Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa

Past Posts of Note
Substantative, in chronological order
The Sunday obligation and illness: question, research & my answer

Denial of personhood: Dei Filius & Terri Schiavo

On Modesty 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Differing with Dulles 1 & 2 on pro-abort politicians

Mad About Manuals 1 & 2

Absinthe recherches early, required reading, 2, 3, 4.

First time at an abortuary

The Maundy

TPOTC impact & analysis and more

Contraception reflections 1, 2

Meiwes, propheta, übermensch

Headship Loggerheads 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Matrix: Revolutions

Matrix: Reloaded
1, 2 & 3

Terrorist Attack Preparations, and follow-ups 1 & 2 & 3


Casuistry of Drinking

Review of Auto Focus

Parish Review 1

The Power of Shame

Biblical Hermeneutics

Ayoob on Guns

Against the Ordination of Women

Two Cents on Braveheart


Thematic Meditations

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Ad maiorem Dei gloriam: DC-area Catholic bloggers, for your next Mass, why not try: St. Louis Parish in Alexandria, home of Fr. Jim Tucker?

As many of you know, Zorak and I have been looking for a new place of worship now that we are living in VA. We've bounced around so many times in the past few years, I think we qualify for the canonical status of vagi. Add to that my (certainly antiquated and unjustifiable) desire to hear the Mass said strictly by the book, and to hear the Gospel of Christ, and not the gospel of generic niceness, from the lips of the preacher. Sounds like a small order, but I've not yet found many places in downtown Washington which can deliver. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception isn't bad, although the newly acquired Fr. Raymond LeBrun is awful (really -- that's being charitable), and they suffer from ridiculous abuse of the extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. Old St. Mary's isn't bad either, if you can park anywhere near the place, and it wasn't convenient to us, so we didn't go that often. In suburban, VA, however, we were in completely new territory.

After a few tries at Our Lady of Good Counsel, which was liturgically slack and featured an afternoon Mass with truly awful folk music (all Oregon Catholic Press!), we decided to look elsewhere. So far, we've been been to St. Louis three times. Besides having a blog-enabled Parochial Vicar, they've dumbfounded us each time with something I've never seen since we left the care of the heavenly St. Mary's Church in New Haven. I'll recap:

Trip #1: Zorak and I notice they have an amazing confession schedule. Not some 45 minute slice of time on a Saturday, but everyday "TLGO" = "till the line gives out." Fr. Riley hears confession so frequently, I think he's giving St. John Vianney a run for his money. From purely subjective experience (two other parishes I've known which have done this), the best way to get people to come to the sacrament is to (a) preach about it, and (b) offer it frequently. Places where this happens (e.g., the Basilica, also heroic in its 5 hours of confessions per day) have boatloads of penitents. The Basilica gets only "honorary mention" here, however, because they have the convenience of literally hundreds of priests in the immediate vincinity, since there's Catholic University, Theological College, the Dominican House of Studies and several monasteries within 1 mile. St. Louis has only Frs. Riley, Gripshover and Tucker, who clearly have to run the entire place in addition to logging hours in the confessional.

Trip #2: We arrive, and learn that Fr. Riley is going to give a "state of the parish address," since it is the beginning of the parish year. We prepare to be bored to tears. Instead, he leads off by reviewing the devotion of the parish to the sacraments, prayer groups & traditional devotions (adoration, Sacred Heart,etc), Scripture study, etc. Then he announces they're restoring the tabernacle to its rightful place. We were amazed. Our only disappointment with the Church (which was clearly built in the late 60s / early 70s, so they're working with humble beginnings) was the displaced tabernacle, built into a niche off to the right of the altar. Well, they're relocating it back behind the altar of sacrifice, and moving the presidential chair off to the side. I'm a cradle Catholic, and have worshipped in a lot of places, but this is the first time I've ever seen a restoration of the tabernacle done! Would that more Churches would remove the blot of architectural anthropocentrism from their sanctuaries!

Trip #3: Zorak and I leave late on Sunday afternoon for the 5. (Yes, we are lazy and sleep in some afternoons. And we mean it -- "IN" as in, "into the early evening.") So we make our way down I-495 only to pile up in a huge knot of traffic trying to merge onto I-95. I almost despair, and ask Zorak whether or not we should turn around and go to Our Lady of Good Counsel instead. Well, if I had done that, I would have missed out on the first homily to denounce the sin of abortion, contraception and "recreational sex" I've heard in nine years. My jaw dropped. Zorak looked at me as if to say, "Did I hear him correctly?" (We were in the back.)

Not only THAT, folks, but something I've NEVER heard since the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary taught us moral theology in Catholic grade school: Fr. Riley was giving a practical review of what constituted a mortal vs. a venial sin, and when one should come to confession. I was blown away. Who does casuistry anymore? (I promise to blog about this at length later.) I've had a hard time getting this kind of assessment in the confessional. I've had priests flatly refuse to say whether something was a mortal sin or not (I was willing to detail the circumstances; the priest simply didn't care and / or believe in the distinction), and I've also had the unfortunate experience of once arguing with my confessor that a particular thing was indeed a sin -- and grave matter -- which therefore required his absolution and my firm resolution to avoid it in the future. (Image the scene, 45 minutes later: I emerge, having forgotten there are other people, who are now staring at me like I am an ax-murderer! LOL. There was another confessor available, but I did gum up the works nonetheless. I found a Vatican document on the issue and returned to the confessional next week, to leave it with the priest...) Going to the sacrament of reconciliation involves overcoming enough internal reluctance as it is -- once I get there, I don't need to argue with the confessor about whether I should have bothered to come. I'm not a Jansenist -- I go when I know I have to.

So back to Fr. Riley, making his way through the 10 commandments, giving practical examples of mortal and venial sins for each. And these were informative, gritty, accurate examples. Not like the Summa where you find murder as an example of a mortal sin, and immoderate hilarity as an example of venial. (If immoderate hilarity is St. Thomas' understanding of venial, boy am I in trouble!) Near the end, Fr. Riley concludes by recounting why he was doing this: He had recalled the recent OT reading from Ezekiel, where the prophet is told to call the people to repentance. If he preaches, and the people don't listen, then they will be held responsible. But if Ezekiel does not preach, and the people sin, then Ezekiel will be held accountable. Moved by this example, Fr. Riley was laying down the law. Providence works in funny ways. When the reading originally came up at Mass, Zorak and I were sitting in Our Lady of Good Counsel. I whispered to her: "Nobody ever touches that one. I'd like to see one priest preach on the OT reading this Sunday." Ask and you shall receive...

Other quicks facets of St. Louis, for those considering a visit:

The architecture is a little funky, but not too bad for a late 60s / early 70s construction. Exposed wooden beams and beige brickwork flood the nave with earth-tones. The altar is on a modest deis, with a beautiful granite back wall framing the sanctuary. The pews are in a semi-circular arrangement, ubiquitous throughout Northern VA. The church seems to be a toned-down example of the circular style, with the organ and choir loft placed above and behind the altar. Thankfully, it is largely obscured from view, unlike some other variations of this arrangement. IMHO, the organ, choir and cantor are best left unseen. (Nothing infuriates me more at the Sanctus or Agnus Dei than the liturgical cheerleader vainly raising her hand for each response, as if trying to resurrect some form of singing from the mute congregation, who obviously know when to sing without her cue. Ditto when she is the only one standing, and everyone else is on their knees before the Eucharist at the Great Amen.) All in all, it has a Franciscan feel, which may or may not be linked to the fact it has a Poor Clares convent attached to it. Although architecture is import, the liturgy and the people are more so, IMHO.

