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Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Republican Party: Dauntless Champion of Family Values!™

Except where it's not, of course.

Rod Dreher points out the...incongruity...of this pose of Texas Republicans who at the same time gutted a program that provides assistance to poor families. Among which, he discovered, included a family at his parish:

Last week, the front page of The Dallas Morning News told the story of the Kimbers, a working family that lost benefits under the radically scaled-back Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Result: They have to decide between filling their children's teeth or their stomachs. The Kimber children are doing without dental care so they can eat.

Wait a minute, I thought, I know those people. They're part of our Catholic parish. My wife is in a home-schooling group with Joan Kimber. When our second child was born earlier this year, she brought food to our house, including bread her eldest daughter made for us. And this is what they're dealing with?


These devoutly Christian folks work hard for a living. Until very recently, Joan was a home-schooling, stay-at-home mom, who helped out in the family moving business and at church. These are the kind of good family people who hold society together. And when they have their ox in a ditch, society is willing to walk on by.


One way or another, my family is going to help the Kimbers, who are also making draconian adjustments. But what about the Texans who aren't in a position to draw on the assistance of church and friends, and who have no more room to maneuver?


Then there was the reaction to the story, which I was privileged to witness over at Amy Welborn's blog:

I posted the Kimber story and my commentary to a conservative Catholic blog I frequent, and was startled to read the feedback. Some of my fellow Christian conservatives were appalled by the idea that children in a working family had any claim on society's compassion or resources, even for basic health care.
"They shouldn't have had five kids they couldn't support," many said. But they were able to support them, until business reversals of the sort that could happen, and have happened, to many North Texans in the recent economic downturn. It may trouble some of our more robust Republican state legislators to learn that the working poor cannot sell or eat their children when they have trouble making payments. What then?
Look, I'm a conservative, and I know money doesn't come from a pot of gold under the Alamo. The state had a massive budget shortfall, and something had to give. Of all the programs to face hacking though, why this one? Is the principle of "no new taxes" so sacrosanct that my fellow Republicans have to grind the face of the poor to be faithful to it?


Listen, I'd hate to re-ignite the Electrolux-economic-gutting-of-Greenville firestorm again (OK, not really "hate to"...), but being the lifelong Republican voter/"gulpily emotional New Dealer" (it's one of those Jungian-duality-of-man-things) that I am, I have to.

It's precisely stuff like this that keeps the Democratic Party in business, and lends credibility to the charge that Republicans basically stop caring about life once you safely exit the womb.

No--stop right there--don't start. No, I'm not a fan of a welfare state that creates dependents, one that births an underclass that knows nothing else. Much less am I a fan of the bureaucracy such programs often create, with its own self-sustaining, empire-building motives.

[Insert favorite qualifier here.]

Is it really essential to cut health care for kids whose parents are in tough financial straits? Really?

This is the other half of building a culture of life--making sure people can take care of their own when hard times hit. Essentially telling folks to suck it up...should ring a few unpleasant bells in the heads of those who profess to follow Christ. We have a panoply of saints who say otherwise, including those who held the reins of power and funded charitable works from the public treasury. State-funded health insurance for struggling working families accords well with that tradition.

This is something that really hits home for us--Michigan has a similar program, and people I know very well are or were on it. Young people who work for a living--including one whose employer closed the factory and shipped the job off to Mexico. By the way. People with young children--all under the age of five. People who would have been in serious trouble if the program hadn't existed.

And, again--before you start: yes, we pitched in financially--and it wasn't chump change, either. So pucker up, buttercup, before you peddle your warmed-over Rand in Christ's clothing here. There's only so much family and friends can do with unpaid medical bills running in the thousands, bankruptcy in the offing (and eventually filed) or losing half your income because your employer decides to make more cash with cheaper labor.

One of the families had their second child while on MIChild. Caesarian. I can't imagine the medical bills if they hadn't had the coverage. Actually, I can--the tab for my son was about $11,000 in 2003. Thanks to our insurance, we didn't pay a dime. Thanks to MIChild, the family we know was spared all but minor bills. If not, they'd have been bankrupted, too.

Can we at least agree that people teetering on the financial precipice are less likely to be "open to life"? Just maybe?

I'm left to ponder this: Michigan is undergoing a budget crunch of epic proportions. But I'm reassured that MIChild is safe from the axe largely because our frequently-dead wrong and morally-obtuse Democratic governor stands in the way. That, and our Republicans seem to have a little more mental candlepower than is often seen in the Stupid Party. If nothing else, it's bad politics to make families suffer in an election year.

It's even worse Christianity.

[Link via Amy Welborn.]
Haven't you always wanted to know what BoSox hurler Curt Schilling does in his spare time?

Why, of course you have! Who hasn't?

Especially when it's something really cool, like helping to keep a wargaming classic like Advanced Squad Leader alive and kicking. In all seriousness, the ASL Starter Kit is supposed to be a brilliant introduction to a game renowned for its detailed (but not unplayable) realism.

For all your boardgaming needs, both in and out of print, there's the invaluable and appropriately-titled BoardGameGeek. It was BGG that helped me to remember the name of an old Avalon Hill classic my friend and I used to play--Storm Over Arnhem. Make sure to register (it's free)--that way you can read the valuable user ratings and comments about the various games. Perhaps my favorite is the discussion of the (in)famous SPI monster game, Campaign for North Africa, complete with 2400 counters and a game map measuring 36 square feet. The debate question: Is this thing playable? At least without undue stress on marital and job obligations? The basic school of thought is that SPI forgot to include the several trained monkeys necessary to play it for you.

Speaking of which: Anybody up for a game of Objective: Moscow? I need two other players and someone's basement to set up the map board (about 20 square feet).

That, and about three months of your free time...

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Routine Maintenance.

Mark Cameron and Nathan Nelson have left the building. Both will be missed.

In their places, I have added St. Blog's Parish Hall, Someguy's Mystery Achievement, The Old Oligarch, Cacciaguida and Dawn Eden, as well as fixed the screwy link to Greg Krehbiel's blog.

Mary Herboth has aptly described my blogroll as looking like a pile of mismatched socks. Consequently, your blog's location on it isn't a statement of anything other than my inability to come up with a non-time-consuming organizing template.

Though in Mary's case, I at least tried to match one pair.... :)
This is a frigging joke, right? Right?

If not, someone's ass needs to get kicked--hard-- and I hereby volunteer to be Boot No. 1.

Are your kids ready for Halloween?

Your Revelation 22:20 moment for the week.

God have mercy on us all.

[Link via David Morrison.]

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Stuff about Rush.

That would be the Canadian rock band, not the conservative talk show host.

