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Book Review – Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

I have been intending to write a long review of Ross Douthat’s new book, Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics, for about seven weeks now, but due to various obligations and, well, the NBA playoffs, that hasn’t happened. So here’s a short review: it’s an excellent book that accomplishes three basic purposes: one descriptive, one controversial, and one normative.

The descriptive section, consisting roughly of the first half of the book, is a useful, accessible account of the rise of a vibrant, frequently orthodox, Christianity following World War II, and the decline of orthodox Christianity and the institutions that undergird it over the past sixty years. Douthat is even-handed in his treatment of a wide variety of theological movements, theologians, and denominations. While most of the material will be familiar to those who pay attention to these matters closely – including many readers of this blog – it should be acknowledged that most Americans do not fall in this category. And even for those who do, Douthat’s synthesis of events, movements, and people is perceptive and sympathetic. Refreshingly, he avoids most of the exaggerated caricatures that populate popular writing on these themes. The average religion reporter for the Washington Post or the Associated Press would do well to use Bad Religion as a starting point and model for writing intelligently about religion in the contemporary U.S.

The second half of the book is straight forwardly controversial, as Douthat explores a variety of influential religious works and figures, ranging from Joel Osteen to Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) to participants in the Jesus Seminar, and criticizes the superficiality, self-absorption, and lack of scholarly rigor that characterizes Christianity-lite and Christian-influenced spirituality in much of the contemporary United States. In many respects, it reads as an update on Chesterton’s Heretics, although it must be said that none of Douthat’s targets approach the caliber of H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, or any of Chesterton’s original antagonists. To a certain extent, Douthat is shooting fish in a barrel; but at least they are the biggest fish, if book sales, packed stadiums, and cultural notoriety are any indication.

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The HHS Mandate: Why the Cost Issue Is Irrelevant

One issue that mainstream and even some Catholic commentators seem to be bungling to my mind is the relevance of costs. According to the Obama Administration, under the new rule insurance companies will provide sterilization and contraception free to employees of Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities. Further, the Administration has claimed that insurance companies are happy to do this because the costs of contraceptives and sterilization are lower than the costs of pregnancy and all of the associated doctors visits. This certainly seems plausible. Pregnancy and the associated doctors visits cost a lot of money. I’ve heard it claimed that policies without contraceptives typically cost more than their counterparts that include them, and so it’s possible that the new policies will be even cheaper than the prior policies (absent all of the costs imposed by other new regulations, but that’s another story).

But this just brings into starker relief the fact that no compromise has been offered at all. Let’s assume for a moment that it is actually cheaper for an insurance company to offer sterilization and contraceptives without charge than to not offer them at all. In that case, Catholic hospitals and universities have historically been able to purchase plans at a higher cost that enables them to avoid providing coverage that violates their consciences. The original rule said that they could no longer purchase such plans, and most right thinking people recognized this as an infringement on religious liberty. The new rule says: “good news, you won’t have to pay more than you currently do!” Which, of course, is completely non responsive. Continue Reading

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The HHS “Accommodation”: Lie to Me

So the Obama Administration released a proposed compromise today on the recent contentious HHS rule and there was good news: The Administration is now saying that Catholic institutions will not need to pay for abortifacients, sterilization, and contraception for their employees. The bad news is that the good news is a lie.  Catholic institutions will still be paying for these things, but health insurance companies will be instructed to tell Catholic institutions that they are free.

It’s possible that this will provide the Administration with enough cover to defuse the issue; it is clever in its own way. “Obama Administration requires Church to pay for abortifacients” is a straight forward story that even a reporter can understand. “Obama Administration uses accounting gimmick to force Church to pay for abortifacients, while assuring them they are free” is harder to explain. A little misdirection can go a long way with a sympathetic press. But, for Catholics, I think the takeaway is clear enough: this is no compromise at all. The Obama Administration has decided to double down on the mandate, and Catholics can no longer expect him to deal in good faith with Catholic institutions and their leaders.

Update: This post is probably superfluous here, but I’ll leave it up. See also Paul and Tito’s earlier takes.

16

Live-Blogging the CNN South Carolina Debate

With the field reduced to four and the possibility that this is the last significant Republican primary debate, the moment appeared ripe for a live blog. Feel free to discuss in the comments.

By way of disclaimers, I’ll mention that I dislike all of the candidates to varying degrees and that Macallan’s 12 may or may not be influencing some of my remarks:

8:05: CNN says we will have audience questions. Oh, great.

8:07: Romney mentions how long he has been married and his kids. I wonder if that remark was influenced by any recent events…

8:09: And CNN leads off with the ex-wife story. Newt blames CNN and the news media for lowering the level of discourse; says the story is false. Not clear what part is false, though. Update: The ‘open marriage’ part.

 8:13: What do the other candidates think about the ex-wife story: Santorum says personal life is part of what people examine. Romney says get to the ‘real’ issues. Ron Paul disses media, says nevertheless he’s proud of his long marriage. Not sure what the best tack is there. I like Santorum’s.

8:15: Ron Paul, to the shock of all observers, says that we need to get the government out of the way.

 8:17: Bain Capital. Newt says the business model was leverage, cash out, and leave’em. Romney responds with: let’s get America working again! Then, as the moderator presses, that ‘free enterprise works’! Then describes job creation record at Bain again….mentions Dominoes pizza…”there’s nothing wrong with profit”. “Freedom makes America strong!” I suppose we are lucky Newt didn’t respond to the initial question with “Marriage is great!”; “Marriage works!”; and “Marriage makes America strong!”

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Compassionate Conservatism Revisited

A quasi-confession: One of my favorite politicians of the last fifteen years is George W. Bush. Unfortunately, I don’t mean George W. Bush, the President. I mean, George W. Bush, the candidate for President in 2000. The one who criticized Clinton-era attempts at “nation-building” and promised a “modest” foreign policy. The one who prophetically predicted the events that would undo his own Presidency several years later:

If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I’m going to prevent that.

Well, he may have been a little off on the second prediction. 

Bush the Candidate was able to articulate pro-life principles effectively. He promised to appoint judges who were willing to occasionally glance at the Constitution. He favored raising the Earned Income Tax Credit for low and moderate income individuals. He was committed to implementing accountability in Education. Bush the Candidate advocated for expansion of social services (e.g. what would become Medicare Part D). At the time, it appeared to me that he was the best option by a mile from a Catholic perspective.