The people are reasonably friendly, tempering suburban anonymity with a bit of Southern hospitality, but not too much, because this is suburbicarian Alexandria, after all, and not really Virginia. There's a good number of Hispanic women who seem to attend regularly, and even some men, as well as a smattering of Asian and Black Catholics. I like a parish some with ethnic diversity. It emphasizes the true Catholicity of the Church. An all-Anglo parish in an otherwise diverse community means there's something wrong. (It's the Anglicans' job, after all, to cater to the WASPs who don't want to worship with the Great Unwashed. That's not unrelated to why they are a state church in the first place... While all my college friends are recovering from their heart attacks, I'll inform the other readers that this remark comes from someone who otherwise couldn't give a damn about racial / ethnic diversity.) Everyone seems fairly comfortable there, which is good. It's not like some places, for example, which have a completely insular Philippino enclave in the midst of a predominantly Anglo congregation, and ne'er the twain do meet.

2If you're a music lover, you might have an adjustment to make. I haven't been to the 10:30am Sunday Mass yet (too early!), which is supposed to be the nicest liturgically, but the other ones are pretty sparse. A rather fragile-voiced cantor makes her way as best she can, and the congregational singing is unsurprisingly thin. (As a cradle Catholic, I'm entirely accustomed to this. Zorak, a former Lutheran, can't cope with this Catholic bad habit.) In these kinds of situations, BTW, I think Fr. Anthony Ruff's recommendation to liturgists at the recent Jubileee Eucharistic conference in Washington is insightful: A plainchant verse sung by the priest for the introit and exit is easy to do, sounds more solemn, doesn't limp along, and is actually more in keeping with the traditional practice of the Latin rite, which only added hymns by way of accomodation to popular piety. (N.B. This is not a hint, since I would never suggest an adjustment to a parish's practice after three trips! It's just an observation for the benefit of the general readership, many of whom have certainly encountered this problem in their own parishes.) The musical selections, however, are all reverent and familiar hymns, in both English and Latin.

There's the traditional phalanx of early-teenage altarboys who are clumsy but mostly reverent. I think their occasional foibles are all good fun in a parish church, although Zorak is used to the acolytes at St. Mary's who, despite their sometimes young age, could have put a West Point drill instructor's crack regiment to shame. The shameful practice of "altargirls" is nowhere to be seen. (If you write in to me in favor of altargirls, be prepared for a barrage...) Everyone is vested in cassock and surplice. Good. Good.

There's tons of parish activities to get involved in, from prayer groups, to social ministries, to youth activities, etc. While I'm not in a position to take on anything else, my single and / or full-time employed readers might like these options.

Plenty of parking, easy to drive to, and there's a whole strip of restaurants (including an Outback and Krispy Kreme) on the way back to the Beltway, which provide a nice variety of locations for the traditional Sunday afternoon brunch, if that's your thing. Ok. Back to work now...

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/30/2002 11:02:00 PM | link

Following The Blogfather, I took this test. Pretty accurate, although I'm not sure why Spinoza and Ockham are so high on the list. Knock them down halfway, under "Stoics" and that's more like it.

1. Aquinas (100%)
2. Augustine (84%)
3. Spinoza (71%)
4. Aristotle (67%)
5. Ockham (59%)
6. Plato (53%)
7. Mill (47%)
8. Stoics (47%)
9. Sartre (46%)
10. Cynics (44%)
11. Bentham (44%)
12. Kant (39%)
13. Hume (38%)
14. Rand (38%)
15. Nietzsche (37%)
16. Epicureans (32%)
17. Noddings (20%)
18. Hobbes (18%)
19. Prescriptivism (8%)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/29/2002 04:15:00 PM | link

Congratulations are in order for Distributed.net which has cracked a 64-bit RSA encryption code using the spare CPU cycles of thousands of internet users. The project exists in order to promote stronger encryption standards. You can read the official announcement here. Basically, distributed.net bands together large numbers of idle, average-powered computers to make one lightning-fast super-computer spanning across the internet, which works on large problems at speeds otherwise attainable only by huge government mainframes. I've helped them out for several years now. The OGR project is laudable, if you're not into encryption issues. Consider helping some poor mathematicians, radiologists, astronomers, etc. with OGR. (Sure beats spending your cycles looking for alien messages.)

For the non-technically inclined, here's why this is significant. Encryption is a mathematical way of ciphering data to protect it as it travels through the internet. What kind of data? Your credit card information, your business e-mail, etc. The best encryption codes out there have no easy mathematical way for anyone but the intended recipient to decipher them. A hacker must resort to a "brute force attack" of trying every possible key combination until something intelligible is rendered. Good encryption algorithms have huge numbers of possible key codes, which makes it practically impossible for a hacker to try every one. But "huge" is only relative to one's computing resources. Acting alone, your average desktop computer can't do much. But the idle time of a couple hundred thousand computers can do much, much more. Distributed.net makes a little program that sits on your desktop and dedicates all the otherwise-wasted CPU cycles of participating computers across the net to trying the possible keys to an encrypted message given to them in an official challenge by an encryption laboratory. As a result, distributed.net can crack "virtually uncrackable" encrypted messages -- this time, one secured with a 64-bit encryption code. In practical terms, this means that if the data is really important to you, you shouldn't use a 64-bit code, or worse, the 56-bit encryption on many browsers, which is 256 times easier to crack. (If I reckon correctly, at their recent peak rates, distributed.net can now crack a RSA-56 key in about 4 days.)

Folks like distributed.net have a policy axe to grind on top of a purely technological motive. The government has constantly discouraged civilian use of strong encryption. A few years ago, they discouraged the incorporation of 128-bit RSA encryption in web browsers, and then there's the epic battle over the supremely secure 1024-bit PGP encryption scheme. D.net's point is simple: 56-bit encryption is puny when faced with any serious computing resource, and 64-bit encryption is only worthwhile for time-sensitive data, since it cannot be cracked quickly, but it can ultimately be cracked. With processing speed doubling every few years, 64-bit encryption soon won't be worth it at all. So support reasonable pro-encryption legislation.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/29/2002 03:57:00 AM | link

Welcome to the Google searcher looking for "analysis of the Old Oligarch." Try my wife for that.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/29/2002 03:21:00 AM | link

Want to join my grassroots organization for the DC Protest? Meet at 15th and Constitution, where we will volunteer to help the police kick the crap out of the dirty hippies whose economic theories are so profound that they come up with the following brilliant equation: IMF = Bad, therefore annoy the hell out of thousands of completely unrelated Washingtonian commuters. I'm sure the countless clerical workers, middle managers of non-profits, and "underprivileged" service-sector employees will appreciate having their commute fouled up, and thus be moved to change their minds about the World Bank because of it. Idiots!

Back in 2000, Zorak and I went down to the World Bank during the really big protests that year. I wrote up my observations in a series of letters to friends. They are substantially unchanged, except for the fact that post-Sept. 11th, the police are less likely to take sh-t from protesters in a friendly fashion. (And the pure gall of calling in false 9-1-1 emergencies: what if some Arab sets off a bomb in the city and the firemen are running around chasing some fictious fire called in by a punk from Seattle?) The first part of the letter highlights the eclectic superficiality of the whole sordid affair. The second I consider to be telling asthetic critiques about the participants. Be sure to read the part about the teenage boy and the Arab guy.

--Begin Memoir--
The demonstrators come in all kinds. There was a superabundance of young, garden-variety capitalism-is-evil communists, mostly high school and college age. There were also the standard-issue '70s derelicts who are still somewhere back in a Nam protest. Add some feminists in need of more clothing (as Mr. C-- likes to quip: she must have been brought up poor, she can't even afford a bra...). There were several cliques of hispanics, concerned about their various countries of ultimate origin I suppose, as well as some white-breaded suburbanites with Che Guevera banners and posters desperately trying to fit into this category. PETA for some reason is here; I guess they are concerned about the environmental side, and they like to wear these crazy hats with animal heads of various sorts on them, like gray wolves, etc. ACT-UP is here (Aids Coalition of Totalitarian Utter Perverts) because of the spread of HIV in the third world. Another interesting group is DIRECT ACTION, a youth organization that sports a snazzy black uniform, complete with hoods and masks that cover most of the face. They've got a makeshift drum corps (some real drums, some buckets), big banners and adolescent I'm-a-bad-boy attitude to spare, but they ultimately strike me as more for show than for serious violence, contrary to the impression they want to make. I felt like volunteering a hint to them -- if you are really going to initiate an organized subversive action, don't help the police by wearing a uniform that immediately identifies you as the troublemaker.

