Wisdom of the Saints X

No matter what efforts I make, I cannot die to myself without his grace. I am like a frog which, no matter how high it leaps, always finishes up back in the mud. No matter how hard I try to escape from myself, I always come back to myself and my self-love. Draw me, then, O Lord, draw me after you; for unless you do, I cannot move even one step away from myself.

Blessed Dominic Barberi

How Many of Me?

LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Sometimes on busy days I wish I could clone myself, but now it appears I don't need to. There are plenty of other Patricks out there. Maybe we can have a convention.

Here's something fun: try entering names of people you know and see how low you can get the number. I actually got it down to zero, which I guess means the person I was thinking of doesn't exist.

Who's At War?

We live in a cynical age and it seems our young Marines know the score. I had some similar thoughts a few months ago. Semper Fi.

Hat tip: Lair of the Catholic Cavemen

Sisterly Love at Delta Zeta

After this and this, I may look a little obsessed about some women's fixation on outer appearance. Honestly, I am not going out of my way to find these stories. Now there is another one.

DePauw University is a small college in Indiana with the typical assortment of fraternities and sororities. One sorority, Delta Zeta, has been receptive to academically talented young women without regard to their sex appeal, or lack thereof. Members took their studies seriously and were apparently less involved in the more sordid aspects of campus life.

Rather than applaud this commitment, the national headquarters of Delta Zeta chose last year to begin an investigation of its DePauw chapter's failure to meet recruiting goals. The sorority house was only half full. This was unacceptable back at Delta Zeta HQ.

Now let's stop right here and think about this. Freshman girls at Depauw, as at other colleges, have a choice of sororities to pledge. It seems that the one sorority with a reputation for studying more and partying less had trouble attracting new members. What a surprise! Nonetheless, the girls of Delta Zeta appear to be a close-knit group. The fact that other students have misplaced priorities is not their fault.

So, the national office came to DePauw and "interviewed" all the members of Delta Zeta about their "commitment" to the group. They determined that 23 of the 35 members were "insufficiently committed" and asked them to move out of the sorority house. Here is where it gets interesting:

The 23 members included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men, conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated that they quit.

"Virtually everyone who didn't fit a certain sorority member archetype was told to leave," said Kate Holloway, a senior who withdrew from the chapter during its reorganization.

"I sensed the disrespect with which this was to be carried out and got fed up," Holloway said. "I didn't have room in my life for these women to come in and tell my sisters of three years that they weren't needed." more

Reports indicate that many of the ejected members had actually been very involved and dedicated; one was the chapter president. Likewise, some of the twelve who were judged worthy of remaining had done little for the chapter - other than looking pretty, that is.

Justice may prevail in the end. It seems that the new, re-invigorated, more beautiful Delta Zeta chapter managed to attract only three recruits for this semester. With the six original members who stuck around, that leaves them with a total of 9. The national office said its goal was to have the chapter at 95 members by 2009.

If they think they had recruiting problems before, they have a real challenge now. Having this story told in the New York Times and syndicated to other papers nationwide is probably not what the Delta Zeta honchos had in mind when they set out to beautify the DePauw chapter. I see on their web site a plea from the Executive Director for all members to send press inquiries to her. Looks like a damage control effort is underway. Good luck, ladies.


Hillary Smackdown

One of my greatest fears is the thought that Hillary Clinton could once again take up residence in the White House. Not too long ago there appeared to be a good chance she could make it. She may yet, but last week Barack Obama took her down a notch.

I will summarize in case you missed the news. Hollywood mogul David Geffen, who was a solid supporter of Bill Clinton, recently joined the Obama camp. Hillary let her displeasure be known through intermediaries. Geffen fired back with some biting comments about both Clintons to a New York Times gossip columnist. Instead of laughing off the story and letting it die, the Hillary camp allowed it to blow up into a major story. Why? Peggy Noonan has a theory.

Mrs. Clinton has never gone after a fellow Democrat quite the way she's going after Mr. Obama, and it's an indication of how threatened she is not only by his candidacy but, one suspects, his freshness. He makes her look like yesterday. He makes her look like the old slash-and-burn. I doubted he could do her serious damage. Now I wonder. MORE

Bill Kristol also has an interesting column about this. The race has a long way to go and Hillary is by no means out of it. Nor is Obama a shoo-in for the nomination. Kristol talks about a scenario where Clinton and Obama destroy each other and Al Gore swoops in to pick up the pieces. It could happen.

Meanwhile today's New York Times has a story about how none of the Republican candidates are proving very attractive to Christian Right leaders. I can easily believe it - none of them are very attractive to me, either. Any of them are probably preferable to Hillary.

Pole-Dancing Moms

On Thursday I wrote about moms who think their job is to make their daughters look sexy. Today Rod Dreher blogs about the latest suburban insanity: pole-dancing parties. Women used to enjoy gathering together to look at Tupperware. Now they teach each other how to act like strippers. Presumably their new knowledge will be passed on to the daughters eventually.

I can't possibly say this any better than Rod does, so here is his conclusion:

It's just so comical -- unleashing the sexual kitten inside flabby, overpermed suburban matrons -- that you (well, I) can barely work up the outrage. Then again, if Viagra can turn Homer Simpson into Fabio, at least in his own mind, this is to be expected? You can apparently convince women to accept anything as long as you shellack it with a feminist gloss and call it empowering. Why are people so eager to cast off their personal dignity? This has mystified me for a few years, as readers of my 2002 "Rampant Rabbit, Licking Lizard" piece in NRO will remember (the piece was about the phenomenon of suburban and small-town sex toy and lubrication parties). I'm not particularly interested in whether or not lovers slather their stiffened giblets with fragrant unguents, poke each other with blenders, or gad about their bedchambers like pole dancers. Fine, knock yourself out, just don't frighten the horses.

What does interest me is the willingness to take what was more or less outlaw behavior and domesticate it. When middle class women are willing to ape strippers in their living rooms, and pass around dildos and lubricant as they once did Tupperware, something very strange is up. more

Something strange, indeed. This is still more evidence of what I keep saying: we in the West are now re-enacting the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. We enjoy our bread and circuses while our leaders commit ever-greater acts of evil. God help us.

Disco Church

The Anglican church - which we know in the US as Episcopal - is in the process of splitting itself into pieces, mainly over the issue of ordaining gay clergy. The following is from an Episcopal leader in New York about a recent church experience.

The Sunday after General Convention I returned to my home parish for Gay Pride Sunday and participated in a Disco Mass for which gays and lesbians turned out in force. The opening hymn was a beautiful jazz rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Musical offerings came from gay men in sequined tank tops and from the Director of Music who was ushered into the service singing a disco number complete with Go-Go girls. The queen of St. Mark’s appeared in full drag to deliver the homily and the closing hymn was, Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” As I stood singing among straight men and women, young parents with their children, gays and lesbians, teenagers in hip hop clothing, Asians, whites, African Americans and Spanish speaking people I realized I was part of the realm of God and I was glad to be there - in a place where God’s creation of a new thing was being lived out.

At first I thought this must be a joke but apparently it's real. Having never been to an Episcopal service, I don't know if they are always this enthusiastic and diverse. It sounds like quite a spectacle.

Personally, I go to church to cleanse my soul, worship God, and find peace. Seeing a drag queen deliver the homily is not exactly helpful in that regard. A lot of people seem to agree, since Episcopal church membership has been falling for years. Gay bishops ought to be the least of their worries.

Hat tip: Crunchy Con

Sexy Girls

If I were to say that it's not a good idea for young girls to wear provocative clothes and otherwise attempt to make themselves look "sexy," a lot of people would call me a prude. Modesty, it seems, is no longer a virtue in our culture.

So before you pin the prude label on me please note that no less than the American Psychological Association just issued a report about the harmful effects that this increasing sexualization of girls , especially in the media, has on both the girls involved and everyone else.

