Wednesday, April 30, 2008


For those of you on night shift, or tend to be owls. Br. Guy Consolmagno, of the Vatican Observatory, is going to be on Coast to Coast AM tonight.

Monday, April 28, 2008

.......and some of us have ugly sisters

Title is regarding that post about nature. The following may be of interest to homeschoolers, or anybody interested in science. The technical issues involved here are impressive. Other than that, little connection to Chesterton besides that Chesterton is cool, and so are GIANT SQUID.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Sister’s Surprise

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshippers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.”

Within every small town or neighborhood where there is tillable dirt you will find a lady whose garden is the envy of all others. A garden where people slow down as they drive by to look at or walk the long way home so they can stroll pass her flowers. This lady is always generous with giving or trading cuttings and bulbs. She will always listen to your garden stories and advise when necessary. She has dirt under her nails all summer dancing with her “younger sister.

In our town that lady is my wife.

She has set it up so that every two weeks or so the garden changes color. Slow waves of yellow to purple to blue to red back to yellow then burnt orange and gold all moving within an undercurrent of all the hues of green. She knows all the names of the flowers both the common and the Latin. She can do this whether the plant is in full bloom or just a half inch out of the ground. When she and I wander around the garden in summer I ask her to tell me the Latin names of each one we pass. Not that I have forgotten from the last time she told me it is just that to hear the sound of Latin spoken in a soft Kentucky accent is beautifully lyrical. It is the voice of angels or at least the voice of the elves of Arda.

My function in this garden is to do the heavy lifting and provide patience. The later is most important this time of year. This past weekend as I was turning and adding compost to some dirt for our beets and lettuce she exclaimed, “I want to uncover the beds!”

“It is to soon. Next week will be safer.” I tell her and she knows I’m right.

So she walked around behind me and gentling moved away some leaf matter to take a peek. “Daisys?” she wondered “What are they doing over here? I thought I had those contained.”

I laughed and told her, “You can’t contain daisy’s.” and then said, “It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.’ Do it again He says and our sister obeys. A nice surprise for us huh? ”

Oh yea the garden is also a place I can quote Chesterton where my wife does not roll her eyes at me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

George's Day

It’s St. George’s Day. Time for the only non-Nantucket poem that I ever memorized (and to be honest, I only memorized the first verse):

St George he was for England.
And before he killed the dragon
He drank a pint of English ale
Out of an English flagon.
For though he fast right readily
In hair-shirt or in mail.
It isn’t safe to give him cakes
Unless you give him ale.

St George he was for England,
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon’s meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You mustn’t give him beans.

St George he is for England,
And shall wear the shield he wore
When we go out in armour
With the battle-cross before.
But though he is jolly company
And very pleased to dine,
It isn’t safe to give him nuts
Unless you give him wine.

Mighty GKC

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Digital Catholic

Thirty-five Catholic treasures on CD Rom for $29.95. Includes one Belloc and seven GKCs. I'm pretty sure I'm going to order it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Weekend Thoughts

I think most people who read this and similar blogs have been paying attention to the B16 visit to the US. Unfortunately the crazy woman at Yale with her "performance art" has sucked up some valuable media time. It is good to note that several of the usual protocols for heads of state were broken for the Pope. I think we have a tendency to try to always look for the cloud behind every silver lining, and there have been some problems with the Papal visit, but all in all I think that a character such as B16 does come off as an enigma to the press. There is nobody left in our mainstream culture who represents scholarship, prayerfulness, and erudition of lifestyle the way B16 does. There is something that is felt and experienced by all, even if words cannot be found to express it adequately. Perhaps the contrast with the Yale faculty is appropriate?

I think people get this same sense from GKC, one is in the presence of a master, and we are so heretical and fanatic in our cultural egalitarian pathos that we never get to experience this.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gilbert Sighting

A handful of weeks and a bucket of lost sleep ago I directed a play for my local High school for them to enter in the state competition, (their regular teacher was out on maternity leave). We placed second in our category but that is not the story. On our first day of rehearsal I entered a classroom to meet them and there before me stood a blank blackboard. I am always drawn to a blank writing surface like a groom to his bride I cannot leave it untouched.

