Thursday, July 31, 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008

America's Missing Third Leg

Joe Bottum at First Things has taken an ambitious stab at explaining the demise of Protestant America. You can read the article here.

America was Methodist, once upon a time—Methodist, or Baptist, or Presbyterian, or Congregationalist, or Episcopalian. Protestant, in other words.
So begins, and also ends a rather good historical survey attempting to explain the role Protestantism had in unifying and balancing the OTHER two legs of Americanism: democracy and capitalism. Let me say first that anyone who wants to tackle this essay should first start by rereading, for example, 2 Chronicles. Just to gain some perspective. When we start decrying the long decline and fall of a once-robust American institution such as Bottum's Protestantism, it is good to keep in mind the really short time this American experiment has been ongoing compared to, say, the combined reigns of the kings of Judah.
[Jehoram] was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years; and he departed with no one's regret..."
2 Chron. 23
In other words, my only real complaint about the essay is how homocentric it is. I kept thinking that what was missing was the floor, so to speak, upon which the three-legged stool of American stability stands.

"....Generally speaking...Americans tended not to worry much about the philosophical question of religion and nation. The whole theologico-political problem, which obsesses European philosophers, was gnawed at in the United States most by those who were least churched.
We all have to worry about it, now. Without the political theory that depended on the existence of the Protestant Mainline, what does it mean to support the nation? What does it mean to criticize it? The American experiment has always needed what Alexis de Tocaqueville called the undivided current, and now that current has finally run dry."
Bottum rightly points out that "social nature abhors a social vacuum," and goes on to give examples from the past thirty years of manifestations of pseudo-legs; attempts to add back the essential third pillar of balance. Feminism, homosexuality, environmentalism--basic power politics of various groups come to mind. I am not at all sure these can be considered at all equal to the pervasive influence in Ma and Pa America of Protestantism. It is gone--Bottum does a nice job of explaining how and why--but there is no going back.

I guess the question is: is the life of our nation cyclical, something like the life of the nation of Israel during the time of the Judges, for example? Are we on a big national mandella, circling downward toward Bottum (oh, the pun of it all!) only to find that Almighty God in his divine patience and love has redemption awaiting our sorry asses? A Deliverer will arise from amongst the people, called forth by the Almighty, and the people will return to the Lord, en masse.

My wife and I have had an ongoing conversation about church life and generations. The way she tells it, four generations ago was the epitome of church-going, Bible-trusting American life. The next generation wasn't bad, had absorbed the catechisms of their parents, but assumed that their own children would inherit, as it were, the beliefs, doctrines, and practices that they had themselves received firsthand from their parents. In other words, they didn't personally catechize their children, but trusted that the church would do it for them. The generation after that-- relatively uncatechized-- still habitually went to church, but dropped their kids off at Sunday School and went out for coffee. The kids who were dropped off at Sunday School grew up to be parents who didn't even do that. And here we are. It will take some sort of new thing for the people of America to rediscover the buried treasure of scripture, liturgy, worship; the manifold riches of life in Christ.

It is a backhanded kind of compliment for a Catholic magazine (The editor of First Things may dispute this, but there is no avoiding the fact.) to essentially lay at the feet of Protestantism so large and important a role as Bottum does. "Even America's much vaunted religious liberty was essentially a Protestant idea," he writes. I kept looking for some degree of schadenfreud in his argument. The title of the essay is The Death of Protestant America after all. Yet I think he manages to stay above the fray, sufficiently citing historic examples to back his thesis that there was truly an American Protestantism; that it could be identified concretely and said to be hugely influential. Anyone my age who grew up in a small midwestern town, of course, knows he's right. There was Us, and the Catholics, and the small southside Unwashed who amazingly did not attend a church.

The Bottum essay is nonetheless a sort of sad, nostalgic schadenfreud read for anyone orthodox who has watched, fascinated and with mouth agape, at the jaw dropping speed with which Mainstream Protestantism has jettisoned its spiritual heritage. Where once we might have been able to speak of some degree of mere Christianity, now we don't even have a common language anymore. Modern liberal Christians now sound like they've just graduated with a masters degree from the education department of a public university. Read the essay and tell me what you think. It definitely has No Inklings Book Club written all over it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bathroom Reading Bon Mots

Perusing the latest addition to our bathroom library:
I found a few worth passing on:

Two businessmen sitting in their club:
"I feel an intense pride, Robert, that I live in a country rich enough to have war and peace at the same time."

