the world's most famous paintings.

The Christian Gospel offers a coherent, comprehensible account of reality that invites the assent of faith. It requires a choice with consequences. Mr. Brown's dissent from Christianity offers a bewildering and incredible amalgam of falsehoods and implausibilities, painting a picture of a world in which the unenlightened are subject to the manipulations of the few. Call it paganism, Gnosticism, or simply hucksterism, but Mr. Brown is in a long, and occasionally lucrative, tradition.

My suspicion is that the popularity of The Da Vinci Code lies precisely in that it avoids putting the simple choice of faith before us - a choice that has consequences. It provides instead the comfortable paralysis of not being responsible; after all, if the whole religious architecture of the West is the mother of all frauds, what is left to do but simply go to the movies?

This is why I have no interest whatsoever in Dan Brown's book, or the movie. I've resolved this question am not interested in revisiting it. It's been done - and by better thinkers and writers than Brown and his Sony cohorts.
The trouble, however, is not limited to Father DeSouza's points. Catholic responses to the movie have been mixed, with too many simply condemning the film. It's possible that they are the only ones we see in the media coverage: ie. "it bleats, it leads". That is not the sort of coverage anyone needs. Even when you're right, you have a delimma: what are you going to do about it? The smarter response in any case is to invite discussion with people who are willing to at least hear. It has to be a given that people have questions. They don't have a firm grasp of theology (most of the time). They fear power and the claims of the Church really are breathtaking. So, invite them in and answer their questions as best you can. It is a pilgrim church, but it is also a teaching church. Burning the book - as I saw happened in at least one Italian town today - might be an emotional release for people who feel put upon, but the very last thing we want is for people on the fence on these issues to draw a parallel between our reaction to this controversy and, say, the Islamic reaction to the Danish cartoons. Present a coherent case and trust that most people will, in due time, come to see it. It's better to be talked about than ignored.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A bit more on the Mac

And Survivor stuff too!

I'm sorry that posting to this site has become such a rare event. As I've written here before, the time available for blogging is not what it was. The primary culprit remains that I'm missing about two hours plus out of my day, every workday. What free time I've had has gone into playing with the Mac. David Pogue's Missing Manual is my primary reading material again. It makes more sense now that I'm more familiar with the Mac interface, and it contains a lot more information that Leo LaPorte's book. LaPorte was great for an introduction but left too many side-roads unexplored. I wanna see everything! I'm that kind of guy.

I don't want to bore you with it, but...

Today I realized that OS X's "services" include the ability to send e-mails composed in programs other than Mail. Programs like Pages, for example. Pages is Apple's word processor and it's very pleasant to use. It's better than Blogger's compose window (anything is better than that), and better than G-mail's because it's less cluttered. Unlike Apple's Mail program, Pages will easily allow me to keep a copy of my postings on this computer. I can compose and format here, and call up services --> mail when I'm done. Presto, my post appears in Mail, needing only to be addressed to NWW.

I like it. I'm also (slowly) finding a few very handy keyboard shortcuts. Cut and paste were easy, and I finally figured out how to send my cursor to the beginning or end of a line (command arrow left or command arrow right) while editing. Add little command tab action for fast switching between apps and slowly getting a grip dealing on screen clutter and things are starting to come together. Hiding programs (command H) is brilliant, as is Expose.

Rebecca and I are also messing about with some of the iLife apps. Rebecca used iMovie, for example (or was it iDVD?), to create a slideshow for a church event. It was played on the DVD player there as a background for a social event. I upgraded to the full version of Quicktime, primarily so that I could copy HD video clips to this computer for future playback. They look terrific! I do wonder, though, if I am in fact seeing them in the full HD. Does anyone know if the iMac screen is capable of HD playback? To my eyes, the HD clips I downloaded from Apple look better than the DVDs I've viewed here.

