Wednesday, December 31, 2003

This just in: Ann Coulter is still a stupid bitch.
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A Wall Street Journal piece outlines the faith journey of George W. Bush. Notably, he has switched from church to church, attending a Presbyterian church in Midland, Texas and an Episcopalian church in Houston, before moving to the Methodist church after marrying.

Howard Dean left his local Episcopalian church due to its political opposition to the erection of a bike path and moved on to a Congregationalist congregation. I think that leaving a church because you find it hypocritical is understandable.

I wonder whether anything so principled affected the faith voyage of George W. Bush. Did his move from church to church out of convenience, seeking the congregation that was closest to the house, or did they go where the (people who had) money were and treat religion as a social club?

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Monday, December 29, 2003

I'm generally skeptical regarding claims of what the Iraqi people want unless it's backed up by numbers. I'm somewhat skeptical of the numbers in this story.

I've been looking for info on the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies. It is described as an independent, privately funded think tank founded by Baghdad professors and headed by Sadoun al-Dulame, a political scientist who lived for several years in exile. At least some of that funding is a "political transition grant" from USAID for a questionaire with seven demographic variables and seven questions that was supposed to be conducted once a month from August to October 2003.

It should be noted that there are some alleged ties between USAID and the CIA, particularly in Southeast Asia and in Latin America.

By the way, here's some work dome by the ICRSS which you can find on the website of the U.S. State Department. You can find a more detailed description on the website of the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority . in PDF form.

I'm also wondering what kind of guy the executive director, Sadoun al-Dulame, is. He is quoted in a lot of stories in the context of his position at the ICRSS, but I can find absolutely nothing else about him, including what he was doing while in exile and where. Did he have an academic position or was he doing something else. His comments suggest he is not a big fan of the Governing Council's performance. I guess maybe he wasn't hanging with Chalabi.

But, back to the polls, the numbers feel incomplete. When they're not polling Tikrit and Samarra and other Ba'athist strongholds, you figure that the pro-Saddam and anti-American sentiment is probably a bit muted.

I'm not saying the ICRSS is a U.S. tool, although I am admitting quite openly that the possibility is there. On the other hand, the U.S. government is the only place you're probably getting money to run polls and if I were them, I would do anything short of altering methodology and results to gain funding.

I'm sure there's an interesting story in how quickly the ICRSS was put together. I wonder if Sadoun al-Dalume was planning the possibility of putting such an outfit together during the march to war.

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Monday, December 22, 2003

The Washington Post has an article describing the Pope's inner circle, referred to as "the Apartment." It's not a hugely surprising thing that a prominent person has an inner circle; it would be a downright disturbing sign of micro-management if that were not the case.

Take a note of the people listed. I highly doubt that any of them will become Pope, although odds are at least one of them has entertained such ambitions in his lifetime. (Take a sigh of relief, those of you who feared the wrath of Pope Ratzinger.) People spoke of Clinton-fatigue as a reason why the American public might be less than enthused about Al Gore in 2000. I can see the College of Cardinals looking for something a bit different. It's not that the past is a bad thing, but more of the same can be tiring. It's the same as a baseball team replacing a "player's coach" with a martinet.

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The national terror alert is now at "orange." Tom Ridge has Jonathan Frakes on retainer in case he ever needs someone to proclaim "red alert."
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Sunday, December 21, 2003

Via TalkLeft, I came across this story about Saddam's capture. DEBKAfile also has some concerns.

I guess Time Magazine should change their Man of the Year to the Kurdish soldier.

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I realize that there are nust who believe this crap, but I had no idea you could find it via Google News. If you thought Mel Gibson might be a conservative Catholic, I get the feeling he's not as far to the right as this guy.
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Here's an article on the Latino practice Los Posadas, a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary seeking shelter.

Two things I find interesting. One is the singing across the Mexican-American border. It reminds me of the African-American appropriation of the Jewish Exodus story. It reminds me that religious language and imagery can be important in politics if you want to reach out to immigrant groups.

I also found interesting the notion that when impoverished Central Americans to to less-poor-but-still-poor Mexico, they find charity from their fellow poor. You know what they say about camels and the eye of a needle. . . .

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Saturday, December 20, 2003

I think I'll give this show a chance when it debuts.

In related news, I have invested in a Tur-Duck-En for Christmas. PETA can bite me.