Call the APA what you want, but it is clearly not a right-wing, bible-thumping, or in any way conservative organization. Quite the opposite. That's why their report and its conclusions are so stunning. You can get the full report here, or see some press coverage here. A few highlights:

  • Studies have found sexualization is linked to three of the most common mental health problems in girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.
  • Thong panties are now available for girls as young as 7.
  • Nearly half of American children ages 4-6 have a TV in their bedroom.
  • In 2005, 77% of prime-time network programs included sexual material
  • In a 2002 study, seventh-grade girls who viewed idealized magazine images of women reported a drop in body satisfaction and a rise in depression.
  • Kids as young as 5 are being treated for eating disorders.
The problem is that it is easy to confuse a healthy concern for ones body with flaunting your sexuality. The media is no help in this regard, bombarding us with images of fantastically beautiful people and products that claim to make us look like them.

Unfortunately many parents are not much help either. They want their daughters to be "attractive" and so allow them to wear revealing clothes and sexualize themselves in other ways. Mothers who grew up amid the "Sexual Revolution" encourage in their own daughters an obsession with outward appearance. (It happens with males, too - we all want a chiseled jawline and sculpted abs, but we are less likely to go to extremes trying to get these things.)

Why? Why is it so important for every girl to look like a movie star? Are there no better things for them to do? Apparently not. Quite the opposite, if family budgets are any guide. Many parents spend a lot more on clothes, make-up and skin care products than they do on books or education for their daughters. Some parents even get cosmetic surgery for their girls who are still in high school. The only conclusion I can draw is that parents, mainly mothers, desperately want their daughters to be the most popular, beautiful, attractive girl in her class.

So, all you moms out there who want this, listen up. Your little girl can be "attractive" while you save a lot of time and money. Here's what to do: just have your daughter take off her expensive panties, lay down on the ground and spread her legs wide open. That's all it takes. I guarantee she will quickly attract all the boys she can handle.

I apologize for the crudity of that image, but is it not what you are trying to achieve? Why not just skip the interim steps and go straight for the finish line? The boys really don't care what kind of earrings your daughter is wearing.

"No," you indignantly reply. "My daughter can be sexy without being sexual." Really? How does that work? She parades the goodies in front of boys whom we have taught to give in to every feel-good impulse, yet you think she will say "No" at just the right time?

Please. The very idea is absurd. At best she will give in to the pressure and live with the consequences. At worst, she will run into boys who don't care if she says "no" and will take what they want anyway.

The reality is that you will get what you are asking for when you do this to your daughters. Then you will suddenly decide you don't like it. Sorry - it's a little too late at that point. (Of course boys and their parents share the blame for this state of affairs. That's a different topic, and anyway it takes two to tango.)

I am not suggesting that girls should wear veils and robes and never be seen in public. All I'm saying is that outward appearance is not the be-all and end-all of our lives. Part of that means dressing with appropriate modesty so that everyone's thoughts can remain on the more important things.

We are not teaching this to our children and they will suffer as a result. Again, this comes from the mental health professionals, not the pulpit. It's not just a religious issue. Our culture defers to the pshrinks about everything else. Will we ignore them this time?

When physical perfection is the goal, failure is inevitable. We see impossibly pretty people in the media and want to be like them. The sad fact is most of us can't be like them, but we keep on trying. In fact the real people may not look like what you see - you could be viewing the digitally enhanced version.

Attaining this level of perfection is an impossible dream and sets us up for the problems APA identified - depression, eating disorders, failure to pay attention to more important priorities. Want examples? How about Britney Spears? Lindsey Lohan? The late Anna Nicole Smith? You really want your daughter to follow those examples?

Yes, we need to change the culture. Parents can instill values but kids eventually go outside the house. They will see the messages that start this whole process. However we can take steps to minimize the exposure and teach our kids how to resist it. Is it easy? No. Is it critical for their future? Absolutely. Here is a good place to start.

Perks for Rudy

If we are to believe the media, Rudy Giuliani is now deadlocked with John McCain for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. Given that the first primaries are over a year away, I am not yet convinced that the race is over. For now, Rudy is still a private citizen. Good thing, too, because he makes a lot of money delivering speeches.

The Smoking Gun recently acquired a copy of Giuliani's standard speech arrangements. The fee is $100,000 and that is just the beginning. Rudy travels first class. Look what else the contract demands. [My comments are in brackets.]

  • Client shall provide Mr. Giuliani with first class travel expenses for up to 5 people, to include a private plane, roundtrip... Please note that the private plane MUST BE a Gulfstream IV or bigger. [A Gulfstream IV is a NICE plane. Look here.]
  • Client agrees to provide Mr. Giuliani with a pre-registered, large two bedroom, non-smoking suite with a king-size bed, on an upper floor, with a balcony and view if applicable. Client also agrees to reserve 4 single rooms on the same floor as the suite... Client agrees to pay for all meals and incidental expenses incurred by Mr. Giuliani and his staff during their stay... [I doubt they will be eating at McDonald's].
  • Please note that Mr. Giuliani requests that all room accommodations be registered under the name Diana Haidary. [Who is this?]
  • Mr. Giuliani prefers not to participate in candid photo opportunities. [He might be caught saying something embarrassing.]
  • Mr. Giuliani reserves the right to participate in political events and/or private business ventures to include book signings during his stay in the event city. [After the speech is over, it's vacation time!]
This is all fine - no one is forcing people to bring Rudy to their events. Other famous people have similar arrangements. It does, however, seem inconsistent with the blue collar, regular-guy image Giuliani proponents like to showcase. Of course should he become president his travel arrangements will make this look like a walk in the park.

Transcending The Labels

No one who knows me would dare to call me "liberal," whether in the political, cultural, or theological sense. Lately, however, I've been thinking a lot about whether I want to be known as a "conservative." Maybe it is a sign of reaching middle age, but a lot of the things I used to be so sure about aren't as clear anymore. The death penalty is a good example. I used to be a "hang 'em high" law-and-order kind of guy. Now I'm not so sure.

On the other hand, I am far from being a liberal in the way most people understand it. I disagree with Ted Kennedy about, well, pretty much everything. I used to call myself a libertarian but that doesn't really fit either. I don't know what political label to wear, and this is a little bit distressing to me.

David Kuo had a post last week about the early Christians that gave me some food for thought in this regard. Kuo quoted another blog by David Fairchild on the 10 marks of the early church. I don't know if these are strictly accurate, historically speaking, but they sound about right.

• 1- They refused to attend blood thirsty entertainment. They wouldn’t go to gladiatorial events because they believed it defiled humans who were created in the image of God. This made them appear to be anti-social. Tertullian and Augustine both write about these events in a negative light.
• 2- They did not serve in the military to support Caesar’s wars of conquest, which made them appear weak.
• 3- They were against abortion and infanticide. In this culture, both were considered acceptable. To throw your baby out on the dung heap if you didn’t want it was not taboo.
• 4- They empowered women by showing their value and dignity in places of learning and service which had previously been exclusively for men. Christians held women in high regard and treasured them rather than viewing them as just a step above expendable children and servants.
• 5- They were against sex outside of marriage. This fidelity was considered odd and against culture. Sex was viewed as nothing more than a desire like eating or sleeping. Christians held a high view of the bed and kept it pure and would not engage in sex outside of marriage.
• 6- They were against homosexual relationships. This was odd in a time when same sex practice was not frowned upon.
• 7- They were exceptionally generous with their resources. They shared what they had with one another and welcomed others in with a hospitality that was unparalleled.
• 8- They were radically for the poor. In a time when the poor and downtrodden were viewed as getting what they deserved, they were aggressively committed to loving and serving people in the margins of society.
• 9- They mixed races and social classes in ways that were unseen in their gatherings, and for it they were considered scandalous.
• 10- They believed only Christ was the way to salvation. This was in a time when everyone had a god and could believe something entirely different and it was totally acceptable to be polytheists and pluralistic. Christians dared claim that Jesus was the only way and refused to bend to other gods.

