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

E-mail Me
oldoligarch @yahoo.com

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Any e-mail I receive is fair game for publication, with comments, unless you explicitly say so beforehand.

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Thank you, John Hughes.

AMC ran a marathon of brat-pack movies this week, which I vidcapped. I pulled up a listing at myway.com, which provides direct links to IMDb, and I discovered that John Hughes, movie writer and producer, is single-handedly responsible for a vast majority of the cinematic good times of growing up in the 1980s, and most of the brat-pack flicks. (Also, if you didn't grow up during the 80s, just watch the brat-pack oeuvres, and you're halfway there. IMHO, the pack includes Cusack, Masterson and Downey, Jr. too. See what they're up to now.)

During the 1980s, John Hughes wrote:

Uncle Buck

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

National Lampoon's series of Chevy Chase movies (European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, etc.)

Some Kind of Wonderful

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Pretty in Pink

Weird Science

The Breakfast Club

Sixteen Candles

Mr. Mom

If you add Less Than Zero, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and a few other pack-related films, you've got yourself a nice collection.

Take the Which Character Am I? Quiz

Quiz code is broken. View source and do it by hand.

[Lastly, a note of apology to the John Hughes I know in real life who probably was expecting some mention. You're a great guy, too.]

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/30/2004 10:11:00 PM | link

United States of Amazonina, or Kerry Nation
The great thing about having a political perspective which works primarily in centuries and not in days, is that I am at leisure to formulate and deploy my theories. I can just wait until the demographic I need comes along to support my hypothesis.

Case in point: I am always struck by what must certainly be an absolute novelty of the twentieth century: we have a large and ever-growing class of single women, many of whom become completely established on their own in society and live into their 30s before they decide to find a mate and settle down. Is it any surprise when we find that, as a class, they are generally bad for society?

The blurb: "The "marriage gap" - the difference in the vote between married and unmarried women - is an astonishing 38 percentage points, according to aggregated USA TODAY/CNN/ Gallup Polls. In contrast, the famous "gender gap," the difference in the vote between men and women, is just 11 points."

To summarize: whether a woman votes Democrat or Republican turns out to be massively correlated to whether she's married. Democrats are evil. Thus, the 20th century's creation of a large class of single women is both symptom and propagating cause of social dissolution.......

This post was meant as a playful way to interpret the statistics. I wasn't being very serious beyond the second paragraph. I realize that I have the same ponderous tone no matter what I write, so it is impossible for the liberal reader to tell when I am being playful.

Posts that create more heat than light depress me. So I am removing it. Goodbye.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/30/2004 01:12:00 AM | link

XM radio user basically makes his own radio version of TiVo; XM and the RIAA predictably go ape.

and speaking of apes,

Maybe evolution is right after all.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/29/2004 01:47:00 PM | link

A blow to 80s music: Laura Branigan Dies at 47.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/29/2004 01:37:00 PM | link

Diary of a Suburban Priest (new blog) discovers the verdant garden of Bernard of Clairvaux. How easy, healthy, rich, holy and good it would be to return homiletics to the allegorical exegesis which was once its life-blood.

To put it another way: The New Jerome Biblical Commentary is a great homiletics tool -- if you are a short preacher and need something to stand on behind the podium. Otherwise, ditch the sterile boredom-o-matic of 19th century "scientific exegesis" and soar with the Fathers and Doctors of the early & Medieval Church.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/29/2004 01:38:00 AM | link

I've tied for 9th in a recent vocabulary contest run by the adventures of Promethius and Sabrina. I am honored.

I also stand chagrined because I feel like I've been sorely neglecting one purpose of this blog almost since inception: a storehouse for all the etymological connections I come across. Like many of my loves, my love for words remains largely theoretical. Zorak is the custodian of the proper use of the English language in our household.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/28/2004 10:27:00 PM | link

Youngest known premature birth to survive (just under 7 months) is now 15 years old, an honors student and plays violin. She's also walking evidence for those who expose the untenability of "viability outside the womb" arguments for abortion.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/28/2004 03:00:00 AM | link

Well, this takes the cake for incoming Google searches this month. I am ranked #1 for pictures of dogs painted on women's breasts.

Can I persuade the Googler to settle for a Cezanne on a lady's forearm? How about a bee painted on a scapula? No deal? Gotta be a dog on mammaries? Too bad for you, chap. You are ahead of your time.

It's like that old joke about the internet. You type: "Show me pictures of a flaming goat." And it replies: "Search returned too many items. What breed of goat?"

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/27/2004 08:01:00 AM | link

Answers to long-standing bourbon questions I have oft pondered (the first is etymological, no surprise):

Q. What does the "bourbon" in "Kentucky bourbon" have to do with the House of Bourbon from France?

A. From straighbourbon.com: "It takes its name from Bourbon County, located in the central Bluegrass region of Kentucky. It was formed from Fayette county in 1785 while still a part of Virginia and named to honor the French Royal Family and was once the major transshipment site for distilled spirits heading down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. Barrels shipped from its ports were stamped with the county's name, and Bourbon and whiskey soon became synonymous."

Q. Why is alcoholic content called "proof"?

A. Still not entirely sure, but check out the proofing ritual, from the aforementioned site:

"Before the hydrometer became a common instrument of the distiller there existed a method of proofing known as "gunpowder proof". It was a simple procedure and took advantage of readily available "tools". Bourbon and gunpowder were mixed in equal proportions in a small fireproof vessel and ignited. If the flame burned yellow the liquor was too strong, if it burned blue the proof was true. A yellow proofed liquor was mellowed with spring water until it burned blue. The proof of a blue flame spirit was about 100, or 50 per cent."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/25/2004 11:38:00 AM | link

From a blog I found called "Being or Nothingness":

Bruskewitz whacks Greeley with his stout episcopal staff.

Pope calls women "sentinels of the invisible", appealing to their greater awareness of the psychological and spiritual life.

A black bear in Seattle gets wasted on 36 beers and passes out in campground. Moreover, it prefers microbrew.

According to Google, the blog does not contain a single reference to Heidegger. Take that for what you will.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/23/2004 03:04:00 PM | link

Funny anecdote from when Louis Armstrong met Pope Pius XII, who was a big fan.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/21/2004 04:46:00 PM | link

Today is the Feast of Pope St. Pius X

One good way to celebrate is to read his encyclicals, starting with Pascendi. It might not hurt to remind yourself while doing so: "This is 20th century Catholicism." Let the resultant mental discord be the impetus for a further dialectic between your faith and modernity.

The Catholic Encyclopedia article demonstrates an oft-unmentioned fact but does not highlight it: This pope, perhaps the greatest of those who died in the 1900s, had more pastoral experience than any other. A priest-professor of mine said that Pope St. Pius X probably spent more time in the parish than any of his predecessors in centuries.

I think there is a connection between his young experiences as a priest and his continual demand for frequent reception of the Eucharist and early, proper preparation for first communion.

I will let others speculate on whether these experiences also shaped his habit of kicking ass and taking names when it came to disciplining errant theologians and clergy.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/21/2004 04:46:00 PM | link

Ugh. Very tired. Desparately trying to do some last bit o' reading before a week of prepping for classes. Pulled a tendon in my knee somehow, but a homemade apparatus seems to work to make it better. Mastered the viscissitudes of DivX encoding. Finished another comps book. You know that scene in Clockwork Orange where they try to "cure" him by prying his eyes open and forcing him to watch movies? It's almost that bad with me reading ecclesiology.

But then there's Tiny Little Lies. The only thing sweeter than his ice-cream filled chocolate chip cannolis is his anti-Kerry harangue about the Left's willingness to censor whatever it doesn't like. Preach it, brother.

Leftists have banned political ads because of the distorting effect of lobbist groups on our elections, but they want to invite some enlightened foreigners to "monitor" our elections? I gawk at the simultaneous inversion of the First Amendment and abrogation of our national integrity. It's the political equivalent of a circus freak who can juggle while speed-eating a pie. You don't know whether to admire the dexterity or laugh at the idiocy of it all.