The first article concerns lead singer Geddy Lee, and makes it clear that "Red Sector A" is much more personal than I ever imagined:

The 20-year-old song "Red Sector A," from the 1984 album "Grace Under Pressure," comes from a deeply emotional and personal place in the heart of lead singer and bassist Geddy Lee.
The seeds for the song were planted nearly 60 years ago in April 1945 when British soldiers liberated the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Lee's mother, Manya (now Mary) Rubenstein, was among the survivors. (His father, Morris Weinrib, was liberated from Dachau a few weeks later.) The whole album "Grace Under Pressure," says Lee, who was born Gary Lee Weinrib, "is about being on the brink and having the courage and strength to survive."


* * *

"I once asked my mother her first thoughts upon being liberated," Lee says during a phone conversation. "She didn't believe [liberation] was possible. She didn't believe that if there was a society outside the camp how they could allow this to exist, so she believed society was done in."
In fact, when Manya Rubenstein looked out the window of a camp building she was working in on April 15, 1945, and saw guards with both arms raised, she thought they were doing a double salute just to be arrogant. She did not realize British forces had overrun the camp. She and her fellow prisoners, says Lee, were so malnourished, their brains were not functioning, and they couldn't conceive they'd be liberated.


The second is an interview with Alex Lifeson, one of the most consistently underrated guitarists in the business:

EPI: Throughout your career, Rush has consistently broken the mold for what a successful rock band looks like....you know, the three-and-a-half minute, hook-laden tune was not in your repertoire and yet you have been hugely successful selling tens-of-millions of records and CDs and creating an insanely huge, loyal fan base. What do you think it is about Rush that connects with people despite the fact that you don't fit the dictated pop music mold?

ALEX: Well, I think in the very early days there was something about Rush that was really non-radio, that set it apart from everybody else. We wrote longer songs, we were more interested in the musicianship and it was all about the band and not about the lifestyle. On top of that, our lyrics were a lot more serious than what a lot of rock bands were writing at the time so while we did get some good press, most of the press we got was not so good....and I think what happened was that people became attached to this band because we were different, unusual and not popular. It became kind of a cult thing and over the years our audience has just grown with us. We've tried to stay true to our original beliefs and we've been very uncompromising, satisfying ourselves before anyone else with our music.

We were fortunate enough to make a record that was successful, fairly early in our career--it was like 4 records in, called 2112 and the record company realized that hey, these guys have what they have and they know what it is, so we're not going to interfere and just let them do what they're doing because we're selling records. And management was the same way. We've never had anyone from the record company or management spend a day in the studio or even an hour in the studio when we've recorded! We've had total freedom to do what we want and I think our fans understand that and appreciate that--and expect that from us. We've really developed this relationship and the bottom line is that we try to play as best we can. We've always set a very high standard for ourselves and people appreciate that. People want to hear good players play and players that try hard. Modern music is all over the place right now but it's not well supported. Its hard to really find music that's challenging and compelling--and I'm not saying that music sucks--there are a lot of great bands out there and lots of great players but you really have to look for them.


Interestingly enough (or not), I listened to Overture/Temples of Syrinx from 2112 on the way home today. D&D and Rush both turned 30 this year. Two huge mile markers from my middle and high school years--both thirty.

That salt-n-pepper look in my hair is supposed to be distinguished, right?

Yes.

Yes, it is.


[Links via fellow Rush aficionado Jim Cork.]

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A Jesuit on the front lines.

A tragic (warning: graphic) and inspiring story about Fr. Paul Shaughnessy, S.J., and the work he's doing in Najaf. Read.

[Link via Mark Sullivan, who has more about Catholic military chaplains here.]
For my sister-in-law, Maria, one of the strongest women I know.

And the rest of you fine military wives everywhere--Ben Stein speaks for me, too:

The wives keep up the fight even when they have to move every couple of years, even when their checks are late, even when they have to make a whole new set of friends every time they move.

And they keep up the fight to keep the family whole even when they feel a lump of dread every time they turn on the news, every time they switch on the computer, every time the phone rings and every time--worst of all--the doorbell rings. Every one of those events--which might mean a baseball score or a weather forecast or a FedEx man to me and my wife--might mean the news that the man they love, the man they have married for better or worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, is now parted from them forever.

These women will never be on the cover of People. They will never be on the tabloid shows on TV about movie stars. But they are the power and the strength that keep America going. Without them, we are nothing at all. With them, we can do everything.

They are the glue that holds the nation together, stronger than politicians, stronger than talking heads, stronger than al Qaeda.


Remember the wives and families of the soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen today, too.


Dungeons and Dragons turns 30.

This site has a fascinating series of articles and interviews covering the development of the game and the birth of the role-playing game phenomenon. An interesting sidelight is the amusing infighting and revenge-taking seen in the naming of certain characters and regions in the game worlds created by Gary and Ernie Gygax, et. al. Some of the legends referred to in the game are based on their real life names. For example, one of the warriors was named Yrag, there were wizards named Xagyg and Serten, etc. Well, as is often the case, there were various fallings-out along the way. For instance, Gary Gygax named the orc realm in the Greyhawk setting the Pomarj, which involved the first letters of his first wife Mary Jo's name. But perhaps the most direct was Dave Arneson's name for the mysterious villain who haunted the Blackmoor setting: The Egg of Coot. The Egg was portrayed as a mysterious, powerful and largely unknowable "evil superbeing." Arneson, D&D's largely forgotten co-creator, had a major falling out with E. Gary Gygax, which led to the former quitting the company and filing suit, resulting in a settlement in 1981.

Interestingly enough, the two managed two patch things over sufficiently that Gygax began to publish a more developed version of the setting--complete with the Egg--before being fired in 1985.

Another interesting sidelight: Gary Gygax claims that Tolkien's works had little influence on the development of the game. That's probably right--especially in terms of "magic appeal". Gygax more or less lifted the game's magic system from Jack Vance's works, right down to the references to "ioun stones." But it seems pretty clear that Tolkien's popularity at the time helped to make it a phenomenon--that, and he borrowed "halflings" and "rangers" wholesale from the books. I discovered D&D right after blasting my way through LOTR, and so did my earliest gaming friends.

By the way, I have a confession to make:

Bryan, I deliberately snuffed your character in The Keep on the Borderlands so I wouldn't have to DM anymore. I didn't cheat, but I certainly made the climactic battle as violent as possible. Nothing personal--if Tim or Gary Ellsworth had been in the way, I'd have been just as happy. I just hated DMing at the time.

Please note that this had nothing to do with my metronomic victories in Panzer Leader and Blades of Steel. Those were just skill.

