Sunday, August 9, 2009

By way of explanation

No, I am not dead, or even ill. However, I am in the process of moving so I have not done anything on this blog for a while.

As for my move, it is with the same employer, but to a new country -- following a long dream of mine, I am moving to Europe for a 2-3 year rotation.

So I will continue my hiatus for a while longer or maybe I will occasionally pop in with comments.

But in parting, I will ask one question -- are you birthers serious? He was born in Hawaii, deal with it.

Good bye for now and God bless.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some more Hymns

In my lonely quest to get better hymns in Catholic Churches, my thoughts on some Lenten and Easter hymns:

1. Where You There?

Probably my favorite Lenten Hymn

2. Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones. This hymn has been stuck in my head since Easter.

3. Ye Songs and Daughters. This is an easy hymn to sing and probably one of the oldest in the Catholic hymnals.

4. Alleluia, alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise.

Tea Parties

There were more tea parties last week and they are now getting some push back from the left.

So what do I think about them? The parties themselves have been focusing on taxes and of course the left is focusing on that. And even when spending is raised, the left counters by asking where "we" were when the Bush administration was spending. Granted, I would argue that many of us were complaining about Bush's spending. Porkbusters for one flashed across the sky like a meteor, even getting under Trent Lott's skin. But while I see occasional references here and there, the whole Porkbusters "movement" just died out.

But further on spending, while Bush was spending too much (and the GOP in the early 2000s was using pork to solidify its position), the "stimulus" act has exploded the deficit. No one read the bill before passage. President Obama reneged on his promise for a public review period for all bills, so no one really read the thing before signing. And while much in the act is probably defensible and good, most of these items should have gone through the regular appropriations process.

This may sound strange, but the whole thing leaves me a little depressed (and generally, I do not believe in getting depressed on matters political). For one thing, as a conservative, I really don't DO the whole protest thing. Other than the tea party a few months ago and the occasional political rally, I have not been to a protest since I don't know when.

But my main concern is more philosophical. My complaint is not really with the taxes but the spending. And not really the spending but about the feeling that the relationship between the people and the state was perhaps irrevocably changing. It has been moving that way for a while, but it seems now to be accelerating.

I am not sure what if anything will come out of the tea parties. But the GOP needs to be kept out. The GOP's hunger for political power through earmarks and pork have helped get us to this point. The GOP needs to prove it can be trusted again on fiscal matters and they are for from proving to me (I am not longer a registered Republican, my disgust raised so high). Some argue the tea parties can turn into a third party, but I doubt it.

If anything, the parties can at least slow down the drift to a managerial state.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday

Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones,
Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
Virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

An Italian Holy Saturday (and some final thoughts on Lent)

So yes, again this Holy Saturday I ate the traditional Italian foods such as meat pie and macaroni pie, filled with eggs, cheese, meat etc.

I read something interesting recently regarding the Lenten fast. I always knew that in the old days, Catholics would refrain from meat, cheese and eggs for much of Lent, hence the reason Holy Saturday foods in Italian tradition were so filled with them. But why Lent itself? Obviously, some self sacrifice is good for you. But there may be practical reasons as well.

In pre-modern northern Europe, by February, food was starting to get scarce. No new foods would be harvested until spring of course, so the food from last fall needed to last longer. So Lent gave some religious meaning to the hungry season. And by spreading the burdens of the hunger, so that prince and peasant, priest and burger, felt the pangs together, it helped social cohesion.

It makes sense, but then again, I always find Catholicism eminently reasonable and practical.

Some Late Thoughts on Holy Week (Part 2)

On Monday, the Diocese of Brooklyn declared "A Day of Reconciliation." All churches stayed open late so Catholics could partake in the sacrament of Penance.

I called my wife as I left work to say I would be late, as I was "going to confession." Her first response was an accusatory "what did you do?"

Part of the problem is that we have made confession so difficult these days. Many churches offer it now only on limited days. Partly this is due to the change in Catholic society the past 4o years. As a child, my mother would take me to confession at least once a month. I admit now I do not go as often as I would like.

When I lived in Chicago, I would go more. Near my office was Saint Peter's in the Loop, a Franciscan church where one of the Friars was always available to hear confessions. One additional benefit was that the Franciscans were very easy on penance -- so long as you were kind to animals that is.

So why Confession? I get comments from non-Catholics at times not understanding the whole thing. They see it as some sort of institutionalized guilt trip. Partly this is due to Catholics ourselves not understanding it.

It is not about guilt but about forgiveness. God is Father after all. A stern but extremely loving father at that. He wants us to do right, but even if we do wrong, loves us so long as we are truly sorry. After all, when Jesus refused to order the adulterous woman stoned ("Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"), He not only said "I do not condemn you" but also said "sin no more."

So we leave the confessional, saying an Act of Contrition promising to sin no more. But we do. For most of us those sins are minor. We say a few white lies here and there. We lose our temper with our spouses or children. We get too caught up in the ways of this world. But it is OK. Maybe it is the struggle that is important.

In the end it is all about redemption and forgiveness. So I tell this story I read once in Lord Norwich's history of the Byzantine Empire.

There once was a Byzantine Emperor named Romanus the First. Romanus was one of Byzantium's greatest emperors. He worked hard to protect his people. Leading a nation beset by enemies, he protected the empire's borders from attacked by the Arab, Turkish and Persian countries to his south, and Slavic nations to his north. He worked hard to protect the lands and property of the common workingmen from grasping aristocrats. He worked hard to expand commerce and trade. In short, he gave the Empire peace and prosperity.

But Romanus was troubled, for in reality he was a usurper. He elevated himself to co-emperor, married his children into the royal family, but ushered the rightful emperor off into obscurity. He mourned the many soldiers who died or were wounded fighting his wars. And Byzantium was not a democracy, so although he was fairly benevolent, he had, as Emperor, sent men to the dungeons to protect his throne.

