America's Joan of Arc.
She can draw larger crowds than the Hawaiian, who antipode she partly is. She will never sit on the throne. She may not even be able to lead an effective campaign or win more than a few battles. She can, however, kill with phrases. But people love her. She may fall and die upon the pyre of scandal and tabloid media. But they will love her and send her off into the world of myth as a folk heroine on a white horse.


A favorite passage from Smith of Wootton Major:
On that visit he had received a summons and had made a far journey. Longer it seemed to him than any he had yet made. He was guided and guarded, but he had little memory of the ways that he had taken; for often he had been blindfolded by mist or by shadow, until at last he came to a high place under a night-sky of innumerable stars. There he was brought before the Queen herself. She wore no crown and had no throne. She stood there in her majesty and her glory, and all about her was a great host shimmering and glittering like the stars above; but she was taller than the points of their great spears, and upon her head there burned a white flame. She made a sign for him to approach, and trembling he stepped forward. A high clear trumpet sounded, and behold! they were alone.


Theses for discussion.

This is part of a larger project. Feel free to comment or provide feedback if you feel so inclined. Crossposted on FB.

1. Denominations institutionalize schism and are inconsistent with orthodox doctrine of Church. Clergy in Denominations have vested interests in the perpetuation of schism, particularly at the local town level.

2. Denominations enable privatization of religion and marginalization of religious subject matter on a constitutional level. Denominations, at least in practice, effectively deny judicial role and teaching voice of the Church, thwart or disestablish councils from their patristic and medieval function.

3. Denominations, by soliciting membership, set up the denomination as an entity-idol and effectively counterfeit the sacrament of Baptism.

4. Corporations necessary for production of branded products for mass markets. Can still have Stradavariuses for instance without corporations.

5. Corporations are really, really useful for making armaments and supporting war on a mass scale. They are, historically, the kept women of the modern nation-state.

6. Corporations enable depredation of environment. The Fertile Crescent became a waterless dust bowl without corporations, but it took thousands of years. But Antarctic whaling and global overfishing did not happen in single generations without corporations.

7. Intellectual property rights came being into to promote and secure strong industries for strong national states, and especially manufacturing technologies of strategic military significance.

8. Intellectual property rights have basis in utilitarian fiat rather than in natural law. In that sense, they are no different than tax policy.

9. The intellectual property system today does not, because of its publication requirements combined with high costs of prosecution, promote and secure strong industries for strong national states, because in most cases the inventions are disclosed to the world and left unclaimed in all but the home markets.

10. Governmental interference in the marketplace includes all special rights and licenses, including intellectual property rights, unequal tax treatment, and so forth.

11. Entity incorporation for businesses and other purposes is per se governmental interference in the marketplace. It is also a concession from the state and has basis in utilitarian fiat.

12. Corporations are just plain idols. By this, we mean a man-made thing that people invest with attributes of the imago Dei. Fair enough?

13. A Butlerian Jihad is necessary and inevitable to free human beings from corporations.

14. The legal profession, together with the modern judiciary, is an ersatz ecclesiastical hierarchy for secular modernity.

15. Judicial review a la Marbury v. Madison is not actually constitutional, or, at least, is not actually necessitated by the Constitution.

16. Political parties have become Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. Political parties are not constitutional as entities or permanent institutions. It would be as just to ban the Democratic and Republican parties, in their national oligopoly forms, as it was to ban the Nazi or Ba’ath parties.

17. The 1933-1937 court fight is a close secular approximation of the Papal/Imperial struggle of the 11th century. FDR is the emperor and the court is the pope.

18. The Warren Court’s emphasis on civil rights in distinction from the Lochner Court’s emphasis on lasses-faire corresponds closely to the papacy’s later emphasis on regulating more narrowly moral controversies in distinction from its earlier emphasis, under Gregory VII and Innocent III, on regulating political action directly, as well as all other aspects of human life universally. The Warren Court’s jurisprudence thus represents a withdrawal from judicial review of economic regulation to a more “spiritual” new direction, a focus on civil rights and reproductive issues, which would not be subject to direct conflict with the “political branches.”