Of course, 2000 was an interesting time. No one was interested in health care reform after the Clintonian debacle in the early 90’s (other than Medicare Part D). A bipartisan compromise on welfare reform appeared to be overwhelmingly successful. There were no pressing international political issues, and Bush, as mentioned above, promised to be more modest in our dealings with the world than Clinton had been. Which left culture war issues like abortion and embryonic stem cell research as the primary differences between the candidates in what amounted to a Coke/Pepsi culture clash. Good times, with internet-bubble fattened 401k’s for much of the middle class.

U.S. politics have changed a bit since then. But I still think Bush’s platform was a good one. To be sure, it basically charted a European-style Christian Democrat course for the U.S., but then I like European-style Christian Democracy, which after all, was consciously modeled in part on Catholic Social Teaching. Obviously, there are a lot of complications with any political philosophy, but, on the whole, I’m in favor of both functioning markets and generous social safety nets (taxes on individual earnings and consumption; less regulation and corporatism). Although, unlike Bush in practice (and the Affordable Care Act), I think we need to pay for social services when we expand them. I suppose most AC readers are to the right of this point of view, but I’m curious:

How did you view Bush the candidate circa 2000, and what are your thoughts on Christian Social Democrats, particularly their effortso to model political philosophy on Catholic Social Teaching?

20

Positivism, Ethics, & Law

“A positivist conception of nature as purely functional, in the way that the natural sciences explain it, is incapable of producing any bridge to ethics and law, but once again yields only functional answers.”

– Pope Benedict XVI

“This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent.  Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.”

– Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, writing on the Troy Davis case

I am curious about reader’s thoughts on the connection (if any) between the type of legal positivism endorsed by Justice Scalia and the gulf between ethics and law  described by Pope Benedict in his recent address to the German Bundestag. One possible view is that vigorously upholding the rule of law (even when it appears that the legally correct result may result in injustice) can be part of a larger moral project aimed at establishing a just society. When laws and legal precedent are infinitely malleable at the discretion (or, more pejoratively, whims) of individual judges, the law can quickly become an arbitrary and capricious exercise.

On the other hand, there is something surreal about making slippery slope arguments when the issue is whether or not a (very probably) innocent person should be executed (typically executing the innocent is at the bottom rather than the top of the slippery slope). At any rate, I would have struggled to explain to Troy Davis that his execution was a regrettable but necessary consequence of my larger theoretical legal project and the creation of a just society.

Now that I’ve phrased the question in a one-sided fashion, I’ll leave it open to the readers. Is there a tension between the positivism espoused by Justice Scalia and Pope Benedict’s insistence that law and ethics must always be linked? Does the belief that upholding the rule of law produces, in the aggregate, a more just society, resolve the tension in individual cases between legally correct but substantially unjust outcomes?

 

10

First Graders and History

As we have learned, there was much hatred of Catholics by English Protestants in Maryland. One great Catholic man was able to overcome this hatred and he is one of our great patriotic heroes. His name was Charles Carroll. Charles Carroll was born in Maryland. His parents sent him to a Catholic school in France where Catholics were respected…Charles Carroll said that his greatest accomplishment was that he “practiced the duties of my religion.” Many Protestants began to realize that their prejudice against Catholics was unjustified.

The sentences above begin and conclude a typical lesson in a Catholic homeschooling course on American History intended for first graders.  This is not a genre with which I have much familiarity (we’re homeschooling for a few months to finish out the school year after a move), and so I thought it might be interesting to offer some comments as an outsider on the homeschooling materials we’ve received.

The most obvious (if superficial) feature of the homeschooling materials is that they are drenched in religious art, regardless of subject. As an alum of a mixture of public and parochial schools, I was surprised to find Spelling and Math textbooks adorned with (often very beautiful) religious art work. I don’t think there is anything right or wrong with decorating textbooks in this manner, per se, but it takes some getting used to.

As the passage quoted above suggests, the next thing that I noticed is that the history narratives tend to be awash in a type of Catholic triumphalism. I like a small dosage of triumphalism as much as the next guy, but it seems to me it should used (at most) as cream or sugar in coffee; the tendency with this particular textbook is instead to include a few (uniformly favorable) facts in the ongoing account of noble-Catholics-doing-good-things.

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3

He Leadeth Me and Paul Krugman

I suppose it may be a symptom of an unbalanced intellectual life, but one question that occurred to me while reading He Leadeth Me (an excellent and moving account of a Catholic priest who was  imprisoned for over two decades in the Soviet Union) several months ago was a question about the failure of the Soviet economic system. In the book, Fr. Ciszek recounts year after year of back-breaking labor for 12-14 hours a day in Siberian labor camps. He and his fellow prisoners lived in squalid conditions, and were provided with hardly enough food to keep them alive. This is all horrible, of course, and I’d recommend Fr. Ciszek’s work to anyone who has a tendency to complain about the difficulties of pursuing sanctification in their jobs.

But it seemed to me that, unless the prisoners were basically digging ditches and filling them back up again,  this type of coercion would increase economic efficiency, given that the inputs required to organize the prisoners were minimal and the workers were producing a great deal. Certainly, Soviet workers in these mines were producing more than unionized U.S. workers of the time. As it turns out, I am not the only who thought this way. As Paul Krugman helpfully explains, claims about the economic superiority of the Soviet Union were commonplace in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and many prominent economists reluctantly concluded that centrally planned economies had unique efficiency advantages:

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Wishful Thinking Revisited

Following the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, it looked for a time as is if the passage of the recent Health Care Reform legislation was unlikely. The most common arguments aimed at moderate Democrats in the House during this time period were as follows:

1) That the Health Care reform bill would become more popular after it had passed.

2) That given widespread voter ignorance, it was unlikely that this particular vote would have much effect on any individual House member’s re-election campaign.

The first argument has long since been proven false. And now it appears the second was incorrect also:

Out of the original 50 districts, only 41 had members who cast a vote on health care reform and are running for reelection.  If we just divide these members based on their health care votes, those who voted for health reform are running 2.7 percentage points behind those who voted against it.  But, of course, we should control for other things, especially district conservatism, since those from the more conservative districts voted almost uniformly against reform.  I also included the members’ DW-NOMINATE scores to distinguish the health care vote from the members’ overall voting records.