[Update 8/26: Upon looking through the Arneson interview, I changed some of the detail in paragraphs one and two. Apparently he and Gygax patched it over after the settlement.]

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Blind Faith: It's not just for the religious anymore.

Recently in the LA Times (registration required), someone named Sam Harris has pronounced a fatwa against unfrozen caveman types who insist on pestering the rest of the world with the stories and mores of their nonexistent Bronze Age Palestinian sky god.

Verdict? Guilty of aggravated idiocy. [Warning: salty language to follow.]

President Bush and the Republicans in the Senate have failed — for the moment — to bring the Constitution into conformity with Judeo-Christian teachings.

Everyone--and I mean every last one of us on this benighted orb--has gods. Something we follow or pursue with adoration and a single-minded determination. It's either God (glimpsed and followed however unknowingly, incompletely or incorrectly), or something created. When it's created, that condition is something we extra-Y-chromosome types call "idolatry," which essentially prefers the created items of this earth to its sovereign Creator.

The last century has just been lousy with idolatry, with billions choosing to worship an ideology, the State, material goods, or (increasingly) our marvelous selves.

Mr. Sam Harris is a practical polytheist, whether he knows it or not. His first god is a piece of yellowed parchment written by slave owners whose home states had established churches. His demigods are a pantheon of smart enlightened people (those who agree with him, naturally) fortunate enough to be able to afford law school, pass a two day exam, pay a yearly fee to maintain a license, and either afford to advertise for a judgeship or be connected enough to get appointed to one. Sounds remarkably elitist and anti-democratic to me, but since that's what the parchment says, Harris hears and obeys.

Don't get me wrong--I love the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the American experiment in liberty. It permits obscure blowhards like me to fulminate at great length without fear of being tossed into the slammer, where minions of the displeased state can attach electrodes to my testicles or threaten to mutilate my loved ones. It birthed a republic where I don't have to bow and scrape to some inbred with a title. It created a nation where I can better my family's prospects, and one where I can worship (or not) freely.

I even suspect I like parts of it he doesn't, like that sentence that recognizes my right to own a boomstick from S-Mart. But, ultimately, it's a document drafted by deeply flawed human beings.

Which brings me to my next point: Harris' idol itself was flawed from its remarkable birth. Even the slave-owning establishmentarians who signed it recognized that circumstances could change, rendering the document itself in need of change. As in "amendment." As in what's been done 28 times. As in what those evil Republicans were trying to do a couple weeks back.

Not so by the way: man-woman marriage is hardly a "Judeo-Christian" concept. It's more a Judeo-Christian-Muslim-Hindu-Confucian-Buddhist-Animist-Et Cetera thing. No major religion's keen on marrying people with the same plumbing. But do go on--blaming it on Christians tends to excite the LA Times' fan base.


But even if they had passed a bill calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, that would have been only a beginning. Leviticus 20:13 and the New Testament book of Romans reveal that the God of the Bible doesn't merely disapprove of homosexuality; he specifically says homosexuals should be killed: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death."

The perils of atheists quoting the Bible. It's a little like me trying to breakdance: I don't exactly do the art form any credit and look like the Chippendales-sketch Chris Farley in full meltdown mode.

Leviticus says that. Romans doesn't. You might want to try to actually read the material you are trashing before flapping your blowhole, Mr. Harris. Oh, and another thing--you might want to study up on how often Jews, pre-Christianity, applied capital punishment in all such cases.
Such commandments were believed to be prescriptive, the penalties were rarely applied, required extensive proof and the authorities imposed extensive procedural safeguards which also increased the rarity of the sanction. Translation: hen's teeth rare, and a warning to shape conduct. Christian scholarship agrees:

"Many of the penalties listed here [Leviticus 20:9-21] prescribe a 'cutting off,' in contrast to a judicial execution. Some have rather convincingly argued that the expression to 'cut off' in many of these lists of penalties meant to excommunicate that person from the community of God. The case, however, is not altogether clear, for in some of these situations, the threat of punishment from God in some form of premature death appears to fit the meaning best.

It must be noted that the death penalty might also indicate the seriousness of the crime without calling for the actual implementation of it in every case. In fact, there is little evidence that many of these sanctions were ever carried out in ancient Israel. Only in the case of premeditated murder was there the added stricture of 'Do not accept a ransom for the life of the murder, who deserves to die (Numbers 35:31). The word ransom is the Hebrew kopfer, meaning a 'deliverance or a ransom by means of a substitute.' Traditional wisdom, in both the Jewish and Christian communities, interpreted this verse in Numbers 35:31 to mean that out of the almost 20 cases calling for capital punishment in the Old Testament, every one of them could have the sanction commuted by an appropriate substitute of money or anything that showed the seriousness of the crime; but in the case of what we today call first-degree murder, there was never to be offered or accepted any substitute or bargaining of any kind: the offender had to pay with his or her life."

Kaiser, et al, (Eds.), Hard Sayings of the Bible (IVP 1996), p. 162.


God also instructs us to murder people who work on the Sabbath, along with adulterers and children who curse their parents.

"God also instructs us to murder...." Nice. Spoken like a certified, braying jackass. See above for refutation of the same.

In addition, Mr. Harris doesn't mention, interestingly enough, that the same penalties applied to guys who slept with their mothers, sisters and daughters, or Springer-bait women who do the same with male relatives. After all, he wouldn't want to elicit any gut sympathy for the Levitical code in his go-along-to-get-along, just-as-long-as-nobody-gets-hurt Times readership, I suppose.


While they're at it, members of Congress might want to reconsider the 13th Amendment, because it turns out that God approves of slavery — unless a master beats his slave so severely that he loses an eye or teeth, in which case Exodus 21 tells us he must be freed.

I haven't seen an article that contains so much concentrated ignorance combined with swaggering a-hole arrogance in a long, long time. It can't possibly be all that impressive to even a sympathetic audience, can it? There's too much of a stench of "Sophomore Atheist with a 2.8 GPA Lectures Planet" wafting up in gale-force gusts. It wears more quickly at book length. My prediction for sales? Sitting in piles at Borders' Outlets in six months, sporting $2.99 stickers, and about to be marked down even further. It's not political enough to fool the same morons who buy Michael Moore, nor is it soft enough to replace two-ply on an extended basis.

Here's my challenge for "God approves of slavery" fanatics: Prove it, gasbag. Find the verse where the Almighty mandates slavery, and approves of it as a positive good.

Happy hunting.


Oh, and in the process, try to explain why the earliest abolitionists--men like William Wilberforce and John Wesley--were devout Christians who revered the Bible.