Moving on, I propose a challenge for Tiny Little Lies: The Harangue Merengue. A dish to be served with a rich larding of bombastic right-wing commentary. Think of it as the Reaganite inversion of Sartre's Tuna Casserole. Extra points if the ingredients are metaphorical. I think crushed liberal nuts would be a nice topping.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/21/2004 12:52:00 AM | link

Probably the only legal thing I'll blog in months:

Ninth Circuit Sides with P2P Networks

The same court that once helped shutdown Napster delivered a punishing blow today to the record labels, confirming an earlier decision that P2P networks are legal. The court then went one step further to say it's unwise to alter copyright law in a way that could stifle innovation just to suit well-established players in a market, given the ways in which technology often changes the market for the better in the long run.

In total, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco ruled that makers of decentralized P2P software should not be held responsible for their users' actions. While sometimes used to download copyrighted material, P2P software is also used in a number of non-infringing ways. In addition, the software makers cannot control the behavior of their users.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/20/2004 03:33:00 AM | link

Ah, those German theologians.

In a Lutheran-Catholic exchange, Hans Urs von Balthasar agreed that the oft-misleading term "infallibility" (Unfehlbarkeit) (which connotes "perfection" as easily as the lower goal of "without error," when the whole point is irreformability), and granted to Hans Frei that the German term Letztverbindlichkeit might cause less confusion.

A contemporary theologian, in a recent paper, suggested this usage ought be adopted; and, since he is an academic, he perfers to leave the term untranslated.

While academic is thinking only about his own audience, imagine the fun if this practice received "pastoral application." Imagine telling your average American Protestant: No, no, I don't believe in papal infallibility. We call it papal Letztverbindlichkeit now.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/19/2004 10:44:00 PM | link

Elena from My Domestic Church was intensely helpful and wrote about the new Blogger navbar: "If you go to your template page, there is a place to change the color of the toolbar or turn it off completely." Thank you!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/18/2004 07:52:00 PM | link

Thanks, Trav!

I got this sweet XR12 Aker Leather holster for a birthday gift. Fits like a glove and works great with my Glock for concealed carry.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/18/2004 07:36:00 PM | link

Blogwatch is blinking 'cause my battery's drained /
ArmorAll on my tires, and my finger's sprained.

I really did sprain my finger, two days ago, from typing so dang much outlining my comps books and doing e-mail. In good masculine fashion, I've taped the defective finger to a functioning one, and continue to type with the resultant 9 digits as best I can. That's as close to an athletic injury as I come these days.

Justice Knight on a hopeful turn in Australia, and Fulton Sheen on dating.

Wash. Post interactive urban sprawl map. Less exciting that it sounds, but insightful. I've never really cared about urban sprawl. I assume this is just the logical consequence of people discovering that living in the big city is hell.

DC JournalCon is being held at Hotel Helix, a metrosexual (re)vamp of the old Howard Johnson that stands next to the apartment where I used to live on R.I. Ave. I am not going to aforementioned conference, but part of me still wants to see the fuzzy couches, neon accent hardware and other bizarre stuff I saw moving into that once as-staid-as-humanly-possible hotel out of idle curiosity.

Steve Kellmeyer on the unwanted woman. Be sure to read to the end. I also note on a completely unrelated point to the article: If his numbers are right, that's 79 million Chinese and Indian men without a bride. That's one hell of an army, people.

The \\
Last Cigarette:Marlboro Red. Last SMOKE = Owl Shop Mystique in a corn-cob pipe.
Last Alcoholic Drink:Evan William's Bourbon (=yuck!) at 5am.
Last Car Ride:Yesterday.
Last Kiss:Wife; good night.
Last Good Cry:Umm? Good?
Last Library Book:Jean Rigal, L'ecclesiologie de Communion
Last book bought:Francis DeSales, Introduction to the Devout Life
Last Book Read:Avery Dulles, Catholicity
Last Movie Seen in Theatres:Will Farrell, Legend of whatever it was...
Last Movie Rented:Dunno. Terminator?
Last Cuss Word Uttered:So many, so often, the mind whirls.
Last Beverage Drank:See "Last Alcoholic Drink"
Last Food Consumed:Cream-filled cookies; breakfast
Last Crush:Whats-her-face. (It's been 15 years...)
Last Phone Call:Mother. Again.
Last TV Show Watched:Weather Channel.
Last Time Showered:Yesterday (I haven't been out yet)
Last Shoes Worn:Non-descript black el cheapos
Last CD Played:CD? Are we back in the 1990s? They're next to my 8-TRACK.
Last Item Bought:Holy Water Font
Last Download:Do-Something Plugin for WinAmp
Last Annoyance:Waking up
Last Disappointment:Large tree through my car...
Last Soda Drank:Caffeine-free generic cola plus caffeine pill
Last Thing Written:Bloggie
Last Key Used:Lower lock, front door
Last Words Spoken:"Get up." To wife.
Last Sleep:2 hours ago.
Last Ice Cream Eaten:Dunno. Makes me sick.
Last Chair Sat In:Herman Miller Aeron, the prince of chairs
Last Webpage Visited:e-pression.blogspot.com


Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/15/2004 01:54:00 PM | link

Alien vs. Predator exchanges at chez moi
Because sarcastic fun doesn't have to be hard.

Note: if this movie is anywhere close to the plotless smorgasbord of special effects and violence which the title alone suggests, we're gonna go see it. Mediocrity I can't stand, but the extremes of the spectrum (high or low), I'm there. I am presuming there aren't even any humans in the movie?

Avenues of humor already exchanged include the following:

What if Alien vs. Predator concluded with a surprise moment of emotional rapport between the two warring space creatures?

Dialogue might proceed as follows:

Predator, inflicting astonishing blow to Alien while invisible: Die!

Alien: GrrrAaaarrgh!

Predator (to self): I've finally wounded it.

Alien: Of course that hurt.

Predator: You feel pain?

Alien: Yes, just like you.

Predator (pensive, then melancholy): You know, I've never thought about how much we're really alike, after all.

Alien: I guess we're both pretty self-avoidant. Intergalactic carnage is such an easy way to forget oneself in this crazy universe of ours.

Predator: I never wanted this. Look at me! It's just...I always end up hurting the people I reach out to. Dad was always so cold...and invisible. (*sniff*)

Alien: Hey there. At least you didn't get your ass kicked by Sigourney Weaver. What do you think that does to your self esteem!?

Predator: You're remarkably sensitive.

Alien: I am a female, after all. (Winks.)

Predator: Is mating even possible between us?

Alien: If hunting man has taught us anything, it's this: Possession of compatible genitalia are a bygone standard for romantic affection.

Predator: You're right.

** Music swoons. They kiss. **

Predator: What do you say?

Alien: San Francisco?

Predator: You're on, baby!

** As they swoop together towards the Golden Gate, the movie concludes with a cameo shot of Gov. Arnold on top of the bridge, bandolier-strapped and wielding two M-60s. **

Schwarzenegger: As Govenor of California, I declare your interspecies union terminated.

** Roll credits for sequel: Alien Loves Predator: Will Love Conquer Justice? **.


O.O.: When we go see this, and we get our tickets, I'm going to ask the ticket saleman, "Hey, man, where's my libretto?"

Zorak is incredulous.

O.O.: When he gives me a look, I'll just fake it and say, "I thought this was an opera. You know, with Italian subtitles."

Zorak, playing along, cheerily: You think he's gonna believe that?

O.O.: If he doesn't I'll just say, "Look, man, if Tommy the Pinball Wizard can be a "Rock Opera," I think it's reasonable to suppose Alien vs. Predator might be an opera, too.

(Yes, we probably do need to get out more. And no, no one has yet compared us to the movie.)


If you've read this far, you probably will immensely enjoy this Arnold quote. I don't know where it's from, but it's even better that way:

Arnie talks Thomas, from Arnold pranks and Arnie Sound Board.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/14/2004 07:55:00 PM | link

My 90,000th visitor arrived on 13 Aug 2004, at 10:40:37 pm, surfing from the Home.com network using the Firefox 0.8 browser. 100K, here I come!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/14/2004 02:05:00 AM | link

Guess the theologian who said this.

