Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Complaint I Never Thought I'd Hear

After years of bitching and complaining and putting down lawyers, denizens of Idaho's small counties are finding out: yes, they do need a couple of lawyers here and there after all.

According to the Idaho State Bar, there are 3,165 active lawyers in the state. (I'm willing to bet there are more lawyers than that in New York City alone.) The Second Judicial District, which includes the small counties of Clearwater, Idaho, Latah, Lewis and Nez Perce, has just 178 active lawyers. Of these, most are probably in Latah County (Moscow) and Nez Perce County (Lewiston). There are probably more lawyers in this picture of the Briefcase Brigade than there are in all of Idaho County, the biggest county in the state in terms of square mileage, but one of the smallest in terms of population.

And so, when somebody in Idaho County gets charged with a crime, and can't afford to hire private counsel, court-appointed counsel has to be imported all the way from Moscow. That is a drive of at least two hours -- could be more, depending on the weather.

So if anybody out there reading this is in Idaho County, and is charged with a crime, and has court-appointed counsel, and is not scheduled to go to court until winter, then there are two things you need to do: (1) Since the chances are fairly good you're Catholic, go to confession. And (2) be very, very good to your public defender.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Banned Books Week: A Celebration of Freedom?

Today the American Library Association begins its 26th annual celebration of Banned Books Week, an event designed to keep before our eyes the specters of Fahrenheit 451 and Nazis and other totalitarian thugs setting fire to mountains of forbidden books, reminding us to be ever on the lookout for the forces of darkness and tyranny that set out to stifle human thought by regulating what we read.

That, at any rate, is the stated purpose of Banned Books Week. But is that really all there is to it? A review of the ALA's Banned Books Week materials on the Internet (apparently under renovation, with many non-operative links) raises a few questions.

1. Is the mere regulation of library materials, without more, contrary to liberty, where citizens remain free to purchase the materials libraries may not carry? Most libraries are public entities, staffed by government employees and funded by the taxpayers. Must taxpayers support with their dollars access to materials that violate the ideals they cherish? Must they acquiesce in the respectability that library access confers on that which is by nature not respectable? Are not the patrons of scurrilous materials free to purchase them at privately-owned bookstores and newsstands, or even off the Internet?

2. What is the nature of the "censorship" the American Library Association dreads and fears? The ALA's website includes a set of guidelines for librarians who face "challenges" to library materials. "Challenges" -- which the ALA apparently finds undesirable -- include the following (taken directly from the ALA' s website):
  • Expression of Concern. An inquiry that has judgmental overtones.
  • Oral Complaint. An oral challenge to the presence and/or appropriateness of the material in question.
  • Written Complaint. A formal, written complaint filed with the institution (library, school, etc.), challenging the presence and/or appropriateness of specific material.
  • Public Attack. A publicly disseminated statement challenging the value of the material, presented to the media and/or others outside the institutional organization in order to gain public support for further action.
  • Censorship. A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.
As the ALA clearly concedes above, "censorship" necessarily entails government action against a work based on its content. But the ALA also lumps in with censorship citizen complaints of various types. Do citizen complaints against library smut threaten the survival of the First Amendment? What about the First Amendment rights of those who do not want their tax dollars underwriting sexually explicit, anti-Christian or violent material?

3. In surveying the ALA's list of "Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000," it is clear that some of these books are accepted as literary classics (by the way: has anybody seriously questioned whether The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are, at this late date and after numerous film and television adaptations, really on the "censorship" hit list?). But many of them are aimed at children or "young adults" (i.e., children). Now parents have not only the right but the duty to regulate their children's reading. Are they not entitled to be alarmed when public institutions undermine their parental efforts by providing their children with easy access, behind their backs, to literature that is forbidden to them at home? Are concerned parents in fact the primary source of the "challenges" the ALA finds so ominous? Is the ALA being intellectually honest in holding that freedom includes the "freedom" of little kids to look at inappropriate materials against the wishes of their parents?

In its alleged quest to secure the blessings of liberty, the American Library Association ignores and indeed opposes the most obvious safeguard on liberty: the cultivation of virtue. In a letter to a cousin, John Adams wrote:
Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, They may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies.
In a letter to his wife, Adams wrote:
The furnace of affliction produces refinement in states as well as individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming in every part will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues, or they will be no blessings. The people will have unbounded power, and the people are extremely addicted to corruption and venality, as well as the great.
Virtue is tough to cultivate while you're busy shoveling dirt into your heart. As long as freedom means nothing more than the removal of obstacles to societal corruption, the genuine article will remain in peril. So maybe it's about time the American Library Association quit worrying about parental objections to Heather Has Two Mommies, and started exercising its hitherto unused freedom to read more of the Founding Fathers. (And while they're at it, maybe that most scurrilous of reading materials, the New Testament.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

September 28th: Memorial of the Martyrs of China

Today is the memorial of the 120 Martyrs of China, canonized October 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II. Several are Dominicans; most perished during the Boxer Rebellion. Wounded and oppressed China needs the intercession of all of them as much now as she ever did.

