It took me about three weeks to get from my strangely embarrassed general practitioner's admission that I have gotten some bad numbers on my prostate cancer blood test to the Big Day when I got the definitive biopsy results.
“Don’t worry too much” the urologist had told me during the biopsy as he punched another needle into my prostate. (It made a sound like someone pulling the trigger on an unloaded gun). “With your blood test numbers you have about a thirty percent chance of actually having it.” I found these words reassuring and tried very hard to only be thirty percent terrified for the next ten days.
On the Big Day the urologist came into the little room where my wife and I were waiting and he was brimming with optimism. (But why not? He is a surgeon, so even if the news was bad I’d still have an opportunity to get surgery).
“Now let’s see. We did 12 biopsy cores and 11 came back entirely benign. But the 12th one had cancer.”
Seeing the shocked look on my face he hastened to reassure me.Read more
Notre Dame fans can plan their Christmas shopping early: Sports Business Daily reports (story only available to subscribers) that a new Notre Dame-branded fragrance debuts this fall in time for the football season, with pricing estimated at $60 for a 3.4-ounce bottle. It's offered by the same company that has, apparently, turned a New York Yankees fragrance into a $10 million business.
This should wrap up the Catholic fragrance market, since I don't believe the cologne based on Pius IX's recipe has gained wide distribution, and Benedict XVI's custom formula was never offered to the general public.
Commonweal awaits proposals from any manufacturers eager to leverage its brand. Sportswear? Housing communities? We have plenty of ideas.
It was the Bicentennial in Cairo and our plan was to go to the Embassy and eat American food. My friend Ken, with whom I was staying, had heard that the Paris and London embassies were putting on giant spreads, so on the Glorious Fourth we went to our embassy in Cairo looking for hot dogs, fried chicken and Budweiser. But the guards at the gate had turned us away, firmly but almost politely. Egyptian capitalists and government officials only, thank you very much. Get your lowly proletarian butt out of here.
So we had taken our lowly proletarian butts to Ken’s favorite American restaurant in Cairo --- a Wimpy’s.
When someone takes me to his or her favorite restaurant, I expect that the food will be good, or at least edible. But the Wimpyburger was a pathetic lukewarm paste made up of breadcrumbs and some material that might have once been part of an animal, but chances are the animal had not been a steer. The parfait that came with it seemed to be made out of dyed cotton wool and even the Coke tasted like the laxative my mother used to give me as a child. What on earth was special about this place?
I asked Ken, but he was unresponsive and just kept staring up at the ceiling. Or so I thought. He was actually staring out of the windows that were mounted just below the ceiling, since the restaurant was in a basement. At a certain angle, one could look up the skirts of the women passing by on the sidewalk. Ah. I understood. I saw that the restaurant was full of guys just like him paying premium prices for shit sandwiches so they could watch the floor (or ceiling) show.
The Obama Administration's decision to send weapons (don't know what kind) to the Syrian Opposition (don't know which ones) makes you wonder what the president is thinking. This is unlikely to turn the tide against President Assad and his forces; it is unlikely to bring the government and the opposition to any negotiating table (no matter how hard Secretary Kerry begs them); and it is unlikely to gather many allies outside of England, France, and the Arab nations already supporting the opposition. If the administration really wants to stop the killing, it would not be adding to the supply of weapons in Syria. If Assad is going to win anyway, let it be soon and move on. Support the Iranian call for Syrian elections (which Assad would likely lose) and heed the Russian observation that claims of chemical weapons use can be legitimated only by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and not by U.S. intelligence services.
UPDATE: June 16. A thoughtful assessment, "The Commitment Ploy," by Paul Pilar: How Obama has been boxed in by advocates of war with Iran and secondarily, but necessarily with Syria. National Interest HT, LobLog
UPDATE: June 15. A sobering assessment: "For nearly two years, the Obama administration has described the Syrian regime as having “lost all legitimacy” and “clinging to power.” And yet, it has surprisingly endured. That’s because neither assertion is really accurate. Mr. Assad still has strong support from many Syrians, including members of the Sunni urban class. While the assistance Syria receives from its external allies, like Iran and Russia, is important, it would be inconsequential if the Assad regime were not backed by a significant portion of the population." And goes on with several points on the many errors of the Obama Administration in Syria. From NYTime Opinion page.
