Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Reformation Day!

490 years ago today, a renegade German monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany. One can understand his frustration and admire his zeal without buying all his theological conclusions. One can also mourn the brutal divisions in the Body of Christ this act caused while simultaneously celebrating the constant progress presently being made toward the healing of those divisions.

Anyway, in comemoration of Herr Luther and his, um, chutzpah, here are a pair of reflections on the Reformation by two of the great Christian thinkers of the English language.

The first is G.K. Chesterton's final chapter of his wonderful biography of St. Thomas Aquinas. It's called "The Sequel to St. Thomas." Note his strong preference for the original.

Quoth he: "Perhaps, after all, it did begin with a quarrel of monks; but the Pope was yet to learn how quarrelsome a monk could be. For there was one particular monk in that Augustinian monastery in the German forests, who may be said to have had a single and special talent for emphasis; for emphasis and nothing except emphasis; for emphasis with the quality of earthquake."

The second is John Wesley, in what is probably the most moving and eloquent plea for ecumenism ever written. (Scroll down to the fourth letter: "To a Roman Catholic.") And to think, it only took the Catholic Church 213 years to respond!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Just noticing...

A pretty crappy weekend sportswise, for reasons I doubt I need to mention. But here's a bit of silver lining: My UCONN Football Huskies spanked the formerly 2nd-ranked South Florida on Saturday, putting them in serious contention for the Big East title. Already the fastest team to win a bowl game after turning Div. 1-A, they're now the second-fastest to be nationally ranked. 16th in the latest AP poll, to be exact.

And then there's the BCS standings: 13th. That school you may have spotted some six spots lower? USC.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Osama bin Laden, Uomo Fascista

Christopher Hitchens sounds off in today's (Wednesday's) Post on why "Islamo-Fascism" is an apt and descriptive moniker for fundamentalist Muslim jihadism.

It's a fairly good list of how the jihadism and fascism are bad in similar ways, but he completely misses the strongest case for the term out there. To wit: Osama bin Laden says so.

I refer to OBL's latest audio message to his al Qaeda underlings in Iraq, in which he scolds them for pursuing their own factional interests instead of uniting to chase out the infidels and blasphemers. This, apparently, is his explanation for why al Qaeda is getting it's ass kicked at the moment.

Unity, he says, is the answer: "O people, observe obedience and the group, for it is the rope of Allah to which He ordered us to cling."

And then there's this doozy: "Sticks refuse to break when banded together but if they come apart they break one by one."

It's a telling metaphor. Turns out, a bundle of sticks tied together is an ancient image dating back to Roman times. It's name? The fascis. As in, fascism.

There's no coincidence here. The fascis symbolizes "strength through unity," which is the slogan Benito Mussolini picked up early on to define his new political regime. He even used the fascis on his ministerial flag.

Nor, I would suggest, is bin Laden simply picking up on a helpful but isolated metaphor completely detached from his underlying ideology. Fascism has its intellectual roots, broadly speaking in German philosophical romanticism (Hegel, etc.), which postulated a unity of all things completely freed from the confines of Aristotelian logic. That "Unity" -- also called the "Ideal," the "Oversoul," etc -- was considered synonymous with "God."

The God of Islam, of course, is a much more concrete, meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. Kind of. Still, as I argue here (and Pope Benedict argues here), radical Islam retains a fairly troubled relationship with good, old-fashioned philosophical reason of the type that Hegel and his successors passionately reject. And that has troubling implications for the standing of the individual in both cases.

Note that I distinguish here between the jihadist, let's-blow-stuff-up strains of Islam and Islam broadly defined. Whether the clear philosophical problems with the former remain problems with Islam qua Islam, I'll leave up to them to decide.

Some might offer that in either case, the God of Islam isn't nearly as down-to-earth as he should be. But perhaps I digress.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Torre's out, the new CI, and the Times annoys again

The media here have been gushing for weeks about Joe Torre and what a class act he is, and that's sure to continue now that he's finally officially gone. His class was evident at his press conference today, where he, among other things, explained his decision to turn down a token $5 million, one-year contract. Torre came across as a guy who had done his job, realized the team (the management, at least) wanted to move on, and preferred to cherish the memories rather than go one more round of agonizing uncertainty with the Steinbrenners. He'll be missed.

On the supposed short list to replace Torre, meanwhile, is none other than Don Mattingly, the great baseball hero (along with Nolan Ryan) of my early childhood. I'd love to see it -- if only he wasn't cursed. My colleague Robert George explains.