These all sound great, right? Fairchild goes on to compare these to today's political labels. What we now call "liberals" follow points 1, 2, 4, and 9. Those we call "conservative" stress numbers 3, 5, 6, and 10. Very few people on either side truly practice 7 or 8, though some monastic communities come close.

What does this tell us? It suggests to me that if we really try to live the same faith that the church fathers did, we probably won't fit into anyone's political box. I suspect the first Christians didn't worry about what political party to join, how to influence the emperor, or what ideological terms they should apply to themselves. They lived their lives in a simple, consistent manner. In this way they brought down the Roman Empire.

The Empire didn't fall overnight. Christianity did not prevail by force. Christians didn't compromise their principles for short-term gain. All they did was practice the faith in their everyday lives and lead their families as best they could. It worked.

What can we learn from this example? I'm not sure yet. I'm thinking through a lot of things right now and it's leading me places I didn't expect. I'll write more about this as I develop my thoughts. Meanwhile please leave comments if you have anything to add.

We Support The Troops!

Today's Washington Post has an extremely disturbing article about the wounded soldiers who are recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.

They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years...

While the hospital is a place of scrubbed-down order and daily miracles, with medical advances saving more soldiers than ever, the outpatients in the Other Walter Reed encounter a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas.

On the worst days, soldiers say they feel like they are living a chapter of "Catch-22." The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.

Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs: feeding soldiers' families who are close to poverty, replacing a uniform ripped off by medics in the desert sand or helping a brain-damaged soldier remember his next appointment.

"We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it," said Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, 26, an amputee who lived at Walter Reed for 16 months. "We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling." MORE

Having been in the Army myself, I don't find this hard to believe at all. I'll give you a personal example. I was taking a periodic physical exam, which in the Army at that time was done as an assembly-line process. The hospital set up stations to check various things, and soldiers would carry their chart from one station to the next and finally to the end, where a senior physician would review everything.

So, I came to the dental station. An Army dentist sitting at a desk asked for my chart. He looked at it, initialed a box and told me to move on. What he did not do was look at my teeth. I wasn't about to complain about it, of course - the last thing I wanted was to get stuck in his chair to be tortured for who knows how long. It was the fastest dental exam I've ever had.

In this case my teeth were fine. No harm done. My point is that military medicine is a bureaucracy like any other. At its best, it consists of medics who will move heaven and earth, risking and sometimes losing their own lives, to bring every wounded soldier home alive. At the other end of the chain are places like Walter Reed, where people like that dentist do what they must to collect their paycheck, and nothing more.

It shouldn't be this way, but apparently it is. What really chaps me is that Walter Reed is only five miles from the White House. President Bush goes there often to visit the wounded. He "cares for the troops," we are told. If you really care, Mr. President, do something for these soldiers. The Post has done a fine job identifying the problems. You can fix them with one phone call.

And all you people who feel so patriotic because you have magnetic yellow ribbons on your cars - you can do something, too. Try cleaning out a bedpan or giving a paralyzed soldier a spongebath. Then we'll know that you care for the troops.

Wisdom of the Saints IX

God is full of compassion, and never fails those who are afflicted and despised if they trust in him alone.

St. Teresa of Avila

Theory of Everything

The always-thoughtful Amy Welborn has unveiled her comprehensive "Theory of Everything." It's a long post but well worth reading. A few key points:

Everything will eventually go haywire.

Therefore, it is safest to have deeply-rooted, concrete, content-rich, standards and reference points expressive of tradition as our framework in order to keep us even within shouting distance of the original vision, aka The Truth...

The more I study history, the more I am convinced that the story of humanity is not so much progress but a succession of human screw-ups with different technologies, that's all.

The vast majority of us will always seek the broader road, we will seek to rationalize our way out of taking religious ideals seriously (Oh, what Jesus really meant was...), we will convince ourselves that faith is a matter of fitting God into our life, rather than shaping our own life around God. We will do this.

Therefore, any system, any organization that seeks to, well, organize us in our efforts needs to work with this reality, to take it into account. MORE

From there she goes on to suggest that, since we humans, left to our own devices, can always be counted on to screw things up, we need an anchor. We need a rock of truth to hold on to or we will all be blown into chaos. That rock is, or should be, the church. It's not entirely clear if modern churches are ready to fill this role.

Brilliant Minds

As I have noted before, there is a newly aggressive atheism and anti-Christian movement afoot in the U.S. Jennifer, who is a converted atheist, just had an interesting post after seeing some books by this bunch at the local Barnes & Noble.

I can't call them out too much since I used to be one of these people. But what jumps out to me about these sorts of statements now is the lack of wonder and curiosity about what made such a large percentage of the great minds of history believe in God or some sort of other spiritual realm.

Socrates, Plato, Newton, Copernicus, Galileo, Michelangelo, Einstein, and all the other brilliant minds who believed in the soul, in God or gods, in a designed universe: these people were not idiots. They also don't strike me as delusional, irrational, or the type of people to unquestioningly swallow fairy tales just because it was their culture or the way they were raised. And though they didn't have electron microscopes or the Hubble telescope, they had good heads on their shoulders when it came to understanding the world and weren't timid wallflowers who feared questioning things. I really doubt that any of these men believed in a "God of the gaps," where they decided that God must exist simply because they didn't know where the stars came from. Many of them are the founders of the modern sciences that we prize so much today. I can't picture any one of them reading The God Delusion or God: The Failed Hypothesis and renouncing their beliefs after being dizzied by the intellects of Dawkins and Stenger. MORE

Well said. Militant atheists would have us believe that only simpletons with IQ scores below room temperature can believe in a silly concept like "God." It isn't so, as Jen explains. This is not to say that Christians have a monopoly on scientific knowledge. Without a theological foundation of some kind, however, most of science doesn't make much sense. At the end of the day, we all believe in a God. The only question is which God we choose to accept.

Mandatory Safe Sex II

The debate over Texas Governor Rick Perry's order to vaccinate young girls against the HPV virus is not going away. Members of the legislature are now attempting to override Perry's order, and court challenges are also in the works. Perry is standing his ground.

Today's Austin American-Statesperson reports some information I had not heard elsewhere. For some reason the story doesn't seem to be on the Statesperson web site, or at least I can't find it. I will summarize for you:

First, it seems that Merck's Gardisil vaccine will not be the only game in town for long. Another vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline is due out later this year. Analysts think HPV vaccines could be a $5 billion a year market. So now the rush makes perfect sense - Merck wants to get as many girls as possible started on their vaccine series before the competing product comes out. Merck, of course, says they are in a hurry only because lives are at stake, blah blah blah.

Second, the rush is extremely unusual. Other vaccines like chicken pox, which came out in the mid-1990s, were made mandatory only after several years of widespread use proved them to be safe and effective. Two vaccines for other dangerous adolescent diseases, meningitis and whooping cough, have not been made mandatory in Texas. Requiring HPV but not these others is more than a little bit odd, doctors say.

I don't think it is odd at all. The difference is that those vaccines, I suspect, do not face an imminent competitive threat and their manufacturers have not chosen to launch nationwide lobbying efforts to make them mandatory, as Merck has done for Gardisil.

Also today - and this one does appear in the online Statesperson - is a separate story about how some legislators want to require the HPV vaccine for boys as well as girls. Why is this, you may ask, since boys do not have cervixes that can develop cancer. You silly person. The girls are catching HPV from the boys, so we have to stop the virus at its source.

Of course, we could accomplish the same thing by teaching both girls and boys not to have sex with each other until they grow up. No vaccine is necessary and it is 100% effective with many beneficial side effects.

This method would, however, require parents to actually set limits on their children's behavior, which is way too much to ask for many baby boomer moms and dads. It is much easier to just give the kids a shot and then rent them a motel room to stay in after the prom.

Personally, I would like to see Perry's order overturned so parents can make the decision for themselves. I do not have much hope that will happen, but I'd like to be surprised. Stay tuned.

Schoolgirl Wrestling

Rod Dreher reports on the disturbing trend of high school girls wrestling. Now if the girls were wrestling each other, this might be ok, at least as long as no mud is involved. However thanks to insane ideas of political correctness and a shortage of interested girls, most of them end up wrestling with boys.