Upon it I wrote some of my favorite quotes about art and theatre, two of which were Gilberts: “A man does not know what he is saying until he knows what he is not saying.” and “Art, like morality, consists in drawing a line somewhere.”

During that rehearsal I did not talk about any of the quotes. I just let them sit there. Unusual for me but that is just how it played out.

A few days ago I was back in the school, to pick up my son, and they had a display case up containing some students favorite quotes and there in the bottom center done up in red marker on yellow card stock was G.K.C’s, “Art, like morality, consists in drawing a line somewhere.” I smiled big.

But not so fast white boy. When my son finally showed up I pointed that quote out to him all puffed with pride, “Gilbert strikes again” I said.

“Oh yea, There’s a new teacher this year that is constantly quoting Chesterton.” My son told me.

“Thanks for the heads up son.”

“Sorry. What’s for supper?”

So I guess there is a new friend for me to make.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Man Who Was Thursday: Free at during April 2008

Free Audiobook of the Month

All that G. K. Chesterton's critics and comrades labeled him - devotional, impious, confounding, intelligent, humorous, bombastic - he wove into The Man Who Was Thursday. This page-turner sends characters bobbing around a delightfully confusing plot of mythic proportions. There are so many twists and turns that soon you'll be tangled in a story that you cannot put down...even if you're not entirely sure why!

Simply add the Download format to your cart and use the coupon code APR2008 during checkout to receive your free download of The Man Who Was Thursday.

Free Audiobook of the Month


Friday, April 11, 2008

Condi Rice and torture - a clerihew

Condoleezza Rice
seemed so smart and nice,
but I'd have to say she's flawed
if torture gets her nod.

(Rice was the head of committee - than included people like Cheney and Powell - that reportedly approved in specific instances methods of torture that at the least violated human rights, and may have violated U.S. and international law.)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

GKC, Just War, Torture, Law of Land Warfare, The Servile State....Oh My!

I see Inside Catholic just had an article on this same matter......

After scanning the discussions on this over at Blue Boar, and Inside Catholic, I have to say that the level of discussion is very high, well reasoned, and it is quite surprising that this issue is being discussed at its best within faith circles......whom, to use Bill O'Reilly's phrase, the Secular Progressives (SP), would see as the fundamentalist inquisitors. The strongest support for "Torture" in general, and waterboarding in particular are from those who obviously have played the card of idolatry of the state. For those who didnt read on Friday, we had a very good give and take between alot of people with alot of military experience and very well read both in faith and morals, as well as politics. I myself was involved with detainee operations in Iraq, have also served as tactical PSYOP in both Iraq and Bosnia. I worked in civilian corrections for 7 years as well.

This discussion could take place over hundreds of pages, but I think there are a few things that can be agreed on by all, there is an enormous amount of gray area for disagreement, but I think the principles and considerations to be taken into account can also be universally agreed upon, with an enormous amount of difference of opinion as to application. I think all sides must come away with very uncomfortable realizations.

First: I think we all agree that causing physical or psychological damage to innocent parties for no purpose other than the glee and psycho-sexual release of the captors is mala in se. This clearly is torture and the objectifying and dehumanizing of persons. I think we can accept this as a given.

Second(perhaps third and fourth): States do have a right to conduct military operations in certain circumstances. Part of the exercise of this function requires knowledge of the movements and plans of the other parties in the conflict. This information can be gained electronicially, through scouting, and through questioning of enemies who come into the custody of a state's forces. This I think needs to be mentioned because I think there is an unspoken thought behind some words on the political left that interrogation and questioning of prisoners, even HOLDING prisoners is unjust or inappropriate.......I actually say some things not challenging this point, but making its understanding more complicated.