Here is a link to the Pope's homily from the Mass at which he canonized these saints, along with St. María Josefa of the Heart of Jesus, St. Katherine Drexel, and St. Josephine Bakhita, whose life and hope Pope Benedict XVI described at length in his encyclical Spe Salvi.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

God Love the Math Geeks

Using a network of 75 computers running a Windows XP program, a group of mathematicians at UCLA have discovered a thirteen-million-digit prime number. It is the 46th known Mersenne Prime, named after the 17th-century French scholar and Minim Friar Fr. Marin Mersenne, who came up with a partial list of these apparently remarkable numbers. This discovery qualifies the UCLA group for a prize of $100,000.00 offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the first discoverer of a Mersenne Prime exceeding ten million digits.

This is the first I have ever heard of Mersenne Primes, and after trying to find out exactly what they are, I feel like I know even less about them now than I did before they intruded upon my blissful ignorance. My particular brand of geekery runs along other than mathematical lines, so I just simply do not get what Mersenne Primes are -- other than that it is unknown whether there is an infinite number of Mersenne Primes.

But since greater minds than mine think Mersenne Primes are worth at least a 75-computer network and a $100,000.00 prize, I take it they are something special. I therefore offer my congratulations to the UCLA team.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Stick to What You Know

A cardinal rule of authorship: stick to what you know. It is next to impossible for a writer to be persuasive, moving or even interesting without following this rule.

This bodes ill for playwright Buddy Sheffield, whose bawdy musical Idaho! opened off Broadway on Thursday. Asked whether he has ever been to Idaho, Sheffield says: "I haven't, but I know it's beautiful."

Questioned about the cornfields and the repeated references to Idaho as "the prairie," and the heavy Southern drawls, and the pig-hugging farmers (not to mention the high prevalence of table-cloth-pattern dresses, battered cowboy hats, farmers posing for pictures with potatoes and rifle-toting grannies), Sheffield says he knows he does not accurately portray the Gem State -- but that's all good, because his play just portrays New Yorkers' stereotypes of Idaho.

Sheffield hopes he will be able to capitalize on the crass ignorance he assumes is an outstanding trait of New Yorkers and take his purported spoof of the great Broadway musicals to the Big Time. Straining all credibility, he declares: "I hope the musical runs for five years on Broadway and everybody in Idaho gets to come and see it and feel proud about it."


Thursday, September 25, 2008

September 25, 1066: The Battle of Stamford Bridge

942 years ago today, King Harold Godwinson -- the last Anglo-Saxon king of England -- whupped both King Harald Hardråde of Norway and Harold's turncoat brother Tostig, the outsted Earl of Northumberland at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

In what would turn out to be the last of the Viking invasions of England, Harald Hardråde and his army landed in England earlier in the month with a view to conquering England. Acting on intelligence, Harold Godwinson took the Norwegians at unawares at Stamford Bridge, where the latter were waiting for supplies and an exchange of hostages and not expecting armed opposition. Although the Norwegians fought valiantly, they went down to defeat. Their survivors were allowed to return to Norway, conditioned on their pledge never again to attack England.

Unfortunately for Harold Godwinson, he was only two weeks away from getting his own butt whupped, and himself killed, at the Battle of Hastings. Whereas Harold's victory marked the end of the age of Viking invasions of England, William the Conquerer's victory marked the end of the Anglo-Saxon age. Centuries would pass before another English-speaking king sat on the throne of England.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Question: What do you get when you put together The Da Vinci Code, a deranged former medical student and a knife? Answer: a priest fighting for his life, and one of his parishioners in serious condition.

25-year-old Marco Luzi went to Santa Marcella Catholic Church in Rome, asked to see the priest, Father Canio Canistri, age 68, and then stabbed the priest in the neck and stomach with a knife he had hidden in a cloth. Antonio Farrace, a 78-year-old retired policeman, came to Fr. Canistri's aid and is in the hospital in serious condition. Luzi wounded two more people while fleeing from the scene, and was then captured by police.

