More Stuff from Ben

I see my friend Ben Finiti has posted something about prayer, calculus, and chemistry.  I don’t know where he gets this stuff.  (My inspiration is easier to identify: old Simpsons’ reruns.)

Anyway, go take a look here.

Phyllis Chesler and Old Vienna

Phyllis Chesler is one of my favorite writers. Certainly my favorite pro-Israel feminist defender of reality and common sense.

She has just posted a couple of short pieces about the loss she feels, as a true Manhattanite New Yorker seeing urban cultural sites disappear or be coopted.

In “Old Manhattan Still Standing, But Owned By Others” she laments the new ownership of the Waldorf Astoria, the Carlyle Hotel, and other landmarks now foreign-controlled by alien cultures. In “Old Manhattan Has Disappeared before My Eyes” she mourns the loss of Horn and Hardart Automat, which I remember from a brief young visit.

She sparked another memory when she mentioned Schraffts, “a genteel women-only preserve which served elegant little sandwiches and desserts (and where I kept to myself and studied while in graduate school.)” I had read of Schrafft’s somewhere (probably in the New Yorker, which I read cover-to-cover way back in high school), though never been there (“women-only”?) But the image rang a faint but poignant bell. What was it?

Buchmendel! One of Stefan Zweig’s mournfully beautiful short stories about old Vienna, and what the death of a civilization looks like.

The title character is an old antiquarian bookseller who operated out of a table in a Vienna café. Zweig weaves together the story of a vibrant city and culture in its dying days, and makes it the backdrop for the life and death of an individual man.   Mendel is a remarkable jewel set in the living-its-final-days culture, instantly transformed into a dirty discarded beggar in the aftermath.

The Café Gluck, Jacob Mendel, and cosmopolitan Hapsburg Vienna before, during, and after the First World War; it is, like all of Zweig’s works (and life), unutterably and beautifully sad.

And it could easily be transposed, with few changes, into a story set in today’s Manhattan.

Anyway, check out Dr. Chesler if you are not familiar with her.

 

 

Squirrely!

[In a departure from my usual dire ponderings, I am today pleased to introduce a brilliant new writer to the world. Mr. X, as he calls himself, has produced a delightful story about squirrels, politics, and young love.  It is printed here in its entirety.   No subscription required!]

 

SQUIRRELY!

 

Chapter One

 

A cold, drizzly rain had been falling all day, and now it was starting to pour. On a branch of a tree just outside the window of a house, a wet, bedraggled squirrel sat shivering.

Inside, in the warm, cozy living room sat a warm, cozy family. In the fireplace a warm, cozy fire burned. The father read his newspaper. The mother was knitting. The young daughter sat on the rug before the fire, petting a fat, fluffy cat on a fat, fluffy pillow. It was all very cozy and, well, warm.

The squirrel looked down at the warm, cozy family with great interest, focusing mostly on the cat. As he stared, the cat yawned, stretched, and began to look around lazily. Then the cat looked out the window and noticed the squirrel. It didn’t move, watching the squirrel for almost a minute. Then, it looked slowly around at the family the room, and the fire, looked back at the squirrel – and SMILED!

I know that some people think cats can’t – or won’t – smile. But this was a smile, if not a particularly pleasant one. It expressed a smug satisfaction with the cat’s situation, and a smirking contempt for the pitiful-looking animal on the tree branch outside looking in.

The squirrel was so startled he fell off the branch and landed in a mud puddle. He sat there for a moment, then got up, shook himself, and scampered off – if his slow, wet movements could be called scampering.

As he went, he said to himself (and not for the first time), “It must be nice to be a cat.”

Norman – for that was the squirrel’s name – was a typical teenage squirrel. By typical, I mean that he was like all teenagers, and like most squirrels. He was of average height (for a squirrel) and of average disposition (for a teenager). But in some ways he was different from other squirrels.

He was a rebel. But he was not a nut.

And thereby hangs a tale.

Continue reading ‘Squirrely!’

Serendipity and Ben

My pious friend Mr. Ben Finiti (must be Italian) has posted another thought-provoking item on his eponymous  (a fancy word for self-named; just a reminder that I have been to college) website benfiniti.com, this one entitled “God Is Not Serendipitous”.  The basic idea is that you can’t find God if you don’t look for him. And since most of us have convinced ourselves that we are just fine the way we are, why bother looking?

As H. I. McDonnough once put it, “You know, honey, I’m OK, you’re OK, that there’s just the way it is.”*

Anyway, it is worth a look.

++++++++++

*McDonnough was the lead character in Raising Arizona, Nicolas Cage’s only intentionally funny movie (1987).  It’s worth a look, too.

Prole Models: Charles Murray’s Brilliant Forecast From 2001

[This essay by Charles Murray is more relevant today than when it first appeared in the 2/6/2001 Wall Street Journal. It is still around thanks to OrthodoxyToday.org. (So, thank you, Orthodoxy Today!) 

I was reminded of it while reading “In the Image of Slob”, an essay in today’s Crisis Magazine lamenting the sloppy dress often seen at church these days. Murray puts the issue in the larger framework of societal collapse.]