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Friday, December 19, 2003

Many years later, itwill revert to its original name, the French Tower. . . .
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Thursday, December 18, 2003

Amusingly, not everyone on the Iraqi Governing Council thinks Saddam should be executed. Of course, his idea of holding Hussein in a tiny cell for the rest of his life seems cruel. What else does he want, pictures of Saddam's dead sons on the walls to remind the dictator of his own personal loss? (There's a part of me that feels that maybe Saddam's heart hasn't been in it 100% since his boys bit the dust.)
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Now that Strom Thurmond's daughter has come to light, I wonder how long before someone write a porn story about it and posts it on the internet.
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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

I'm not an airline industry expert so I don't know the ramifications of EU agreement to give personal data on passengers traveling to the U.S.

The article claims that the main concession was a time limit on data retention and limits on who can see it (i.e. not the FBI or other domestic crime-fighting units). The EU seemed to want the data to only be used to fight terrorism-related crimes and not in any other matters.

If I were the EU, I would have pressed on the "open skies" issue, allowing for more open scheduling of flights between the U.S. and Europe. And I would have wanted an ease on the restrictions against foreign carriers operating U.S. domestic flights.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Time for me to write that novel I've always been meaning to.
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As I would have predicted. the Vatican opposes death penalty for Saddam and has reiterated its opposition to the war in Iraq.

For my own part, I will support whatever processes is authentically supported by the Iraqi people. If they happen to choose something less than the death penalty, then so be it. What were you expecting them to do, stone Saddam to death?

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Monday, December 15, 2003

I'm occasionally in the Cincinnati area. If I get a chance, I'll go to this exhibit and write about my experience.
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The New York Times is reporting on retirement of Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. The article cites Breaux as a big part of Louisiana resisting the Republican wave washing over the South. I tend to cite demographics, specifically the relatively large Catholic portion of the population.
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Sunday, December 14, 2003

Maybe it's just me, but this product line seems less appetizing than Tukey and Gravy Jones Soda.
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Everyone and their mother is blogging about the capture of Saddam Hussein. I just have one observation. After looking at those pictures, I have come to the conclusion that Saddam has a funny looking nose.
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Here's a fun little article on the influence of Catholicism on J.R.R. Tolkien.

I think I'll be making RelapsedCatholic a weekly stop from now until I decide otherwise. Not that I necessarily agree with most things posted there, but I suspect it will lead me to some news I would not otherwise find.

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Saturday, December 13, 2003

I mostly read the Cincinnati Enquirer to keep up on Reds and Bengals news. Here's a quickie on
a Cincinnati parish celebrating the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In less heartwarming news, a group of alleged victims of priestly sexual abuse are protesting the application of the statute of limitations to lawsuits.

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Well, I guess the special edition DVD is going to have a ton of extras. Editor Jamie Selkirk is claiming that the third LOTR movie is was trimmed from more than four-and-a-half hours to three-twenty.

Damn! You know, each volume in the trilogy has two books. I really wish they could have done six movies and included a few scenes that are in the book but not the movie. I'm thinking primarily of Tom Bombadil and the re-taking of the Shire.

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Friday, December 12, 2003

I found this article on the shortcomings of Islam via Brian Ulrich. Like others, I find it wanting.

Feser is, to the best of my knowledge, a libertarian philosopher (as one might guess the author of a book entitled On Nizick might be). He falls into the common libertarian mode of thinking, that social institutions (be they corporations, nations, or, in this case, religions) necessarily follow the same evolutionary tracks in some sort of maxi-social Darwinistic theory. Thus, he sees Islam as stuck in an evolutionary rut, stuck if it does not pass the "Reformation and Enlightenment" stage that Christianity went through.

Feser (who, as a professor at Loyola Marymount in LA, might also be a Catholic, just like me) also has a vision of Catholicism as a Church founded on the rock of reason, the Thomist school which adopts Plato, Socrates, and especially Aristotle as pagan saints. This Church is unchanging, keeping with the typical libertarian desire of a categorical imperative, of Truth with a capital "T" on which to base all other things.

This need for a rock other than St. Peter leads Feser to obsess over the "rule of law" as if it should nestle snugly somewhere amid the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the dead.

I can't begin to describe how much I disagree with all of this. Oh, wait, yes I can; that's why I have a blog.

I think I've already said that Feser paints Islam as a Neanderthal doomed to fail unless it takes the evolutionary step of an authoritarian figure and that this is merely the social Darwinist argument writ large. As for his view of the Catholic church. . . .

