Friday, April 28, 2006

"Oh, Those Well-Educated Princeton Students" Dept

Over at ATB, Jeremyyakovka posted a comment in which he parenthetically said of James Burnham, "I keep hearing his name. The New Criterion published an appreciation of him a few years ago: he delivered a valedictory address at Princeton -- in Latin!" Clearly Jeremy was impressed.

Clearly Jeremy doesn't know Princeton.

So I enlightened him:


Never be too impressed because you hear that someone has delivered a valedictory address in Latin at Princeton, for two reasons.

1. It's the salutatorian's speech that's given in Latin, not the valedictorian's. Though to be the salutatorian at Princeton is, I grant you, intrinsically impressive.

2. Every salutatorian gives his speech in Latin, including those who don't know Latin -- which is most of them. (A fellow classics major gave the salutatorian's speech my senior year, and it was a hilarious piece of work, but only myself and the other six or seven classics majors knew how funny it was.) The vast majority of Princeton graduates are unable to read their own diplomas. Yet the salutatorian's speech must, by tradition, be given in Latin.

So the salutatorian (when he isn't a classics major) writes his speech in English and takes it to the classics professors, who translate it for him.

It's still a very impressive sight for the parents, though. When your kid is graduating from Princeton, you take your seat in the bleachers with your program, and the music starts playing, and the graduates including your kid march in and sit down. And then you get to the one line in your program that says, "Salutatorian's speech," and you're blown away by how smart these kids are -- because the salutatorian stands up and gives this speech in Latin, much to the enjoyment and amusement of all those well-educated Princeton students, who laugh at the jokes and cheer at the parts that talk about how smart they all are or whatever the hell it is the salutatorian is saying, not that you have a clue because you, not having a Princeton education yourself, can't understand Latin.

What you don't know is that the graduates' programs are not like yours. Where your program says, "Salutatorian's speech," their program has the entire speech written out word for word. With footnotes. Footnotes that say things like, "Laugh here," and, "Cheer here..."

[grinning] When I think of Princeton -- which I have visited exactly once since I walked gratefully off of its grounds back on June 6 of 1989 -- that seems (unfairly, I know) to pretty much sum up the pretentiousness of the institution...and the degree to which the pretentiousness seemed to me unjustified. Though I have to say that the classics department rocked; so at least the six or seven of us in that major got good educations.

"Picture Caption Contest Du Jour" Dept

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

Come up with a caption for this picture...

...that's better than The Manolo's. (Really, don't follow that link until you've taken a shot at doing your own caption.)

If you come up with a better one than the Manolo's, then you win my respect and admiration plus I'll repost it with your caption.

Hat Tip: Obi's Sister

My evolving position on immigration

Still very much a work in progress, but here’s where I’d start if we’re talking concrete steps.

1. I would throw out all restrictions on immigration whose purpose was economic protectionism. If programmers from India can come here and do my job as well as I can, and charge my fellow Americans less money then I’m charging them, then that means I’m overcharging my fellow Americans; and to the extent that the American government uses guns and border patrol agents to keep my competitors from coming here at all, the INS is complicit in my exploitation of my fellow Americans’ needs. I would significantly expedite the immigration process for low-security-risk immigrants (into which category would fall, say, college-educated Dutchmen, or poor Mexicans, or even Kazakh Muslims, but certainly not Syrian Muslims). I would significantly increase the difficulty of immigrating from high-risk areas such as Saudi Arabia, and (as will be seen) I would impose ideological conditions (to be described in more detail later) to entry into the country.

2. I would build a fence (obviously meaning something much more significant than chain-link) along the border to put a major crimp in illegal immigration. The people who say it can’t be done have got to be joking; they are talking about a country that even with only the technology that was available half a century ago, built the interstate highway system. To say the fence can’t be built is to insult the intelligence of the people you’re talking to. We don’t have to have a 100% success rate; we just have to stop the wholesale, unimpeded flow.

3. I would start the process of amending the Constitution so that being born in the United States got you automatic citizenship only if your mother was here illegally legally [oops! thanks, Jim], and I would grandfather this exclusion to everybody who was less than 18 at the time of passage.

4. I would immediately rule that immigrants (yes, I mean legal ones) were excluded from taxes aimed at all non-essential government services (non-essential government services being defined as anything other than protection from violence and fraud), but also excluded from all non-essential government services – all transfer payments, public schools, etc. -- unless they chose to pay an out-of-pocket fee to offset the taxpayer cost. (I confess that I have an ulterior motive here: this would be treating the illegals way better than the citizens, because most government “services” are really crappy deals and crappy services that, if you have any sense, you would opt out of like a shot if given the opportunity. Thus I figure one of the consequences of excluding illegals from services – but also from the cost of services – would be to create significant pressure to give citizens the same opt-out ability, which I would absolutely love. Furthermore, it would force a clear distinction between taxes collected for essential services and those collected for non-essential services, which would also have the domestic benefit of making it obvious just what a terrible deal for the American taxpayer are most things the government does.)

5. I would rule that anybody with a record of violent criminal activity is permanently ineligible for entry into the United States, and that any foreign citizen who committed a violent crime within our borders would first serve all criminal penalties and then would be immediately and permanently deported.

6. I would announce that anybody who was caught in the United States illegally would be deported and would be ineligible for reentry for a period of five years, this provision to become effective six months from the date at which the streamlined immigration process went into effect (though there would be an appeals process for extraordinary humanitarian circumstances). There would be no amnesty of any kind, and if you were already here then you would have to go home and get back in line.

7. Entry into the United States would be contingent upon your having read, understood and sworn to abide by a short set of guiding principles considered to capture the American social compact. (For example, any Muslim wishing to enter the United States would have to forswear jihad and swear to take no action within our borders intended to establish rule of sharia; for another, you would have to swear your rejection to the tribalistic premise that special rights are possessed by certain races, particularly “la Raza.”)

8. If you were going to stay in the country for an extended period of time, you would be required to show progress in acquisition of basic competency in English.

9. Once the streamlined immigration process was in place, I would set about calmly reducing the number of illegal immigrants resident in the country by proactive catch-and-deport – no big hurry, maybe forty or fifty thousand a year.

In other words, I want a very high fence, a very big gate, and nothing that even hints at saying, “Ah, well, if you can get away with breaking our laws long enough then we’ll let you stay.” It’s a heckuva stupid country that makes it near-impossible for law-abiding persons to get in but rewards law-breaking on a grand scale.

That’ll do for a start. I am certainly open to arguments that some or all of these suggestions are ill-conceived, as the problem of illegal immigration is something to which I have only recently begun to consider seriously.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

"If Only She Were Trilingual" Dept

I like this one.

You heard it here first

The only problem with working in a coffee shop – which is, until such time as they make waterproof laptops and I install a desk in the shower, the place at which I consistently achieve my highest productivity – is that every so often people decide to have meetings there. Four or five people, highly confidential information, much criticism of other people not in the room – and they appear to believe that all the rest of us are deaf. You don’t want to eavesdrop but unless you have headphones and head-banging music that you can crank up and drown them out (various Tchaikovsky pieces count as excellently head-banging for present purposes), they don’t give you any choice; they impose their confidences upon you.