And the Survivor stuff? Well, I won a pool at the office when Aras took the prize last night. I can't say that I particularly liked him. It's not that he is totally unlike-able, but he a couple of character flaws that did grate on me. Some of that is simply his youth, like when he berated Terry over the older man's take on the whole mother - wife issue. Frankly, Aras' looked and sounded every bit like a child during that exchange. Yer mum, kid, is a warm cocoon that you'll be very close to all your life, even after you've molted out of dependency on her. Yer wife is more like your left arm. You don't outgrow her. You might make headway on this issue if you get out of the basement and find yourself in a relationship that isn't based on depenency. I'm rather skeptical that an unearned million bucks to help you "find yourself" will help much. If he is not careful, Aras may in fact wind up with someone dependent on him. The taunts about Terry and women were a pathetic smear and only made Aras look like five year old who'd just learned a new taunt on the playground. Kinda like holding a hammer makes everything look like a nail.

Still, I have hope for Aras. I think he has potential.

The other choice in the final was much worse. Fake boobed, fork tongued Danielle was impossible to warm up to in any way. How can she ever have expected anyone to take her offers of alliance and reciprocity seriously when she never followed through? Every time it was her turn to return a favour, her response was "I have to see how this will play out for me. You understand, right? You'd do the same. It's only rational." Frankly my dear, this attitude is completely irrational. I know the game prompts you to break promises but the point here is to balance that off against the very human need to form and maintain reciprocal relationships. I'm not talking about contract law here, I'm talking about everyday life. Danielle was repulsive through most of the show and the fact that she only got two votes last night ought to hammer that home.

Both candidates displayed the unthinking narcissism that is the calling card of too many young adults. Displaying it is not the most horrible thing - after all, we have to grow out of it by seeking transformative experiences. Aras, bless him, did display some of that seeking, as did the tiresome Courtney. They tended to express it as seeking self fulfillment and perhaps that is understandable in our culture, a give me, I want, I need kind of culture. If you think I'm being too hard on them you have to understand that I'm not saying anything of them that I would not say of myself at that point in my life. I think that attending Mass every week has sharpened my thinking about my relationship to the community considerably. You have to give, sometimes without any realistic hope of getting anything back. You simply do it because it is right.

Courtney talked last night about how difficult situations can be gifts and in that she really was onto something. Giving without counting the cost is hard, as is learning to see all of the needs that cry out for us to respond to. Doing so leads to real personal growth, however. Unless Danielle realizes this, she will be a terrible candidate for someone’s wife. "Yes, know that I said for better or worse, in sickness and in health, but I'm really bored with you and I want a divorce. You understand, don’t you? Besides, I have better offers and I need to do what's best for me. And that cancerous lump of yours is so, like, gross. Ta!"


Hmm, it seems links created in Pages don't make the jump to Mail. Or something. I've no time to add them, sorry, but you can tell where the intended links are by the colour. At least the one added from within Mail still works. I'll work around that in the future.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"I'm a PC" "And I'm a Mac"

These new ads are great. I especially like the one about iLife, since iTunes was what lead me to take a long, hard look at what the Mac has to offer these days. For the record, while I have had apps crash on me in the week plus that I've been working on this thing, OS X hasn't gone down once. It hasn't even slowed down, indicating that it's time for a re-boot.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Working it out

It's been a busy week for me! Between longer work days and toying with the new Mac, the blog seems to have fallen out a bit. As mentioned, another problem has been losing the composition tool that I used to use (w.bloggar) on the PC. I realized some time in the middle of the week that I could use blogger's "publish by e-mail" feature, and, what's more, that I could send post in via G-mail. That means all my work could be done in one application. It also offers spell check and online backup of my posts. Very nice. Also, it was probably an obvious solution to many people long before I figured it out. Because I've been so busy, I've just now gotten around to trying it out. And since my wife is making diner and not DVDs at the moment, it's carpe diem time. But what to write? I spent yesterday afternoon going over the documentation related to my new work chores with the goal of finding variances between what I really do, and what I'm scheduled to do. I found anomalies, both big and small, and will be submitting my findings tomorrow. After that it'll be out of my hands for a while. Wish me luck on this. I need at least some of these things to be approved and I'd really rather the process not be dragged out. On the Mac score, I'm getting around alright but still a newbie. I checked out David Pogue's Missing Mannual for OS X but found that to be slow going. Not because it was hard, but because it was a bit boring. My wife kindly got me Leo LaPorte's Guide to OS X and that it much better. You might know Leo if you have Tech TV. He does Call for Help, a TV show about computers that seems to be always on, and always interesting. Pogue might have fared better if I had his "Switch to OS X" instead. I'm still getting acquainted with the Finder for the most part. I really want to know about cool stuff like Spotlight, iPhoto, Airport, and so on, but I'll walk before I run. I am enjoying the machine a lot. The monitor and the "quartz" technology makes reading off this thing considerably more pleasant. Really, I had no idea what I was missing. I think a machine like this would be great for my Dad, who I have been tutoring on computer use for the past year. A one button mouse and files that are easy to find would make his life a lot easier, and .Mac has potential for sharing. I just wish it wasn't so pricey. So, that's me. If this post is successful, there will likely be more to come.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Mac, Mac world