I was dumbfounded when I read this citation in Dennis Doyle's Communion Ecclesiology. Which conciliar-era illuminatus said THIS about post-conciliar confusion?

"The generation that grew up in the 1970s, while being very aware of the new outlooks of Vatican II, were often painfully ignorant of much of their Catholic heritage. Those who taught the new were at times deaf to the cries about loss of the old, equating all such cries with a traditionalist rejection of the Council. . . . But others, and I would include myself among them, while enthusiastic for what was introduced into Catholicism by Vatican II, see no need for the concomitant losses, e.g., of inner-Catholic loyalty, obedience, and commitment to the church; of dignity in liturgy; of Gregorian chant; of a knowledge of the Latin tradition reaching from Augustine through Thomas to the Middle Ages. To try now to recoup some of those losses while still advancing the gains of Vatican II would be an act of eminent good sense."

The answer is below. So as not to give it away, I've interpolated his name within the characters "Mystery name is." Remove those letters, and you've got the author.


Can you believe it? I've said almost the exact same thing, with him in mind as a prime example of "Those who taught the new were at times deaf to the cries about loss of the old." When I think "abandonment of tradition" and "free-wheeling post-conciliar b-llsh-t," he's in the top ten. How can it be?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/13/2004 10:26:00 PM | link

They tell me don't blogwatch and drive; I say "What is this? Mind your bidness. And pass it around." --LL Cool J

El Camino's vignette on the end of Western culture
This is exactly how I feel on more depressed days.
And Cacciaguida with an apropos addition.

Front and Cnytr
The Catholic cadette comes and goes, blogging Fra Angelico.
And a bit of Bouguereau.

On an entry in Newman's diary shortly before death.

Gordion Knot
On why old men shouldn't play a young man's game.

Before my single friends get anxious about finding their mate, I add: Even as a single man, I've generally found bars to be a depressing place to meet women. The critique often used against art museums can also be used against dating women in bars: Art, like the uniqueness of woman, is best encountered naturally, in its organic place in a living corner of society, rather than in the aggregate, horded and arrayed in a special-purpose warehouse. The critique is actually more forceful against dating in bars, IMHO, since artwork in a Heideggerian "standing reserve" is less offensive, because artworks are not depersonalized when treated as at-hand.

Eve, Drugs, Insomnia
I experienced the sleep-deprived, insomniac Eve last weekend (certainly not the first time in our 7 years of acquaintance), and now she has a list of suggested remedies.

I note that Sominex is just repackaged Benedryl (diphenhydramine). The unintended major drowsiness caused by Benedryl was cross-marketed by some clever devil who realized that the major defect of Benedryl could be sold as a sleep aid. (It's a feature, not a bug!) Yet I share with her the experience that, when I take Benedryl in a mentally wired yet physically tired state before bedtime, I get jittery rather than drowsy enough to sleep.

So I take this opportunity to note my own serendipitous solution which capitalizes on an unintended effect of another drug: Flexeril (cyclobenzeprine), a muscle relaxant. When the insomnia starts to mess with me, I pop 5mg of this for a nice sleep. 10mg puts me down for 12 hours easy, and I'm drowsy the next morning. (Drink lots of water to flush it out of you in the morning, then you'll perk up in less than an hour.) Like many drugs that make you drowsy, though, the effect wears down after your system gets used to it, so by day 3 or 4 of a bad bout, 10mg works like 5mg did initially.

I discovered this when I wrenched my back in a bad fall 5 years ago. Anxiety about surgery and major pain in any posture pretty much prevented sleep except when exhaustion or one dose of Flexeril took over. Then, through happenstance, I happened to score about 100 of these pills which someone was discarding. Now I have sleep-on-demand. And your muscles clenched from stress are all smoothed out too.

Eve remains incredulous about using drugs for other purposes than that for which they were labelled. But I am a pragmatist in this area. Pills are technology for your body; the best technology is adapted wisely by the end-user to his specific needs.

For those who suffer from sleeplessness, my general recommendations are:

1) Don't run through your day, obligations, etc. in your mind.

2) Try this exercise: focus on your body for a bit, note which parts are tense from stress (knotted neck? clenched jaw? legs?) and make a conscious effort to relax them. While you store stress in your muscles involuntarily, you can voluntarily release it by relaxation.

3) Moderate exercise during the middle of the day helps. Desk jockeys need to do something with the heavy bear or else it will keep you up at night. If like Eve, you abhor running, buy yourself two rubber-coated dumbbells. Develop your arms and do some sit-ups and push-ups as minor exercise. Take a walk. That will spend the physical energy.

4) Use caffiene responsibly. The people who say "Do without it" probably have the bills in their wallet organized by serial number and allot precise minutes of their day to use the bathroom. They are madmen. Avoid them.

5) Alcohol is like a firearm: it can be good or evil depending on how it is used, but always potent. When I drink too much, I can't get to sleep the next evening. But a shot or two before bed time often relaxes me. Yet when I'm really tired, however, a few shots wake me up. You have to know your own body.

I disregard all those "Do not combine with alcohol" warnings, since I'm not going to operate heavy equipment any time soon. I have yet to suffer the fate of Jimi Hendrix by doing this, and I doubt anyone else will so long as they use moderate doses and don't drink a bottle of Jack before bedtime.

Nonetheless, the sheer volume of laywers in society compells me to add: none of this is medical advice. Consider it a fashion statement. Use at your own risk.

This also explains why playing Quake / Half-Life before bed is such an effective ritual. A half-hour of using the neglected hunt/kill portion of the male brain (maybe women can play Tetris or SimCity) absorbs my attention completely, blanking out the mind's pressing concerns. The constant vigilance the game requires (verisimilitude helps) artificially elevates your pulse and alertness, while you are actually getting quite tired. As soon as you stop, your adrenaline crashes, and you haven't thought about anything stressful for a while, so you flop into bed effortlessly.


One reader adds: "One reason they tell you not to drink alcohol with
pills is that time-release and enteric pills are often coated with shellac, and alcohol dissolves shellac." Although I doubt it's actually shellac, I am the last person in the world to criticize anyone for not using a proper medical term.

Lastly, I am a Google One-Hit Wonder for
"rose sangreal mary magdalene yale"

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/12/2004 07:55:00 PM | link

This blog was never conceived as a place to address leftist arguments, nor will it become such. The pile is just too deep; the work too unenjoyable; and the personal relationship usually required to convert another's heart on fundamental issues, absent.

That said, I turn my attention briefly to this young lady's objections to my modesty post.

First off, a stylistic point. I thought conservatives were supposed to be the pre-fabricated, indoctrinated ones! I mean, really. If I tried to write the usual leftist objection to my own article, it would not be far from this. One wonders whether to look for a direct cable connection from her head to a 486 in the basement of NARAL.

Second, I have absolutely no idea whether the lady is going to hell. I have no idea about her education, motivations, or life history. I also know that just about every bourgeois college girl I've met in DC holds the same opinion as she does. You can't be spoon-fed into hell; you actually have to do some of your own work to contribute to that general trajectory. That aside, filling the mind with bad philosophy and concupiscence makes the Devil's job a lot easier. Having been led to a precipice, one only needs to make a surprisingly small individual contribution to end in disaster. I am surprised the Devil has anything to do at all after Kant, Rousseau and the 1960s. If the state of Catholic education continues the way it has been, someday we (viz., the Devil and I) may meet in the unemployment line -- surely a bizarre encounter.

Now, on to the argument in the briefest form possible:

" . . . strikes me as a teeny bit crazy."

Yet the lady doesn't articulate a single concept that could be used to judge when dress is "sane" or "insane." Instead she appeals to taste, which is relative and subjective.

Or, to put her statement and my response another way:

"God forbid that we shouldn't look like the people we see on TV!"