Two guys sitting at a bar:

"Look, Nixon's no dope. If the people really wanted moral leadership, he'd give them moral leadership."

A wife sitting in an Americana living room, speaking to her unhappy husband, who stands looking out the picture window:

"What I don't understand is what ever prompted you to buy a book called 'Being and Nothingness' in the first place."

Intellectuals standing around:
"Even in a think tank, Glebov, nobody likes a smart aleck."

Two men dressed in robes, walking in solemn procession:
"I love to walk in solemn procession."

he wife of a pastor who is standing--aproned--in the kitchen doorway:
"What we are about to receive will be another ten minutes."

A CEO, speaking to a gathering of investors:
"And though in 1969, as in previous years, your company had to contend with spiralling labor costs, exorbitant interest rates, and unconscionable government interference, management was able one more, through a combination of deceptive marketing practices, false advertising, and price fixing, to show a profit which, in all modesty, can only be called excessive."

Real estate agent to a couple:
"Yes the walls are paper thin. But you'll find your neighbor possesses a rapierlike wit, full of amusing double-entendres and profusely studded with literary allusions."

Fu Manchu to one of his generals, the Great Wall of China in the distance:
"That banquet was delicious, and yet, now, somehow, once again I feel the pang of hunger."

Two dogs, having a chat:
"They never pushed me. If I wanted to retrieve, shake hands, or roll over, it was entirely up to me."

A father, lying on the couch reading the paper, to his six year old daughter:
"I know sex is no longer a taboo subject. I just don't feel like discussing it all the time, that's all."

A young woman, lying in bed with a newborn infant, to her mother:
"If you can't trust one of Nader's Raiders, who can you trust?"

Two old judges, leaving a courtroom:
"The way I see it, when you start tempering justice with mercy you've had it!"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008



Now, in the middle of the limpid evening,
The moon speaks clearly to the hill.
The wheatfields make their simple music,
Praise the quiet sky.

And down the road, the way the stars come home,
The cries of children
Play on the empty air, a mile or more,
And fall on our deserted hearing,
Clear as water.

They say the sky is made of glass,
They say the smiling moon’s a bride.
They say they love the orchards and apple trees,
The trees, their innocent sisters, dressed in blossoms,
Still wearing, in the blurring dusk,
White dresses from that morning’s first communion.

And, where blue heaven’s fading fire last shines
They name the new come planets
With words that flower
On little voices, light as stems of lilies.

And where blue heaven’s fading fire last shines,
Reflected in the poplar’s ripple,
One little, wakeful bird
Sings like a shower.

-from Selected Poems of Thomas Merton

The Yucca plant breaks forth

Deb's Yucca thinks it is Springtime in the desert. It has done what it has never done before: burst forth into blossom. Glory.
It is July! Stop and savor it--you'll think back to it in January and wonder if it is real. The uncivilized world is bursting forth--berries ripe in the side and back yards; weeds of a dozen different kinds showing forth in all their finery. I wade in and thin them out of the berry patch, but they seem to know my efforts are silly. Life is very aggressive just now, as though the very creation also knows about its inevitable dormancy. We are at High Noon; the All Star game impends! Certainly there is time, we can stop this thing. We can sit on the deck and savor it; listen gradually to the increasing sound of fifty birds giving song. A nice old Scotch. I try to read something, but the life around me draws me away. No matter the words, they can't compete.

Colin and the Koreans

Son Number One with some of his Korean students, somewhere in a classroom on the edge of Seoul.

Click on image to enlarge.

WILLOW FLET in summer

six months makes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Who would have guessed that the continued carping over global warming and the over-the-top, shrill screeching of politicians and other scientists would eventually lead to the first diagnosis of this:

Climate Change Delusion

The story is here.
A snippet:
"The patient had also developed the belief that, due to climate change, his own water consumption could lead within days to the deaths of millions of people through exhaustion of water supplies."
This belief, of course, contrasts sharply with this:

Here is Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday, with his own apocalyptic vision: "If we do not begin reducing the nation's levels of carbon pollution, Australia's economy will face more frequent and severe droughts, less water, reduced food production and devastation of areas such as the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu wetlands."
At least the Prime Minister is still taking water.

What is of course de rigeur about the whole thing is the PM's answer: take lots of money from Australians. Government's answer to all ills.

There is one more catchy snippet in the story. Although unsubstantiated, I..I can't help myself! I've gotta quote it.

In some countries they're even planning to tax farting cows, so there's no end to the ways you can be stung.

That's right. Now you can be stung by a taxed, farting cow.

