An Irish epigram, on unworthy priests

April 20, 2010

After the revelations of clerical sex abuse in Ireland (and many other places!) this Irish epigram would seem to apply:

Sagairt óir is cailis chrainn
bhí le linn Phádraig in Éirinn;
sagairt chrainn is cailís óir
i ndeireadh an domhain dearóil.

Thomas Kinsella’s translation (from An Duainaire, a bilingual anthology):

Gold priests, wooden chalices
in Ireland in Patrick’s time.
Golden chalices, wooden priests,
as the wretched world stands now.

That Irish verse dates back to about the 17th century, so  complaints about the clergy are not new.

I’m glad to say that I have known some of the gold priests.  Too bad about the other kind.

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

April 2, 2010

My title is from a piece by Stefan McDaniel, reviewing a book by Marilyn Chandler McIntyre on the website of the Witherspoon Institute.

Even one who might not agree with the author on “what is truth?” (to quote a certain Roman official) should agree that there is a problem in the misuse of language and the prevalence of lies:

McEntrye forthrightly identifies the villains: biased journalists and cynical advertisers, entertainers, and politicians. These usual suspects, she says, are the titans of the word industry who have inundated us with cheap language designed not to tell the truth, but to manipulate, evade, or sell. Public language is thus (to adopt McEntyre’s preferred, ecological metaphor) polluted and depleted by “thoughtless hyperbole, unexamined metaphors, slogans and sound bites, grammatical confusion, ungrounded abstractions, overstatement, and blather” which seep malignantly into ordinary speech and thought.

Polluted and depleted language is obviously an inadequate medium for proper public debate. McEntyre agrees with George Orwell that last use of language leads to foolish thoughts, including foolish thoughts about urgent questions of the common good. When we lose the “subtlety, clarity, and reliability of language, we become more vulnerable to crude exercises of power.”

I’m tempted to go on quoting, but I’ll end with just one more excerpt:

It is, of course, a worthy therapeutic exercise to identify and analyze vague terms in our own vocabularies, but in urging us not to tolerate lies, McEntyre tells us to demand precision from others, especially when they speak in public. She outlines our civic duty of “clarifying where there is confusion; naming where there is evasion; correcting where there is error; fine-tuning where there is imprecision; satirizing where there is folly; changing the terms when the terms falsify.”

In ancient China, wasn’t the “rectification of language” one of the aims of each new dynasty?  (But how did that work out in practice?)

Follow this link for the entire article.

A Temple in Eden?

March 3, 2010

In the (London) Daily Mail, this story about  Gobekli Tepe, a site in Turkey containing stone slabs with mysterious carvings, which is very old indeed.   “Carbon-dating shows that the complex is at least 12,000 years old, maybe even 13,000 years old.”

It was discovered in 1994.  12 or 13 thousand years ago:  that’s well before what we were always told was the “dawn of civilization”.    But something drove our very remote ancestors to create this.  What that something was doesn’t fit the usual account we have learned.  The site was discovered by a Kurdish shepherd:  “Following his flock over the arid hillsides, he passed the single mulberry tree, which the locals regarded as ‘sacred’.”  A long folk memory indeed.  And it was sacred to those people, still in the stone age, who created it.

(Not related, but from early childhood  I recall a riddle which went:  “Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me / Went to the ocean to bathe; / Adam and Eve got drownded / So which of them all was saved?”  And this would soon be followed by the cry “Mammy, he pinched me!”)

This story of Eden has a very dark ending though, if you read on to the end.



Eric Voegelin On Terrorism

February 13, 2010

Another “Pungent Observation” of Eric Voegelin, this one “On the Pathology of Terrorism”:

A further reason for my hatred of . . . ideologies is quite a primitive one. I have an aversion to killing people for the fun of it. What the fun is, I did not quite understand at the time, but in the intervening years the ample exploration of revolutionary consciousness has cast some light on this matter.
The fun consists in gaining a pseudo-identity through asserting one’s power, optimally by killing somebody—a pseudo-identity that serves as a substitute for the human self that has been lost. . . . A good example of the type of self that has to kill other people in order to regain in an Ersatzform what it has lost is the famous Saint-Juste, who says that Brutus either has to kill other people or kill himself.
. . . . I have no sympathy whatsoever with such characters and have never hesitated to characterize them as “murderous swine.”