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Lies People Tell Children

Ann Althouse has fun with a recent back-to-school speech delivered by President Obama:

President Obama’s back to school speech contained blatant lies…and if there were any students not bright enough to notice that they were hearing lies, the lies, in their particular cases, were, ironically, bigger lies. Check it out:

  • “Nobody gets to write your destiny but you. Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach, so long as you’re willing to dream big, so long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education, there is not a single thing that any of you cannot accomplish, not a single thing. I believe that.”

If you believe that, you are so dumb that your chances of controlling your own destiny are especially small. But it’s absurd to tell kids that if only they dream big, work hard, and get an education, they can have anything they want. Do you know what kind of dream job kids today have?  A recent Marist poll showed that 32% would like to be an actor/actress. 29% want to be a professional athlete.  13% want to be President of the United States.  That’s not going to happen.

Even young people with more modest dreams — like getting a decent law job after getting good grades at an excellent law school — are not getting what they want. To say “nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach” is a blatant lie, and Barack Obama knows that very well…

…Does [Obama] look at a poor person and say, his life is what he made it? Of course not.

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Glenn Beck: Evangelical Outreach Coordinator?

I’m on record as not being a member of the Glenn Beck fan club. I don’t like his overly emotive mannerisms, his politics, or his theology. I’d rather the president of my alma mater was more circumspect in praising him, and I’ve written to the university to that effect. At the same time, I’m somewhat fascinated by the accounts of his rally in DC this past weekend. For instance, here is David Weigel (erstwhile Washington Post reporter and Journolist member) reporting on the event:

“It’s about as angry as a Teletubbies episode….The Democrats who pre-butted Beck’s rally by predicting an overtly political hateananny were played for suckers. They didn’t pay attention to Beck’s “Founder Fridays” episodes on Fox, his high-selling speaking tour, or his schmaltzy children’s book The Christmas Sweater. It’s not his blackboard that makes him popular. It’s the total package he sells: membership in a corny, righteous, Mormonism-approved-by-John Hagee cultural family. The anger is what the media focus on, he says, joking several times about what “the press” will do to twist his words.

Beck’s rally ends just as he said it would—without incident, political or otherwise. He’s just taken the world’s most derided TV audience, put them in the National Mall, and presided over the world’s largest megachurch. “Bring out the bagpipes,” he says. Bagpipe players then walk onto his stage, and the sound of “Amazing Grace” fills the mall.

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On Media and Mosques at Ground Zero

One of the interesting (by which I mean dull, predictable and repetitive) aspects of the 24 hour news cycle is that all forms of media have incentives to magnify and actively seek out controversy. Not only does this increase ratings/page views/newspaper sales, it provides media outlets with something – anything in a slow news month – to talk about. I can’t help but feel that the recent outburst of commentary about the construction of a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks is the type of story designed to increase media consumption and accomplish little else. The First Amendment is not in dispute here; freedom of religion is well established and protected by settled case law. Furthermore, the proposed mosque is to be constructed on private property, and there is no legal reason to challenge its construction. And so most of the discussion revolves (and frequently devolves) around taste and symbolism.

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C.S. Lewis on Anscombe, France, and Meritocracy

Perusing the local used bookstore last weekend, I came across a copy of the Third Volume of the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. On the whole (or, rather, through the first hundred pages or so), they make an enjoyable light read, at least for Lewis fans. He is always readable and often insightful. Moreover, the letters offer an interesting window into life in mid-twentieth century England. It’s rather striking that six years after the end of the Second World War, common items like envelopes and certain foods were still either rationed or unavailable (many of the letters are expressions of thanks to sympathetic American friends who have sent Lewis one package or another). Here, in no particular order, are a few passages I found either amusing or interesting:

Writing to a U.S. Friend About the Korean War

“Seriously, though, we all sympathize with you in the position into which you have been forced; it’s all very well to call it a UNO war, but so far as I can gather, it is a USA war. Have you noticed the French contribution? One gunboat!”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose….

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Is Arguing About Politics a Waste of Time?

This study suggests an interesting reason why that may be the case:

The investigators used functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to study a sample of committed Democrats and Republicans during the three months prior to the U.S. Presidential election of 2004. The Democrats and Republicans were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate threatening information about their own candidate. During the task, the subjects underwent fMRI to see what parts of their brain were active. What the researchers found was striking.

“We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” says Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory who led the study. “What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.” Westen and his colleagues will present their findings at the Annual Conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Jan. 28.

Once partisans had come to completely biased conclusions — essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted — not only did circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust turn off, but subjects got a blast of activation in circuits involved in reward — similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix, Westen explains.

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General Motors and "Repaid" Debt

I usually don’t go in for thought experiments, but for once I’ll make an exception. Let’s pretend for a moment that I need $50,000 to maintain a struggling business, and you, being the wealthy and charitable individual you are, provide me with $50,000 in the following manner:

1) $30,000 in ownership (a share in future profits, if any)
2) $13,000 for emergency cash (to be repaid at no interest)
3) $7,000 in debt (at an interest rate 7% lower than I could get elsewhere for accepting a similar risk)

Not too many angel investors, venture capital funds, or private equity funds would sign up for such an arrangement, and that, dear reader, is why I am relying on your generosity. After one year, the business still has not made a profit. However, I have managed to “pay back” the initial $7,000 in debt in the following manner:

1) I borrowed an additional $10,000 from you for environmentally friendly investments.
2) I used some of the $13,000 in emergency spending cash to pay back the $7,000.

In other words, at the beginning of the year, you provided me with $50,000. I now owe you $53,000 (plus the emergency spending cash I used and the interest you’ve lost), with no real prospects for paying the money back. However, I am confidently assuring my customers and you(!), of all people, that I have “repaid my loan in full,” by which I mean the $7,000 in debt, not, of course, the $53,000 you provided that has not yet been returned. Change the thousands in the thought experiment to billions and the debtor to Continue Reading

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Krugman v. Levin on Climate Change

Jim Manzi, a conservative expert on climate change, recently reviewed Mark Levin’s coverage of the subject in his book Liberty and Tyranny. Mr. Manzi was unimpressed:

I’m not expert on many topics the book addresses, so I flipped to its treatment of a subject that I’ve spent some time studying – global warming – in order to see how it treated a controversy for which I’m at least familiar with the various viewpoints and some of the technical detail.