At any rate, for the past week I’ve gotten in the habit of getting up early and going to a coffee shop to work for awhile on the backlog items that don’t require talking to people and that don’t get done easily while I’m at work because people keep coming up and talking to me. And this morning six ladies settled down at the table next to me and started talking about everything that needed to be fixed at the Catholic school to which they all apparently send their children. I’m glad they care, but I was finding out more than I wanted to know about which teachers they thought were hopelessly incompetent and how the daughter of the lady in yellow had “politely” told a teacher that she was a bad teacher and the teacher had inexplicably been unhappy about that...yikes. (Those of you who deal with teenaged girls: wouldn’t you love to be told by a fifteen-year-old girl that you are no good at your job in a manner that said fifteen-year-old girl considers “polite”?)

So I decided to crank up the sound barrier. But before I could dig the headphones out of my laptop bag, one of them complained about one teacher’s policy of “when your homework’s due, it’s due, and if you forgot it in the locker you get a zero and no makeup opportunities will be presented.” Now, I remember this policy from when I was myself in school back in the Dark Ages (though I also remember that there was perhaps a tenth as much homework as my kids seem to be saddled with). It had always struck me as on the stringent end of the spectrum, certainly, but hardly abnormal. But suddenly I realized something, and I am hereby going to make a you-heard-it-here-first prediction:

Within the next five years somebody is going to sue a school district for sexual discrimination because some teacher has exactly this policy, on the grounds that it discriminates unfairly against boys.

I think it’s inevitable. If I didn’t have deep moral objections to most litigation, I’d go find a lawyer and say, “Hey, I have an idea that’s gonna make you a ton of money if you get there first, and I’ll tell you what that idea is if you sign a contract guaranteeing me a 1% cut of your gross take from lawsuits of this type.” It has suddenly sunk in on large sections of our society that our educational system is predominantly run by, and its processes predominantly designed by, people who think boys are jerks and should be a lot more like know, the kind of people who think incentives based on competition are bad because they hurt the losers’ self-esteem, etc. I think this is fairly obvious to anybody who knows and likes boys and appreciates the ways in which they are different from girls. Furthermore, the empirical evidence that boys are served by our educational system even worse than are girls, is rapidly getting past the point where it can be at all easily refuted, especially in front of a jury that doesn’t understand ways in which statistics can be deceptive.

Now one of those differences, and one that I don’t think an intelligent lawyer would have any problem establishing to a stupid jury’s satisfaction, is that girls are generally speaking better at the sorts of organizational skills that have nothing to do with actually knowing the subject matter but have everything to do with remembering where you stuck your homework when you finished it last night. It will, I think, be trivial for a lawyer to show that a policy like the one that that mom described will have a disproportionately negative impact on boys. I myself don’t think that’s a reason to sue anybody (when the boys grow up and they show up for work without that presentation the boss wanted, saying, “I left it at home,” will not fly), but in a society that thinks Title IX is a great piece of legislation, clearly I’m deeply in the minority in that view.

Somebody’s gonna sue, and it’s gonna be a slam dunk, and five years from now public schools will have all had to start wrestling with how to devise homework policies that do not “unfairly” discriminate against boys. And good luck coming up with a policy that will keep the boys’ lawyers happy and won’t get you sued by the girls’ lawyers.

You heard it here first.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"The Power of Old People" Dept

A video with a moral (the moral being "Don't mess with old folks"), courtesy of my friend Roy.

I am irresistibly reminded of the instant-classic line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding: "Well, I think if I had just survived an old-lady ass-kicking..."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Somebody else who can tell that Elaine Pagels is a fraud...

...can be found doing a brief but devastating little number on her here. Best quote:

I am not calling for academic sanctions but, more simply, for clarification. Pagels should be billed accurately -- not as an expert on Gnosticism or Coptic Christianity but as what she is: a lady novelist. Her oeuvre is that of fiction -- in fact, historical romance.
Her scholarship is actually much worse than Fr. Mankowski presents it. Just complete crapola. If she hadn't written The Gnostic Gospels, and I had, and I had turned it in to the Princeton classics department as my senior thesis, they would have absolutely crucified me. But the Princeton Department of Religious Studies gave her tenure...then again, Harvard's Department of Religion hired John Shelby Spong as a professor, Spong being the guy who (if memory serves) once issued an opinion about Neanderthal customs and cited as his authoritative source The Clan of the Cave Bear. If what you want is serious professional standards, an American Department of Religion is not the place to look.

Spot on

Ann Coulter, like Molly Ivins, is often funny though always savagely vicious to those with whom she disagrees. Neither one ever writes a column that doesn't make me roll my eyes, and I wouldn't want my kids to spend time with either of them lest my kids become like them, but each occasionally makes me snort in my coffee. On very rare occasions, however, one or the other of them will make a point with which I actually agree. I think I've expressed admiration for Molly once on this blog (actually, looking that up I'm forcibly reminded of why Michelle Malkin is another person I don't encourage my children to read), and I've quoted a couple of Coulter's funnier zingers; but I do believe that this is the first time I find myself linking to Ann and saying, "Hey, setting aside the inflammatory phrasing, she's absolutely right about her main point here."

Ann doesn't make it easy to permalink; so (a) I don't know how long that link will hold up, and (b) I'm going to quote more extensively than usual in order to try to keep the comment comprehensible when the link inevitably dies.

However the Duke lacrosse rape case turns out, one lesson that absolutely will not be learned is this: You can severely reduce your chances of having a false accusation of rape leveled against you if you don't hire strange women to come to your house and take their clothes off for money.

Also, you can severely reduce your chances of being raped if you do not go to strange men's houses and take your clothes off for money. (Does anyone else detect a common thread here?)

And if you are a girl in Aruba or New York City, among the best ways to avoid being the victim of a horrible crime is to not get drunk in public or go off in a car with men you just met. While we're on the subject of things every 5-year-old should know, I also recommend against dousing yourself in gasoline and striking a match.


It shouldn't be necessary to point out that girls shouldn't be bar-hopping alone or taking their clothes off in front of strangers, and that young men shouldn't be hiring strippers. But we live in a world of Bill Clinton, Paris Hilton, Howard Stern, Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman," Democratic fund-raisers at the Playboy Mansion and tax deductions for entertaining clients at strip clubs. [And I would imagine that Molly could give you a matching list of Republican immorality as well, like the brilliant political cartoon from years back in which four women labelled respectively "The First Mrs. Ronald Reagan," "The First Mrs. [other Republican bigshot of the time, can't remember whom]," etc., are all standing under a big banner proclaiming "Republican Family Values." -- Peril]


In no area except morality would a sane person believe he can't criticize something stupid because he's done it. How about: If you've ever forgotten to fill up your car and run out of gas, you must forevermore defend a person's right to ignore the gas gauge. Or if you've ever forgotten to wear a coat in cold weather and caught a cold, henceforth you are obliged to encourage others not to dress appropriately in the winter.