Making the move I've been going through some issues at work that I won't go into here - what's relevant is that my time is less than it was. I'm happy to be back blogging again, but it's a fact posting is going to be spotty going forward. That is, unless my muse doinks me about the head and sets my pants on fire. That's the less happy part of this post. The happy part is the buried lede that starts here. Rebecca and I caved into iCulture in a big way this weekend and bought an iMac. I'll confess to wanting one in the worst way since before Christmas. Heck, my curiosity goes back to the OS X rollout. Anyway, it's here, I'm sharing it with Rebecca, and it's beautiful as all get out. The screen is fabulous and the built in speakers are surprisingly good. It's amazingly less cluttered than a PC, and that's with a wired keyboard and mouse. We are only just beginning to understand what Bluetooth and Airport could do. I'm more than a little at sea with it. It's the first Mac I've ever owned, and I haven't used one since I used once since a workplace 10 + years ago that had a couple of decrepit Mac IIs. We got it set up on our network and on the Internet without any trouble. I managed to install Firefox without breaking anything. I did gave Safari a look but it does not impress. I also managed to import all my files - including a fair sized iTunes collection - from a DVD I burned on the not-so-old HP PC that Rebecca is now using. I did loose all the ratings associated with my music, but hey... Oh, and my HP printer does not have Mac drivers available. We were lucky enought to get a deal at London Drugs where they threw in a free Canon multifunction and that works fine. It is taking me longer to do things I could do with my eyes closed in XP, but that's not the Mac's fault. I'm learning to walk here. Firefox is working dandy and between that and iTunes I'll get a lot done. I do need to replace some of the more handy tools that have no Mac counterpart and I'm hoping somebody here can help me out. High on my list is a composition tool for blogger, to replace w.bloggar. Any suggestions? We have Pages 2 but I'm not aware of any hook in to blogger like there is for MS Word. I'm also undecided about .Mac and am not sure what that offers me as a a blogger, if anything. Speaking of Office applications, I was using happily Open Office on the XP machine but see to my dismay that Open Office does not yett support Intel based Macs. I'm not a big spreadsheet user, but is there anything? I mean, besides Appleworks? That looks like it's about to be discontintued. MS Office for Mac is a no go. It's way over the top for my needs and budget. I'm also puzzed by the behavior of the "home" and "end" keys as I'm typing this. They take me to the top and bottom of the document instead of to the beginning and end of a line. Can I change that? That's annoying and I can't see any way to do it in preferences (unless I'm blind; it's happened). The built in camera sure is cool, though. Here are some sites I've been visiting to psyche myself up for this. Want to add to this list?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

An unrelated matter

In an unrelated matter, this is to point out that Lileks is a funny guy:
... then I remembered he's more of a control freak (and there's another term I can't stand, mostly because of the "freak" part. I'd prefer situation administrator or perhaps orderliness enthusiast. "Freak" has sixties / seventies vibe. [As does "vibe," for that matter. Half the slang used by aging boomers was tired when it was used by some guy in a white jump suit and aviator-framed sunglasses, nodding his head to the Love Unlimited Orchestra as he made his way across the fern bar with a White Russian in one hand, fingering the coke spoon around his next with the other. I do not belong to that era. I do not belong to any era, except perhaps the era when all your friends' dads looked like Bill Cullen.] It was a term of approval: let your freak flag fly! Shock the man! Make Anita Bryant wet herself in fear and disgust! Why don't we do it in the road? Oh, I don't know - maybe because it's a truck route, and the idea of making some working guy jack-knife his rig because he spots some Abbie-Hoffman type in a "Makin' Bacon" T-shirt bent over his old lady, looking up at the last minute to flip the driver the bird? Is that a good enough reason? No? Fine.) than I am.
That's my kind of run-on sentence.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Warren on Easter

David Warren adds his two fine bits to the topic of tradition and apocrypha here.