Aside from the obvious problems of allowing hormone-crazed teenage boys to sweat and, ahem, rub themselves against the girls in front of a live audience, there are bigger issues:

...in order to muster the psychological wherewithal to compete on equal footing with a female wrestler, Rich Wood [a male wrestler] has to overcome deep cultural conditioning that will have taught him to think of women as persons men should exert physical labor to protect, not to conquer. The powerful and invaluable taboo that says men must never hit women will need to be eroded somewhat so Rich Wood can compete. Ten, twenty years from now, when Rich Wood is having a terrible argument with his wife or girlfriend, one wonders if it will be that much easier for him to give in to the temptation to strike her. MORE

The feminists who push for these kind of things are also the first to blame all men because a few men become abusive toward women. Now they are trying to create more abusive men? This is one of the nuttiest things I have ever heard. If your kids attend a school where this is happening, take them out. Now. It is a sign of much deeper problems.

Joining the Pod People

You better sit down for this, folks... I have just acquired my first iPod. It was a St. Valentine's Day gift from my beautiful wife. My first thought was that I must have been talking too much and this was her way of getting me to hush. Then I remembered I had actually asked for an iPod some time ago. See, good things come to those who wait. Now I need help from all my readers as I learn to use it.

Unlike most pod people, my goal is not musical. I don't listen to much music, frankly. Nothing against it - it's just not my thing. I like a few random pieces but my tastes are so strange that no single artist or radio station can keep me entertained for long. My iPod, which I have named Pedro, is destined for more cerebral use.

Here's the problem: I drive an hour each way to my job, five days a week. We also live in a rural area outside Austin so it is a long way to stores, restaurants, doctors, and most everything else. Traffic flow in Austin is not very efficient. Thus I spend a lot of hours behind the wheel and I have long struggled to use this time in productive ways.

I used to listen to talk radio. That was fine for awhile but the commercials became tiresome. I also have zero influence over the topics. Then I got XM satellite radio, which provides more choices but still leaves me bored sometimes. Next I moved to buying CD lectures and audio books. This was much better but became expensive very quickly.

Enter Pedro and his podcasting capability. Now I can download a huge variety of radio, TV and other programming, customized the way I want it, and most of it is free. For example, I like watching Fox News Sunday on TV but I'm usually at church at that time. With podcasting I can download it and listen at my leisure later in the week. Furthermore, I can stop and start the show whenever I want. No more sitting in the car for five minutes after I get to work in order to hear the end of an interesting program.

So, if this works out I will be able to load up Pedro with audio that is both entertaining and enlightening for every minute of my drive time. There is also a wealth of amateur podcast material out there, so I welcome suggestions from you, dear readers. You know from this blog what kind of things interest me. Leave a comment if you know of relevant podcasts I should check out.

If you are not yet a Pod person, all I can say is that you will be in a few years. The entire concept of "broadcasting" is probably going to disappear soon. Instead we will all be reading, watching and listening to exactly the things we want and nothing more. This will not always be positive for society - we all need to get outside our boxes sometimes - but it's the way things are headed. We may as well make the best of it.

Early Tech Support

This is really funny if you've ever known anyone who had trouble learning to use a computer. Remember to look at the top set of subtitles.

Hat Tip: Ironic Catholic

Wisdom of the Saints VIII

If your confidence were as great as it ought to be, you would not worry about what may happen to you; you would place it all in God's hands, hoping that when he wants something of you, he will let you know what it is.

St. Claude de la Colombiere


Children of Men

A new movie called Children of Men sounds very interesting. I have not actually seen it but the premise is fascinating.

Imagine this: it is the year 2027 and humans have lost the ability to reproduce. No one can get pregnant. There are no more kids. The youngest people alive are now in their 20s. School buildings sit empty while society descends into a chaotic hopelessness. There is no future for mankind.

This whole idea gives me the chills, frankly but it's not too far off from what Western civilization is in the process of doing to itself. Apparently in the film there is a glimmer of hope for humanity. There is no such hope for societies like Russia and most of Europe, where low birth rates are inexorably leading these societies toward extinction. The U.S. isn't far behind.

Of course, in the real world some humans are reproducing, and rapidly. Among this group the most popular name for newborn boys is "Mohammed." That particular society has a bright long-term future. Hopefully this film will help people wake up to where we are headed. It is almost too late.

Here is a particularly interesting review of Children of Men.

Celebrities Behaving Badly

Try as we may to escape, there is no way to remain ignorant of the latest antics of those whom our culture anoints with popularity. Anna Nicole Smith's self-destructive behavior finally caught up with her last week and the news channels are obsessed. Meanwhile Lindsey Lohan is "happy" in rehab, her mother tells a breathless nation.

Exactly why did Ms. Lohan need to go to rehab in the first place? She's not even legal age yet but apparently spends half her time bar-hopping. Why do celebrities enjoy these hedonistic lives and get away with it?

An economist at Clemson University thinks he has the answer. His research suggest that the key factor is replaceability.

To establish which explanation of bad behavior works best, Kendall gathered data from the National Basketball Association. Players in that league have been notorious for their rude and at times even criminal behavior. Fights on the court, brutish fouls, and even rape have been in the news in recent years. Kendall set out to discover which players behave the worst.

The NBA is a fine place to test these competing theories. Its players are young, have high incomes and guaranteed contracts. There is also significant variation in ability. Some players, like Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, have such preternaturally special skills that they fundamentally change the competitive level of their team. Others play their positions adequately, yet could be easily replaced. Do the irreplaceable stars tend to misbehave more?

To find out, Kendall gathered data on unsportsmanlike ``technical'' fouls for many years. He then performed a statistical analysis to identify what set the bad boys apart. While Kendall analyzed behavior across the entire population, his list of the worst offenders is a Who's Who of sportsmanship's greatest embarrassments, including such players as Rodman, Charles Barkley and Rasheed Wallace.

The results were striking. Income matters, but substitutability appears to matter more. If you want to know who will be a bad actor, look to a player's salary rank on a team. The player with the highest salary will behave the worst.

If you have two identical players, one who makes $10 million and is the third-highest-paid player on a team, and another who makes $10 million and is the highest paid on his team, the latter will behave much worse. The fellow with the top salary believes he cannot be replaced and abandons self control. MORE

This makes sense even without the statistical evidence. I've seen it myself in the business world. A key person can have bad habits and aggravate co-workers, but if the boss has no better alternatives to get the work done he will usually put up with it.

At the cultural level, we need (or think we need) actors and athletes to save us from lives of boredom. So we excuse their boorish behavior and continue buying tickets and watching games. The pressure to make it to the top - or to stay there - then drives these celebrities to ever more outrageous acts.

The good news is that the Internet is giving all of us the power to create our own celebrities. We don't have to live with whoever the studios tell us are our heroes - just find your own stars on YouTube.

For actors, at least, there is also the threat of being replaced with digital creations. The technology to do so is advancing rapidly. In Lord of the Rings, for example, Gollum was a digital character, given life only behind the scenes by Andy Serkis. Did he not seem real to you? In a few years, I'll bet actors won't be necessary at all. At that point there will be a lot of unemployed stars. A computerized Tom Cruise works a lot cheaper than the real one.

Karl Rove Slipping

Bush political architect Karl Rove revealed more than he intended last week. Referring to immigration policy, he reportedly said this:

"I don't want my 17-year-old son to have to pick tomatoes or make beds in Las Vegas."

The White House quickly claimed that Rove's comment was being taken out of context. Maybe so, but at the very least it was a monumentally stupid thing for someone in Rove's position to say, regardless of the context. It makes me wonder whether he really is such a political genius, or just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Anyway, let's think this through. Obviously someone has to pick tomatoes and make beds; the question is who will do it and under what conditions. That is something we can argue about. Whatever the right answer to the problem may be, though, Mr. Rove is quite sure it should not include his son.