What should we conclude from all this? That whatever their import to people of faith, ancient religious texts shouldn't form the basis of social policy in the 21st century. The Bible was written at a time when people thought the Earth was flat, when the wheelbarrow was high tech.

Hooray! The Technology Equals Morality Sect beams in with a pitcher of Kool-Aid! Please--have a nice big glass!

Hoo, boy. Where to begin? Let's keep it short:

"Silly primitives: couldn't even come up with Zyklon B."

Say what you will about the "social policy" of first century Hebrews, but I'd much rather have visited Herod's Temple than Hitler's Auschwitz or Stalin's Vorkuta (and both of the latter cultures had electricity and flush toilets).

How about you?

Are its teachings applicable to the challenges we now face as a global civilization?

Yes.

Consider the subject of stem-cell research.

Let's!

Many religious people, drawing from what they've heard from the pulpit, believe that 3-day-old embryos — which are microscopic collections of 150 cells the size of a pinhead — are fully endowed with human souls and, therefore, must be protected as people. But if we know anything about the neurology of sensory perception, we know that there is no reason to believe that embryos at this stage of development have the capacity to sense pain to suffer or to experience death in any way at all.

Many religious people are also aware of two other things. First, "stem cell research" is a much wider field than Mr. Harris seems to understand. In addition to cannibalizing embryos for spare parts, it also includes the removal of stem cells from adults and the umbilical cords of infants. The difference of course, is that non-embroynic stem cells have been successfully used to treat actual illnesses while the former has only been successfully used to medicate consciences that would otherwise be troubled by the idea of abortion.

But embryonic stem-cell research is the only one that gets press. Go figure.

The second thing ensoullment freaks know is that Mr. Harris' reasoning is grotesquely flawed, based as it is on our current levels of understanding and the philosophy of pain avoidance uber alles. It comes down to this: under Harris' religious beliefs, we could forcibly experiment on comatose patients, persons with Alzheimer's, people in persistent vegetative states, or other useless eaters, so long as enough ether has been applied to both the patient and the collective conscience of the society willing to take a flier on it. Mr. Harris is probably opposed to such things--even vehemently so--but on what distinguishing basis does he object?

The "ick" factor is a mighty flimsy barrier to an otherwise ethically-impaired society fearful of pain and death.

(There are, for comparison's sake, 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly.)

Mickey Mantle's last home run was hit at Tiger Stadium in 1968, the last year the regular season really meant something in baseball. It is also widely believed (if not fully confirmed by those involved), that Denny McLain deliberately served up a home run ball in a meaningless game as a tribute to the retiring Yankee great and to give the home crowd a thrill.

In the parlance of the game, this is called "grooving a pitch." It's sometimes done involuntarily, when a hurler ends up serving a pitch that the hitter is especially capable of crushing.

Whether he knows it or not, Harris just grooved one:

100,000 brain cells, eh? Given your comparative mental wattage, next time let the fly write the essay.

These facts notwithstanding, our president and our leaders in Congress, many of them citing religious teachings,

The...horror........the horror....

have decided to put the rights of undifferentiated cells before those of men and women suffering from spinal cord injuries, full-body burns, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

"These facts notwithstanding, our president and our leaders in Congress, many of them citing religious teachings, have decided to put the rights of those I don't deem to be fully human before those of fully-functional people terrified of infirmity. Like me."

Of course, the Bible is not the only ancient text that casts a shadow over the present. A social policy based on the Koran poses even greater dangers. Koran 9:123 tells us it is the duty of every Muslim man to "make war on the infidels who dwell around you." Osama bin Laden may be despicable, but it is hard to argue that he isn't acting in accord with at least some of the teachings of the Koran. It is true that most Muslims seem inclined to ignore the Koran's solicitations to martyrdom and jihad, but we cannot overlook the fact that some are not so inclined and that some of them murder innocent people for religious reasons. The phrase "the war on terrorism" is a dangerous euphemism that obscures the true cause of our troubles, because we are currently at war with precisely a vision of life presented to Muslims in the Koran. Anyone who reads this text will find non-Muslims vilified on nearly every page. How can we possibly expect devout Muslims to happily share power with "the friends of Satan"? Why did 19 well-educated, middle-class men trade their lives for the privilege of killing thousands of our neighbors? Because they believed, on the authority of the Koran, that they would go straight to paradise for doing so. It is rare to find the behavior of human beings so easily explained. And yet, many of us are reluctant to accept this explanation.

I am thankful for Mr. Harris' article because of this section. At one time, I would have been inclined to give him a partial thumb's up (after retracting the tall finger) for his refreshingly anti-PC take on Islam. "Finally," I would have said.

But that would be deeply dishonest: if he bungled Judaism and Christianity that badly, I have no reason to believe that his take on Islam is any more honest, accurate or fair. Yes, there is a deeply violent strain running through a disturbingly large segment of Islam right now. Yes, the best of Muslims are too often silent when they should be acting against the worst among them. I know a Maronite Catholic who now lives here because his Muslim neighbors made life impossible for him back in Lebanon. He loves America, but he's still an exile.

But. There's obviously another take on those verses. I live forty-odd minutes away from the largest enclave of Muslims in North America. But my neighbors and I are not beating back human wave assaults coming out of Dearborn. I've represented Bengali Muslims in the past, and never heard one bad word about Christians and Jews from them (though they were quite critical of other Muslims).

So, yeah, I'm not buying what Harris is peddling about Islam. And you shouldn't either.

That, and Martin Niemoller is echoing around my cranium right now:

"They came for the Muslims, and I said nothing, because I was not a Muslim...."

Religious faith is always, and everywhere, exonerated. It is now taboo in every corner of our culture to criticize a person's religious beliefs.

We all, to some extent, become our parents. My dad and mom show up periodically in the way I speak or react to certain events. Upon reading the above two sentences, I had a vision of my daughters and son, twenty years from now, quietly reading a newspaper or magazine in the living room of our home. I see Madeleine, Dale or Rachel in mid-article, his or her eyes narrowing, a frown quickly developing, turning into a derisive scowl, followed by a loudly barked

"Oh, bulls**t."

Yeah, it's really "taboo" in these parts, Voltaire. "Always, and everywhere exonerated."

Suuuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrre, it is.

Enjoying your stay on our planet? While you're at the spaceport, put down the Columbian Chronic and pick up a copy of The Da Vinci Code, mm-kay? Read that mega-million-selling "exoneration" of the faith of two billion-plus people.

Exoneration, evisceration--whatever.

About the only time religious belief gets the "always and everywhere" treatment is when it advances the dogma of the Church of the Affirmed Wang.