Iranian Troops to Syria!? Robert Fisk: "The Independent on Sunday has learned that a military decision has been taken in Iran – even before last week’s presidential election – to send a first contingent of 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against the largely Sunni rebellion that has cost almost 100,000 lives in just over two years. Iran is now fully committed to preserving Assad’s regime, according to pro-Iranian sources which have been deeply involved in the Islamic Republic’s security, even to the extent of proposing to open up a new ‘Syrian’ front on the Golan Heights against Israel.
"In years to come, historians will ask how America – after its defeat in Iraq and its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled for 2014 – could have so blithely aligned itself with one side in a titanic Islamic struggle stretching back to the seventh century death of the Prophet Mohamed."
David Brooks's column today is vintage Brooks. In this column I will embed my own nostalgia for the time and place in which I grew up within a framework of someone else's compelling (if simplistic) narrative, and then offer sweeping, general prescriptions for our societial ills. The upshot of this particular instance of the genre is that "religion" (impossibly generalized) used to play a more "dominant role in public culture," and that such a role supported a "moral status system" that provided a check on the "worldly status system." Back in those days, when there were "competing status hierarchies," the "culture was probably more dynamic" and -- it goes without saying -- better.
It's a pristine specimen of Brooks. Along the way, he quotes from the sourcebooks of Judeo-Christian culture (Hebrew Bible and New Testament), which is what he means by "religion," in order to show the sources of our old "mores," before we became "secular." But then there's this doozy of a blunder:
In Corinthians, Jesus tells the crowds, “Not many of you were wise by worldly standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. ..."
Where to begin analyzing this unbelievable error?! Until proven otherwise, I'm going to go ahead and pronounce it the most ironic fact-checking oversight in the history of the esteemed New York Times.
To anyone formed in the Judeo-Christian heritage, the one so exalted by Brooks, it is self-evident that Jesus did not go to Greece or author 1 Corinthians. It's almost pre-rational: Christian kids learn things like this before they even learn that they're learning things at church. Jesus barely left Galilee and did not author anything. Moreover, this section of 1 Corinthians is about Christ crucified, which is unmistakable from reading a couple verses on either side of the quote. It makes me wonder, did Brooks pluck this quote from a Bible quote daily calendar? Or from a context-less collection of inspirational quotes? In any case, during a piece lamenting the declining influence of religion, Brooks reveals his own stunning ignorance of the Judeo-Christian sources that he mines for his arguments.
On to the fact-checkers: I have great respect for these folks at the Times. They have an extremely difficult job at what is the best and most fast-paced newsroom in the country. In my limited (one) experience with writing for the Times, I was in awe of how swiftly and thoroughly they worked.
But in this case, a group of fact-checkers -- multiple people -- read over this sentence, and not one of them stopped the error. What that reveals is profound: the staff at the Times is not as secular as we think they are. They are even more secular than we think they are.
To not know that Jesus did not speak to people in Greece would be like not knowing a basic fact about the most important figures of American history. Letting this error through would be akin to: charting Columbus's voyage on the Mayflower; assigning the wrong author to the Emancipation Proclamation; praising Malcolm X's "I Have a Dream" speech; recounting Kennedy's trip to China; or commemorating Bush's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" moment. All of those errors are unimaginable, as they should be.
And so, when we turn from Mr. Brooks to the fact-checkers, we find that his comical irony becomes a kind of tragic irony. The group of fact-checkers has embodied the very absence of Judeo-Christian culture bemoaned in the column itself.
H/T @TylerWS via Twitter
The John Williams novel Stoner is (back?) in the news, now that it’s a best-seller in the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere. How this “overlooked work” about a Midwestern professor of literature, published in 1965, has managed to gain generations of new fans and now a global audience is the topic of a recent essay in The Millions. It notes the importance not only of critical advocacy but also of devoted and innovative publishers—and in chronicling the cycles of its disappearance and re-emergence suggests the book maybe hasn’t been overlooked so much as it has, from an industry standpoint, underachieved.
Writers seem especially to like Stoner, but so do (I suspect) certain types of readers, the kind who relish “restraint and clarity” (qualities that Anthony Domestico rightly cited when writing on our Verdicts blog last September) and who like to let ordinary but expertly dispensed details accrue force and meaning. Then there’s the title character himself, about whom Morris Dickstein in 2007 wrote:
[Stoner] is neither a great teacher nor a noted scholar but applies himself to both with an intensity born of love. In literature he senses a depth of human understanding beyond his power to express, “an epiphany of knowing something through words that could not be put in words.” Williams writes about this with an almost Roman gravity. “It was a knowledge of which he could not speak, but one which changed him, once he had it, so that no one could mistake its presence.” … The one book Stoner produces is soon forgotten. His distrust of glib brilliance, his concern with ancient theories of grammar and rhetoric, make him look pedantic. Stoner’s cast of mind is monastic, unworldly. He is reduced to teaching menial courses to students who only dimly sense the warmth and conviction he brings to them.