It was awful. It was so bad that it was like the proverbial clock that chimes 13 times – not only is it obviously wrong, but it is so wrong that it leads you to question every other piece of information it has ever provided.

Levin argues that human-caused global warming is nothing to worry about, and merely an excuse for the Enviro-Statist (capitalization in the original) to seize more power. It reads like a bunch of pasted-together quotes and stories based on some quick Google searches by somebody who knows very little about the topic, and can’t be bothered to learn. After pages devoted to talking about prior global cooling fears, and some ridiculous or cynical comments by advocates for emissions restrictions (and one quote from Richard Lindzen, a very serious climate scientist who disputes the estimated magnitude of the greenhouse effect, but not its existence), he gets to the key question on page 184 (eBook edition):

[D]oes carbon dioxide actually affect temperature levels?

Levin does not attempt to answer this question by making a fundamental argument that proceeds from evidence available for common inspection through a defined line of logic to a scientific view. Instead, he argues from authority by citing experts who believe that the answer to this question is pretty much ‘no’. Who are they? – An associate professor of astrophysics, a geologist and an astronaut.

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The Timeline of Abuse

One of the more oft-heard responses to the recent outbreak of coverage on the abuse scandals in the Church is the following: ‘when is the Church going to respond to this and protect children?’ This question is entirely sensible. We have heard about these scandals in the past, and yet fresh stories of abuse are appearing on a weekly basis. Moreover, the responses of many in the Vatican, as in several other incidents in the pontificate of Benedict XVI, has been disheartening. At the same time, I think it is important to point out for those concerned about the abuse of children (as opposed to the competency of the Vatican press office), that the crisis phase of the abuse scandal has been over for the better part of twenty years in the U.S. (and notice the recent reporting has focused on incidents at least that old). The following graph summarizes the annual reports of abuse by priests in the United States over the last fifty-five years (for those who are curious about post-2004, there were six reported incidents in 2009):

Source: the John Jay Report, h/t Ross Douthat.

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A Comment Not Fit For Publication at Vox Nova

Apparently, when Michael Iafrate accuses this blog of promoting ‘Christo-fascism’, the following response (in its entirety) is inappropriate:

I’ll simply repeat my long-standing objection to your use of the term fascism:

http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/12/05/ole-timey-country-simple-christmas/#comment-27594

Michael is free, of course, to conduct his comment threads as he likes, but it seems self-evidently ridiculous (not to mention uncivil) to write a post calling people names, and then delete responses challenging that description.  This is a shame, as it makes it very easy to dismiss even his legitimate criticisms. In any case, here is a link to the post which originally drew Michael’s ire.

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Fr. Frank Pavone Defends John Carr of the USCCB

Here is the text:

I received some inquiries recently regarding John Carr, who serves as the Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The inquiries, stemming from controversies over the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Center for Community Change, essentially asked if John is pro-life and committed to the goal of securing protection for the lives of unborn children.

Because I am in a position to answer that question, and because of the fact that hurting people’s reputations never serves our cause, let me state for the record that the answer to that question is “Yes.”

I have had many opportunities to talk to and listen to John over the years, in public and in private, to read his articles, and to discuss our common goal of seeing social justice and peace applied to our neighbors in the womb. His record is clear, and unlike some others, when he talks about justice and peace and human development, he does not fail to include the unborn.

I share with you below his own comments, as well as those of Richard Doerflinger, the Associate Director of the Secretariat for Pro-life Activities of the US Bishops’ Conference. As we work together to resolve the problems that do exist in our Church and in our culture, let’s do so with great caution to preserve the good reputation to which all of our colleagues have a right.

Fr. Frank Pavone

The statements referenced in the letter can be found here.

Update: Additionally, Catholic News Service reports that many bishops have come forward to defend Mr. Carr.

Update 2: Tom Peters has a level-headed take on the matter here. In particular, I think his observations regarding “RealCatholicTV” are worthy of consideration:

The situation has not been helped, either, by the sensationalist reporting at RealCatholicTV.com, which in a recent report claimed that the allegations of misconduct at the CCHD was what Pope Paul VI was referring to when he warned that the “smoke of Satan has found its way into the Church” … seriously? I don’t follow RCTV directly but the American Catholic does.

As I’ve said before, I agree with Mr. Peters (and many of our commenters) regarding RCTV. I do not doubt that the folks at RCTV are well-intentioned. Similarly, I do not doubt that there are some problems with CCHD and the USCCB. I simply think the RCTV coverage of this scandal has been too sensationalistic, and that their reporting should not be relied upon without independent verification.

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Scott Brown: Good News for Obama 2012?

At first glance, it would appear that Scott Brown’s unlikely victory is bad news for President Obama’s long-term political future. Senator-elect Brown explicitly ran against the current health care reform bill, favoring federalist experimentation rather than a one-size-fits-all national approach. As health care reform was the central focus of President Obama’s first year in office, and Massachusettes is one of the most liberal states in the country, Brown’s victory there is a clear repudiation of the leadership of President Obama and Congressional Democrats during the past year. Nevertheless, I think a case could be made that Scott Brown’s victory will help the President in the long run. There are three main reasons:

1) Brown’s victory was too stunning to ignore. No one would have predicted it even a month ago, and I was still skeptical yesterday that Massachusetts was going to elect a Republican senator for the first time since 1972 – and to replace Ted Kennedy, of all people. Congressional Democratic leadership and the Administration will no longer be able to convince Blue Dog Democrats they know best and that Obama will be able to leverage his popularity to preserve their seats. That card has been played – not only in Massachusetts, but also in Virginia and New Jersey – and it wasn’t  a winner. This means that the Administration and the Congressional leadership will have to adjust their strategy, and pay more attention to voter sentiment. It’s probably too late at this point for this to help the Democrats much in November; they will take a well-deserved beating in this election. Nevertheless, it’s a lesson the Obama Administration will keep in mind going forward, just as the Clinton Administration pivoted after the Hillarycare debacle. President Obama will be forced to govern more like the moderate, fiscally responsible Democrat he campaigned as. And that is likely to increase his odds of re-election.