Consequently, we are unable to even name, much less oppose, one of the most pervasive causes of human conflict. And the fact that there are very real and consequential differences between the major religious traditions is simply never discussed. Anyone who thinks that terrestrial concerns are the principal source of Muslim violence must explain why there are no Palestinian Christian suicide bombers. They too suffer the daily indignity of the Israeli occupation. Where, for that matter, are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? The Tibetans have suffered an occupation far more brutal. Where are the throngs of Tibetans ready to perpetrate suicidal atrocities against the Chinese? They do not exist. What is the difference that makes the difference? The difference lies in the specific tenets of Islam versus those of Buddhism and Christianity.

Partial truth, but, as always, misses an important factor. The fact is, the Dark-Age brand of Islam advanced by Al Qaeda would have about as much influence in Islam as Paul Hill had on Christianity but for the fact that the Al Qaeda's philosophy is literally fueled by supertankerfuls of Saudi oil money. Wahhabi Islam is not an attractive philosophy, but it's loaded, and money talks. If he didn't have cash, bin Laden would be as popular as Fred Phelps.

There are now more people in our country who believe that the universe was created in six solar days than there were in Europe in the 14th century.

Don't know about this one, but I'll take him on faith (rimshot). Welllll--there are about five times more people in this country as there were in pre-plague 14th Century Europe.

So it stands to reason, Sherlock. If anything, you should be pleased that the proportion of those holding such views as a share of the total population has dropped dramatically.

In the eyes of most of the civilized world, the United States is now a rogue power — imperialist, inarticulate and retrograde in its religiosity. Our erstwhile allies are right not to trust our judgment.

Oderint dum metuant.

Fine, too glib by half.

I don't mean that. Mostly. But I've always wanted to use that phrase in context, and there was my chance.

More substantive response: most of that same civilized world routinely averts its gaze from genocide, gladly does business with gore-drenched despots and generally behave like lazy hedonists on an extended Cancun bender. Moral approbation from that quarter needs to be taken not with a grain of salt, but the whole damn lick.

We elect leaders who squander time and money on issues like gay marriage, Janet Jackson's anatomy, Howard Stern's obscenities, marijuana use and a dozen other trifles lying at the heart of the Christian social agenda, while potentially catastrophic problems like nuclear proliferation and climate change go unresolved.

Trifles, eh? If keeping marriage what it always has been is a trifle in Harris' world, I'd say he's single and has no kids.

As to the rest, I have an idea. What we need is someone to beam radio signals consisting of nothing but Stern's rants into his home theatre system, and plaster his apartment windows and windshield with Ms. Jackson's rogue knocker, all done on a daily basis. Then maybe he'll get it.

Apropos of nothing, according to Janet herself, her sagging cleavage was actually part of a deft plot by President Bushitler to distract the country from the Iraqi Adventure. The man can't utter a coherent sentence, but he's so diabolically clever he can wave the Flappy Boob to distract the Voting Boobs, playing them like a master grifter.

Rain President.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

We elected a president who believes the jury is still out on evolution and who rejects sound, scientific judgments on the environment, on medical research, on family planning and on HIV/AIDS prevention in the developing world.

Our selected-not-elected Pope-Emperor is opposed to evolution? Citation, please--Harris hasn't exactly earned the benefit of any doubt in this little screed of his.

I'll bet those sound, scientific environmental judgments will be...somewhat less authoritative when Harris is paying $5 per gallon to fill up the Maxima. How many of those "erstwhile allies" ratified Kyoto again?

And let's see: family planning and HIV prevention. That would be (1) abort 'em and (2) wrap Mr. Happy in a Ziplock, right?

Pay no attention to Uganda, please.

The consequence, as we saw in recent elections in Spain, is that people who feel misled and entrapped by our dogmatic and peremptory approach to foreign policy will be unable to recognize a common enemy, even when that enemy massacres hundreds of people in their nation's capital.

I tried to make heads or tails of this one: the Spanish electorate was mad at our theocratic system because the ruling party of Spain attempted to pass off an Al Qaeda attack as the work of Basque terrorists? Uh....OK.

I need an Editor--stat!

It is time we recognize that religious beliefs have consequences.

As do yours, buddy.

As a man believes, so he will act. Believe that you are a member of a chosen people, awash in the salacious exports of an evil culture that is turning your children away from God, believe that you will be rewarded with an eternity of unimaginable delights by dealing death to these infidels — and flying a plane into a building is only a matter of being asked to do it.

Which is why the Renaissance Center just collapsed into rubble.

Again.

Believe that "life starts at the moment of conception" and you will happily stand in the way of medical research that could alleviate the suffering of millions of your fellow human beings.

But life does start at the moment of conception, you twit. That's been conceded, dimwit, by the very science you try to wield as a club against your fellow citizens. You've been driven back to the defense line entitled "personhood," which forces you, against the consistency demanded by your logic, to draw some rather arbitrary lines between those you call "persons" and those you don't.

Rather god-like, when it comes down to it.

Believe that there is a God who sees and knows all things, and yet remains so provincial a creature as to be scandalized by certain sexual acts between consenting adults, and you will think it ethical to punish people for engaging in private behavior that harms no one.

The Church of the Affirmed Wang, sharing the good news of no more guilt. On deck: polygamy, consensual adult incest, and lowered age of consent laws ("adulthood" being an artificial social construct and hangover from a more puritanical time, don't you know?). Caligulesque from my vantage point, but 'twouldn't be ethical to punish people because of my parochial views.

Now that our elected leaders have grown entranced by pseudo-problems like gay marriage, even while the genuine enemies of civilization hurl themselves at our gates, perhaps it is time we subjected our religious beliefs to the same standards of evidence we require in every other sphere of our lives. Perhaps it is time for us to realize, at the dawn of this perilous century, that we are paying too high a price to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.

Yes, bring the jubilee. I wonder how Harris' libertine new order would deal with the backward non-conformists in their midst? When they are unpersuaded by the "evidence" refuting them, and still refuse to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar's new "toleration" policy. You can't make an omelette...

Friday, August 13, 2004

"Minuteman Press: Printing for the Job You Needed Yesterday."

I have in my possession an order of 1000 business cards from Jeff Culbreath's enterprise. All I can say is that I'm blown away. From the parchment paper to the detailed thermal printing, the work is superb. The options Jeff's designer offered were staggering, too--it was hard to pick just one.

And--even though I didn't need it fast, it was a quick process overall--the only delays being on the part of the dithering buyer.

So, take this testimonial as a recommendation: if you have some printing that needs to be done, give Jeff a call.

OK, Jeff, now about that invoice...[ducking].

Juuuust kidding.

Here's my wife's favorite haggling story, involving her father, which I like to call:

Germans Do Not Haggle.