His sons, realizing this and fearing for their future power, sent Romanus, to his relief, off to a monastic exile.

There, Romanus stripped his garments, knelt before the altar, and while his brother monks chants hymns of contrition, confessed his sins while another monk wrote each into a book. Romanus sent the book to another monastery, one know for its piety and asceticism and asked the monks to pray for him.

Romanus received a message back -- the pages of the book were empty.

Whether or not yo believe the monk was speaking literally (that a miracle had occurred) or metaphorically (which is how I read the story), I find this as the essence of the Sacrament. It is about forgiveness, not guilt.

Some late thoughts on Holy Week (Part 1)

I have been meaning to write a few thoughts about Holy Week, but have not gotten around to it until now. So here goes.

Palm Sunday -- Last year I gave some thoughts about the big issues of Palm Sunday. This year, as I sat there I thought about something else. Namely, my Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. A donkey is, after all, a somewhat ridiculous creature. But in that way, it was the perfect animal to transport the Lord into the city.

A donkey is not much like a horse. A horse is an animal of war and money and power. Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a horse would have been confirmation to many that he was about to restore Israel by force.

A donkey though is the animal of the hard working farmer or peaceful merchant. Armies may use donkeys as draft animals, but the ca;vary rides war horses.

In short, the horse is the animal of war, but the donkey is the animal of peace.

So it was fitting that Jesus entered the city as he did.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

WWMD (What Would Mencken Do?)

HL Mencken was probably one of the most disagreeable yet entertaining public critics in American history. The man was incorrigible, reactionary, misanthropic, a class snob, and opposed to just about everything that Americans then and now hold dear and sacred. Yet, he was a walking paradox. His public statements were often racist and anti-Semitic, but he spoke out against lynchings, was married to a Jewish women (and apparently conversant in Yiddish) and counted WEB DuBois as a friend.

And if Milton Friedman is the father of American libertarianism, and Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, Hayek and Mises the founding grandparents, Mencken is one of the founding great grandparents.

So WWMD? It is dangerous to try and impose modern questions on someone who live two or three generations ago. But this 1932 quote from the American Mercury (reprinted by the Mencken Society) is quite interesting and relevant :

The psychic effect of the depression, it seems to me, is generally a good one. It has made multitudes distrust such charlatans as Hoover and [Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W.] Mellon who were quite willing, three years ago, to credit them with the magic of saints and archangels. It has busted a long line of popular wizards, running from Henry Ford to [head of Bethlehem Steel] Charlie Schwab, and from [economist] Irving Fisher to [newspaper editor] Arthur Brisbane, all of them as hollow as jugs. It has taught people the difference between speculative values and real values. It has hastened the death of sick industries, and proved the vigor of sound ones. It has blown up the old delusion that the amount of money in the world is unlimited, and that every American is entitled to a police captain’s share of it.

Best of all, it has taught millions that there is really no earthly reason why there should be two cars in every garage, and a chicken in the pot every day. A few years back we were all leaping along after the pacemakers, and making shining fools of ourselves. Life in America had become an almost unanimous effort to keep up with the Joneses, and what the Joneses had to offer by way of example was chiefly no more than a puerile ostentation. So many luxuries became necessities that the line separating the one from the other almost vanished. People forgot altogether how to live well, and devoted themselves frantically to living gaudily.

It seems to me that the depression will be well worth its cost if it brings Americans back to their senses. Once they rediscover the massive fact that hard thrift and not gambler’s luck is the only true basis of national wealth, they will discover simultaneously that a perfectly civilized and contented life is possible without the old fuss and display.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Vatican and Evolution

I have been very dismissive of creationist and "intelligent design" advocacy. Personally, I think that both try to turn God from Supreme Creator into a hum-drum engineer. By requiring God to review the plans for the earthworm, I believe we reduce God.

The Vatican has gotten involved, though as usual the press tends to misunderstand it. About a 15 years ago, Pope John Paul II made some statements in support of evolution and the press acted as though this was a major change in Vatican policy. I noted to an evangelical friend that it is not really a change. The officially commentary on the Scripture had recognized evolution at least since the 1950s, and in fact the church had been OK with evolution before that.

Of course, there were some controversies, such as the Omega Point theory of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which argued that evolution was leading to man converging with God. But the controversy was with the endpoint so to speak, not the theory of evolution.

I saw this item on Little Green Footballs that the Vatican is having a conference on evolution and the intelligent design folks were kept out. Pope Benedict a few years ago got himself enmeshed in the intelligent design controversy, mostly because he probably did not understand how that term had become so loaded in the United States. Hopefully, this conference signals an end to the Vatican getting mixed up with intelligent design.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I probably should have waited to read the book

I just finished the new history of the Great Depression "The Forgotten Man." Probably not the best time to read this book.

Wait until (if?) the recovery comes to read ANYTHING about the Depression

A Swiss Ski Slope as a Metaphor for Conservatism

As I was skiing, dodging snowboarders, I was reminded of something that first crossed my mind in 1996. On January 1, 1996, I was hit in the head by a snowboarder. And it hit me -- a ski slope is the perfect metaphor for the conservative movement.

Stay with me here a minute.

The skiers are like the traditional conservatives. You ski basically the same way you did in 1900, though the equipment is updated and better. Change tends to come slowly and in an evolutionary manner. And the skiers are used to being the ones for a long time to be skiing around.

The snowboarders represent the libertarians. Brash, not really into the old rules but like to make them up as they go along.

The problem is that both groups have to share the same ski slope. And they both are looking to get to the same place. But they have a tendency to get on each other's nerves and each other's way.

