Saturday, June 06, 2009

On D-Day and Writing Photographs:
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

I intend in this posting to cover two subjects but in reverse order from how they read in the title. Without further ado...

Today on a much lesser scale than the grand anniversary of D-Day is the anniversary of my public writing debut in terms of formal web essay style writing. I had been involved in a variety of discussion forums on various and sundry subject matters for a few years prior to that point{1} but June 6, 2000 was the debut of a pretty sprawling and ambitious book length project dealing in systematical fashion with a subject to which I had not seen a similar web treatment of anywhere else prior to that time. Others were to follow including the material on this weblog but I mention the project that debuted on the web nine years ago today as a point of reference for reasons that the rest of this note will make hopefully crystal clear.

Cleaning out storage areas and boxes is a treasure hunt or at least it can be and also on the writing front, in cleaning out boxes and boxes of papers I came across not a few of the essays I wrote back in high school and college for various classes (intensive English, Shakespearean studies, philosophy, economics, international business etc). It was interesting to go over them one by one and see my writing to the extent I have a discernible style take shape so to speak. I had written prior to that point of course but it was not until high school that I started developing the outlines of the approach to writing that I take and it was not without some occasional glitches here and there.

For one thing, I can remember in perusing these papers which ones I took at least a bit of time on and which ones I basically pulled an all-nighter on. It was not reflected in the grades per se{2} but the manner in which I went about it. There are some papers where I smile reading them now because they resonate well still with these older eyes{3} and there are some I smile at reading because of the naive nature of the boy who wrote them. There are some where I evince a sense of humour of the sort I am still misunderstood about.{4} There are also more than a few hints to put it mildly of a kind of hyper-dogmatism{5} of the sort that I now loathe when I see it in the work of what should be mature adults.{6} But that is neither here nor there.

A common theme in the papers taken as a corpus of work criticism wise was that they could have used more content -this was the case even with the straight A papers of which there were many more of them than of other grades. I wonder therefore when after college my written product would contain insane amounts of documentation if this was not some kind of internal reaction to seeing the criticism over and over again that more content was needed.{7} Of course then I was receiving criticism for too much content from various and sundry parties so Chesterton's dictum about something being "too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, etc"{8} comes to mind.

But taken with what I remember of the discussion board material, the formal web essays, and the contents of this weblog, these old writings really paint a vivid picture of my development as a writer. It makes one realize the paths one travels on things like this from a writing standpoint. Anyway, though I am recycling boxes of papers and shredding a lot of stuff too of a financial nature, the folder of these essays is among the small percentage of stuff that I am saving. My handwriting on the ones which were handwritten was as a rule so much neater then so I want to have a record of the fact that I once had penmanship bordering on the beautiful lest anyone who sees what passes for my handwriting these days as a rule think otherwise. But that is a minor matter really.

The saving of some landmarks of one's life at various stages serves as a kind of written photo album and much as some real life photos may be embarrassing to look at when older, without them you can easily forget where you have been and how you have gotten to the point in time that you are at now. Forgetting history is far too common even for those who actually know their history{9} and that brings me to the historical event of today: D-Day.

The anniversary of D-Day of course has a hell of a lot more to commemorate it than the anniversary of anything to do with me. It was a grand day in the history of the Second World War -the start of the liberation of Europe from the Nazi stranglehold. But not often looked at is the way the invasion appeared to those who were not fighting on either side of the conflict; namely, the average people. With that in mind I want to close this note of musings with an approach to D-Day that will diverge from the standard treatments to some extent and include links that honour not only those who were willing to fight and die for what I would view as a just cause.{10}

So again with those thoughts in mind, I want to close this posting with two links to the invasion of Normandy from two different sides and of course to hope that people in general remember history (both personal as well as general) so that by better knowing where they have been{11} they can better discern where they may well be going.

The Boys of Pointe du Hoc -June 6, 1984 on the Fiftieth Anniversary of D-Day

Invasion of Normandy June 6, 1944 -A French Woman Remembers


Notes:

{1} I had originally intended to try and restore the hard drive of my old crashed Mac G3 which contained at one point literally hundreds of dialogual threads from a variety of different discussion boards on variegated subject matter spanning from 1998-2002 (I lost everything on the hard drive in May of 2002). I ultimately decided though to recycle the computer since I abandoned my plan to upgrade it a few years back for reasons of practicality and also because I knew that I was not about to expend the time necessary to format those dialogues for proper posting as I once intended to do.

