Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Muhammad the Teddy Bear

Gillian Gibbons must be wondering, "Where's Charles Gordon when I need him?"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Quote of the week (c. 1897)

A bit of timeless -- and timely -- wisdom, from an old standby:

"We are at present in a transition stage, nor is the manner nor occasion of the end in sight. Still this is no time to despair. I have often noticed in these Afghan valleys, that they seem to be entirely surrounded by the hills, and to have no exit. But as the column has advanced, a gap gradually becomes visible and a pass appears. Sometimes it is steep and difficult, sometimes it is held by the enemy and must be forced, but I have never seen a valley that had not a way out. That way we shall ultimately find, if we march with the firm but prudent step of men who know the dangers; but, conscious of their skill and discipline, do not doubt their ability to deal with them as they shall arise."

So wrote the 23-year-old Winston Churchill at the end of his first book, "The Story of the Malakand Field Force," recounting his adventures subduing a religiously inspired tribal uprising in the Swat and Malakand Valleys on the northwest frontier of British India. You may have heard of these places.

Frankly, the book's pretty hard to read these days without seeing a whole lot of interesting parallels and contrasts -- both sobering and emboldening -- between his situation and ours. At least it good to know that someone's been there before.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Putting "Christ" back in... err, the day after Thanksgiving

Two things I love about today:

1. Leftovers
2. Guilt-free Christmas boosterism

For as long as I can remember, it's been a standard November ritual to complain about the encroachment of Christmas on Thanksgiving (and even Halloween) -- the grievance being that far too many businesses hang their decorations and launch their holiday advertising far too early, hoping to make that one extra buck off premature Christmas cheer. Like I said, I can't really remember when this wasn't the case, and as one who'd pay good money for extra Christmas cheer, I've never really minded it too much.

However, as proper conservatism obliges me to uphold the standards of an idealized and probably never-existent past, I've always looked forward to today as the day I can finally sing openly all the Christmas carols I've had stuck in my head for the last two weeks. Must keep up appearances, after all.

So have a happy Hanukkah, a far-out Winter Solstice, and/or a joyous and expectant Advent. Just one request, if I could: Mind that you don't judge too harshly those who are only trying to make an honest dollar at a time when people aren't even shopping for themselves. Yes, we all know that Christmas is in some sense "overcommercialized," but isn't there something a bit bah-humbug in whining about it too much? Between the ACLU, the IATSE, and the folks who go apoplectic whenever Target says "Happy Holidays," we already have enough Grinches this time of year.

Richard John Neuhaus, of course (scroll to the bottom), says it far better than I ever could.

And for desert, here's Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinart arguing about which of them loves Thanksgiving more.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Yay, science!

This appears to be nothing short of amazing news: Teams of scientists working independently in Wisconsin and Japan have both discovered a way to make human skin cells act like embryonic stem cells.

In other words, all the adaptability that makes embryonic cells more promising than adult ones for things like tissue regeneration and disease research, without destroying embryos in the process. And cheaper, too!

I'll let the good folks at NRO say what needs to be said regarding the politics and bioethics of it. Certainly, President Bush doesn't come out looking too bad.

I commend the full New York Times piece to your reading -- it's rather long, but it lays out all the details and implications quite well. Also relevant are the (seemingly minor) hurdles still to be overcome, which don't get much ink in the understandably excited conservative press. The relevant part of the story:

"He and Dr. Yamanaka caution, though, that they still must confirm that the reprogrammed human skin cells really are the same as stem cells they get from embryos. And while those studies are under way, Dr. Thomson and others say, it would be premature to abandon research with stem cells taken from human embryos.

"Another caveat is that, so far, scientists use a type of virus, a retrovirus, to insert the genes into the cells’ chromosomes. Retroviruses slip genes into chromosomes at random, sometimes causing mutations that can make normal cells turn into cancers.

"One gene used by the Japanese scientists actually is a cancer gene.

"The cancer risk means that the resulting stem cells would not be suitable for replacement cells or tissues for patients with diseases, like diabetes, in which their own cells die. But they would be ideal for the sort of studies that many researchers say are the real promise of this endeavor — studying the causes and treatments of complex diseases.

"For example, researchers could make stem cells from a person with a disease like Alzheimer’s and turn the stem cells into nerve cells in a petri dish. Then they might learn what goes awry in the brain and how to prevent or treat the disease.

"But even the retrovirus drawback may be temporary, scientists say. Dr. Yamanaka and several other researchers are trying to get the same effect by adding chemicals or using more benign viruses to get the genes into cells. They say they are starting to see success."