This deep-seated societal fear of being accused of "hypocrisy" applies only to behavior touching on morals.

I disagree with only one point in the above: I would question the sanity of anybody who believes that nonsense when it comes to morality, too.

Hypocricy is not saying that something is immoral even though you've done it yourself. Hypocricy is saying something is immoral and claiming you don't do it yourself, when in fact you secretly do. This would seem obvious, but Americans are master at missing the obvious, whenever missing the obvious makes it easier for them to excuse their own self-indulgent behavior.

At any rate, as I've tried over and over to make clear to the kids, doing something stupid doesn't make you deserve to be falsely accused -- but life is not about what you deserve, and doing something stupid quite possibly can get you slandered. Doing something stupid doesn't make you deserve to get raped -- but a stupid, slutty, sloppy-drunk, coked-up girl is a heckuva lot more likely to get raped than an intelligent, chaste, sober, drug-free girl, especially when there are lots of horny, amoral, sloppy-drunk male undergraduates in the vicinity. (You can get as upset with me as you want to get for my "judgmentalism" or whatever judgmentally condemnatory epither comes readily to your hand, but it won't change the fact that what I have just said is true, or the fact that if my daughter understands it and you don't bother to make sure your daughter does, you're a heckuva lot more likely than I am to get a devastating phone call late at night sometime during our respective daughters' first couple of years in college.)

And being stupid doesn't make you deserve to die. But it can sho 'nuff getcha killed.

So get a clue and don't be stupid, eh?

TMQ returns to ESPN

This (scroll down to "Time Heals All Wounds") actually rather saddens me -- I had gained so much respect for, and lost so much for, over the Easterbrook thing, that it's a bummer to see ESPN getting Gregg back.

But I presume he is being handsomely compensated; so that's a good thing, at least.

Monday, April 24, 2006

"Metaphor Hash for the Morning" Dept

John C. Roper of the Houston Chronicle finds that one metaphor is just not enough when it comes to Ken Lay's trial:

As he takes the stand for the first time today, Ken Lay faces a mental minefield in which one wrong word or phrase could kick open the gates to a river of possibly damning evidence for prosecutors to use against him.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Two low-budget reviews

1. For husbands looking to meet your relationship-by-chick-flick annual quota with a minimum of boredom and no Richard Gere whatsoever, I highly recommend Failure to Launch. First-rate dialogue in the script -- very funny stuff, actually, each gag honed to a fine point and perfect expression. A plot that is not predictable and in particular isn't the man-slamfest you'd expect from the first five minutes. Fine acting all around except for Sarah Jessica Parker who does about as good an acting job as she ordinarily does but fortunately the rest of this movie is good enough that marginal competence in the female lead is actually all that's necessary. (Sarah Michelle Gellar would have been much better, I think; perhaps the secretary just committed an unfortunate typo on the casting calls.) Zooey Deschanel cracks me up even more here than she did in the much more uneven Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy; she reminds me of a rather more oddball Janeane Garofalo from back when Garofalo was funny, and has just gotten promoted to if-she's-in-a-movie-I'll-probably-go-see-it status. (If you've seen Winter Passing, drop me a line and let me know whether it's worth the rental.) Of course Kathy Bates is good, but surprisingly so is Terry Bradshaw.

Just a word of warning: when the McConaghey character goes back to visit his parents for the first time, cover your eyes, and do not uncover them until you hear Kathy Bates's voice again. Let's just say that nobody gave Dessie and me adequate warning, and when the scene ended Dessie leaned over to me and said, "Terry Bradshaw must be a very secure man."

2. For the first time since Keen Eddie went off the air there's a television series I think is worth watching (I mean a drama series, as opposed to something like The Colbert Report). SciFi's new Doctor Who has won me over completely -- and (as my Stargate-addicted family can ruefully attest), scifi television dramas pretty much leave me wondering why, in a world full of interesting things to do, anybody would pony up one of their valuable hours and spend it on a scifi television drama. Of course, what this probably means is that if you ordinarily like scifi television dramas, then you probably won't like Doctor Who... But my family seem to like it; so I'll let the recommendation stand.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"Helpful Computer Warnings" Dept

More from Murley:

First, an oldie but a goodie, which probably won't seem funny to my children because they're too young to remember thirty-reboots-per-day Windows 95 or 97 or whatever it was back in the Dark Ages.

Then a couple that will warm the heart of every fellow IT guy who's ever had to man a help desk. Not me, of course, because all my users are very intelligent and would all agree that BP should continue to renew my contract regularly; but other people's, those people are d-u-m-b.

If you have a tolerance for non-Baptist language and you thought those last two were amusing, then you should absolutely check out what is, IMHO, one of the better point-counterpoint debates The Onion has staged, assuming you've been a consultant enough not to mind the language. But my children are forbidden to follow that link.

Now this last one I would think is just silly...except that, well, there's a certain company I used to work for that spectacularly lost control of their development process; and while I no longer work for that company I still occasionally have to help users figure out how to use their software. Which, for one particular piece of software, is a real challenge since the Russian math genius who designed and wrote that software left the company without leaving any documentation behind, and they don't have anybody left who both can read C code and also has enough math background to figure out what he was will be shocked to hear that I do not miss working for that company (though I miss my old boss, a very nice and smart guy who for years ran a successful company I enjoyed working for, right up until the bigger company bought him out and took over the departments of development management and of sales ethics)...

"The Late Harvey Baumgartner" Dept

Elizabeth Murley passes on this mournful tale:

The Baumgartners are getting ready for bed. Gladys is standing in front of her full-length mirror, taking a long, hard look at herself. "You know, Harvey," she comments. "I stare into this mirror and I see an ancient creature. My face is all wrinkled, my boobs sag so much that they dangle to my waist, my arms and legs are as flabby as popped balloons, butt looks like a sad, deflated version of the Hindenberg!"

She turns to face her husband and says, "Dear, please tell me just one positive thing about my body so I can feel better about myself."

Harvey studies Gladys critically for a moment and then says in a soft, thoughtful voice, "Well, dear...there's nothing wrong with your eyesight..."

"Good Thing Her Face Is Small" Dept

If you're wondering, "Why is this funny?" then ask yourself how many motorcycle helmets you've seen in your life that had a bigger hole for the face than they had for the neck...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Just another day in the Pierce household...

Yesterday morning, two minutes before the bus arrives, Merry (my ten-year-old blonde) informs me that her foot hurts. I inspect her foot and discover no less than four quite large splinters deeply embedded in her second toe, which splinters she informs me she picked up the previous evening while washing the car, "but they only started hurting a minute ago." So, resigning myself to the fact that she is now going to miss the bus and therefore I am going to have to take her to school myself and that is going to make me late to work...I go find tweezers. But the splinters are in way too deep; so I go to the next level: out comes the needle. Merry is not ordinarily one to suffer in silence, or indeed to allow any possible drama to fail to be extracted from a situation; but I do my best to be as gentle as possible, and in return she grits her teeth and all in all does pretty well...except for when, in the middle of particularly stubborn Splinter Number Three, she asks me plaintively, "Daddy, are you sure it's legal to stick needles in little girls' toes?"