In addition to having a psychiatric history, Luzi was apparently obsessed with apocalyptic notions, fed by The Da Vinci Code. In the apartment he shared with his mother, police found apocalyptic notes, material on the Antichrist, the phone number to L'Osservatore Romano, and a large reproduction of Da Vinci's The Last Supper, with a note pointing to one of the Apostles, saying, "This is the hand in which a knife is hidden." He told police he was Antichrist, that he heard voices telling him to attack Fr. Canistri, and that he had watched The Da Vinci Code the night before the attack.

Naturally -- to the extent they pay any attention to this incident -- we can expect the it's-only-a-movie crowd to weigh in against the idea that The Da Vinci Code, for all its anti-Catholicism, had anything to do with inciting this murderous attack on a Catholic priest. A movie is only a movie, after all; it's only make-believe; movies don't affect people's behavior; and this guy was already a nutjob to begin with.

That movies don't affect people's behavior must be why book publishers didn't bother to redouble their efforts to hawk Dan Brown's novel when the movie came out; that must be why merchandisers figured the movie would not make people want to part with their money to buy shirts, games, and other Da Vinci Code junk; that must be why cable outlets didn't bother to cash in on the Da Vinci Code craze by airing "debunk Christianity" programming; in fact, that must be why advertising isn't a multi-squillion-dollar industry.

And of course, it has nothing to do with why Fr. Canistri is fighting for his life at this moment. God come to his assistance -- and ours.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Things I Have Never Understood

I can't come up with anything exciting today. But I can always come up with stuff I don't understand. In fact, that list grows daily.

So. Ahem. I have never understood:

-- Algebra, or any kind of math, or why anyone would enjoy math, especially algebra. (Though I'm very glad some people in the world do enjoy math, because otherwise civilization would grind to a halt.)

-- Jacques Derrida. The day this guy starts making sense to me, I'm going to check myself into the nearest asylum.

-- Why James Fenimore Cooper was listed amongst the greats of American literature. (For the record, Mark Twain didn't get it, either.)

-- The Code of Federal Regulations. And I'm a lawyer.

-- Why, in James Bond movies, the female leads wear stiletto heels on dangerous and physically demanding missions requiring a speedy retreat, like, say, burglarizing and sabotaging the bad guy's center of operations. (Example: Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies.)

-- Why, when I subscribe to a cable service, I have to pay for a bunch of channels I don't want, instead of being able to pick channels I do want; and why cable companies think they're being family-friendly by telling parents they can "block" channels they don't want their kids to have access to, even though said parents still have to pay for "blocked" channels.

-- Why, when a new English translation of the Mass is up for deliberation, the bishops assume that I need to be protected from big words, even though I majored in English and have a doctorate-level degree, and even have Merriam-Webster Online bookmarked on my web browser. (And many others of the faithful have more degrees than I do, and perhaps just as many as the bishops themselves -- if not more.)

-- Prairie oysters. Who was the first person to look at that and think that would make good eats? Same thing with caviar, with or without champagne, and snails.

-- Body piercings other than in the earlobes. Especially in the tongue.

-- What it is that's so attractive about shoes with extremely pointy toes. They look like witch shoes. (Though I guess they could come in handy in socially compromising situations...)

-- Women who form romantic relationships with, and even marry, guys on death row.

-- Why women who are extremely pregnant have to run around in skin-tight clothing.

-- Why couples who are willing to have children together and buy homes together are nevertheless unwilling to get married.

-- Why anybody would think Obama-Biden is a winning combo for America.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

September 18th: St. Joseph of Cupertino

Over and over again in the lives of the saints, we see that God makes the most out of those who are the least in the eyes of the world. He can, and does, make great saints out of men and women of outstanding intellect and academic achievement, success in business, or social status: witness St. Thomas More (extremely successful lawyer, member of Parliament, Lord Chancellor of England); St. Alphonsus Ligouri (another extremely successful lawyer who later became a priest and bishop, and founded two orders); St. Thomas Aquinas (Dominican friar of towering intellect); St. Louis IX (king of France).

Too often, though, God can make little or nothing out of The Great. Not because He is not God, and all-powerful, but because The Great are often choked with pride, which makes them resist God's grace. So God turns to the little, the humble, the unwanted, the dull and the useless: because these do not resist grace; because, having no self-love, they have room in their hearts for love of God and neighbor; and because, since they are of no account in the eyes of the world, it is clear that the extraordinary things they do are the work of God.

Case in point: St. Joseph of Cupertino, whose feast is today. Read his story here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Prayer Alert: Fr. Donoghue

Please pray for Fr. John F. Donoghue, about whom you have previously read in this space. Fr. Donoghue is in his eighties and has been in poor health for some time; and for the last week, he has been too ill to offer his customary 7:00 a.m. Mass. The outlook appears to be poor. Please pray for him.

