“No one expects you to take a vow of poverty. But I will say it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do,” – Barack Obama, one of the most consistently Christian presidents in recent times.
CNN finds what Gallup does: no impact on the president’s approval ratings, even as Americans do take the current scandals seriously:
According to the survey, which was conducted Friday and Saturday, 53% of Americans say they approve of the job the president is doing, with 45% saying they disapprove. The president’s approval rating was at 51% in CNN’s last poll, which was conducted in early April.
Here’s Gallup’s timeline of approval:
The tone of the CNN piece seems to find this data surprising. It isn’t. It simply reflects the fact that no real connection has been directly made between these scandals and the president. And, I’d say, he’s buoyed somewhat because the economy here is better than any in Europe – and less vulnerable than Japan’s current Keynesian jolt – and because he’s still a broadly liked president. In the post-re-election lull, the press corps needed a storyline, rather than just three stories. But sometimes the line falls apart for lack of evidence (at least among the non-GOP base).
(Photo: US President Barack Obama smiles as he returns to the White House in Washington on May 19, 2013 from Atlanta. By Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.)
Among the many awful things about her latest column was this:
The Journal’s Kim Strassel reported an Idaho businessman named Frank VanderSloot, who’d donated more than a million dollars to groups supporting Mitt Romney. He found himself last June, for the first time in 30 years, the target of I.R.S. auditors. His wife and his business were also soon audited. Hal Scherz, a Georgia physician, also came to the government’s attention. He told ABC News: “It is odd that nothing changed on my tax return and I was never audited until I publicly criticized Obamacare.” Franklin Graham, son of Billy, told Politico he believes his father was targeted. A conservative Catholic academic who has written for these pages faced questions about her meager freelance writing income. Many of these stories will come out, but not as many as there are.
I pointed out this was only random and even anonymous anecdotage. Nate Silver proves it:
The point is that even with no political targeting at all, hundreds of thousands of conservative voters would have been chosen for audits in the I.R.S.’s normal course of business. Among these hundreds of thousands of voters, thousands would undoubtedly have gone beyond merely voting to become political activists.
The fact that Ms. Noonan has identified four conservatives from that group of thousands provides no evidence at all toward her hypothesis. Nor would it tell us very much if dozens or even hundreds of conservative activists disclosed that they had been audited.
For another enjoyable dissection of a Noonan column, showing her fatuous circularity, see Rick Hertzberg on a March 22 doozy here.
Dostoevsky’s study of human nature made him see a demonic element in man for which moralism could not account. Like few men before him, Dostoevsky learned to know the subtle means which the demonic employs in asserting itself with the hope of achieving divinity. The temptation “You will be like God” can come in the opportunity to violate moral law, as it did to Raskolnikov. It can also come in the guise of piety and morality, and it is in this latter form that the demonic is most seductive. Then it employs the sanctions of conventional morality for the accomplishment of its demonic ends. The ultimate and most profound critique of the identification of the Holy and the Good comes in the realization that the demonic in man transcends the moral sense and the ethical consciousness. Therefore, relation to the Holy is far more than accepting of living up to a moral code. As a matter of fact, accepting and living up to a code can be and often is the device by which the demonic ego defends its autonomy against the claims which the Holy lays upon it… God is more than the validation of our moral consciousness.
(Video: A scene from a 2002 BBC adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novel)
“Christ kept eating with people after He was dead. He still does. The Last Supper is not in the past, but in the present. Before Abraham was, I am means the time and mortality the man ran naked for and from are real, and are to be feared and loved; but that before time and mortality, God is, and so love is; and God’s love entered them and mortality as a baby, a boy, a man, to show itself through the flesh. Knowing that those few years of physical presence are not enough, He remains in the flesh: in bread and wine, in the acts of eating and drinking. The Communion with God is simple, so we will not be dazzled; so we can eat and drink His love and still go about our lives, so our souls will burn slowly rather than blaze.
We can live with this miracle, for it requires so little of our bodies and minds and hearts. We simply have to be where the Eucharist is, and open our mouths to it. We can even receive it without eating it. On most mornings after my accident, I did not have the energy to go to Mass, then prepare meals and write and try alone to run a household. A priest brought me the Eucharist when he had time to, and once he said: ‘Every day you are receiving Communion of desire; other people are receiving it for you.’ So the Last Supper did not take place on one night in one room, and to eat God’s love, we do not even have to open our mouths; we can be walking, sorrowful and confused, with a friend; or working on whatever our boat is, fishing for whatever it is we fish for; we can be running naked, alone in the dark. The Eucharist is with us, and it is ordinary. To me, that is its essential beauty: we receive it with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way we receive the sun and sky, the moon and earth, and breathing,” – Andre Dubus, “Communion,” from Meditations from a Moveable Chair.