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Daniel Larison, Talking Sense

I’ve written about this before, but it’s nice to see Daniel Larison making the point with characteristic clarity in an interview with The Economist:

Iraq was also the policy that turned the public so sharply against President Bush prior to the 2006 mid-term elections, and those elections were and were correctly seen as a rejection of the war and Mr Bush’s handling of it. The war was the main issue of those elections, and the GOP lost control of Congress because it had identified itself completely with the war and its members in Congress continued to be its most vocal defenders. By national-security conservatives, I mean those members of the conservative movement who have a primary and overriding focus on foreign policy and national-security questions, and who typically take extremely hawkish positions. They were the leading advocates and cheerleaders for the invasion. Most movement conservatives supported the policy, but it was the national-security conservatives who drove the party into the ditch while the others went along for the ride.

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A Perfect Post

Occasionally one runs across a post that’s particularly nicely done. I think Matthew Boudway’s recent reflections on a column by Clifford Longley on the new atheists comes dangerously close to perfect. It’s brief, highlights an interesting article, and adds a thoughtful perspective that provides more depth to the article it cites. Here’s a snippet:

[In response to Richard Dawkins’s claim that it is wrong to “indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them,”]

“There is no such thing as value-free parenting,” Longley writes…Longley proposes this as an argument about parenting, but it is hard to see why it wouldn’t also apply to education. If the argument doesn’t apply to education, why doesn’t it? If it does — and if it is a good argument — then people of faith have a compelling reason not to send their children to schools where the subject of religion qua religion is carefully avoided. One could, I suppose, argue that the tacit message of such schools is that religion is too important to get mixed up with the tedious but necessary stuff of primary education, but of course public schools approach important matters all the time, and cannot avoid doing so.

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Women Religious: No Transparency Necessary

I have to say, I’ve been a little surprised by the reaction of many left-leaning Catholics to the Apostolic Visitation of women’s religious congregations. If history is any guide, whether inside the Church or outside, a resistance to third party scrutiny is not a sign of organizational vitality. This resistance is particularly odd in an ecclesiastical context, where one would have thought the bonds of communion between the Holy See and religious orders are fairly strong. Moreover, the reasons proffered for refusing to answer the questions range from unconvincing (‘they don’t understand us’) to the self-indulgently bizarre (‘Women religious…are asking if there is a “Ghandian or Martin Luther King way” to deal with violence they felt is being done to them’). In any case, I think it would be good to offer prayers on their behalf. There are clearly difficult issues here that need to be resolved; and it seems to me that the reaction to the Apostolic Visitation has gone a long way towards demonstrating the need for it in the first place.

3

Fundamentalism Reclaimed

One would be hard-pressed to find a term more frequently abused in recent years than ‘fundamentalism’. More often an insult than anything else, it’s been used to describe figures ranging from Pope Benedict XVI to Richard Dawkins to Osama bin Laden. One refreshing exception to this imprecision is Cardinal George of Chicago, who offers what I think is a fairly useful definition in his recent book:

“Fundamentalism is a self-consciously noncritical reassertion of identity and autonomy by selecting certain antimodern, antiglobal dimensions of local (especially religious) identity, and making them both the pillars upon which identity is built and the boundary against further global encroachment.”

What I like most about this definition is that it is descriptive rather than pejorative. It restores a content to the word beyond lazy journalistic slang for ‘someone I don’t like.’ For instance, Richard Dawkins is not a fundamentalist. He may base his identity on what appears to me to be an insufficiently self-critical foundation, but he is neither antimodern, nor antiglobal, nor entirely noncritical. Similarly, as any familiarity with his writings will attest, neither is Pope Benedict XVI.

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19

Thoughts on 'Climategate'

I think Prof. Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy outlines a sensible approach to the recent ‘Climategate’ scandal:

Most of us, however, lack expertise on climate issues. And our knowledge of complex issues we don’t have personal expertise on is largely based on social validation. For example, I think that Einsteinian physics is generally more correct than Newtonian physics, even though I know very little about either. Why? Because that’s the overwhelming consensus of professional physicists, and I have no reason to believe that their conclusions should be discounted as biased or otherwise driven by considerations other than truth-seeking. My views of climate science were (and are) based on similar considerations. I thought that global warming was probably a genuine and serious problem because that is what the overwhelming majority of relevant scientists seem to believe, and I generally didn’t doubt their objectivity.

At the very least, the Climategate revelations should weaken our confidence in the above conclusion. At least some of the prominent scholars in the field seem driven at least in part by ideology, and willing to use intimidation to keep contrarian views from being published, even if the articles in question meet normal peer review standards. Absent such tactics, it’s possible that more contrarian research would be published in professional journals and the consensus in the field would be less firm. To be completely clear, I don’t think that either ideological motivation or even intimidation tactics prove that these scientists’ views are wrong. Their research should be assessed on its own merits, irrespective of their motivations for conducting it. However, these things should affect the degree to which we defer to their conclusions merely based on their authority as disinterested experts.

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15

Healthcare & Subsidiarity: Two Interpretations

I’ve been thinking a bit about the principle of subsidiarity recently as it relates to health care reform. To provide some context, here is the Catechism on subsidiarity:

1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”7

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.

Despite the rancor which sometimes surrounds the health care debate in the Catholic blogosphere, it seems to me that the basic issue is different prudential judgments regarding the application of the principle of subsidiarity. I’m a bit torn between two ways to apply subsidiarity in this particular circumstance, and so I thought it might be worthwhile to explore the different positions as I understand them. 