As a remedy, I suggest a dose of history. You'd be surprised what weird things people once did. The wrong lesson to take from this is that your own culture's most recent, default mindset just happens to be -- by the greatest coincidence in the world -- the non-weird one. And saying "We're all weird in our own way" is contentless. Against the more fully-clothed example of earlier generations, are we really so sure we're not the crazy ones? And how would we know? Are the fashion debacles of the 1970s so distant that they can't be used as a metaphor? I'll try, nonetheless. Have you at least seen pictures of the ugly people in avocado and puce polyester clothes with the nappy hair? Did you notice how happy and fashionable they think they are? The flesh-kaleidoscope that typifies fashion this latest half-century might look as weird as chartreuse bellbottoms 100 years from now. In 2105 we might be calling now "La Nue Epoche," except the fin-de-siecle decorative posters will be completely abstract or cubist, and so not nearly as racy as one might imagine. Nonetheless they will just as dated, and bought by 22nd-century college students trying to decorate their rooms in slightly antiquarian fashion. The miniskirt: bustle of the mid 1900s. But that's crazy talk, I’m sure.

Later she writes the beginning of an actual argument

"i don't have a problem with women choosing to dress modestly because that is how they are more comfortable, but i have a huge problem with someone thinking it's perfectly acceptable to tell women how we should dress,"

This what the lady says about everything: stay-at-home moms, abortion, etc. While she has her own opinions and should be allowed to do them, she wants the same for the person with opposite convictions.

Problems with the above:

1) Women aren't a special class of people immune from reason or public responsibility. See my earlier post about that. I do note that what I predict there rings true with your blog's sidebar links: it's the same tactic used by pro-choicers to avoid rational argument about the fetus (making it a "woman's rights" issue instead, unless you're talking to a pro-life woman), gays, special interest race politics, etc.

2) "I want to get to do what I want" is an incoherent political philosophy.

First, style point: It reeks of adolescent baggage, the first beer away from home, and not letting (big sister / dad / mom) tell me what to do anymore. Don't get me wrong: there is something exciting about the moment of rebellion! But that excitement collapses immediately into something bland if the rebellion is a one-man campaign for your own whim.

Second: Dissuade yourself of the view that you are actually being "liberal" (in the original sense of the word) or "tolerant" by such a perspective.

It seems generous. After all, we wouldn't want to tell those stay-at-home-moms or modestly-attired beachgoers what to do. That would be against the golden rule, which -- for reasons beyond me -- remains a constraint to most liberals. (What if you don't want to do the golden rule? That's where "I get to do what I want" gets truly interesting, IMHO. Read Nietzsche and buy a gun.)

But in reality, such an offer of reciprocity is not generous. It is an imposition. Politics is about how we structure our public life. Despite how often we reassure ourselves we are perfectly autonomous rational islands -- doing whatever we want in self-directed isolation from everyone else unless we are physically coerced -- communal life really shapes how each of us thinks, what we value, how we act, and how we respond to the events of daily existence. Your world where people are free to abort or not abort, gays are free to sodomize or not to sodomize, and people are free to masturbate to their hearts' content or be chaste, is a very different world than a place where sexual morality obtains the force of law.

Both worlds shape the people who live in them involuntarily. Both are impositions. The only question is therefore: Which imposition is better? The lady's whole blog doesn't offer a single argument which gets beyond the presumptuous self-referential impasse of the "-choice" canard.

Politics is the realm of the involuntary, and it involves the involuntary partly because politics is the realm of the communal life. We would have no politics at all if everyone could opt out of whatever he wanted to without consequences. While it might seem that "pro-choice" people allow their pro-life counterparts the ability to "opt out" of abortion, in fact what is the case is just the opposite: Pro-lifers must endure the publicly-sanctioned slaughter of small children in their own community, all throughout the country, and can do nothing about it(more than exercise their right to complain, which liberals also gradually diminish.) And if you saw something worse than rape going on routinely on your block -- and that is what abortion is to pro-lifers -- you would hate it every day of your life too. That's a real imposition on me. I do not chose it. I do not want it. But pro-choice people force it on me. That is politics. One cannot opt out.

Another aspect of the communal life is that it shapes our thoughts and habits. I am amazed whenever some rationalist -- talking about legalized pornography in the convenience store, or now, on the internet -- responds to concerns about the moral effects of porn on men and women with this line: "Just because it is legal doesn't mean you have to look at it." What they mean is: Porn's mere legality makes it completely neutral. Since each person has to decide for himself whether to look at it, only those who think it is already OK will look at it.

This is wrong on so many fronts, it is hard to know where to begin.

A) Anything recently legalized gains implicit social endorsement as something that is "now OK," or at least "not as bad as we thought it once was." Likewise in the case of dress, anything which obtains the authorization of fashion gains the implicit endorsement of one’s peers.

B) This presumes that people act on the basis of pure reason, and that the will, appetites, history, habit, chance, etc. have nothing to do with the types of decisions we make. It presumes that human nature is completely plastic. It presumes, for example, that young men won't be curious about certain things more than others, and are able to resist everything with equal ease.

Once you move beyond this crude picture of human psychology, you realize:

What people do publicly effects other people in real ways. What people do publicly effects others' values, choices, attachments, etc.

Both the lady's attitude toward abortion and her attitude toward modesty turn on these fundamental mistakes.

Advocating a society where debutantes and playgirls have the "freedom" to flaunt themselves free from moral censure or any sense of shame is actually advocating slavery to lust in place of chastity. Either way, you're under a law. (The rule of the passions or the rule of chastity.) The only question is: which is better?

Until people start thinking in terms of (a) human nature, (b) better vs. worse, (c) each other and not just me, we won't get beyond the incoherent, short-sighted discourse of "I want to..." and "How dare anyone tell me!" So while we are stuck in that hole for a while, I dare. Consider it my way of "getting my freak on." When you're tired of that kind of discourse, maybe we can actually move on to something intelligent.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/12/2004 04:33:00 AM | link

Mother nature opens a can of whoop-ass on our car. Yes, that's a fully grown tree, with roots beyond the left margin of the photo.

Kids, this is not what you want to see when you walk out of your house in the afternoon.

The front:

The aft-termath:

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/11/2004 09:55:00 PM | link

Thank you, St. Joseph, protector of the house.

A massive storm just blew over, and we live on the top floor of a townhouse-style apartment building. We've gotten a few tornadoes in this area, and when I saw a big 60-mph wind stripping leaves off the trees outside my window, I got ready to shelter in the basement.

Just then, Zorak, looking out the window, sees a 20-foot long, foot-thick tree limb crash to the ground. After the storm, we saw it was actually the top of a tree a mere 5 feet from our patio. If it had fallen the other way, it would have come right through our living room.


Well, this puts a damper on it. The storm TOTALLED MY CAR. A huge tree fell right on top of it, crushing it, and over my second car, which managed to escape unscathed. I guess St. Joe doesn't cover automobiles. 8-)

Zorak is mad because her trustworthy, servicable, good-looking car got totalled, while my old faithful jalopy came out without a scratch, missing destruction by mere inches. In fact, only because the tree's top was resting on her crushed car did its trunk miss my old faithdful.

Anyway, as you can see, I have a lot of things to attend to. Bye for now.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/11/2004 04:53:00 PM | link

Therese: Story of a Soul is almost here, and still needs your help! Consider giving them a few dollars, or better, to coordinate a viewing near your parish.

The producers hope that it can follow The Passion of the Christ's evangelical efforts and bring them into a different aesthetic field. One newsletter called this movie the feminine counterpart to TPOTC.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/11/2004 02:07:00 AM | link

Reading Ghislain LaFont's Imagining the Catholic Church: Structured Communion in the Spirit. It is as bad as it sounds. I will keep the book just in case I ever ingest poison and need a violent emetic.

What is it about the French and godforesaken ecclesiology? It doesn't help that book has a fawning preface by Rembert Weakland, a fellow Benedictine, praising LaFont "whom I came to know personally" for his theological "boldness" yet monastic "naivete and insouciance," which -- as far as I can tell -- means playing loosely with some philosophical ideas as a veneer for swiftly concluding that they promote every liberal reform conceivable: married priesthood, re-admission of divorcees, local election of the bishop, diminished role of the papacy, etc., etc. Fetch the bucket.

