Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Please Help the People of the Gulf Coast

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Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has taken the lead in putting together bloggers offering suggestions to help those in need after Katrina. We sit here watching the heartwrenching coverage on TV, and anything we can do seems so feeble. But I would like to second the suggestion that those interested join us in contributing to Catholic Charities. That, and pray, pray, pray for the Golf Coast and the nation.

And God bless you Glenn, and Hugh Hewitt, and all those responsible for putting this together. You can check out Instapundit for many more suggestions on organizations to which you can contribute.

There are other things to talk about, and we'll get to that in the next day or so. But for now, let's pause for a moment of reflection on how fortunate so many of us are in our own lives, and to offer our own suffering for those who are suffering so much.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Story of Charlotte Wyatt

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By Mitchell

Hard as it may be to believe, there are those out there who think that Terri Schiavo's supporters were using her for political gain, that all her life meant to us was the chance to score some points. I suppose I'm as much to blame as anyone, because lately I haven't been doing a lot of linking to the Blogs for Terri site. Does it mean that I'm ignoring the cause? No, but I haven't been keeping it in the public eye as muchas I should have.

To rectify this, I call your attention to England, and the case of Charlotte Wyatt. Charlotte is almost two years old. She was born prematurely, and her parents had to wait three months to hold her. At nine months her health improved, and she was moved out of intensive care:

Almost immediately, she got a blood infection, and started needing more and more oxygen. Then the day came when her parents were rung up and told that Charlotte's lungs had collapsed, and she had been put on a ventilator.

The hospital decided she had no chance of recovering, and sought a court order to allow them to deny essential care if she needed to be put back on a ventilator. The judge agreed despite the protests of her parents, who pointed to a slow but steady improvement in Charlotte's health. This battle has been going on for over a year, and at this point the judge still refuses to rescind the Do Not Resucitate (DNR) order.

This is most assuredly not a carbon copy Terri Schiavo case. We're in England, not the United States. There is no relative seeking to kill Charlotte, no pitched battle between a fractured family. Only loving parents who wish to do whatever is necessary to keep their daughter alive, and a medical establishment that feels her life isn't worth saving.

And yet there's no doubt we're seeing the ramifications of Terri's trial. For while the cases may be different on the surface, the root remains the same: the worth of human life, and the desire of some to assign life a utilitarian value that demeans the very dignity with which God has invested it.

The Wyatt family continues to fight for their daughter's life. To this point Charlotte continues to make progress. Even the judge admits this, but continues to side with the hospital (ironically named St. Mary's; one can only wonder what the great Mother of God would make of all this). Fortunately, there has been no medical crisis yet, and the judge continues to allow the Wyatts to petition to rescind the DNR order (they were, alas, turned down again last Thursday).

But Terri's legacy lives on, both in the culture of death which spawned her murder, and in the fight of dedicated souls such as those who run Blogs for Terri, from which I heard about this story. Sadly, there are many more stories like Charlotte's, which are detailed on this site.

Which reminds us of two things. First, we must continue to pray - prayfor the Wyatts, and all those who face similar fights for life. Second, we must never, never, let down our guard. We must keep this in the public eye; we must keep fighting for life. Because, contrary to what some think, this is not about politics. It's about more than that.

Maybe the PGA Can Hire Hulk Hogan Next

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By Mitchell

This is one of those days when blogging's a pleasure. Not that it isn't always; I love writing, and I love writing for all of you out there (however many of you there may be). But a day like today is especially good, because I don't have to wonder what I'm going to post about next. The ideas just pop up right in front of me.

Take this column by Bill Syken that I ran across today at SI.com. It's all about the new, improved Tiger Woods. What's that, you ask? Has he finally gotten his game in order, straightened out his crooked drives, fixed that balky putter? No, nothing so mundane as that. Syken is glad that Tiger seems on the verge of getting edgier, more in-your-face, throwing away all those old conventions like sportsmanship. For example, here's Syken's take on Woods' early departure from the rain-delayed PGA Championship, when he still had at least a theoretical chance of winning:

Of the 156 players in the field, 155 would have waited out the finish. Staying the extra day is what Tiger was supposed to do -- just like we're supposed to compliment a friend on their new haircut, no matter how bad it looks. Woods had a chance on paper, but not really. By going home, he showed he won't be held hostage by propriety.

That's right, let's just toss propriety aside as if it were an old-fashioned superstition - which, unfortunately, more and more are starting to believe. Propriety, by the way, is defined as "conformity to what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech." Is that really such an awful thing to be accused of, Syken? I mean, laws against murder or rape are kind of confining too, I suppose. After all, they do require law-abiding citizens to "conform to what is socially acceptable."

Golf is one of the few sports left that still takes pride in sportsmanship, that continues to follow rules of etiquette. Apparently, that just isn't 21st Century-enough for Syken. Until now, Tiger has followed in the footsteps of golf's greats, such as Palmer and Nicklaus. Syken thinks his role model ought to be Muhammad Ali:

Michael Jordan is a fine role model, but before him there was another sports icon, Muhammad Ali, who let fans know how much he enjoyed being the greatest of all time. Tiger's Accenture commercial, with its hint of preening, is a step in that direction. How great it would be if Tiger really showed everyone how much fun it is to be Tiger Woods?

Sigh. I guess you just can't have fun anymore without getting in someone else's face. Yes, by all means let's turn golf into boxing - hey, there's a sport that's thriving, right? And we all know how much more exciting sports is now that you've got these junior Ali-wannabees out there - loud, obnoxious, braggerts who taunt their opponents to the point of cruelty. (Remember Ali's fights against Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell, Syken?) We rush to cannonize Ali because of his frail health, but let us not overlook his desertion of Christianity, his evasion of the draft, his broken marriages, the crassness and coarsness he added to society. Yes, he could be entertaining, but at what price? For the love of Pete, what's wrong with being a gentleman?

Ironically, it's just those qualities that Syken despises that are being celebrated in this SI.com column in praise of Andre Aggasi, written by Justin Gimelstob. Aggasi, once the brash, bad boy of tennis, has now become its elder statesman, and the game's greatest ambassador - a gentleman both on and off the court. As Gimelstob writes,

Andre's accomplishments through his charitable foundation are well documented and incredible in their own right (he's raised more than $50 million for underprivileged kids), but it's just as amazing to hear him talk with passion and pride about the kids whose lives he affects. Andre is a role model not just to young tennis players, but to all professional athletes -- all of whom have the ability to positively effect change in people's lives.

Now, I'm not trying to dis Tiger here, because for all of Syken's blind wishing, it's far from sure that Tiger's going to turn into the object of Syken's desire. But haven't we had enough of athletes like Terrell Owens lately? Let's hope that Tiger turns away from Ali, and follows the lead of Agassi. And while we're at it, maybe Syken can take a lesson or two from Herbert Warren Wind.

The Ten Disciplines of Workplace Spirituality

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By Mitchell

One of the best things about blogging is finding out things that add to your storehouse of knowledge. In some cases that storehouse isn't very big to begin with, so anything that can be added is helpful!

Case in point is this very good piece that Herb Ely wrote last year. He linked to it in this week's Catholic Carnival in relation to my post on authority. Were it not for the Catholic Carnival, I might never have read this piece. Believe me, I'm very glad I did.

Herb references Gregory F.A. Pierce's book Spirituality@Work, in which Pierce outlines the ways in which spirituality of the workplace helps answer basic questions:

  • What is the meaning of work?
  • How should we deal with others at work?
  • How do we balance work with the rest of life?
  • How do we determine what is right and wrong?
  • How do we maintain – and sometimes change the workplace?

These questions flow from the basic premise that "work is both creative and a service to others; it is an attempt to bring God’s wishes into the world." In order to achieve these goals, Pierce suggests practicing the following ten disciplines. I'll merely give an overview of those disciplines, and direct you to Herb's post to read how they are applied in the workplace:

  1. Decorating the workstation with personal reminders of our values and beliefs. [these need not be obtrusive]
  2. Living with imperfection.
  3. Striving for quality.
  4. Giving thanks and congratulations.
  5. Building community through welcoming and support.
  6. Practicing the Golden Rule
  7. Discerning how much [money, success, work] is enough.
  8. Finding balance among work, family, community and church.
  9. Making the “system” work.
  10. Ongoing balanced self-renewal.

I think we've all worked in places where many of these qualities were, shall we say, lacking. Sadly, I have been in one or two where all ten were routinely ignored, if not stomped upon. I fear that this is becoming more and more the norm, as corporations find their own version of the Golden Rule ("Whoever has the gold rules.") threatened by outside interests - that is, God Himself.