19. The United States of America, in its current form, is an exceeding anomalous political system that is paralleled only by the Roman Empire, the Caliphate, and maybe the Han Empire. The United States is as a political system neither a nation nor a city (polis). It is different in that sense very different from Athens or France.

20. The United States Constitution is older than any other constitution of its sort in the modern world, and is subject to continuing debates about its interpretation and history, which span that history. This has made the United States an ancien regime.

21. The United States is essentially defined by the Civil War, rather than by its Founding and the American Revolution.

22. The Civil War was completely about slavery and at the same time completely about States’ rights. There is no conflict between these points. The Civil War smashed the idea, stemming from the English Revolution of 1640-1689, that a representative assembly has a sort of moral autonomy. It replaced this with an idea of human rights guaranteed by or granted by a federal government.

23. The American Founding was not a specifically Christian event and the United States Constitution, far from being a specifically Christian document, is in fact that most secular constitutional instrument up to that time.

24. In the modern world, the State has subsumed many of the functions of the Church, or at least many of the functions that the medieval Roman Catholic Church has previously maintained. This is especially true in the United States, where the Federal Government performs a pseudo-ecclesiastical role vis-à-vis the States. Witness, for example, the historical restriction of criminal law and many forms of commercial law to the States.

25. With the subsumption of many of its functions by the State, the Church loses its monopoly on or leadership in traditional social roles and is left primarily with liturgical and theological education functions.

26. To the extent to which liturgy and eucharist are removed from the weekly practice of churches, those churches are left with the preaching of the Word.

27. A church that offers a social calendar and the preaching of the Word, without really anything more, is not a real church. That is to say, it can be replaced with a softball league and a tape ministry.

28. The Papacy may be considered as the prototype for the modern State.

29. The arc of modern American constitutional law, and of modern law in general, is to delegitimatize all actors in society other than individuals and State-created persons. Rights are recognized in or inhere in individuals or in State grants. Special institutions such as churches or marriages are not recognized as having standing or as possessing rights or interests except to the extent that individuals consent to and subscribe to those institutions or to the extent that they are registered with and granted status by the State.

30. The content of special institutions such as the family or churches or the Church and Marriage is not recognized as normative by the individuals or by the State.

31. That the power to tax is the power to destroy has many corollaries. One such corollary could be that the power to provide benefits is the power to restrict or condition behavior. Personal libertarian freedoms will be trumped by health insurance requirements. (We see this about to happen in 2009.)

32. The civil rights movement has significant parallels with Roman Catholicism. The black community looks to the Federal government to provide security and leadership much the same way as marginalized communities in Medieval Europe looked to the papacy to provide protection and social justice.

33. You may regard Barack Obama’s autobiography as being not unlike Augustine’s Confessions—although written for a very different religion.

34. God is a person but is also incredibly analogous to an infinite series of ratios, or to an infinitely complex equation. If we are told that God is Love or that the Logos is God, is it terribly impious to say that God is like all of the ratios and ratio relationships that ever existed or could ever exist, rolled up in one grand equation?

35. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not a specifically Christian doctrine. It is persistently associated with Gnosticism.

36. Christianity took several centuries to crystallize a creedal-level understanding of the Incarnation. It took several hundred more years to develop an understanding of the Crucifixion. It is now working on a similar understanding of the Resurrection. There is, as yet, no effective creedal-level understanding of the Ascension.

37. The Church must deal effectively and cogently with the challenges of modern biological and physical science (i.e., paleontology, biology, astronomy, etc.). Failure to address these challenges, on the level of a creedal formula, prevent the Church from laying out a series of ideas and claiming moral authority.

38. The serious questions must be addressed and answered in a greater synthesis. This is true even of selfish or stupid questions, such as about sexual orientation of biblical figures or about femininity in the Divine. The response could encompass, e.g., a meditation on the mission of the Holy Spirit.

39. The doctrine of the Trinity must be made applicable and imaginable in human life and experience. Augustine’s work in De Trinitate is representative. The doctrine of the Trinity is, par excellance, a doctrine of persons.