We observed some vandalism. Most notably, there were a few cars that were parked on the street, and I guess had gotten stranded in the pedestrian-only zone. Two of these had their tires slashed, windows bashed in, and were ripped up a little. There was also spray-painted graffiti on some walls and construction areas, and some dislodged masonry, but no one was throwing cinderblocks or anything like that.

The demonstrators seemed fairly well organized, and the various groups in communication with each other. The DC police made a statement that this was one of the best organized demonstrations they had seen. Many protesters had cell phones, walkie-talkies, radios, etc. They apparently have websites as well. There were a few bases of operation further up in Northwest, by where we live, which had gotten raided by police. There are some word-of-mouth reports that sleeping dragons and molotov cocktails were seized.

Just a couple of aesthetic critiques of the protest. As you can probably tell, I was not that impressed by the whole affair. Here's a couple of reasons, which will probably give you a better idea of the tenor of the whole thing, or at least the parts I saw:

1) There were a lot of radical-wannabes. Ultimately, this is what made me think the whole thing was fairly trite. As I mentioned, there was a large number of young people there, high school or college age, clearly trying to identify themselves as _something._ As S-- put it, the protest seemed to provide them an occasion to try to define their self-image through an exciting activity where they could say "I took a stand on X..." rather than to serve as the conduit for any serious expression of already-formed ideological convictions. I got the feeling that for many of them, their weekend trip to DC was probably made possible at least indirectly by the pockets of their parents, and the promise of Washington being "Seattle, Part II" seemed more like Woodstock 2000 for them.

A few examples. The younger protesters clearly made some attempt to look disenfranchised, raggedy, lower-class or bohemian. For the most part, their attempts didn't wash. Sure, lots of guys had long hair, or maybe a even piercing or some henna, bandanas tied around their heads, ripped clothes and some radical expressions on their signs; but these were well-fed, healthy, suburban white kids with all the stereotypical marks of American middle-class boredom and unfocused rebelliousness showing through nonetheless. The cell phones, for instance, were a fun juxtaposition to the usual image of your power-to-the-people protester. The girls had the usual schtick: pretenses at loose morals, baggy or skimpy clothes, unshaven armpits, etc., but for the most part, these additions seemed to be hastily tacked on to well-washed hair tied neatly back with a clip, gap clothes, a glowing, acne-free complexion, and an awareness of the romantic interests of their fellow radicals of the opposite sex.

A fun anecdote that illustrates my point transpired on my way into a CVS that was open, so that I could buy a disposable camera. I had just finished hunting for where the film was, and had settled into one of the lines. Behind me there is a couple: one of the "Direct Action" guys (the ones that like to break stuff), a white guy about 16-17, extroverted, jocular, who has his hood off since he is in the store, together with a black girl of about the same age, wearing jeans, T-shirt and bandana on her head. They are looking for film too, but are headed to the wrong end of the store. "The film's over here," I mention to him, so they come over and stand in line behind us. They are having a friendly chat, and are making plans to go out later that night, maybe on a date. He offers to buy her a soda. She's initially receptive to the offer, but then she catches herself and jokes, with fully ironic cynicism, "No, wait, I am supposed to be all oppressed by you, I couldn't do that...you are a white man after all!" "Besides, Coke's a communist oppressor," he quips back, equally amused by their flirtation, and relatively uninterested in the roles they have been playing all day. Before we get too much further in line, the guy realizes he needs to look a little cooler. He taps me on the shoulder: "Excuse me," he says politely and somewhat sheepishly, "I don't have any ID...could you buy me a pack of cigarettes?" I had to chuckle...it was too funny: this guy in a black outfit with a hood, part of a group whose overt pledge was to tear up the City of Washington if their message wasn't heard, is now asking me if I would buy him some cigarettes because he is afraid he won't make it past the CVS cashier.

"Sure," I said, "What kind?" "Camel lights" he says automatically, then, he catches himself, because he knows this is not his persona. "Um, no, wait...do they have American Spirits?" "I'll see" I reply. (If you don't smoke: American Spirits fit his role better, because they are "natural" cigarettes without chemicals added, and have a picture of an Indian on the front.) The CVS didn't carry American Spirits, but the guy was happy with the Camels I got him. He slips me four bucks, and buys his girlfriend the Coke. Outside, he puts his hood and his persona back on, and they go off to join the drum corps over by the park.

I was amused by this, and wandering out of the store, I see an Arabic man I knew from the apartment where I live. "How are you, Gamal?" I ask him. He replies that things are going very well. He is loading every six-pack of bottled water he can carry into a shopping cart. At first I think Gamal works in the CVS and is simply restocking the cooler. Instead, he goes in line and pays for several dozen bottled waters, at $1 per bottle. People are wierd, I think, and leave the store. But everything becomes clear when I run into him again twenty minutes later and two blocks away. He was loading the chilled water into an abandoned hot-dog cart, since all the vendors were forced out by the police when they created the no-automobile zone. Gamal is selling the bottled water to the protesters. One of them puts down his cell phone for a minute. "How much?" he asks. "Two dollars" says Gamal. "Two dollars! That's a steal" the man replies, and takes out his wallet. Gamal said he made over a thousand dollars that day, reselling bottled water to people who would gladly pay double for it than wait 10 minutes in a CVS two blocks away.

2) Another part of the goofiness of the whole thing lies in the fact that there are so many groups here that oppose the World Bank, but very few have reasons in common for their opposition. PETA and ACT-UP, to choose just two, are good examples. Each has their own agenda, and so they lack overall coherence in terms of their vision. Some don't like the World Bank because it leads to a destruction of the rain forest, others couldn't care less about the rain forest, but want the preservation of the authentic native culture of their ancestors from European civilization, and still others want to industrialize these countries, but don't want to saddle them with a great debt. Many of them, simply put, want the World Bank to do something for these Third World nations in terms of financial help, but they don't want any conditions placed on the use of the money....go figure.

3) This might strike some people the wrong way, so caveat lector: The police seemed, to me, more authentic and more human. Granted, some of them were anonymous goons in riot gear, and I am sure there were some guys that just were there for the DC overtime and to maybe to deliver a few whallops to a punky protester (good for them). But for the most part, while they were well-prepared for a full-scale riot (they even had some armored vehicles), they went out of their way to assuage things on a personal level. In the area where we were, the cops were talking cordially over the barricades with people who came up it. Because our crowd was milling around, and not surging up against the barricades as elsewhere or making pretenses at violence, a few policemen circulated in the pedestrian area as well. We saw one officer walking down the street by himself, obviously an easy target of people's suspicions or malicious intent. He came upon a woman with a dog. He began to chat with her, and soon was petting the dog. Skepticism and resentment turned to, at the least, a friendly implicit agreement that neither side was aiming to beat the hell out of the other. It seems silly, but it was actually rather practical, and helped diffuse the kind of crowd tension that can be sparked into riot by minor things.

A particularly interesting stand-off was averted by the police chief himself. At a barricade a block away from the World Bank, it seemed as if the protesters were going to make another attempt to break through. The police shifted their forces and tripled their number, three rows of officers thick behind the barricades. The protesters were mobbing the other side of the fence, and heated exchanges were beginning to take place. The police apparently were getting the tear gas ready and the billy clubs out in case there was another break-through attempt, and there was a lot of tension on both sides -- the uncertainty of the crowd about whether and where to push through, and the uncertainty of the police about whether it was time to start punching people's tickets before things got out of hand. The police chief himself arrived on scene to resolve the situation, and walked up and down the line between the police and the people -- without any riot gear at all -- and gave a short speech to both sides. Unfortunately, I don't know what he said. The police backed down, and stepped away from the line a little, relaxing. The protesters backed up in turn, the surge of people reversed itself, and they began a little demonstration but gave up the idea of charging through the line again. The police chief certainly had enough to do that day, and didn't need to make a personal appearance. If the crowd turned ugly, he could have easily gotten the crap kicked out of him in his vulnerable position. Instead, he was civilized and brave, and diffused the whole situation by rhetorically taking charge of the scenario himself.