Granted, this breaks down a bit. I cannot fit the social conservatives into the mix. As for the neoconservatives, I figure they are the guys on the anti-avalanche patrol shooting off cannons every now and them to move snow.

A Quote for Lent

“A church that doesn’t provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a Word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, what kind of gospel is that? Preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed do not light up the world!” -- Oscar Romero, bishop and martyr. HT -- The Anchoress)

Let's Have a Tea Party!

I went to the NYC Tea Party yesterday. The tea parties have been held around the country to protest the stimulus bill. The parties seem somewhat small right now, and amateurish. The one I attended in New York had a bunch of people in City Hall Park listening to a series of folks speaking through a megaphone.

The crowd was maybe about 150-200, though to be sure, I am poor at judging these sorts of things. It did not seem angry and in fact was more light hearted. I did see quite a few Ayn Rand acolytes and Ron Paul supporters. The only angry guy I saw was an anti-immigration type wondering about.

Many of the signs were based on the principle of the stimulus bill leading to socialism. My favorite sign was "Pork -- the other red meat."

OK -- it is a beginning. Conservative/libertarian protests rarely come close to the protests the left is able to put together. Mostly I think it is cultural. The American right tends to be more individualistic and somewhat distrustful of protests. Protests too uncomfortably look like mobs.

Further, as PJ O'Rourke used to say "conservatives have jobs" and generally have better things to do other than stand around listening to people complain. They would rather sit at home and watch basketball or spend time with family.

Also, conservatives do not have groups that exist to organize action. The Left has ACORN and an array of activist groups. They call a meeting and within a day have professionally printed signs and rhyming chants. Conservative groups tend to be more like think tanks, and unfortunately, lobbying groups. Not as much street action oriented.

And yes, I would argue that much of that cultural difference is good. We do not think everything revolves around politics. Which is probably why the only major "right" protests tend to be ones that the churches are involved in -- most importantly abortion. But the churches have their own agendas and cannot really be considered part of the Right (though the more churchgoing you are the more likely you are on the right). The Catholic Church for example helps get the annual March for Life protests going, yet it also was the force behind the immigration marches (at least initially).

The rally was mostly positive and lighthearted. There was a Minuteman type running around. But the crowd seemed a mix of conservatives and libertarians, with Ron Paul supporters and Ayn Rand disciples sticking out.

The Iraq Plan

The plan has come down, 100,000 troops and combat operations to cease by 2011. 35,000-50,000 to stay in "support" roles.

I would imagine that many people on both sides feel some disappointment. But here is the deal as I see it. Basically, the war is pretty much over. Al Qaeda in Iraq seems to be defeated, the people of Iraq do not seem to want to become an Iranian style Shia theocracy and just want to get on with their lives. On most nights, it seems to be safer to be a US soldier in Baghdad than walking around certain parts of Chicago (and listening to my former mayor, there seem to be fewer "assault weapons" in Tikrit than there are on the South Side).

So those who supported the invasion (which I did), look -- it was never supposed to be about conquering the country, or so I thought. The Iraqis have to be given the opportunity to run their own affairs. If they really do not want a return to brutal military strong men or to go down the road of Shia or Wahhabist theocracy, they won't. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq is a more modern, educated country -- having climbed out of the abyss, I doubt they will want to go back there. And if they do, well, at this point it is their problem.

And in any event, what President Obama is proposing is pretty much what George Bush was heading for and what John McCain said he wanted -- basically, the combat would end and US troops, if they remained, would be in bases like US troops in Germany or Japan. (That was the real meaning of McCain's "100 year" remark -- that if there were no US troops dying, few Americans would care about keeping US bases there. We have had troops "occupying" parts of the UK since 1942, Italy since 1943, Germany and Japan since 1945, South Korea since 1950 -- no one really thinks much about it because no US troops are dying there).

As for those who feel disappointed by the fact that it will take longer than promised or that substantial US forces will remain for a period, two things. First, what was said (or what you THOUGHT was said) by a dark horse candidate two years ago has to be adjusted by the realities of office and power TODAY. Second, frankly, what the President is doing now is pretty much what he said he was going to do. I have no desire to look for the news articles, but President Obama always suggested a US military role in Iraq after combat troops were pulled out. At one point, I think, he referred to an "over the horizon" presence whereby we would pull out but stay in the neighborhood, and move in as necessary. That probably (hopefully) is not needed now. I assume the remaining troops will be there for training and support of the Iraqi Army (and not combat itself).

One thing I find interesting is the 35-50,000 number. In 2005, the last year I can find figures for, there were about 66,000 US forces in Germany (defending Germany from the threat of Serbia I guess). So basically, using the upper number, President Obama foresees a US presence similar to that of the US presence in Germany. Not sure what I make of it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

In a civilization that has seemingly banished death, it is good to remind ourselves of our own mortality every now and then.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Europe is a foreign country

I am on vacation in Switzerland and trying my hand at Blackberry blogging. So I am sorry for an mistakes.

Things are different here.

People smoke everywhere (though less than in the old days).

The butter is much better.

I get severe train envy.

And here in Switzerland, mountains are everywhere and so is the cheese.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Can someone clearly tell me how big the stimulus bill is? I read the papers, look at the blogs, watch the news, and everyone seems to be reporting a different amount.

And following the anger regarding the original House version, the Senate tried hard to cut it a bit to make it acceptable to a few GOP moderates.

ABC says the House bill was $819 billion. After all that cutting and compromising, the Senate version was cut to $838 billion.

Only in Washington do negotiations to reduce spending increase it.

I am reminded of something I read regarding Winston Churchill's time as First Lord of the Admiralty during the naval arms race before World War I. The Treasury wanted to appropriate four dreadnoughts one year. The Admiralty wanted six. So they compromised on eight.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Not long ago I asked -- where are the Catholic novelists? My cyber friend Bill [oops I meant Rodak] suggested that I check out Ron Hansen. His latest novel Exiles is about Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great Victorian Catholic poet. So I checked it out.