Louis Blaesing (God rest his soul) was of stout Teutonic (and Irish, too) descent. One of his first jobs was working at a suburband Detroit paint store in high school, a teenager determined to do his best. The owner of the store was Polish and he and Louis got along fine. One day, an old Polish lady comes in and lugs a bucket of paint to the register. Louis looks at the paint and says: "That'll be $1.59."

The lady smiles at him and says, in a heavy accent, "I give you 75 cent."

Louis blinked. "It's $1.59," he replied, baffled.

"But I give you 75 cent."

Bafflement quickly grew into irritation.

"The sign says," he said slowly, and gesturing expansively, "$1.59."

Smiling a little more brightly: "Fine. I give you 80 cent."

Irritation began to morph into into anger.

"It's $1.59!"

Still smiling, and settling into Old World Haggling Stance: "OK, I give you 85 cent."

And so it went, back and forth, for another minute, as the veins in my father in law's neck began to bulge out and the old woman, enjoying herself immensely, no doubt began to admire her opponent. "Oh, he's a good one."

Just in time to prevent an international incident, the owner arrived from the rear of the store, gently steering the red-faced, borderline-enraged teenage clerk to the side, saying he'd handle it. "Stop bothering my boy," he admonished the old woman. Then the two began to commence haggling in Polish while Louis' blood pressure came back down from the red line. After he sold the can to the woman, he told Lou he'd only dropped it a nickel.

Apparently it's an Eastern European thing.
Detroit as Olympic host?

What might have been:

Detroit was on the verge of being the site of the Olympics twice.
In 1959, it finished second to Tokyo for the 1964 games, and in 1963, it was runner-up to Mexico City for the 1968 games.
Applying for the Olympics was virtually a hobby for Detroit officials during the glory years before and after World War II. In all, the city made pitches for the games in 1939, 1943, 1947, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1963 and 1972.
The most sophisticated effort was likely the one in 1963. Before his death that year, President John F. Kennedy appeared in a 45-minute film, which was introduced by entertainer Steve Allen, touting Detroit's charms.
"Detroit is a city of which all Americans are proud," Kennedy said. "Detroit, as the appointed representative of the United States, clearly demonstrates the national strength, the capacity, to realize the full scope and purpose of the Olympic tradition."
Even former President Dwight D. Eisenhower chipped in, calling Detroit "a superb location."
Officials staged a run across the nation to drum up support for the bid, and a 22-member delegation, lugging 7,000 pounds of equipment, traveled from Detroit to Germany to present its case. The presentation was interrupted 12 times by applause.
But Mexico City won on the first ballot. Observers blamed anti-American sentiment as one reason Detroit failed.


I've heard it said that the two saddest words in the English language are "If only."

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

"Roseville: We've Got a Panera!"

Local eccentric artist gets into a legal wrangle with local politicos in dispute over artistic freedom.
Yes, I know he signed an agreement, but I'm siding with the artist on this one. Gonzo's a bit of an oddball, and while he's definitely not the second coming of El Greco, he's not Mapplethorpe(1), either.

Here's the dispute:

Inspired by the Italian master, Stross painted a partial rendering of Michelangelo's famous "Creation of Man" painting on the side of his art studio, Gonzo Fine Arts Studio, on the northwest corner of Gratiot and Utica. For about a year, the image of God, cherubs and Eve have greeted drivers. The original is in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
But Roseville city officials are not pleased. A topless Eve -- just as Michelangelo portrayed her -- violates a 1997 agreement between Stross and the city. At that time, the city granted Stross an exception to a city rule that limited a building's signage. But the deal was that he could not paint words, breasts or genitalia.


I've been by Gonzo's place at the corner of Gratiot and Utica at least once per week since I moved to the far end of the Eastside in 1998. I admit--I look for changes every time I pass by.

A topless Eve, and the Solons of Roseville are going to court to enforce the Iron Law of Signage against a straw hat-wearing artist with multiple sclerosis doing an homage to Michelangelo.

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!

Sorry for the Howard Dean moment.

OK, as I see it, there are only two problems with the Solons' approach.

First:

IT'S FREAKING ROSEVILLE!

Gonzo's mural is, hands down, the most interesting outdoor decoration in a Detroit suburb festooned with minimalls, car dealerships and gimmicky chain restaurants--Bennichilapplerubyby's, anyone?

Second (speaking of bullwhips), within one mile of the mural are two (2) adult novelty stores with mannequins in the front windows displaying a fine array of fetish gear. Right there on the main drag of Gratiot, one of the busiest streets in Metro Detroit. Between Gonzo's clEveage and the leather-clad torsos, I know which one I'm dreading my kids' questions about.

-------------------------------
Footnote.

(1) Yes, I know--Mr. Mapplethorpe was a fine, even brilliant, photographer, the "Bullwhip--meet Butt. Butt--Bullwhip" thing notwithstanding. That's a little like saying "the neighbor's a fine fellow, the discovery-of-the-severed-heads-in-the-secret-basement-torture-dungeon-thing aside."
Say It With Diamonds.

Now that's a rock.

For some reason, Yahoo News has a picture of it next to a story about an entirely different gem heist.

Probably because it looks cool--which it admittedly does. And when else are you going to be able to use such a nice file photo?

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Counting the cost of forty years of adolescent rebellion.

A few weeks back, this article about Vatican II in Crisis Magazine made the rounds. I thought about blogging it, but while I thought it was pretty good, the characterization of the Church as she was in 1962 was off. SAM takes great pains to show how much was lost to the cultural revolutionaries waving the red banners of "reform":

At dawn on October 11, 1962, the Roman Catholic Church possessed a theological, cultural, liturgical, and devotional patrimony which should astound, even awe, anyone who is remotely familiar with its contents. She stood like a giant tree, grown from a mustard seed by the blood of a million martyrs and the prayers of innumerable saints, towering above the post-modern desolation which the rejection of her truths and her life had wreaked on Europe and the world. Within a few short years, as Mr. Johnson himself is compelled to admit, nobody had a very clear idea about what the Church was for. The adolescents, as Mr. Johnson calls them, had taken over. They created a church littered with mundane, mediocre, stupid, secular, and ugly things. And they did it with a vengeance and spite quite well displayed by Mr. Johnson’s dismissing St. Therese of Lisieux’s "Little Way" and Gerard Manley-Hopkins’ poetry as symptoms of an infantile refusal to enter into "spiritual adulthood."