Kumi Yamashita‘s “Constellation – Mana no.2″ is comprised of only three elements: a wooden panel painted white, more than 7,000 tiny galvanized nails and a single, unbroken black sewing thread. Rodrigo at designboom observes, “The highly intricate multidimensional textures of the compositions bring out a realistic and almost organic quality to the faces.” A close-up of Yamashita’s piece after the jump:
There is a particular challenge in trying to pin down, quantify, assess the literary achievement of a dictionary-maker who has spent years searching for the elusive, chameleon-like meanings of even the most mundane of words. Samuel Johnson, though, offers his own validation for such an enterprise in the preface to his great Dictionary of 1755, in which he confesses that he set out to codify the language only to realize before he was even halfway through that no such thing is possible. Instead of giving up, Johnson persisted, even while recognizing the futility of his ambition, and understanding too well that “one enquiry only gave occasion to another, that book referred to book, that to search was not always to find, and to find was not always to be informed; and that thus to pursue perfection, was, like the first inhabitants of Arcadia, to chase the sun, which, when they had reached the hill where he seemed to rest, was still beheld at the same distance from them”.
Who could fail to admire the frank, unvarnished modesty of such a man? Yet such parings have their critics. Not everyone wants to admit a world in which there is so much futile industry, pained creation, and in which nothing can be concluded.
Until Cormac McCarthy’s novel…apocalypse had always seemed a baroque affair, lavish in its melodramas of asteroid strike, nuclear blast and tidal wave; populated by petrolheads in rabbit-skin loincloths and black leather dog-collars. McCarthy stole apocalypse’s thunder, and produced something far more terrible because more tentative. He saw that apocalypse is about aftermath rather than grand finale. He knew that the one thing more terrifying than dying in a global catastrophe is surviving it. The disaster is over and done with in a single sentence: “A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions.” What follows is the desperate business of endurance.
Why he finds it to be more than a tale of despair:
Jobson has details:
Montreal-based visual artist Carine Khalife produced, directed, animated this music video for the 2011 track Blown Minded, off the album Shapeshifting by Young Galaxy. The entire clip is comprised of oil paint on glass photographed above from a camera. Khalife explains her process a bit more on her site.
James V. Schall reflects on sin and faith:
We recognize that it is a Church of sinners. Just because one is a sinner, he is not therefore an unbeliever.
Often, it is just the opposite. Because I sin, therefore, I believe. What other alternative is there? Where else can I find even a claim for forgiveness? People, like Nietzsche, scandalized to discover within the Church practicing sinners, do not get it. The main point of Christ’s coming in the way He did was to redeem us in our sins, if we would.
Because we sin, it does not automatically follow that we cease to believe. Chesterton, a practically sinless man if there ever was one, on being asked why he became a Catholic, answered frankly: “To get rid of my sins.” And in The Everlasting Man, we read: “The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”
Paul Bloom identifies them:
[Jeremy] Rifkin and others have argued, plausibly, that moral progress involves expanding our concern from the family and the tribe to humanity as a whole. Yet it is impossible to empathize with seven billion strangers, or to feel toward someone you’ve never met the degree of concern you feel for a child, a friend, or a lover. Our best hope for the future is not to get people to think of all humanity as family—that’s impossible. It lies, instead, in an appreciation of the fact that, even if we don’t empathize with distant strangers, their lives have the same value as the lives of those we love.
That’s not a call for a world without empathy. A race of psychopaths might well be smart enough to invent the principles of solidarity and fairness. (Research suggests that criminal psychopaths are adept at making moral judgments.) The problem with those who are devoid of empathy is that, although they may recognize what’s right, they have no motivation to act upon it. Some spark of fellow-feeling is needed to convert intelligence into action.
With graduation season upon us, David Zahl revisits Stephen Colbert’s 2011 commencement address at Northwestern University. An excerpt:
After I graduated from here, I moved down to Chicago and did improv. Now there are very few rules about improvisation, but one of the things I was taught early on is that you are not the most important person in the scene. Everybody else is. And if they are the most important people in the scene, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. But the good news is you’re in the scene too. So hopefully to them you’re the most important person, and they will serve you. No one is leading, you’re all following the follower, serving the servant. You cannot win improv.