Easter reflection, two

I'm continuing where I left off Saturday by placing questions and "new angles" about the Christian story along side Orthodoxy as I know it. These Davinci Code sort of questions are all the rage at the moment, and the fire is helped along by scholars like Bart Ehrman feeding the flames by pointing to supposed problems in the Bible itself. My favourite Gnostic is on it, and so is Scott Adams over at The Dilbert Blog:
Just to give you a flavor of the magnitude of the problems, according to Ehrman, there are more changes (both intentional and unintentional) in the Bible than there are words in the New Testament. The estimates range from 200,000 to 400,000. Yesterday I read that half of the people who voted for President Bush believe that the popular King James version of the Bible is the literal word of God. How does one reconcile that belief with the fact that experts know the Bible is riddled with human additions and errors? Here are the only arguments I can think of:
1. You infidel! 200,000 changes isn't that many. 2. Those document experts are Satan's helpers. There are no changes. 3. I never knew about those 200,000 changes. I renounce my faith! 4. God works in mysterious ways. In this case he used thousands of semi-literate, opinionated morons to edit the Bible until now it's perfect. 5. Let me freshen your drink.
The answer to Adams' question is #4 and it isn't as silly as Adams makes it out to be. #1 and #2 are eyes closed fundamentalism and #3 and #5 are what happens to fundamentalists when they can't force their eyes shut any longer. If the bulk of your information on the subject is coming to you from mass media you will hear very little about #4, which, by the way, Scott has garbled. He's still hung up on the idea that the Bible simply must be a fixed text to be of any value. But there is no such thing as a "fixed" text and there never has been. There is much to be said on this point, which we'll get to. Quick question first though: Why is Adams, as are so many, quick to place his trust in something he read, namely, "half of the people who voted for President Bush believe that the popular King James version of the Bible is the literal word of God." Where is that from? What was the methodology? Heck, Adams does not name his source, so why should I believe it unless I simply place my trust in his honesty and skill in separating real facts from bogus factoids? Let's move along and work our way through Chapter Three of the First Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. From Chapter Three:
SACRED SCRIPTURE, ITS INSPIRATION AND DIVINE INTERPRETATION 11. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. (1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4) Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation.
Yadda, yadda, yadda. This is not far off from the standard the Bible is a "book written by the flaming hand of God stuff." If the Vatican document stopped here, scholarship like Ehrman's would be much more of a threat than it in fact is. Providentially, perhaps, the document is considerably more sophisticated than that.
12. However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, (6) the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words. To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer * intended to express and actually expressed ** in particular circumstances *** by using contemporary literary forms **** in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. [edited for emphasis - ed.] (7) For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (8)
What this second passage does is remind us that a text is a dead letter until we enter into it, and/or or it enters into us. This does not mean, as some of the post modernists tell us, that in a text we see only our own reflection and never enter into a dialogue with the author. It does mean, as the postmoderns tell us, that no book is ever closed. Every time we learn something new, our interaction with the text has the potential to alter, to deepen. The presumption of the fixed text school of thought - sadly, held by most people it seems, including Ehrman and Adams - is that when we learn something new about a text, there is a high probability that the text will be broken. Adams can perhaps be forgiven more easily than Ehrman. Coming from the world of engineering and computing, where texts are very "brittle" in the sense that they are very precise and will truly need to be rethought if a contradiction is found, Adams might be tempted to carry such a method over to the poetic and prophetic world of scripture. The temptation is understandable but unwise. Ehrman, however, because he is working with the scriptures, should be more adaptable than that. It seems instead that he wants and expects scripture to provide him with clear and positive evidence with which to prop up his faith. This is backwards. One does not read in order to believe, but one believes in order to read. And in reading, one finds food in which to nourish belief. That's a logical circle and unacceptable to many; I'm well aware of it. It also happens to be true, and not just of religious texts. Any syllogism you construct will present you with a number of premises which you have to accept or reject in your evaluation of it. Determining the truth or falsity of any one of them could draw you to another syllogism, ad finititum, until you bump up against the sorts of metaphysical constructs that can't be falsified or verified. Like what? Like "time exists", "some things are alive and some are not", "I have an idependent existence from other people", "other people do exist and are like me", "events are caused by other events", "the world behaves in largely predictable ways", and "I have the mental skills to work out a reliable way of thinking". Any school of thought one can name stands on any number of foundation stones like these. There is nothing dirty or dishonest about recognizing that we have mental lenses through which we look at the world, and we cannot pick our lenses objectively because until we try one on we are completely blind. This is not to say that all such mental lenses are equal. People really do have heartbreaking moments when they can no longer accomodate incoming data with their lenses. At these moments, which we can call "conversion", the lens must be changed or altered in ways that can be extremely disorienting. Ehrman gives every appearance of having passed through such a moment. From where I sit, he's reshaped his lense in the wrong spot, keeping his positivism and ditching his Christian faith; he could have ditched the positivism and learned to be more nuanced in his faith. Returning to the Vatican I document we get to the meat of the matter, a rebuttal of Erhman and a mature response for Adams:
since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, (9) no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God. (10) 13. In Sacred Scripture, therefore, while the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous "condescension" of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, "that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature." (11) For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men.
The seeming openess of texts is a result of our inability to grasp the world - including texts, sacred and otherwise - as they truly are. The Word is fixed and eternal but we never enter it fully in this life. An example might help to clarify. One of the ceremonial elements in Catholic worship that I really like is incensing the Bible just before the gospel is read. Often this creates a stunning image of just what I am talking about. One sees smoke appearing to rise from the book towards the priest doing the reading. It is an image of the text leaving the confines of the page and entering us in the hope that we might enter into it. This smoke wafts its way to the pews, continuing the image, and one does not just see it, but also smells it. The smell is warm, attractive, and above all brief in duration. It comes and it goes and usually by the time the reading is done there are only traces left. Underscoring the above, before the text is read, the priest says "May the Spirit be with you", and the congregation responds, "and also with you." In other words our helplessness in fully grasping the Word is made plain, and the aid of the Spirit is invoked to help overcome that gap (for lay and religious alike). This approach is not unique to Catholics. There are Protestant groups who invoke the Spirit to guide them as well. The difference and the scandal is that for Catholics the Spirit takes form in the Church's Magesterium, narrowing the bounds of interpretation and roping off false trails. For both groups, however, invoking the Spirit underscores that being a Christian is not merely a matter book learning, a matter of getting the facts and the ceremonies right. It is a about a relationship with the Divine person, and the Divine book is a tool to that end. All of the poetry, history and imagery it uses has to be understood in that light. I include in this not only the intellectual challenge posed by a story like Lazarus' rising from the dead, but also challenges like those Erhman raises. His issues do not bother me inordinately because the Bible is not a dead canonical letter but a ring with a fuzzy boundary in which the Spirit may be tussled with. One should not expect the matter of interpretation to go away. One should embrace it like an athlete going to the gym.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Screwtape on DaVinci