Kick ass.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Turkey-pardoning, and other left-wing shenanigans

I realize I'm jumping the gun a bit. Whatever.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for Aaron Sorkin -- specifically for his Thanksgiving-themed West Wing episodes. Scoff if you must: The show's hopelessly romanticized, Sorkin's a coked-up bleeding-heart liberal, etc, etc. I don't care. "Shibboleth" is one of the most beautiful, clever, heartwarming hours of television you'll ever see.

This comes to mind only because I've had "We Gather Together," the hymn he uses to end the episode, stuck in my head all day. And since there's nothing more annoying than having a song stuck in your head without knowing all the words, I had to look it up:

"We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
he chastens and hastens his will to make known;
the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing:
sing praise to his Name, he forgets not his own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
so from the beginning the fight we were winning:
thou, Lord, wast at our side: all glory be thine!

We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
and pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation:
thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!"

Here's the tune. A good friend pointed out the strange disconnect between the lighthearted, joyful melody and the gather-together, give-thanks theme on the one hand, and the particularly weighty lyrics -- chastening, tribulation, etc. -- on the other. Worth pondering.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Whoop-ass, prophet-style

Apropos of nothing in particular, I took a particular liking to the first reading from Wednesday's mass. Figured I'd share it. It's Wisdom 6:1-11:

"Hear, O Kings, and understand;
learn, you magistrates of the earth's expanse!
Hearken, you who are in power over the multitude
and lord it over throngs of peoples!
Because authority was given you by the Lord
and sovereignty by the Most High,
who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels.
Because, though you were ministers of his kingdom, you judged not rightly,
and did not keep the law,
nor walk according to the will of God,
Terribly and swiftly shall he come against you,
because judgment is stern for the exalted--
For the lowly may be pardoned out of mercy
but the mighty shall be mightily put to the test.
For the Lord of all shows no partiality,
nor does he fear greatness,
Because he himself made the great as well as the small,
and he provides for all alike;
but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends.
To you, therefore, O princes, are my words addressed
that you may learn wisdom and that you may not sin.
For those who keep the holy precepts hallowed shall be found holy,
and those learned in them will have ready a repose.
Desire therefore my words;
long for them and you shall be instructed."

Pretty cool, huh?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Big news on the home front

Dastardly desert despots, beware: Master at Arms Seaman Sarah Wilson, USN, deploys to the Persian Gulf today. Yes, that's my sister -- and I couldn't be prouder. Any and all thoughts and prayers greatly appreciated. Come to think of it, pray for Ahmadinejad & Co. as well -- that they realize very quickly that my sister is not the kind of sailor they want to mess with.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Popery for the People

It's official: Pope Benedict XVI will be coming to New York in April. On the itinerary: Addressing the U.N. (4/18), Mass at St. Patrick's (4/19), and an afternoon mass at Yankee Stadium (4/20 -- a Sunday, by the way).

Speaking of Yankee Stadium: It's been noticed that, while Benedict is visiting New York and Washington, he'll be skipping Boston. Some in the press have made the connection to Boston's status as the center of the recent sex-abuse scandals. This may be true, but I'm not convinced. It's been fairly strongly established, consider, that the Boston Red Sox are no longer playing under the Curse of the Bambino. My question: How did they get it lifted -- and is there something the Vatican knows that would make the Pope loathe to say mass at Fenway Park?

One minor disappointment: Benedict won't be saying mass in Central Park, as John Paul II did in 1995. Is Yankee Stadium really that much better of a venue? Or did the Church have to answer to an, um, higher power? Mayor Bloomberg, after all, is especially fond of grass.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Hitting the speaking circuit

Sorry it's been a while since my last post. I could claim busyness, but honestly, it's really just that the right topic hasn't popped into my head at the convenient time for a while. That said, I have had a fun and exciting week -- starting with a trip to Phoenix last weekend for the Collegiate Network's editors' conference. Consider it my first post-college speaking gig. They wanted me there to talk up the Eric Briendell Journalism Award, which I was of course happy to do. The talk went well, and I got to meet lots of interesting people, notably John J. Miller from National Review and Vic Matus from the Weekly Standard.

The theme of my remarks, such as they were, was how the pressures of a big-city newspaper puts the fever pitch of college campus "identity" activism in perspective. Appropriately enough, my next stop was back to my famed alma mater for a wonderfully exhausting day of catching up with old college buddies.

One piece of news to report: CMC is participating in what's called a "Campus Climate Challenge," the idea being to get students to conserve energy. All well and good, of course. But then President Gann had to go put her own spin on things. In her announcement email to students, I hear, she listed exactly two suggestions for how to reduce one's carbon footprint.

1) Turn off the lights when you leave your room.

2) Dry your clothes on a clothesline.

One doubts whether she thought that one out. Or whether the Admissions Office would be completely amenable to wet boxers strung across North Quad as tours pass by.