In Father's absence, there has had to be Communion services instead of Mass at 7:00 a.m. Please also pray that, in due course, another priest will step forward and offer the 7:00 a.m. Mass. This is the only daily Mass in Boise that ordinary working slobs can start their day with.

CORRECTION: I have just been alerted to the fact that there is a 7:30 a.m. Mass offered every morning at Bishop Kelly High School, so there is more than one pre-8:30 Mass on weekdays. But we still want the 7:00 a.m. Mass to continue -- hopefully with the incomparable Fr. Donoghue.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Must Catholics Embrace Pacifism?

Blessed be the LORD, my rock,who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle...

Psalm 144:1

My last post on guns and spree killers prompted a comment -- from a reader who assumed the name of a World War II British fighter plane -- that included the following line:
I also find it hillarious that the "arm everyone" argument is posited on a Catholic blog. Somehow, I think Jesus would be against everyone being potentially lethal towards each other.
It is alleged, then, that my position on an armed populace is inconsistent with my Catholic Faith. So the question becomes: does the Catholic Church require her children to embrace pacifism? Does the Church, always and everywhere, and in all circumstances, condemn the use of force, and the instruments of force, and those who use force? Does the Church require us as individuals unilaterally to disarm in a dangerous world? If I had time, I could lay out a philosophical case, citing to Scripture and the Fathers and other authorities, appealing for help in such an undertaking to friends who are more learned, and whose minds are far less cluttered than mine.

But, being cluttered in mind, and burdened by my various quirks and interests, I thought first about those whom the Church venerates, objects of veneration being clues to the character of a person or an institution. There are in fact many saints who, for example, were soldiers: Ignatius of Loyola; Martin of Tours; and George, around whom many legends have sprung. Some of these saints gave up soldiering; Martin of Tours, who was a Roman officer in a ceremonial unit, actually refused to fight on religious grounds and was imprisoned for cowardice. But there are other saints who, while Christians, took up soldiering, or continued to soldier while being Christians, or wielded deadly force on some occasion or other, or who encouraged and even led combatants, even though they themselves may not have taken up arms. That the Church should encourage the veneration of such as these would seem to (a) rule out that their acts of violence -- never, by the way, wanton or unlawful -- made them sinners in the eyes of the Church, and (b) indicate that the Catholic position on the use of even lethal force is not quite as imagined. Witness:

St. Michael the Archangel: The prince of the heavenly host, who, upon the rebellion of the evil angels, drove them and Satan out of Heaven. St. Michael is venerated as the patron of policemen and soldiers; he is depicted wearing armor, bearing a sword and standing on the devil's head.

St. Maurice (?-c.287): soldier in the Roman army from Upper Egypt; member of a legion composed entirely of Christians. The entire legion was massacred for refusing -- NOT to fight -- but to offer sacrifices to idols. Canonized before the procedures and investigations instituted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

St. Agathus of Byzantium (?-c. 303): centurion in the imperial Roman Army, stationed in Thrace. He was martyred during the persecutions of Diocletian.

St. Louis IX of France (1214-1270): King of France, the son of Louis XIII and Blanche of Castille. Devoutly Christian, he instituted numerous legal and judicial reforms, built leper hospitals and aided the mendicant orders. He led two Crusades and died during the second one. He was canonized in 1297.

St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431): in obedience to visions from heaven, in which she was ordered to find the true King of France and help him to regain his throne, this uneducated peasant girl took up arms against England and did exactly that, personally leading armies and suffering serious wounds. The Bishop of Beauvais, an English sympathizer, had her tried (in an ecclesiastical court) and burned at the stake (by the secular authorities) for heresy. Her eloquence and wisdom under withering cross-examination was remarkable. In 1454, she was re-tried and acquitted. She was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.

St. John of Capistrano (1386-1456): Franciscan priest and miracle worker. John preached Crusade against the Turks after the fall of Constantinople, and, at the behest of Pope Callistus II, he led the Christian army of 70,000 to victory at the age of 70. He died in the field in October of 1456. Pope Alexander VIII canonized him in 1690.

St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619): Franciscan Capuchin friar, military chaplain. In 1601, Lawrence rallied the German princes against the superior Turkish foe and led the army into battle, carrying no weapon but a crucifix. The Turks lost. He was canonized in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII, and named a Doctor of the Church by Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1959.