The day had started in rather dramatic fashion already, as the previous day our air conditioning had gone dead, and by mid-April Houston is already hot and humid by ordinary standards (though in Houston, mid-80's means that summer's definitely still a ways in the future). So I had kids scattered all over the house trying to find any place where they could get a cross breeze. I get up in the morning and walk past Anya and Kinya's room, and there is fourteen-year-old Kinya -- who, to her father's great inconvenience, given that we live in a neighborhood with a superfluity of fourteen-year-old boys, is a hottie even when the air conditioning is fully operational -- lying sprawled on her bed with both of their double bedroom doors wide open. She has kicked the sheet off in her sleep and her T-shirt has ridden well up her midriff and her unmentionables are not exactly boxers or bloomers and Sean and Kegan are about to be wandering back and forth past her bedroom; so I tiptoe in and do my best to restore some decorum without waking her up (since she still has half an hour to sleep). I tiptoe back out thinking to myself, "Well, THAT'S a different way to start the day."

Forty minutes later the older kids' bus leaves; so I go to wake up Rusty. I turn his bedroom doorknob, I swing open the door -- and there's a full moon shinin', baby.

So in the end I found myself grateful that Kinya was, all things considered, actually relatively modest...

"It's Not Just the Colbert Report" Dept

You can never make too much fun of Bill O'Reilly, it seems to me...

My kids need to follow this link...

...because what teenagers have heard their parents say ten times, they usually believe only after they've heard somebody else say it too: you conform to those with whom you spend your time whether you mean to or not; so pick your friends carefully because in choosing your friends you are choosing your future self.

Later this evening I'll explain how this post ties into recent musings on Hope, since Joy is the characteristic fruit of Hope, and what Kathy seems to mean by "happy" is what I would characterize as "Joyful."

I'm so sorry

The brother-in-law of Iraq the Model has been murdered. He leaves a wife and two small sons. He had no political affiliations; he had turned his back on a promising career in the West to come back and help rebuild his country; and he was murdered while opening a clinic whose purpose was to offer essential services to the poor who could not afford ordinary medical treatment.

If you do nothing else today, please go leave a brief message of sympathy in ITM's comments.

Monday, April 17, 2006

If you have time to talk about me...

...then doesn't it seem like you have too much time on your hands? (To be fair, they didn't talk about me for very long so there is still hope that they are leading productive lives...)

At any rate, my friend Deepak said something about how I had somebody from Africa reading my blog. When I asked how he knew this, he proceeded to show me that this SiteMeter thing that I added to the blog a long time ago and hadn't paid any attention to since, actually will show you all kinds of interesting (albeit useless) stats about your site visitors. So I've had fun over the weekend playing with it a bit.

At any rate, if somebody comes to the blog because they clicked on a link someplace else, you can follow back to where they came from. So, I saw a reference to a blog I didn't recognize, thought "Huh?" and followed the link...and discovered myself to be the topic of a conversation that said basically, "Yeah, I thought this guy was pretty smart but then I figured out that he's actually an idiot." Very interesting experience.

What I'm particularly interested in is the statement, "Yeah, his site is pretty scary." I don't really think I was supposed to start laughing, but...scary? Maybe it was the picture of caged Serbian women...

And why do I get the feeling that, "He is almost definitely the smartest evangelical I have ever communicated with," is not really all that much of a compliment? [grinning]

A second try on the Easter meditation

Over at the ATB comment thread where my previous post is under discussion: the Guest made a couple of comments about God's "eternal suffering," Michael asked what that meant, and in the process of trying to explain what I understand the Guest to have meant I finally said what I spent the previous post trying, and largely failing, to say:

...And that is the point I tried but really failed, I think, to make effectively [in my incoherent meditation]. One of the deepest meanings of Easter is that humiliation that springs from love becomes something intrinsically glorious; that the Passion and the Resurrection are both eternally present to God because they are eternally a single act, and that God Himself rejoices in the humiliation -- even while it remains awful -- because He rejoices in the glory and love of the act as a whole. Christian Hope is that theological virtue (i.e., a virtue that would be difficult to deduce from ordinary unaided natural reflection on morality) that says that a Christian who is suffering does not simply grit his teeth and "hope" that this will all be over eventually. The theological virtue of Hope says, "In my suffering, right now, God is doing something glorious, and so long as I do not in the end reject His grace I will one day look back at this suffering and rejoice that it befell me; there will be a time when I look back and understand what God was really doing. When that time comes I will realize that I would not trade this suffering for all the pearls in the sea -- and therefore I choose right now to rejoice in God's grace, even before I can see the glory -- for I know, by Faith and Hope, that the glory is there." The virtue of Hope, allied with Faith, is what makes it possible to obey Paul's injunction to "rejoice always," that makes it possible seriously to "in everything give thanks," that caused the Apostles in all sincerity to rejoice that they had been counted worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ. God's humiliation is, as the Guest says, eternally present to Him -- and He eternally rejoices in it, not as a sadomasochist, and not as one who has forgotten how much it hurt or who likes pain for its own sake, but as One to Whom the whole act of Easter is eternally whole, eternally glorious, and eternally a fount of joy. For His humiliation on the Cross is the point at which His Love reached its most glorious level of expression. "Greater love hath no man than this..." What Christians call "Hope" is the echo, in our own temporally bound experience, of this eternal rejoicing of God in every moment of His act, including Gethsemane and Calvary just as much as Easter morn.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

An incoherent mediation on Easter

UPDATE: The Guest (referred to in the body of this post) does much clarifying (surely nobody is surprised that he found it "a bit hard to recognize myself in your essay") here and here. I forbid you to read this post without reading the Guest's response, and I mean that quite seriously.

UPDATE: And I finally came close to saying what I wanted, in WAY fewer words, here. Probably you might as well skip this groping and incoherent post and get the distilled version.


The thing about Easter is that Gethsemane is part and parcel of it. The New Testament ties Christ’s glory directly to His suffering...and then it goes on to tie our glory to suffering.

...he humbled himself and became obedient, even to death on a cross. For this reason God has exalted him and given him the name that is above every name...

...I consider that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us... ...continue reading...

...we will share in his glory, if so be that we share in his sufferings...

...I fill up in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ...

...they rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ...

I have a Jewish friend whose value is above rubies; he has a deeper and more sympathetic understanding of Christianity than I can ever hope to have of Judaism, along with a generosity of spirit and humility that I find admirable in the highest degree. It is fascinating to me to see how the teachings of Christianity are reflected in the prism of my friend’s emotional reactions, which of course are quite different from my own in many respects – under ordinary circumstances the emotional reactions you get from non-Christians have actually very little to do with Christian doctrine because they are usually emotional reactions to something that your non-Christian friend thinks is Christian doctrine but in fact is not. To know a person of high character and good will who is not a Christian but whose emotional reactions to Christian doctrine are genuinely reactions to the actual doctrines themselves...well, if you are yourself a Christian then I hope that in your life you find even a single such friend, so that you can see yourself and religion from the outside, with both clarity and charity.

