Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pollsters Don't Have Enough to Do

From a Public Policy Polling press release (PDF):

Though not the most popular figure PPP has polled, if God exists, voters are prepared to give it good marks. Voters approve of God’s performance by 52-9 margin, making God about as popular as [Rupert] Murdoch is unpopular. When asked to evaluate God on some of the issues it is responsible for, voters give God its best rating on creating the universe, 71-5. They also approve of its handling of the animal kingdom 56-11, and even its handling of natural disasters 50-13. Young voters are prepared to be more critical of God on natural disasters with those 18-29 rating it 59-26 compared to 47-12 among those over 65.

The approval ratings are pretty stable across the board: groups rating themselves as very liberal, somewhat conservative, or very conservative give God approval ratings higher than 50%, and groups rating themselves as moderate just under; only the 'somewhat liberal' category shows a serious dip, at 40%. (The 'somewhat liberal' group is also the most likely to disapprove of this whole creation thing that God is famous for, and are also more likely to disapprove of God's running of the animal world. If Heaven were run like the White House, the Archangel Gabriel -- who would obviously run the press office -- would be telling God that he needs more lions lying down with lambs, or at least more photo ops of lions lying down with lambs.) Both the very liberal and somewhat liberal groups have much higher disapproval ratings, although in both cases under 20%. The 'not sure' group was for none of the questions any larger than one would expect of a typical survey question. Unsurprisingly, women are definitely more likely to approve of God's overall performance than men, and men are more likely to disapprove of God's performance in matters of natural disasters than women, although the two groups are essentially identical on the animal world and creation questions. Young people are much more likely to approve of God all the way across the board, although, except in the case of creation, they are somewhat more likely to disapprove all the way across the board.

Also unsurprisingly, people like God much better than Congress. One wonders if this is the reason for much of the religiosity of the United States: we have to trust in God, because otherwise Congress is the best we've got.

All this is useless information, of course.

Friday, July 29, 2011


And for the Roman Church he always retained the same double attitude he had for Chesterton. He could say of both what Robert Browning said about the Catholic Church in his poem Christmas Eve:

I see the error; but above
The scope of error, see the love.

It is a feeling I cannot share. Where Peter finds an inner core of truth, I find only superstition. H. G. Wells, in Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island, hit on the perfect metaphor. The Roman Church is like a prehistoric megatherium, a grotesque, gigantic sloth that somehow managed to survive extinction. It crawls clumsily around the world, getting in everybody's way, refusing to die.

Homer Wilson, in Martin Gardner's The Flight of Peter Fromm, Prometheus (Amherst, NY: 1994), pp. 82-83. I've said before that Martin Gardner's novel of ideas is underappreciated, and have no difficulty saying it again: it really should be more widely read. Part of it is that the psychology of the characters is done very well; the narrator of the book, the same Homer Wilson, who says the above, is simultaneously perceptive and flawed, and although Gardner, as far as I am aware, had very little use for the Catholic Church, his attitude to Chesterton was very much closer to Peter's double attitude than Homer's dismissal. Gardner likely expects us to learn something about the limits of the character from the fact that he treats megatherium as automatically an insult on the basis of Wells's work, just as he expects us to learn something from Homer's excessive devotion to Freudian explanations.

The reference to Mr Blettsworthy on Rampole Island is interesting, and perhaps also suggests something, although I haven't really thought it through and would hesitate to do so without having the book in hand to compare. It's one of H. G. Wells's later (1928), and therefore less known, works, and is fairly difficult to find. The protagonist ends up on an island of cannibals and tries to teach them a rational and progressive view of the world; there are megatheria, too, of course. It's a dystopic allegory about civilization itself (Wells himself called it a caricature of the whole human world), and is often treated as being in the same general class of stories as the more popular The Island of Doctor Moreau, which has a certain amount of plausibility, although it seems to me that it requires some fairly generous principles of classification. There's a certain sort of ambiguity to the lesson, though, in that it turns out both that the protagonist is subject to psychotic delusional episodes and that Europe in the Great War is subject to real horrors quite as bad as delusional ones. There's a lot of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) religious imagery in the book, but this is true of much of Wells's science fiction, and it is often difficult to pin down exactly what its function is in any given case. In any case, the megatheria of Rampole Island are in the story symbols of what all institutions everywhere always eventually become if they do not die: ominously slow-moving, fantastically long-lasting, oblivious to most of the world, infested with parasites, the objects of strange devotions and taboos.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Column on Column