The novel really follows two stories. One is the fate of five German nuns, exiled during the Kulturkampf, who died when their ship taking them to American ran aground off England. The second story is of Hopkins struggles within the Jesuit order, a struggle mirrored by his attempt to write a poem about the maritime disaster . The resulting poem, "The Wreck of the Deutschland" is considered one of Hopkins best, but he paid a price. Like some many heroic and holy people, he suffered from the "Dark Night."

The novel is a Catholic one in that it examines the motivations of people for vocations. But it is not a theological novel in the spirit of Brideshead Revisited.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What Would My Plan Be?

OK -- so I am against this stimulus plan. It seems to me not to be an immediate injection of money into the economy but an appropriations bill, a wish list of projects. To me, it seems this plan will simply be a repeat of the Japanese attempts to overcome their economic downturn of the early 1990s -- with the same lack of results.

But everyone is afraid of doing nothing following the myth of the Great Depression. It seems to me that what caused the Depression is the opposite of what ii happening now. Following the Crash, the Federal Reserve followed a tight money policy, contracting the money supply and letting banks fail. The exact opposite is going on now. The Fed is dropping money from airplanes and doing everything possible to keep banks from failing.

The real problem now seems to be debt -- we have too much of it. And the answer is not more debt. We need to work on getting out of debt.

So what do I propose doing? There needs to be a short term and a long term view.

Short term, things should be focused on helping those who have lost their jobs. So first concentrate on money for medical and unemployment.

Second, we need to do something about debt. Change the bankruptcy laws to allow residential mortgages to be reduced to fair market value in bankruptcy (such a proposal has been made by Senator Durbin). To the extent needed, change laws to ease renegotiation of properties underlying mortgage backed securities.

Third, to the extent needed to get some direct government projects into the mix, pick a number of immediately available infrastructure repair projects. Things already planned but for which money has not yet been appropriated. Limit it to power grid and transportation repairs. The crisis began with the construction industry, so do something on that industry now.

Anyway, those are my ideas. We will instead get a huge appropriations bill.

A Poem in Honor of the Stimulus Bill

(With apologies to the immortal memory of Percy Shelley)

I met a banker from a far off land
Who said: Two unfinished and doorless buildings of steel
Stand on K Street. Near them, on the Mall,
Half amended, a shatter'd bill lies, whose prose
And earmarks and grants to ACORN
Tell that its Peolsi drafter well the pork barrel knew
Which yet survive, stamp'd on this drunken government,
The talk radio that mock'd them and bloggers that fed.
And in section 1 this clause appears:
"My name is Spendulus, stimulus of stimuli:
Look on my appropriations, ye taxpayers, and despair!"
Nothing but lawsuits remain: round the Capitol
Of that colossal bill, penniless and bare,
The lone and stupendous deficit stretches far away (to China)

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Bit of Latin

Given the uproar over Williamson, let's leave this night with a piece of the Spy Wednesday Latin Liturgy from St. John Cantius in Chicago.

Pope Benedict and the Lefebvrist Puzzle

A minor uproar has arisen due to the lifting of excommunication of some of the leaders (bishops) of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). The press has been presenting this as a “reinstatement” of the bishops – even though it was merely a cancellation of the excommunications. The persons in question technically are not permitted to act as a bishop (or priest) and have no pastoral role. Whether or not they accept that or continue to hold themselves out as a bishop is another issue. And the remarks of one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, have turned a minor matter of church governance into an international incident.

The SSPX is schismatic. The press usually frames it as with respect to the Latin Mass (and ad orientum) but it is deeper than that. The SSPX has its origins in the discontent by some on the French Catholic right with the secularization of the French Republic. The impetus was opposition to Vatican II reforms to be sure, but the real genesis was a desire to return to the "throne and altar" Catholicism of the Old Regime. So the SSPX is as much a political organization as it is a religious one.

The excommunications took place in 1988 and were automatic as the result of Lefebvre consecrating four bishops (one of whom was Williamson). An Archbishop has the power to consecrate another bishop, but the consecration must be approved by the Vatican (which had told Lefebvre NOT to consecrate the four). So while the consecrations are valid in some respects, the Vatican does not permit the four to act as bishops. Lefebvre did it to ensure the SSPX would continue after his death. The Vatican bent over backward to keep SSPX inside the church. Pope John Paul II offered Lefebvre one new bishop of his choosing. In addition, the SSPX would have become a personal prelature of the church in a similar situation as Opus Dei. The organization would therefore have been permitted to continue its work but under the direct authority of the Pope. Considering the then strong and continuing opposition of many bishops to traditionalist Catholicism, it would have allowed SSPX to operate in dioceses were the hierarchy was hostile or indifferent.

Lefebvre refused and consecrated the bishops. By doing so, he engaged in a schismatic act for which the penalty was excommunication to him and all participants. This in turn led to the effective casting out of the SSPX from the Church.

Since the act, some other things have happened. One is that the SSPX in turn has fell into schism. Second, the Church has taken steps to help traditionalist Catholics stay within the church. These include:

  • The founding of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter by a group of former SSPX priests
  • The issuance of Ecclesia Dei in 1988 (issued in reaction to the consecrations) which directed bishops to allow the traditional Mass.
  • The issuance of Summorum Pontificum in 2007, which essentially took the decision out of the hands of the bishops and into the hands of the parishes.