There was a time when it was considered virtuous and useful for young people to learn firsthand the value of manual labor, even if they were likely to move on to a more intellectual career. It helps us to appreciate the efforts others make on our behalf. Even later in life it keeps us humble to sweat a little sometimes. Reagan knew this - remember all the pictures of him chopping wood on his ranch?

For many in our society, and Karl Rove sounds like a good example, physical labor is regarded as something to be done by members of a lesser class. This is wrong. Those who pick tomatoes and make beds are people, too, and they deserve more respect than comments like Mr. Rove's give them.

As for Mr. Rove's son, if he is 17 he should be just about out of high school. I wonder if Karl is encouraging him to visit the local recruiting station and sign up to serve his country? Surely college can wait while young Rove does his part in the War on Terror.

Happy Valentine's Day!

An intelligent, discreet, and pious young woman is worth more than all the money in the world. Tell her that you love her more than your own life, because this present life is nothing, and that your only hope is that the two of you pass through this life in such a way that, in the world to come, you will be united in perfect love.

St. John Chrysostom

Hat tip (again!): The Way of the Fathers

Saving Books in the Sinai

The LA Times has a fascinating story of the efforts to digitally preserve the thousands of ancient manuscripts at St. Catherine's Monastery in the remote Egyptian Sinai region. The Greek Orthodox monks of St. Catherine's have carefully preserved this priceless history for over a thousand years.

St. Catherine's is traditionally thought to be the place where Moses saw the burning bush. It is considered sacred by Muslims and Jews as well as Christians; supposedly, Mohammad himself ordered that the monastery be protected from harm, and it has operated without interruption since the sixth century A.D.

Now, under the guidance of a Texas Longhorn priest and with help from the local bedouins, many of the monastery's fragile documents are being digitally photographed so they can be studied and cherished by people everywhere.

"If you do the math, it's discouraging," says Father Justin, who oversees the library. "There are 1.8 million pages, not to mention the manuscript fragments discovered in 1975, known as the New Finds; the scrolls and the collection of early printed books — all in overwhelming numbers. But each manuscript is the work of a patient scribe working with difficult materials, recording a text of importance. Each manuscript is unique, and each is yet another facet of the library of Sinai, contributing to our understanding of the spiritual heritage that has been preserved here."

As someone who loves books and instinctively preserves as many of them as I can (much to my wife's dismay sometimes), I have a lot of admiration for this effort. These manuscripts are the heritage of Christianity, and Christianity is the foundation of Western civilization. They need to be saved from the ravages of time. Thanks to the monks of St. Catherine's, they will last forever.

Hat Tip: Way of the Fathers

Wisdom of the Saints VII

Before each action, say to Our Lord, "My Jesus, I wish to do this solely for love of You; and if this action did not please You, I would not do it.' If we do everything solely for love of Christ it is impossible for Him to fail to unite Himself to us."

Blessed Abbot Marmion

(via Gazizza)

While Europe Slept

Various bloggers are starting to notice a new book by Bruce Bawer called While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within. Bawer is not exactly a right-wing Bush fan. He is an openly gay leftist with no sympathy for Republicans, conservatives, or Christians.

Bawer sees what most on the political left do not: Radical Islam is not friendly to liberal secularism. Quite the opposite: look at what Bawer recently said in his blog:

One of the most disgraceful developments of our time is that many Western authors and intellectuals who pride themselves on being liberals have effectively aligned themselves with an outrageously illiberal movement that rejects equal rights for women, that believes gays and Jews should be executed, that supports the coldblooded murder of one's own children in the name of honor, etc., etc. These authors and intellectuals respond to every criticism of that chilling fundamentalist code – however cogent and correct the criticism may be – by hurling the "R" word...

By "R word" he means "racism," the only Crime That Cannot Be Forgiven in our culture. The attitude he cites is both ignorant (Islam is a religion, not a race) and suicidal. Leftists defend a movement that will, when and if it succeeds, wipe out the so-called freedoms leftists hold so dear. Rod Dreher sums up this illogic well.

I honestly don't get this. Shouldn't liberals be the most concerned about Islamic fundamentalism, given that the things they profess to value are the first things they would lose under Islamist pressure? It's hard to avoid the conclusion that this sort of liberal hates political conservatives and orthodox Christians more than he loves his own liberty. And he wishes to cling desperately to his own self-image as a defender of the poor, oppressed minorities, even when some of those poor, oppressed minorities would just as soon see him and his kind swinging from the gallows. MORE

Who Needs Democracy?

In 1996 the voters in California approved Proposition 209, which outlawed race and gender preferences in state government, as well as public education. No more affirmative action in hiring. No more lucrative government contracts reserved for minorities. No more racial quotas for admission to state universities. The people of California decreed that they wanted a color-blind society and passed a law to that end. Did they get their wish? No, according to a new article by Heather McDonald (via Professor Bainbridge).

Politicians, bureaucrats and other do-gooders who like to talk loudly about doing good things "for the people" decided that in this case the will of "the people" should be resisted and/or ignored. State and local agencies have repeatedly refused to follow Proposition 209 and done so only when faced with lawsuits.

Without the efforts of a small public interest law firm, some of the state’s largest government employers would still be using racial preferences for hiring and would be requiring contractors to do the same. The Pacific Legal Foundation has had to drag into court the city and county of San Francisco, the Sacramento municipal utility district, the state lottery commission, the state bond commission, and the California community college system, among others, to vindicate the people’s will. The Los Angeles and Berkeley school districts continue to assign students and teachers by race, even though the foundation has won suits challenging the practice in other school districts. MORE

I think we all agree that race should not be a factor in how the government treats citizens. Most Americans share the goal of a colorblind society. Proposition 209 was a giant step in that direction. The fact that some people are resisting it so viciously tells more about them than about the voters.

Mark Steyn has a great story in America Alone about the "Free Tibet" bumper stickers that are often seen on Volvos and other socially-aware cars. Freeing Tibet is a worthy goal, but what exactly are these people doing about it other than displaying a sticker?

Suppose, Mark asks, President Bush were to declare a Free Tibet our number 1 national goal and order the Pentagon to actually make it happen? Many of the people with those bumper stickers would go into convulsions. "Stop the bombing! Bring in the UN! Build consensus!" they would scream as Tibet was freed.

Like the bearers of Free Tibet stickers, many of those who want racial preferences are more interested in proving their own moral superiority than in actually doing anything to achieve their alleged goals. Likewise, they claim to believe in democracy, except when the democratic process does not serve their purposes. Then their elitist core is exposed for all to see.

Black Hawks Down

This morning the media reported that another U.S. helicopter had been shot down near Baghdad. A military spokesperson denied all knowledge of any crashes. Whether this one actually happened or not, we do seem to be losing choppers at at increasing rate lately - six since January 20th. Why?

Now it could be that more helicopters are flying because of the ongoing "surge" in troop levels and new counterinsurgency activities. They may be flying into more dangerous situations than they were a year ago. Or, more ominously, maybe the insurgent forces have acquired new anti-aircraft weapons or tactics. The Pentagon denies this but I am not sure if we can believe them.

This story from Bloomberg News discusses the many ways U.S. forces in Iraq depend on helicopters. They are critical for troop transport, medevac, resupply, reconnaissance, and all kinds of other missions. The U.S. enjoys "tactical air superiority." This means, in other words, "we can fly wherever we want, anytime, and you can't stop us."

When the Soviets attempted to occupy Afghanistan in the 1980s, they lost for one overwhelming reason: the U.S. armed the mujahidin with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Without control of the sky, even the brutal tactics of the Soviet Army could not maintain control on the ground. They left, and the Taliban came in to fill the vacuum.

As I said, the recent streak of downed choppers may be simple coincidence, or it could be a result of other factors. If, however, the Iraqi insurgents have obtained and learned to use portable air defense weapons like the Stinger, this war is about to get much, much bloodier.

Mothers Who Don't Know Best

Rod Dreher reports on a sad story from New Orleans. Keep in mind this is the city that was wiped out. Our Leaders are trying - at enormous expense to the rest of us - to rebuild this place and entice the former inhabitants to return.