In other news, the new issue of the Claremont Independent is out, and full, as usual, of worthwhile reading. In the lead, Elise Viebeck and Ilan Wurman aim their double-barreled shotgun of truth at CMC's Civ 10 program. Particularly interesting -- and outrageous -- is David Daleiden's well-crafted expose of how fresman orientation treated sexuality and mental illness. Utterly classless and disrespectful. Read it -- you'll see. Fellow concerned alumni: The dean of students' phone number is 909-621-8114.


The New York Times editorial board has a new blog -- and it's a doozy. You'll find the same patent refusal to make an actual argument as on their print-edition page -- only now, they're snippy about it. See here for a good example. Real cute, right? Because as we all know, journalists who oppose the Bush administration get assassinated too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The News gets the noose

Much as I hate to credit a rival page, the Daily News' Stanley Crouch today has the best commentary so far on the recent (and unfolding) hate crimes craze at Columbia University. His take: take it easy.

If you haven't heard of the noose found last week on a black professor's door at Columbia, the article might explain why I've been getting some serious deja-vu recently. Not that I'm alleging, as Crouch hints, that anything Kerri-Dunnesque is going on here, but the "I'm being silenced" rhetoric and endless discussion groups naturally bring back strong memories for me.

And then there's this passage (Claremont historians, take note!):

"The reason I am skeptical of the Columbia incident is that when I taught at the Claremont Colleges from 1968 to 1975, it was not unusual for some black students to send racist mail to themselves to manipulate the administration when negotiations about campus racial policies were at a tipping point."

Well. The more things change...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Those classy NY Republicans

When I was briefly flirting with registering to vote as a Democrat (I didn't, by the way), I mentioned that of the 51 members of New York's City Council, only three were Republicans, and one of them had just been indicted for rape. Well, here's one of the others -- the minority leader, in fact -- reacting to a hapless Norwiegian Ali G wannable. It's worth watching -- as long as there aren't any children in the room.

UPDATE: My colleague Tom Elliott -- who, as you'll see, has some more personal experience with the good councilman -- puts a Churchillian spin on the outburst. I guess I should have thought of that in the first place, but I do appreciate the shout-out.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Blog Post on Strauss

Leo Strauss, that is -- the Godfather of CMC's Gov Department and political philosopher extraordinaire, whose essay "What is Political Philosophy" I've been perusing to supplement my strange new intellectual diet of gubernatorial scandals and waterfront development.

I make note of this only to direct your attention to some particularly juicy gems of wisdom I found. Among them:

"When [a positivist] says that democracy is a value which is not evidently superior to the opposite value, he does not mean that he is impressed by the alternative which he rejects, or that his heart or his mind is torn between alternatives which in themselves are equally attractive. His "ethical neutrality" is so far from being nihilism or a road to nihilism that it is not more than an alibi for thoughtlessness and vulgarity: by saying that democracy and truth are values, he says in effect that one does not have to think about the reasons why these things are good, and that he may bow as well as anyone else to the values that are adopted and respected by his society. Social science positivism fosters not so much nihilism as conformism and philistinism."

This, for anyone who wonders why Dostoevsky's stark "without God, all is lawful" warning doesn't always seem to compute in our friendly, live-and-let-live Western world. More later.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Friday thoughts

This is noteworthy: Dan Keating, the last surviving veteran of the 1919-1921 Irish War of Independence died on Wednesday. By all appearences, he never really gave up the fight, going so far as to participate in a 1939-1940 IRA bombing campaign of London -- and never accepting old-age benefits from the "illegitimate" Republic of Ireland.

I might update this post with a few more thoughts later. The old "Irish question" was really what got me interested in my senior thesis topic, Churchill & empire, in the first place. It's a fascinating bit of history.

In other news: As I first suspected last Friday, Peggy Noonan has a crush on Barack Obama.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Meanwhile, back in Claremont...

Big news at my famed Alma Mater: Billionaire alumnus/trustee Robert Day has just given $200 million to CMC for the creation of a Masters of Finance program. Here's the press release. Yes, thats $200 million -- the largest single donation ever to a liberal arts college.

Surprise, surprise, it's controversial -- and to my mind, rightly so. The Claremont Independent's Ilan Wurman reports that the Literature department has sent a strongly worded protest to President Gann, taking issue with the donation's exclusive focus on finance and related fields, like "leadership psychology." To my mind, this is a big concern, given that $200 million amounts to almost half of CMC's total endowment.

Money quote: "If Robert Day cannot be convinced to distribute some of his gift to other areas of the college, we believe it is because you are not showing enough leadership to convince him that it is worthwhile to do so."

I'll remain agnostic about the donation for now, confident that the intrepid (and well-trained) reporters at the CI will soon shed some, uh, Day-light on the controversy. For now, fellow alumni, feel free to sound off.

UPDATE: From President Gann: CMC's Economics Department is now "The Robert Day School of Economics and Finance at Claremont McKenna College."