30 November 2005 - Wednesday

Things are looking up

I celebrated the first day of Advent on Sunday.

My stomach can handle ordinary food again.

Dr. J moved back the due date on the Paper of Awe.

I have a workable thesis and outline for said PoA.

I made a good grade on the last Financial Management exam.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs contradicted Donald Rumsfeld in public yesterday. (Via Chris Bray)

I saw frost on my lawn this morning.

I finally seem to have Firefox on my side again. I uninstalled it, deleted all the related folders, and reinstalled everything with version 1.5, which has just been released. So far, so good.

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29 November 2005 - Tuesday

Narnia sneak peek

FilmChat notes that a Swedish television station has posted something more than a trailer -- nine minutes of excerpts from LWW. (It streams; it buffers ... Don't even bother unless you have an excellent connection.) I see evidence of some minor narrative departures -- and more evidence that the battle scenes are going to be inordinately important, but probably fairly pretty.

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24 November 2005 - Thursday

Holiday irony

I am spending Thanksgiving Day writing a paper on King Philip's War. Ironically, this little-known but devastating conflict gave us what some call (dubiously, I think) the first thanksgiving proclamation:

The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions:

The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and soulds as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ.

This proclamation was issued by Massachusetts colonists in June 1676 to celebrate their military successes against the Wampanoag sachem Metacom -- son of Massasoit, with whom the Plymouth settlers had shared the feast we call "the first thanksgiving" fifty years earlier. Soon after this proclamation was issued, Metacom was tracked down and killed; his severed head was displayed triumphantly in Plymouth.

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23 November 2005 - Wednesday

Perfect timing

The really annoying thing? After three days, my cold has completely thrown off my sense of taste.

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Always greener

Reading a World movie review today, I decided that we evangelicals have a great problem with nostalgia. We think too highly of the past. We lean too heavily upon history as a direct social model for the present day. Thus, I believe, our inaccurate reminiscences are keeping us from being morally coherent and intellectually relevant in the modern world.

We seem to have embraced the reverse of the myth of human progress. We believe the world is getting worse and worse. Standing up for Christian values, therefore, means pointing to our ancestors -- "They had it right! Do that!"

The trouble is, this requires us to fight tooth and nail against any interpretation of history that would impugn our forebears' legacy. ("Revisionists!" we cry, hardly stopping to consider the meaning of the word.) This, in turn, prevents us from learning the real lesson of history: that our ancestors struggled with sin too. Their nobility was a lie just as our tolerance is; both are flimsy restraints upon a depraved nature. Therefore, the morality we deprive from such history is weak; it is worth little against real evil, which is perfectly capable of adapting to the idiosyncrasies of different cultures.

Such nostalgia, furthermore, weakens evangelical Christianity's rhetoric in two important ways. First, it keeps our apologetics flabby. By appealing to the days when Christianity ruled the land, we are inviting attack based on the very real evils that existed during those times. Claiming the successes, in other words, obligates us also to accept credit for the failures. While some evangelicals can negotiate this terrain and emerge with a strong argument for our beliefs, the necessary intellectual sophistication is rare.

Second, this weakens our rhetoric because it alienates certain groups of people -- elements in society who identify with people oppressed or marginalized under the utopias we remember so fondly. Baptists who miss the genteel society of the early nineteenth century, for example, would do well to remember that some branches of their church were once unusual (even subversive) in welcoming slaves. Modern seekers who identify with the oppressed blacks of that era, therefore, are probably not interested in being told what a wonderful society existed back then. We would do much better, in fact, if we spent our time pointing out how countercultural our message is/was no matter what culture we are discussing.

As I said before, all of this came to mind because of a movie review. Covering a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for the current issue of World Magazine, Gene Edward Veith makes some historical observations I find immoderate.

The first hint of nostalgia comes in the fourth paragraph, which is a little too pointed:

The movie is sumptuous to look upon, capturing well both the sights and the feel of early 19th-century England. We are immersed in a graceful culture where sexual immorality is a devastating blow to the family honor. And where a gentleman's moral character changes a woman's hostility into love.
This "graceful culture" is a fairy tale -- and not Austen's fairy tale, but Veith's. Did not many 19th-century women, anxious to secure financial and social support, overlook moral weakness in their men? Remember, Elizabeth Bennet is unique in the novel for her insistence upon the man's character; the novel shows her rejecting the dominant value of her society, which would have her put economic safety and worldly honor first. To glorify her culture is to miss out on the strength of her character altogether. Furthermore, Veith is ignoring the darker side of the "devastating blow to a family's honor" associated with (a woman's) sexual immorality. In the novel, Jane and Elizabeth agonize over the shame brought down by their sister -- shame that threatens their lifelong happiness, security, and social standing despite their total innocence. Does Veith really find that desirable in a culture?