After Katrina, we all learned what a dysfunctional culture prevailed in the Big Easy. Vows were made that the "New" New Orleans would be different. They are not off to a good start. It seems that two 17-year-old boys, one of who had just returned to New Orleans after living elsewhere since Katrina, got into a fist fight.

This in itself is not unusual - kids fight all the time. The shocking part was the parents. One of the boys went home and told his mother what had happened. This loving mother then gave her son a pistol and told him to "go get even" with the other kid. He took her advice. The other boy is now dead.

I would like to think this is an aberration and things like this don't happen every day in our inner cities. Unfortunately, I suspect they do. A segment of our society is, for all practical purposes, gone, fallen into the depths of primal brutality. We have progressed to a point where, instead of complaining about it, parents actually encourage their children to rebel.

The same thing happens in many smaller ways, too. I know parents who look the other way while their teenagers use drugs, roam the streets at all hours, and engage in all manner of antisocial behaviors. They excuse it by saying they are "just kids" who are "having fun."

Maybe so. Maybe their nice suburban kids will grow up to be fine citizens after sowing their wild oats. The lower classes, however, don't have as much opportunity to recover from such misspent youth. Nice new housing will not change a culture of mothers who want their sons to murder people. What will change this culture? A spiritual renewal is the only hope. Pray that it happens soon.

The ANS Frenzy

In the last two days Fox News Channel has transformed itself from a Fair & Balanced new source into the All Anna Nicole Smith, All The Time Channel. Other media outlets are not far behind.

I am sorry Ms. Smith passed away and sympathize with those who loved her. May the Lord grant her Peace. I am mildly curious how Ms. Smith died, but am content to wait for the autopsy report. I do not feel any need to listen to everyone who ever saw her cross the street describe their memories, nor do I have any interest in who is or is not the father of her child. The fact that there is even any question about the child's paternity is sad, actually. Babies should not be born into such confusion.

In this I am apparently a minority in this country. The media professes noble motives of giving us Important & Serious news, but the truth is they are in the business of selling advertising. To do this they need the biggest possible audience. Because the Anna Nicole Smith story relates two of our favorite subjects, 1) sex and 2) money, Americans are drawn to it like flies to honey. The media is giving us what we want to see, hear, and read.

So I am declaring an immediate Anna Nicole Smith news fast. I will not watch, read, or listen to any further coverage of her death. If you feel likewise, please join me in turning our attention to more important news.

Burying Children

I began reading the works of Gary North over twenty years ago. His analysis of the relationships of scripture, theology and economics is second to none. Some of his conclusions are more than a little controversial, but they are interesting nonetheless.

So it was sad to learn this week that Dr. North had just lost his youngest child, Caleb, age 24, to a mysterious disorder. The day after his son's body was discovered, he wrote a very touching article on his website:

If anyone ever asks you "What's so good about capitalism," tell him this: Capitalism has made it possible for most of our children to survive the killer diseases and accidents that two centuries ago killed 30% or more of all children before they reached adulthood.

Our children bury us. Most of us do not bury our children. I know of no greater blessing in the modern world. It is a blessing not known throughout most of man's history. Be grateful for it. We take it for granted.

Think about this for a minute. Not so long ago, 30% of all children died before reaching adulthood. If you had three or four children, chances are you would see one of them die. It was normal.

In the developed world, we have turned the tables by wiping out most of the childhood diseases that took so many lives. Yet even today, there are places where infant and child mortality rates are still very high. The rates would be much higher in the U.S. if we counted abortions as deaths. We don't, perhaps because the parents usually approve of those deaths.

Burying your child must be one of the most agonizing experiences a human can face. As Dr. North points out, our generation is normally spared from this pain. We should all thank God for this incredible gift, then do what we can to help those who do lose a child. Peace be with them.

Baptists Seeking Mary

Carl Olson points to an article in First Things by Dr. Timothy George, who is dean of the divinity school at Samford University. Samford being a Southern Baptist school, it is more than a little bit strange that he begins the article by referring to the Virgin Mary as "Mother of God." This is not historically how Baptists talk.

In the Baptist church where I went in my youth, we didn't learn much about Mary. The most I saw of her was a statue in front of the Catholic church down the street. Another kid once told me that the Catholics worshiped that statue. I saw no other evidence of this but it did seem a little odd. My church had no such statues.

I have since learned Catholics don't worship statues of Mary or anyone else. They do, however, take seriously what Mary said in Luke 1, verse 48: "From now on, all generations will call me blessed." They know there must be a reason the angel said Mary is "full of grace."

Dr. George sees this too, and suggests that maybe evangelicals should take another look at how they view Mary:

Mary has a pivotal and irreducible place in the Bible, and evangelicals must reclaim this aspect of biblical teaching if we are to be faithful to the whole counsel of God. When it comes to the gospel, Mary cannot be shunted aside or relegated to the affectionate obscurity of the annual Christmas pageant. In the New Testament, she is not only the mother of the redeemer but also the first one to whom the gospel was proclaimed and, in turn, the first one to proclaim it to others. Mary is named a “herald” of God’s good news. We cannot ignore the messenger, because the message she tells is about the salvation of the world. MORE

His line about the annual Christmas pageant is right on the mark. Here is a little-known fact: many Baptists actually own statues of Mary! These statues are kept carefully hidden eleven months of the year so that no one will will be tempted to worship them. In early December, they enter a non-idolatrous phase and can be safely uncovered. A few weeks later (or sooner if someone is seen bowing to them) the Mary statues are put under wraps again for another eleven months.

Catholics find this cycle more than a little bit strange. They look at Luke 1:48, recognize that they are included in the category of "all generations," and attempt to observe this scripture on a year-round basis. The statues are not idols; they are reminders.

Dr. George does a fine job explaining Mary from both perspectives. Evangelicals should read the article because it will show them an important aspect of the faith that they are missing. Catholics should read it to understand why their Marian devotion is often misunderstood by other Christians. Everyone will learn something. Check it out.

Wisdom of the Saints VI

Live in faith and hope, though it be in darkness, for in the darkness God protects the soul. Cast your cares upon God, for you are his and he will not forget you. Do not think that he is leaving you alone.

St. John of the Cross

China Blinks at Muslim Threat

Here is an interesting story (found at Dymphna's Well). The impending Chinese New Year will inaugurate the Year of the Pig. Normally this would result in China being festooned with images of pigs all over the place. Not so this time. The government has issued an order that pigs not be used in any form of advertising for the new year. Why, you may ask? Because the Chinese Muslims find pigs unclean and offensive.

The ban also applies to cartoons and traditional paper-cut images of pigs, and to slogans such as 'golden pig brings you fortune' and 'wish you a happy pig year,' the executive said. MORE

While it is pleasing to see the Chinese government attempting to accommodate religious minorities, we have not yet seen any such favors being done for the nation's Christians. Quite the opposite, actually.

Furthermore, the rulers of China are not in the habit of giving in to threats from people who feel oppressed or mistreated. The normal response is to impose even more oppression or mistreatment. So what's different this time?

Either Beijing is feeling unusually generous, or they are more afraid of their Islamic population than it appears. Either way, it's very strange.

Dutch Treats

I have never had the pleasure of visiting Holland. I haven't been to The Netherlands either. This is always strange to me because these are actually two names for the same place. To add to the confusion, the language and people of this place are both called "Dutch." Why are they not Hollanders? Anyway, in the last week three stories about Dutch things caught my eyes, and I thought I would share them with you.

In recent years Holland acquired a reputation as a sort of morality-free zone due to their penchant for legalizing activities that are forbidden most elsewhere. Prostitution, pornography, marijuana, you name it - it's all available on every corner, if we are to believe the stories.

For example, news emerged recently that a Dutch gym in Amsterdam plans to introduce a "Naked Sunday" policy so that people can sweat off the pounds while nude. Lycra is bad enough but this would be even worse. Thankfully, the gym will require nude patrons to place a towel on the machines and disinfect them afterwards.