Some of this no doubt is due to the false god of diversity, at whose altar many corporations worship on a regular basis. Buying into this creates a tremendous pressure to accept everything as being of equal value. While it's true that we should respect divergent viewpoints, we should not be afraid to ask others to respect our basic Judeo-Christian heritage, a heritage that we should not deny. Ah, but the only heritage that many corporations are interested in nowadays is inheriting the throne of King Midas.

Well, I've added too much of my own thoughts to this post; read Herb's full version. I'm looking forward to talking with him more about this area of mutual interest.

The New Catholic Carnival Is Up!

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Discerning "the next right thing to do" is the theme of this week's Catholic Carnival, up at Herb Ely's site. What does this mean? According to Herb,
As we do our morning prayers and evening review (aka an examination of conscience) we look for the “next right thing” to do. (If we focus on that, we won’t waste time worrying over the thing after the next one.( Mt. 6:30 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.)

As usual, there are some excellent posts this week, on hypocrisy, resting on the Sabbath, pharmacists as conscientious objectors, and many more. We won't tell you more; check them out for yourselves!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Amen, Bishop Olmsted!

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By Mitchell

I continue to be impressed by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, who has been a strong, ferverent defender of the faith ever since he was appointed to his position. The Curt Jester exerpts Bishop Olmsted's recent editorial - here's a sample:

The right to life, however, is not an issue of interest only to Catholics. It is of primary concern for all. The founders of our country recognized this when they stated, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The right to life is indeed an inalienable one. To stand up for the dignity of every person, then, and to speak out against intrinsic evils such as abortion, euthanasia, racism and sexual acts outside of marriage is a service that God requires of us on behalf of all persons, not only members of our own faith.

To do this by actions as well as by words underlines the seriousness of these teachings and the depths of our convictions. One such action is to prohibit the giving of honors or the provision of a platform in Catholic institutions for those who support actions contrary to these core moral principles.

I trust that this position is not that difficult to understand. Why would we honor or give a platform to someone who radically disagrees with our fundamental teachings? We should instead be criticized if we allowed such things to happen.

Read the rest at the Curt Jester's blog. You wouldn't think that we should get so excited about one of our bishops defending the teachings of the Church, but then...

I mention the last because of a comment in GetReligion's review of the New Yorker profile of Hugh Hewitt in which Hewitt discusses why he left the Catholic Church for a Protestant denomination:

Like many conservative Republicans of his generation, he was increasingly drawn to evangelical Protestantism. And Hewitt had come to dislike the political direction that the Catholic Church had taken. (“They were wrong on the Soviet Union, wrong on nuclear weapons, and wrong on poverty,” he says.)

And that's a shame. I don't know Hewitt personally (and I don't agree with him all the time politically) but I like what I've read about the man, and I wonder just how responsible he can be held for leaving the Church, when in all likelihood he was driven away by people - including bishops - who were misrepresenting the true teachings of the Church, or were teaching them badly. I know others who have either left the Church or have been tempted to, for the same reason.

When I converted to Catholicism, I was warned by some of my politically conservative friends to "not let the Church change you into a liberal." Well, there's no doubt that in some ways I have become more liberal, in the sense that I've parted ways with many conservatives who align themselves so closely with Corporate America, and have myself become more interested in Distributism.

But Catholicism is the truth. It is the teaching of Jesus Christ as presented in the Church He founded. It has been, and continues to be, distorted by its fallible human representatives. Its leaders occasionally offer opinions with which we can respectfully disagree. But its enemies, like the demons in the swine, recognize it for what it is - a teller of the truth, the greatest threat to the dictatorship of relativism. People deserve to hear that truth. It's a scandal when they don't.

Which is why we applaud men like Bishop Olmsted, who aren't afraid to teach the truth as Christ did. And why we should follow their example.

Pope Meets SSPX Leader

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By Mitchell

This story has appeared at a number of sites, but I'm linking to two posts (1, 2) at Roman Catholic Blog because they give the best synopsis of a very complicated story.

Count me among those who fervently hope that this schism can be healed. And there is no question in my mind that the SSPX is a schismatic group. Having said that, I also have a great deal of sympathy for these people as a whole (notwithstanding that some of its members, like those of any group, can be unreasonable). Imagine having so many things that you believed in ripped away from you. Imagine being told that your devotions were wrong and had to be given up, that the Mass you cherished had become a folk fest, and that if you disagreed with it you were in the wrong.

Yes, I know that this isn't what Vatican II really taught, but so many people were misled and deceived on the truth of Vatican II (and continue to be to this day). In many respects, perception becomes reality. You might consider some SSPXers to be dogmatic to an extreme, but at least they believe in something, which is more than can be said of many.

But enough of all that. Let's just pray that the Holy Spirit provides the healing power necessary to bring this particular wing of our Catholic Church back into the fold. Finding peace with our separated Protestant bretheren will be that much easier when we find peace within our own house.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Nature of Authority

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By Mitchell

Hold on to your hats; today I'm going to try to link sports, pornography, abortion, the workplace, and the abuse of authority. All in one post. I get exhausted just thinking about it. But if you bear with me, I think I can pull it off.

The text for this post comes from yesterday's Gospel reading:

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, `My master is delayed,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." (Matt. 24:45-51)

All authority comes from God. We know this from the story of the centurion:

As he entered Caper'na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,' and he goes, and to another, `Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matthew 8:5-13)

Notice that Jesus uses the exact same phrase at the end of each passage: "there men will weap and gnash their teeth." Is this a coincidence, or should we take this as evidence of the seriousness with which Our Lord looks at the exercise of authority?

All authority comes from God. We also know it from history. The Divine Right of Kings, which derived its origins in part from the teachings of St. Augustine, traced the legitimacy of monarchy to God, from Whom the power came (and to Whom the kings were accountable).

All authority comes from God. We read it in the words of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Jefferson introduces a new concept to the dynamic of authority here, with the idea that the government derives its just powers "from the consent of the governed." In other words, from the people. This is the American evolution from monarchy to democracy, but implicit in this is an affirmation of the responsibility to govern in a just manner, and the concept that authority becomes illegitimate if it is not exercised justly.

So if authority comes from God, it follows that those in authority have a special responsibility to God to exercise their power in a way consistent with His will. This is important because there is an inherent inequality in the relationship between those with authority and those under that authority. The power must be used wisely as well as justly, as the wicked servant discovered:

"Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.

When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. (Matthew 18:23-34)

Presumably, while being tortured the wicked servant was weeping and gnashing his teeth.

A key component to the just exercise of authority is respect. Respect for God, the source of all authority; respect for those over whom the authority is exercised, who often are powerless in the face of that authority. Clearly, authority should not be taken lightly, which is why it is important to be just in the way in which we deal with animals. And this finally brings us to the athletes, pornographers, abortionists and employers, which is what I know you were all waiting for.

As you know if you've read this blog, I have a great deal of antipathy toward the way many employees are treated in Corporate America, so I won't rehash it now. But seen particularly in light of the first reading we referenced - Matthew 24 - we can see that respect is the key component that is missing from so much of employer-employee relations. One could argue that it is a two-way street, and to a certain extent they'd be correct. But remember that there is always a different dimension to respect when it is transmitted from the powerless to the powerful. The employee's respect often hinges on a degree of reciprocity, and when the employee sees a lack of respect from the employer through unjust, unfair, or even illegal management, that respect which is naturally due the employer will erode until in culminates in labor unrest. For an example, see any particular strike over the past hundred years or so.

The employee begins to see himself as nothing more than a unit of commerce. Rather than being an individual, he becomes a statistic, judged not on his humanity but on his utility - his usefulness. And in this respect the employee is no different from the star athlete.

We saw a young football player for the San Francisco 49ers die last week. We still don't know why he died, but one of the prime suspects is his weight - at 6'3", he weighed over 320 pounds. A large percentage of football players are described as clinically obese (just how large the percentage is depends on the methodology, taking into consideration body fat and muscle). That may not be healthy, but as football as evolved sheer bulk, rather than talent, has become increasingly important. Whereas players often played both offense and defense into the late 50s - which required coaches to teach skills that players might not naturally have - today rosters have expanded to over 60 players, even though only 11 can be on the field at one time. Specialization has removed the need for teaching; at some positions size has superceded skill. It is now the skill of the coach that has become important - coaches have television shows, endorsement deals, cameras focused on them all the time - and the players are little more than his tools.