To the straight conservative reader, one skips right past the inconsistency of it all, marvels that such trash gets into print (not even acceptable as a Master's Thesis, IMHO) and one immediately concludes that this author must have been someone's client along the way to get this far.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming...

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/10/2004 08:57:00 PM | link

African cardinal institutes modesty code for men as a condition for admittance to worship. Via Santificarnos.com

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/10/2004 08:57:00 PM | link

Phil Blosser has a great short post on the Roman poet Juvenal and his denunciation of homosexuality.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/10/2004 03:56:00 PM | link

Orthodox Chant

If the Holy Father encourages Western theologians to think about Eastern theology with the phrase: "Breathe with both lungs of the Church!" I assume we Westerners should sing with both lungs of the Church as well.

I've been greatly enjoying a few albums by the Boston Byzantine Choir which I purchased from Conciliar Press (an Orthodox Church publishing house). If you want to dip your toes into the ocean of Greek chant, give them a try.

The nice thing for a neophyte like me is that Boston Byzantine Choir (=BBC hereafter) does a great job at chanting in English using traditional Greek chant tones. That's right, they do everything in translation, and it still sounds good. Even though I could eventually translate the Greek, it permits faster incorporation of these hymns into my prayer life and spiritual reflection, which is basically what I am after. (In addition to acclimating my ear to other forms of chant.)

I found several of the chant modes vividly memorable and a few quite evocative. Be warned that on some albums (particularly the Akathist) the BBC uses "microtonal accents" which are sub-octave steps in pitch which accentuate certain words by means of a little arpeggio of notes, which usually ascend and descend quickly in a wavy, warbling tonal figure. If you're not used to this strange sound it can sound Arabic, no doubt because its origins are Middle Eastern. One gets used to this pretty quickly however. I found myself throwing them in (poorly) when singing along after about two weeks. Compare "Awed by the Beauty" on First Fruits versus on Akathist Hymn to hear the chant with and without a lot of accents, although I think I hear a few on First Fruits as well (my ear for pitch is bad).

Another stylistic difference which I have not been able to enjoy is a certain Greek mode of emphasis which basically cuts the tempo in half. This super-slow mode always makes me impatient! Thankfully not many chants are in this mode (cf. "O Lord I Have Cried" on First Fruits. It takes two minutes to say anything.)

The albums are progressively better-recorded, I think. One (I forget which) was quite soft when I ripped it to MP3, which is my standard treatment for all new CDs the second they are out of the box. By "soft" I mean using less than half the dynamic range available across the board, which is a mastering mistake. The other two were fine. One can also detect clearer recording from the source in later albums (better miking or environment, etc.)

If you dislike a mixed choir of men and women for ecclesiastical chant, the choir might annoy you. I had a hard time not thinking that certain women-only parts sounded like the Rondells. If you enjoy Anonymous 4's Marian hymns, however, you'll love this.

Those slight criticisms aside, on to the albums:

First Fruits

I recommend "First Fruits" as a good all-around introduction to the various styles and themes of Greek chant. That said, I ended up only "getting into" about half of the tracks on the album to the point where I can recite the chant from memory. I especially liked "God is the Lord" and its two subsequent continuations, "Rich Men Have Turned Poor," "Magnificat of the Most Holy Theotokos" and "O Virgin Pure" (a more recently-composed chant). "Awed by the Beauty" and "To Thee the Champion" are taken from the Akathist Hymn, so you will hear better versions of these on the album dedicated to that hymn. The otherworldly chromatic majesty of the "Arise, O Lord!" in "Blessed is the Man" (=Ps 1) sent shivers down my spine for about two weeks.

Mystical Supper

I believe Mystical Supper was BBC's first album. It is a setting of chants for the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostum, which is what the Greek Orthodox Church and Byzantine Rite Catholics celebrate as "Mass." Mystical Supper's purpose goes beyond simply displaying the richness of the Byzantine chant tradition. It seeks to promote the celebration of the Orthodox liturgy in this country by making chant styles and their English adaptations familar.

I have a purely personal hang-up about this album: I just simply prefer to learn a liturgy by attending it, rather than hearing it on CD. Likewise, I like to see a play before I read it. There's an Eastern Rite parish up the road from me, so I attend that when I want to habituate myself to the rhythms and common chants of Eastern worship. I just think it is more natural. I didn't really notice this until I could compare listening to the album and going to Eastern Rite services in person. While the former is definitely a much better choir, I still prefer the latter. Maybe this is temporary, since I don't mind listening to tons of Western Mass settings on CD.

Akathist Hymn

The Akathist Hymn is tremendously enjoyable and will give your Marian piety a reinvigorated soul. Highly recommended on the basis of the text alone if you are not familiar with this Eastern devotion to Our Lady which stems from the 6th century author St. Romanos the Melode. The chant setting is elegant, although dominated almost exclusively by the female half of the choir. One wishes for a little more of the excellent male cantor.

I've fallen deeply in love with the Akathist Hymn, so I will blog more about this later. Just buy the CD. It's an absolute treasure. You'll see! The Alleluias and "Rejoice, bride unwedded" refrains alone are worth the modest price of the album.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/10/2004 03:54:00 AM | link

Just when you thought scholasticism wasn't useful.

I also note something I did not remember (surprise, surprise) about this question in the Summa: it's not a diriment impediment, and thus if you murder her in anger, you might remarry if penitent. Having told you this, I've just closed another loophole for the murder-minded, or at least added the sin of presumption to their list.

Also, the passage is not written by St. Thomas since the articles in the supplement were completed by friars after his death (Thomas left the ST unfinished). I am too lazy to see whether this supplement article is simply a summary of what is in the Summa Contra Gentiles or something more innovative.

I thought it was cool how the author locates the impediment in the murderer's inability to formulate a proper intention when seeking to marry another woman after murdering his first wife. Zorak found this unnecessary, prefering "Murdering your way out just isn't part of the deal!" But that's precisely the kind of "little addition" Thomas doesn't feel qualified to make. Instead he bases his objection on the current state of canon law and more strongly, on the notion of valid intent (=intending what the Church intends when undertaking the sacrament).

Using canon law as a theological source runs throughout the ST. I bet some Thomist has commented on St. Thomas' great respect for church discipline, but if they haven't, consider it here duly noted. Most modern systematicians turn up their noses at canon law the same way physicists turn up their noses at applied engineering. (Of course, it doesn't help that canon law is often flooded with "reform"-minded pragmatists these days.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/10/2004 02:45:00 AM | link

Fellowship of Catholic Scholars has a great conference lined up this year!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/10/2004 12:52:00 AM | link

Counter-argument to the "Victorian Ankle" objection to my modesty posts.

(To beat the issue completely to death!)

I've gotten some other comments along the lines of the comments box over at Bettinelli's blog.

If I was going to argue it in full (which I'm not), I still think that one can establish objectively immodest fashion using reason and prudence and still account for the canard that "seeing her ankle in Victorian days" was considered sexually provocative, thus what's modest is entirely culturally relative.

To disprove this "slippery slope" objection, all you need to do is to distinguish:

Immodesty provoked by revealing sexually provocative parts of the body. ("Intrinsic" immodesty.)

Immodesty provoked by a cultural convention that indicates that the woman is easy. ("Signaling" immodesty.)

In permissive days such as our own, the latter category has been subsumed into the former. But there have always been clothing signals which women have used to suggest that they are sexually available for a tryst. Only perverts now specialize in them (e.g., handkerchief codes in bars). The handkerchief thing is actually a great example: no one considers it intrinsically immodest, but if it means, "I'm available for x with anyone" then of course, it is immodest.

For example, few men would find a shaved head attractive these days, but Hebrew prostitutes would shave their heads or keep short-cropped hair as a symbol of their profession. As a signal, a shaved head was something gravely modest at that time. Even though it is intrinsically ugly -- certainly not arousing by sight alone! -- such fashion was sexually arousing to your average Hebrew because it indicates the wearer's desire for a promiscuous encounter. (Thus, one can interpret 1 Cor. 11:6 correctly: unveiled women are equated with libertines.) Staring directly into a strange man's eyes was also considered the Hebrew equivalent to licking one's lips and winking.