Large institutions tend to have multiple layers, with official and unofficial components. The Catholic Church has this complexity. (I'm sure Islam has similar divisions.) There's the official church, the one that encompasses the official hierarchy and all those who give their allegiance to that. There's also the unofficial church. Here and there, you see groups and individuals who still self-identify as Catholic, but who have affiliations not sanctioned by the official church. You might know of a group of charismatic Catholics who gather outside of Sunday Mass. Two divorced Catholics marry outside the church and wait patiently (or not so patiently) to be accepted back. Catholic communities perservered in China and Japan even after any contact with Rome was severed by the ending of all ties to foreigners.

The great mystics of the church often existed in the unofficial church. Many religious orders went years before they were given papal mandate to exist.

Feser deeply wishes to make the Catholic Church fit in with the idea of rule of law as categorical imperative. For that to occur, Feser must profess belief in an unchanging, eternal church.

"This is a Tradition that the Church herself does not create but merely preserves and passes on -- emendations to that Tradition occurring only very infrequently, deliberately, gradually, and minimally, and always in a way which merely draws out the implications of what was there already rather than introducing some novel or foreign element."

Feser grudgingly admits some change, but then claims that they were, for the most part, cosmetic changes that didn't affect the substance of the Church. For him, a malleable Catholic church is no better than the Protestant rabble. This is the argument of conservative strains of Catholicism who perhaps do not oppose Vatican II outright, but do oppose its implications of a new way of doing God's business.

Such movements seek to eliminate the unofficial Church (ironically, sometimes by forming unofficial groups that agitate for non-change). They seek the creation of monoculture within the Church that reminds me of political groups insisting that all government activity has to occur in very public settings or of groups that seek not just tolerance but acceptance codified in law of possibly deviant behavior.

Feser also plays hard and fast with facts. He points to the Taliban dynamiting Buddhist works of art and Protestants defacing Catholic churchs. He forgets to mention "Il Braghettone," who defaced Michelangelo's nudes by order of the papacy. He forgets to mention how many Greco-Roman works of art were destroyed by the Church as pagan artifacts. (One equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius survived only because it was thought to be Emperor Constantine.)

In summation, Feser is a libertarian obsessed with the rule of law who appears to hold the Medieval Church, that strong brew of authoritarianism and Aristotelianism, in the highest regard. And I have just disagreed with him in a long-winded and circuitous stream-of-consciousness manner without much editing.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Mel Gibson's Passion movie has been praised by some Vatican types and criticized by others. My question is this: what if the movie is both an artistic triumph with questionable content, along the lines of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will or D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation.

I don't know if some people can cope with the possibility that it has some anti-Semitic leanings, yet is worth seeing. People seek dichotomies, and wish to describe things as either all good or all bad.

For my own part, no matter what is said about the film, I will probably rent it when it comes out on video.
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It's Howard Dean. Al Gore's endorsement probably sticks a fork in it. Dean can still lose, but it will require a huge mistake on his part, and the only people in place to take advantage of it are Gephardt (the Democratic Dole) and Clark. Kerry and Liebermann should soon go to battling over who gets to replace Daschle as Senate minority leader. Edwards is still trying to prove he has the Southern credentials to be vice-president. Mosely-Braun is probably still angling for a Cabinet post of some sort. Sharpton is getting face time on camera, which is all he wanted (and he was better than expected on SNL), and Dennis Kucinich is still a creepy little bastard.

Right now, pretty much everyone thinks Dean's going to win. That doesn't mean the other candidates should just walk away. They should keep on raising money and use of all of it to fund attack ads that just blasts away at Bush without mentioning Dean. It's like having a whole pack of Spiro Agnews. Dean stays above the fray, everyone gets to demagogue against Bush on their pet issues creating a diverse attack pattern, and by being team players everyone positions themselves for Democratic leadership positions. Everybody wins. Except the Bush League, hopefully.

If you think this is a plan to get around campaign financing, well, it would be, if Dean were accepting spending limits. And I'd be screaming this plan from the top of my lungs if he were sticking to limits.
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Thursday, December 04, 2003

Thomas L. Friedman has agreat column on Iraq. I've pretty much decided that for a democratic Iraqi government to be authentic and not an American puppet, it has to have the power to tell U.S. troops to (politefully, hopefully) "get the hell out of our country." And, somehow, I feel that a truly representative government will probably have the will.
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