Stoner “demonstrates that the real drama of human experience is in the daily refusal to escape, the uninterrupted renunciation of extreme situations, the muted decision to stay and do some good,” D.G. Myers wrote in Commentary a couple of years ago. The distrust of glib brilliance, the monastic cast of mind, the muted decision to stay and do some good—maybe these are the things that each new wave of Stoner readers finds so compelling. I find it interesting that Myers, in recently making the case that the 1960s may have been the best decade for American fiction, took up Stoner again, positioning the novel alongside, among others, O’Connor’s The Violent Bear it Away, Percy’s The Moviegoer—and J.F. Powers’s Morte D’Urban: “[B]oth it and Stoner … are one of a kind. Nothing else like them—not even their authors’ later books—was ever written again.”
While The Millions essay necessarily spends time on the practical aspects of bringing Stoner to new audiences (its current publisher has eschewed the word “classic” and uses social media to accomplish what it otherwise might were the author alive to help sell the novel), it at least acknowledges that “tweeting does not make a best seller.… This quiet book has instilled something” in its supporters on the business end—like it has in every reader who’s gone on to recommend it to someone else over the past forty-eight years.
I'm working now on a longer piece that examines disgust.
More specifially, I'm looking at some research in the social sciences that draws a correlation between disgust and ideological orientation. The title of one article states clearly what some of the research suggests: “Conservatives are More Easily Disgusted than Liberals” (Inbar et al., in Cognition and Emotion Vol 23, Issue 4. See also http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090604163620.htm). I don’t want to get into particulars here, but suffice it to say here that there are deep flaws in this research that I plan to explore quite soon. Poring over this work has inspired some questions, however, and I wanted to explore one of them now.
Is there a connection between an expansive palate and moral imagination? In cultures and subcultures that care about food, children are exposed to a wide variety of tastes relatively early on: not just salty and sweet, but sour, bitter, spicy, and the ever-elusive umami. Parents pride themselves on the fact that their young sons and daughters have developed a liking for complex and challenging flavors, and (here’s the important point) not just because the food in question is “good for you.” More often than not, it’s a question of enculturation. Why “enculturation?” Well, because almost every culture’s most delectable specialties require a bit of adjustment: they are foods that are not straighforwardly delicious. On a first taste, they are “disgusting.” Their flavors are structured and difficult to appreciate at first; more often than not, they arise out of processes of fermentation. Which is to say, controlled rot.
Working through one’s initial reaction to food with powerful and strong smells and flavors – think of kimchi or fish sauce, aged cheese or sour pickles – means overcoming disgust. I’m starting to think that there’s an affinity between this process of overcoming, and the cultivation of moral imagination. Parents who are proud of children whose palates have developed “beyond their years,” so to speak, treat the issue as if it were a moral one. And why not? Are they wrong to do this? This leads to a further question, however, which is sure to raise the hackles of some readers. If a well-developed palate is akin to an expansive moral imagination, can we reverse the equation and ask if those with relatively confined tastes – those who are “picky eaters” who cannot find pleasure at table, or who retain a taste for nothing but mac and cheese and hot dogs even into adulthood – are akin to the morally rigid and inflexible? Is mealtime a laboratory for moral (and political) development?
You may have seen Richard Alleva’s review of Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby in our June 14 issue. What you may not have seen is the original review of Fitzgerald’s novel that Commonweal published in 1925—unless you have an iPad.
We scanned the review from bound copies of Commonweal that line the walls of our office and uploaded it to our digital edition. The review wasn’t available anywhere else—until now. What’s particularly amusing about the review is its assertion that F. Scott Fitzgerald “may have had one eye cocked on the movie lots while writing” Gatsby, and that it would provide “some soulful director a chance to display his art.” Astute observations, considering they were written eighty-eight years ago. I can’t recommend reading Alleva’s screen review together with the book review highly enough.
Since we launched our digital (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android device) edition in January, many subscribers have asked if they can get the digital edition free using their current print or online credentials. It works for The New Yorker and other similar publications, and we understand you’d like the same convenience with your Commonweal subscription. Unfortunately, we’re not able to make that happen right now—the production, distribution, and fulfillment costs make it difficult for a small (non-profit) publisher to link print, online, and digital subscriptions—although we continue to seek assistance from Apple in addressing it.