Wondering what Screwtape makes of The DaVinci Code? Wonder no more!
My dear Wormwood, ... another extremely admirable facet of this book is the author's intimate knowledge of his audience's skyscraping ignorance, which he exploits to devastating effect. One must ever endeavor to capitalize upon ignorance, Wormwood. This is one of the chiefest weapons in our arsenal, and let me observe—and not without some glee—that the ignorance of contemporary Western Society in matters of history and theology both, is of an absolutely unprecedented greatness. Never before have so many known so little about so much of great importance. Ask your average fellow in the street the slightest detail of a daft sitcom of forty years ago and he will move heaven and earth to supply you with the answer, and then will likely prate on with other similarly inane details—as if knowing who lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane was his very passport to the Elysian Fields. Ha! But ask him to tell you about the Nicean Council, or ask him what are the Synoptic Gospels and you will suddenly find yourself in the presence of a weatherbeaten cigar store Injun! But then go ahead and ask him who played drums for The Monkees, or the name of that blasted itinerant peddlar on Green Acres and you will think yourself in the presence of a very Voltaire! Our television executives Down Under have been awfully successful! As I say, this book exploits the ignorance of its readership with an exemplary elan. One particularly daring example claims that the Crusades were principally concerned with gathering and destroying information! This is bold and laughable twaddle, but it fits so nicely into ye olde conspiracy theory—that the powerful religious hypocrites want to keep the "truth" out of the hands of their powerless subjects. And what do readers of this book know of the Crusades? Then there's that double whopper with cheese, about how the Emperor Constantine "invented" Christianity in the fourth century! Never mind that people had been believing it for all those years before it was "invented". And in the same masterstroke the author undermines the authority of the Bible by declaring that what it contains arrived on a strictly "political" vote. All of those wonderful "Gospels" that didn't fit with the "patriarchal" version of things were cruelly—always "cruelly"—suppressed and rejected; the oppressive messages it now contains were slipped in to fit Constantine's political agenda! Who among this book's readers will know that for three centuries most of those same Gospels were already considered a part of the scriptural canon? Who among his doughheaded readers even knows the meaning of the word "canonical"! My nostrils flare in admiration.