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17

What He Said

Here’s Prof. David Post at the Volokh Conspiracy describing politics through an analogy to sports (the easiest way to explain anything to me):

I then said something like – “but it does seem like the overall level of defense is improving all over – I see so many great plays these days . . .” before I recognized how stupid a comment that was.  Of course I was seeing more great defensive plays than I had 10 or 20 years before – because 10 or 20 years before there had been no Sportscenter (or equivalent).  In 1992 (or whenever exactly this was), I could turn on the TV and catch 20 or 30 minutes of great highlights every night, including 5 or 6 truly spectacular defensive plays; in 1980, or 1960, to see 5 or 6 truly spectacular defensive plays, you had to watch 20 or 25 hours of baseball, minimum.  [That’s what ESPN was doing, in effect – watching 10 or 12 games simultaneously and pulling out the highlights].  It was just my mind playing a trick on me; I had unconsciously made a very simple mistake.  The way in which I was perceiving the world of baseball had, with Sportscenter, changed fundamentally, but I hadn’t taken that into account.  Without thinking about it, I had plugged into a simple formula:  Old Days:             5 spectacular plays in 25 hours of baseball watching. New Days:          5 spectacular plays in ½ hour of baseball watching. And I had reached the obvious (and obviously wrong, on reflection) conclusion that the rate of spectacular playmaking had gone up.

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100

On Glenn Beck & Other Crazy People

I am allergic to political cable tv shows, talk radio, and nightly news. I cannot watch or listen to these programs for longer than fifteen minutes without subjecting anyone within earshot to a lengthy rant. And so I won’t pretend to be deeply familiar with Glenn Beck’s work. Instead, I’ll rely on Joe Carter at First Things:

There isn’t much I could add to the criticisms—from the left, right, and center—that have been made against him in the last few weeks. His recent comments have shown that he’s a naked opportunist who will say anything to get attention: If he’s on his television show on Fox he’ll pander to the audience by saying that President Obama is a racist who is ushering in an age of socialism, if not the apocalypse; then, when he is in front of Katie Couric and CBS News, he says that John McCain would have been worse for the country than Obama (which begs the question, “What exactly is worse than the socialist/communist/fascist apocalypse?”).

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3

Chutes, Ladders, & Progressivism

I came across this comment a while back, and I think it summarizes the experience of many of my fellow law and MBA classmates (all of whom are recent graduates or current students):

I don’t know how it was elsewhere, but the game my friends and I were sold had breezy constant ladders and shallow painless chutes. Now the ladders are falling apart or growing queues, and the chutes have proved to be sudden and devastating.

Now, on the one hand, it’s almost never rational to expect wonderful career opportunities to be awaiting one at every turn. And the graduates he’s talking about – people with sparkling resumes from the most prestigious undergrad and graduate schools – are hardly Dickens-level sympathetic protagonists. On the other hand, endless career opportunities are what many grad school admission offices are selling. And for many students and recent graduates of these institutions, six figures in debt with rapidly eroding job prospects,  the recession has been a rather traumatic experience.  This is certain to have a number of consequences, but I’ve been idly speculating that twenty to thirty years down the line, when they will be in a position to influence public policy, these individuals are likely to be more sympathetic than they might otherwise to redistributive policies. And, as it turns out, there is actually a recent academic study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that supports this idea. Here is the abstract:

Do generations growing up during recessions have different socio-economic beliefs than generations growing up in good times? We study the relationship between recessions and beliefs by matching macroeconomic shocks during early adulthood with self-reported answers from the General Social Survey. Using time and regional variations in macroeconomic conditions to identify the effect of recessions on beliefs, we show that individuals growing up during recessions tend to believe that success in life depends more on luck than on effort, support more government redistribution, but are less confident in public institutions.  Moreover, we find that recessions have a long-lasting effect on individuals’ beliefs.

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65

Rush Limbaugh, Race Baiter

I have to say, I try to keep my expectations for political personalities on the radio and television low. But this is pretty appalling:

It’s Obama’s America, is it not? Obama’s America, white kids getting beat up on school buses now. You put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety but in Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, “Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on,” and, of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white. Newsweek magazine told us this. We know that white students are destroying civility on buses, white students destroying civility in classrooms all over America, white congressmen destroying civility in the House of Representatives.

Let me get this straight, according to Rush: 1) Obama approves or is responsible somehow for white kids getting beat up on school busses. 2) Obama approves or is responsible somehow for people cheering while white kids get beat up on school busses; 3) Obama approves or is responsible somehow for the idea that white kids are all racists and deserve to get beat up on school busses; and 4) Somehow there is a connection to be drawn here to Joe Wilson’s intemperate outburst during Obama’s speach the other night.

How do people listen to this stuff?

H/T: The American Scene

Update: Re-reading the transcript again, I still think Rush is race-baiting, although not in the sense my comments above suggest. I don’t think Rush was actually intending to make a direct comment on Obama, much less about busses and school children. Rather, he was engaging in a caricature of lefty  outrage over various political and racial issues (e.g. Jimmy Carter’s recent remarks) . I think this type of caricature is irresponsible and foments racial tensions, even if Rush’s intention was just to foment partisan outrage. Race is a highly charged issue with good reason given our country’s history, and the risks of misinterpretation are very high. Accordingly, I think it is irresponsible and, in some sense, race-baiting, to belittle these concerns and treat them as if they were trivial. While I don’t want to be humorless or disingenuous, I agree with Megan McArdle that 1) if so many missed it, it’s not a very good satire; 2) what Rush is actually doing is quite bad enough.

Also, for those interested, Michael Iafrate thinks that many of the commenters in this thread are racists. I have not allowed his comments to come through because I do not think they will lead to a productive discussion here, and I will delete any comments that respond to Michael’s accusation. If you would like to discuss these issues with Michael, he blogs at Vox Nova and Catholic Anarchy.

8

Don't Flatter Your Honor Roll Student

I came across this book review last week in the Wall Street Journal, and thought it was interesting:

Now, in “NurtureShock,” Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman survey the newest new findings about child development. Little in the book is all that shocking, but given our enthusiasm for turning tentative child ­research into settled policy, the studies that the ­authors discuss are of more than passing interest.

A striking example is the latest research on ­self-esteem. As Mr. Bronson and Ms. Merryman remind us, the psychologist Nathaniel Brandon published a path-breaking paper in 1969 called “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” in which he argued that feelings of self-worth were a key to success in life. The theory became a big hit in the nation’s schools; in the mid-1980s, the California Legislature even ­established a self-esteem task force. By now, there are 15,000 scholarly articles on the subject.