I was and remain quite happy that the Latin Mass is making something of a comeback, even though it will never replace the vernacular. But even this has not been enough for SSPX. For one thing, they still complain about the Missal – traditionalist Catholics in communion with the Church use the official 1962 Roman Missal. The SSPX demands use of the 1950 Missal (and offshoot of the SSPX uses an even older Missal). To a large extent the problem is political – the Catholic Church has moved away from a throne and altar philosophy while SSPX wants to go back there.

One good thing has been the fact that the church has been able to get ordinary traditionalist Catholics back into the church. Most of those who attended SSPX masses were not there because they had an interest in the philosophy of Joseph de Maistre but rather because they liked the devotions of the “old” Church. They now have a place to go. The hard core of the SSPX though will never be happy. The church continues to bend over backward to keep the SSPX in communion and all we get for it is biting. If you ever get into a conversation with a true believing SSPX member, every sentence contains the words “Satan”, “Jews”, or “Freemasons”. Despite the action, the SSPX still remains outside the Church.

Which brings us to Williamson. The guy is a loon. It is not just the Holocaust; he is also a 9/11 Truther, JFK conspiracist and God knows what else he really believes. But he has not been "reinstated" as bishop, he cannot celebrate Mass in a Catholic church, he has only had his excommunication revoked. While I understand the concerns raised by some in and outside the church, his loony beliefs have nothing to do with the cancelation of his excommunication. One irony is that the father of Archbishop Lefebvre died in a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two.

George Weigel in a Newsweek article discusses the Lefebvrist puzzle here.

Twice in one week

So the GOP proves that maybe it is not stuck on stupid. First, the House GOP unanimously voted NO on the misnamed "Stimulus Bill." Then the RNC elected Michael Steele as chair.

Maybe there is some life in the old party after all.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Things blow up

"Something", well, two things, blew up in Pakistan today and it seems like it was a UAV launched missile attack. President Obama seems to be going after al Qeada on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. I would say he is going after bin Laden, but you can't kill someone who is already dead.

I think bin Laden has left us for the hereafter. With most al Qeada tapes, you get fairly new video footage and speeches. With bin Laden, you get recycled footage of him walking around some rocks while someone claiming to be him does a voice over. And in some cases, the voice over is just speaking in generalities, they rarely mention Obama by name or talk about specific current events.

Bin Laden is either dead (my guess) or in really bad shape. I think he died in such a way that no one will ever be sure (for example he died in a cave collapse thanks to a bunker buster). He is just a few wisps of DNA under 100,000 tons of rock.

It was never really about him, and it was a mistake to make it about him.

Anyway, I have looked around at some of the left side blogs to see how this is playing. For the most part, it has been seen positively.

The Huffington Post for a while had this as their main news item with the headline:


The site had a split picture, President Obama on one side wagging his finger and looking all stern and serious and Islamic Rage Boy's idiot Pakistani cousin on the other side acting all, well, full of rage (other than soccer balls and rage, does Pakistan actually produce anything?). I tried wadding through the comments to see how this was playing to HP's fans, but it is useless. I think 3/4s of the commenters there are trolls (of both left and right).

In any event, I understand why it is being done. When Bush was president I was uneasy about these attacks in Pakistan. That country is barely a country and I worry that these attacks might take down the government and lead to anarchy. By the same token, Waziristan is where the bad guys are, and the Pakistani government barley has any authority there.

I also believe that these attacks take place with a wink and a nod from the Pakistani government. They get to act all enraged to placate domestic audiences while getting rid of bad guys.

On Taylor Marsh's site one of the commenters wonders if President Obama knew about this before hand, or if this was simply a carryover of Bush's ROE. I can understand why some on the left would feel angry at these attacks continuing (though, from my quick view, it is positive, including from Marsh herself).

It is hard to believe now, but back in 2000, Bush promised a "more humble" foreign policy and I remember being annoyed that a day or so after his inauguration, the Air Force bombed some site in Iraq. I remember thinking that it must have been simply a continuation of Clinton's ROE and that Bush knew nothing of it beforehand (ah, those innocent days!) and that he would change the ROE.*

By the same token, this is the policy that President Obama said he would pursue.

Now you see why I pray for the president? Who would want this job?

* Yes -- to preempt the comments, I supported the invasion of Iraq, I supported the surge and I hope that our troops can now leave Iraq, and that Iraq will be mostly stable and most democratic. If you asked me at 8:58 a.m. on September 11, 2001 what my thoughts on Iraq were, I would have said end US enforcement of the no fly zone and come up with a sanction regime that allowed Iraq to buy and sell everything except weapon programs. 9/11 temporarily stopped the drift toward non-interventionism that I started around 1992.

I Want Some TARP!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Quote I Like

"From silly devotions and from sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us." -- St. Teresa of Avila.

Where are the Catholic Novelists?

Having recently finished "Brideshead Revisited" I starting thinking about this question. Waugh was a convert, but Brideshead was first and foremost a theological novel. The novel is in many ways about the "twitch upon the thread" by which God recalls sinners to himself. Other great novelists also had their Catholicism reflected in their writings -- Chesterton, Greene, Flannery O'Connor. Even Betty Smith's novel "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is very conscious of the Catholicism of its author.

Are their any Catholic writers today that fill this gap? I am told that the work of Mary Higgins Clark is informed by her faith, but I have never read her (I am not into thrillers). Obviously, there are novelists who are Catholic. But are there any Catholic novelists today?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Pledges and Promises to the President

Now that President Obama is sworn in, how should conservatives act? I have posted about this previously. I obviously think that we need to be adult about it. By the same token, we should not roll over and die.

Someone named Andy Levy, who I admit I never heard of before, set forth a list of "Don'ts" for conservatives in the Age of Obama that should be required reading for all on the right.

And after looking at the celebrity pledge*, I decide I too would make a list of pledges to President Obama.
  • I pledge I will be adult and principled. If you propose something I can agree with, I will support it. If you propose something I disagree with, I will oppose it but based on principles, not narrow partisanship.