Third: In an effort to bring some philosophical and legal structure to the most horrid and chaotic aspects of human existence, we have models such as Just War in philosophy, and the Geneva Conventions in International Law: Just war principle: Jus ad bellum-Just cause, comparative justice, legit authority, right intention, prob of success, last resort, proportionality. Part II is Jus in Bello - Distinction, proportionality, military necessity. The Geneva conventions are here and here. Note, and if you see this, you are understanding the situation at a level far above and beyond anybody in the US Legislative branch, the mainstream media, and certainly the Democratic Party-----the Geneva Conventions "dont apply" to the situation we find ourselves in. I will admit that line has been used politically by the administration. However, just as raw jurisprudence, it is still true. The GCs are written around a WWII type of situation. The war on terror(bad term, I know), is already a very gray area since we are dealing with groups that exist on the fringes of being paramilitary organizations, organized crime groups, and multinational-non state entities.

I think these are the three essential pillars, many other things branch off, but those three points summarize the crux of the issue. I think a couple things that add nuances are as follows.

-This isnt necessarily a situation of vox populi or sensuum fidelium. There is a certain amount of expertise, knowledge and background necessary to really properly address these topics. I think this issue cant be fully explored and adequately dealt with unless everybody involved holds a security clearance. The end point critical facts and procedures at the heart of the discussion simply cant enter the mainstream debate. One example: I think there are far better organizational models used by some other countries in integrating their intelligence functions that would greatly benefit us. Unfortunately, that line of reasoning cant take place in public. Im going somewhere with this at my end conclusion if you can hang with me.

DING DING--Havent mentioned this yet, but the state of ISLAM is very important here. We arent talking just about academic theories, but about a concrete, real situation, with actual definable forces. We arent in a "Clash of Civilizations," but you can sure see it from here. I see a couple things that I have not seen addressed in other places.
1)Historically, during the Crusades and other times, there have been prisoners taken and exchanged on both sides. There have also been prisoners executed and tortured on both sides. There were religious orders founded for the ransom and exchange of captives. I find this very interesting. From the stories one reads, the Crusader knights, and some of the Islamic chiefs, were treated very Chivalrously, and gentlemanly. My natural instinct, and I think that of our contemporary intelligence model, would have us grilling those guys for order of battle information as well as for intelligence about their military infrastructure -- How many horses could be bred and trained for war every year out of certain areas of France, for example. I havent read enough to see if this was done, or if it has even been translated from the historical documents. An important note, however......prisoners were always held for ransom, thus they were a dehumanized commodity for cash and capital. In our age, information is a has anything changed? We are morally superior in the sense that we recognize that the average Joe Private should be released back into normal life.
2)This leads us to the observation that contemporary Islam is the "sick man of the world." The US and allies at least TAKE prisoners, anybody falling into the hands of these other groups is killed, period. I think we can see even in our own time how this situation has deteriorated. Remember Terry Waite, Fr. Jenco, and the Lebanon hostages during the 80's? As terrible as that situation was, we cant even raise to that level now.

Where this takes us to a conclusion....
I think we can clearly see that our current intellectual and political paradigms are inadequate in dealing with our current situation. Just War is strained when dealing with modern conflict where immigration has intermixed all the populations of the world, where groups other than states are capable of mounting operations, and where technology has made distance obsolete. The Geneva conventions, likewise, are inadequate in dealing with non-state forces and loosely organized cell structures.

Where I see the kernels of good ideas:
The Petraeus doctrine: The "surge" was not merely a strategy of throwing more bodies into Iraq. It is a radical shift in thought from seeing a military force as merely a battlefield fire and maneuver element. The economic, social, societal, and neighborhood problems of an area are equally, perhaps more important at times, than the combat power issues affecting an area. This sort of thinking seems so much more in tune with Jus ad Bello than mere "Occupation". On a cultural note, I dont think anyone from a non-Christian society could ever dream up this stuff. As to our original question of "waterboarding" and "torture", I think as this sort of more modern, unconventional theory of warfare permeates all the branches, I think that the intelligence and interrogation functions will progress in step.....there will still be tough interrogating(thankfully, I have to say), but I think the organizational culture will be such that abuses will be seen as detrimental to the overall effort --Look at it this way, suppose we do the whole routine on somebody who gives us useful information, there might be 10 people who would have "Snitched" who will now keep their mouths shut due to the actions taken against the first. I know this sounds like a very shallow cop-out, but Im trying to be realistic as to what is possible, and how morals and procedures change within institutions.