And what do they show? That high self-esteem doesn’t improve grades, reduce ­anti-social behavior, deter alcohol drinking or do much of anything good for kids. In fact, telling kids how smart they are can be ­counterproductive. Many children who are convinced that they are little geniuses tend not to put much effort into their work. Others are troubled by the latent anxiety of adults who feel it necessary to praise them constantly.

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5

Which Comes First, the Church or the Party?

Well, I’ve read and talked more than I ever cared to about Ted Kennedy recently, may he rest in peace. And Darwin has already ably responded to this defense of the late Senator Kennedy from Michael Sean Winters. But something about Mr. Winters response has been ringing in my ears, and I think it’s because it summarizes in a few sentences what I perceive to be the tragedy of Catholic Democrats in the U.S.: they could have taken a stand for unborn life but were unwilling. As a result, faithful Catholics have either been driven into the Republican Party, become independents, or become disconcertingly comfortable with the status quo on abortion. Currently I think both the first and last options are incompatible with Catholic thought – at least without substantial departure from party orthodoxies. Where familiarity (with both parties) should have breed contempt, it has instead yielded unconscionable familiarity and acceptance. And Mr. Winters’ post provides a clear illustration of this reality:

To dismiss his [Senator Kennedy’s] career because of his stance on abortion is to be ignorant of the complicated way the issue of abortion manifested itself in the early 1970s: I think Kennedy got it wrong but I do not find it difficult to understand why and how he got it wrong.

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3

The Unavoidability of Faith

Over at the First Things blog, Joe Carter highlights an excerpt from an article by Randal Rauser, a professor of theology at Taylor Seminary, Edmonton, Canada:

At the end of his tremendously irritating film “Religulous”, Bill Maher states that “Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking.” With this strange definition Maher summarizes a notion of faith which has become enormously popular in recent years, particularly with the rise of the new atheists. (Consider Richard Dawkins who dismisses religious believers as “faith heads”.)

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11

So….What About the Other 10 Million?

By this stage in the health care debates, most people are aware that roughly 47 million individuals in America do not have health insurance. And many people are further aware that the 47 million statistic is misleading, because roughly 14 million of these individuals are already eligible for (but have not enrolled in) existing government programs, 9 million have incomes over $75,000 and choose not to purchase private insurance, 3-5 million are only temporarily uninsured between jobs, and roughly 10 million do not have the legal right to reside in the country. In the end, this means roughly 10 million U.S. citizens lack meaningful access to health insurance.  It has been noted elsewhere that insuring these individuals would cost a lot less than the $1 trillion proposal currently under consideration in Congress, and further that it would not require a dramatic (and costly) restructuring of the U.S. health care system.

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3

Archbishop Chaput on the News Media

Here is Archbishop Chaput with a worthwhile reflection on how Catholics should think about the media. A few excerpts:

Most of what we know about the world comes from people we’ll never meet and don’t really understand.  We don’t even think of them as individuals.  Instead we usually talk about them in the collective – as “the media” or “the press.”  Yet behind every Los Angeles Times editorial or Fox News broadcast are human beings with personal opinions and prejudices.  These people select and frame the news.  And when we read their newspaper articles or tune in their TV shows, we engage them in a kind of intellectual intimacy in the same way you’re listening to me right now….

…The media’s power to shape public thought is why it’s so vital for the rest of us to understand their human element.  When we don’t recognize the personal chemistry of the men and women who bring us our news – their cultural and political views, their economic pressures, their social ambitions – then we fail the media by holding them to too low a standard.  We also – and much more importantly — fail ourselves by neglecting to think and act as intelligent citizens…

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4

Will Health Care Reform Create (More) Health Care Shortages?

MSNBC recently did an interesting piece on the shortage of primary care practitioners, which has become particularly acute in rural and low-income areas. As a result, many older doctors feel that they cannot retire because there is no one to take their place:

There are not enough general care doctors to meet current needs, let alone the demands of some 46 million uninsured, who threaten to swamp the system.

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46

Supreme Court Justices and Religion

To ask some questions is to answer them, and via Commonweal, I see that UCLA history professor emeritus Joyce Appleby has penned a lovely exercise in anti-Catholicism entitled, Should Catholic Justices Recuse Selves On Certain Cases?. Here is an excerpt:

But because of the Catholic Church’s active opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and capital punishment, it raises serious questions about the freedom of Catholic justices to judge these issues. Perhaps the time has come to ask them to recuse themselves when cases come before their court on which their church has taken positions binding on its communicants…

…Recusal sounds like a radical measure, but we require judges to withdraw from deliberations whenever a personal interest is involved. Surely ingrained convictions exert more power on judgment than mere financial gain. Many will counter that views on abortion, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty are profound moral commitments, not political opinions. Yet who will argue that religious beliefs and the authority of the Catholic Church will have no bearing on the justices when presented with cases touching these powerful concerns?

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10

Are All Abortions Equal?

As a matter of first principle, yes. As a matter of law, no, and such compromises are frequently necessary. Ross Douthat explains (is it just me, or does he seem somehow less influential as a New York Times columnist than he was as a blogger):

The argument for unregulated abortion rests on the idea that where there are exceptions, there cannot be a rule. Because rape and incest can lead to pregnancy, because abortion can save women’s lives, because babies can be born into suffering and certain death, there should be no restrictions on abortion whatsoever.

As a matter of moral philosophy, this makes a certain sense. Either a fetus has a claim to life or it doesn’t. The circumstances of its conception and the state of its health shouldn’t enter into the equation.

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17

Christopher West's Defenders

Christopher West came in for some criticism recently, much of it deserved, for his appearance on Nightline. In one sense, I sympathize with the critics. I have heard West speak, and found the simplification (bordering on sensationalization) of certain aspects of Theology of the Body somewhat off-putting. In a perfect world, people would read the writings of John Paull II and others to acquire a sophisticated, nuanced grasp of the subject matter. Nevertheless, that is not the world in which we live. That being the case I think, on balance, West’s work is valuable, difficult, and necessary.