  • I pledge that I will ignore every silly conspiracy theory regarding you (including but not limited to, theories that you were born in Kenya, that Malcom X was your father (yes, someone is actually claiming that), that you are a secret Muslim, and any other crazy theory that ends up in my e-mail in box).

  • I pledge that I will not engage in "assassination porn."

  • When you prepare to send troops in harm's way,** I pledge I will look at the evidence with dispassion.

  • If Congress approves sending troops into harms way based on "conventional wisdom", even if I opposed it, I pledge I will not accuse you of lying.

  • If you send troops into harms way, even if I opposed it, I pledge I will support victory. I know that the quickest way to get the troops home is through winning. I also believe that once American arms have been engaged, places where we were successful*** are generally better off than places where we were not.****

  • On the off chance that you and I ever meet, I pledge that I will be respectful, even though I may ask you a question that you find "hard." Please note that I am not being disrespectful, I just have a question.

In short, I promise not to act for the next 4-8 years like those on the unhinged left acted for the past 8. I also promise to chasten those on the right who act unhinged.

I also promise not to be your servant. You are mine. I promise not to make you forget that.

I also promise to pray for you.

* Some friends and my wife objected to my description of the video as creepy. If you watch it without feeling the same way, no matter your politics, you have a stronger stomach than I do.

** And you will. The last president not to send troops into harm's way was, I believe, Herbert Hoover, but even he inherited a few occupations.

*** For example, Western Europe, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Grenada, Panama, the Balkans.

**** For example, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lebanon.

Why Pray for the President?

Why pray for the president?

In the last few days, we have seen:

And let's not forget the day after Obama's election, the Russians announced they were moving nuclear missiles to Kalingrad and the ongoing economic crisis.

Why does ANYONE want this job?

My personal safety and prosperity depends much upon what that one man does (too much on one man under my philosophy, but that is a discussion for another day). And he bears a heavy burden. So I pray for him.

Why I Pray for the Best for the President

I have received a few messages from people who seem confused by my post yesterday quoting The Anchoress. Her original statement also references the fact that some on the left hoped for "Iraq to go wrong" in order to win the presidency back. She also yesterday noted that a conservative website was calling for prayers for President Obama to fail.

Praying for the president to fail in our world means praying for poverty and death for Americans and most of humanity. Obama was clearly not my choice for president (5 seconds reading this blog and you get this I hope).

And yes, I am creeped out by things like this

(And things like this are not new, it has been going on for over a year now). To answer one friend's message, being inspired is one thing (my parents inspired me), this is something else.

But to pray for the president to fail? That is like praying for the strength to cut of my nose to spite my face.

EDITED TO ADD -- I finally made it to the end of that video. Go to 3:54. I am not a servant to the President. He is mine.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The First Black President

The commentary on the Obama inauguration has been focusing and repeating the fact that he is the first black president. It is amazing of course, when you consider that only 55 years ago, it took an division of paratroopers to allow a small number of black teenagers to attend a white high school in Little Rock.

I really have not been making a big deal about it. Partly I think it is because I always thought the first black president would be a Republican, named Powell or Watts or Steele. So there is a little jealously there.

But mostly I hope because I do believe in colorblindness. I hope that the next time a black man is elected president, no one will think much about it.

My hope is that skin color be reduced to a mere accident of birth. That it is a part of someone (the way my ethnicity is part of what makes me up). Yes, I fall short of that ideal all to often, but I can still try.

Headline of the Day

Obama Inaugurated, Ex-Klansman Collapses (HT: Instapundit).

I imagine Byrd, back in his KKK days 65 years or so ago, telling a friend "If a black man ever gets elected president it would kill me." As President Obama is only half black, Byrd collapsed but recovered.

This is only funny of course because Senator Byrd is OK.

A Thought for Inauguration Day

From the Anchoress --

"Obama was not my choice and I am appalled and a bit creeped out by the near-worship of him I’m seeing, but I do pray for him, and want the best, not the worst, for him, and for my country."

Amen sister, amen.

Pope Benedict on "The Apostles"

I just finished Pope Benedict's book on the Apostles. It is a wonderful little book.
The book itself is based on a series of papal audiences given in 2006 and 2007. So it is conversational, not scholarly (if this Pope could wrote anything that is not scholarly that is). Each of the subjects (and it goes beyond The Twelve to also discuss Paul and some of the early Church's co-workers) is presented in a way to make their life lesson relevant to today.

With the exception of Paul, who was an educated man, the Apostles mostly were what today we would call "blue collar" types. They were working men (and women too), ordinary people with ordinary concerns and lives. I think about that when I think about people like my Uncle Joey -- a big gruff tough guy who none the less would use a finger rosary to pray while driving. Like several of the Apostles, he also liked to fish. He never had it easy in life, yet he accepted the bad things and worked hard to persevere.

Holiness can be found in the most unlikely places.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Advice to President Elect Obama

Everyone it seems has advice for the President Elect. So here is mine.

Back in 1968, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley were hired by ABC to give commentary on the election. While both Vidal and Buckley hated each other (during the Democratic Convention they almost came to blows, so for most if not all of the remainder of the campaign they never sat in the same studio) the advice they gave on Election Night still is relevant.

Heed the ghetto as well as the boardroom, but also remember that the best run country in the world is Switzerland, and no one knows the name of that country's president.

Is it too early to think of 2012?

Of course it is. The new guy has not even been sworn in yet.

Still, I wonder if Mark Sanford is the future face of the GOP. Everyone right now is focusing on Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal. But Sanford is one who is calling for fiscal responsibility when every other politician has their hands out or is dumping cash around as fast as they can.