Benedict XVI - That rascally devil. My impression of Benedict/Ratzinger is that of an intellectual of the highest order, an urbane and cultured man who will be remembered for the density of his thought. However, I am now seeing him as a very shrewd politician who fully seems to be able to manifest the Love of Christ as "Tough Love". The Regensburg lecture, although yet again decried by the media, did spark some very serious debate. I dont like to dwell on what I see as cultural failures of Islam at too much depth, gets the feeling of a racist rant, but, I will say that there is a certain machismo and mafioso element(hell, Godfather was Saddam's favorite movie, just about EVERYBODY who has access to media in those countries seems to be aware of it, "it breaks my heart") in Islamic culture that you really need to carry yourself like an alpha male to have respect. I cant believe I just had to use that same term in reference to B16, but nobody..NOBODY else has accomplished as much to open a dialogue with Islam. Read this about Benedict's interaction with Islamic scholars.
I think in order to move from our current situation of generational warfare to one of at least detante, if not co-existence, the paradigm of the Islamic world has to be challenged, and challenged from within. Benedict's moves are the only ones being played on that most important Chessboard. Indeed, as GKC said, "Islam is a movement that ceased to move." Thats it in a nutshell.

This is very long, very wordy, but a dense topic. I think it goes to show how all of these things are interconnected, how our political and academic systems are piecemeal in their workings, and how one needs a "catholic" outlook on things to truly contribute.

Have a great day!

Diamonds Aren't Forever?

Stefan Kanfer, in his book on the De Beers diamond cartel, gives Chesterton the last word on Cecil Rhodes, who instead of promoting Western values "illustrated almost every quality essential to the Sultan, from the love of diamonds to the scorn of women." The irony was, as Kanfer points out, that Rhodes' "scorn of women" caused his ruin. While he hid from Poland's aggressively flirtatious Princess Catherine Maria Radziwill, the lady searched his study and carried away the secret telegrams that would eventually lead to his downfall. [The Last Empire, New York: Farrar Straus, 1993. pp. 47-48.]

Friday, April 04, 2008

My Country Right or Wrong?

I see that Sean over on the Blue Boar put up a post of Mark Shea's about waterboarding, and linked to a "Hannitized" T Shirt making light of the practice. I really applaud Sean(Dailey, not Hannity) et al for really calling this out as a life issue and something to be condemned as dehumanizing and not to be condoned by a Christian society.

My thinking on this is in the process of changing....Im somewhat close to these circles. My award for an ARCOM coming out of Iraq includes "587 Interviews conducted" in the Achievement #2 paragraph box. For the purposes of my unit's information requirements, we were considered passive intelligence collectors, and soft interrogators, to use the proper term. In 2003, most of the folks we ran into were somewhat happy to help us. There was an energy in the air of potential despite the chaos and upheaval. I know that the practice of waterboarding is associated more with Gitmo, and the more clandestine activities of certain agencies, but Ive questioned myself many times about my Iraq experience, in terms of where I was in my head at the time and how I would have viewed certain things. This is the task of a lifetime, so Im patient with myself on it. As Ive thought and read more and more about the Gospel, Just War, Augustine, and Chesterton, I end up coming to what I feel are solid conclusions. Some I feel like sharing, others not.

I feel at one hand we are on a slippery slope towards micromanagement of hour by hour soldier tasks. Most combat is based off of ambush/counterambush. Once the element of surprise is taken away, one comes closer and closer to an organized, ritualistic duel. As a PSYOPper, I know about tactical loudspeaker, and surrender appeals, which are appropriate for certain situations. What I am afraid of is the requirement for the offering of surrender as part of the law of land warfare. This could ultimately lead to MORE loss of life on both sides, as an intransigent enemy could use those vital seconds or minutes to fortify a position and prepare to take on an entry team or counter them in mid-maneuver. What this has to do with waterboarding? There is a tough, brutal reality to the situation that just does not come across through the media, and certainly not through the politicians. Some of these bad guys are very, very tough, well conditioned, and trained to resist questioning and frustrate the process. I see many defending the practice of waterboarding in a similar fashion to how the NRA used to deal with gun room to maneuver, and concession can only lead down a road to defeat. I can picture certain politicians who would not allow a prisoner to be questioned without due process, attorneys present, and the accompanying administrative mess.

