Saturday, October 30, 2004

Accumulating Books

Here is an article, "My Own Private Library," by Thomas H. Benton that expresses the love of accumulation of books better than I have read before. Here are some quotes:

"I wonder whether I am afflicted with something more than a 'gentle madness' ... You see, I spend more on books than I do on food ... In my home office I estimate there are more than 2000 books on the shelves and another 300 in a pile on the floor ... There are about 50 books on a shelf next to my bed. Those the ones I intend to read soon ... I troll eBay and, looking to fill the gaps in my collections ... Just as it did in graduate school, book collecting alows me to take a vacation from my scholarly writing without feelings of guilt ... Book-collecting academics are often expert procrastinators ... Perhaps my book acquisitions reflect some psychological disorder, an unresolved trauma of my youth. [But] maybe my behavior is no different from adults who collect Matchbox cars, teddy bears, or baseball cards."

Very nice article. I have lately been phrasing the habit as "book accumulation rather than book collecting because I can't possibly read all the books I buy." My collection is nowhere near as large as Benton's and probably never will be. But I have the (mis)fortune to live near Daedalus Books, which is a remainders store and which has a superlative buyer. Very few shovel-ware books, which is what I term biographies of Princess Diana, crossword puzzle books, and romance novels. They sell them of course, but the vast majority of the store contains serious books mean to be read by serious people and I nearly always come away with five or ten new hardcover books bought for an average of $5 or $10 apiece. And, being in the Washington, D.C. area, there are a number of good used book stores. Since I found Daedalus, I don't browse Second Story Books as often as I did, say, Half Price Books while at college in Austin.

It's nice to know that others have this joy of being surrounded by books full of interesting ideas at all times, waiting and available for me. No, I can't take them with me when I die of old age, but I'm going to hang on to them while I'm here and hopefully something similar will be available in the next life.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Toward an Increase in the Vocations

Yesterday in our parish we had an unfamiliar priest say Mass. Turned out that the guy was a representative appointed by Cardinal McCarrick to encourage vocations to the priesthood. Unfortunately he, having spent a couple of years as a Catholic chaplain at George Washington University, turned out to be embarassingly "hip". The best likeness I can think of is the feckless "Pastor Dave" character on That 70s Show. Yes, I do realize he was addressing the young men of high school and college age in his recruiting sermon, but it was more than a little much. Instead of trying to sound knowledgeable about "keg parties" and such, would it have killed him to mention the perceived crisis in Catholic Seminaries? He mentioned parents' attitudes encouraging or discouraging the young men who feel they might like to take Holy Orders but he could have put parents' minds a little more at ease had he addressed - specifically - whether or not there is in fact a widespread "gay subculture" in American seminaries. And, if so, which ones? And again, if so, why is it not being suppressed? And, just what the hell is being done to deal with the pederasty crisis among the clergy? We have, after all, no guarantee from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that it is being systematically combatted in the nation's dioceses. Remember that a Bishop in his own diocese has no effective check or balance on his actions, or lack thereof, other than an intervention by the Papacy. And that is not always effective. For example, in George Weigel's book, The Courage to Be Catholic, pp. 136-137:

"[In April 2002], the Pope had lunch with several American cardinals who were in Rome for the annual meeting of the Papal Foundation ... Conversation had naturally turned to the unfolding scandals in the United States, but the cardinals present - Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, William Keeler of Baltimore, and Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C. - did not seem to convey a sense of crisis. This was, they said, a time of 'purification' from which the Church would emerge stronger."

If this blind stupidity doesn't make every Catholic mad enough to spit nails, add in this ingredient: Cardinal McCarrick has repeatedly declined to deny communion to Catholic politicians who stubbornly advocate abortion "rights", stem cell research, and homosexual "marriage". One of the ways our own little "Pastor Dave" could have appropriately discharged his responsibilities from Cardinal McCarrick would be to specifically state whether the Cardinal believes there are ANY Catholic teachings that are worth defending.

Kerry Runs Against His Religion

The Catholic League put out a news release today about John Kerry's self-professed "Catholicism". Maybe I'm beating a dead horse, but if John Kerry were not calling himself a Catholic, it's hard to believe that anyone else would either.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Jacques Derrida's Deconstructionist Philosophy

Jacques Derrida (pronounciation guide published in more than one place: "deh-ree-DAH") has died. Arts & Letters Daily provides a number of links to obits. I am, of course, not a philosopher and have never tried reading Derrida's work. The base material for my commentary in this short posting is based entirely on my reading of the obits. The description of deconstructionism provided by the Wall Street Journal is:

"But even if deconstruction cannot be defined, it can be described. For one thing, deconstruction comes with a lifetime guarantee to render discussion of any subject completely unintelligible. It does this by linguistic subterfuge. One of the central slogans of deconstruction is il n'y a pas de hors-texte, i.e., "there is nothing outside the text." (It sounds better in French.) In other words, deconstruction is an updated version of nominalism, the view that the meanings of words are completely arbitrary and that, at bottom, reality is unknowable."