Discovering Eric Voegelin

February 11, 2010

I think I had heard of Eric Voegelin, now I want to read more about and by him.  Here’s the Wickipedia article on Voegelin.   An impressive number of important thinkers came to the US from Austria, fleeing from the Nazis (another would be Peter Drucker, the late guru of humanistic business management).

Voegelin’s first book (1928) was Ueber die Form des Amerikanischen Geistes– he was a young man of 27 at the time– and  here is a comment of his “On the American Inclination to Avoid Conflict”:

The feature that gives its color to the American phase of the English Revolution, as well as to the later independent American development up to the beginning of the twentieth century, is the fundamental possibility of evasion.

If friction or conflict arises within a social group in Europe, it has to be settled by compromise or fight. In America it could be settled by moving to another place. In its good as well as in its less good consequences, this opportunity has profoundly determined the American national character. Among the good consequences we may count the atmosphere of freedom and independence, of self-expression, self-assertion, and dignity of man on a broad democratic basis;  among the more questionable consequences we have to count the evasion of issues and the lack of tragic sentiment that can arise only from collective experiences of insurmountable resistance and the necessity of submission.  We may take it as a symptom of the situation that American literature has not yet produced a tragedy of high rank nor a work of profound humor.

That seems very true.  How often when we don’t like changes in our neighborhood– traffic, crime, ethnic changes– do we simply pick up and move?   As they say Daniel Boone would do when he started to see the smoke from his neighbors’ chimneys.

That was one of the  “Pungent Observations of Eric Voegelin”– lots more on this website.  Read them, it’s almost an education in itself.

“How Global Warming Makes Blizzards Worse”

February 11, 2010

From Yahoo news, a link to a Time magazine article with the headline “DC Snowstorm:  How Global Warming Makes Blizzards Worse”.  Yes, I’m sure that explains  it all!

Perhaps some day, Time magazine, or the IPCC, or the World Wildlife Fund (a prime source of science info for IPCC reports), or even Al Gore, will condescend to answer the following question:  What weather event, or what seasonal weather anomaly, do you think would tend to disprove Global Warming?

Unusually severe Caribbean hurricanes(as in 2005), or puny hurricanes (since then)?  Droughts in our Southwest(as this year),  or lack of drought in the African Sahel(in recent years)?  Heat waves in Western Europe in 2003, or very cold weather there this year?

All, all are caused by Global Warming.  “The science is settled.”

“Why are liberals so condescending?”

February 9, 2010

Due to a record-breaking snowstorm here in the Washington DC area we have not received any mail, or the Washington Post in the morning.  Thus I missed reading a fine op-ed piece in Sunday’s Post by Gerald Alexander.  Too bad, it would have brightened my morning before I went out to shovel more snow; but reading it online was fun too.  He starts with this:

Every political community includes some members who insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots. But American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration. Indeed, all the appeals to bipartisanship notwithstanding, President Obama and other leading liberal voices have joined in a chorus of intellectual condescension.

I’m an ex-liberal, and I think Alexander (a prof of Politics at UVA) is on to something.  Of course I know conservatives who have the same attitude to liberals, denouncing them like Catholics did in the old baptismal rite, renouncing Satan with “all his works and pomps”.  So, is “to a degree far surpassing conservatives” really true?  I’m afraid it is, especially when I hear the President speaking of consensus and compromise in a most reasonable tone while– maddeningly– assuming that those who oppose him are either too dumb to understand, or acting in bad faith.  From Alexander’s piece:

…  Indeed, when the president met with House Republicans in Baltimore recently, he assured them that he considers their ideas, but he then rejected their motives in virtually the same breath.

“There may be other ideas that you guys have,” Obama said. “I am happy to look at them, and I’m happy to embrace them. . . . But the question I think we’re going to have to ask ourselves is, as we move forward, are we going to be examining each of these issues based on what’s good for the country, what the evidence tells us, or are we going to be trying to position ourselves so that come November, we’re able to say, ‘The other party, it’s their fault’?”

Harsh winter a sign of disruptive climate change, report says

January 31, 2010

Read it and weep (or better, laugh):   this story from the Washington Post on Jan. 28th:

This winter’s extreme weather — with heavy snowfall in some places and unusually low temperatures — is in fact a sign of how climate change disrupts long-standing patterns, according to a new report by the National Wildlife Federation.

