Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My radio appearance today on Lexington Catholic radio

I was on the Mike Allen Show this morning from 7:15 to 7:45 discussion the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, which is today and my article "The Secular Liberal Death Wish." You can listen to a recording of the show here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

As it turns out, we are not all going to die

I checked in last night on CNN and realized that we were in for another storm. No, not the weather kind, but the blizzard of news reports on how the snow blizzard that was hitting the Northeast. I remarked to my wife about the hysteria that hits the media every time we have a few inches of snow or a tropical storm. "You would think these people had never seen a snowstorm," I said.

Every time inclement weather hits, the media goes nuts and its going to be the storm of the century and everyone should hunker down in their basements and we're all going to die.
BNN's Blanderson Stupor (BNN: Blithering News Network): We have our correspondent Rolf Schlitzer on the scene in New York. Rolf, how is it looking?
Rolf: Blanderson, although I haven't actually seen one, we have one report from Queens of a snowflake actually having been sighted. This could mean that we are all going to die.
Blanderson: This is terrible, Rolf. How many people have died already?
Rolf: What we're being told now by city officials is that there are up to 25 casualties already.
Blanderson: From the storm?
Rolf: No, Blanderson. Officials say that other than several people who were trampled to death at grocery stores after hearing media reports, most deaths are largely the result of suicide.
Blanderson: Suicide?
Rolf: Yes, Blanderson. They say these people were so frightened by news reports that they were going to die that some just decided to get it over with quickly. Others, say officials, just simply couldn't bear the thought of a lifetime of hysterical news reports every time a snowflake fell in Manhattan. In any case, it is a terrible tragedy and probably means ...
Blanderson: That we're all going to die"
Rolf: Yes, Blanderson. Blanderson: Thank you, Rolf. When we come back, we'll tell you about how one family in Long Island is preparing for rising sea levels that could be another indication that we're all going to die. Stay tuned.
Physicist Peter Woit teaches at Columbia University. He reports (Snowpocalypse, 2015) that after all the blizzard hype and the forced shutdowns of businesses, transportation and order to stay home, it was all for naught:
Columbia never used to shut down at all, New York City never used to shut down the transit system, and the states never used to shut down all roadways. Until the past decade or so people tried to go about their business here in the winter, taking action to shut things down only once snow had arrived and was causing a problem. The US has now become a nation of hysterics, with media-driven hype frightening everyone about everything, and public officials desperately taking action to protect the citizenry from imaginary threats.
Phew. So I guess we're not all going to die.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Land Remembered, by Patrick Smith: Historical fiction at its best

This is another in a series of book reviews from books I have recently read.

I used to read a lot of historical fiction, but lost the taste for it a few years back. I still love Janice Holt Giles (40 Acres and Mule, The Believers, Hannah Fowler), not only because she is an excellent writer, but because she is a Kentucky writer. But the book that has gotten me interested once again in historical fiction is a book about the history of another state than my own.

Last August I was trying to figure out what short story I was going to use at St. John's Academy, a Florida school at which I do teacher training every year. Interestingly, every year, the discussion of a short story is what the teachers and staff enjoy the most. For several years, we have read stories from Kentucky authors that I like, but I decided I wanted to try to see about Florida writers and use something from a native author.

After a little literary detective work, it became clear to me that, in terms of litarary stature, Marjorie Kinan Rawlings ruled Florida's authorial roost. Her most famous book, of course, is The Yearling. I read several of her short stories, some very good, one particularly excellent. But the excellent one suffers from the vicissitudes of racial politics, and even though its point is entirely sympathetic to the plight of Blacks, its language is no longer acceptable. It's a shame.

I eventually went back to safe territory—to a short story from a Kentucky author that I knew well. But in the process of looking for Florida writers, I stumbled upon the book A Land Remembered, by Patrick Smith. The accolades were astounding. On Amazon, for example, it has an average four and a half star rating from almost 700 readers. I don't always trust popular reviews like this, but in this case, they were dead on.

My wife and I actually listed to the audio version of this book on a trip to the Midwest in 2013 read by George Guida, one of the best readers going. You don't have to even be interested in the history of Florida. I never was. This is just a great story.