If this is an accurate rendering of the theory, it would explain the widespread hostility toward the post-modernists in the conservative community: There would then be no absolute truths, meaning is meaningless, God is dead. But here's how the Washington Post described it:

"Language, he said, is inadequate to provide a clear and unambiguous view of reality. In other words, the fixed meaning of an essay, a book, a personal letter, a scientific treatise or a recipe dissolves when hidden ambiguities and contradictions are revealed. These contradictions, inevitable in every piece of writing, he said, reveal deep fissures in the foundation of the Western world's civilizations, cultures and creations."

Well, sure. Language is inadequate for precise description and analysis of concepts that are even a little more complex than Monday Night Football. That's why mathematicians are so careful to create a "language" that can more precisely describe what they are trying to say. But the trade-off is that only a few initiates, even among the fairly small body of those who are mathematicians, can understand what any particular researcher in their midst is doing. In contrast, languages used by most in the more familiar world - law, politics, commerce - are useless for the "hard" sciences. This is why, for example, we need the courts to interpret the constitution (and why they so often bungle the task). No one has successfully found a way to describe philosophy or social sciences or any of the other "soft" sciences using the English language. Some might argue that is why the soft sciences are useless and are practiced by third rate academics, even in first rate institutions. And why no one, absolutely no one, takes them seriously.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bush Wins Second Debate

The President stated his case much better than he did in the first debate. He obviously practiced this time. Too bad he didn't last time or he might have preserved his lead in the polls. Polls being announced up to the beginning of the second debate had the race tied, but Bush has been sliding all week and no one really knows if that would have stopped at the tie or would have continued to slip. If my political instincts are worth anything, he should at least stop the slide... IF anybody was watching! Why was this debate held on a Friday night? Perfect for homebodies like me but most people are busy Friday nights.

One of the pundits after the debate pointed out that Bush was following a strategy of de-emphasizing "flip-flopping" - reasoning that most of the useful mileage has already been obtained from it - and now emphasizing the "L"-word: "liberal". What I didn't hear anybody point out is how Kerry didn't seem ready for it. I have nothing concrete at which to point, but he didn't seem to effectively reply to the twice-made charge that Kerry is "the most liberal member of the Senate". Hmmm.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Christopher Hitchens and the Neocons

There is an interesting interview of Christopher Hitchens on the blog which, with the accompanying commentary, is a lamentation about Hitchens’ shift to and understanding of, if not sympathy with, the neoconservative rise to power in the current U.S. administration.

"To many of Christopher Hitchens' old friends, he died on September 11th, 2001 ... On September 10th, he was campaigning for Henry Kissinger to be arraigned before a war crimes tribunal in the Hague ... He was preparing to testify in the Vatican - as a literal Devil's Advocate - against the canonization of Mother Teresa ... And then a hijacked plane flew into the Pentagon ... Within a year, Hitchens was damning his former comrades as 'soft on Islamic fascism', giving speeches at the Bush White House, and describing himself publicly as 'a recovering ex-Trotskyite' ... He explains that he believes the moment the left's bankruptcy became clear was on 9/11. 'The United States was attacked by theocratic fascists who represent all the most reactionary elements on earth. They stand for liquidating everything the left has fought for: women's rights, democracy. And how did much of the left respond? By affecting a kind of neutrality between America and the theocratic fascists' ... He believes neoconservatism is a distinctively new strain of thought, preached by ex-leftists, who believed in using US power to spread democracy ... 'We cannnot back tyranny in the [middle east] for the sake of stability. So we have to take the risk of uncorking it and hoping the more progressive side wins.' He has replaced a belief in Marxist revolution with a belief in spreading the American revolution. Thomas Jefferson has replaced Karl Marx."

At the end of it all, Johann Hari wants Hitchens to come back from the dark side.

“I don’t think Hitch is lost to the left quite yet. He will never stop campaigning for the serial murderer Henry Kissinger to be brought to justice, and his hatred of Islamic fundamentalism is based on good left-wing principles. But it does feel at the end of our three-hour lunch like I have been watching him slump into neoconservatism. Come home, Hitch – we need you.”