And then my personal favorite:

St. Gabriel Possenti (1838-1862): Passionist monk who died at age 24 of tuberculosis. When a band of marauding soldiers arrived in the town of Isola in Italy, Gabriel received permission to go to the aid of the villagers. Facing down a brigand who had seized a young girl, Gabriel seized the man's pistol, pointed it at him, and ordered him to let the girl go. When another soldier came up, Gabriel ordered him to hand over his pistol, which he took in his other hand. When their loot-laden companions approached, thinking a monk would not even know how to fire a gun, Gabriel took dead aim at a running lizard, and shot it. Result: the soldiers laid down their loot, put out the fires they had started, and split. Gabriel was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.

And as a point of interest, of the four American military chaplains who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor between World War II and Vietnam, 100% of these were Catholic priests -- and one has pending a cause for sainthood. True, military chaplains are not ordinary fighting men; but if it is true that, by being commissioned military officers and providing spiritual comfort to soldiers in the field, they are aiding and abetting that which is unqualifiedly sinful in the eyes of the Church, then one has to ask (a) why the priests themselves would bother to distinguish themselves in such service; and (b) why the Church would even permit them to be there, let alone (c) entertain a cause for sainthood among them.

I grant that this is not an erudite, learned discourse based on Holy Scripture or the Church Fathers. But it should at least serve to illustrate the doubtfulness of the proposition that my position on firearms is inconsistent with my Faith.

P.S. The stained glass window pictured above, showing the Blessed Mother and Infant Jesus surrounded by American paratroopers, is from the Catholic church in Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy, France.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Only Solution?

Boise State University is unveiling a new mass notification system designed to alert students and staff in the event of an emergency on campus. Prompted by the recent spate of murder sprees on university campuses, the system would enable instantaneous, mass notification of any emergency via voice mail, email or text message. Because the system requires access to private cell phone information, students must opt in to participate.

There is certainly reason for Boise State to be concerned about homicidal spree attacks: just this year alone, there have been no less than ten throughout the country. An instant warning system would help keep innocent people from blundering into a deadly situation. The reality is that it could take some time for people to realize the danger: security video from the courthouse shooting in Moscow in May of 2007, for example, showed someone casually wandering in and out of the lobby of the 911 center, in between shots, apparently unaware that the center was under attack.

But should we just stop with a warning system? The mind turns to a rundown of notorious murder sprees in recent U.S. history:

July 27, 2008, Knoxville, Tennessee: shooter, who claimed to be acting on an imperative to kill liberals, who were ruining the country, murdered two and wounded seven at a Unitarian Universalist church before being tackled and arrested.
July 4, 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: anonymous shooter murdered four at a street party.

March 3, 2008, West Palm Beach, Florida: shooter murdered one and wounded three at a Wendy's restaurant before turning the gun on himself.

February 14, 2008, DeKalb, Illinois: shooter with a history of mental illness murdered five and wounded 18 at Northern Illinois University before turning the gun on himself.

February 7, 2008, Kirkwood, Missouri: shooter, a construction company owner who believed he had been done out of construction work and who received $20,000.00 in citations for municipal code violations, murdered five and wounded two at a city council meeting before being shot to death by police.

December 9, 2007, Colorado Springs, Colorado: A gunman opened fire at the New Life Church, killing four and injuring two. A female security guard carrying a concealed weapon ended the attack by shooting the gunman. The shooter appeared to be the same who had murdered two people at a missionary training center in Arvada, Colorado earlier the same day.

December 5, 2007, Omaha, Nebraska: A 19-year-old hoping to become famous opened fire at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, murdering eight before turning the gun on himself.

May 19-20, 2007, Moscow, Idaho: shooter with a history of mental problems and domestic violence murdered his wife, then stationed himself across the street from the Latah County Courthouse and fired dozens of shots at the 911 dispatch center. Two officers and an armed civilian were wounded in the attack; one of the officers died of his wounds. The shooter then went to a Presbyterian church where he murdered the sexton, then dispatched himself.

April 16, 2007, Blacksburg, Virginia: the Virginia Tech massacre, the deadliest in American history. The shooter, a student with a history of mental illness, murdered 32 and wounding 23 before turning the gun on himself.

March 25, 2006, Seattle Washington: the Capitol Hill massacre. The shooter, who apparently objected to the rave lifestyle, murdered six and wounded two at a rave party, then turned the gun on himself while being confronted by police.

March 12, 2005, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: shooter, suffering from depression and apparently upset over a sermon two weeks earlier, murdered seven and wounded four members of the Living Church of God at the Sheraton Hotel before turning the gun on himself.