Prole Models: America’s elites take their cues from the underclass

by Charles Murray

Scholar Charles Murray writes that a major reason for the coarsening of American life is that the creative minority has devolved into competing cultural elites. Instead of guarding the moral, intellectual, and artistic heritage of society, they follow baser artists.

That American life has coarsened over the past several decades is not much argued, but the nature of the beast is still in question. Gertrude Himmelfarb sees it as a struggle between competing elites, in which the left originated a counterculture that the right failed to hold back. Daniel Patrick Moynihan has given us the phrase “defining deviancy down,” to describe a process in which we change the meaning of moral to fit what we are doing anyway. I wish to add a third voice to the mix, that of the late historian Arnold Toynbee, who would find our recent history no mystery at all: We are witnessing the proletarianization of the dominant minority.

The language and thought are drawn from a chapter of “A Study of History,” entitled “Schism in the Soul,” in which Toynbee discusses the disintegration of civilizations. He observes that one of the consistent symptoms of disintegration is that the elites–Toynbee’s “dominant minority”–begin to imitate those at the bottom of society. His argument goes like this: Continue reading ‘Prole Models: Charles Murray’s Brilliant Forecast From 2001′

Truman’s Cheek

[Now here is something to see.  My Catholic friend Ben Finiti (at benfiniti.com) has written a historical essay in rebuttal to a Catholic cleric’s historical interview. Don’t these guys have enough theology to talk about?  Hasn’t the Pope said something outrageous in an airplane press conference? Shouldn’t they be fighting over that?

Anyway, here are BF’s thoughts on a monsignor’s thoughts on Hiroshima and dear Harry.  Enjoy. (I wrote most of it myself, if truth be known.)]

 

Hindsight from the High Ground

by Ben Finiti

On August 6, the terrible anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, I was listening to the indispensable Catholic media outlet Relevant Radio, and I heard a curious interview with Msgr. Stuart Swetland on the subject of the day.

It made me think of Calvin Coolidge who is credited with many laconic (and probably apocryphal) anecdotes; my favorite is his supposed comment on returning from church one Sunday. Asked what the preacher spoke on, he answered: “Sin.” Further asked: “What did he say about it?”, Cal responded: “He was against it.”

It would be unjust and uncharitable to summarize the monsignor’s take on Hiroshima in so many words. He acknowledged the difficult situation and the tough decisions that faced those engaged in what was unquestionably a just war. But his conclusion was as straightforward as Coolidge’s: It was a sin, and Truman should not have done it.

The monsignor argued from Catholic doctrine, which appears to have recently reached the same conclusion. And he offered some historical “facts” in support. But the facts are questionable, and the arguments seem confused.

I am certainly not qualified to argue theology with any monsignor (though I will try, later.) But facts are facts, and assumptions are not.

There are many points to consider. Monsignor Swetland stated, with varying degrees of certitude, the following “facts”. The Japanese government was about to surrender anyway. The Russians were about to tell Truman about a Japanese peace proposal. Invasion of the Japanese homeland would not have been necessary. The invasion’s half-million US casualties anticipated by US military planners would not have occurred.

These things are nice to know. I bet Truman would have liked to know them with the certainty that his posthumous critics know them.

Now, some of these facts fall into the category of 20/20 hindsight (the Japanese/Russian peace proposal.) Others are in the realm of counterfactuals, the history that never happened (the invasion was unnecessary, since the Japanese already knew they were beaten.)

But my main objection to such thinking is that it side-steps the one all-important question, the only question that matters, from a moral standpoint. What should Truman have done?

The moral high ground is the position which allows those far from the decision to boldly affirm what should NOT have been done. But the moral high ground does not allow consideration of the real question facing the real decision-maker. The only way the moral-high-grounder can address the real question is with hindsight and counterfactuals.

Well, here are some counter-counterfactuals.

1. The Japanese government probably knew they were beaten by 1943; they fought on. From their early offensive high-water, they were steadily pushed back on every front. After Midway, they never again struck in the eastern Pacific. After Guadalcanal, they were in constant retreat throughout the Pacific. And yet, as the tides of war rolled against them, the death tolls rapidly accelerated. The bloodiest battles, on land and sea, occurred in the last 6 months of the war – long after the Japanese government knew what the outcome would be. The death toll on Okinawa, the closest island to the Japanese homeland, was 12,520 US soldiers, 110,000 Japanese soldiers, and over 100,000 Japanese civilians, many by suicide. Continue reading ‘Truman’s Cheek’

More from Ben

My friend Ben Finiti has a new post up on his excellent blog benfiniti.com.  It is about the reality of divorce in our society, and the inadequate (and now getting even worse) position of the Roman Catholic Church on the issue.

He quotes Thomas Aquinas (where does he find this stuff?), and finds that not all marriages (and therefore divorces) are equally weighty.  He says divorce of a childless couple can be anything from trivial (Nicolas Cage?) to tragic. But divorce with children is a species of child abuse.

Whistling in the wind, I suppose. But still good reading.


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