Back during the campaign I saw Sanford as a possible vice presidential candidate. But he comes from South Carolina, and while his reputation is not one of being an evangelical social conservative, he may be pigeonholed as one by the press. I also have heard that he has promised his wife that the 2006 governor's race was his last.

There is a long time until Election Day 2012. It is and should be WAY to early to think about it. Unfortunately, given our system and the front loaded primary schedule, anyone seriously looking to run in 2012 will start almost immediately.

As for me, my plan is to forget presidential politics for a while. Best case, not until November 2011. But this plan will probably be forgotten almost immediately.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Inauguration

Some on the right have been noting that the Obama inauguration will cost significantly more than the Bush inauguration of 2004. There is some humor about this, given that then many on the left argued that such expense was indecorous with US troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the time, I can remember feeling uneasy with the amount spent on the Bush inaugural.

I guess I find he whole inauguration process a bit distasteful, no matter who is president. It seems a bit non-[small r] republican to me and somewhat monarchical. But I agree with the Anchoress -- if McCain was elected you would be hearing complaints about the cost. So let soon to be President Obama have his party, he has a heavy burden the next four years.

So good luck President Obama. You will need it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Dynasties in Politics

America likes to think it is a Republic. Our president and legislature is elected and the hereditary principle has no place in our body politic.

Yet, right now, the choices for my new Senator seem to be the daughter of a president and the son of a governor.

I am not sure exactly what Caroline Kennedy has done to think she should be a Senator. Yet, American politics is filled with mediocrities who thought that they should be elected and used money and family connections to get there. What I think has struck a nerve here is the feeling of entitlement that Ms. Kennedy exudes with little to really back it up other than her name and some vague commitment to the correct causes over the years. While Andrew Cuomo may be unliked in many quarters (he comes off as abrasive at times), he has been a cabinet secretary and has run for office (he is currently Attorney General). He at least has put himself and his views out there. If Ms. Kennedy feels she will be a good Senator, run for it.

I really do not care much either way, no matter who Governor Patterson appoints is unlikely to agree with my beliefs -- so a Kennedy or a Cuomo, if I really had to choose, I'll go with Andrew Cuomo, as at least he has been in the arena.

But that got me thinking, (small r) republican theories aside, political dynasties have always been a part of American politics. From the very beginning, the Adams family was central in American politics. In New York, the Clinton family was prominent. Are political dynasties undemocratic and unrepublican?

I recently finished reading Polybius's Histories which examined Mediterranean history (focusing on Rome and Greece) for the period from about 290 BC to 140 BC. Polybius, though Greek, lived in Rome for much of his life and was a friend to many in the Roman elite. And one thing that struck me was that many of the names in the various eras were the same. Rome at this period was a Republic and while at the beginning of the era still technically confined to Latinum, the beginnings of the empire were taking shape. So granted, Rome was drawing from a small pool of possible leaders, but still, you would think that more new families would appear.

Roman history is often taught as a conflict between the patricians and the plebeians. It is true that in the early days of the Republic there were real differences between the two orders, as the Republic progressed, the distinctions disappeared. By Caesar's day, the real difference was that certain offices were reserved to members to each order (most importantly, the "Tribune of the People," who held the vital veto power, had to be a plebeian). Some patricians became poor and their families faded into obscurity. Some plebeians became rich and their families prominent.

In Rome, therefore, the real distinction was between those whose families had members elected consul and those who had not. As the Republic disintegrated, "new men," those whose families had not included consuls, became more and more rare. When the great Cicero was elected consul in 63 BC, he was the first new man in more than 30 years. I have felt that this lack of new blood was one of the causes of the downfall of the Republic. People began to enter politics to advance their family interests rather than out of public service. We should keep that concern in mind.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Some Thoughts on Dying

Father Richard Neuhaus, editor of First Things, died today. I am a subscriber to First Things (which may seem a little strange as I neither consider myself a neoconservative nor a social conservative) and always turned to his column first whenever a new issue arrived. Father Neuhaus had once before been faced death and wrote this about it:

We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well.

Catholic prayer books often had prayers asking for "a good death." I think about my parents and how they faced their deaths. My father faced his disease and fought it hard. When I was asked by the deacon how I would describe how he faced his disease, I gave four words -- faith, hope, humor, and courage. He died at home, in bed, in his sleep.

My mother died one year to the day thereafter. In some ways she welcomed it, hoping to be with my father. The strength she exuded to all around her disappeared the day my father died. Her family and friends were not surprised when the end came. For her, it came after 3 months in a hospital room.

What does make a truly good death? For no matter what we do, how much tofu we eat or laps around Central Park we run, we all die. Most of us hope and believe that there is something on the other side of death. One prayer to Saint Joseph asks "drive away those enemies of my soul so I can end my life in peace."

So to have a good death, we should accept our fate that we will, someday die, and not lose heart before the end.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's a Catholic Thing

That is the great thing about us Catholics, we never deviate from the rubrics of the laity. Child puking in your hand? Genuflect and make your way to the bathroom. Toddler have a flesh wound? Cross yourself and then continue with direct pressure. A plane crashed into the back of Church? Make your way to the nearest exit, bless yourself with Holy Water and then exit the Church.

From the Real Life Rosary Weblog (HT Happy Catholic)

Dear Mister Spitzer

There once was a time when a man in public life who found himself disgraced would quietly retire from the public eye. Instead, you have decided to give the President Elect advice on the economy. (HT Instanpundit)

Back in November, I suggested that you look to the example of John Profumo. When he was disgraced he acknowledged his wrongdoing and retired from public life. He then spent the rest of his life serving the homeless of London, rehabilitating himself in the eyes of society.