--End Memoir--

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/27/2002 06:01:00 PM | link

My Blogger code is:
B2 d+ t k s++ u- f- i o x+ e- l c+
(I only have x+ because of Zorak.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/25/2002 08:06:00 PM | link

Further anecdotal evidence toward the claim that today's college students know, on average, what high-schoolers did three generations ago:

The 1932 Entrance Exam to the Chicago "Normal College."

A 1908 Entrance Exam for the University of Washington. And:

A 1931 exam to be completed after the first year of a the Honors course at U. Chicago.

Instead of wallowing in depression after reading the above, why not wallow in academic humor?.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/25/2002 07:56:00 PM | link

Cooking with the Oligarch.
(Note for those who don't know me: I love to make things from scratch, and I have a horrible memory. Occasionally these traits combine in interesting ways.)

Old Oligarch's Recipe for Homemade Cream of Tartar

Take (1) whole bottle of Chardonnay. Intend to eat it with goat cheese and crackers, but decide it needs to be a little colder first.

Be impatient. Lay bottle on its side in freezer, start eating goat cheese while wine rapidly cools.

Completely forget about wine. Finish crackers. Wander off.

Open freezer two days later. Discover wine bottle, completely frozen, cork out, partially spilled all over freezer. Curse. Remove wine bottle. Notice that a combination of freezing, slow, steady drainage and freezerburn has lead to the rapid accumulation of whole tufts of whitish powder in the neck of the bottle. Collect out of idle curiosity. (Mold? No, too soon...) Ponder.

Remember that Cream of Tartar was once made by collecting the dried encrustations from around the white wine press. Taste to be sure. Bingo!

Gather cream carefully with loop end of a small whisk. Find recipe calling for 1 tsp. of Cream of Tartar. Buon Appetito!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/22/2002 03:44:00 PM | link

Sorry for the hiatus. Messed up my template.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/22/2002 03:33:00 PM | link

Eve Tushnet made her observations about a recent Washington Post article about academic cheating. Then she threw me a lob to comment on it. Not possessing the Tushnetian (Tushnetic?) ability to comment instantaneously on 45 different topics per hour, I arrive at it now.

Executive Summary: Today's students do cheat more than ever. And: Worldview relativism factors in here.

To date, I've taught in two community colleges (two years on campus), a Catholic school (now), and in a state-run distance learning program (for four years). It is too early to tell about the Catholic school. But for the community college setting, I can assure you: They cheat as ferociously as the students described in the Post article. Ironically, I am somewhat comforted that the upper-level students cheat just as badly. Fewer are probaby caught because they are intelligent enough to hide their plagiarism and to tailor the finished product to the teacher's own expectation for their work. My students, for the most part, have not been anywhere near as adept.

The result is simultaneously depressing and entertaining. In a class of 30, I always catch one or two people who hand in semester term papers that are entirely plagiarized. Moreover, I usually warn another two after they've borrowed pages or paragraphs from other sources. This comes after I warn the whole class twice about (a) What plagiariasm is, (b) That they will fail if they do it, and (c) that I check all papers with Turn It In.com (which is an excellent service).

Some of the plagiarized submissions are screams. In a "Philosophy 101" class, most students struggle to write an uninsightful but passable analysis of Plato's Symposium or Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling. Yet I occasionally get gems such as one student's paper analyzing Plato's effect upon: Aristotle, Augustine, Charlemagne, Alcuin, Aquinas, "Arab Commentators," Scotus, Ockham, Marsilo Finco, "Humanists" and (last but not least) Protestantism. Even Copleston didn't countenance such an essay in his day, but this student's economy of words dispatched the task in 5 pages -- one less than the minimum! Needless to say, suspicion arose by the time I read "Alcuin" and I was already on Google by "Marsilo Finco." It came up immediately from a term-paper resale site.

Other wonders included a paper on Marx with quotations in German from newspapers contemporary to Marx -- submitted by an native-born English speaker who struggled through the rigors of remedial English Comp. Short of a direct infusion of the gift of tongues, this was clearly impossible! Another one -- submitted by a student who had trouble with basic multiple choice questions about which philosopher thought what -- treats "Aristotle and Coming Into Being" by beginning with a detailed philological analysis of the Greek term phusis of which Heidegger would have been proud.

I suggest there are at least three roots of this problem: (1) The economy of cheating is remarkably effecient these days, (2) Widespread college-degreeism in America, and (3) Worldview relativism. To digress sequentially:

(1) It's cheap, and the benefits outweigh the cost + the risk in the eyes of the student. Four years ago when I started, most term paper sites charged $20 per page, and you could find a few which sold their wares for $10 per page. Selections were limited, and quality was fairly low. These days, however, there are websites with tens of thousands of papers online. Many sell at the going rate of $3.95 per page. Others $5 per paper. Net Essays merely makes you register (cost-free) and view ads while you browse for papers! All the papers are otherwise totally free. It costs these kids nothing to pinch a paper, and many honestly think that a minimal retouching will eliminate the risk of discovery. The price drop from $120 per paper to free is significant in understanding why students cheat so readily, especially in the lower tier of schools.

(2) College-degreeism. I fully stand behind Cranky Professor's remarks that academics must band together to tell the rest of the world to please stop insisting that your plumber, your mailman and your greengrocer cannot be fully human unless they have college degrees. The significance of the college degree in this culture is almost fetishistic.

The result for students? Many grind through lower-end programs in state and community colleges because they must have a B.A. in order to do anything short of flipping burgers. They view the process of education as just another annoying regulation to which they must comply to satify potential employers. The impact on the humanities is devastating. Because humanities departments subordinate pragmatic concerns to the idea of a transformative, liberal arts education, students are boondoggled about the relevance of subjects like English literature, philosophy and art -- and why this (of all things!) is necessary for them to become a data entry specialist at the insurance company. You can see an almost bewildered stare in their eyes: What the hell does Plato have to do with netting $20k more as an anaesthesiologist's assistant? At this point, they are just two steps removed from buying a paper. After shame and technical inability are dispensed with, you have your average plagiarist.

(3) Worldview relativism. As I mentioned earlier, the idea of philosophy as "politely trading comforting worldviews" can kill an intro. philosophy class. More generally, however, moral and conceptual relativism are totally inimicable to the idea of a liberal arts education, which is founded on a definite Greco-Roman conception of human nature, and an objective idea about what must be cultivated in the good, free citizen. When "absolutist" notions of human nature are cast aside, the resulting academic environment can easily be seen by the student as a collection of strong-willed professors who will not approve of one's work until it flatters at least some of their sensibilities. Once academic success becomes interpreted as navigating the intellectual mindfield of one's college professors, it is not too long before research is reconstrued as the practical art of gratifying the instructor. The student does not need to transform himself, nor contribute to the total store of objective human knowledge, but merely present something which is "acceptable." The filtched paper is a magnificent symbol of this pre-professional ersatz liberal arts education: the discarded husk of someone else's interior transformation, bought cheaply, acting on a purely utilitarian motive, to satisfy a demand whose true nature is totally foreign to the student.

Two quick concluding notes: (a) Every time I catch someone, I carefully document and assemble what I consider to be an "airtight" case against the plagiarizing student, and send this information off to the Academic Dean. To this day, I've never seen a student get more than a verbal warning. Part of the reason lies in the fact that reviewing such a case consumes a lot of time (the paper and source must be read, the professor consulted, the student interviewed independently, a judgment made, registrars contacted, etc.), and it never ends well, so few people are inclined to prosecute plagiarists as part of their already busy-day.