Prior to the nude gym news, the Wall Street Journal last week sent one of its reporters to Amsterdam's red light district to evaluate the moral scene. Strangely enough, he found that almost all the patrons of the various establishments were non-Dutch. Holland seems, at least according to this report, to be a place where libertarian morality actually has the opposite effect:

So, what accounts for the strange existence of rather mainstream moral codes amid centers of lust and psychoactive substances? Paradoxically, while Dutch policies might be liberal or libertarian in effect, they derive from a fairly paternalistic, conservative instinct, mixed with a good dose of pragmatism. That pragmatism goes back at least to the 17th century, Holland's Golden Era as a great seafaring power. In those days, the country was a Puritan stronghold. But even the pious Dutch, who offered the Mayflower Pilgrims a temporary home, acquiesced to Amsterdam's emerging Red Light district. Early on, this nation of world traders concluded that it couldn't stop the world's oldest commerce. Yet then, as now, many of the prostitutes' clients were foreigners; mostly sailors in the old days, mainly tourists today.

The modern Dutch consensus is that making outlaws of prostitutes and soft-drug users only pushes them underground and into the hands of real criminals. Better to control and regulate such behaviors by legalizing--or in the case of cannabis, tolerating--the otherwise objectionable. The Dutch word for this is gedogen, which has no equivalent in English yet roughly means permitting what is officially illegal.

The Dutch hope that this approach will let authorities focus on fighting serious crimes, such as the forced prostitution of human trafficking, and allow soft-drug users to hang out in places where they aren't so likely to bump into dealers of more dangerous narcotics, like heroin. The added bonus--this is still a nation of traders after all--is that once brothels and marijuana cafes are legal, you can tax their profits. MORE

So, the Dutch believe the best way to control immorality is to keep it legal and out in the open. Sounds strange but it seems to be working in Holland, which is apparently an orderly place in most other respects.

That having been said, is it ethical to run a den of iniquity even when all your customers are foreigners? I think not. Ethical is not the same as political, however. It is possible to be ethically opposed to certain behavior while recognizing that it is not something the civil authorities should regulate. Government should pay attention to the big things: life, liberty and property rights.

This brings us to the third article from the Weekly Standard, reporting on an apparent revival of Christian belief among the Dutch:

God is back in Europe's most notoriously liberal country. Or rather: The Dutch are moving back to God. It seems an implausible hypothesis. After all, Europe was supposed to have entered the realm of post-Christianity, to use C.S. Lewis's term--a state of eternal unbelief from which there is no return. And yet, Bakas and Buwalda claim, the Dutch are turning back. Take the almost unnoticed reintroduction of crucifixes and other religious artifacts into the classrooms of Catholic schools throughout the country. Years of gradual but seemingly unstoppable secularization have given way to a reaffirmation of old religious identities. The change is also starting to affect the attitudes of pupils at these schools. In a recent newspaper interview, a head teacher at a Catholic secondary school in Rotterdam observed, "For years, pupils were embarrassed about attending Mass. Now, they volunteer to read poems or prayers, and the auditorium is packed." MORE

This is excellent news. We need Europe to rediscover its Christian roots, and if it can happen in Holland there is hope for the rest of the Continent. They need to ramp up the birth rate quickly or it will soon be known as Netherlandistan.

Adventures in Fog

If you haven't been following the inter-blog torture debate, this post may seem like inside baseball to you. Feel free to ignore it if so. We will return to more exciting topics tomorrow.

Last week I wrote a post called Defining Torture, in which I quoted extensively from a 1984 U.S. Army field manual on how to treat prisoners. Mark Shea wrote about that post. I then engaged some of Mark's other readers in a discussion of this subject, first in Mark's comment box and then on a blog maintained by an anti-Shea group, the Coalition For Fog.

The CFF is aptly named. I tried several different ways to get specific answers to specific questions and was unable to do so. Finally I posed a hypothetical question: is it OK to snip the fingers off of terrorist prisoners if they won't answer cooperate with interrogation?

To me, this is so obviously evil and unethical that I was sure I would get a chorus of indignant answers, like this: "No way! What kind of barbarians do you think we are?" It didn't happen. In fact I was pretty much ignored by the CFF members, who veered off on a variety of other subjects.

This afternoon Mark, who apparently had been monitoring my quest, finally had enough and wrote this post about my futile efforts at clarity. His combox now contains several more questions. Yet I still don't have an answer about fingersnipping. Surely the CFF can answer this simple question.

That aside, many thanks to Mark and the CFF for the interesting debate. We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

UPDATE: A few members of the Coalition for Fog are, finally, agreeing that fingersnipping is off limits. They often include disclaimers, however. For example, some say that as a political matter they don't want the US to snip fingers - but they will not concede that fingersnipping is always & everywhere an intrinsically evil act. Follow the links above for more of this fascinating debate.

Mandatory Safe Sex

Here in Texas our esteemed governor, Rick Perry, just ordered that all girls must be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus known as HPV before they can enter the sixth grade. Many bloggers are up in arms about this; American Papist has a good roundup with links. A physician-blogger comments here. NCBC also has a statement on the subject.

There are several angles to the story. First is money: the vaccine manufacturer, Merck, stands to make bundles of cash from selling this product, which is called Gardisil. They actually gave a small bundle of cash ($6,000 according to news reports) to Governor Perry's re-election campaign last year. The company is lobbying other states for similar requirements. Now I'm not sure how much it would take to buy a favor from Rick Perry; however I'll bet it is more than $6,000. The money didn't hurt but I'll bet he had other motivations.

Most of the opposition has to do with the fact that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. Some fear that receiving the vaccine will encourage promiscuity in girls, while others are insulted that the government simply assumes that all girls will become sexually active before they are old enough to make their own decision about getting vaccinated.

There is also some confusion about the reasons the vaccine is necessary. It is described by some as cancer prevention. It is, but in a roundabout way. It goes like this, if I understand correctly: women get cervical cancer because the HPV virus is present in their bodies. The HPV virus enters their bodies only through sexual activity. So if you stop the virus, you prevent cancer - this particular kind of cancer, at least.

Personally I don't mind if parents want their daughters to receive this vaccine. Merck wants it to be state-mandated so that health insurers will be forced to cover it, which they apparently won't otherwise. This, incidentally, should tell you something. Insurance companies have a direct financial interest in keeping their customers from acquiring expensive diseases like cancer. If they won't pay for a vaccine it is because they have concluded it is either ineffective or unnecessary.

What bugs me the state mandate. Why is it necessary to force parents to do this? Maybe my daughter is not sexually active yet and doesn't intend to be any time soon. The vaccine benefits no one but Merck in her case.

Ah, some will say, we must prevent diseases from spreading in school. That's why we vaccinate against measles, chicken pox, etc. There is a difference. The other mandatory vaccines are for infections that can quickly move from one child to another simply because they are in the same classroom or playground. Not so with HPV, which spreads only through sex. So if the kids aren't having sex with each other at school, there is no threat of infection.

Another awkward point to this is the age at which it will be given. Here's what is going to happen. Your daughter will be approaching sixth grade, roughly age 11-12. You have to take her to get a shot. Kids don't like shots. She will therefore ask you: Why? This will start a conversation about topics the girl may not be ready for yet. Maybe you need to have that conversation anyway; but when and how this takes place should be for parents to decide, not forced by the state.

The most effective way to prevent infection with HPV and cervical cancer is, of course, to abstain from sex until you enter a monogamous marriage. Unfortunately this is deemed impossible in our culture. Sadly such chastity is now rare - but it is neither impossible nor unknown. Those who practice such a life should not be forced to accept treatments that presume otherwise.

UPDATE 2/17/07 - the fight isn't over. Click here for more.