I know his case was more involved than yours -- the woman tied to Mr. Profumo was also tied to the Soviet military attache and there was the possibility of Cold War spying. Yours was a simple case. But take the example of that honorable man. Retire for public life, at least for a while. You are a wealthy man, concentrate of rehabilitating yourself and your reputation through good works and charity.

Can we afford a Keynesian Solution?

My good Internet buddy Bill Barker of Usually Right e-mailed me this link. In it, Professor Willem Buiter of the London School of Economics questions the proposed stimulus plan.

Bill (both Barker and Buiter) is preaching to the choir here. President Bush is afraid of being accused of doing nothing like Herbert Hoover. Of course, Hoover did actually do lots of things, mostly what President Bush is trying now, a stimulus package and loans to industry. They did not work and when tied with the 1930 Fed's decision to tightened credit, turned a bad recession in the Great Depression.

The problem is bad debt which is causing a lack of confidence. If I was in charge, I would have not done the bail out. I would keep interest rates moderately low and allow the banks liquidity, but put the worst entities into bankruptcy. They could have then restructured if they had value in an orderly fashion.

With respect to the debt crisis, I would recognize the problem is too much debt and bad debt at that. Again, no bail out, but as necessary loosen up laws to make it easier to renegotiate the debt, or write off debt in bankruptcy equal to collateral. Spend the money assisting those in greatest difficulty due to the financial crisis.

But no one listens to me (or Bill for that matter). So we will have more bail outs and a "stimulus" plan we cannot offer which will have dubious value. Speaking of which Barrack! Where is my check!

Monday, January 5, 2009

More thoughts on the Gaza War

I am someone who sympathizes with Israel. In their position I probably would have reacted to continuous Hamas rocket fire and provocations the same way. No one other than the most genocidal maniac can be happy about the Gaza situation. Troops have moved into the strip, which is densely populated. No matter how careful Israeli soldiers are, civilians are dying. Young Israelis are dying.

What bothers me most is the "rah rahing" I see from supporters of both sides. No matter what you think of Hamas, you cannot be happy with the increasing civilian casualties and the humanitarian disaster. Israel has proved its point. Unfortunately, I fear Hamas will not stop. So in a year or two we will again see the recurring spectacle of Palestinian rockets followed by Israeli bombs and more war, death and destruction.

The Byzantines had I think the best view of war. To them, war was tragic, but some times necessary. They were surrounded by enemies on all sides and rarely knew peace. But while they hailed the victors and honored their heroes, they did not see anything particularly heroic about war itself. Soldiers who killed the enemy in battle were expected to do penance.

War was avoided by a combination of nuanced diplomacy, bribes and brute force. The Byzantines would make a cost benefit analysis but always had the power of a strong army to back up negotiations. Every now and then, a barbarian who asked for too much would suffer the consequences of Byzantine power, to make an example for the others. In this way, the Byzantines were able to 1000 years to fend off enemies from all sides.

So let's cut out the rah rah -- war is not a football game,. Many people have died, and I fear many more will in the coming days.

Leon Panetta for CIA




Seriously though, I think this is a good pick. He has no intelligence background, but I view the CIA Director would be more of a manager anyway. Considering the CIA's past history, I think an outsider is a good idea.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have told Diane Feinstein, the new Senate Intelligence Committee chair. So this could cause some interesting blue on blue fire, though I fully expect Senator Feinstein to be singing Mr. Panetta's praises come the committee hearing.

If I had my way, the CIA as it currently exists would be disbanded and replaced by a small central clearinghouse of an agency. In my world, civilian intelligence would be transferred to the State Department, Commerce Department, research bodies of certain other government agencies, the NSA and NRO (and as necessary, the FBI). The CIA would function coordinate the information from the civilian and military intelligence departments.

This pick further helps the cause of Italian world domination. If my father, staunch conservative Republican that he was, was still around, his comment would have been -- "Do you know he is Italian?"

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Thoughts on Epiphany

Today was the feast of the Epiphany, though I like to call it "Three Kings". My mother used to insist that we keep our Christmas tree up until Epiphany (though she used the old fixed date of January 6, not the movable feast date we use today). When I lived in Washington, a Cajun friend used to head back to New Orleans to return with the King Cake.

In church this morning, I explained it to my children that on Epiphany we celebrate the first Christmas presents.

As the homilist this morning explained, the really funny thing is that Matthew's Gospel does not refer to three persons, and does not call them kings. Rather, they are an indeterminate number of "magi" or wise men. Little is given of who they were or where they came but the general "from the east." The gifts too are symbolic -- gold of Christ's kingship, incense of his priesthood, and myrrh for his death.

So Happy Epiphany!

A Quote I Like

"If I succeed I bless God. If I do not succeed I bless God, for then it will be right that I do not succeed." St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Predictions for 2009 (Part 1)

The Anchoress asks for predictions for 2009. So here are some of mine.

  • Israel's offensive against Hamas will end in a week or so. Hamas will be severely wounded, but rocket attacks will continue. When all is said and done, Hamas will claim victory.
  • Soon after the inauguration, the Obama administration will announce that Iran is close to building a nuclear weapon. Within 6 months of the inauguration (and without Congressional authorization), President Obama will order missile strikes on Iran.
  • The Iraq War will continue to wind down to the point that no US troops are in combat. There will be the occasional al-Qeada suicide attack and al Sadr will make occasional threats, but the Iraqi government will strengthen its hold on the country.
  • Some of President Obama's earliest supporters will become disillusioned by President Obama's centrist governing style.
  • The bailouts of the economy will have seemingly little effect, but the economy will self correct. The Dow will be in the high 9000s by December.
  • In New York, Mayor Bloomberg will defeat court challenges to the repeal of term limits. He will win reelection with less than 50% of the vote.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

2008 explained in 3 minutes and 30 seconds!

(HT -- The Anchoress)