And life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along. And like improv, you cannot win your life. Even when it might look like you’re winning…
In my experience, you will truly serve only what you love, because, as the prophet says, service is love made visible. If you love friends, you will serve your friends. If you love community, you will serve your community. If you love money, you will serve money. And if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself, and you will have only yourself.
“2047 Grace Street” by Christian Wiman:
But the world is more often refuge
than evidence, comfort and covert
for the flinching will, rather than the sharp
particulate instants through which God’s being burns
into ours. I say God and mean more
than the bright abyss that opens in that word.
I say world and mean less
than the abstract oblivion of atoms
out of which every intact thing finally goes.
I do not know how to come closer to God
except by standing where a world is ending
for one man. It is still dark,
and for an hour I have listened
to the breathing of the woman I love beyond
my ability to love. Praise to the pain
scalding us toward each other, the grief
beyond which, please God, she will live
and thrive. And praise to the light that is not
yet, the dawn in which one bird believes,
crying not as if there had been no night
but as if there were no night in which it had not been.
Morgan Meis ponders the similarities between Kierkegaard and the New Atheists:
Søren Kierkegaard was not an atheist. He was a Christian. All of his writings are either directly or indirectly about Christianity. He’s thus a natural opponent to Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris. Except for one thing. Kierkegaard detested Christianity as he found it. He considered the vast majority of Christians to be hypocrites. Kierkegaard took a look at the Christianity practiced in his time and proclaimed it complacent and self-satisfied. Christianity, thought Kierkegaard, was mostly an excuse for being lazy and dumb.
How they differ:
Angelo Alaimo O’Donnell leads her students through the work of four American Catholic writers:
One of the joys of teaching is sharing powerful, life-changing books with my students. Each spring semester, I ritually invite the men and women in my American Catholic Studies Seminar to accompany me on this literary pilgrimage. From January to April, we read Seven Storey Mountain, The Long Loneliness, Wise Blood and Love in the Ruins. Together we trace the steps of young Merton as he becomes an accidental pilgrim in Rome, haunting her churches and devouring her art; we sit with Day in the dark of prison and walk beside her through the gritty streets of the Lower East Side; we follow O’Connor from rural Georgia to the literary metropolis of New York, and follow her back to Georgia when illness condemns her to a life of exile; we accompany Percy as he discovers his vocation to be not doctor of the body but physician of the soul, trading his Columbia M.D. for the considerably less prestigious role of Catholic novelist. We conclude the course by reading Paul Elie’s literary biography of the Fabulous Four, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, the narrative of “a journey in which art, life, and religious faith converge.”
The students learn from Elie that the lives of these four contemporaries were interwoven yet never physically intersected. Instead, their moments of connection occurred through acts of imagination. They were all engaged in the same project—the pursuit of meaning in a chaotic and fallen world, and the search for God in a world that denies his existence. Each carried out this search by means of the word, writing the stories of their own lives, both directly, in the form of essays and memoirs, and indirectly, in the form of fiction and poetry.
Kenneth R. Morefield compares Robert Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, which came out shortly after the end of WWII, to contemporary films. He praises Rossellini for framing “his characters’ struggles within a long historical perspective”:
[T]he sweeping historical perspective of Rossellini’s films highlights rather than diminishes their moral questions. They force us to look beyond the scope of one life or one generation. And in so doing, they invite an analysis that is broader than what most current movie narratives provide.
You can find a striking contrast to Rome, Open City in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which compresses over a decade of action into a single narrative. By doing so, it reduces the breadth of its moral questions (such as the use of torture) from the broadly philosophical or moral (“is it right?”) to the narratively pragmatic (“did it work?”). Ben Affleck’s Argo uses history as merely a backdrop, with the roots of the Iranian revolution covered in a two minute prologue and the coming years of war between Iran and Iraq elided as champagne is served on the plane, accompanied by retrospective pats on the back. But the inability to consider moral questions that stem beyond “the mission” is not unique to Argo - just most pronounced in it.
The larger solitude to which each of us is ineluctably fated—Wallace’s “skull-sized kingdom“—can sometimes come to feel very like a prison. The difficulty of escape at such times is very, very great; there’s such a vast distance between one soul and another. It’s not guaranteed that a hug will always pierce that veil of solitude, but then again, for some, sometimes, it might.
A hug, then, may even be a reminder that there is more to us than whatever bullshit societal transaction or business nonsense or idiotic role-playing is being forced on us in any given moment. A hug may in fact be a (literally) palpable indicator that we are not alone in the universe. For there is one other at least, right now in this moment, real, warm, breathing like oneself, willing, like oneself, alive, like oneself. Against all the world’s cold calculations, a heart to beat, so improbably, against one’s own.