There was a story at CNN.com today about a girls' high-school basketball player who had changed her mind about playing for college powerhouse Connecticut, opting instead to stay near her home in California. The Connecticut coach, Geno Auriemma, was said to be quite upset about this, telling the player something to the effect that she should pray to God that she never has to play Connecticut in college. One would hope that Auriemma prays to God himself that He treats Auriemma with more mercy and understanding than Auriemma treats others. Never mind the ethics of recruiting 16- and 17-year olds to play basketball at a time when they should be thinking about the crucial life-changing event that the selection of a college is. Never mind that she might have second thoughts about travelling across the country, away from family and friends, to play in a high-pressure atmosphere. Never mind all that - the only question is whether or not this girl will achieve her potential as a basketball player. The writer says that she likely would have wound up a better college player if she had gone to Connecticut. But would she have wound up a better person? One need only look at Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, to see the message that young athletes get: your value is measured by your contribution in the game. Character development only counts if it doesn't interfere with the game. As long as you win, it doesn't matter what you do otherwise. And the thing of it is, coaches like this might be perfectly wonderful people outside of sports - they love their wives and children and treat their pets well. They probably don't even realize the implications of their behavior off the field, because they've become desensitized to it.

Desensitization is exactly what pornography and prostitution have done for women. Some will argue that porn doesn't really hurt anyone, that sex crimes come from a disorder that is only tangental to porn, but I don't see how you can argue anything other than that porn trains the mind to view another human being as an object, an instrument to be used for physical pleasure. It's a selfishness that runs completely contrary to the love that Jesus teaches us, the selfless love that Paul describes. But once we're taught to treat one class of person as an object, it becomes easier and easier. The theme becomes not the dignity of the individual human being, but their utility. Once you see a human being as an object, then it's easier to beat them when things don't go well - when the bills aren't paid, when dinner is late, when someone looks at them and smiles in a way you don't like. You treat them like your own personal property, yours to do with whatever you want, because to you that's all they mean.

It's how unborn babies become "inconveniences" to be eliminated, how euthenasia can be described, with a straight face, as "mercy killing," how Terri Schiavo can be murdered because others judge her life to be not worth living. It's how monsters like Peter Singer can advocate the killing of young babies, already born, who exhibit signs of fatal disease or deformity. It's how an entire class of humans in this country were once considered property rather than people. One thing that all of these examples have in common is that people either have or take upon themselves a certain amount of authority, and proceed to abuse it.

One of the fundamental truths about life can be found in the dignity of the human being. When that dignity becomes obscured, even in just one instance, it becomes easier and easier to overlook it in others. When it can be overlooked, it can be consciously eliminated. That's the slippery slope argument that so many want to dismiss, becauese they know there's an elemental truth in it.

And the reason I've brought this argument all the way to this point is that dignity is so often at the mercy of human power and how it's used. We have seen what Christ says about authority, it's importance, its consequences. But none of this makes any sense unless we accept the fundamental premise I mentioned at the very start. All authority comes from God, and it should be exercised accordingly. It is one of the most visible ways in which we interact with God's plan on a day-to-day basis. Those who take the exercise of such authority lightly will feel the burden rest heavily on their shoulders, on the Day of Judgement. We may not be supervisors, may not coach or manage anyone, but we all exercise authority in our lives to one extent or another, as parents, friends, spouses, pet owners - any number of ways. That we may always cooperate with God's plan, and be just stewards of that authority which He has given us, may we always humbly pray.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Wish I'd Written That...

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By Mitchell

"I shall fetch Brother Declan for you," the Very Reverend Father Abbott told, then added softly: "A little more than two years ago, he came to us a tormented soul. Now he is a whole man again. But have mercy on him, Eminence. We cannot go on breaking him and repairing him forever."

Walter F. Murphy, The Vicar of Christ

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Don't Quit Your Day Job

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By Mitchell

Well, here we have another example of a so-called "sportswriter" getting in way over his head, as USA Today golf columnist Ian O'Connor sides with the oddball Cindy Sheehan against Bush. (Thanks to Media Blog at NRO for the heads-up.) It's not just that O'Connor's pontificating has no place in a sports column; it's that he's so massively ignorant of the issue.

What is it about these guys that they keep trying to prove something? If they feel as if they've got to write about something "serious" in order to be taken seriously, then maybe they shouldn't have gotten into sportswriting in the first place. If they think they're being funny, then go out and be a standup comic, where you can get instant gratification from the audience. The only humor in O'Connor's oh-so-earnest and so-very-serious column comes from beliving that anyone could be this stupid about the facts and still be taken seriously.

I've said it before and, unfortunately, it looks as if I'll have to keep on saying it: it's fine if you want to talk about politics, as long as you know what you're talking about, and as long as you don't try to pass it off in the middle of a column that's supposted to be about sports.

Media Blog suggests that O'Connor "looks like Michael Jordan trying to play baseball." In sticking with the terminology of O'Connor's regular beat, I'd suggest that he skulled his tee-shot. Unfortunately, USA Today will probably let him get away with a mulligan. I'd suggest that perhaps one of those single-sheet shopping news flyers that you see in suburban coffeehouses would be the best place for O'Connor to ply his trade, until he learns how to be a real journalist.

Catholic Carnival XLIV Is Up!

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This week's carnival is hosted at Living Catholicism. Be sure and check it out!

Seasons Change

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By Mitchell

Eve Tushnet passes on a really interesting question: do you get excited when the season begins to change?

We're just about to that point here in Minnesota. The State Fair (one of America's greatest) begins the day after tomorrow, and runs until Labor Day. It's summer's last hurrah, a 12-day stretch where bad weather often clears up just in time for the fair's run, after which fall can decend on us like a ton of bricks.

The last few days have been quite a change from the weather we've had this summer, which has been hot, humid, and relatively free of rain. After a long run of 90+ days in July, we've seen a week where the temps have just barely climbed into the 70s. While on a walk Sunday, we saw some leaves that had already turned color and fallen. It gets dark earlier now, and the night air is cooler. Yes, fall is in the air. Now that I don't have to face going back to school, the trauma caused by the end of summer has ceased, and fall has become one of my favorite times of the year.

It will get hot again, of course. I'd expect we might see a few more days in the high 80s or low 90s before the end of the year. But even then, you might feel that the wind has turned around a bit, that there's an edge to it that wasn't there earlier in the summer.

I mentioned above that fall was one of my favorite times of the year, but really every seasonal change becomes one of my favorite times. One of the great things about Minnesota is the change of seasons, even though we seem to be skipping spring most of the time nowadays, going directly from sloppy late winter snow to a blast furnace in May. But when the soft touch of spring teases us, when the grass begins to green up and the trees start to bud and you start to think about where to go for Easter brunch, it's a welcome site. Likewise, there's something bracing about the crispness of an autumn Saturday afternoon, the crackling of the new snow under your boots on a December morning, and the sparkling wonder of Christmas and the new year. It will be particularly interesting over the next twelve months, our first year living downtown, to see how the city changes with the seasons.

It's unthinkable for me to imagine the year without the seasons - Christmas without snow, springtime without gentle showers, summer without humidity, the State Fair without an autumnal chill. Maybe as we get older, as we get deeper into the autumn of our own years, that will change (it never had to change for Judie; she hates winter about as much as anyone can and still live in Minnesota). Maybe it won't be the same walking to work in -20 temps. But for now this is as good an answer as there is as to why, despite it all, we still love living in Minnesota.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

All Pat Robertson, All the Time

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By Mitchell

Well, to hear the MSM talk, there was one and only one news story today. You'd think Pat Robertson was the biggest newsmaker around. If there was a way to link him to Aruba and that missing teenage girl, I'm sure they'd be in seventh heaven.

So Robertson thinks the president of Venezuela should be assassinated. Big deal. As if he's in a position to do anything about it. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, and before today I'd never even heard of Hugo Chavez. My first thought was to wonder why Pat Robertson wanted Cesar Chavez dead. (And isn't he dead already?)

In fact, as Jonah Goldberg pointed out, it really isn't a big deal. Robertson raises a perfectly valid point as to whether or not it would serve U.S. interests to eliminate Chavez. It wouldn't be the first time, after all. You could debate whether or not it would be a good idea, but it's probably nothing that hasn't already been discussed somewhere in the fringes of U.S. foreign policy decision makeing.

Goldberg things the disturbing thing is that it doesn't sound right coming from a religious leader, and I think he's on to something here. For example, you'd be hard-pressed to imagine a headling that said, "Pope Calls For Assassination Of Muslim Leaders." (Anyway, according to the MSM, we all know that the Pope's more interested in killing pregnant women by refusing to allow them to have abortions.)