Easter reflection, one

An Easter reflection for you:
The Person which assumed human nature was not created, as is the case of all other persons. His Person was the pre-existent Word or Logos. His human nature on the other hand, was derived from the miraculous conception by Mary, in which the Divine forshadowing of the human spirit and the human Fiat or the consent of a woman, were most beautifully blended. This is the beginning of a new humanity out of the material of the fallen race. When the Word became flesh, it did not mean that any change took place in the Divine Word. The Word of God proceeding forth did not leave the Father's side. What happened was not so much the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, as the taking of manhood into God. There was continuity with the fallen race of man through the manhood taken from Mary; there is discontinuity through the fact that the Person of Christ is the pre-existent Logos. Christ thus literally becomes the second Adam, the man through whom the human race starts over. His teaching centered on the incorporation of human natures into Him, after the manner in which the human nature that He took from Mary was united to the Eternal Word. It is hard for a human being to understand the humility that was involved in the Word becoming flesh. Imagine, if it were possible, a human person divesting himself of his body, and then sending his soul into the body of a serpent. A double humiliation would follow: first, accepting the limitations of a serpentine organism, knowing all the while that his mind was superior, and that fangs could not adequately articulate thoughts no serpent ever possessed. The second humiliation would be to be forced as a result of this "emptying of self" to live in the companionship of serpents. But all this is nothing compared to the emptying of God, by which he took on the form of man and accepted the limitations of humanity, such as hunger and persecution; not trivial either was it for the Wisdom of God to condemn himself to association with poor fishermen who knew so little. But this humiliation which began in Nazareth when he was conceived in the virgin Mary was only the first of many to counteract the pride of man, until the final humiliation of of death on the Cross. If there were no Cross, there would have been no crib; if there had been no nails, there would have been no straw. But he could not teach the lesson of the Cross as payment for sin; He had to take it. Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ
I picked up this book from the parish library this week on a bit of a lark. I read a collection of Sheen's writings before and found them to be simplistic and, worse, sorely dated in places. This book is much better. It attempts to tell the story of Christ's life as we have it, and to weave the theology of the Church into the telling, so that we can see how the two are intertwined. It's my experience that knowing this story reasonably well, especially the philosophical underpinnings, puts a considerable amount of cold water on the silly thought experiments of Dan Brown and his pack of wannabes. The problem with all of these speculations is that they don't ever seem to address the existential question of Being. The Gospel of John simply puts them to shame. In other words, the alternatives appeal to cloudy headed people of faith and materialists of all stripes. The materialists think the universe has always been and will always be. I respectfully disagree with them and the Big Bang theory just might be on my side. More puzzlingly, however, do the fuzzy headed "faithful" realize that doing away with the Incarnation rips Authority away from Jesus' teachings? All of them including the ones about mercy and forgiveness? Don't they see it leaves us with an unsympathetic Deity along the lines of what we see in Islam? Here is Hillaire Belloc on Islam. Spot the similarities...
... the central point where this new heresy struck home with a mortal blow against Catholic tradition was a full denial of the Incarnation. Mohammed did not merely take the first steps toward that denial, as the Arians had done; he advanced a clear affirmation full and complete, against the whole doctrine of an incarnate God. He taught that Our Lord was the greatest of all the prophets, but still only a prophet: a man like other men. He eliminated the Trinity altogether. With that denial of the Incarnation went the whole sacramental structure. He refused to know anything of the Eucharist, with it's Real Presence; he stopped the sacrifice of the Mass, and therefore the institution of a special priesthood. In other words, he, like so many other lesser heresiarchs, founded his heresy on simplification. Catholic doctrine was true (he seemed to say), but it had become encumbered with false accretions; it had become complicated by needless man-made additions, including the idea that the founder was Divine, and the growth of a parasitical caste of priests who battened on a late, imagined, system of sacraments which they alone could administer. All those corrupt accretions must be swept away. Hillaire Belloc, The Great Heresies
There is very likely to be another post to be had on this subject. Perhaps tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Loud and Proud