Monday, July 7, 2008


When my oldest son was doing undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin,he would often marvel at the disconnect between the liberal-to-silliness of many aging faculty and what he perceived as a very-much -less political student body. The irony is rich, because one of the driving assumptions of these leftists has been that the NEXT generation would, with their guidance, get it right. Or, get it left.

Today's Wisconsin State Journal has a long article concerning now the new generation of faculty. 54 percent of full-time faculty members were older than 50 in 05! What sort of people are starting to replace them?

According to studies done by--well, professors--at George Mason University and the University of British Columbia (cited in the WSJ article):
"Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960's."
The article says that the youngest group, ages 26-35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals.

Now, consider those who consider themselves "liberal activists". The comparison of the oldest group with professors 35 and younger is 17.2 percent with 1.2 percent!

Ah, moderation. Let's not get too excited. In fact, there is a possibility that the "liberal activists'" preaching may have had a more dramatic opposite effect on unconvinced students than a sort of drippy moderation would have.

Still, it is hard to sustain the revolution when the times are so good. An example of the formative experiences of an aging UW professor includes: a father who was a Socialist; organizing support for a black voter-registration drive; taking a bus to Washington to protest the war in Vietnam; agitating against Nixon and the invasion of Cambodia in 1970. As one aging lib puts it, " the late 60's and 70's, the Marxist impulse was central for those interested in social justice. Now, it resides at the margins." Younger faculty have other issues. When a woman sociology professor, aged 34 "...speaks of added pressures on her generation, she talks about being pregnant or taking care of her 17-month-old while trying to earn tenure."

What does all of this mean? The law of averages indicates that there ought to be sometime soon a shift to the right--whatever that means--in our cultural dialogue. Because the universities are the training ground for our intellectuals and cultural movers and shakers, a rightward trend toward moderation should eventually mean a more conservative national conversation about all things, from art to families to abortion; from a to z. What I expect to see is this-- and I think it is starting to take place: the polarization of the 60's and 70's, where labels were set in stone and lines were clearly drawn, will give way to a homogenization of the experiences and lessons both sides have undergone, creating some sort of new paradigm in the way we think and interact. We'll have, for example, crunchy conservatives, whoever they are...


Hex inch, hex metric, ball hex
torx plus, security torx
square drive
pozi drive
precision tech, chip lifters, microbits, softfinish bits
insulated electrician's
nut drivers


And Phillips, of course. #1, #2, #3. When in doubt, carry a #2.

Wired has an article about the invention of the Phillips screwdriver here.

It used to be so simple. Just grab the right sized slotted screwdriver and you're in! Now we groan when we see a slotted screw. For many furniture makers, the square drive is the cat's meow--positive drive, minimal slippage. When it was first introduced, lots of guys didn't want to use it--you never could find a driver when on the job site. The Phillips has always been a good one, but one tends to power-spin the driver when the going gets tough. I've drilled out and extracted more chewed up Phillips screws than I care to count, or carefully, slowly dragged them out centimeter by centimeter, carefully keeping the driver seated. One of the joys of the trade.

Major League Ballparks Tally

Never visit The Mall of America
Meet all three wives of the famous Preuss Brothers
Visit every major league ballpark
Sleep on a white sand beach with my wife.

All right. I'm well on my way. I've got #1 nailed so far, but life is long, and it is a winding road.
I am two-thirds toward goal #2, having met Klem's wife last week, and being an acquaintance of Rolf and Dort. That leaves the lovely spouse of Daniel Preuss yet to cast mine eyes upon, etc. etc.

The ball parks thing is of course a worthy goal. I visited Busch Stadium last week while in St. Louis for a conference. Troy Glaus hit a walk-off home run as the Cards beat the Mets. I went alone, meaning I was able to scalp a coveted second-row seat in left field. No scalper wants to be stuck with a single seat. I mean, who goes to ball games alone?

I do.

Here's my list so far:

Milwaukee County Stadium
Miller Park, Milwaukee
The stadium once known as Comiskey Park in Chicago
Wrigley Field in Chicago
Jacob's Field in Cleveland
The old Turner Field in Atlanta
The old Jack Murphy field in San Diego
JFK Stadium in Washington D.C.
Busch Stadium last week

I plan to catch a Rockies game when in Denver in early August.

Yes, there is a way to go, I know. But life is long and winding.
Oh. That last one? We're finally, finally headed to the Yucutan peninsula in September. I plan on snoozing, avec spouse, on a white sand beach somewhere.