My friend (the “Guest at the Feast”) and I both comment frequently over at Alexandra von Maltzen’s salon of a blog, and some time ago he said in passing something along the lines of how he thought God was merciful enough not to require "the awful sacrifice of himself," or "the abhorrent sacrifice of himself," or something along those lines -- I don't remember the exact words but clearly the Guest feels revulsion toward the idea of the crucifixion as sacrifical atonement. I started to write up a refutation but refutation doesn’t often do either party much good and instead I decided to live, if I could, in his emotions for a while, to try to bring into focus what was the emotional disagreement rather than the factual one. Of course I doubt I really felt what my friend felt, but I could at least do him the honor of trying.

(Let me emphasize here that this is the first the Guest has heard about this -- I have a long list of things I'd love to hear the Guest talk about and this was pretty far down the list, and I hadn't gotten around to raising this particular subject with him. So you certainly ought not hold the Guest responsible for the feelings I attribute to him; they are the product of my imagination and probably he doesn't really feel that way at all. His casual remark was my point de depart, that's all; and this meditation is about Easter and suffering and hope, not really about the Guest.)

As I settled in, I found my thoughts running in familiar channels, for of course this is hardly the first time a non-Christian friend has expressed the opinion that the God of Christianity is an insufficiently merciful God, as a truly merciful God would not exact such a horrific revenge before agreeing to overlook sin. I have never known how to communicate effectively that the Christian God is simply a more extreme God than the God my non-Christian friends seem to imagine. The God of Christianity (biblical Christianity, I mean, not Jack Spong’s God of Ultimate Political Correctness) is a terrible, terrifying God: He is a God Who wipes out practically the whole human race at a stroke in a flood, Who swallows the evil in earthquakes, Who orders the Israelites to commit genocide because of the detestable practices of the doomed culture, Who strikes a man dead simply because he puts his hand on the Ark of the Covenant to steady it or simply because he claims to be donating the entire price of a field when he’s only donating most of it, Who curses the entire human race for the choices of a single man and a single woman, Whose Angel of Death kills the firstborn of all Egypt, Who rains fire and brimstone upon Sodom, Who hands His own people over to conquest and oppression because they defy His Law, Whose holiness is so intolerable that even Moses and Elijah must hide their faces from His glory lest they be consumed, and that Isaiah finds that a burning coal on his theretofore unclean lips is less torment than the sight of the Lord, the King of Glory. The Guest, as well as most of my casually semi-religious Gentile friends who say things like “I believe in the New Testament God of love, not the Old Testament God of wrath,” seems to me not so much to underestimate how evil the human race is, as to underestimate how blazing and all-consuming is God’s holiness – and that His holiness is intrinsic to His nature and not something He can choose to set aside. The Passion and the Atonement make no sense unless you see that God Himself faced an intolerable dilemma because He cannot choose to be other than He is; and His holiness (for reasons beyond my understanding) requires atonement on the scale of His holiness; any atonement we could offer falls as far short of the atonement His holiness requires as our own holiness falls below His. Our God is a consuming fire, and dreadful it is to fall into His hands.

Yet, as even those with only a passing acquaintance of Christianity know, our faith says that His love blazes as intolerably hot as His holiness. If God were not so holy, then He would have no dilemma; he could be merciful in the sense that so many of my non-Christian friends think He should be: he could simply say, “I love you so I’m going to overlook the sin.” But...would it help for me to say that His holiness consumes us not because He chooses to consume us but because we simply cannot tolerate it? “The gates of Hell,” says (I think) Charles Williams, “are locked on the inside.” The sun might as well try to choose to allow us to live on its surface.

And if God did not love us so, then there would also be no dilemma; He could simply discard us. But He is that holy, and He does love us that much; and so God Himself makes the atonement and makes of Himself the bridge. But my point is that what my non-Christian friends see as a God who loves less than they think he ought (why would a loving God insist upon such unnecessary suffering?), is really a God who is holier than they can begin to imagine. He loves more, not less, than they think is necessary; but He is holier than they even begin to suspect.

Well, that was the refutation I would have written. But I was trying to feel, not refute; and so I tried to set that aside and simply feel. And when I did, what I found in my heart was – as emotions are wont to be for me – hard to express. But I think it is something like this:

I did find the sacrifice horrible, and yet at the same time I found it beautiful. But my friend does not, I think, find anything about it even remotely beautiful, only repulsive. I suddenly remembered Christopher Hitchens’s opinion that The Passion of the Christ was one long sadofest, and I remembered how if you start talking about how suffering can be a good thing the ordinary American agnostic (though not, I think, my friend the Guest) will instantly think, “sadomasochism.” Or else you try to say that suffering can be a good thing and they think you are downplaying the suffering, as if somehow you thought the suffering wasn’t really all that bad.

But the revolutionary force of Easter is not just that the suffering is turned to glory. It’s certainly nice to be told, when you’re in pain, “It’s all going to turn out okay” – at least if the person who tells you is someone you can believe. “I hope so,” we say; and if we have a passing familiarity with Christian doctrine or the New Testament we remind ourselves that hope is one of the three Theological Virtues. But how can I explain that Christian “hope” is something very much deeper than the mere crossing our fingers and hoping things will get better? Easter doesn’t just say that suffering ends in glory. It says that suffering is itself part of the glory; it is the very seed and embryo of the glory; and without the suffering the glory is never born. Easter cannot be separated from Gethsemane. We say, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and that is true, but it is only a minor variation on the great central theme running throughout the Great Symphony. The drops of blood that fell in Gethsamane or that ran down Jesus’ brow to fall at the foot of the cross, were the seed of the Resurrection.

Dorothy Sayers has said – quite truthfully, in my experience – that you can tell the people who genuinely love Dante simply by asking them what is their favorite part of The Divine Comedy. In fact let me quote the first paragraph of her introduction to the Purgatorio:

Of the three books of the Commedia, the Purgatorio is, for English readers, the least known, the least quoted – and the most beloved. It forms, as it were, a test case. Persons who pontificate about Dante without making mention of his Purgatory may reasonably be suspected of knowing him only at second hand...Press him, rather for an intelligent opinion on the Ship of Souls and Peter’s Gate; on Buonconte, Sapìa, and Arnaut Daniel; on the Prayer of the Proud, the theology of Free Judgement, Dante’s three Dreams, the Sacred Forest, and the symbolism of the Beatrician Pageant. If he cannot satisfy the examiners on these points, let him be to you as a heathen man and a publican. But if he can walk at ease in death’s second kingdom, then he is a true citizen of the Dantean Empire; and though he may still feel something of a stranger in Paradise, yet the odds are he will come to it in the end. For the Inferno may fill one with only an appalled fascination, and the Paradiso may daunt one at first by its intellectual severity; but if one is drawn to the Purgatorio at all, it is by the cords of love, which will not cease drawing till they have drawn the whole poem into the same embrace.
Ms. Sayers lists several possible explanations for the general modern neglect of the Purgatorio, but I think that for Americans at least the deepest explanation is one that she does not put forward as such, though her commentary elsewhere helps throw it into sharp relief. Americans, I think, find the Purgatorio perverse (or would if they read it) because it seems sadomasochistic: the souls in Purgatory embrace and apparently rejoice in their suffering. To quote Ms. Sayers again:

It has been well said by a great saint [St. Catherine of Genoa] that the fire of Hell is simply the light of God as experienced by those who reject it; to those, that is, who hold fast to their darling illusion of sin, the burning reality of holiness is a thing unbearable. To the penitent, that reality is a torment so long and only so long as any vestige of illusion remains to hamper their assent to it: they welcome the torment, as a sick man welcomes the pain of surgery, in order that the last crippling illusion may be burned away...Purgatory is the resolute breaking-down, at whatever cost, of the prison walls, so that the soul may be able to emerge at last into liberty and endure unscathed the unveiled light of reality. To this end:

...heavenly justice keeps desire
Set toward the pain as once ’twas toward the sin.

...One consideration alone sets limits to the generous friendliness of the Penitent, and even for this they abound in polite apology. If Dante is (as always) disposed to linger in conversation, it is not now Virgil but the shades who urge him on his way...Every moment spared to Dante is a distraction from the blissful pain (“I call it pain; solace, I ought to say”) – a distraction which, even for charity’s sake, must not be prolonged out of measure. Dallying is a postponement of beatitude; even, in a sense, a robbery of God, who looks for the home-coming of his own. “Zeal to be moving goads us so that stay we cannot”; “Now go; I am reluctant to allow thy longer stay; thy presence stems my tears”; “Time’s precious, and I make too long delay”; thus they excuse themselves....That is the mark of Purgatory, the thing which Hell cannot understand...Their desire is turned to the torment as aforetime to the sin; they suffer no coercion but their own unwavering will: “my heart is fixed, O Lord, my heart is fixed.”
I am not trying to turn this into a treatise on Dante, or even to convince you to read him (though I can think of no better Lenten reading than the Purgatorio, with Sayers’s indispensable commentary and in her unexcelled translation for those of us who have forgotten our Italian). But what struck me is that Hitchens would surely react to the Purgatorio in precisely the same terms that he reacted to The Passion of the Christ: “sadomasochism.” He would see in the Christian attitude to the pains of Purgatory – indeed, in the entire Christian attitude toward suffering – the marks of sexual perversion.

The Guest will, someday, tell me how he actually feels about all this, I hope; but I had by this time stopped trying to put myself in his shoes and was exploring my own emotional world. And as I compared the charge of sadomasochism to what my own feelings actually were, a penny dropped. We say that sadomasochism is a sexual perversion, and by this we mean that sex is a good thing but that sadomasochism twists it into an evil direction. But I have just realized that it is the curse of our post-Freudian age that it sees sexuality in everything. And the man who pursues suffering because he finds in suffering sexual ecstacy has not merely corrupted the good of sex. He has also corrupted the good of suffering. The modern man cannot see a person rejoicing in suffering without thinking “sadomasochism” because he can hardly imagine a pleasure that is not sexual, that’s true to a certain extent; but the deeper truth is that he cannot imagine that there is really any good in suffering and therefore thinks rejoicing in suffering must be a sign of something terribly wrong in a person’s psyche; and Freud has taught us all to think that if something’s wrong with somebody it probably comes down to sex.

Yet the Christian virtue of hope is the settling into our heart of the conviction not only that Easter was not a lie, but that Gethsemane and the Cross were not optional features of Easter; that the Passion and the Resurrection are one inseperable and terrible and glorious act; that suffering is the seed of glory; that God Himself chose as the path to glory the Via Dolorosa – for it was the only path. It is true that sex is good; it is also true that suffering is good – not pleasureable, by any means, and not good in itself without reference to the fruit it bears; but good because God has redeemed human suffering on the Cross and every tear we shed can be drawn into his suffering and thus ultimately flower into glory unimaginable. Sadomasochism says that orgasm is good and suffering is good because suffering brings orgasm. Christians say that sex is good and that suffering is also, in a mystery, good, but that sadomasochism is a perversion of both. The Hitchensian agnostic hears the Christian say that one should rejoice in suffering even as one recognizes that it is indeed suffering and that it is terrible and painful, and the agnostic says, “Masochism!”

But that is only because the agnostic is on the wrong side of the Cross -- and of the empty tomb.

UPDATE: My apologies to the Guest for dragging him into this without warning...

UPDATE: Welcome to ATB'ers. I'm not very happy with this post, to tell the truth; so I'd sort of rather you read this one. For one thing it's shorter...

Oh, and don't miss North by Northwest's exceptionally insightful comment leading off the ATB discussion, which comment is better than anything I said in all my rambling.

An incident on Good Friday

Good Friday and the code wasn’t working...or maybe the code was working but the data was bad. I couldn’t tell which for sure, or, rather, I knew how to go about figuring it out but I also knew it would take at least an hour. I’d already been at work two hours longer than I had planned, and everybody else was gone except the 24-hour power traders (because even on Good Friday and Easter and Christmas and New Year’s Eve people expect the lights to come on when they flip the switch). I had had enough. So I packed up the laptop, swung by the kitchen for a cup of hot chocolate (I’m trying to reduce my dependence on coffee) and hit the road.

Swung onto Highway 6 and then the light ahead of me changed. I stopped and shifted into neutral and took my foot off the clutch, and the cars lined up behind me. Then a thunderclap of sound like a bomb behind me, and another. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the third car behind me explode forward with another crash, and then the second. No time to switch back into gear, nothing to do but hold on. I shifted my eyes to the face of the woman behind me as her eyes widened with horror staring in her own rearview mirror, and then her car jerked forward and her head snapped back and it was all in slow motion and I could see the death grip she had on her steering wheel and then her car ground to a halt. No impact. Her brakes had held perhaps six inches from my bumper. ...continue reading...

I pulled off the road into the small parking lot there on my right. Jumped out, ran back to the car behind me. The woman was frantically asking the old lady in the passenger seat if she was all right; the lady in the passenger seat was having trouble breathing. I could hear a child screaming and then I saw his father running from the cars with his five-year-old son screaming in his arms; there was grass on the other side of the parking lot and the child’s mother trailed several feet behind them. I looked back at the old lady and she took a deep breath and said she was fine.

I had my phone out and was dialing 9-1-1. They wanted to know if anybody was hurt. I was walking up and down the scene; everybody seemed to be out of their cars and nobody was trapped, but the back three cars were absolutely mauled. I told them about the kid and they said they would send an ambulance. I looked at the car that had started it, a van of some sort. Grill smashed all the way back to the tires and bright red brake fluid all over the ground from the demolished car he’d hit and dirty black oil from his own engine and white steam rolling out from under what had been his hood but the old fool was trying to get his car started and drive away. Another, younger man standing and screaming at him to turn off his engine. Then he gets out and wobbles toward us, a fatuously ingratiating smile on his face and even my worthless nose could smell the alcohol ten feet away. Two women next to me, one says, “I knew he was about to hit somebody; he never even slowed down.” Other woman asks the world in general, looking at me, “He’s going to have to pay for all our cars, isn’t he?” “His insurance company will,” I answer. None of us says out loud that the kind of man who is driving a car down the highway reeking drunk at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon is the kind of man who doesn’t carry liability insurance. I don’t know if she has thought of that on her own but I see no point in adding to her present worries if she hasn’t.