September 15, 1999, Fort Worth, Texas: shooter murdered seven and wounded another seven at a See You at the Pole prayer rally, then committed suicide the next day.

April 20, 1999, Jefferson County, Colorado: the Columbine massacre. Two juvenile shooters murdered 12 and wounded 23 at Columbine High School before turning the guns on themselves. Various explanations for the crimes were advanced, from depression to school cliques to bullying.

October 16, 1991, Killeen, Texas: the Luby's massacre, the worst shooting spree in American history until the Virginia Tech massacre. The shooter drove his car through the front window of the restaurant, shouted, "This is what Bell County has done to me!", and murdered 23 and wounded 20 before being wounded by police and then turning the gun on himself. One woman, whose parents were murdered, had a handgun, but had left it in her car in order to comply with state law.

December 7, 1993, Garden City, New York: the Long Island rail road massacre. The shooter, allegedly suffering from black rage, murdered six and wounded 19 before being tackled by three passengers while he paused to reload his gun.

July 18, 1984, San Diego, California: the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre. The shooter, a man with a history of violence who had told his wife he was going out to "hunt humans," murdered 22 and wounded 20 before being taken out by a SWAT team sniper.

August 20, 1982, Miami, Florida: shooter, upset over a repair bill, entered a machine and welding shop and murdered eight employees. He was pursued by two witnesses who ran him over and killed him when he took aim at their car.

July 12, 1976, Fullerton, California: The Cal State Fullerton massacre. The shooter, a custodian whose wife had just filed for divorce, and who suspected that his wife was appearing in porn films, murdered seven and wounded two at the university library, then surrendered to police.

August 1, 1966, Austin, Texas: the University of Texas clock tower massacre. The shooter -- a Marine Corps veteran who was afterward found to have been suffering from a deadly brain tumor -- stabbed his mother and wife to death as they slept, then climbed the University of Texas clock tower with a pair of rifles and other firearms and began shooting people at random. Police below returned fire, as did armed civilians, whom one officer later credited with aiding police by making it difficult for the shooter to take careful aim. The shooter murdered 14 and wounded 31 before being shot to death by police.

Though this is by no means an exhaustive list of murder sprees from 1966 to the present, one notices two things. First, except for the incident in Moscow, and possibly the incident in Kirkwood, Missouri, most of these attacks occurred in places where the shooter could reasonably expect to encounter no armed resistance (in the case of the University of Texas massacre, where the shooter actually met with armed resistance, this may or may not have been a factor, inasmuch as the shooter seems to have been driven by the cancer in his brain). After decades of gun control legislation, many law-abiding people are unarmed in public these days; but even gun owners, motivated by laws and perhaps by social pressures, are unlikely to pack in churches, at prayer services, in restaurants -- and especially school campuses, where zero tolerance policies bordering on insane frequently prevail. However twisted and deranged the shooters may be, they frequently (though by no means always) seem to have the presence of mind to choose situations and places where their rampages will not be stopped too soon.

Second, in most of these cases, it took either the shooter's death, whether at his own hands or at the hands of the police or an armed civilian, or some other physical force, to end the attack. This raises some questions:

-- When a crowd of people is faced with an armed lunatic, deranged either by mental or organic illness or by evil dispositions, and determined to take out as many people as he can, could guns in the hands of at least some of those people possibly make matters any worse?

-- Who would be in a better position to take out a shooter: a police sniper who has to wait for a clear shot through a door or window, which the shooter may have enough sense to avoid; or an armed civilian in the same building as the shooter? Granted, an attack on the shooter by one of his potential victims would be extremely risky; but is it more risky than having nothing to fight back with?

-- Given the difficulties and limitations the police face at the scene of a horrific, ongoing crime like a spree killing, is it reasonable and realistic to expect them to function as our personal bodyguards?

-- How many lives would be saved if more potential victims of spree killers were in a position to put an end to their predations before their force was spent?

-- Back before we were flooded with gun control laws, when many high schools had rifle clubs (some still do), Americans were sending private firearms to Britain for home defense, and being armed was more common and accepted than it is today, were spree killings the national plague they have now become?

A mass warning system on campus is a good idea -- provided people have the sense not to make a mockery of it by abusing it -- if only because it will reduce the odds of innocent people walking blindly into peril and either getting themselves killed or spoiling a counter-offensive. But it still seems to me that even mass communication is not a panacaea; that in addition, we ought also to overcome our new-found societal paranoia over an armed populace.