The book tells the story of Tobias MacIvey and his wife, who arrive in Florida in 1858—and of the two generations that follow him. He is a "cracker" from Georgia who with his wife Emma, and through hard work and determination, strikes it rich in the cattle business. The story of the first generation is the most interesting part of the book, and you are swept into the hardscrabble lives of these people with a vengeance.

Good historical fiction is able to strike a balance between the story it tells and its historical relevance. It is easy for a story that clearly is intended to tell the story of a state to seem contrived by trying to be representative of the states people and their history. But this story never feels contrived. The hurricane scene and the mosquito scene that follows; the visit by the Confederate deserters; the cattle ruslters, and the mysterious Indian man, and the apply custard forest will stay with you forever. At every turn it is utterly convincing—even compelling. You forget that you are being told the story of a state, so involved are you in the story of the compelling characters.

The differences between the three generations of MacIveys tell a story of their own. There is a grit and fortitude in the character of the first generation that diminishes in the second, and that diminishes still further in the third, when we are left with Solomon MacIvey, a rich, unmarried and childless landholder whose corporate entities dot the modern Florida landscape, but who, in his old age and sickness is unmarried and childless, the last of the now sterile MacIvey line.

MacIvey is on his way to the original house his grandfather has built, there to die, but on the way, he stops in to see his Indian half-brother, who lives is a small village in the scrub, his people having been moved from their native home. They had grown up together, and Solomon has it in his mind that they can die together, but his half-brother must stay with his people.

Solomon's last act is a speech to a professional group that wants to honor him for his contributions to the state. But he knows now what his contributions to the state really are. He has betrayed his grandfather by helping to permanently destroy the very things that he had loved: the forests and the native people. He uses the occasion of his speech to bitterly criticize the assembled leaders for giving him their award—and for their own complicity in these crimes.

When I finished the story, it seemed to me that the characters of the first generation were more real than the later characters—and then I realized that that was part of the point. It wasn't a weakness by the author in telling the story that Tobias and Emma had a substance to them that his descendants did not: That's actually the way it was. The first generation of Floridians was more real: They had a substance to their characters that their children and grandchildren were in the process of losing as they discarded their pioneer virtues and made way for their roads and air conditioned beach houses.

Solomon has come to terms with his and his generation's greed, and he has put the land his father had bequeathed to him in trust so that it might be protected for future generations. And yet at the end of the story, as much as you cheer him on as he lectures his colleagues and as much as he has done what he could at the end of his life to make up for his own greed, there an abiding sense of sorrow at what has been irretrievably lost, a sorry Solomon himself shares.

It's a stunning and heartbreaking story everyone should read.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

With friends like the Fairness Alliance, transgender students don't need any enemies

In the old days it was only politics that was politicized. Today, there are few areas of life that have not become excuses for ideological contest. Race, sex, religion--all have now become occasions for political conflict. Now even bathrooms have become an ideological battleground.

The first shots in the political Battle of the Bathroom are being fired at places like Atherton High School in Louisville, where school administrators created a policy that allowed students to use the bathroom of their choice. If a student "self-identifies" as a girl, then she—or he—can use the girls' bathroom; if as a boy, then he—or she—can use the boys' bathroom.

The argument for the policy, according to groups like the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, is that it will reduce the incidence of harassment and bullying. But it doesn't take a whole lot of reflection to see how hair-scratchingly bizarre this position really is.

Sending girls who claim to be boys into the boys' room and boys who claim to be girls into the girls' room is not exactly the first policy a rational person would think of when trying to come up with a way to protect students who, whether you agree with them or not, want to challenge sexual convention (if not biology itself).

Far from reducing harassment, it's more likely to be a recipe for it.

And it can't be too comforting for the majority of students who probably just want to be left alone when they go to the bathroom.

The underlying issue, of course, has to do with the latest ideological innovation of the political left: what is now being called "transgender rights." While its rhetoric about homosexuality itself claims that gender is purely a matter of biological determinism, the rhetoric of transgender rights makes the exact opposite claim: that gender is a matter of individual choice. You can't help the gender you were "born with" (even if it is the opposite of your biological gender), but you can "self-identify" as anything you want.