40. Are we pushing for a new fundamentalism of persons? Perhaps. It is social contract theory and the several modern Enlightenments that asks people to reify organizations and business ventures and contracts—in other words, to treat as primary things the creations of human will and human action.


We are not the ones we were looking for . . . Barry.
You shall not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.
You shall not make an entity in the likeness of a human being.
I walked and saw
Wind-wracked clouds
Ghostly children of a gibbous moon.


The Political Discourse of the King of the Harbor.
The gentleman with whom I am staying, who is a fourth-generation lobsterman, gave me a copy of this book look to look at, and this quote resonnated with me. It reminds me sooooo much of some people I know both in my own family and through business connections.
(The "king" is the kingpin or leader of the local lobster gang. Sort of equivalent to the head of the family in the Mafia context.)
Many followers are attracted to the king by his very conservative ideology. Any conversation with him is likely to lead to discussions or long monologues on such topics as blacks, the federal and state governments, hippies, welfare, Russians, Jews, bureaucrats, Arabs, and Iran. It is fair to say that the king is against them all. The government is the favorite topic. Among major themes that keep cropping up in his conversations are the waste of tax money, excessive government control over the lives of private citizens, the incompetency of government employees, and the waste and immorality of social programs. These ideas are pressed on others, who are expected to agree; arguing against them is considered very bad form. To some of the king’s followers, his political opinions are among his most attractive features, and they sit with him for hours discussing such matters. The fact that many of these people will accept any kind of government subsidy available is somehow beside the point.
It is easy to conclude that people like the king recall a time of greater individual freedom and are threatened by social and economic changes. This conclusion, however, misses the essential point. When the king expresses such ideas, he is advertising his adherence to some of the highest moral precepts in the culture; when he presses them on other people, he is deliberately manipulating these critical symbols with political advantage in mind. It is a very effective ploy, if we can judge by the “moral following” [Frederick G. Bailey, Stratagems and Spoils (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 42ff] it has produced.
James M. Acheson, The Lobster Gangs of Maine (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1988), p. 61.


We are all Michael Jackson.

The amount of attention and the sheer bandwidth devoted to the passing of Michael Jackson is, well, amazing. Some may find this disturbing. I am inclined to think that it is a telling moment in the unwinding of American society’s scroll.

People read Michael Jackson human interest stories because he represents what is true of a lot of us. We have been incredibly successful, or have at least had promise of great talent and opportunity, but now can no longer sing. We have demonstrated the ability to produce and earn, but we are buried in debt and have nothing to show for past years’ incomes. We take too many pills. We fear death and worship youth and seek to hide what age has made us by alabaster pastes, or brave new lines of skin and cartilage. Too many of our relationships are defined by self-interest; other people do things for us because they know or hope that we will pay them something sometime; in social spaces where there is no opportunity for exchange, such as in waiting rooms or airports, we Americans keep to ourselves and barely say “hi.” Yes, we are all terribly alone.

We are all Michael Jackson.

This is true of the individual and the collective. Our country would like to think that it is young and strong and has its best days ahead of it. At least, Mr. Reagan said so, and Mr. Obama repeated the line recently. Yet we have the oldest written constitution in the world. We are, in fact, an ancien régime. Even Appotomax stands a sesquicentennial back these days. Collectively, we want to think that everyone else out there will love us again and that, with inherent genius, we can do another tour and have another campaign and even save the children of the world, as if they would come to me. But has been some time since we walked on the moon.


The classical mid-life crisis.
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita.
At last, I am one with the Dante of the poem. I turned 35 yesterday. I had a very nice celebration with my spouse--she put a lot of effort into it with arrangements and all. As for turning this particular year, well, I am acutely conscious that I "need to make a contribution." And nothing else really much matters, in the end.


Emperor of Ice Cream.

The Limits of Philosophy
". . . the philosopher's judgment is easily confused by a multiplicity of considerations that are alien and do not belong to the matter and can make it deviate from a straight direction."
Kant, Groundwork, Ak 4:404.