Levity aside, I think that may say something good about our society, in that we still expect our religious leaders to abide by certain standards. Of course, one could question whether or not a man who's run for President of the United States, as Robertson did in 1988, qualifies as a purely religious figure. (Full disclosure - I did support Robertson mildly in the GOP primary season, when the only other alternatives were Bush Sr. and Dole.) And it's as a political figure that he makes the bigger impact nowadays, what with his calls for increased U.S. support of Israel.

Speaking as a Catholic, I've never had a great deal of time for Robertson as an evangelist, although he's made some good points over the years. He can often be his own worst enemy, the way he shoots from the hip. But the MSM has exaggerated him into a comic figure, so that when he does make interesting points, he's immediately subject to ridicule. Remember how after September 11 he and Jerry Falwell made some suggestion, the essence of which was that America was being punished for its sins? I can't remember now exactly what it was specifically that we were being punished for (homosexuality? abortion? stem-cells?), and his broad statements probably did more to damage his credibility than anything else, but if you cut to the chase, there's a lot to what he said. I think God was telling us that time was running out for us to get our moral act together. Have we learned the lesson yet?

At any rate, unless Natalie Holloway turns up in the next couple of days, I imagine this story will be totally run into the ground. And while it's so easy to laugh at Robertson, or condemn him, it's not so easy to give a serious answer to the points he raises. Is Chavez a threat to U.S. interests? Do we need to take a more active role in that part of the world? What is going on in that part of the world, anyway? And is assassination as a policy ever justified? These are all provocative questions, questions I'd really like to see debated. Unfortunately, given the media's love of juicy stories disguised as reporting, and shouting matches that masquerade as discussion, I doubt we'll ever hear any of it. And that is a scandal.

Camille Paglia on the Art Elites

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By Mitchell

I got a real charge out of this exchange, brought to you by Terry Teachout at About Last Night. It's an excerpt from Robert Birnbaum's interview with Camille Paglia. Now, Paglia is nothing if not a loose cannon. I probably disagree with her as often as I agree. But she's always immensely entertaining, never more so than when she's going off on the arts-and-croissants crowd, as she does here:

CP: I'm on a crusade—it's to say to the poets and the artists, “Stop talking to each other. Stop talking to coteries. I despise coteries in any form. You are speaking to a coterie, OK. Stop the snide references to the rest of the world who didn't vote with you in the last election.” This is big. Because we have all separated again. After 9/11, everyone was united. We are separated again thanks to what has happened in politics. People in the art world are full of [a] sanctimonious sense of superiority to most of America. But they must address America, learn to address America. Yes, have your friends, have the people who support what you are doing in the art world, but you have to recover a sense of the general audience and the same thing I am saying to the far right, get over the sneering at art, the stereotyping—

RB: They started it.

CP: Wait a minute. The far right wouldn't have any opinions about art if it weren't for those big incidents in the late '80s to the '90s when some stupid work was committing sacrilege.

RB: You're referring to Andr├ęs Serrano?

CP: Yeah, some 10th-rate thing. It's always Catholic iconography, I might point out. I am atheist, by the way. It's never Jewish. It's never Muslim. So I am saying this is a scandal. The art world has actually prided itself on getting a rise out of the people on the far right. Thinking, “We're avant-garde.” The avant-garde is dead. It has been dead since Andy Warhol appropriated Campbell's Soup labels and Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe into his art. The avant-garde is dead. Thirty years later, 40 years later, people will think they are avant-garde every time some nudnik has a thing about Madonna with elephant dung, “Oh yeah, we are getting a rise out of the Catholic League.”…Now, what is the result of this? Mainstream America looks at art and the artist as a scam and they don’t want to support government funding of the arts...I’m saying to the art world and all these coteries in Cambridge, San Francisco, Manhattan, “You have not been good stewards of art. You need to get out of this. You need to be apostles for art.”

Leave it to a self-described athiest to see through all the B.S. and tell it like it really is. As she says, it's always Catholic iconography. It's always provocative. Just because it's "avant-garde," they think that makes it art. I suspect they use it as an excuse to disguise the fact that they have, really, nothing to say.

As Terry says, read the whole fascinating thing here.

NCAA an Indian-Giver on Nickname Ban?

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By Mitchell

It looks as if a threat is still a good way to deal with the NCAA. After Gov. Bush and Florida State University threatened legal action over the NCAA's proposed ban on Indian nicknames, the NCAA has backed down, at least in FSU's case. Of course, this is only the beginning, as other schools apply for exceptions based on the good relationship they have with their namesake tribes. It will be interesting to see if, at the end of the day, any schools still fall under the ban.

Peter Wood has a good article at NRO today on the sheer idiocy of the whole thing. I'd call it recommended reading for the NCAA - that is, if I thought those panjandrums could read...

Altar-ations

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By Mitchell

This is pretty cool. The Catholic Monarchist is doing a series this week on beautiful altars. It's nice to see that there are some places where the relationship between truth and beauty hasn't been totally eviscerated.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't offer a shot of the altar at our own church, St. Agnes:


Or the altar at our home away from home church, St. John Cantius:



I'm really looking forward to what the Monarchist has to show us the rest of the week!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Dawn Eden vs. Planned Parenthood, Continued

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By Mitchell

Do check out The Dawn Patrol today if you get a chance. Great news about the fruits of her continuing battle against Planned Parenthood's evil "Superhero for Choice." The MSM can try to pretend this story doesn't exist, but it's not going to go away, and this guerrilla war of infiltration into the hearts and minds of Americans will continue.

Dawn also has an interesting post from a couple of debaters as to the proper conduct for blog comment debates. It wouldn't be a bad idea to extend those rules of civility to our everyday lives while we're at it.

Death By Any Other Name

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By Mitchell

Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park and abortion clinic bomber, was sentenced to life in prision today. One of the headlines I saw online earlier in the day said something to the effect "Widower Angrily Confronts Rudolph Over Wife's Death."

Rudolph's actions were deplorable, evil, misguided, whatever you want to call them. Nothing can change that. Nonetheless, could you imagine that story, slightly altered:

Man Angrily Confronts Widow Of Abortion Doctor
Blames Widow's Husband For Death of Unborn Son

No, I couldn't see it either.

A Pre-Communion Prayer

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By Mitchell

This prayer is from the Exercises in the Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Liguori. These are the meditations we use during the Stations of the Cross at St. Agnes:

I love Thee, Jesus my love; I love Thee more than myself; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt.

This prayer, or a variation of it, is recited after every station, so you get to know it by heart after awhile. For the last few years I’ve used it as an Act of Contrition prior to receiving the Eucharist. But what does it mean to love Jesus more than yourself? It’s a question with which I’ve struggled often, both rhetorically and for real.

In the abstract it’s a noble sentiment, a good thing to say; but how would one really know that they love Jesus more than themselves? Do you love Jesus more than your spouse, for example? It’s a question that’s not as easily answered as I would hope.

Now I’m not a theologian – I didn’t stay last night at a Holiday Inn Express, and I’m just barely struggling through as a Catholic – so I’m sure there are many who’ve offered much more concrete writing on this subject than I. But for me, one way to check your love for Jesus is to think back to the last time you had this thought run through your mind:

"I really shouldn’t be saying [or doing] this."

Now, I’m not necessarily talking about a major sin, here (although it certainly applies to breaking any one of the Ten Commandments). What I’m really thinking about is the urge to say something nasty about somebody at work, or the desire for that extra piece of cake even though the doctor’s told us to try and watch our weight. Something more subtle, in other words. But it’s a perfect opportunity for us to ask ourselves the question "Is this a test of how much I love Jesus?"

Many times the thought "I shouldn’t be doing this" comes to us because we know in some way that the act is displeasing to God, that we really shouldn’t be doing it and we’ll probably wind up feeling guilty about it afterward. But I just can’t help myself, we say to ourselves. It’s only a little thing. It will make me feel better if I do it.

We’ve all felt this way. (At least I certainly have.) But in thinking of how to show our love for Jesus, particularly in wondering if we love Him more than we do ourselves, we should look at these small things as opportunities to prove to ourselves how much we love Him. So let’s look at that little temptation we’re facing. Maybe it’s not a big deal, maybe it won’t hurt anyone, but I know it’s not the right thing to do. It’s unbecoming to me, it’s beneath my dignity. I may not have changed my mind about how I feel, I might even be justified under the circumstances, but I’m going to purposely refrain from doing it, even though I really want to do it, even though it will make me feel better – because I’m more interested in making Jesus feel better than I am myself.

And if that’s the case, if we’re more interested in pleasing Him, no matter how small it might be, than we’ve shown that for this brief moment at least, we love Him more than we do ourselves. If we can do it for one brief moment, we can do it for several brief moments. If we can do it for one small thing, we might be able to do it for one big thing. And so on.