I know a man who, by 1970, had a beautiful voice, fluency in Latin, and a fiery, innocent love of the Church. He loved the Latin Mass, and delighted in serving the Lord elegantly in what, according to Mr. Johnson, are the training-wheel, externalistic legalisms of its mysteries. Almost overnight, his services were no longer required, and the Church’s bishops and priests made that quite clear in the most brutal terms imaginable. He ought to have been a catechist, the leader of a schola, owning a celebrated life that was both use and ornament to his Church. But he lacked the skills needed in the post-Vatican II Church; he could not say, "that went out with Vatican II," he could not play an acoustic guitar, and he couldn’t open his mind to zen meditation techniques and alternative sexual theologies.

He is now a bitter man, still clinging to the Holy See despite decades of spiritual, devotional and liturgical abuse from a Church ubiquitously characterized by sneaker-clad altar girls, carpeted sanctuaries, sloppy preaching, stunted catechesis, pop-music liturgy, and bishops who refuse to understand that any theology, let alone John Paul II’s theology of the body, demands practical, decisive, and consequential applications to their flocks. Yes, we might find some cause to censor my friend’s reluctance to immolate his devotionalism on the Cross of ecclesiastical obedience. But we should not do it as Mr. Johnson has; to follow him, we must be ready to say we have nothing in common with the "young man" in the Gospel according to St. Matthew and, thereby, make ourselves ready to pray with the Pharisee in the Gospel according to St. Luke.

Mr. Johnson claims that the "adolescence" of post-Vatican II clerics and laymen resulted from the oppressiveness of their pre-Vatican II upbringing. He calls the rebellious barbarity following the Council a "discharge of decades of narrow, rules-based formation and institutional frustration." I found that interesting, since it’s the same argument the "adolescents" themselves like to make whenever they’re explaining how pedophiles and sexual adventurers are created by the evils of narrow, rules-based celibacy. I think the cause of the adolescent rebellion lies elsewhere. I think it lies in the false and juvenile belief that the creation of a happy present requires the repudiation of a miserable past, in the delinquent’s narcissistic castigation of his parents as being enervated, insufficient, out of touch with reality.

If the Catholic restoration desired by Mr. Johnson occurs, it will not be achieved by an army of childish, shiny-eyed bigots who believe that they are the first generation to have discovered the true meaning of Catholicism. It will be achieved by men and women who realize that they’re bigger than the modern world because they’re standing on the shoulders of giants, who are conversant with the theology of the body and the theology of Trent, and who know that "Christ is the Lord of history, and he handed the keys to Peter. That authority has resonated for 2,000 years, and its story is indeed one of glory and triumph." To that end, Mr. Johnson has actually contributed. He has shown us how very far we have to go.


Thursday, August 05, 2004

Oh, Deer Lord.

John Kerry tries to impress the flyover types in Wisconsin with tales of his deer hunting prowess:

He was asked in the interview Sunday what kind of hunting he preferred.
"Probably I'd have to say deer. It's tough, depending on where you are," said Kerry.
"I go out with my trusty 12-gauge double-barrel, crawl around on my stomach. I track and move and decoy and play games and try to outsmart them. You know, you kind of play the wind. That's hunting," said Kerry, whose manner was relaxed as he spoke on the final day of an excursion along the scenic upper Mississippi that he seemed to take some relish in.


[Blink. Blink.

Interlude of glass cleaning.

Re-reads excerpt.

Interlude of vigorously rubbing closed eyes with fingers.

Re-reads excerpt.

Interlude of closed-eye cleaning and vigorously rubbing glasses with fingers.

Re-reads excerpt.

Sound of car-jack ratcheting lower jaw back up into rest of face.]

I did read that.

Oy.

Do you know what you call a guy who hunts deer by crawling around on the ground?

Unsuccessful.

Wounded a lot by his buddies in bizarre hunting "accidents," for another. [Think of the sportsmens' equivalent of "fragging" and you're right there.]

"Hey, see any whitetails hunting with 'Wormy' today? No? Bad luck, eh?"

You see, there's just a little problem with hunting for deer by crawling around on ground: your prey has what is known as "acute hearing." This means, suprisingly enough, that they are going to hear your Ivy-educated fanny flopping through the dry autumnal underbrush like a seizure-prone badger from one hell of a loooooong ways off.

In other words, you won't come within a half-mile of the animals you think you are "hunting" because they've managed a rare trick for walnut-brained mammals:

They outsmarted you.

Stick to tales of boarding-school and yachting hijinks, Senator, and you'll be a lot better off.
How long, O Lord?

[Warning: the following link contains descriptions of Catholic worship stupidity guaranteed to stagger even those who think themselves inured to such things.

You have been warned.]

Word of Redemptionis Sacramentum has yet to trickle down to outlying parishes, like this one in South Dakota.

This account of the "worship" music at Sunday Mass will leave you begging--pleading on your knees with your hands raised to Heaven-- for Haugen.

Here's a taste:

After Communion, as we sit quietly, one of the guys gets up with his hand mic and sings the Communion Meditation (as it is called in the program): John Lennon's Imagine!

I can't imagine, myself. But wait--there's more. Much, much more. But I refuse to quote more, as you will understand upon perusal.

Read the whole thing--with a flagon of Imodium and a bushel of Tums handy.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Today's Freep has a story about the Tridentine Mass.

Pretty good, except for the nonsense from Fr. Reese of America magazine at the end.

It pains me to point out that I was correct in my supposition that the struggling nature of the parish was a consideration in its selection.

What's also interesting is that offering traditional worship at Detroit inner city churches appears to be a very successful phenomenon across denominational boundaries:

"We're talking about saving some of the city's architectural jewels and keeping them alive as churches," said the Rev. David Eberhard at Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit, widely regarded by clergy in the city as a master of this strategy.
"When I started in 1980, we had 50 members with an average age of 80 and now we've got 1,700 with an average age of 36," Eberhard said Monday. "Our niche is traditional worship in a beautiful, historic setting, and people will drive a long way for that."
The Rev. Steven Kelly at St. John's Episcopal Church, near Comerica Park, said he is following Eberhard's example. St. John's offers a form of Episcopal liturgy that disappeared from most churches in 1979. "And, I've got people driving from Ann Arbor, Downriver and one young couple that even comes from Lansing every weekend," Kelly said.


Funny how that works.

At St. Josaphat's, the method of obtaining the implements for the Tridentine Mass has a melancholy feel:

On Monday, Borkowski displayed some of the ornate, gold-plated implements, including a chalice and a crucifix, that will be used in the mass.
"Some of these are a century old, and we found them packed away in drawers and cupboards," he said. All were damaged after decades of neglect and had to be repaired and replated.
"We're bringing in antique-looking vestments, too," he said. "We've done a lot of work to make sure that this looks authentic. This church was built a century ago for this kind of mass, and we want it to look that way again."
Soon, carpenters will refit the church's modern, wooden altar with casters so it can be wheeled away for the weekly Tridentine mass, providing worshippers with a clear view of the high altar along the front wall.
"I'm in charge of finding all the things necessary for this kind of mass, and some of the things are very hard to find -- strictly eBay and antique shop items now," said Borkowski. "Look at these."