A flash of realization discloses the discipline which Facebook's status message impose. A window for aphoristic thought—or bad poetry. Is this an epiphany?
I think I shall try an experiment. Use Facebook status messages to express ideas or, at least, universal images and big-picture sentiments. Try to do this often. Seek to be allusive, epigrammatic. Maybe include a simile or a really bad Haiku. 
After three years, print them all off and put them in a book like N.
(Just kidding about the book part.)


Reactions to Hillsdale College Commencement, 2009.
I wrote this in mid-May and posted it on Facebook. I received some good feedback, some of which made some legitimate criticism. I will repost here and now, perhaps take more criticism, and revise or work into something larger later on. 
In reflecting on my experience in attending the 2009 commencement, I had to think back to another, very different ceremony—the memorial service for Alexandras Shtromas about ten years before. I thought about how George Roche III, in one of his last public acts ere his fall, reading the Gospel lesson in an explicitly Christian memorial service staged in the college theatre auditorium on behalf of a Jew who did not profess Christianity yet who was clearly beloved by Roche and whomever else was responsible for coming up with the idea to put on the service.
Anyways, the juxtaposition was very striking. In the 2009 ceremony, Larry Arnn introduced a student of Leo Strauss, Hadley Arkes, to give the commencement address. Many Straussian political formulations ensued. There were several crucial references to the Old Testament—to Isaiah and to Decalogue. There were more to Aristotle. The claims of political science to be the ruling science and architectonic art were registered, with the gentle foil of a joke about cutting grass. Theology could not really be mentioned, either as a field of study or as providing any propositional content that might guide the students. Again, and then again, we were instructed in what they call like to call “classical political rationalism.” I was forcefully struck by the sheer secularity of it all. That the whole presentation was, in effect, totalitarian, was brought home to me in the succeeding address of the student body president, who provided a tie-in the grass-cutting joke, and went on to speak not of faith or even of a crusade but of having his life changed by reading Kirk, and who then went on to be spoken of by Arnn, in thanks, as wanting to be assured that “We really are going to save the world, aren’t we?”
No one read Aquinas, but perhaps someone ought to have, as the very large class was about to be mustered out the door. “Man is not ordained to the body politic, according to all that he is and has; and so it does not follow that every action of his acquires merit or demerit in relation to the body politic. But all that man is, and can, and has, must be referred to God . . .” (Summa, I-II.21.4.rep3).
Somehow, I feel that the people who worship liberty are being crowded out by the people who worship virtue. Back in early 2000, when the whole selection process was underway, a friend told me that the great problem was for Hillsdale was how to select a leader who would be able to bring together the libertarian and Austrian crowd with the non-libertarian conservative tradition represented in Kirk. What I sense now, in going back (and also in looking over at recent Imprimis topics or looking at the guest list for the CCAs), is that such an intellectual meeting place is no longer being maintained. In time, my alma mater looks to become something of a Straussian seminary. I hope that I am wrong. Perhaps I just miss the Man with the Golden Voice—a man who, although he couldn’t tell you how he read the Bible or what passages were important to him, and could only echo a lot of Emerson—would nonetheless recite the Gospel in public.


Melville on Man.

Oh, in restarting this blog, I suppose I should just quote something. This is a famous passage, but it is worth considering:

But were the coming narrative to reveal in any instance, the complete abasement of poor Starbuck's fortitude, scarce might I have the heart to write it; but it is a thing most sorrowful, nay shocking, to expose the fall of valor in the soul. Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meagre faces; but, man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes. That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting stars. But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!

Moby Dick, ch. 26.


I should probably resume blogging. I was convicted tonight. I suppose God is working on me. :)


Recent Movies

I saw An Inconvenient Truth and I was surprised at how low-key it was. The movie is like one big long powerpoint with sidebars. It is much less alarmist than it could have been.

I saw Bowling for Columbine, partly to have a point of reference for some more liberal friends. Moore is at his best when he's trying to embarass people or capturing them doing and saying really comically stupid stuff.