(b) Most depressing, for me at least, is the general aura of suspicion which widespread plagiarism spreads over the brightest students. In the semester following two of the outrageous plagiarisms mentioned above, a student submitted to me a paper analyzing the concept of Platonic Form and its ramifications for Jazz. I was initially incredulous, but when I read it, it had a coherent presentation of the Theory of Forms. Several interesting insights were made about the nature of form and music, the paper concluded with an analysis of a Miles Davis song. It was a stimulating and insightful paper from a student who had really grasped Plato. Or was it? I couldn't help dounting whether the apparent intelligence of the student was really nothing more than quickly-purchased ingenuity. So I searched the web. Nothing. I compared his paper with the writing style of his essays. Looked the same. I submitted the paper to Turn It In, and it came back clean. My esteem for this student grew considerably, but I still couldn't shake the suspicion that somewhere, somehow, the paper had been filtched. It was just too good.

I never found evidence to the contrary. I decided not to mention my concerns to the student, even indirectly, and gave the paper an A. I tried to recall the genuine feeling of delight I experienced when, early in my teaching career, I first learned something new about an old author through the questions and unique insight of my students. But I couldn't escape the feeling I'd just been hoodwinked. To me, that's a considerable loss in the teacher-student dynamic.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/20/2002 03:23:00 AM | link

Regarding my post about the M16, Peter from the USMC writes:

"My platoon was informed by our Sergeant Instructor that the "underpowered" nature of the M16 was actually a design feature. The bullets of the M16 leave the barrel with a wobble, and when they enter the body, tend to bounce around inside, causing lots of internal bleeding which results in death 10-15 minutes after getting hit. In the meantime, 3 or 4 of the injured man's buddies will be engaged in the futile effort of carrying him back to the medic, instead of shooting at you. A weapon with more firepower would instantly kill its target, relieving his fellow soldiers of the burden of a medivac operation."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/16/2002 07:07:00 PM | link

I don't watch the news, because for the most part it is useless. Someone please prove me wrong. I don't follow any sport, I have no interest in some unknown person's tragedy several hundred miles away, and what little important information there is (whether something is going to blow up today) is punctuated by mind-numbing, saccharine repartee from perky female commentators. (With Meade in particular, my wife has had to restrain me from physically smacking the TV on occasion.) Besides, why wait to hear 20 seconds of live commentary when you can go to an online news site? The whole presentation of TV news is designed to make you sit through 80% of what you don't want for the 20% you do in the hope you'll find the other 80% interesting if forced to consume it. No thank you.

When there's a slow news day, I politely request that the news drop their canned human interest stories about some rescued animal or toothless kid who taught himself to read using old newspapers, and move directly on to the Simpsons, where the commentary is actually witty some days, and definitely more entertaining.

What's new? In my opinion, this question is best answered 100 years after the fact, or more. Nietzsche's news. Panda reproduction, another baseball over some fence, and even today's "Oh Sheesh" piece -- 10,000 gallons of Sulphuric acid pouring out of a railroad car in Tennessee -- will be forgotten about in a year, and best dispensed with pre-emptively. I suggest the empty airtime be filled with a reading of Qoheleth.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/16/2002 09:45:00 AM | link

Not too surprising that Zorak and I are matching villian types...Except I am not a waifish blond girl.

What Type of Villain are You?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/15/2002 10:54:00 PM | link

This week Google sends me web denizens in search of:
"Ancient Greek porn" (Twice in two days! Is this this what you're looking for?)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/15/2002 10:41:00 PM | link

-- Begin Rant --

Cooper's remark (below) reminded me of one truly annoying feature of all the September 11th memorials this week: the tendency to resolve tragedy by adopting a different subjective mindset about it, rather than by facing it and acting accordingly. For example, at the World Trade Center memorial site, when the winds stirred up a whirling duststorm in the middle of Pataki's (?) speech, people were visibly moved, and he dubbed it the movement of "Three thousand angry souls." This was clearly too much for the mentally-enfeebled perky female CNN commentator, who immediately added: "I'd like to think of it as three thousand souls showing their strength."

Well, that's all very nice, Miss Feuerbachian-projection-is-my-spiritual-pablum, but they're not strong, they're dead. The "I'm not a victim" mentality doesn't work any more after the heart stops beating. Then you have to face the uneqivocal fact that good people die for no good reason at the hands of evil men, and no amount of "paradigm readjustment" or "coping mentality" is going to change that. The dainty pleasures of bougeiose flatlandia are over for you, where convenient, profitable exchanges can be made out of mutual self-interest in a value-neutral environment safely isolated from ultimate life questions. Now get your damn head out of the sand and quit taking your soma pill of "I'd like to think of it as..." at the first sign of trouble. I mean, really, how long can this "coping skill" be seen as anything worthwhile? I'm surprised we're still doing this a year later.

And it's not just Sept. 11th, it's all over the liberal worldview: "I'd like to think of AIDS as liberating" (I've heard this one myself in DC), "I'd like to think that all world religions worship the same God" (hmm...tell that to Moloch and Astarte for me), and "I'd like think our public schools are a sign of hope for our children" (no comment). Well, I bet some folks would like to think that a .30 aught-six is a magic wand that sends certain very annoying people directly back to God, but I don't think this way, since it's dangerous and does nothing constructive. Ditto for all the above neologisms and coping slogans, which are actually much more fatal, earnestly believed, and widely practiced than the latter example.

The "I'd like to see it as..." virus is so widespread that whenever I teach philosophy to the community-college crowd, I have to spend the first month explaining to them why politely trading pictures of their comforting subjective worldviews isn't rational argument. Of course, they'd like to see this exercise as the teacher just being "demanding," similar to how Socrates is "annoying" to many of them, and "transformative liberal arts education" means "another hurdle I have to jump through before I get a B.A." As a worldview deflator, shockingly many students characterize Socrates as the enemy rather than the hero of the Platonic dialogue. If one ever needed evidence that the will can lead the intellect around by the nose, look no further than the "I'd like to see it as..." crowd. The only good way to "see it as" is as it is.

-- End Rant --

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/13/2002 12:18:00 PM | link

Small blog world.
I recently received as a gift Jeff Cooper's Principles of Personal Defense (thanks, TCB!), and today stumbled across his website (formerly, "Gunsite Gossip") which houses his reflections, including Cooperian gems such as:

"Considering the generally sloppy use of English and its attendant sloppy terminology, it must be pretty obvious, even to news commentators and politicians, that you cannot make war on "terrorism," since terrorism does not provide a target...The war on terror is not a war on terror at all. Terror isn't an enemy, it's a feeling. Your terror is what the enemy wants you to feel. Describing our efforts in terms of an emotional abstraction not only obscures the face of our adversary, but the nature of our mission. The enemy in this is the radical Islamist who argues that all non-believers in their faith must be killed."

(Also check out Cooper's appraisal of the M9 and M16 rifle as underpowered.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/13/2002 09:11:00 AM | link

My God, My Gin and (after all that is safe) My Girl
Well, the Sept. 11th Poll is deadlocked between the anti-infidel and anti-prohibition contingents at 45% each, with the anti-misogyny continent bringing in a miserable two votes. (You can still vote if you haven't done so already.) An interesting insight into my readership!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/13/2002 08:42:00 AM | link

For some reason, Google loves to send me people who are looking for Russell Harding's Painted Laptop.

Tres Chic, Mssr. Harding.