As I’ve said, I’m no expert on this, but it seems to me as if this is one way to make the abstract more real for us, to remove it from the category of mere words, to satisfy ourselves that we can love Jesus more than ourselves.

We can’t do it on our own, of course. We need His constant grace, and even with that we may disappoint Him more times than we want to count. But that’s why we pray for grace to do the right thing. That’s why we dare to approach Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. And that’s why He gave Himself up for us on the Cross.

Pray the prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori as you approach Jesus in the Eucharist. Pray that He will give you the help you want and need to show Him how much you love Him. And then, in faith, put yourself in His hands as you pray "do with me what Thou wilt."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sources of Information

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By Mitchell

Somebody asked me about the priests I quote from time to time in my posts. Who are they, what do I know about them, do I endorse everything they say.

Well, the only priests I can talk about with confidence are those at our home parish, St. Agnes. I've used this space in the past to talk about Fr. Welzbacher, Fr. Altier, Msgr. Schuler, and Fr. Zuhlsdorf. I quote from them with confidence and humility, because without exception they are learned, spiritual men. They way they say the Mass, they way they preach the homily, the way they tend to the flock - it's both intellectually and spiritually challenging, and almost always I leave knowing more than I did before.

During the week I usually go to the 7:00 Mass at St. Olaf, the downtown Catholic church in Minneapolis. It's about a 15 minute walk from our condo, on the way to work, and gets me to my job on time. Now, I have my issues with St. Olaf - the monthly African mass, the contemporary choir, the former (very liberal) pastor - but the 7:00 is usually a pretty good, no frills Mass. Fr. Tiffany, the current pastor at St. Olaf (whom I've quoted from time to time), I know only from his Masses and homilies, which have both been pretty good. I like the Masses of Fr. Pavlik, the associate pastor, but I don't know much about him except that a co-worker of mine is taking marriage instruction from him (and likes him very much), and Judie works with his aunt. But all in all, St. Olaf is no better nor no worse than most Catholic churches today. Jesus is present in the Eucharist, which is the end-all and be-all of the Mass, and everything else is more or less unremarkable.

Case in point is Fr. DeBruycker, the Friday morning celebrant at St. Olaf. The Curt Jester (via Bill Cork) reports that Fr. DeBruycker has been appointed the new pastor of the notorious St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis. This doesn't come as a particular surprise to me; I've always had the suspicion that Fr. DeBruycker wouldn't be what you'd call a good fit at a church like St. Agnes; as a matter of fact, I've been known to attend the noon Mass on Friday rather than his 7:00. However, I've thought that his homilies the last couple of weeks made some striking points, and I've cited both of them in posts. Perhaps I wind up taking his themes in a different direction than he had intended, but there has been intellectual food for thought in what he's said.

And that's the point I'm trying to make here; just as we don't endorse every website that we link to here, I also don't subscribe to everything that a particular person may believe in simply because I quote them. Even Caiphus fulfilled the prophesies through his words and actions, although I don't think that was his intent. So I look at everyone as a potential source of truth, even though some may be unwitting sources. (Frankly, every time I'm right about something I tend to look at it as stumbling onto the truth on my part.)

We prove ourselves narrow-minded if we shut ourselves off from things that may give us access to greater insight. By the same token, we open ourselves to error and scandal (and worse) by plunging headlong into something new without being educated or properly prepared for it. Which shows why knowledge, which has been given to us by Jesus Christ through the teachings of his Church (thanks to Fr. Welzbacher for this point from today's homily) is the final and reliable authority for what we believe. And to paraphrase Fr. Welzbacher, for this knowledge and the insight it gives us into our lives, we humbly pray.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Fr. Schall on Social Justice

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By Mitchell

A terrific series of interviews over at Ignatius Insight with Fr. James Schall, one of the most interesting men around. In this third segment he talks about the importance of sports (and the Platonic and Aristotelian aspects of it), and the outlook for the American republic; but what really caught my eye was his discussion of human dignity and social justice:

Behind this issue of population decline is the proper understanding of what is meant by social justice and human rights, both of which terms are, at best, highly ambiguous in modern philosophy. The Church’s widespread use of both of these terms has, in my view, been a cause of serious concern since both have a double meaning, one of which, what I call the modern one, simply undermines the other.

Social justice is used as an alternative to personal autonomy and dignity so that our virtue becomes what movement we belong to. Human rights have origins in Hobbes and mean whatever we want them to mean. Their content is provided by will alone. Unraveling the confusions such concepts cause is mind-boggling. But there is little doubt in my mind that the usage of both of these terms is the primary avenue for undermining any Christian concept of the person and a common good. It is all well and good to say that there are defensible meanings to these terms, but they are not the dominant ones or the operative terms in the public order.

If that doesn't speak to the tyranny of Relativism - "Human rights . . . mean whatever we want them to mean." That says it in a nutshell,

Be sure to also check out parts one and two of this interview with Fr. Schall.

Drug Maker Merck Blamed in Vioxx Lawsuit

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By Mitchell

Jury awards $253 million in damages to woman who blames Vioxx use for death of her husband.

Wonder what Merck's taking for the pain?

What Hath ESPN Wrought?

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By Mitchell

As you've probably noticed, I write a fair amount about sports. It's not quite as exciting for me as it used to be, and now I'm mostly interested in its cultural rammifications. Which brings me to ESPN.

You remember ESPN; that's the network that used to televise sporting events. But whereas you used to be able to depend on them for scores and highlights, nowadays it's become what they call a "lifestyle network," like We and Oxygen.

Last night I had the misfortune to see a promo for a new show they've been hyping called (I think) "ESPN Hollywood," which looks to be a cross between "Entertainment Tonight" and "A Current Affair." The clip they were showing was an interview with the wife of New York Mets pitcher Kris Benson, a former Penthouse playmate (pardon if I get the publication wrong; I wasn't about to research that) who was apparently reviewing her threat that if she ever caught Kris cheating on her, she'd respond by sleeping with every one of his teammates. That was probably a little more "up close and personal" than I wanted to get.

But if I didn't want to watch that, there was the new talk show, "Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith," who, quite frankly, is an obnoxious loudmouth. You have to be careful criticizing Smith, because if you do you're liable to be accused of being a racist. They do a lot of talking about sports on shows like these, but they don't actually show very much. In the political business we called them talking head shows.

Of course, if none of this is to your taste (and someone described programming like this as being for people who found watching sports too strenuous), there's always the World Series of Poker. This is on apparently all the time, on one ESPN station or another. It's become the biggest hit there is, and it's spread to other cable stations like wildfire, or perhaps malaria.

There is an audience for this kind of "sports"; as substitute programming it outdrew the NHL, which chose to sit last year out over a labor dispute. But then, your cat stepping on the remote can produce higher ratings than hockey.

If you want to know what ESPN's attitude toward sports is, look no further than today's USA Today and the words of ESPN's former programming head, Mark Shapiro, who just left to head up the Six Flags amusement parks: "Radio and television are in the same business as theme parks — the emotion transportation universe," says Shapiro, adding both provide "escape and diversion from everyday life."

Notice the implication of that statement. Shapiro is saying that ESPN no longer covers, it creates. That's a significant if subtle change; it's the same kind of thing many of us accuse the MSM of when it comes to news.

ESPN has not only created programming; it's created a monster. Savy athletes who know where the cameras are and make sure they're looking in the right direction when they mug it up after a big play. Virtual ads behind home plate at baseball games, ads invisible to the live crowd but all-too apparent to the viewing audience. Soap operas for the coveted "young male" demographic that expose all the players' faults, and a lot more than that. Games that routinely stretch beyond kids' bedtime. The hip-hop culture, baggy clothing, athletes with 'tude (like T.O., and doesn't it seem as if ESPN is giving a whole network over to coverage of just him), every player with an iconic nickname (A-Rod, K-Rod, DL3, etc.), Fantasy Football tips (hey, it's better than the real thing!), announcers who act like they're auditioning for open mike night at the Improv (thanks to Mike Lupica for that one). I'm not blaming ESPN for all of this, but they have to accept their share.

None of this is new, I know. Part of it is that I'm getting old and cranky. For my money the best sports channel on TV today is ESPN Classic, because you actually have a chance to see what sports used to be like (although, of course, they stretch the definition of classic pretty far). And there are some very good programs and announcers on ESPN, if you have the patience to look for them (which, I'm afraid, I often don't).