In the meantime, we’re making sure to feature a range of exclusive content in our digital edition—like that review of The Great Gatsby. And every digital issue also includes the cover, a summary, and an article from a print issue of the same date from somewhere in the last seventy-five years. What were we talking about on June 14, 1938? Find out by downloading our June 14, 2013, digital issue.
As we move forward with the digital edition of the magazine, we remain open to your ideas and comments. It’s just as new for us as it is for you, and we want to make it as wonderful as possible. If you’ve read Commonweal on your mobile device, we welcome your feedback—just email us here.
[Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg] A few days ago, AP had a story about a gay couple in Colorado who, in the course of shopping for a wedding cake, had been turned away by a baker who did not approve of the use of his products in a gay marriage ceremony. The ACLU has filed a complaint against the baker on the couple's behalf. The baker is, of course, claiming that, as a matter of religious freedom, he is entitled to discriminate against gay couples. Colorado law prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation. So the question, legally, is whether the state's antidiscrimination law violates the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. The argument that it does will run into Employment Division v. Smith, which says that the Free Exercise Clause does not require exemptions from laws of general applicability. The baker is going to have a hard time making that case.
We can expect to see more of these sorts of disputes as gay marriage proliferates across the country. In fact, the Colorado case resembles a case that has been rising through the New Mexico state courts and is currently pending before the New Mexico Supreme Court. The New Mexico case involves a wedding photographer who refused to provide her services at a gay comitment ceremony because, in her words, she only handled "traditional weddings." In that case, lower state courts found the photographer's actions to have violated the New Mexico laws prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation and rejected First Amendment challenges to the application of those laws to the photographer. The wrinkle in the New Mexico case is that the photographer is arguing that the law burdens freedom of expression, rather than simply the exercise of religion.
The two cases raise an interesting question about the degree to which restrictions on the right to pick and choose among customers inappropriately burden a business owner's legitimate autonomy, whether conceived as religious or expressive freedom. Implicit in both the baker and the photographer's argument is that requiring a business owner to provide a good or service to someone of whom he disapproves (either because of that person's conduct or identity) improperly forces him to identify with or endorse the customer in question. In assessing that argument, I think it is helpful to consider how the law has traditionally defined the rights of owners to select among their customers. As it turns out, for most of the history of the common law, owners of businesses who have held themselves out as open to the public have had quite limited rights to arbitrarily refuse service to customers who have presented themselves as willing patrons. This is a valuable and important principle to affirm. I'll explain why below the jump.Read more
Conservative opposition to the bishops' signature anti-poverty initiative, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, has been denounced by bishops and defenders of the church's social justice mission for years. But a new report released today by the progressive lobby Faith in Public Life does a comprehensive job of tallying the efforts of rightwing groups to hamstring the CCHD's mission through what it calls a "Catholic McCarthyism" that relies on guilt by association.
The report points to the emergence of the old neo-Donatism that ignores Catholic teaching on cooperation with evil in favor of a purist approach -- which often dovetails nicely with the right's more libertarian economic views.
The report is here in full -- it's 24 pages but is very readable with lots of solid research and quotable quotes. My Religion News Service story is here, and provides the Reader's Digest (does that still exist?) version.
What seems most significant to me is that this isn't just a blast from the Religious Left against the Religious Right. Rather, the FPL report has been endorsed by dozens of leading Catholic officials and activisits -- many of whom will be recognizable to Commonweal readers -- but also by two former heads of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston and Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane.
As Fiorenza says in the report, the Catholic Church has always worked with groups that it may not agree with completely, but as long as the church wasn't directly supporting or endorsing that group's objectionable goal, there wasn't a problem. He fears that is changing, to the detriment of the church and the country:
"At a time when poverty is growing and people are hurting we should not withdraw from our commitment to helping the poor. Catholic identity is far broader than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Catholic identity is a commitment to living the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, and this must include a commitment to those in poverty."
When I spoke to Fiorenza, he was just heading off to the bishops' closed-door meeting in San Diego -- the first since the election of Pope Francis -- and he was hopeful that Francis' priority on identifying the church with the poor would make an impression of some of the bishops who have bought into the criticisms of the CCHD.
“I’m confident that if Pope Francis knew about the CCHD program he would say, ‘God bless the American bishops!’ for doing what they can to help the poor,” Fiorenza told me.
I wonder if this report and the public support it has drawn from so many Catholic leaders may be a sign of the "Francis Effect" on the wider church.
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