I enjoyed The Queen, although I couldn't get the tabloid image of Diana on the diving board out of my mind, in connection with the eiree music they used in the soundtrack.

My wife enjoyed Briget Jones and I like it better second time around.

I really enjoyed Match Point. It is certainly Woody's best film. The use of Verdi's Otello in the climactic scenes was a masterstroke. It was fun to watch Scarlett Johansson play... herself. The genius of the film is that it subverts your expectations and drives you into a killing frenzy towards the main character by the end. Almost Grecian in the sort of emotion you are left with. I shoul really buy a copy but then again I don't know if I can bear to watch the film over and over again. Too intense.

Ambrose likes the Raffi concert DVD. I think Raffi is really great and I like the way he weaves subtle religious motifs into his work.

I love the early 1980s Dune and find myself watching it even more than the Sci-Fi channel miniseries, which was my old "finals week" ritual starting with law school December 2000.

The Last King of Scotland is a chilling film. When I was a kid, I was scared of Christopher Plummer as Capt. von Trapp. As a 33 yo, I'm scared of Forest Whittaker as Idi Amin. It's a very intense portrayal.

Do y'all know that Antonioni and Bergman died on the same day in July? Huge. Go watch L'Avventura and Persona back to back. Read Paglia's column on Art Film R.I.P. Weep.
It was just a joke! I promise!


I get really tired of talking and hearing about golf. So I came up with a joke:

Golf is all about compensation. Men play golf because they don't have enough balls as it is.


Fear of Whales

My parents gave me a wonderful book on Whales for my birthday this past week. It's called Cetacean Societies and you can find it by searching StuffBooks. Fortunately, the book has not very many underwater pictures, and lots of maps and tables and text. ("Very scientificy," said Marsha.)

For those of you who don't know, I have an acute fear of whales. Just this weekend, I discovered that "I am not alone" (!).

Edward over at Obsidian Wings writes in tones that come very close to my own experience:

hat do you irrationally fear? I know I should not admit this in a public forum, but I have a near paralyzing fear of whales. There. I've admitted it. Whales scare the bejesus out of me.

I think I always knew this, but never having encountered a whale, it didn't become clear until I watched the Japanese film Dr. Akagi. There's a scene where a man and woman row out into the sea in a tiny row boat and there's this amazing aerial shot of a massive whale swimming right below them, dwarfing them. I nearly had a seizure, and even now, just visualizing it makes me shiver.

There's a scene in 20000 Leagues Beneath the Sea where Captain Nemo opens the portal covering in his submarine and you can look out into the deep abyss. As a kid watching that film, I nearly freaked out during that scene. I used to think it was the wide open space I was afraid of, but now I believe it was simply a sense that "that's enough room for a whale to come along in."

This will prevent me from ever taking up scuba diving seriously. Even now when snorkeling, as I love to do, if the distance between the ocean floor and the top of the water becomes, er...well, whale size, I have to turn back. I just know that if I stay, merrily enjoying the adorable (i.e., smaller than me) marine life around me, I'll bump into this wall that I swore wasn't there a moment ago, and just as I being to explore the barnacles and bumps on its surface, the really large one will open to reveal a giant eyeball as big as my whole head and I will die right there, on the spot. I can't explain it.

Joye over at her blog writes:

Is there an image that immediately evokes fear in you? I don't mean a still shot from The Nightmare on Elm Street or a graphic photo depicting the horrors of the Holocaust. Just an innocuous, unobjectionable image? Say you were flipping through the pages of a magazine and that image was to suddenly appear on the page, would it cause a tightening or sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach or a slight ringing in your ears?

I've never seen a photo, drawing, or television scene of a whale without having those responses. Especially seeing a whale in the deep of the ocean can induce an uneasiness; an irrational fear. I suppose it would be categorized as a phobia, although I don't have to flee the room like people do on talk shows when they're confronted with their phobias. But, yes, I think whales are frightening creatures. They're big, scary, sea monsters. There. I said it.