I also get traffic from E-Oligarch.com, your online source for Russian Oligarchy. To be free from Russian Oligarchy, simply visit Mr. Vilensky's Mobius Strip.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/13/2002 08:27:00 AM | link

Today is the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, a local devotion extended to the universal Church in 1683 by Pope Innocent XI to celebrate Our Lady's miraculous assistance to the Polish King Sobieski. He led a decisive battle against Muslim forces who were defeated just a few miles outside Vienna on September 11th, 1683. Osama Bin Laden sees this date as the end of the Western expansion of Islam (and thus the date for his attack). Let us give thanks to Our Lady for crushing the serpent under her heal on this day, and let us pray that she will help us to do it once again. Deus Lo Vult!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/12/2002 09:22:00 PM | link

After you're done taking the poll below, why not read this, courtesy of Jane Galt. (Who is Jane Galt?)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/12/2002 09:09:00 PM | link

September 11th Poll

We should subjugate the Muslims because . . .
they are infidels
they are misogynists
they have enforced prohibition on millions of people for more than 12 centuries

View current results
free polls and surveys @ www.votations.com

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/11/2002 05:31:00 PM | link

God works in mysterious ways. Aforementioned X10 camera web pervert was inbound from a web page at Adult Video News, which is a trade magazine for porn dealers. In particular, from a July 2001 editorial. The following piece, from the pen of the enemy, is a ringing endorsement of the power of publicly-attested Christian morality and good old-fashioned shame, which this professional advisor to porn dealers identifies as the two biggest threats facing the industry. He notes: religious conviction is stronger, hands-down, than the avariciousness that leads most people to deal in porno. Christians, do what Kernes says at the bottom of the article: Take note, and act accordingly.

Warning: Your Sexual Philosophy May Kill You
By Mark Kernes, Adult Video News

"If you stand for God in public, you will be criticized. And if you're not willing to take the heat, you shouldn't claim to be a Christian." - Judge Roy Moore, who refused to remove a plaque containing the Ten Commandments from his courtroom wall, and used the resulting uproar to catapult him into his current position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court

A fairly sizeable portion of you adult retailers reading this are from the Old School. You opened your stores more than 20 years ago, bought tapes, paperbacks and magazines from a traveling salesman (who kept the stuff in the trunk of his car in case he got stopped by the cops), and maybe you had to sell the material from under the counter.
Busts by the local constabulary were always a worry, more so because there didn't exist anything like the First Amendment Lawyers Association (FALA) - just a handful of relative newcomers like Lou Sirkin, Paul Cambria, Art Schwartz and Stanley Fleischman - and the common belief was that the stuff you sold caused hair to grow on the palms of the viewers' hands, and inevitably led to their abusing their spouses and kids.
But times have changed. Adult stores - chains of them, even! - are all over the map; big and small distributors abound nationwide; most mainstream video outlets have an adult section; FALA has over 100 members - and perhaps most importantly, the majority of adult Americans have seen at least some explicit material in their lives, and most have figured out that they haven't been harmed by the experience.
On the other hand, times have changed. Whereas, 20 years ago, "Battling the Scourge of Pornography" was generally a topic of Sunday sermons and, aside from clergymen needling politicians about the "problem" over lunch at Musso & Frank's, pretty much left alone the rest of the week, now there seem to be dozens of Websites, staffed by ex-Justice Department prosecutors, devoted to the subject, each with its own testimonials about "How Pornography Ruined My Life Until Faith In Jesus Redeemed Me," and each with a Plan to put you out of business.
And the problem is, they might just succeed. Let me explain:
One of the things with which we free speech activists are all too familiar is the fact that adult businesses can barely get their clientele to sign one lousy, stinking petition opposing whatever new zoning reg, licensing scheme or hours-of-operation restriction the local city council is currently trying to spring on the business, much less get any of them to stand up at a council meeting and say, "Yo, I rent adult videos; I watch them with my wife/girlfriend/jack off to them in the privacy of my own home, and I'm against you bluenoses trying to make it more difficult for me to do so."
At one of the panel discussions at "Celebrate Free Speech Lobbying Days" in Sacramento in early May, actor Dave Cummings described this customer reticence as "shyness," but I think we need to call it by its proper name: Shame. These people are ashamed to be seen in the adult section of a video store; ashamed to confess that they like to be sexually stimulated by watching others go at it; ashamed to admit that they are sexual beings. That's why it only takes a couple of picketers outside your store, or worse, some jackass writing down the license plate numbers of your customers' cars, to scare away a fair amount of business: "Oh, what will the bridge club say if they find out we watched Michael Raven's Underworld?"
The answer, of course, is: Not much. They're probably watching it, or one of its equivalents, in their own homes - late at night, with the blinds drawn. But that reality seems lost on the average chickenshit consumer.
So what about you?
Ayn Rand has pretty much covered the concept of not being ashamed that you're a good enough businessperson to make money honestly in your chosen field, but I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with store owners that essentially boil down to, "I don't really like this stuff, but boy, does it sell!" To which I can only reply, "That's great; I hope you make millions - but in any battle with these religious so-called 'moralists,' that way of thinking puts you down at the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two strikes on your batter - and I hate sports analogies."
Seriously, though, if you're uncomfortable with watching the videos you sell - the better ones, that is; not the 90-plus percent that's crap - you should seriously consider finding another line of work, because those people who picket your store and testify against you at city council meetings are already one up on you: They believe in what they're doing, whereas you're just a "lousy capitalist" who "peddles the smut" that corrupts their kids (even if the kids never actually get to see the stuff).
Now, don't get me wrong; capitalism is the best economic system humans have yet been able to come up with, and as long as you're selling something that someone wants to buy, that should be the end of it. But these people aren't fighting you economically, in the sense of going into competition with you; they're fighting you morally... and if you don't believe in the concept behind your product, you've already given them all the ammunition they need to do it.
Try to imagine yourself in a city council chamber, with these censorship types droning on and on about the horrors your store supposedly is creating, like decreasing property values, drug use and prostitution, imminent HIV infection and child abuse.
How do you respond? "What I sell is legal, and my customers spent $50,000 on it last year, so what's the big deal?" Certainly true, and in a more perfect world, that should be all you'd have to say. But these religious nutcases and their buddies have had the ears of the council members for a lot longer than you have - like, all their lives - and the ones that aren't swayed by the hellfire arguments have probably had enough socialistic indoctrination to be unsure whether supply-and-demand is a persuasive line of reasoning.
So what do you say? Frankly, I'm hesitant to go into any specific points, considering that not everyone who reads this magazine is friendly to this industry and its philosophy. But certainly I - and others who write for AVN - have set down enough thoughts on the subject that you shouldn't have any trouble figuring out how to counter the lies so frequently spread by people like Donald Wildmon, Robert Peters and Phil Burress.
Just think of it as a matter of life or death. And act accordingly.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/11/2002 05:12:00 PM | link

Jangled Nerves on Sept. 11th, or Too Much of Ted's Hooch?
Kennedy's Dog Attacks Worker at Capital.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/11/2002 03:08:00 PM | link

Greetings to the web pervert on Cox Cable from New Orleans asking Google "How to hide an X10 camera." Answer: If you're that stupid, you don't get to make your own porno. Sorry. Please join the three other people who bought that thing for an actual security purpose.

BTW, if there was an award for the company most deserving of a DDoS (distrubuted denial of service) attack for annoying advertising practices, I would nominate X10. Where will I see that banner next? Tatooed to my grandma's cat? I'm not sure what's worse: the sheer volume, or the transparent cheesy innuendo. Read this for a longer analysis of industry backlash against X10.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/07/2002 05:57:00 AM | link

The post which previously occupied this space was too grumpy a response to good old Minute Particulars, even if he did call my post a wet blanket. That's what happens to me when I try to absorb too much Near Eastern ancient history in one sitting. Minute has a fun joke here. Look at the cover twice, but don't click on the source image at EGR, because it takes you to something awful on amazon.com.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/06/2002 08:17:00 PM | link

Regarding the previous post, I forgot to include a definitely approachable and reliable work, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible series produced by Scott Hahn & Curtis Mitch. This is much more appropriate for parish Scripture study than any of the heavies mentioned below. This, the Navarre series, and the Ancient Christian Commentary series, should keep you spiritually nourished in a pastoral desert.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/06/2002 02:19:00 PM | link

Be stout, ye faint of heart, I'm going to answer a piece of mail:

Bob writes a letter which, in my experience, reflects the concerns of a number of Catholics who have experienced poor Bible study classes:

...I had been seeking to dig into Scripture some years back and, visiting my local Catholic bookstore, picked up several Collegeville commentaries (attractive to me because I attended St John's as an undergrad). I was aghast at its overall faithless tone, as if it were a commentary on the Iliad. I somehow picked up the idea it subscribes to something called historical-critical method.