Wisdom of the Saints V

If Christ if with us, who is against us? You can fight with confidence when you are sure of victory. With Christ and for Christ, victory is certain.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Forgiveness in Colorado

You may have heard a few months ago about Ted Haggard, the Colorado mega-church pastor who was found to be using drugs and visiting with a male prostitute named Mike Jones. At first he denied knowing Jones. When some taped phone calls turned up, Haggard admitted knowing Jones but denied any drug use or sex. Eventually he confessed to immoral conduct and left his church. It's not entirely clear if he resigned or was fired.

The Haggard story got a lot of media coverage at the time because it was seen as hypocrisy. He had been a vocal opponent of gay marriage and was also a strong Bush supporter. All the news came out right before the November 2006 mid-term elections and quickly became a political issue. Haggard is now is counseling and out of the headlines. This week, however, the name came up in an unexpected way.

David Kuo reports in his blog that last Sunday Mike Jones, the male prostitute who outed Haggard, showed up at Haggard's church. How was he greeted? You might have expected some hostility, right? The church members clearly loved Ted Haggard and were crushed by the whole situation. It would be easy to lash out at the person whom they may think led their pastor into such a dark place.

In fact, Jones was greeted warmly by the church members. According to Kuo, Jones said that several people came up to him and said "God bless you." The associate pastor sought out Jones and told him "I believe God used you to correct us, and I appreciate that."

I really wonder what made Jones go to church that day. Did he expect to be attacked? Was someone maybe using him in an attempt to make the church look bad? Was he looking for some kind of reconciliation? I don't know. People go to church for all kinds of reasons. I think it is fair to say, however, that most gay prostitutes do not expect to be welcomed in conservative churches.

That's wrong. Christ taught us to hate sin but love sinners. We are all sinners in our own ways. Every now and then I see a bumper sticker that says "Christians aren't perfect - they're just forgiven." Unfortunately some Christians like to pretend they are perfect, and as a result people who need God the most are afraid to enter his house.

By welcoming Mike Jones, the people of New Life Church passed a test. Hopefully they will use the door he opened to continue helping him - by lovingly demonstrating how life with God can be so much better than the way he lives now.

Imams Making Sense

Mark just posted another example of non-radical Islam. I do not know the context of the interview shown in this video, but it appears to be some kind of Arabic news program. The host is interviewing a cleric about why the Islamic world is the way it is.

I'm assuming the subtitles are an accurate translation. The cleric talks about the need for Muslims to get their own house in order, to stop inciting violence, to pray and meditate, and to learn to read. He talks about how 70 million adults in the Islamic world are illiterate and teaching them to read would make a huge difference. He extols the benefits of music - apparently in some places Muslims are not supposed to listen to music? I didn't know this.

I have no idea who this person is - he may be considered a total whacko wherever he comes from, for all I know. Nonetheless, the fact that he was able to go on an apparently mainstream TV program and say these things is encouraging.

Meanwhile, Carl Olson links to an interview with Dinesh D'Souza in Crisis magazine. The subject is "liberal" Muslims vs "radical" Muslims. Here is the key point:

The Muslim world is divided between the radical Muslims and the traditional Muslims. Both groups are religiously and socially conservative. The main difference between the two is that the radicals support violence as a way of striking out against America, while traditional Muslims do not. However, the radicals have been very successful over the past decade in recruiting traditional Muslims into their ranks. So no long-term victory in the war on terrorism can work unless it finds a way to put a wedge between traditional Islam and radical Islam...

If you dismiss Islam as being inherently violent or say the Prophet Mohammed is the founder of terrorism, then you’re pushing the traditional Muslims into the radical camp. This is a foolish thing to do, even if what you’re saying is true. Now, I would maintain that this is not true. Islam has been around for roughly 1,300 years, and radical Islam and Islamic terrorism have only been around for a few decades. So we can’t blame Islam itself or Mohammed. There must be something going on in Islam today to make it an incubator for violent fanaticism. MORE

D'Souza has a new book out in which he argues that it is the secular left in the West that has enraged Muslims into terrorist acts (I have not yet read the book so I hope I am getting this right). Essentially, he says that by aggressively spreading our decadent way of life around the world - particularly our sexual depravities - we have almost invited Muslims to fight back in order to preserve their culture.

I'm not prepared to accept this thesis until I can read the book. On the surface it makes sense, though. In many ways, serious Christians have more in common with traditionalist Muslims than we do with the radical secular wing of our own culture. This may be a bit of shared belief that can be built on.

Now does this mean that we ignore important points of faith and theology in order to start a dialog? No, of course not. That debate will come in due course. For now, we just need to reach a point where significant numbers of Christians and Muslims can talk to each other and co-exist peacefully. It will be hard to do this until we get our own culture straightened out.

A Future Michelangelo

This video is about a 12-year-old girl with an amazing artistic gift.

Hat tip: Jimmy Akin

Wisdom of the Saints IV

Faith renders meaningless such words as anxiety, danger, and fear, so that the believer goes through life calmly and peacefully, with profound joy - like a child hand in hand with his mother.

Venerable Charles de Foucauld

Who's Afraid To Die?

Catholic Knight reports on a story overlooked by most of the media: Iran now claims to have a missile that can put a satellite in orbit. So what, you may say. The problem is that if you can get a payload into orbit, you can also bring that payload down anywhere on the globe. For example, if you have a small nuclear device you could bring it down on Chicago.

Most interesting is the point he makes about the resulting Cold-War like confrontation between the U.S. and Iran:

First and foremost, the Iranians have an advantage over the West ideologically. Their ideology is religious in nature, in the sense their religion teaches them not to be afraid to die. In fact, in some cases it actually encourages suicide martyrdom. What this means is simple. In an arms race with Iran, it is the United States who assumes the role of the old Soviet Union, not the nation of Iran. Why? Because throughout the original Cold War, it was the USA that was more willing to take it to the brink than the Soviet Union. Americans were willing to die for freedom, but how many Russians were willing to die for communism? In those few cases when the USA and the USSR nearly did the unthinkable, it was the USSR that backed down.

The same was true with Pope John Paul II's clashes with communist Poland - pope wins, communists back down. The answer to this mystery is simple enough. Christians in the USA, and Catholics in Poland, were not afraid to die. They knew their cause was worth fighting for, and if it just happened to get them killed, they knew they had a better place to go in the afterlife.

In contrast, atheistic communism offers nothing to comfort the soul when the mind contemplates its own mortality. So when death was no longer a fear for Christians under communist rule, the power of communism crumbled, because the power of communism is the fear of death. (i.e. "Submit or die!") Communists are atheists. They have no hope of the afterlife. This life is all there is, as far as their concerned. If that's what you really believe, what are you going to do when somebody threatens to end it? You'll back down of course.

Since the Cold War ended, however, a lot of things have changed. The West is far less religious than it once was. Secular Humanism (an ideology just one step away from atheistic communism) now dominates western Europe. This same philosophy has now permeated every corner of North American culture as well. In addition to that, the majority of those who still do practice Western Christianity have become very decadent. Suffering and death doesn't often cross the minds of modern Christians in the West.

So the West is substantially weaker than it once was when it first faced the Soviet threat of communism some 60 years ago. The new USA looks a lot more like the old USSR in "religious" ideology, when you compare it to the piety of Iranians, and Mesopotamian Muslims in general. Now it's the Iranians who aren't afraid to die, and the Americans who have everything to loose. In a real nuclear showdown between the two, it will be America that blinks not Iran. MORE

This makes so much sense it is terrifying. Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, have lost their resolve. It happened slowly over the last 40 years or so, and we've now reached a point where there is very little that most of us are willing to stand up and die for.

This is not a good position to be in during a tough negotiation. As any real estate agent can tell you, the most important advantage you can have is the ability to walk away. In an international confrontation walking away is usually not an option. Willingness to fight, and to bear the inevitable losses, is the winning hand.

Merely possessing powerful weapons is not sufficient if your opponent believes you will never use them. However, if you are equipped for battle and have the resolve to actually fight the battle, whatever the cost, most opponents will back down.

Is the West prepared to fight to the death? No, we're not.

We'd better find some resolve. Our lives and futures depend on it.