But there's no doubt that ESPN has changed, and sports coverage has changed with it. And I'm really getting sick and tired of it. Sports used to be a place where you could go to escape the outside world. Things weren't perfect; sports has always had its unsavory characters. Back then, the media consipired to keep it quiet; today, they glory in it. After all, with shows like "ESPN Hollywood" on the schedule, if you don't have scandal you don't have any programming at all. There's something ironic about that, but the programming execs at ESPN are so ironic, so hip and with-it, they probably don't even notice.

So if you're in the mood for a ballgame on this lovely summer evening, or just want to find out whether or not the home team won, you can try ESPN. But if what you see looks like it belongs on E! or the Playboy Channel or if it sounds more like Crossfire than the Hot Stove League, don't say I didn't warn you.

Making a Commitment to Love

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By Mitchell

You'll recall that last week I wrote about Fr. DeBruycker's homily on the unending covenant that is marriage. In the marriage covenant we see a reflection of the covenant that God formed with us; like that, the marriage covenant is intended to be an eternal one.

Fr. DeBruycker mentioned today that he'd been doing a lot of pre-marriage counseling lately, and so it wasn't a surprise that he began this morning's homily with what might seem otherwise to be a unusual choice, given today's readings: a reflection on Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians.

You know the passage - the one about how "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." It's almost a mandatory reading at weddings nowadays (oddly enough, although it's one of my favorite passages, we didn't use it at our wedding). But one wonders if the couples who select this reading really understand the depth of what Paul's talking about. As Fr. DeBruycker said, it appears to be full of touchy-feely stuff, the hearts-and-violins type of romantic love. But what is Paul really talking about?

The love to which Paul refers is the deepest type: that of commitment. The commitment that is found when one gives everything for another, when the other's well-being is all that one has in mind. It involves sacrifice, it requires keeping your word, and it indicates the desire to help another fulfill the richness of their life in God. In other words, it's the kind of commitment shown by Ruth in today's first reading: "for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God." And it is the love of which Jesus talks in today's Gospel: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." And "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."

Ruth's commitment was to her husband and, after his death, to his mother Naomi. For her the promise she made did not end with death, but continued. Much like the covenant of God; much like the promise of Christ that transcended His death and continued through His Resurrection. And, perhaps no surprise, Ruth was the great-great-great-great-etc. grandmother of Jesus. I don't know about you, but I'd say that family had some pretty good traits being handed down.

Jesus assures us that commitments of this kind, based in a love for God, do not go unrewarded. The commitment and sacrifice shown by Ruth prefigures that shown by her kinswoman Mary, for which she was rewarded by the birth of her Son. It prefigures the love shown by Jesus on the Cross, which continues to this day. And if we follow her lead and commit ourselves to His Word, then we too shall be rewarded, as we reap the benefits of His sacrifice.

That's what Paul means when he talks about love. Newlyweds are often too caught up in the moment to appreciate it, because they are too much in love. But when the moment subsides, as it eventually does, a deeper kind of love will follow; and it is then, we pray, that the words of Paul will finally be understood.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Change Updates

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Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added. We'd talked about eliminating the comments box; it's back for now.

We've also updated the syndication button, as you can see at the top of the sidebar. If you've syndicated our site in the past and you're having trouble, try the new button or let us know.

Also, a new blog has been added to the blogroll - Judie Brown, the heroic head of American Life League, now has a blog on the ALL site. Nowadays it can be difficult to tell what the proper pro-life position can be - you've got competing pro-life groups with different stands on issues, you've got "pro-life" senators like Bill Frist and Norm Coleman supporting embryonic destruction, and unfortunately, our bishops aren't always much help. So if you want the straight scoop, check out ALL and Judie's blog!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

MH - Wish I'd Written That...

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"The Church, when she points her finger, says in fact 'you are wrong in doing that. Our civilization, our belief in the godhead in man, is founded on such and such principles. If you oppose them or break them you shake the whole fabric of our civilization.' What else would you have her say or do? Tell you you are doing fine when you are doing rotten? It is almost impossible for us not to decive ourselves, we must do our level best to minimize this deceit, to reduce it and whittle it away until we know ourselves for what we are."

Alec Guinness, quoted in Alec Guinness: The Authorised Biography by Piers Paul Read

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Catholic Carnival XLIII Is Up!

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This week's Carnival can be found at Jay's blog DeoOmnisGloria. The theme for the week is The Woven Tapestry, including a post by yours truly. Please check this week's Carnival out!

Ch-Ch-Changes

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Don't touch that dial! You've come to the right place, but as you've probably noticed we've got a new look. Chalk it up to boredom, or the desire to change things up a bit. We like it but it isn't carved in stone - if you have any thoughts, let us know.

There are some other changes on the site as well. For one thing, we've dropped the Welborn Protocol. We welcome any and all correspondence, and we don't want you to feel constrained by the prospect that your email might wind up splashed all over the Internet. If you want to drop us an email, go right ahead! We answer all our mail (sooner or later), and if it's something we think others might be interested in, we'll ask whether or not you're cool with us sharing it with everyone.

We've also added a link to our fiction. Now, if you click on that link right now you won't find much more than an "Under Construction" type of notice. We've got plenty to put up; we just need the time to format it all. You're read excerpts from that great American novel Mitchell's referred to in the past (and with any luck, we'll be adding instructions on how you can buy the book!), and Judie might even be talked into sharing some of her poetry.

There will be additional, subtle changes in the days and weeks to come. We'll be working on our syndication buttons, and hopefully we'll give more options to those of you who like to syndicate your blog reading. We'll be going through our blog roll again, adding some and subtracting others to give you a better idea of what we like to read. Who knows what else we might come up with?

Finally, we'll be making a plug for increased readership in the near future. We know a lot of you are regular readers, and that many of you share your blogging interests with your friends. So if you like our blog, please share it with others - encourage them to try it out, and ask them to pass it on. Sure, we want more people to read what we write (you don't blog if you don't have some kind of ego), but we also want to interact with you more. We love it when one of our Hadleybloggers forwards a story they find interesting. Occasionally we publish guest comments from someone who has something we want to share with you. And always, we're looking to be educated as well as to educate. The more readers we have, the greater the material. So please, pass it on!

And as always, thanks for your support over the past months. We'll be celebrating our one-year anniversary in November, and hope to be with you - whatever look we may be showing - for a long time to come!

Monday, August 15, 2005

MH - That's What Friends Are For

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My friend Gino called me at work today. It took me a little while to know it was Gino, since he spent the first 20 or so seconds cackling away before he could identify himself.

Of course, as soon as I figured out who it was I knew what was up. The PGA Championship had just ended a few minutes ago, and he was calling to gloat. You see, for the last several years, dating back to a time when we both worked at a company neither of us work for any longer, we had made our predictions for the major golf championships - four per year. And for almost every one of those championships, I had picked Phil Mickelson as one of my choices. There was something about Lefty that made him a good guy to pick (primarly because I could root for him at the same time), and even though he carried the tag of "best golfer to never win a major," I kept sticking with him, only occasionally choosing someone else. Eventually it paid off when he won the Masters last year, and I think I was as satisfied as anyone.

Mickelson hadn't been playing the majors so well this year, however, so for the PGA I went with someone else. Naturally, Gino promptly chose Lefty who, as you probably know by now, made a two-foot putt on the last hole to win. The best part is that I knew I'd never hear the end of this, and I'd been planning to send Gino an email conceding defeat (he and his family now live out in California), but of course he couldn't wait for that, which led to the hysterical chortling on the phone a little after 10:00 this morning.

"I'm so glad I could provide you with some entertainment," I told him after we'd finally managed to control ourselves. "What are friends for, if not to give you the chance to laugh at my expense?"

Ah, well. It wasn't such a big deal. I'm glad Lefty won. And I won't make the mistake of not picking him next year.

Do you hear that, Gino?

*****

Now, it would have been nice to actually see the end of the tournament, and if the PGA officials had done the right thing, we might all have been able to enjoy the conclusion yesterday, instead of having a handful of players and a few thousand people return to Baltusrol this morning before a meager TV audience. The forecast for yesterday called for the possibility of storms, and with the weather having been hot and humid on Saturday, nobody but nobody could have been surprised that play was held up twice on Sunday before being postponed until today.

It would have been an easy thing for the PGA to have moved the tee times up an hour or so to make sure there was ample daylight to finish the round. Why didn't they? In a word, TV. And Gary Van Sickle has a terrific column at SI.com today taking everyone to task for allowing this anticlimatic situation to occur.

MH - Literature for Couch Potatoes

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Hadleyblogger Mike, who knows well my affinity for old TV Guides, forward this must read from Slate on the past and future of the venerable magazine.