He continues:

Women resonate with [Austen's] portrait of the strong, intelligent, and exquisitely feminine "lady."
... Who sometimes had virtually no say in her own future, who could not legally own any property once she married .... No, my friends, I'm pretty sure Austen's heroine is interesting precisely because, in the eyes of her "graceful culture," she is not very ladylike at all. Recall that both her attractiveness to and her rejection of Mr. Darcy are scandalous (to his caste and hers, respectively).
And they really resonate with a specific kind of masculine character: the forceful, honorable "gentleman" that 21st-century guys would do well to emulate.
... Especially the part about the total lack of gainful employment, the social striae that kept them from viewing their fellow humans as equals, and the near-total impunity with which they could break a woman's honor .... Clearly, a proper gentry is the tonic for our social ills.

Here's my point: true moral fiber is always countercultural. Christians are called to resist the temptations of "the world," not just modernity. We are not doing ourselves any favors by getting bleary-eyed over yesteryear's state of affairs. Homesickness is natural, but we should be longing for a different kingdom entirely, not for any social state of the past.

P. S. Why another P&P film? Perfection was attained 10 years ago. You don't mess with perfection, people. (Update: Yes, I am being ironic on purpose. But thank you for your concern.)

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20 November 2005 - Sunday

Call for undergraduate papers

The Interlocutor: The Sewanee Undergraduate Philosophical Review is calling for essay submissions:

We seek to publish essays that defend a specific substantive thesis on the correctness or incorrectness of some significant philosophical view and that show all of the virtues of a successful dialogue: close reading of texts along with clarification of key claims under inspection, entertainment of possible criticisms along with development of responses to criticisms. Even though we believe that the essays published in earlier volumes mostly satisfy these criteria, on occasion we have decided to publish essays that defend a substantive thesis, but which show rigor, independence of thought, creativity and imagination. In no case have we published essays that simply offer a reading of a philosophical text or a summary of schools of thought.
The deadline is 1 March 2006.

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14 November 2005 - Monday

Show me

P. Sabin Willett, in the Washington Post:

As I listened, I wished the senators could meet my client Adel.

Adel is innocent. I don't mean he claims to be. I mean the military says so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled that he is not al Qaeda, not Taliban, not a terrorist. The whole thing was a mistake: The Pentagon paid $5,000 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken.

The military people reached this conclusion, and they wrote it down on a memo, and then they classified the memo and Adel went from the hearing room back to his prison cell. He is a prisoner today, eight months later. And these facts would still be a secret but for one thing: habeas corpus.

Only habeas corpus got Adel a chance to tell a federal judge what had happened. Only habeas corpus revealed that it wasn't just Adel who was innocent -- it was Abu Bakker and Ahmet and Ayoub and Zakerjain and Sadiq -- all Guantanamo "terrorists" whom the military has found innocent.

Habeas corpus is older than even our Constitution. It is the right to compel the executive to justify itself when it imprisons people. But the Senate voted to abolish it for Adel, in favor of the same "combatant status review tribunal" that has already exonerated him. That secret tribunal didn't have much impact on his life, but Graham says it is good enough.

Adel lives in a small fenced compound 8,000 miles from his home and family. The Defense Department says it is trying to arrange for a country to take him -- some country other than his native communist China, where Muslims like Adel are routinely tortured. It has been saying this for more than two years. But the rest of the world is not rushing to aid the Bush administration, and meanwhile Adel is about to pass his fourth anniversary in a U.S. prison.

Press release, Sen. Lindsey Graham's office:

The Need for Habeas Reform As it Concerns Enemy Combatants

* The Supreme Court's Rasul (2004) decision held that federal courts have jurisdiction to hear habeas petitions from Guantanamo detainees.

* For the first time foreign terrorists in U.S. custody have begun claiming the rights and benefits of the U.S. Constitution, our laws, and treaties.

* Over 160 habeas petitions on behalf of approximately 300 detainees have been filed in federal court to date.

* An array of habeas challenges have been filed including those questioning the quality of their food and speed of mail delivery. Others have questioned the legality of their detention, propriety of returning a detainee to their home country, and allotment of exercise time. The Department of Justice is devoting tremendous resources to the litigation of habeas petitions filed by GTMO detainees.