{2} Though I almost always got notably better grades and created a better product on those where I spent more time or at least some degree of thought planning out where they were going.

{3} Of particular note I must say was a philosophical analysis I did on a C P Cavafy poem titled Ithaca which I remember writing literally in one take --I doubt I spent more than ten minutes on it if that-- and getting a perfect grade and significantly positive feedback from the teacher. Another was a paper I wrote on romantic love at around the same time before later life experiences obliterated nearly all the sunny-eyed optimism in that area I once had. Though a bit of the latter has been returning as of late, I see in the paper an kind of abstract innocence untainted by practical experience of the sort that makes my eyes roll when I see people enunciate it in various areas from politics to social issues to theology or whatever.

That is not to say the paper is bad mind you -I am actually surprised at some of the insights I had in it in retrospect. But it also has within it a bit of expecting more from people than is realistic even in the best of situations: something that part of acquiring wisdom means disabusing oneself of as I have come to see it.

{4} Probably about as often too because my approach to humour is significantly more implied or otherwise tongue-in-cheek now than it was at that time. (And I was actually writing comedy bits and stuff back then also so my focus at that time in that area was not lacking.)

{5} My philosophical paper on a dialogue with Christ and a Grand Inquisitor is a mixed bag in this area -got a good grade on the paper (A-) but the teacher's criticism of my Christ dialogue was spot on now that I think of it though at the time I sure did not think so. (My picture of Jesus at the time was practically a Jansenistic one warped by some of the ecclesial affiliations I had at that time.)

{6} This is one area where I have been particularly critical of those of an apologetics style mindset. Admittedly I had one of those myself at one point before transcending it -ironically perhaps it was when I knew least that I was the most dogmatic but then again, I have learned over the years that such is par for the course for humanity in general.

{7} I rarely if ever got criticism on the structure of papers -almost all points lost if any were was because of perceived lack of content to substantiate points made.

{8} This is a really crude paraphrase of the exact statement which I cannot readily recall offhand.

{9} Which sadly enough is not nearly enough people -including not a few who would claim to yet manifest in what they write that their knowledge of it is superficial at best.

{10} I am aware of some even amongst friends who may dispute this view and while that may be a subject for discussion at a future date, I do not intend to entertain such a matter now.

{11} I later on expanded on this theme a bit in a posting which can be read here for those who are interested.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

On the Subject of Analyzing "Convert Stories" and Questions For Tim Enloe:
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

I have modified parts of the original text and shifted some material into footnotes, and added a new footnote. But without further ado...

Tim, though I have not been involved in apologetics stuff for years{1}, I must admit that this series you are posting is one I find interesting. I should also note at the outset that these comments are being written on the fly and without my usual concern for systematization and precision of phrasing so any defects they contain I want to apologize for in advance.

To start with, I am curious to know what you are trying to demonstrate with this series. If you want to use it to point out that a lot of conversion stories as they are presented have certain patterns to them and characteristics to the parties involved, this should be self-evident without a major examination like the one you intend to outline. People after all tend to gravitate towards similarity in patterns of thought and behaviour and few are genuinely original.

Even in a six month time frame{2} if someone is intensely reassessing themselves on a major aspect of their worldview, there are potentially dozens of points of reflection. This makes it difficult at times to point out more than a few of what a person views as significant turning points in their change of mind. There is also the supernatural element of this equation which I do not see reflected in your series so far.

Surely we all can agree that if God is involved in someone’s journey He can fill in for the weaknesses and lack of understanding of those He seeks to guide. There may be more or less “filling in” depending on the knowledge or predispositions of the persons involved but the God portrayed in the Bible had a tendency to pick those who were not in positions to boast of their superior learning or faculties of humanity as His chosen instruments. It therefore does not stretch credulity fora Christian to believe that he would do the same today at times and it is possible that at least some of those outlined in the stories you refer to are of that kind. At least Rabbi Gamaliel was willing to consider the possibility that a movement he did not view as of God could possibly be such. I am wondering if whatever defects you may find in the convert stories you intend to profile if this same caveat will be given in your series deliberations.