The Illiad comment makes an excellent point. Another (blog-less) friend of mine described his experience at Oxford in the same way: "They taught Christianity as conceived by a post-Christian generation of archeologists." Used by itself, this is what the historical-critical method can do to a text.

What's worse, such an approach isn't even justified with Scripture considered as a purely literary document. The culture for which the Illiad was a central, authoritative text can only be approached through archeology. But Scripture has had a close, ongoing relationship to a living community of faith for which it is still central and normative, viz., the Church. Approaching Scripture like any other "dead text" will guarantee a misreading.

That said, there is much about the ancient Hebrew world that is unfamiliar to us as modern Westerners, and so the sciences that recover these features can enhance our reading. Near Eastern studies, archeology and studies in Semitic comparative literature can all be insightful, but they have to be properly integrated. This integration must be guided by principles of the Catholic Faith. All the Fathers knew this, and the greatest exegetes among them were well aware of all the difficulties of the text itself and the gap in cultures. Jerome doubted the authenticity of the later books in the canon. Origen and Augustine, too, troubled over the divergence of available manuscripts. Many, many fathers turned over questions about the historical accuracy of the chronologies of secular events. But they approached these difficulties in a synthetic and respectful way, and came up with enduring answers. One either believes or does not believe in the inspired nature of the text, and that attitude will make a huge difference in the method one adopts.

Also, I should note that the arrogant and short-sighted concept of "scientific interpretation" -- a product of the Enlightenment -- has sunk into the bog of post-modern theories of interpretation, hopefully not to rear its ugly head again. Ditto the Romantic hermeneutic which insists that the only authentic interpretation of a text is one which reproduces the subjective mindset of the author in his exact place and time. This theory constrained Old Testament studies to the realm of paleo-anthropology for too long. Even the snazzy, modern, secular philosophers of hermeneutics don't buy the scientific and Romantic theories any longer. For example, Hans Georg Gadamer's Truth and Method has a nice savaging of the shortcomings of both theories.

The letter from Bob continues:
I have since become involved in my local parish, and have to tell you, we all been bit by that critical-method snake in a big way. To listen to both those providing and those being provided instruction is enough to make you want to cry.

It may have its place in the world of academia and is certainly useful even for amateurs in studying Josephus, but the critical method seems absolute poison in the hands of parishioners seeking to study the Bible.Everybody's a wise guy (even some priests), sitting high atop the accumulation of modern knowledge and wisdom and looking down upon the half-man/half-monkey authors of Scripture with enlightened authority. Not exactly conducive to hearing the Word in lives starving for even a crumb of it.

In fact, even though I tried to dissuade our men's Bible-study group, this Saturday we embark upon a study of Genesis using ... the
Collegeville commentary! They've never heard of the historical-critical method (in the same way fish have never heard of water, I'm afraid). I sincerely appreciate your recommendations on Genesis. I have picked up the Navarre Pentateuch and Thomas Oden's treatment looks very useful. Ultimately, I'd like to help develop an approach to the study of scripture that actually understands it to be an element of Divine Revelation.

Is there any reference work of which you are aware that provides on overview of the various (what I think are called) hermeneutics?

I tend to read awful, leaden books written for academics. (Why they must be written this way is always somewhat of a mystery.) For a big, thick book, Henri DeLubac's Medieval Exegesis, Vol 1: The Four Senses of Scripture. basically presents a zillion examples of how Patristic and Medieval authors read Scripture (over 100 pages of footnotes!). The second volume has just appeared in translation, together with a shorter work called Scripture in the Tradition, edited by Peter Casarella, who is brilliant and whom I trust implicitly. Sometimes he's indirect and hard to follow because of his prodigious intellect, but he's solidly orthodox and helping to rebuild Catholic U. (I guess that applies to both DeLubac and Casarella, although I meant the latter.)

David Laird Dungan's A History of the Synoptic Problem is a readable attempt to present an overview of how modern trends in textual criticism and interpretation have effected how we approach the Gospels (Dungan confines himself only to the Gospels). He also traces how these trends and methodological presuppositions have given rise to the present split between Catholics, fundamentalist, and interpreters of the Protestant-academic/skeptic variety. Many interesting insights, but he's dead wrong on his reading of anti-Semitism in Melito of Sardis, and he does not grasp Medieval philosophy very well at all. But you can't expect all things from all people, and this book needed to be written to fill a major gap in the literature.

Dungan worked with William Farmer on the huge, one-volume International Bible Commentary: A Catholic and Ecumenical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century. It attempts a fusion between New Jerome/Anchor Bible style commentary and solid Catholic exesis. It is so big I've hardly done more than to glance through it.

I would recommend things that are already available online:
Leo XIII: Providentissimus Deus
Pius XII: Divino Afflante Spiritu
Pius XII: Humani Generis
Second Vatican Council: Dei Verbum
Pontifical Biblical Commission: Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.

The Roman Theological Forum has a brief series of online lectures that look very good as a general idea of how to introduce a traditional method of Scripture study.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/06/2002 02:11:00 PM | link

Hola! to all my Spanish-language readers from fotos del apocalipsis.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/06/2002 01:17:00 PM | link

Want Fewer Deviant Priests? Get Rid of Deviant Professors, says the Pope (N.B. Theological College! -- See below)

The second half of this Zenit article covering the Brazilian bishops' Ad Limina visit is less than a day old, and is already completely obliterated by the media coverage of the first half.

The first half unambiguously states that "it would be lamentable that, because of a misunderstood tolerance, immature youths or youths with obvious signs of emotional disorders, be admitted to ordination, which -- as is sadly known -- can cause grave scandal in the consciences of the faithful and obvious harm for the whole Church." (And David Morrison, whose brave work I respect, is right to point out that this does not refer exclusively to gays. At the same time, let's not kid ourselves Dave, it refers completely to the gay priest problem, as well as other problems.)

But the second part of the article is just as interesting, IMHO:

He [The Pope] focused on the roots of the problem: "The existence in some theological schools and seminaries of poorly prepared professors, [some of whom] are even in disagreement with the Church, causes profound sadness and concern." The Pope explained that it is not possible to let "those who are formed, to be exposed to the disorders of formators and professors who lack explicit ecclesial communion, and clear evidence of seeking holiness."

This might be interesting in relationship to places like Theological College, which needs fumigation more than your average DC tenement. Did anyone else catch this article by the Washington Post, interviewing one straight & one gay former seminarian?

I can tell you, however, that the tenor of gay activity at TC is greater than what is portrayed in the article. I find it strange no one in the media has yet mentioned the widely-known incident just a few years ago in which two seminarians were discovered fellating each other in the common room after hours. If memory serves, one left voluntarily later that year, and I don't know whether the other one stayed on or not. Neither were expelled. Of course, if one of the straight candidates was found in flagrante with a cute CUA grad student, I'm sure his interior forum advisor would send him packing, or at least home for a year.

The author of the article also strikes me as either a moron or intentionally oblivious to what is patently gay behavior. For example, she writes:

Anyone who was slightly strange or overly sociable or even too conservative was gay. The "parafaculty," or students who planned alumni days, bishops' visits, cocktail hours -- gay. The DOTS, the guys on the fourth floor named after a very rigid order, the Daughters of Trent, who wore cassocks to class or did the 5 a.m. devotions in chapel -- gay, but "praying to the Virgin to take it away."