“Climate change” in the article, of course, is Global Warming, not a new Ice Age.

I’m a Post subscriber but somehow missed that story last Thursday– I thank two Web sites I visit– Anthony Watts’s  “Watts Up With That?” and Steve MacIntyre’s “Climate Audit”—  for bringing it to my attention.

Well, perhaps the NWF has some expertise on climate science?  Both Watts and MacIntyre (and others) have noted that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), in a recent official report on AGW(anthropogenic global warming) based some of their “science” statements on material from NWF, and also from WWF (World Wildlife Fund).  And even  (Watts cites Britain’s Telegraph paper for this):  The United Nations’ expert panel on climate change based claims about ice disappearing from the world’s mountain tops on a student’s dissertation and an article in a mountaineering magazine.

The Telegraph story was on Jan. 30th;  it doesn’t say which month’s issue of Climbing magazine was the IPCC’s scientific source.

“We shall not weary, we shall not rest”

January 23, 2010

Richard John Neuhaus was the editor of First Things magazine before his death just a year ago.  On the anniversary of the “March for Life” on the national mall, his magazine reprints (every year) a speech he gave at that event:

The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed. I expect many of us here, perhaps most of us here, can remember when we were first encountered by the idea. For me, it was in the 1960s when I was pastor of a very poor, very black, inner city parish in Brooklyn, New York. I had read that week an article by Ashley Montagu of Princeton University on what he called “A Life Worth Living.” He listed the qualifications for a life worth living: good health, a stable family, economic security, educational opportunity, the prospect of a satisfying career to realize the fullness of one’s potential. These were among the measures of what was called “a life worth living.”

And I remember vividly, as though it were yesterday, looking out the next Sunday morning at the congregation of St. John the Evangelist and seeing all those older faces creased by hardship endured and injustice afflicted, and yet radiating hope undimmed and love unconquered. And I saw that day the younger faces of children deprived of most, if not all, of those qualifications on Prof. Montagu’s list. And it struck me then, like a bolt of lightning, a bolt of lightning that illuminated our moral and cultural moment, that Prof. Montagu and those of like mind believed that the people of St. John the Evangelist—people whom I knew and had come to love as people of faith and kindness and endurance and, by the grace of God, hope unvanquished—it struck me then that, by the criteria of the privileged and enlightened, none of these my people had a life worth living. In that moment, I knew that a great evil was afoot. The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed…

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life…

I know many people who do not agree with Fr. Neuhaus, but I must say that I do.

In Copenhagen

December 19, 2009

I followed a link from the PowerLine blog to an article by Roger L. Simon, a self-described “Hollywood apostate”, who had an “ah hah!” moment in Copenhagen:

On the last day of COP 15, staring at a Jumbotron where Hugo Chavez was addressing the conference, something was nagging at me besides the obvious (that half the audience was enthusiastically applauding a maniac). I was trying to figure out what it was about the conference that so perplexed and disturbed. And then, before the Caudillo had concluded his tedious remarks and long before the “meaningful deal” between the world leaders was announced, I realized what it was. We had returned to the Middle Ages.

A high tech Middle Ages, of course, but still the Middle Ages. Forget the Renaissance, forget the Enlightenment, forget Spinoza, Locke, Galileo and everybody else, we had returned to our roots as gullible and idiotic human beings, as willing to believe in the primacy of anthropogenic global warming as we would in the sighting of the Madonna at a river crossing twelve kilometers south of Sienna in 1340.

I think the man is on to something– I’ve kind of had the same feeling.  And Catholics are supposed to like apparitions of the Madonna, aren’t we?  But some visions I can’t believe; though I hate to disagree with friends who do.

Here is Simon’s piece, if you want to read the whole thing. His rather short “interview” with Congressman Rangel is a nice touch.

Further considerations (Dec. 19th):  It’s easy to look down on the Middle Ages as Roger Simon does (and I was going along with him).  But actually, the church (even then) would say that such matters as apparitions of the Virgin were just private revelations– you could be a good Catholic without accepting them.  But now:  can you be a good modern citizen if you doubt that global warming (to the extent it has occurred) is primarily man-made?  In the view of the mainstream media and most world “leaders”, the answer seems to be NO.