I think that those of us who spend time delving into Chesterton(perhaps Belloc even more so) are deeply aware of the concepts of nationalism, worship of the state, "Prussianism", and distributism. From this body of material, one has to question the legitimacy of most of the conflicts which have occurred since the industrial revolution. Mass production of war material, and mass transportation of foodstuffs are necessary for fielding the vast land and naval (later air) forces of a national power. It is ironic that the Middle Ages are seen as so bloodthirsty when they could only fight about 40 days a year due to the requirements of manpower needed to maintain agriculture. CS Lewis made the chilling observation that if war is sometimes just, then peace is sometimes sinful. Most of us know theology of the body enough to recognize the true beauty and goodness of sexuality, and how pornography and promiscuity are shadows and abberations of that good. Likewise, greed and monopolization are distortions of the just use of the goods of this world. I dont think we have even developed the vocabulary to truly make distinctions between the just and holy application of force, and the violent gruesome phantasms of that good. Due to the thoughts of our contemporary pundits, Holy War and Jihad can only be manifestations of fundamentalist rancor. There is a professional and just way of approaching combat and the military life. However, if one is facing a prisoner who, due to time and circumstances of capture can reasonably be known to be in possession of certain knowledge. What does one do when he only stares back, plainfaced or smirking, when being questioned about operations in motion targeting US soldiers or civilians? I think what one must keep in mind, or at least be aware that I have in mind, is that there is a distinction between a 15 year old shepherd thrown on a truck and drafted into the army(or have his family killed), and someone who has been trained at terrorist camps, indoctrinated, and connected to the larger terrorist infrastructure.

I honestly think that the Petreus doctrine really is the answer to this situation, and should be seriously studied by philosophers of Just War, as the factors of modern, multinational, multi-front, and multimedia warfare are vastly different than the type of situations that JW theory developed (evolved :-) ) within. I dont want to talk down to people, but I should provide a very quick summary --also dont want to breach security clearance stuff. The Petreus doctrine turns a counterinsurgency force from being a battlefield maneuver force into behaving more like a highly armed community police force. Winning hearts and minds is accomplished not merely through media efforts, but through putting US bodies in the line of fire in the same neighborhoods where people are being pressured by militias. Rebuilding is done even before insurgent group numbers are eliminated. It is hoped that the populace then sees the militias as standing in the way of progress. In this situation, the necessity of waterboarding and aggressive interrogating is lessened, as the pool of information sources are increased....there are neighborhood leaders and citizens who will likely "snitch" on events, lessening the importance of the information of a single individual.

For as goofy as this sounds, just like theology of the body, I believe that the truth lies not in eliminating negatives, but in adding a positive-- a proactiveness, and structures that affirm humanity and human interaction.

Hope I dont catch hell for this..........folks on both sides could be upset.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Roosevelt clerihew

In 1912, Roosevelt, Teddy,
when asked if he was ready
to run again, said he was fit as a moose,
prompting Taft to sputter, "What the deuce!"

Blind patriotism

The saying, “My country, right or wrong,” is often cited as a statement of blind allegiance to the nation and its policies, no matter what.

It is often said to counter those who try to point out when this country is doing something wrong - implying that critics are not patriotic.

The problem is, it is only a partial quotation – and one that distorts the real meaning.

In 1872, Senator Carl Shurz said: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

His notion was that if the nation is wrong, it should be set right, not just blindly followed. Criticism can not only be patriotic - a true patriot must be ready to criticize and fix things when the nation goes astray.

Naturally, G. K. Chesterton had his own spin on the idea: “'My country, right or wrong' is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying 'My mother, drunk or sober.'”