A Thunderstorm
by Archibald Lampman

A moment the wild swallows like a flight
Of withered gust-caught leaves, serenely high,
Toss in the windrack up the muttering sky.
The leaves hang still. Above the weird twilight,
The hurrying centres of the storm unite
And spreading with huge trunk and rolling fringe,
Each wheeled upon its own tremendous hinge,
Tower darkening on. And now from heaven's height,
With the long roar of elm-trees swept and swayed,
And pelted waters, on the vanished plain
Plunges the blast. Behind the wild white flash
That splits abroad the pealing thunder-crash,
Over bleared fields and gardens disarrayed,
Column on column comes the drenching rain.

I wish we were getting rain like this these days.

Due to a number of things that have recently come up, substantive posting will likely be fairly light over the next few days.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Second is Like the First

Not only did God create man in his image and likeness, but also he modeled human society after the society of the Persons in the most holy Trinity. For this reason, just as in that adorable society, the Father loves his Son as himself, and loves himself in his Son, and the same is true for the love of the Son toward the Father and toward the Holy Spirit, and for the love of the Holy Spirit toward the Father and the Son, he also wants man to love his neighbor as himself.

This is why he gave this second commandment: You will love your neighbor as yourself, which Jesus Christ said was like the first (Mt 22:39), because it also conforms to the divine and eternal life of the Persons in the most holy Trinity.

Jean-Jacques Olier, Introduction to the Christian Life and Virtues, Chapter 14, in Bérulle and the French School, Thompson, ed., Glendon, tr. Paulist (New York: 1989) p. 267.

Olier was a fairly significant figure in the seventeenth century, and the main figure of the Sulpician branch of what is often called today the French School of Spirituality. I probably should do a post on it at some point; very interesting and diverse group.

Weakness, Part III

(Part I) (Part II)

The day after a Matriarch accedes to the Matriarchate is always busy. One's time is filled with making appearances, inspecting the guard, assessing the state of Syan, and executing people whose loyalty to one's predecessor might incline them to engage in unpleasant business at a later date. These are all time-consuming activities; and, what is more, they are all activities that quickly pall. The Matriarch could not avoid them, but Darin found himself with a considerable amount of free time.

How curious it is, then, that he chose to spend that free time drinking cheap ale in a seedy bar in a seedy town several hours from the chalet. To be sure, despite its seediness, the town is famous for its felt, and for sturdy felt hats, but the felt is of the cheap wool-based kind, and Darin was easily in a position to buy infinitely finer long-stock fur-felt. And he was there for hours without consulting a fuller or felter, simply sitting in the corner a dim-lit bar sipping bad beer.

Such bars, of course, are good for only two things, providing cheap drink to the nearly penniless and a place for meetings that no one will dare overhear and everyone will studiously forget. Thus you will not be surprised that two men in nice gray felt hats entered, made a beeline for Darin, and sat down at his table.

"You look like you could use some company," said the taller and more skeletal of the two men. He was indeed very tall, and his face very skeletal.

"It depends on the kind of company," said Darin.

The other man, who, unlike his companion, would never have stood out in a crowd, having blandly normal features on a blandly normal frame, took off his felt hat and drew a stiff bit of card from the inner band where it had been tucked. He handed it across to Darin, who looked at it. It was a face card, a minor Trump, the Queen of Swords. Darin pulled another card from a pocket and handed it over: the Knight of Coins.

The blandly normal man slouched back into his seat, looking at Darin for a moment while he stroked his chin. "Our counterparts are quite pleased so far," he said. "Impressed would perhaps be the better word. To come through on a promise like the one you made is quite extraordinary, unprecedented, in fact. They would like to move things forward."