Nobody will talk to him, his stupid smile makes you want to punch him and we can all hear the little boy still screaming over on the grass.

I go back to the old woman and her daughter. The daughter is out of the car pacing back and forth while she tries to get someone to answer her on the cell phone. “What street is this?” she asks and I tell her and she tells the person on the other end of the conversation. I look at the old lady, who is still breathing irregularly. “Ma’am,” I ask gently, “can I get you something to drink?” It is a very hot day. She answers gratefully, in a whisper, “Water.” “I’ll be right back.” There is a small corner store but it is across six lanes of traffic – only five lanes now though. I pick my way across, buy a bottle of water and six bottles of Gatorade, pick my way back across to where I started. The police haven’t gotten here yet, I don’t even hear sirens. I give her the water and she says, “Thank you, son.” I don’t get called “son” much any more except by my parents and I’m briefly amused.

I go from one little group to the other passing out the Gatorade. The little boy isn’t screaming anymore. I walk past the drunk sitting on the grass and come up to where the boy is lying on the ground, his mother squatting next to him on her haunches, the father standing tall beside them and gazing quietly across the lawn at the long line of twisted metal. They have gotten an icepack from someplace – a big freezer bag filled with convenience store ice; somebody must have had an icechest in the car – and they have laid it across the boy’s chest. His eyes are wide and terrified and uncomprehending but he is not crying and his parents have the look of people who are in the aftermath of adrenaline but who think everything is going to be okay. I offer them Gatorade; the father answers, “We don’t think it’s a good idea for him to drink anything yet.” I gently correct him, “I mean for you and your wife.” He thanks me and declines. I have two Gatorades left.

There is nothing really for me to do. I wasn’t in the accident and God knows there are plenty of other witnesses. I decide I should get out of the way. I go up to the young man who initially made the drunk get out of his car; I leave the Gatorade with him; I walk back toward my car. I say goodbye to the old lady and her daughter and I drive away.

I can feel the reaction settling in on myself as my own adrenaline starts to drain away. Turn right, turn right again, fifteen minutes to home. I look down and see my hot chocolate. I pick it up and it is still hot. So little time for lives to be changed.

I sip my hot chocolate and I remember the wide eyes of the woman behind me as she saw inevitability in her rearview mirror. I remember the old lady’s shortness of breath. I can hear the boy’s screams. But then...

How do you remember things you didn’t notice when you were living them? But now I see with total clarity the circle of space we put around the drunk, the pariah. I can see him turning from one of us to the other and none of us would look at him and I can see his frightened smile trembling because he knows he’s screwed up irrevocably and that his life is about to get very much worse and he doesn’t know how to say he’s sorry or express the sick panic in the pit of his stomach. I can see him about to turn to me and I see again my field of vision shifting as I automatically turn away so that when he does turn to me my eyes won’t be there for him to catch. I can see him sitting alone on the grass staring across the grass at nothing in particular and I can see – I can see, I watched people step away from the child and his parents to go back to their cars and I watched them swing fifteen feet out of the straight line of their path in order to avoid coming inside the shunning circle, and it didn’t register then what I was watching but I can see it now as if they were leaving vivid glowing footsteps in their arcing path. I can see myself swinging out on that same path to go offer Gatorade to the boy’s parents, without even thinking about what I was doing. I can see him sitting alone under the hot sun and I have two spare Gatorades and I give them to a man who doesn’t even want them and I walk off without ever saying a word to the drunk on his lonely little patch of grass.

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

The loneliest man in Houston sat a few feet away from me. Forty days of Lent and it never even occurred to me to offer him a smile and comfort and a simple drink of Gatorade under the hot sun. On Good Friday.

I can feel tears of shame on my face as I drive. I could go back. I should go back. But I’m halfway home.

I take a sip of hot chocolate.

I keep driving. I do not go back.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner...

Friday, April 14, 2006

A redneck classicist directs you to...

...The Ancient Greeks in Thirteen Words, courtesy of Beanie, scribal duties performed by the fine book-loving blog Here in the Bonny Glen.

Cathy Seipp: My kind of lady

I absolutely love the calm, might-as-well-make-the-best-of-it attitude of taking your kid to the park since it's a gorgeous day and the earthquake has knocked out the power in the house anyway.

Also, anybody familiar with Cathy's stuff can't miss her characteristic voice in this paragraph:

One disturbing thing I remember from the 1994 quake is the arrival of a swarm of dog puppets, introduced by wandering psychotherapists who invaded Red Cross shelters to counsel children about how scary the earthquake was, in case they hadn't quite realized. If eventually they — or you — tired of talking about how scary it was, well then, you were in earthquake denial, and everyone and his dog puppet would know it.

As I just said a single post ago: read it all.

I actually think this is a very good point

"Teachers say children need more boring lessons to help them deal with the world beyond the classroom door."

It's a short article; read it all.

I particularly like Barry Williams's take (and I suspect he is not really a particularly dull lecturer):

Barry Williams, a lecturer at Hertford Regional College in Cambridgeshire, said that those who believed his teaching style was dull "just don't understand the nuances and subtleties of my lessons".

"When they say to me: 'Mr Williams, that girl is looking out of the window staring at a tree,' I say: 'Do they not recognise the advanced stages of Zen Buddhism which I have brought into my lessons?' I am in fact producing adults who will be able to watch party political broadcasts."
HT: Andrew Stuttaford

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Nice, but couldn't he have given Ludwig his props?

A very readable article here, but why did he not give Ludwig von Mises the credit von Mises is due? It was, after all, von Mises who proved beyond refutation that when central planning abolishes free market prices, it destroys the only possible source of certain critical information without which it is impossible to plan, and thus that the Soviet economic model was doomed. Luttwak refers to von Mises's analysis:

One explanation, originally offered as a theoretical proposition even before Soviet central planning had really started, was that central planners who might choose more or less rationally among steel and concrete and other such few commodities, could not possibly guess accurately which polymer of hundreds should be produced, or rather which polymers in which proportion, and also everything else, from computers to green hats and brown shoes (I really did once see in Leningrad a shop largely stocked with unwanted green shoes). Only the ups and downs of market prices can do that, by sending instantaneous and unchallengeable signals to both producers and consumers.
Would it really have been so hard to say, "...originally offered as a theoretical proposition by Ludwig von Mises..."?

Also, the more I hear about the CIA, the more like a complete fantasy Tom Clancy's novels appear...the CIA of Jack Ryan never has seemed to me to sound very much like the CIA that didn't know which building in Sarajevo was the Chinese freakin' Embassy.