It's hard to imagine how both these claims could possibly be true at the same time, but such is the power of sexual politics that we are all now expected to nod compliantly in the face of each increasingly contradictory and preposterous claim. In gender politics, the Parmenedian lion lies down effortlessly with the Protean lamb.

And nodding is not all that is required. A good knowledge of the alphabet and a fertile imagination are now a prerequisite for dealing with the gender acronyms with which we are all now expected to be familiar. What was once "gay," became "lesbian and gay." "Lesbian and gay" became "LGBT" (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender); and now "LGBT" has turned into "LGBTQIA," which, in case you were wondering means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Ally.

Thank the Lord we are done with that.

Oh, wait, here comes our man on the spot, Fairness Alliance director Chris Hartman, with a few additions to what he refers to as the "alphabet soup of the queer community": "LBGTQQIAAPH. I'm sure there are several that I'm missing."

I'm sure there are.

Let's all nod our heads obediently to the idea that we can create whole new genders simply by creating acronyms for them and asserting publicly that they exist.

We shouldn't be too hard on Hartman, however: Facebook (which nods its head more vigorously than most at such things) now lists 52 gender categories, all of which Hartman, after I pressed him on it on KET one night, said were inborn—despite the fact that the whole idea behind some of them is that they can be determined on a whim.

Hartman has come out in opposition to a bill now before the Kentucky State Senate, SB 76, that would require schools to provide separate bathroom facilities for any student who "self identifies" as another sex than his or her biological one--either a unisex bathroom or a faculty bathroom. This would virtually guarantee the safety of transgender students.

But Hartman is having none of it. He claims that it would "actually have the effect of endangering students and potentially increasing instances of bullying for transgender students. “Anything that draws more and more attention and scrutiny to someone who is different naturally makes them feel more different,” he said.

Of course, Hartman has devoted his entire professional life to drawing attention to these people. If he couldn't draw attention to them, he would quite literally have nothing to do.

If the transgender students Hartman claims to be trying to protect (but whose safety he is actually undermining by opposing the bill) were speaking honestly then there would be no reason for him to support the Atherton policy, since if no one knew a transgender student was transgender, but just looked and acted as if they were whatever gender they purported to be and used the corresponding bathroom, no one would ever know and the issue would never come up.

Truth to tell, however, Hartman is in the business of scoring political points for his side and so a policy that would actually help the situation doesn't help him or his group.

It's sad.

The Kentucky Bathroom Bill

The Kentucky State Senate is now considering SB 76 a bill that would protect both the privacy of students by ensuring that only biologically female students use the girl's bathroom and only biologically male students use the boy's bathroom. It would also require schools to provide transgender students with a unisex bathroom or allow them to use the faculty bathroom.

This would both protect the privacy of the majority of students and decrease the chances of transgender students being harassed.

But Chris Hartman, director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, is opposing it. He thinks sending girls dressed as boys into the boys' bathroom and boys dressed as girls into the girls' bathroom will reduce bullying and harassment.

Go figure.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Secular Liberal Death Wish

On the one hand, secular liberalism practices intolerance toward Christianity—the religion from which it originally got its idea of tolerance. But, on the other hand, it uses the tolerance gotten thereby to countenance equally religious ideologies that oppose tolerance.

It's a weird dance of cultural death and it underscores the suspicion that modern liberal secularism may be congenitally incapable of combating the very things that most threaten it.

When Europe abandoned Christendom in the 19th century, it went into a cultural spiral that resulted in two world wars. The cultural vacuum that allowed German nationalism—and, later, Naziism and Fascism—to capture the minds of so many Europeans has never yet been filled. And secularism will never fill it.

In one sense, secularism is itself a religion—and one as totalitarian as the totalitarian philosophies which it purports to replace. It is what we call an "ideology," a word that simply means a religion without the courage of its convictions. It is a religion without a god.