The author, Bryan Curtis, makes some very good points as to how TV Guide has become somewhat irrelevant in a digital age, when programming guides are available online and celebrity profiles scream at us from everywhere. I also concur in tracing the decline of the publication to its purchase by Rupert Murdoch in 1988 - its circulation has dropped from 20 million in 1977 to just 9 million today.

Most interestingly, Curtis touches on the cultural significance of TV Guide:
Unlike the current cupcake, however, the early incarnation of TV Guide was not completely benign. Just as Wired served as the wry watchdog of the Internet Age, TV Guide's early editors gave their new medium a thorough working over in a weekly editorial called "As We See It." They came down in favor of inter-network bloodbaths and against canned laugh tracks. They mocked the religious quacks who called TV the "cancer of the soul." They jeered the British attempts at commercial-free TV and dinged the masses panting after newfangled color sets ("don't hold your breath"). If the writings had a common theme, it was a touching faith in the wisdom of the viewer. As Glenn Altschuler and David Grossvogel argue in their book Changing Channels, the editors believed that TV would be the great democratizing art form and, with the help of a weekly schedule, that viewers would be able to separate the gold (Toast of the Town) from the trash (The Stork Club).

This does more than just tell us about the opinions of the editors; it is a reflection of society itself. Today's magazine tells us all about celebrities; the back issues tell us about ourselves.

I've long contended that one of the best ways to learn about American culture is to read old issues of TV Guide. Some listings jump out as startlingly contradictory to today's opinions. (A lesbian activist appears on a local talk show discussing her "decision" to become a lesbian - note that she doesn't claim it was a preference she was born with.) Other issues point out how some of our dearest traditions are really quite new. (As late as the early 70s, It's a Wonderful Life might be telecast as the matinee movie in the middle of June.) Our attention spans weren't always as short as they are today - What's My Line? aired on the same day and at the same time (Sundays at 10:30 ET) for almost seventeen years. Nowadays you're lucky to find when your favorite show airs.

TV Guide also assumed you wanted to know something about the show you were watching, not just a description of the episode. Many listings in the 50s and 60s included the names of the director and writer of the program, and listed the complete guest cast as well. A description of the Christmas Midnight Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1962 included a listing of the music the choir was to perform. (Palestrina's Missa Aeterna Christi Munera.) Today's magazine often gives you the name of the program and nothing more, in type so small you need a magnifying glass to read it.

There was also an immediacy to the listings that doesn't continue today. Since the magazine was published early in the week it appeared on newsstands, it had the ability to react quickly to recent events. The November 30, 1963 issue contains a black-bordered announcement in the front of the programming listings: "Due to the death of President Kennedy, all programming is subject to pre-emption." Live programs, such as GE College Bowl (that's right, the name of the sponsor was often a part of the program's title), would actually contain references to the previous week's show.

Reading old issues puts you in the role of a cultural archaeologist, to a time when doctors made house calls (and HMOs were figments of the imagination), when police weren't always assumed to be the bad guys (The Fugitive was actually considered controversial by some because of its suggestion that the courts might actually convict an innocent man), when commercials didn't dominate everything (the average running time of a televised football game was about two and a half hours). Curtis touches on this, but I wish he'd delved a little more deeply into it.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. I subscribed to TV Guide for over 30 years, but eventually cancelled my subscription in 2002, around the time they started doing features on how homosexual sex scenes were become more accepted in TV (with pictures, of course). When I started having to put the issues face down on the table, I knew it was time to quit. Looking back at the old issues, the change in tone is more pronounced, and more obvious. Sure, many of the stories were puff pieces, but again, there was a sense of an underlying decency to it all.

That sense is missing today from both the magazine and society as a whole; and perhaps in a way it proves that, despite declining circulation, TV Guide continues to reflect our culture better than we know - or want to admit.

MH - The Pope on Dignity

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The Pope is hard at work on his first encyclical, but it may be a while before we see the finshed product. Read the preview at Musum Pontificalis, which is rapidly becoming the funniest blog around.

Friday, August 12, 2005

MH - Dawn Eden Is My Hero!

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Or one of them, anyway.

One of the problems with being a small blogger in a big pond is that you tend to assume that most of your readers are already familiar with the big stories. While that's usually true, you run the risk of either letting some things fall between the cracks, or of ignoring a story that deserves more attention.

So even though you all may already know this, I want to direct you to The Dawn Patrol, where Dawn is leading a one-woman fight against the vile Planned Parenthood and their outrageous actions. There are too many great things to link to, so I'm simply recommending that you go straight to her site (if you haven't already) and read. We shouldn't be shocked by anthing that evil organization does, but still they seem to have the power to do just that.

While you're reading this, remember that groups like the Susan B. Komen Foundation support Planned Parenthood. They may claim that it's a way to get non-abortion related medical information to women's "clinics," but the loathesome propaganda that comes out of that organization is unlike any "clinic" I've ever seen. Except, perhaps, from Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Communist China, or anywhere else where life has been devalued, where words have been twisted, where the light of goodness appears to be in permanent eclipse from the shadow of evil. Then ask yourself if you really want to give money or time or collect yogurt lids for these organizations.

In the midst of the depressing news from New York (see below), thank God (once again) for fighters like Dawn Eden; and keep them in your prayers always, for they are risking much in the cause of the truth.

MH - Scandal to the Church (Again)

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Msgr. Eugene Clark, rector of St. Patrick's Cathedrial in New York City and popular host of programs on EWTN, has resigned his position after being implicated in a sex scandal with his longtime (female) secretary.

Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia has had extensive coverage of the breaking scandal.

Amy has some very thoughtful comments on what this means for the faith of those both inside and outside the Church.

There's not much to add, as we don't know the full story yet. Just a reminder, however, that we're talking about a perfect Church administered (on earth) by imperfect humans. To those who would let this shake their faith, or those who would ridicule the Catholic Church, I would point out that any scandal in the Church is, in a sense, a betrayal. And nowhere was there a greater betrayal than that of Jesus by Judas. If we were to judge the Church by that example, then it would be clear that Christianity itself was a corrupt institution. And what about the judgement of that Jesus Fellow, Who chose such unreliable disciples? One of them turned Him in to the authorities, another one - the leader of the group, no less - denied he even knew Him. Even the ones who didn't betray Him deserted Him in His hour of need. What's up with that?

No, we don't judge the Church by Judas. Nor do the sins of great men necessarily nullify their words. Yes, we leave ourselves open to the charge of hypocracy when we say one thing and do another, but great sinners often have a keener sense of sin. For our inspiration we look at St. Peter, who denied Him but repented; we look at St. Paul, who persecuted Christians and repented; at St. Augustine, who led a life of debauchery and repented; at Oscar Wilde, whose lifestyle took him to his deathbed, where he repented. See a pattern here?

We are all sinners, and Our Savior came to heal us. Thank God He did, and continues to heal the contrite of heart every day. If that isn't enough to help you keep the faith when days seem dark, what is?

MH - The Unbreakable Covenant

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The readings for today’s Mass integrate in an interesting and glorious way. The first reading reminds us of all that God has done for His people, and subliminally acts to remind us of how unworthy we are of those gifts. The Psalm takes this one step further, in its reminder that "His mercy endures forever." So not only do we have evidence of His past deeds, we also receive reassurances of His future mercies.

But then we come to the Gospel, and at first it seems a little disconnected. What does this little essay on the permanence of marriage have to do with what we’ve already heard? The answer, as Fr. DeBruycker explained in this morning’s homily, is that marriage is first and foremost a covenant, and in that covenant we see the reflection of God’s covenant with His people. Just as that covenant is permanent – it endures forever – so is the covenant between husband and wife.

We should be used to the various analogies to marriage that we read in the Bible. The Church is the bride, Christ the bridegroom. The virgins and the oil for their lamps, waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. There’s the wedding feast at Cana, and the feast to which all are invited, but which few choose to attend. The list goes on.

And these are not just figures of speech, thrown in there because they make for a good comparison. There’s a very good reason why they’re used – because they serve to underline the covenant that is Christian marriage. The first two readings today drive it home, over and over, that God has formed a permanent covenant with us. In the Eucharistic prayer, we hear Christ’s words describing His Precious Blood – "the Blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant."

Marriage is no less a covenant, and no less permanent. Rather than looking at it as a legal confirmation of a relationship that can, like other contracts, be dissolved at will, we should look at it in terms of God’s covenant with us. Would we want Him to dissolve that covenant just because something we do irritates Him, because we don’t always listen to Him at the table, because we’ve found someone or something new that strikes our fancy? We’d better hope now! (And face it, were He of a mind to do so, He would have done it long, long, long ago.)