Because in the end -- pending the moral regeneration of American society -- the best cure for an armed spree-killer is a gun in the hands of a law-abiding citizen.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Required Reading for All Who Face Trouble (In Other Words, for ALL)

As a writer, St. Thomas More’s best known literary work is Utopia, which some people cite for the foolish and insulting proposition that this roaring lion of two-fisted cool supported the repellent and downright anti-Catholic practices, like euthanasia, that he describes in his non-existent society. Ironically, as Gerald B. Wegemer notes in his introduction to A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (Scepter Publishers, 2005), Utopia, a Latin work, has long been more accessible to English-speaking readers than More’s English works – because the language has sailed on, leaving the English of More’s time far behind, shrouded in mists of unintelligibility. It takes special training, and plenty of patience, to decipher the crazy spelling and archaic vocabulary of More’s pre-Shakespearean language. I myself have never tried to read more than a few lines of his original, un-updated work, even though, as an undergraduate, I studied the even older and crazier Middle English dialects of Chaucer and the Pearl Poet. But Mary Gottschalk’s rendition of the Dialogue into modern English is highly readable: at no time does she get in the way or blunt the force of More’s uncluttered mind, his penetrating logic, his keen wit, or the sense of humor and good cheer that not even the headsman and his axe, overshadowing him as he wrote, could repress.

The Dialogue is set in Hungary on the eve of Suleiman the Magnificent’s invasion of that Christian country, which took place in 1526. The conversation takes place between Vincent, a young man stricken with fear of the ferocious Turks, and his elderly uncle Anthony, wise with the wisdom of the Christian who stands on the threshold of death. Vincent – the figure of More’s family, tormented by his persecution at the hands of Henry VIII – turns to Anthony – the figure of More himself – for advice on how to find consolation, strength and perseverance in the midst of the woes that loom over their country and above all, threaten their faith. Anthony begins with an analysis of true comfort, showing that it is grounded solely in the Christian faith, which in turn affords a true understanding of the medicinal value of suffering and the merits of suffering patiently borne. He then discusses the temptations against perseverance, and their cures; the danger of attachment to worldly goods; the true nature of imprisonment and death, the realization of which is an antidote to fear. The Dialogue culminates in a comparison of the fleeting torments of earth to the everlasting and unremitting pains of Hell, followed by a description of the unimaginable joys of heaven, that will instantly drown out even the greatest earthly suffering.

More’s logic is elegant and straightforward. His insights seem so obvious in the telling that we are apt to forget that they are actually the product of a highly disciplined mind, in turn the product of years of not only intense study and practice, but prayer and mortification. Consider, for example, his response to the then-new Protestant doctrine against the need for penance, reparation and sorrow for sin:
Now, Nephew, as I told you the other day, I will not dispute these matters with those upstarts. But surely, for my own part, I cannot very well go along with them, because as far as my poor mind can see, God’s holy Scripture is very plainly against them. And the whole body of Christendom in all Christian regions, including the ones in which they themselves live, has always, down to their own day, clearly believed against them. And all the ancient, holy doctors of the Church have consistently taught against them, and all the ancient, holy interpreters have construed Scripture against them. So if these new people have just now, at this late date, discovered that Scripture has been misunderstood for all this time, and that of all those holy doctors of old, not one could understand it correctly, then I at this age am too old to begin to study it now. And trust in these people’s knowledge, Nephew? That I would in no way dare to do. For I see no reason to think that these people might not now, in their understanding of Scripture, be as deceived as they tell us everyone else has been for all this time.
From the Master he served so well on earth, More learned the art of parables, using them effectively to clarify the truths he teaches in the Dialogue. His illustration of the sin of presumption sends a chill down the spine:
There’s a story about a fellow who always used to say, “As long as I live I’ll do as I please, for when I die, three or four words will make everything safe enough.” Well, it so happened that long before this fellow could get old, his horse stumbled on a broken bridge. He tried hard to rescue them both, but soon he saw that it would not be. He knew he would be flung headlong into the river below. And in sudden agitation he cried out, as he was falling, “Well, I’ll be damned!” So there he was, drowned with his three or four deathbed words on which, for all his wretched life, he had hung all his hope.
Very intense stuff. But dire solemnity is not More’s style, even in the shadow of his own impending violent death. A lightness of heart befitting a thoroughly convinced Christian shines throughout the Dialogue; and although he engages in serious and sharp reasoning, the Dialogue is leavened throughout with the wit and humor that accompanied the saint all the way to the block. I laughed out loud at another of More’s descriptions of the sin of presumption:
There are also some, I say, who are reluctant to die because they lack good sense. These people believe in the world that is to come, and they hope to go there one day; yet they love so much the wealth of this world, and such things in it that delight them, that they will fight tooth and nail to keep them as long as they possibly can. And when they see themselves allowed in no way to keep that wealth any longer, when death comes to take them away from it, then, for lack of anything better, they will consent to be – as soon as they are gone – hoisted up to heaven and placed right next to God.
More has a delightful way of playing with words. On the chance that a person who refuses to give his life for his faith may “perhaps” afterward attain forgiveness, he warns, playfully yet pointedly:
All his forgiveness hinges, Nephew, as you clearly see, on this “perhaps.” A “perhaps” can turn into a “yes,” but it can also turn into a “no.” And then where is he? And besides, as you well know, per no kind of haps will he happen to permanently escape from death – the very thing for fear of which he forsook his faith.
Although he does lament the need for levity to break up meditation on even the joys of heaven, which our carnal nature regards as tedious, and recommends humor as sauce rather than as meat, More is not above breaking up his own serious subject matter with funny stories, apparently derived from his own domestic life. Witness Vincent’s tale of a relative and her long-suffering husband:
This woman’s husband took much pleasure in the attitude and behavior of another honorable man, and therefore spent a lot of time with him. In fact, more often than not, he was away from home at mealtime. Well, one day it happened that both he and his wife dined with that neighbor of theirs, and she playfully picked a fight with this man for making her husband feel so happy elsewhere that she could never keep him at home. “Actually, ma’am,” he said (for he had a dry sense of humor), “nothing keeps him in my company but just one thing. Give him the same thing, and he’ll never be away from you.” “What wonderful thing might that be?” our relative then asked. “Indeed, ma’am,” he said, “your husband dearly loves to talk, and when he’s with me I let him have all the words.” “ALL the words?” she asked. “Well,” she said, “I’m quite willing and content to let him have all the words just as he’s always had them – which is, I speak them all myself and give them all to him. In that way, for all I care, he can still have them all. But to say that in some other way he shall have them all – you can keep him forever, rather than he get the half!”
Or Uncle Anthony’s story of the confession of the nagging wife:
…a certain nagging wife, when she came home from confession one day, told her husband [what] she was going to do. “Cheer up, man,” she said, “for today, thanks be to God, I made a very good confession and got thoroughly absolved. So now I intend to stop all my old nagging, and star over afresh!”
More clearly understood that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and he used it to great effect.