Darin picked up his glass and contemplated the glass gravely. "I want assurances."

The two men glanced at each other briefly, and then the blandly normal man said, "I am not sure what you are trying to hint."

"No hint," said Darin. "I have proven that my word can be trusted. How do i know that yours can?"

The tall, skeletal man rose suddenly and leaned over the table, glowering. Darin regarded him calmly, then looked back to the blandly normal man.

"I have spent time as a plotter in the household of the Matriarch of Syan," he said. "If this is going to devolve into threats, you will find that I am not easily intimidated. Nor am I stupid."

The blandly normal man touched the tall, skeletal man on the elbow and gestured for him to sit down. He looked around quietly and thoughtfully at the other patrons in the bar, all of whom seemed not to be paying attention, then leaned forward, folding his hands. "It is a fair enough request. Obviously it is difficult to give proof of future faith, but I guarantee you that your original proposal is acceptable and has been accepted. And you do not have to rely too much on our mere word. The bulk of it simply depends on your own actions...."

"I know that well," said Darin drily.

"As do we. Here is what we are doing, and you can be sure that our self-interest will carry it through. Even now we take advantage of the disarray you have thoughtfully provided and stretch out our hand for Eliogabulus. We can take it. Our chances of holding it for long, however, depend on the response of the Syan fleet."

"I have already persuaded the Matriarch to withdraw," said Darin.

The blandly normal man shook his head. "That will not suffice. Even if it is as you say, we have no illusions that such a withdrawal would be permanent. Our counterparts like guarantees, and the only way to have any guarantee is to make sure that the fleet of the Matriarch of Syan has no sustainable and organized response. And the only way to guarantee that is to make sure that there is no Matriarch of Syan to organize and sustain it."

"That seems a bit rushed," said Darin.

"It is the best way," said the blandly normal man, spreading his hands. "Coming so quickly after the loss of one Matriarch, the loss of a second, with no Infanta yet adopted, would be devastating. The very spirit of the Matriarchy, the very reason it always has an Infanta and not a Princess, is that the Matriarchate cannot be inherited. It must be taken, and for that there must be at least one Infanta capable of taking it. The time to strike is now. We would be able to establish ourselves in Eliogabulus without the Syan fleet breathing down our necks, and you would be in a position to seize control and carve Syan up as you wish."

The tall, skeletal man narrowed his eyes. "Can you, in fact, manage it?" he asked Darin.

Darin contemplated his glass again. "It is a pity," he said. "She is such a beautiful thing. But it was inevitable." His eyes flicked back to the tall, skeletal man. "And you will find that I am more than capable of managing such a thing."

(to be continued)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Another Arabic Monotheism

From AD 1100–1350 – during the first half of the European Middle
Ages (AD 1100–1543) – the names of a few European scientists appear in scientific literature alongside a string of Muslim scientists, whose numbers include Ibn-Rushd, Musa Bin Memoun, Tusi and Ibn-Nafis.

Hmmm (PDF). I'm all for recognizing the real historical contributions of Islam, but Musa bin Memoun, better known as Moses Maimonides, while Arabic, was certainly not Muslim, being one of the most important Jewish philosophers in history. (They also earlier talk about Europe sinking into "what historians commonly call the Dark Ages," which suggests they've been reading some really old historians, since historians today usually hate the label -- even those who accept it as conveying something accurate generally regard it as misleading without a long list of qualifications -- and the debate among historians, about in what sense and to what extent the label ever really latched on to something real, is quite intense.)

Of course, the Maimonides error could be nothing but a mistake, but Matthew Knee argues that this is part of a pattern of UNESCO reports treating Arabic names and labels as if that automatically made them Muslim, and certainly that fits with what one finds elsewhere, as one can find by looking at the Maronites. Islam is not the only Arabic monotheism.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Poem Draft


At times a loneliness will creep
on me like creatures from the deep,
surprise my heart, and terrorize
my brain with visions from its eyes.
But mostly I, like timeless stone,
am never lonely, just alone
with sun in sky, and trees around
that sing in breezes full of sound,
and music from the birds that, free,
alone can speak the joy in me.