But God promised us, and He is bound by His promises. Do we feel the same way about ours? I don’t mean this to sound harsh; many of my friends are divorced and remarried, and I don’t think it was a barrel of fun for any of them. But the staggering divorce rate – among Catholics as well as non-Catholics – tells us we have to start thinking about marriage in a different way. Are we as serious about our marriage covenant as God is about His covenant with us? And while we’re at it, let’s be grateful for God’s mercy, that He doesn’t take that covenant as lightly as we do ours.

MH - What's In a Name?

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Plenty, according to members of the "black community," outraged that University of Minnesota officials misspelled the name of former Gopher All-America quarterback Sandy Stephens.
"It's incomprehensible for them to misspell the name of a prominent athlete like Sandy Stephens," said former Gophers basketball player Al Nuness, who is the school's representative to the Big Ten advisory committee on diversity. "This guy was the first black major college quarterback. He led them to the Rose Bowl two years in a row, a national title, his number is retired and he has an endowed scholarship in his name. And we misspell his name? That's inexcusable."

Hmm, Nuness - the school's representative to the Big Ten advisory committee on diversity? I wonder if he knows Charlotte Westerhaus, the NCAA vice president for diversity and inclusion.

Former football player Dr. John Williams has this to say:
"Somebody dropped the ball. Certainly it should have been caught. One side of the fence will say that's to be expected because there seems to be a strained relationship between the university and the black athletes. They may look at it in one light whereas it really could be just an honest error. But it's something that shouldn't have happened."


Yes, it is an outrage, but I suspect it has very little, if anything, to do with Stephens being black. It probably has a lot more to do with the general ignorance of today's culture toward events of the past. Even in sports, where the past is revered perhaps more than anywhere else, we see stories of young athletes with absolutely no idea of the identity of some of the greats of their sport. Moreover we see, in the increasing chasm between "old school" and "new school" sports addicts, a reflection of the divide that permeates our entire culture, between those who value tradition and experience on the one hand, and the "Who Moved My Cheese" school that wants to cast away anything that's old or fails to come up to their standards of modern or contemporary thought, all in the name of "change" and "progress."

So someone didn't know that Sandy's last name was spelled "Stephens" and not "Stevens." Perhaps he was thinking of Darrin and Samantha's last name in Betwitched. More likely, whoever was responsible for this had never even heard of Sandy Stephens. (For the record, I have; and since he led the Gophers to their last Rose Bowl appearance, it's appalling than anyone who considers themselves a Gophers fan hasn't heard of him.)

One of the few useful pieces of advice that Corporate American newspeak has is one, however poorly phrased, that urges us to "assume good intentions." As Williams says, this could have been an honest mistake. But rather than do that, some people have rushed to judgement and immediately seen this as a case of racial injustice.

It's understandable that some tension may exist between blacks and the Gophers program over things that have happened in the past; it's laughable to suggest that this mistake is the result of some agenda, even a subconscious one. This is a prime example of "identity politics," what happens when people start to see themselves as part of a defined subgroup (racial, ethnic, or sexual) rather than members of society as a whole; and it's something we're seeing all the time now, thanks to agitators (Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, for example) who like to stir up trouble, and court decisions that make sweeping pronouncements about entire groups rather than looking at them as individual cases.

It doesn't say in the article who was responsible for the printing or proofreading of the tickets that misspelled Stephens' name. It could have been someone at the U, it could have been a group to which they farmed the work. But if these outraged members of the black community really want to get worked up over this, they should consider themselves first and foremost members of the Gopher sports fraternity - then, maybe they'd get more upset over the team's poor play in the last few decades, and the ignorance and sloppy work by those responsible for the typo. God knows we have enough challenges to deal with in life without having to imagine more of them.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

MH - What's In It For Us?

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Today, Fr. Tiffany's homily dealt with the recent sections we've been reading in Matthew. Jesus repeatedly talks of what is necessary to enter the kingdom of Heaven, and sometimes it seems an impossible task. Finally, Peter can take it no longer, and he is moved to ask Jesus the question that appears in the title of this post. Jesus, he seems to be saying, we’ve given up everything for you. We’ve spent the last few months following you. Now, what’s the payoff?

Well, Fr. Tiffany said, in a sense the answer is “nothing.” Because outside of Jesus and our relationship, that’s about what the rest of it is worth. Our possessions, our hobbies, our activities - in the long run, what are they worth to us? How do they help us get closer to the Kingdom of Heaven? In fact, in terms of the time we spend in pursuit of life’s pleasures, they often take us father away from our goal. Our lives are so busy, we often wind up cramming Jesus into the cracks, fitting Him in where we can, instead of making Him our primary goal.

Think of it this way, Fr. Tiffany said. You’re having an intense conversation with someone. You’re concentrating, looking into their eyes as you make your point, and you notice that their eyes keep darting around, looking at whatever happens to be going on behind you. What they’re really telling you is that, “Yes, I’m listening to you, and I’m kind of concentrating on what you have to say, but what I’m really doing is looking for someone more interesting, maybe someone more attractive than you are, somebody that really captures my attention. In other words, I’m talking to you, but I’d rather be talking to them.”

And isn’t that the way it is with our relationship with Christ? We’re all guilty of it at one time or another, some of us more often than others. Lord knows, I am. We may be listening to Him during Mass, but we’re really thinking about the game later this afternoon, or what we’re going to eat when we get out. We can hardly wait for the priest to leave the sanctuary before we make a beeline for something else.

Or perhaps we’re constantly on the run; running errands, running the kids to and from their events, running to work. Lord, we say, I’d really like to spend more time with you, but you see, there’s just so much else I have to do. I promise when things calm down, when I’m not so busy, I’ll sit down and spend the time. Really, I will.

He smiles, just as He does with impatient, impulsive Peter every time he makes one of his dramatic statements. He smiles, our dear, patient, suffering Lord. He continues to hold His arm out, He continues to offer His hand to us, to lead us to what He has to offer us. What’s in it for us, which is what we’ve been saying we wanted all along. But we keep looking for it in the wrong places, and we’re in so much of a hurry to find it we keep walking right past Him, never seeing the forest for the trees.

Still, He smiles, and He keeps whispering to us. And when we can find the time to turn down the volume, to stop the white noise that is the bustle of our everyday lives, to stop talking all the time and actually listen, we might hear what He has to say.

That’s what’s in it for us, Fr. Tiffany concluded. Jesus.

He couldn’t have put it any better.

MH - Once Again, Corporate America vs. America

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To conclude my trio of posts that touch on Corporate America and the morality of the workplace, I want to link to this fine column by Bill Rusher, former editor of National Review. (Thanks be to Mark Krikorian at NRO for the link.)

In it, Rusher takes on Corporate America's responsibility for the immigration problem in America:
There are businesses all over the country paying far lower wages to illegal immigrants than they would have to pay to native-born employees. They know exactly what they are doing, and they are profiting from it handsomely. And whenever some bill comes before Congress that threatens to put a stop to the flow of illegal immigrants, you can bet your bottom dollar that they lean hard on their congressional leaders, and even the president, to kill it or amend it into ineffectuality.

Immigration is already a problem in this country, and it's getting worse. Tom Tancredo, the Republican congressman from Colorado, has constantly taken on the Bush administration and others who advocate an increase in open borders, and as a result is one of the few Republicans generating a buzz of excitement out there. Even liberals are becoming frustrated with constantly going into a place of business and being unable to communicate with the employees.

It's about jobs, it's about the cost of welfare, it's about security during a time of war. We need look no farther than Canada to see what happens when a country loses its common language, and to Britain to see the problems when immigrants fail (or refuse) to assimilate.

And it's about Corporate America's determination to push whatever policies guarantee them the biggest profits, regardless of the effect it may have on our country. They even deny their allegiance to their home country, hiding themselves in the cloak of the term "multinational." I keep coming back to this theme, but it keeps popping up. You remember a while back I wrote about Western Union underwriting a how-to manual for illegal immigrants, who not coincidentally use Western Union to send money back to their relatives in Mexico. Other companies that push pornography, homosexuality, embryonic stem-cell research, you name it - all to make a buck, no matter what damage it does to society. If they're really lucky, they'll come up with something else they can sell us to start the repairs.

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviets boasted not only that they'd hang us, but that American capitalists would sell them the rope to do it. Rusher sees no difference when it comes to Corporate America and immigration. His conclusion:
“We will pay dearly, as a nation, for our failure to control illegal immigration. And the people primarily responsible for that failure are many American businessmen and their servants in American government.”