I would also remind you that people do not change their foundational presuppositions or those lenses whereby they filter all the information that they receive easily or without a lot of time. Furthermore, one person’s “burden of proof” is not the same as another. And I would be remiss if I did not point out that there are a lot of people who seem to expect others to challenge their foundational presuppositions who do not themselves engage in the same courtesy -my view is what is good for the goose is good for the gander on that score and it applies to not only apologists of various stripes but also those who would be their critics.

I have been critical of many people over the years who do not do this and without respect to persons or religious, political, social, or other views they advocated.{3} The bottom line is anyone can read a variety of evidences partially or with the mind towards confirming them in a belief they want to hold rather than in a way that challenges their “sacred cows” if you will. And this tendency applies to everyone not just certain select groups of people.

If you are intending to point out that many apologetics methods are faulty and that there are many Catholic convert apologists who engage in sophistic or superficial readings of historical and/or documentary evidences as presumed “definitive proofs” of their views, this again is no big admission and I could see Catholics or others doing the same thing conversely. But care should be taken that you do not criticize your neighbours of erecting straw men in their fields and then end up doing the same thing yourself: not saying you will do this of course but pointing it out as a warning of sorts.

I would also remind you that most treatments on any issue you will find are less than ideal and are often flawed to no small degree. This should not surprise as everyone who writes on a matter does so with a purpose or an agenda and rarely is any “study” done to do anything but confirm the presuppositions of those who administer it. And of course I am reminded of Arthur Jones’ dictum about “ninety-five percent of what is published on all subjects is hogwash.”{4} But again, I am interested in wanting to know the purpose of this sort of series.

I have not concealed my disgust for many of the purveyors of apologetics methods in recent years and trust me, as a Catholic I know where their real weaknesses are. But all sides have their weaknesses. If you want to try with this series to claim that most of what might be “convincing” to the “fundamentalist converts” you intend to portray would never convince you, that is fine of course but I remind you: no matter how much anyone knows, there is always more they will not know.

History itself the more you probe it reveals itself to be incapable of definitive verdicts and also more complex than many perceive. But even beyond that is the supernatural dimension and if you do not account for the supernatural element in this equation to some extent, no matter how thorough and documented your series is, it will be glaringly incomplete.

Notes:

{1} For a variety of reasons too numerous to go over here.

{2} One end of the time frame you mentioned for the "typical conversion story."

{3} For the sake of not making the list overlong, there are threads dealing with these matters primarily under the sub-categories The Good/The Bad/The Ugly -Apologetics but also occasionally (as warranted) under the Reason/Logic/Ethics and Theological categories. To my knowledge there is no overlap between the apologetics and theological subcategories -the latter being as a rule for more complex and deeper subject matter than the former and the only time some of this is put into the reason/logic/ethics category is when it pertains to certain deficiencies of apologists or their arguments in one or more of those areas respectively.

{4} I for one think he was with that assessment being a bit charitable and for that reason if no other have no doubt you will find lots of evidences to compile for your series.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Miscellaneous Musings on Michelle Malkin, Sonya Sotomayor, "Compelling Stories", Activist Agendas, Etc:

First a link to Michelle's article and then my comments so without further ado...

LINK

Michelle basically outlines the Animal Farm mentality of Democrats on President Obama's high court pick because they are touting Sotomayor's "compelling life story" as a selling point despite not being too concerned about the "compelling life story" issue when it came to Judge Clarence Thomas, Judge Samuel Alito, or former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Heck, they would not even let Judge Miguel Estrada get a hearing for being seated on the federal appeals court and Estrada's personal life story was even more compelling than that of Sotomayor. The same argument can be made about Clarence Thomas.

But just as in Animal Farm the dictum was "all animals are equal but some are more equal than others" that is how the Democrats view the issue of "compelling life stories." They will brutally go after anyone whom they think might be a judicial danger to certain pet issues of theirs while expecting others to give those who are favourable to their little pet issues to play nice. They will excuse away her blatantly racist statements and rulings while attempting to crucify people like Estrada, Thomas, and Alito and smear them with every evil they can imagine. Pardon me for not feeling sorry for a racist judicial activist like Sonya Sotomayor but I am opposed to not only her racism but also her judicial activism.