Umm, they call themselves the DAUGHTERS of Trent for a reason! Hello! This isn't paranoia on the part of the other students. It's a common trope of gay humor, used to advertise one's orientation: To name yourself something female, rather than Sons of Trent. You'd have to be an idiot not to pick this up. I knew a gay Catholic man who used to call himself "Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face" when he got dolled up to go to the disco. Ditto his greeting to another gay Catholic: "Hail, Holy Queen!" Like watching Absolutely Fabulous, such parlance is the polite common coinage of a certain subset of gay subculture.

Anyone with eyes can see the sick confluence of religion, sex and gender confusion in all the tropes and overtones used to subtly advertise homosexuality at supposedly more "discreet" locations like TC. No one will say it because, quite simply, they support it. I find it hard to believe anyone who has lived in the gay Mecca that is Washington, DC is oblivious to this. Go spend a few weekends down in DuPont Circle. Better, make the acquaintance of a couple of queers at the St. Matthew's 5:30pm "Community Mass." With in a matter of weeks, you'll be hanging out with half the gay Catholics in town. For every 1 seminarian who is too stupid or intransigent to cavort around off campus, there are 5 who cruise the gay scene on the weekend and put the collar back on for Monday morning matins. I'm not saying that all are sexually active, since I'm not there to find out, but really now. You don't see the straight candidates going to singles nightclubs on the weekends with a group of girls. And if they did, what would you conclude? Isn't the scandal caused by such behavior alone sufficient for rejection of a candidate for the priesthood?

In short: No one should be neutral on this issue, because neutrality is only a liberal word for implicit endorsement. Until they get rectors who call a spade and spade, and a fruit a fruit, you're going to see this for a long, long time.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/06/2002 10:00:00 AM | link

Identity Crisis? Contrary to a reader's hypothesis, I'm not Mr. DeFeo, but both of us are in the process of being assimilated into the same vast, right-wing Catholic borg.

The quest for Nihil Obstat's Identity suggests the need for a Catholic blogger equivalent to the Turing test: How can we know that all the blogs aren't simply sparetime weekend projects of the voluminous Eve Tushnet?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/04/2002 06:40:00 PM | link

A crowd of Thomists gathers around a passing comment made on Amy Welborn's blog and generates several pages of commentary on our knowledge of God from Ia, Q12 of the Summa. Ah, the eddies of the blogosphere.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/04/2002 06:23:00 PM | link

Hey You! With the fast 'Net connection, MP3 player, and Catholic faith!

The Christian Classics Ethereal Library is well-known for its great online resources, like the complete Ante-Nicean / Post-Nicean Fathers Collection. But did you know that they offer some great, free audiobooks?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/04/2002 09:15:00 AM | link

More Lightbulbs Per Minute With the Spiritual Senses
It's only my second week teaching Old Testament at the new school. The last time I undertook formal study of Scripture, it was exclusively through the modern methods of criticism (form criticism, historical criticism, redaction criticism, etc.) at this place. Tedious, dry and often quite speculative, the method could nonetheless be quite profound occasionally when it recovered important background context for the interpretation of Scripture, and it sometimes yielded some very solid results.

But most of the time it was like diving for pearls. It takes patience, experience and a certain amount of luck. Only a seasoned academic can submerse himself in volumes of minute textual commentary and volumes of Journal of Old Testament Studies. Even then, only sometimes does the effort pay off with a rewarding exegesis. Moreover, Protestants with little doctrinal background quickly found that the method was depressingly ineffective in making sense out of the entire OT corpus in any kind of systematic or spiritually nourishing way. Sola Scriptura + Modern Exegesis = Doctrinal Aporia, with the interesting by-product of Christian literary theory / hermeneutics.

Fortunately, I learned there was more to life than the sensus literalis in my doctoral program. I spent only a semester studying the Patristic and Medieval ways of reading Scripture (compared to two years doing modern methods), but the benefits have been enormous. Even more so now that I am teaching undergrads again.

Instead of banging them on the head with something like Gerhard von Rad's Old Testament Theology, Volume I and boring them to tears with the Four-Source Hypothesis, I opted for a patristic reading of Genesis. They loved it. Some student hit the jackpot on every verse. We continued with the Navarre Bible Commentary Series, and soon they were into the text: seeing the prefiguration of the New Testament in the Old, tracing the interconnections of the mysteries of the faith, and because the text came alive to them, they were more invested in questions about its history and structure when mention of Julius Wellhausen et alia came around.

All the more reason why priests need to recover spiritual reading of the Old Testament for preaching. The students I teach are self-starters, and are already invested in learning the significance of the Old Testament. The folks in the pews, for the large part, may not be. The vivid imagery and associations of allegory and anagogy lend themselves so readily to preaching, I'm surprised they've been neglected. Perhaps this is because the academic exegetes derided these methods as "unscientific" -- an arrogant modern concept of interpretation that has since sunk into the post-modern hermeneutical bog, hopefully not to be seen again. In any case, in an age of bored and poorly catechized Catholics, why not give them at least suggestive imagery if not the ripe fruit of doctrine so readily offered in the Fathers? One could begin withThe Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, or The Navarre Bible Commentary on the Pentateuch, or, if one was really feeling wild, The Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas. The layman might considering buying such a volume as a gift for an interested priest.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/04/2002 09:04:00 AM | link

My entry for Temporal Transition Tuesday
(Yes, I know, it's technically Wednesday already, but the sun isn't up yet.)

"What I would have been doing 2,500 years ago"

Scene: Late evening. A little tavern outside Miletus, sooty oil lamps burning in the eaves. Me and another Milesian around a table, somewhat drunk:

O.O.: No! No! Ouranos is the larger god. Okeanos is smaller.

Phaedo: But how can Okeanos be smaller? He stretches to the edges of earth!

O.O.: So he does. But see: Okeanos is round, like this table top, and Ouranos covers over him completely like a bowl. The surface of the bowl is much larger than the plane of the table, although they meet at the same edge. (O.O. pushes kylix toPhaedo, grins.)

Phaedo: That's where you are wrong, skygod-lover! Okeanos is curved too. He is like this tablecloth. And he flows beneath the earth as well, where there is no sky! So he is the larger god.

O.O.: Well, if you don't believe Ouranos is the better god because he is larger, you must admit he is superior by reason of the more excellent things he produces.

Phaedo: (Incredulous) Like what?

O.O.: Ouranos produces opposites, like fire and rain, cloudy air and bright sun, blazing heat and freezing cold. Let's see your sea-god do that.

Phaedo: Just because your sky-god can't decide what element he wants to produce is no reason to mock Okeanos for prefering water. Water is the better element. It is necessary for all life, which is why Okeanos brings forth better monsters. And how would you get your drink without water? (Phaedo pushes nearly empty kylix back to Old Oligarch, who drains it.)

O.O.: But Okeanos gets his water from rain, and rain comes from the sky. Anaximenes has proven that rain is generated from cold air by felting. So it all comes from Ouranos in the end.

Phaedo: Damn your scientific rationalism.

O.O. Why don't you have another drink?

Phaedo: I think I will. I accept your theory, but I will continue to worship the traditional gods of my forefathers.

O.O. And I will spill out some wine for Okeanos, since we are so close to the sea.

Phaedo: Sounds good. Did you hear Blogadder's news from Samos? They say Pythagoras got his ass kicked in the plebiscite....

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/04/2002 05:53:00 AM | link

Mr. DeFeo, no moderate anti-modernist himself, rightly memorializes the anniversary of Pope St. Pius X's Oath Against Modernism. Read the text, note the links to Pascendi and Lamentabili Sani, and then check out the insightful comment which Prof. Raymond Marcin of the CUA law school makes about the 1910 Oath in his Eutopia article, namely: Every Father of the Second Vatican Council had taken it. In addition to the general principle to interpret recent Church teachings consistently with others, this fact should encourage us to synthesize, rather than oppose, the insights of Pius X and Vatican II.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/01/2002 04:35:00 PM | link


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