When I was a kid, there were few things I hated worse than writing a book report. They weren’t as bad during my college years, when I was working toward my degree in English, though they were still onerous, mostly because I was being made to do them. Now that I am all grown up, and at the service of accused criminals rather than professors, I write book reports for fun. I suppose it’s because I enjoy the books in question so much that I want others to read them also, and get as much out of them as I have. The Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation is one such book.

But the day I start doing story problems for fun, somebody better book me a straitjacket and a corner in the rubber room.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Yet Another Reason Not to Vote for Obama

...as if we needed more beyond his radical leftism, his suport of infanticide, his colossal ignorance, his staggering stupidity, his nutjob cohorts, and his appeal to people who specialize in Soviet-style art.

Now we are favored with World Opinion, which favors Obama over McCain. According to ABC News, 23,531 responded to a BBC poll in on the question of preferred candidates for the American presidency in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE, Britain and the United States. The majority of respondents in each of these countries apparently favors Obama, and thinks U.S. relations with the rest of the world will improve if he is elected.

In other words, "the world," as represented by the respondents to this poll who hope Obama gets elected, wish the worst for a nation that:
  • Produces enough food to feed itself and the rest of the world.
  • Makes it possible for many of the above countries to sleep peacefully at night without fear of foreign invasion, and without having to contribute significantly to their own defense.
  • Rushes, with the most up-to-the-minute rescue and medical technology, to the scenes of natural disasters in countries utterly incapable of coping on their own.
  • Has given back territory captured in war (e.g., Okinawa, Iwo Jima and other territory wrested from the Axis powers in World War II), and rebuilt conquered nations (e.g., Japan, Germany).
  • Twice, in the last hundred years, saved Europe from aggressive tyrants.
  • Takes in refugees from oppression in other countries.
  • Tolerates effronteries and insults from pipsqueak nations that, if directed at the Soviet Union, might have resulted in Soviet tanks rolling over the borders of said pipsqueak nations.
So we give a silver-plated rat's ass who the rest of the world wants in our White House...why?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008

Been Sick...AND TIRED...

...not to mention, busy busy busy, which is hard to be when you're sick and tired. But I'm over the worst, so thanks for bearing with me.

P.S. I have built up a rather extensive archive; take a romp through the Victory Garden!