Hmmm. "Now available in Religions/Spirituality and Collectibles: 'Catholic Tradition.' Search titles and description for that monstrance or ciborium you remember from your youth."

Now, to the ugly, courtesy of Fr. Reese:

Maida is among many bishops across the United States who have authorized a single parish to offer the older mass, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of America Magazine in New York City, a Catholic priest and an expert on the structure of the church.
The only thing that could spoil the venture at St. Josaphat is too much success, Reese said.
"When the pope authorized bishops to allow this mass in 1984, the idea was that this was a pastoral response to older people who still are so attached to this older mass that they need it," Reese said Monday. "The idea was never to create a new desire in people for this mass."


Your "idea," maybe. The Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles' "idea," to be sure. Certainly "the idea" of many tradition-hating iconoclasts currently holding the reins. But, unfortunately for the above, "the idea" is not found in either of the relevant indult documents, for 1984 or 1988. In fact, the author of the 1984 letter swatted down the notion that the Tridentine indult was a glorified seniors' discount:

"In recent times it has been affirmed that the allowances given for the celebration of the Tridentine Mass have been granted with the provision that only those who were familiar with the preceding forms of the Roman Liturgy would be allowed to benefit from those concessions.
During my time as President of the Pontifical Commission 'Ecclesia Dei' such limitation was never mentoned by the authorities involved. In this regard it should be mentioned that the Commission has used the faculty of erecting religious institutes which would benefit from the use the Roman Missal of 1962 and the other liturgical books in force at that time. Evidently it was understood that young recruits would be admitted to such communities and would benefit from all the concessions made to them. Hence one cannot speak of an age limit."


Apparently, "The Idea Memo" was not widely circulated outside of the feverish imaginations of the members of the Good Riddance To All That Commission.

Strange. Happens a lot, from what I can tell.


Maida's decision to allow it at St. Josaphat seems in keeping with the spirit of Vatican rules, Reese said. But, "It would be counterproductive if too many people turn this into a marketing strategy to fill churches. The idea behind allowing this mass was that it could help older people in the later stages of their lives. The hope is that this mass eventually will fade away."


Well, we can't have beautiful old churches thronged with happy worshippers now, can we? Might be revanchist to prevent more of our heritage from being converted into car dealerships and online auction fodder.


Might give poor Fr. stagefright to see a packed house outside of Christmas and Easter.


Might put a crimp on the eBay market for baldaccinos and put somebody out of work.


Worse, it might pose some difficult questions for"The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves" approach to liturgical "reform" that has been the standard for two generations. Lord knows, we can't have that.


"The hope is that this mass eventually will fade away."


You wish. You wish.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Streep v. Washington on WWJD? And what would George Lucas do?

CT's movie page has some interesting links today, including to this argument between Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington on the Today Show.

Also fascinating is George Lucas' homage to Orwell, deleting and replacing an actor from a climactic scene in the Return of the Jedi DVD (scroll down):

New Star Wars title announced (CNN)It's called Revenge of the Sith. But why bother to see the film when it opens, since we know it will eventually be revised, with Lucas going so far as to replace the actors? I'm not kidding. That's exactly what he's doing with the original Star Wars films. Here's a clip from the conclusion of the upcoming DVD release of Return of the Jedi, in which Sebastian Shaw has been deleted and replaced by Hayden Christensen.
Saudi Arabia running out of oil?

Yes, says respected market analyst.

It's always been assumed, by the United Nations as well as European and U.S. policymakers, that Saudi Arabia would be able to pump more of its oil to fulfill increasing world demand. The Saudis are pumping, at most, 9 million barrels a day now and have boasted that they could pump as much as 15 million barrels a day for the next 50 years. Indeed, Saudi leaders promised that they would start pumping more a few weeks ago.
But because world oil production hasn't increased since those promises were made, economists and energy users have wondered whether Saudi Arabia has elected, for political reasons, not to fulfill its vow.
Simmons says it's worse than that. Much like the biggest problem in the Enron fiasco was that analysts always trusted Enron managers' declarations about the strength of its financial assets, he says that the world has always taken Saudi Arabia at its word for its oil assets. He now believes that it cannot be trusted.
He notes that the six major oil fields in Saudi Arabia, all discovered between 1940 and 1967, produce about 95% of Saudi oil. The Saudis produce 10% of the world's oil from them at the world's lowest prices, and the Saudis are the only serious provider of "spare" capacity on the planet. A single field, Ghawar, which is the world's largest, was discovered in 1948 and produces up to 60% of the kingdom's total.
He believes that production at these mature fields has peaked. While that doesn't mean they'll run out tomorrow, they're becoming much harder and more expensive to exploit efficiently. It's like a person getting older and suffering from arterial sclerosis: They slow down and become increasingly less capable. The Saudis are now using intense water-injection techniques to improve production, he says, a technique that can ultimately lead to catastrophic pressure failure.
Aramco disputes his claim, but Simmons notes correctly that its principal answer comes down to an Enron-like "Trust me." There's no solid independent data source of Saudi oil production. "A lack of verified data leaves the world in the dark," he told the Hudson Institute.


That sheds some interesting light on the current upward trend of oil prices, to say the least.
The first home for the Archdiocese of Detroit's Indult Mass is....

St. Josaphat in downtown Detroit (the parish website has a tentative announcement here). The Archdiocese announced it in yesterday's Michigan Catholic newspaper. Looks like a beautiful choice, architecturally. And, given the sprawling nature of the archdiocese, it's actually a decent central location, with easy expressway access (I pass by it every week).

The first Mass is scheduled for 10am on October 3. Very tentatively, from the report.

Other apparent reason for the choice--it's a struggling parish otherwise. Only about 100 families are registered there, though apparently Detroit's Filipino community has been gravitating towards it. The current pastor has high hopes for the Mass.

Also, the Archdiocese has taken upon itself the task of training a "cadre" of priests to serve at the parish.

Unanswered questions: (1) the location of the other parish, (2) whether the other sacraments will be offered per the older rite (though the training of a number of priests suggests this is the case), and (3) whether the number of Masses will increase.

The only cautionary note? Apparently there will be a review of the situation in early 2005 to see how things are progressing.

Not surprising, given the fierce resistance to the grant of the indult in the first place.