I have never favoured judicial activism and I opposed the Republicans who attempted to endorse it on their pet issues -particularly in my opposition to President Bush's attempted nomination of Harriet Miers to the Roberts Court in 2005.{1} I am therefore as is my wont completely consistent in my stance here in opposing Sonia Sotomayor on that basis alone and apart from other matters which also go into framing my opposition to this candidate. (Such as her aforementioned racism.)

Note:

{1} Not a few threads were posted on this matter and the manner in which I analyzed the various opinions from different quarters. The substance of them can be noted (as well as some of those postings linked to) in this dialogue on judicial activism:

On the Miers Nomination and Activist Court Agendas -Dialogue With Kevin Tierney (circa October 10, 2005)

As I have said more times than I can count over the years, something is either right or wrong in and of itself not because of the persons who espouse the viewpoint: a criticism I have had for various and sundry pundits, agenda provocateurs, and apologists of an entire panopoly of special interests.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Briefly On The Real Problem With The GOP:

I have been toying for some time with writing an expository musing on the subject of conservatism and what it entails because all too often we have people with no sense of history who confuse conservative philosophy with the views of a given person or group. This note is not intended to achieve that in general but instead will be much briefer and is intended to set down some shorthand notes which will go into the longer treatment I have planned. Hopefully it can provide some food for musing for those who read it though.

To start with, there is a general philosophy which can rightfully be called "conservative" and it revolves around the concept of freedom. However, conservatism to be realistic must be functional and not merely theoretical, practical and not merely abstract, realistic and not some myth based on what would be "ideal." We are faced with a situation in the coming years where huge grabs of power and diminishment of legitimate freedoms are likely to happen. This needs to be opposed but there needs to be a unified opposition. As I wrote in part in a previous posting{1} when talking about the tea party movement in general and the tea parties in particular:

There is...the downright annoying attitude of some of those whose methodologies approach what I call the "true believer" mentality. These are the people to whom politics is not the art of the possible but instead the art of demanding the perfect lest they refuse to participate at all. This could be in general but also on particular matters -be it their lack of participation a given agenda item, a given political movement, or whatever. I am one who believes that politically anything that can be reasonably foreseen to have potential positive effects and which has a reasonably feasible chance of working should be undertaken. However, it never fails to surprise me how many will attempt to excommunicate from political communion those who do not share their views on issues to a near 100% degree if not darn close to it. And ironically enough, self-identified "conservatives" who do this often laud President Ronald Reagan as their model ignoring how often (i) Reagan balanced political philosophy with political pragmatism and (ii) how often Reagan said essentially that those who agree with him 80% of the time were not his political foe.

The truth is, you need both philosophy and pragmatism if you can expect to be successful in any endeavour in life. Too often however, you have those more inclined towards pure political philosophy trying to narrow the tent too much while on the other side of the equation you have those who are far more politically pragmatic trying to widen the tent too much. What is needed between these two extreme tendencies is a more balanced approach -the political philosophers who have a map far too often do not know how to get anywhere on it. Conversely, the political pragmatists often excel in getting things done but lack a map to know where they are even going. It is my hope that these tea parties will in how they are organized and in those who participate in them can strive to find that balance required to make this movement a genuine success instead of a populist flame out of the sort that litters the political landscape spanning the centuries of America's existence. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa May 30, 2009)]

To summarize the problem in short form, that will suffice for now but more needs to be said because it is not as simple as just that unfortunately. I will endeavour as I have time and when I am in the mood to do so write further on this subject including covering the subject of conservatism in general, certain foundational principles that embody a conservative view of the world ethically, economically, etc., as well as certain diversities of thought that pertain to the application of the aforementioned principles.

I will also attempt to explain how those who place a value on reason and logic need to incorporate conservative philosophy for the greatest possible political success in the coming years. But first and foremost it will help to remember the old maxim that "a house divided against itself cannot stand" because that is the first principle that those of us who value freedom of speech, economic freedom, religious freedom, and any other freedom you can name over and against the ever-increasing totalitarian mentality of those who control the federal leviathan need to remember at all times. We need to in the timeless words of Benjamin Franklin "hang together or most assuredly we will hang separately." And that is the bottom line.

Note:

{1} Musings on the Tea Parties in Particular and the Tea Party Movement in General (circa May 30, 2009)

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