Many "slippery slope" objections to modesty arguments which come from Victorian culture fall into the category of provocative signals rather than intrinsically indecent dress.

For example, few today would consider Sir Frank Dicksee's Leila to be immodest. Her dress is completely satisfactory as far as being well-covered is concerned. But to someone living in 19th century England, the bare feet, the leopard skin throw and the sultry, intent gaze all convey something more than mere relaxation.

Similarly the central figure of John Frederick Lewis's Women, another odalisque-pose.

While I wish more people were smart enough to grasp the irrelevance of the "seeing the woman's ankle was erotic in 1800s" argument, I don't blame them so much because in today's unclad culture, revealing oneself is basically the only unambiguous sign one has left. (Perhaps showing the upper string of your thong is the best we've got, but even there, it requires slight undress.) When Victorian fashion was exceptionally prim and prudish, therefore, a date showing you her ankle can be the equivalent of today's girl hiking her skirt above her knee or remarking that she is not wearing underwear (and how the latter is provocative rather than disgusting is beyond me).

So that's how I can argue:

Victorian culture got carried away with modesty and insisted upon a standard that was a too prudish and suppressive of natural beauty, IMHO. Ditto Puritan culture and it's Protestant (ultimately Lutheran) equation of any corporal good or pleasure with sin.

Yet something like flashing an ankle can be sexually immodest in Victorian culture for good reason: what it signals, rather than what it reveals.

Thus, objectively immodest signals are not offensive for what they show (an ankle, unfurled locks of hair, etc.) but for what they suggest.

Thus, the argument that I will somehow become a "modesty extremist" if taken seriously and want to cover every woman in a burlap sack is bunk. It further disregards my earlier remark that a lecherous man can ogle a decently-clad woman and that is entirely his own fault. The very concept of "lecher" or "debauched man" implies someone who thinks about everything sexually, and thus implies a standard against which we can differentiate what is objectively sexually provocative and what is sexually provocative to the lecher because of his distended sexual appetite.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/09/2004 12:52:00 AM | link

Modesty reponse: Part 2: Men's immodesty. Responsibility for immodesty.

Several people wrote in to ask: "What about immodest dress in men? Surely this is an issue, too." Another writes: "I heartily concur with your post on modest dress. You might want to expand on it to include male near-nudity as well."

Yes, men also have an obligation to dress modestly. Most men suffer, however, from what Secret Agent Man has called Dressing Like a Doofus in this related post.

"Why do you talk almost exclusively about feminine modesty, rather than modest dress for men?"

Lutheran in a Tipi blogs two questions. The first is:"Why is it that women are more answerable on this subject than men?"

Because female immodesty is a more widespread problem. In part, this is due to fashion; in part, it is due to the sexual difference between men and women.


Consider the various levels of dress from black-tie downward. All men's fashions (Tuxedo, suit, jacket & tie) leave him fully covered. (Indeed, that's part of the point about men's clothes. You don't have to be in great shape to wear them. Because they don't cling, expose a lot of skin, etc., they're very forgiving.)

Women's fashions for black tie are generally not a problem because IHMO black tie requires a formal dress that is ankle-length. Otherwise women wear a pant-suit or something like that, which also does not raise a modesty concern.

Yet below that (men's "suit and tie" equivalent) women have the cocktail dress, which already can be skimpy, depending on its cut. By the time we reach the gamut of clothes a woman would wear to a "jacket and tie" event, already women's fashions permit short skirts, low-cut clingy blouses, etc. -- potential for immodesty which simply does not exist on these levels of menswear.

(None of the latter women's fashions, I note, are nearly so bad as the bikini and swimwear -- the original cause of these posts.)

So all men's formalwear and most men's businesswear simply do not occasion immodesty the way women's fashions do today.

In terms of casual dress, yes, both men and women need to make clothing choices that are modest, and here, there is some parity.

Yet, most surburban guys dress more like slobs than like gigolos. Certainly this varies according to marital status, sexual orientation, class, and the nature of the social event. But for the most part, women's clothing tends to show more skin, cling to the form, be minimalist compared to men's.

Sexual Differences

There are other factors which I'm only going to mention in passing to account for why women's modesty tends to be a bigger issue:

(a) Since modesty is defined in part by concealing the sexual organs, women have more to conceal, and fashion has more to exploit for the sake of sexual arousal.

(b) Men tend to be more aroused by visual immodesty and are aroused more quickly than women.

As soon as I say this, I can hear a chorus of female voices chiming, "See, it's ultimately the man's fault." Hold yer horses. See below. But first, my principles:

By general disposition, many men do not care if they have a relationship with the immodest woman, or an emotional connection, or trusting relationship, etc., which are generally factors in whether a woman finds a man provocative. Simply put: men can be pigs "by nature." Women can become pigs by training, but most are not as prone to the mind-body dissociation required for promiscuity (or the thought of it), nor do women tend to objectify the opposite sex as men do, and thus women are less susceptible to male immodesty in dress. Part of this is irreducibly about what tempts others. Part of this is about self control.

These sexual differences by no means imply that male immodesty in dress is not a problem, but it does explain why, historically, women use immodest dress to allure men, but rarely does a male-initiated seduction scene begin by the guy walking into the room and doffing his robe. That might be a quick start to the downfall of a man, but most women are not seduced in such a way. Likewise with the more casual, broadly-diffused sexual temptations of public immodesty in dress.

I am assuming here that the fashion tradition works because it has seized on something in the human sexual psychology. Women don alluring fashion because it works. Women's alluring fashions are so designed because we have found that men are more susceptible to this kind of manipulation. Men do not possess an equivalent to the low-cut blouse or miniskirt because women simply are not allured by simple physical displays of the male form in the same way. Men's clothes instead tends to emphasize status, wealth or group belonging (from suits, to uniforms, or sportswear).

(c) Because of (a), there are social situations in which men generally work stripped to the waist or very lightly clad. Yet these environments (e.g., outdoor construction) are often traditionally male environments. Like group showers in gyms and the military, the absence of women permits a certain bracketing of what is objectively immodest.

So is this about male weakness or female impropriety?

Both. Or as Lutheran in a Tipi puts it: "What is the ratio of guilt between a man and a woman if immodesty of dress leads to an 'occasion of sin?' "

Whether someone is guilty is a yes-no judgment, not a quantity. If a man sees an immodestly dressed woman and entertains adulterous thoughts because of her, both parties are guilty of a sin. They don't "split" a fixed quantity of sin between themselves. Likewise, if I pay an assassin to kill someone, it's not like we "divide" the guilt by involving two people in the murder; rather, we "double" it. (Again, the quantitative metaphor is a poor one. "Double" because we now have two guilty parties.)

For the sake of clarity, let's talk about an immodest dresser and an ogler. If someone dresses immodestly, they are morally responsible for providing an occasion of temptation if there is a reasonable chance they will be seen, even if no one ogles them. But on any given day, an immodest dresser may or may not be ogled because of their dress. An immodest women might walk through a pious group of men not get a single ogle. Regardless, immodest dress is "objectively sinful" because it is poor statement about oneself and an intrinsic temptation to others.

Ogling is also always a sin, whether the ogled person is immodestly dressed or not. A depraved man will ogle even a modestly-dressed woman.

Thus: Being immodestly dressed does not entail someoene will ogle you, but is still bad. Ogling someone does not entail they are immodestly dressed, but it is still bad.

Yet, we observe a very reasonable correlation between immodest dress and ogling. Immodesty promotes ogling. In other words, there is a normal, predictable sex drive in people, and we need to take that into account.

Here I am presuming:

(a) Immodesty is not entirely culturally relative. Catholic moralists I've read generally support his position.

(b) There is a typical form of the disordered sex drive of the fallen human being.