Modern liberal secularism is the cultural equivalent of a zombie: It has all the normal biological functions, but it has no soul. This is why it is neither good nor evil. Positively good and positively evil things both have a kind of substance. But the ideology that rules the political world today has no real substance, and this is why it is so vulnerable to a religion like Islam.

Secularism is a religion for comfortable people: people who have all the modern conveniences and simply don't want to be bothered, not even by ultimate concerns. It is the religion of Nietzsche's Last Man. All it requires is broad, non-committal sentiments, occasional genuflections toward the popular platitudes, and the repetition of the word "science" in the proper company. And the only creed is that there are no creeds.

Problem is, when faced with the openly radical sentiments and heartfelt devotion of a religion like radical Islam, it stands no chance. Radical Islam thrives on Europe's host, but will eventually take it over and—because of its inherent opposition to the secular liberalism that now controls it—must turn in to something very different. It may not be Shariah law, but it will be something that approximates it.

The dominant liberalism is outwardly comforting, but intrinsically weak and the forces of culture will ultimately force it to give way either to Islam or something equally radical that opposes it.

I don't know where I stand on the debate over whether radical Islam is by nature radical. But it doesn't matter. What matters is the empirical fact that—however radical authentic Islam is or isn't—the impulse that drives its cultural presence in the world is radical. Shia may be a peaceful Muslim sect, but the Shia rulers in Iran are radical. Sunni Islam may be, according to its central doctrines, a religion of peace. But the ones who control Isis are radical.

What average Muslims believe may, in and of itself, be unproblematic. But it isn't average Muslims who are running the show. Even many of the rulers of a country like Saudi Arabia, who on the surface seem docile and untroublesome, are intensely anti-Semitic and prone to supporting groups like Al-Qaeda with their oil money.

Joseph Sobran once pointed out that turning over the board is not a move in chess, and no one who thinks it is should be allowed to play. On today's cultural chessboard, we see people who think that players should be allowed in the game who think that turning over the board is a legitimate move in the cultural game.

Why is it that the world religion that invented our civilization (Christianity) is denigrated and sometimes suppressed, while the religion whose most vocal leaders want to bring it down (radical Islam) somehow warrant the vocal defense of the Prime Minister of Germany?

Sermons on diversity are no match for the commitment of the faithful. The latter wins every time.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Newsweek writer's "jaw-dropping ignorance" of the Bible

Every Christmas I write a post about how every Christmas the old weekly news magazines write an article that poses as a intellectually responsible treatment of the Bible but is actually a low-grade amateur attempt at historical research and literary analysis. So here we are again.

With mind-numbing regularity, Time, Newsweek, and their ilk publish an article about the traditional Christian belief about how the virgin Birth of Christ and other traditional Biblical beliefs are outmoded by "modern" Biblical scholarship. And the way they do it is to quote scholars on one extreme end of the scholarly spectrum who, far from being modern, are still stuck in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Karl Heinrich Graf (1815-1869). Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918). Check it out.

Liberal theologians are a bit like those Japanese soldiers hiding out in the jungle on isolated Pacific Islands who finally wandered into villages where they were informed that World War II had been over for 30 years.

Methods that were abandoned long ago in other literary disciplines are bandied about in contemporary liberal biblical circles as the brand spankin' newest thing. They survive only by virtue of a naive materialist rationalism fashionable in Germany 100 years ago which has been largely abandoned by everyone except a few American seminary professors who have yet to be informed that that we are living in the 21st century now and whose chief occupation seems to be taking calls from equally ignorant mainstream journalists looking for their annual Easter or Christmas cover story.

Who was it that said that America is where old German heresies come to die?

Justin Taylor at Sojourners makes the appropriate observations:
It is a tradition in American journalism as predictable as Easter and Christmas itself: a cover story purporting to reveal the true story behind the Bible we thought we knew.
...Even with a generous 8,487 words, Eichenwald reveals he is out of his depth for this subject matter. Though he doggedly advances his predetermined thesis from a mishmash of angles, experts quickly showed online that Eichenwald has not really done his historical homework or read his Bible carefully.
Read the rest here.