I can't imagine that any fear is completely unfounded. It must have its roots in something, even if only a wrong perception in one's mind. My fear of whales is probably a throwback to the first time I saw Disney's Pinocchio at the theatre. I do vividly recall the scene with Monstro the Whale barreling through the deep water, a great menacing leviathan crashing down upon Pinnocchio and devouring the tiny puppet. I hated the movie. I still don't like the story, either. It's creepy.

Some comments on Joye's post followup with the Pinnochio experience, which is part but probably not all of the source for me:i have the same fear and i also believe it originated when i first saw pinocchio! your description of it as a barrelling leviathan perfectly encapsuled my fear. ugh. Joye revisited the topic a few months later and got a lot of comments from other who suffer from the fear as well. Some of these really struck a chord with me:I had absolutely NO idea there was anyone else out there. If I even happen to come accross a photo of a whale, I need medication my panic attick is so bad. So believe me, you are not alone! My parents even tried to get my to see a therapist regarding it, but I researched the tactics therapists use to help with phobias and I think I may die with some of them; so I choose to just avoid at all costs!

* * *

i am absolutley terrified of whales too!! videos of whales, pictures, even painted or drawn pictures of whales freak me out. when i went to see happy feet, i almost started crying because of the whales-- and the scary noises they make in finding nemo. and has anyone seen the preview for surfs up? wayyyy scary. you will not find me near a whale watch if i have anything to do with it.

There are more good comments at an entry on another blog about Sarah's whale phobia:

No, no, I am only afraid of the huge ones. Blue whales, sperm whales, humpback whales. Blue whales in particular though, since they are the super huge ones. The thought that they even exist literally makes me shudder.

* * *

I’ve been uncontrollably afraid of whales for as long I can remember - I’ve never even seen one. It doesn’t stop there though, anything underwater tends to make me cringe, panic, or hide. I generally won’t go in large bodies of water, and definitely not water I can’t see to the bottom in. It’s really saddening to see people joke about this. I constantly find pictures of whales left for me because people think it’s funny to see my reaction.

* * *

OMG! I have whale-phobia too. (IM NOT KIDDING) I’m always having these dreams where I am in the ocean and a whale comes up and tries to kill me, I always wake up trembling and drenched in sweat. I can’t even look at a picture of a whale without having to look away, they are so scary. I’m not scared of dolphins or other fishes, only whales and especially the big, nasty ones, like the blue humbacks. Everytime I told someone of my fear they laugh and say whales are the least scariest thing on the planet, but I beg to differ. I’m relieved someone shares my fear as I thought I was the only one in the world.

Brian O'Malley has a column about his fear of whales. Like many other people, he is petrified of whale pictures.

When is was in first grade, there was a photo in one of our science books that showed a group of guys in a row boat, just feet away from a blue whale's tail sticking vertically out of the water. It scared the heck out of me. I couldn't look at it anymore.

After that I only noticed it every once in a while, but in the last five years it's gotten worse. It's at the point where I'll see a whale on TV and my eyes will close and my head will jerk away from the screen without my control. It's a natural reaction. And sometimes, if I get a good look at a whale, I get these wicked shivers through my body.

I know what you're saying. "You never have to worry about whales." It's true. And for that I'm fortunate. It would be pretty hard to accidentally run into a whale.

But that doesn't stop it from being true. There is no name for a fear of whales, but I have it, so it exists. One site informed me that a fear of whales is a subcategory of thalassophobia: a fear of the sea.

I am pretty sure many other people have fears that just sound ridiculous like mine. I have friends who have some off-the-wall fears as well. Just about everybody has one thing out of the ordinary that freaks him or her out.

For the longest time, I didn't tell too many people about the whole whale thing, but lately everybody I know has found out one way or another. So now I hear whale references daily. One of my coworkers and I bought some fish to put into the newsroom. It didn't take long before the whale comments came rolling in.

Well my fear is out in the open and I'm not ashamed of it. Should I really be ashamed of being afraid of the largest living things on Earth? I don't think so, either.

Like I said before, I didn't chose to be afraid of whales, I just am.

My name is Joshua Wiley and I approve of, or at least strongly sympathize with, these messages!