Hari writes much more on the Hitchens-neocon axis of evil that is worthwhile reading. I first became interested in Hitchens while reading the 2002 book Koba the Dread by Martin Amis. Koba describes the crimes of Stalin and a major segment of the book remonstrates with the left in general, and Hitchens personally, about their support of Communism over the decades in spite of the (nose on their faces) abundant continuing evidence of the crimes of Communism. The next time I remember Hitchens coming to my view was when I saw him give a pro-intervention speech about Iraq on C-SPAN. Now there was a contradiction and I began reading some of his articles on the web as they appeared.

Hitchens writes a regular column on Slate. Hari's blog posting appeared on 23 September 2004 in The Independent newspaper in the UK.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Catholic Polling May Be Trending to Bush

Based on a sample space of two, the Washington Times is reporting that two different recent polls are showing that President Bush is being solidly supported by Catholics. The Pew Research Center is showing that Methodist Bush is beating "Catholic" Kerry by a margin of 49% to 39%. Another poll, conducted by some evangelical Christian polling firm I never heard of, is giving Bush the lead by 53% to 39%. Nevertheless I find this reassuring. Kerry opposes Church doctrine on abortion, stem cell research, and homosexual "marriage" and still has the gall to call himself a practicing Catholic. President Bush is considerably to the right of those appearing to have the upper hand within the Methodist Church. Heck, give us President Bush, the Methodists can have Kerry (please!). EWTN, which has developed highly effective Catholic television, radio, and a web site services, and which is definitely loyal to the Pope and the Magisterium, has an interesting page of links to information for Catholic voters who are trying to decide what the right thing to do might be.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Is This Relevant?

Several web sites, including Drudge, are breathlessly speculating about whether Kerry broke debate rules by bringing in a "cheat sheet". The reasoning is that Kerry had notes to jog his memory during the pressure of the debate and Bush did not. So the conclusion would be that Kerry looked better than he otherwise would have looked and ... Bush looked worse? No, that's can't be right. The conclusion is that Bush's effort could have looked less crappy had HE come in with a cheat sheet? I guess. Look, if John Kerry cheated to make himself look better, that would be crummy and it should be splashed across the blogosphere. But it doesn't change the fact that Bush did a bad job of preparing for the debate. I heard on C-SPAN radio this morning that Bush didn't actually rehearse/prepare, he just went over a few times what he would say. And that he didn't practice over and over again ('cause that is what it takes, duh!) against an aggressive and hostile debating partner. What, nobody had nerve enough to tell the emperor that he had no clothes?

Edit: Jay Nordlinger is saying pretty much the same thing over on National Review Online. If I had seen this I might not have ranted over three different posts. "Pursed and annoyed" hits it directly. I wish I'd thought of that.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Post-debate polls start to come in...

Did President Bush escape with his lead in the polls intact? Newsweek says no. Rasmussen says yes. Powerline has a somewhat heartening post pointing out that Newsweek may be playing games with its statistical sampling. Thank goodness for blogs. All I can say is, Dubya had better do a hell of a lot better in the next debate. Keep your fingers crossed and I'll continue my nervous wait for more poll results to be announced.

By the way, check out the Current Electoral Vote Predictor 2004 in which the electoral vote situation is mapped out from day to day. It is unclear to me whether the current numbers (Bush 296, Kerry 238) reflects any post-debate polling yet.

Kerry Wins First Debate

I watched the first presidential election debate Thursday night and believe that Kerry "won", whatever that means. I don't understand the people who said it was a draw; they have quieted since Friday morning. The first fifteen minutes consisted of a cutting, thrusting, aggressive onslaught that rocked Bush back on his heels. There were two problems. First, Kerry is an obviously accomplished debater. Second, Bush is obviously not. More than once, Bush simply stopped talking for several seconds and stared at the moderator or the camera. Was he tired? Maybe. Was he flustered? Yes. Was he just inarticulate? For this particular 90-minute debate, yes.

But this was only one debate and I will still vote for President Bush. Primarily for the reason I keep coming back to: the relentless pursuit, capture, and killing of the terrorists. But I have to admit that I felt a lot less hostile towards Kerry afterwards - he seemed intelligent, reasonable, and certainly articulate. But that does not change his record, that of a leftist opportunistic politician, with all of the negative connotations one might associate with both "leftist" and "politician". How would things look right now if the Democrats had nominated Lieberman instead of Kerry?

(FYI, there's an mp3 sound file of the debate available for downloading using Bittorrent.)