* The federal suits are also slowing our intelligence gathering efforts from detainees. Michael Ratner, a lawyer who has filed lawsuits on behalf of numerous enemy combatants, boasts of this fact. He said, "The litigation is brutal for (the United States.) It's huge. We have over one hundred lawyers now from big and small firms working to represent these detainees. Every time an attorney goes down there, it makes it much harder (for the U.S. military) to do what they're doing. You can’t run an interrogation ... with attorneys. What are they going to do now that we're getting court orders to get more lawyers down there?"

* The amendment clarifies the previous understanding of the habeas statute that aliens outside the United States do not have access to our federal courts.

* The amendment only applies to NON-CITIZEN TERRORISTS.

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Reading list

I ran across a link to The Virtual Typewriter Museum yesterday. (MeFi)

Crooked Timber's John Quiggin has been using Google to track different versions of a quotation used frequently in the global warming debate.

Peter Schilling is contemplating "Technology as Epistemology" at Academic Commons.

At Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds reminds us that PowerPoint slides and handouts are not (supposed to be) the same thing.

Saturday, I passed the campus post office after it had already closed. I discovered in my box the latest issues of American Historical Review and Perspectives, as well as a package notice for a "manila envelope." I waited patiently for the post office to open this morning so that I could see whether the envelope contained my GRE scores or my Oxford UP order. It contained the latter -- Isaiah Berlin's Four Essays on Liberty, expanded significantly. I've been reading it in bits and pieces between classes.

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13 November 2005 - Sunday


So all of a sudden, Firefox hates me. I hadn't been doing anything different lately. I've uninstalled and reinstalled it to no avail. This is frustrating; I'm running regular Mozilla at the moment, but it isn't nearly as much fun.

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10 November 2005 - Thursday

Jimmy Rogers

I have been avoiding personal updates lately, but I think I should post this one.

My maternal grandfather died two weeks ago. Because of my responsibilities here, I decided that I was unable to attend the funeral -- a conclusion I regretted but tried not to think about too much.

My mom sent me a link I would like to post here. Granddaddy's death made the local section of the San Angelo Standard-Times: "Parks director dies: Rogers, water lily visionary passed away Friday." (You can get a username and password at BugMeNot.)

The 34-year parks superintendent, whose drive and vision led to the creation of the International Water Lily Collection and the expansion of the Concho River park system from 19th to Bell streets, died Friday after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 83.

''He was the best parks director San Angelo ever had,'' said Kenneth Landon, curator of the internationally renowned Civic League Park water-lily collection, one of the last projects Rogers spearheaded before he retired in 1989.

San Angelo may appreciate his water lilies, but I think Granddaddy would rather be remembered for his long service as a Baptist pastor. For my part, I mainly remember his taking me out into his backyard to scatter birdseed; entire flocks of birds knew exactly where to find food when he called.

I will miss him. To adapt Solzhenitsyn slightly:

We had all lived side by side with him and had never understood that he was the righteous one without whom, as the proverb says, no village can stand.

Nor any city.

Nor our whole land.

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7 November 2005 - Monday

Reading list

Sharon Howard hosts Carnivalesque #10 at Early Modern Notes.

Writing for Foreign Affairs, Kenneth Neil Cukier describes the current international struggle over Internet governance. (XIL)

At The New Pantagruel, D. G. Hart (musing on the career and ecumenism of Mark Noll) wonders whether "flirting with Roman Catholicism will lure away young talent from evangelical circles ... which will erode further the prospects for an evangelical mind."

In the Boston Globe, Andrew J. Bacevich argues that the United States should revisit realism as a foreign policy -- but the realism of Niebuhr and Kennan, not Kissinger. Original sin makes an appearance in the article. (ALD)

If those fail to stimulate thought, please see "Things to do when you're bored." (MeFi)

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5 November 2005 - Saturday

Mon semblable -- mon frère?

My cousin Jared, in calling me "most boring blogger in the blogosphere," has a point. This site is looking really sad.

There are several reasons for my lethargy. I would rather not elaborate on some of them here; others I can explain simply as "senioritis" (I will get my undergraduate degree in 181 days). Fundamentally, though, this blog has come to reflect my academic interests -- interests that only rarely coincide with my school work or routine life these days. I am simply not having fun here anymore; my ennui is reflected in this blog.

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1 November 2005 - Tuesday

Graduate Record Examinations

I took the GRE today. I went into the exam sick, exhausted, and scared to death. I came out sick, exhausted, and pleasantly astounded by my math score. I'm still a little shaky on my feet; it's been a hard day.

Update: History Carnival XIX is up at (a)musings of a grad student. I would link a few of the entries as usual, but I'm pretending to study for the Financial Management exam I have in the morning. I dislike that class. Remember, kids: friends don't let friends become business majors.

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