UPDATE: Oops, sorry, Solomon, the link's fixed now.

An open letter to the Capitol Hilton, Washington, D.C.


Mr. Boyle,

While fully aware that I do not know all sides of the Fran O'Brien's story, I must say that my admiration for, and gratitude to, Hal Koster runs very deep indeed. I have spent much time outside the borders of our country; I know how great are the blessings of liberty; I know that only the men and women of our armed forces make it possible for my children to enjoy those blessings; and I know from having grown up in a military town with a wide circle of military acquaintances how real are the sacrifices those men and women make on our behalf and how cheerfully they make them. The contrast between Fran O'Brien's behavior and your own cannot help but reflect badly upon your own establishment and on the Hilton chain in general, even if your decision is defensible on business grounds: not every decision a man of character makes, is made on the basis of the bottom line alone, as Mr. Koster himself demonstrates every week.

As a consultant who has been platinum on multiple airlines simultaneously and who used to log over 250,000 air miles per year, I have stayed in my share of Hilton hotels in the past, but I must say that I expect that it will be a long time before the first phrase that pops into my head when I hear the word "Hilton" is anything other than, "Fran O'Brien's." Certainly the next time I pass through Heathrow I will not, as I did on my last pass through en route to Kazakhstan, choose your sister establishment as my place to dine and sleep.

Yours in regretful sincerity,

Ken Pierce

For background, see Greyhawk and Castle Aarrgghhh!

Hilton has not exactly done well on this blog, as my only other entry involving Hilton is entitled, "Hilton Makes an Enemy" (the enemy, in this particular case, not being myself, but still I wasn't what you would call impressed). And besides -- can't they do something about Paris?

UPDATE: Jim McDaniel e-mailed me back to thank me for sending the letter. My reply to him was based on many a time when I've picked up the dinner tab or drinks for men and women in uniform who happened to be in the same restaurant or Starbucks I had wandered into on a business trip:

My pleasure, Jim, and thank you for all you have done for this country. Having heard it every time I thank a man or woman in uniform, I know in advance your answer -- "It's an honor to serve, sir;" and therefore I reply: "And it is a privilege to thank you."
I might add that I had to develop the technique of calling the waiter over discreetly and telling him to give me the tab of the soldiers at the next table without telling them who in the restaurant was paying for their meal -- because otherwise they had a bad habit of refusing to let me pick up the tab. "It's an honor to serve, sir" -- said in tones combining respect and firmness in a manner peculiar to these honorable men and women.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"A Second Almost Perfect Plan" Dept

Which has certain affinities, I think it is fair to say, with the one I posted a couple of posts ago.

I wonder how many other people have gotten this in their e-mail inboxes already...


Enter Mexico illegally. Never mind immigration quotas, visas, international law, or any of that nonsense.

Once there, demand that the local government provide free medical care for you and your entire family.

Demand bilingual nurses and doctors.

Demand free bilingual government forms, bulletins, etc.

Keep your American identity strong. Fly Old Glory from your rooftop, or proudly display it in your front window, or on your car bumper.

Speak only English at home and in public and insist that your children do likewise.

Demand classes on American culture in the Mexican taxpayer-funded public school system, and while you're at it demand that the Mexican school system spend whatever money is necessary to offer classes on all subjects in English.

Demand a Mexican driver license. This will afford other legal rights and will go far to legitimize your unauthorized, illegal presence in Mexico.

Drive around with no liability insurance.

Insist that Mexican law enforcement teach English to all its officers.

Good luck!

Seriously, my own not particularly detailed or well-thought-out take corresponds with the perfect phrasing of someone whose name I don't remember and therefore can't credit properly: "High wall, wide gate." I want it to be way easier for good people to enter this country legally than it is today. I want it to be all but infinitely harder for people to enter this country illegally, than it is today. (Which shouldn't be hard -- when you have a competence level that is the equivalent of zero degrees Kelvin, even an increase to "pathetically, risibly far from adequate" represents an infinite degree of improvement in percentage terms.) And if there are fifty people living here now illegally and fifty people who have been patiently waiting while they go through the incredibly onerous legal immigration process out of respect for our laws, then I want the fifty people who are living here illegally to be kicked to the back of the line. And, perhaps most of all, I want the incompetent bureaucrats and politicians who are responsible for the disgraceful state our immigration service has been in for the last couple of decades -- I want them all exiled permanently to Mexico.

Those are general principles. I am certainly willing to admit that pragmatic compromises may have to be made; but I want the principles to be respected.

Monday, April 10, 2006

An interesting and I think even partially valid point

If you know me then you know how little respect I have for Hollywood or the celebrity culture, and I think it does us great harm that the impression the rest of the world has of America is overwhelmingly really an impression of Hollywood. But in an old column about Liza Manelli's fourth wedding, Mark Steyn pointed out something about our celebrity machine: the kind of person who wants to be an American Idol exists in every culture, and there will always be those willing to go to extraordinarily unhealthy lengths to satisfy their cravings. Our way of isolating them as sort of volunteer exhibits in a nationwide freak zoo is perhaps as good a way of minimizing their destructiveness, of channelling their self-destruction into patterns that are relatively less damaging to their saner fellow-citizens, as any that are easily imagined. I'm not sure Steyn's right but he at least could be. Money quote (Democrats please forgive Steyn's sideswipe at Clinton):

One of the great advantages of a celebrity culture is the way it siphons off so many of the narcissistic and dysfunctional into areas where they can do the least societal damage. Occasionally, the system goes awry and one of them winds up in a serious job (William Jefferson Clinton), but generally things work pretty well. One cannot say the same of Saudi Arabia, whose 7,000 princes are en masse at least as risible and in many cases more tastelessly accessorized than Liza's guests. But the crucial difference is that their subjects are obliged to pretend they're useful and intelligent: If they laugh at them, they'll wind up laughing their heads off. Likewise, Iraq, where the only celebrity author and musical-comedy star is Saddam himself: his romantic allegorical novel, Zabibah and the King, got great reviews -- there's a surprise -- and has been turned into a lavish stage production, which is doing sell-out business -- there's another surprise. The tragedy of Iraq is that in order to make it big in showbiz Saddam had to make it big in mass murder first. Under the American system, his book would have been picked by Oprah, he'd have sold the Broadway rights to Liza's husband, and they'd have signed Petula Clark and Mickey Rooney for the title roles. No matter how you look at it, that's a massively superior system.

New York will forget Liza's latest wedding soon enough, so will Liza. But we should remember to savour this ersatz Royal wedding precisely because it's ersatz; and those who defend America needn't do it despite its "celebrity culture" but because of it. Better a fan than a vassal.

Friday, April 07, 2006

"An Almost Perfect Plan" Dept

James Lileks, when Hugh Hewitt asked him about immigration policy:

"My first thought earlier this week was you know, let's just annex Mexico. Let's beat them to the punch. Let's just make Mexico the 51st state, but then I realized of course, once all of the Mexicans are Americans, then they won't do the jobs that Americans won't do. So then, we're back at square one."