Regular readers know (and irregular readers have probably guessed) that I am of central european extraction. I can claim physical ancestors from Austria and Germany, and spiritual ancestors from Italy and probably Hungary as well. The culture in this house is undeniably Germanic once you scratch the maple syrup. Deutsche Welle is carrying a nifty photo essay on Germany that I enjoyed a lot. Here's to us!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Who let YOU out?

During this quiet time there has been no blog that I have enjoyed more than Gagdad Bob's One Cosmos. He has simply been on fire for the past month. Here is my collection of hits from his post today (with the addition of a cartoon link from the comments thread):
Science, of course, proceeds on the basis that the cosmos is ultimately a closed system. While there may be local entities that temporarily escape that fact and become open systems--such as biological organisms--in the end, it is all nothing more than a brief and futile reprieve from the iron hand of entropy. From death you arose and to death you shall return. It's funny how science starts out with such admirably modest aims and methods, but soon makes such grandiose pronouncements. I yield to no one in my respect for science as science, but at the same time, when philosophically unschooled scientists start leaping to unwarranted metaphysical pronouncements, we should all be concerned. Through a sleight of language, science doesn't just replace religion, but becomes a religion. And a bad one at that. ... Likewise, from the standpoint of science, Life Itself--the vertical doorway out of the material cosmos--can really be nothing more than a very rare pattern of matter. Similarly, consciousness--the vertical pathway out the lifedoor--can only be an ephemeral and meaningless side effect of cellular activity. If this is true, then scientists--not to mention scientific "truth"--is a merely a meaningless side effect of matter. The scientist wants to give you the truth, as if he is speaking from a privileged vantage point of verticality, above the material fray. But how can he be? If he wishes to be consistent, he must concede in all modesty that matter can't really know anything, much less the truth about itself. Let's not kid our nonselves: this is your brain on science. Among other things, religions are vertical escape hatches from the grinding ineluctability of mere animal existence. For example, Moses' horizontal dash out of Egypt was in fact a vertical one, leading the Israelites from servitude in the horizontal wasteland of Egypt into the possibility of a higher life in the unknown vertical desert. ... Science deals only with repetition. Without the vertical element, time, no matter how long, can produce nothing truly novel. It can just combine and recombine in a linear or cyclical way. But it certainly cannot account for the startling ontological discontinuities represented by the leap from matter to life or from life to mind. It can rearrange the furniture, but cannot explain how we go from one ontological floor to the next. The only way you can really believe this horizontal nonsense is if your own life has become utterly linear, circular, and closed off to the vertical. Then it is a philosophy that makes a great deal of sense. Plus it is an excellent metaphysical defense mechanism, because you have an airtight explanation for your own vertical Failure to Launch. If it's impossible, why bother? Indeed Horizontal Man is superior to Vertical Man, because at least he does not live in the comfort of fanciful delusions about nonexistent vertical realms!