[It is disordered precisely because it desires an instrumental good (i.e., the pleasure of sex, part of which is visual) over its ultimate good (conception). It is "typical" in its disorder because the instrumental good it values has some intrinsic connection to the ultimate good. I.e., erotic stimuli usually relate in some way to reproduction.]

(c) There will always be freaks who are sexually attracted to bizarre things, like feet, or suffering, or fire. This is an atypical disorder of the sex drive.

In social interactions, we must take into account (a) and (b).

Others wrote in with comments such as:

In Europe, there are topless beaches, breasts on TV commercials, etc., etc.... so it's culturally relative.

Europe is also more godless than the United States. Secularism is more virulent in Europe, and they are more comfortable with it than we are here. Likewise in Europe, there is barely a peep about abortion, and few struggles about pornography. All that remark does is establish that Europe is more decadent.

Finally Lutheran in a Tipi writes:

A woman's responsibility to dress decently is viewed by some as resembling the responsibility to avoid leaving your car running when you go into 7-11; i.e., if you leave your car running, you're just asking someone to steal your car, and when it happens, you're at fault. I and many of my sex don't understand this attitude. Such a crime is committed by a thief, and leaving a car running outside 7-11 is no sin.

To be perfectly clear: I presume your example takes place in an urban environment where the expectation of theft is real. If someone lost the family car by doing this in DC, NYC or New Haven, CT, I would blame the owner for being careless and the thief for taking what didn't belong to him.

To take an analogous example. Suppose you decide not to put any locks on the doors and windows of your house because "it's the theif's fault" if something happens. Then you are robbed, and your family is penniless. Failing to take proper safeguards is a moral failure. Catholics call it a sin of omission. It is sinful because there are real negative consequences which are harmful to others even though you don't cause them. Because there is a reasonable expectation something bad might happen, failure to prevent a foreseeable evil is a moral failure.

So too with immodesty. One cannot say: leave it all up to the man and walk around half-naked. Or, my comfort / self-perception / what I would do in this situation is the sole criteria of the safeguards I take. Not only does that not treat your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, it also means you are responsible if others decide to treat that temple as an occasion of sexual sin. Of course, the other party is fully responsible for his actions, too.

In closing, if I was going to actually give references, I would cite:

Any traditional Catholic moral manual on this subject.

Several of the Fathers discuss these kinds of problems, which were common in Greco-Roman culture. Early Patristic liturature commonly exhorts Christians to avoid the public baths because of the nudity of the bathers, and in certain areas, the gyms because of the near nudity of the gymnasts. Likewise, because of the practice of full-body anointing, lay females were appointed to anoint adult female catechumens, because it was deemed intrinsically immodest for a male deacon to rub a mature woman on the chest with oil. If you've seen the chrismation scene in "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding," you know exactly what I mean.

I'm sure this is bound to vex some people, and sadly, I'll be travelling for a week, and I won't have time to take this up any more.

One final note:

All these posts pertain to modesty in dress. There is also modesty in speech, etc., which have not been discussed. If you want one area in which men routinely fail in modesty and scandalize women, it is often modesty in speech.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/04/2004 09:40:00 PM | link

Modesty response part 1: Why men and women should talk about modesty. (Read the prolegomenon if you haven't.)

Full mailbag on this one. Let's start with a brief note from the author of Dressing with Dignity, a book which addresses the topic of modesty in dress in detail, and which is available here, or see the blog. (I have not read the book.)

She writes:

Quite frankly, you and I can say the same thing...but it carries more weight when a woman says it!

I don't deny it. That's why I'm glad TheresaMF took it up first.

To take the pragmatic (=lesser) concern first: If women are better disposed to receive this advice from other women, it is even more important that women who desire a return to modesty take up this cause publicly -- or at least mention it in passing in their social affairs with other women when occasions permit. Kudos to you for doing that. Double kudos if you are doing this from the perspective of the Catholic faith, because few others are these days.

While it is true that "it carries more weight when a woman says it," this fact alone raises interesting questions. Let me move from the author's letter and her concerns to consider the more general cultural mentalities which foster the attitude that modesty is a "women's issue."

My hackles immediately rise whenever certain gender-specific issues are designated as belong to the private domain of women, which simply cannot be reasoned about by/with a man. (N.B., it hardly ever works the other way around.)

This mentality, in any area, is lethal to the life of the mind. If you cordon off an area of life from dialectical examination, you cordon yourself off from the communion of mind which is the activity most proper to man qua man, and lifeblood of genuine social discourse. It encourages people to think of you as incapable of rationality, a weak-minded person. This behavior is sometimes the hallmark of cowardice, or a certain must-be-coddled disposition, both of which mean that one should not engage in a public debate, even if to only register a dissenting opinion.

Moreover: Those who erect a wall against discourse are often a demographic which wants to assert moral license under the aegis of "tolerance," and this requires immunity from rational critique. Therefore, such a move must be immediately rejected.

I am never surprised when a "sexually liberated woman" asserts that she may not be questioned on her manner of dress. This tactic is used by feminists with respect to abortion, homosexuals with regards to sodomy, blacks with regard to affirmative action, etc. Unless you belong to the group, you can't even enter social discourse about it or else one is a "patriarchal oppressor," "homophobe," or "racist." No conservative or Catholic should have trouble seeing why the analogous move with respect to modesty is bad. This is not a simple difference of perspective; this is an end-run around reason conducted in the name of self-gratification. Therefore, it should never be tolerated.

Neither of the above two tendencies relate to the author's e-mail or to her own concerns in making her remark. I assume she has something much more benign in mind, such as:

Difference in gender implies a certain difference in perspective on many issues. This may be part of the reason why women take advice on modesty better from other women rather than from men.

Example: In talking about modesty with a friend, a woman might intuitively know the best way to broach suggestions to her friend, or know how to analyze her friend's motivations and to present them in a way which will resonate immediately with other women. Good. Natural. No problem. This is a matter of good communication / rhetoric, however, and not theory.

While we all have certain default perspectives that are colored by gender, these perspectives are not incommunicable (thus the above tirade against "opting out" of discourse). Bridging perspectives not only facilitates discourse, but mutually enlightens both parties.

In today's culture, I find that many young women are somewhat in the dark about the effect scanty clothing has on the men they are trying to impress. (How do I find this out? Either from their own reports later in life, or from reports of conversations they've recently had with "return to modesty" friends.) Likewise the basic differences in male and female courtship psychology.

Surely more discourse about this subject between men and women, not less, will promote a better understanding of the full scope of the issue?

Likewise, I find, among pious Catholic women, once they genuinely understand the way a man tends to think of a girl who dresses scantily, they will seek to minimize occasions of scandal. As I said originally: While men have a grave obligation to chastity of thought and deed, this does not offload all responsibility from a woman and how she exhibits herself in dress.

Or it can be simply a matter of clear communication: if a woman wants her body language to be accurately understood by those to whom it is exhibited, she will want to understand, first, her own motivations, and second, how men think about women and their comportment. This requires either more discourse or trial-and-error.

To put it another way: Insofar as having two perspectives on the issue is better than one, I think it would be more efficient for both genders to discourse on the matter, rather than quarantining the debate among women only.

Women are asking to be continually misunderstood if they insist that (a) their choice of dress cannot be questioned by any man, yet if (b) a man judges a woman's character and motivations to be crude based on her dress, he must be open to correction. Telling a man he can't question how a woman chooses to dress, yet he must respect her, is equivalent to saying he must respect her for no reason. Non sequitur.

The popularity of the piercing movement alone testifies to how many people never get beyond thinking about their body language, yet they engage extreme behaviors with it just because it is popular. I've never once received an intelligible answer about why people pierce themselves, either from a piercing website, a practitioner, or a pierced person. They quite simply don't know why they do what they do, but because it is a fad, they do it. (And, I'm sure the fad derives its power from some psychologically disordered feeling about the body, but that aside.)

They usually offer, "It's like art" (Art tries to express something -- what are you trying to express? They dunno.) or "It's my own personal choice." (I hope so. If that was done to you without consent, it would be a felony! And everything's a "personal choice." So that's vapid.)