And so I was somewhat surprised to see Dr. Schindler take the recent brouhaha as an opportunity to rather harshly criticize all of West’s work. The tension between academics and popularizers is nothing new (even writers as brilliant as C.S. Lewis and Chesterton had and have their academic detractors); but one would hope for a more restrained and sympathetic treatment given the difficulty of presenting the Catholic understanding of sexuality in the modern United States. I think the following defenses by Dr. Janet Smith and Dr. Michael Waldstein help provide a better context for understanding West and his work:

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Gallup: More Americans Identify as "Pro-Life" Than "Pro-Choice" For First Time

This is only one survey, but it is encouraging all the same. The denial of legal protection to an entire class of human beings is one of the most serious human rights issues of our time. Here’s an excerpt from the article, with some thoughts below:

A new Gallup Poll, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42% “pro-choice.” This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.

Gallup1

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26

How Long in the Wilderness?

Reflecting on Nancy Pelosi and the torture controversies, E.D. Kain makes the following prediction:

To me, Pelosi’s denial (and accusation against the CIA) lays bare a deeper truth about the Democrats.  Without Obama they’d be nearly as big a mess as the Republicans.  Most of them are complicit in the Bush torture program and the wars.  The party is almost headless without Obama – led by the fickle and hardly inspiring Reid/Pelosi duo.  After Obama, if conservatives learn anything over the next eight years – yes, I’m predicting it will be eight – unless the Democrats get some sort of order and discipline and more importantly, some grander vision, then I think the GOP should have no trouble at all coming in and cleaning up.

I have thought for a while that the Republicans will be out of power for a significant period of time, both because of the Bush administration’s failures, and because the current Republican attempts to rebuild (e.g. constant infighting, unconvincing narratives about the role of fiscal excesses in Bush’s unpopularity, rallying around Rush, and Michael Steele’s various embarrassments) seem woefully ill-suited to the current political environment. I still think E.D. overstates things considerably when he says that Republicans “should have no trouble at all coming in and cleaning up,” but the idea that Obama is a sui generis figure  is worth entertaining. The gap in charisma between Obama and Nancy Pelosi or Henry Reid, for instance, is substantial, and Obama is significantly more popular than many of his policies. Will the Democrats still look as relatively desirable once Obama is no longer the spokesperson of the party? And will Obama’s popularity wane significantly as his Presidency progresses?

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11

What's Empathy Got To Do With It?

Doug Kmiec has a rather bizarre article up at America entitled The Case For Empathy: Why a Much-Maligned Value Is a Crucial Qualification for the Supreme Court. If the article is any indication, I suppose we should be thankful Obama didn’t make any off-hand remarks suggesting ‘creativity’ or ‘imagination’ were traits he would look for in a potential Supreme Court justice, if only because it might have lead to more essays like this one. After some preliminary gushing about, you guessed it, empathy, Kmiec explains what an empathetic justice would accomplish:

To do this, it is possible that [Obama] will mine for legal talent in unusual places, but it is more likely he will attempt to find a nominee with appellate court experience whose skill set also shows the capability of challenging methods of interpretation that otherwise wouldn’t give empathy the time of day. If Obama succeeds even with this more limited challenge,he will have exploded the notion  that swapping out a Souter for a new, most likely younger and intellectually energetic, justice is without effect.

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Mary Ann Glendon Declines Notre Dame's Invitation

As Brendan noted a while back, the Notre Dame controversy, “has all the staying power of an inebriated relative after a dinner party.” I’m loathe to post on it again, but there has been a fairly significant development: Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon has decided not to attend the graduation or accept the Laetare Medal. Here, via First Things is the text of her letter to Father Jenkins:

April 27, 2009
The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President
University of Notre Dame

Dear Father Jenkins,

When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame’s most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty.

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Top 25 Catholic Blogs by Technorati Authority

Last week Tito put together a list of his favorite 25 Catholic websites, using Google Reader subscriber numbers. While I take one commenter’s point that rankings are often vanity projects, I think they can also be a great way to discover new Catholic blogs, particularly for those (like me) who are relatively new to the Catholic blogosphere. I certainly enjoyed the new blogs I discovered while compiling this list.

The following list is based on Technorati authority, which hopefully will be a little more consistent than the Google Reader subscriber numbers. Additionally, blogging is a collaborative process, and Technorati authority should reflect some of the best places to go for Catholic conversation on the web. Feel free to leave any corrections or other blogs that should be included in the comments. Happy reading!

1) What Does the Prayer Really Say? 482

2) Conversion Diary 406

3) Inside Catholic 382

4) Whispers in the Loggia 358

5) The Curt Jester 339

6) Creative Minority Report 293

7) Catholic & Enjoying It! 264

8 ) Rorate Caeli 259

9) Per Christum 253

10) National Catholic Register (Daily Blog) 246

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Torture, Effectiveness, & Consequentialism

I have been meaning to post on the torture memos since last week, but have not had time. For now, I’ll point you to a post of Blackadder’s, which highlights the unconvincing arguments currently being floated to justify the Bush Administration’s use of torture:

The latest meme running through these sites is that while it may be honorable to be opposed to torture on principle, we ought to be reasonable and just admit that torture works. Here, for example, is Jonah Goldberg:

I have no objection to the moral argument against torture — if you honestly believe something amounts to torture. But the “it doesn’t work” line remains a cop out, no matter how confidently you bluster otherwise.

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8

The Rejected Ambassadors: The Plot Thickens

A couple weeks ago, Tito posted on the Washington Times report claiming the Vatican has rejected several candidates for the position of U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. It appeared the report had been satisfactorily debunked by the Catholic News Service, which quoted a statement by Father Federico Lombardi to the effect that the rumors were unreliable. Now, however, the Times Online has received confirmation of the story from “Vatican insiders”. This confirmation reconciles the two statements to a certain extent: no candidates have been officially rejected, but apparently informal rejections have taken place. Ultimately, this type of story is of little significance, but it’s always interesting to watch the interaction of the Vatican and the media. Here are some excerpts from the Times Online story:

Caroline Kennedy, the Roman Catholic daughter of the assassinated President, has been rejected by the Vatican as the next US ambassador to the Holy See because of her liberal views on abortion, stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, according to Vatican insiders.

Andrea Tornielli, the biographer of Pope Benedict XVI, said that at least two other potential ambassadors put forward by President Obama have also been blocked because they did not share the Vatican’s views on “pro-life” issues. A Vatican spokesman said that no candidates had been formally submitted “and therefore it is not true that they have been rejected”.

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