The same with dress. If a man today asks a woman why she is wearing a flouncy miniskirt so short that she has to walk around like a penguin to keep it from flying up over her posterior on a windy day, she replies in both disgust and ignorance: "What's it to you?" "That's my choice." She's not even aware of her own motivations, or she is too afraid to say it.

Final point: Cultural disintegration and the implicit value of actions.

Any woman with a sense of history can see that modesty in dress has sharply declined during the last half-century. Yet few question it. And of the many women who adopt modern, revealing fashions, very few care to think about why they do it. Yet go back and read 1960s defenses of these fashions, and you find something quite different: a no-holds-barred defense of libertine society. Today women dress immodestly for reasons of convenience rather than principle: it gets them popularity from their female friends, and male sexual attention. Yet in doing so, they promote a social agenda which is intrinsically harmful, and which must be examined.

In general, we live in a culture which has exploded sexual mores which were largely implicit in centuries past. Whenever this happens, there is a massive process of re-thinking that society must undertake in order to discern whether its new direction is actually right or wrong, and to understand what was worth preserving from ages past, and why we once preserved it but no longer do. (Witness: the gay marriage debate.) Tradition often operates prior to reflection. If it didn't, we couldn't ever get anything done. We'd still be deciding whether it is best to use language.

Many current practices of today's "sexually liberated" culture began as the political projects of self-conscious, strident liberal advocates. Take abortion and pornography in the 1960s. Or take the introduction of the miniskirt. In the intervening 30 years, the effects of Margaret Sanger, Hugh Hefner and Mary Quant have become broadly established, but they are also less revolutionary now. They have been sublimated. Yet they continue to have disruptive effects on everyone they touch, because human nature remains human nature.

No matter how culturally accepted abortion becomes, or how many women dare to wear a pink, babydoll T-shirt that says, "I had an abortion," or "Porn star" (I've seen the latter in malls), killing one's own fetus harms other people, starting with mothers themselves, and wears down society. Ditto making homemade porn on a webcam.

No matter how casually men today talk about masturbating to pornography on comedy shows or the radio, and no matter how many women become convinced to tolerate such talk in front of them or to accept the presence of pornography in their homes, widespread pornography continues to ruin the way men think of half the human population.

You don't have to be an outspoken porn advocate to fuel porn's effects on society. You just have to cooperate. Or at best, quietly defend your right to your own preference. Ditto abortion. Likewise immodest dress.

Will all three, most people who have an abortion, look at porn, or wear bikinis / miniskirts do not do so in a conscious effort to support the worldview of the radicals who debuted these movements. They do so because it is "easy." (Not truly easy, but all sin offers a false, more proximate solution in place of a truly good, more difficult, but more harmonious and satisfying solution.) Killing the kid is easier than raising the kid as a single mom. Masturbation is easier than chastity, and allows one to forget about the burden of sexual self-control.

Likewise donning immodest dress. It gets cheap cultural currency. It is popular: I'm shocking! No one tells me what to wear! I'm flaunting all I've got! You go, girl! None of these, of course, are good roads to self-respect. Culture has defined terms such that a woman who prefers not to expose herself often has to defend why. Fifty years ago, it was just the opposite. Immodest dress also gets cheap male attention. And today, with wholesale disintegration of rapport between the genders, fewer and fewer women can distinguish between good male attention and bad male attention. Witness contraception.

So even if the behavior has become "conventional" and sublimated, it still produces bad effects, even if one does not intend them. Thus:

(A) Immodest dress promotes the objectification of women. Regardless of intention, an immodest dresser harms people, beginning with herself, and does real damage to society.

(B) Refusing discourse about modesty only fuels the problem. It preserves the present alienation between the sexes, which has only been increasing since the sexual revolution.

(C) Not questioning female immodesty supports the status quo that immodest women are unquestionable and those who argue for modesty are "oppressors" or "moralists." The status quo is never normative per se and today is often intrinsically immoral.

(D) Immodest dress, like porn and abortion, are "easy ways out" of sexual situations. Self-control is the hallmark of true personal development, not exhibitionism.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/04/2004 08:37:00 PM | link

Prolegomenon to Modesty response (or any long response, at that).

Any good post is the kind when I have to seriously re-evaluate whether I should blog at all to begin with because I have two intellectual tendencies which prevent me from making this forum a place for brief, witty remarks that do not detract from the more important obligations of the day, and I don't have the time to crank out prodigious websites like certain other Catholic bloggers of note.

The unhelpful tendencies are:

(1) I want to make the definitive case for a position by gathering as much data as humanly possible and assimilating it into a traditionalist argument which is nonetheless intelligible to modernists. But this means writing a book.

In practice, this often means leaving so many avenues open in a longer post that I don't even have time to mention as open avenues. If the post is provocative, I usually get a few e-mails doing that for me. This sets off a mental tug-of-war between saying, "Saw that coming. You're right, I should have written X to counterbalance Y..." and "I shouldn't have started this if I couldn't finish it."

(2) When I get pushed on a point, I have a very hard time prying my fingers off the keyboard and subduing the small but insistent voice from the back of my head which says, "Push back harder!" While this gut instinct is useful in certain cases, it is not conducive to the best prioritization of my time nor to writing a balanced theological exposition. That's also why I don't have comment boxes.

I spent the first few years of my philosophically-trained life trying to squash people. While some still beg to have their asses whipped in a public debate, I now try to be irenic whenever possible, and to establish the right position as often as possible insofar as I think the other person has a chance of seeing it, and insofar as I think I understand where they are coming from. If neither of those two conditions obtain, I seriously wonder whether more harm than good will come from arguing with them for a long time.

Most times, a commonly-embraced error is parasitical open some kernel of truth. If I can find that, I'll jump on it. At other times, it's just a cultural bias that takes a lot of patient knot-untying to abandon. If I have a rapport with that person, I might undertake that route, but only if I know them and we have a lot of time.

In general, however, I still tend toward polemical language when I am in a hurry. So whenever I dash something off in reply, it almost always has the tenor of: "That's moronic. If I had a half-day, I could trounce you six ways to Sunday on that one." But no one likes that kind of response, and I often don't have more time to do something better. And there it stays.

I feel better now. On to the modesty debate.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/04/2004 06:37:00 PM | link

Gumstix: the 200MHz, Linux-based open-source computer coupled with Bluetooth wireless and/or your choice of Hirose or traditional serial cabled interfacing. Memory and apps loaded onto MMC (upto 512MB). If you add a wifi or cellphone internet connection, you've got the power and networkability of your average consumer desktop of 7 years ago sitting comfortably in your shirt pocket.

Size in English units (inches): about 3"x0.75"x0.25".

(And you are supporting the brother of HRH B.A.B.H. with every purchase!)

From the F.A.Q.: "Q. Can I create a Beowulf cluster of gumstix? A: Go crazy. we make the full source code for the kernel and the compiler tool chain available, including a cross-compiler for the X86 platform." Shorthand for: Go ahead, make a Cray-I equivalent in your shoebox for kicks. This is the 21st century, after all.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/04/2004 10:25:00 AM | link

No she's not. She's in my living room.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/03/2004 10:20:00 PM | link

My sincere thanks to the many people who wrote to report that they were keeping us in their prayers because of my earlier request.

While I normally find the line between God's ordinary providence in the order of nature and God's miraculous intervention in human affairs quite hard to discern, I have not ever seen such an unexpected outcome in what (I am certain) would have been a disasterous family encounter without your intercession and that of the aforementioned saints.

Sorry to be extremely incomplete about the details, owing to the public nature of the blog, but please know you've done a good work in collaborating with the Lord.

I am sure the Israelites looked back a few times after crossing the Red Sea, disbelieving their eyes. So too I, and I'm resolved to pray for my family affairs more frequently since what would have been a land war in Asia turned into a moment of rapport. I pray that it continues, and if you want to crown your work with another prayer for its continued flourishing, I would also be very grateful.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/03/2004 10:20:00 PM | link

If you ever start to thinking that your life is particularly bad, remember, you could be this poor soul.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 8/01/2004 10:37:00 PM | link


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