It’s nice when your opponents praise you…

More support for Neil gorsuchGorsuch, from someone who served as Acting Solicitor General under President Obama:

Right about now, the public could use some reassurance that no matter how chaotic our politics become, the members of the Supreme Court will uphold the oath they must take: to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.” I am confident Neil Gorsuch will live up to that promise.

Neal K. Katyal, “Why Liberals should back Neil Gorsuch,” New York Times (Jan. 31, 2017) [link].

Judges and partisans

ScreenShot164This is certainly on point:

It has long been frustrating to me that the only criterion by which Americans — almost without exception — evaluate judges is: Did he or she make decisions that produce results I’d like to see? Virtually no one asks whether the judge has rightly interpreted existing law, which is of course what the judge is formally required to do. Americans — again, almost without exception — want judges to be politicians and advocates. The idea that a judge should strive to interpret existing law regardless of whether it does or doesn’t promote politically desirable ends never crosses anyone’s mind, and if by some strange chance it did, the person whose mind was so crossed would reject the proposal indignantly. Americans in this respect resemble toddlers and their own President: they evaluate everything in terms of whether it helps or hinders them in getting what they want.

This devaluation of interpretation amounts to a dismissal of the task of understanding: everything that matters is already understood, so the person who would strive to understand is not only useless, but an impediment to the realization of my political vision. To the partisan, the absence of partisanship is always a sin, and perhaps the gravest of sins.

Alan Jacobs, “Judging Judges,” Snakes and Ladders (Jan 31, 2017) [link].

Doom

Some very interesting designs for a Holocaust Museum in London.  This one is my favorite — the sense of something vastly dangerous and beyond individual control*:

akzh-holocaust

Rory Stott, “10 Shortlisted Designs for London Holocaust Memorial Revealed,” Arch Daily (Jan. 17, 2017) [link].

Though not, of course beyond individual action: “…and yet, in the end, did Klara Hitler’s sickly son ever fire a gun? One hollow, hateful little man. One last awful thought: all the harm he ever did was done for him by others.” Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace (2005).

Selling yourself

ScreenShot164A short piece on selling your attention span from the CTO of Basecamp, suggesting that there should be a warning for many things you are ostensibly getting for “free”:

[WARNING:] Everything you say and do on Facebook will be used against you by advertisers for targeting that’s most likely to catch you at your most vulnerable, needy moment. Your consumption of the echo chamber timeline will lead to a narrower field of vision of the world. We may try to tinker with your mental well-being at any time, if we determine that a depressed state increases engagement on the A/B by any margin.

He goes on to say:

It wouldn’t surprise me if twenty years from now we view the likes of Facebook with the same incredulity we do now to smoking: How could they not know it did this to their health?

David Hansson, “The Price of Monetizing Schemes,” Signal v. Noise [link].

“Cremains”

This was one of those “Yes, exactly!” moments.ScreenShot164

For those not previously enlightened:

Cremains, pl. n., the ashes of a cremated body (either a portmanteau or shortened form of “cremated” and “remains”)

The “Yes, exactly!” moment came when a friend gave me Lydia Davis’ short piece “Letter to a Funeral Parlor”:

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you to object to the word cremains, which was used by your representative when he met with my mother and me two days after my father’s death.

*   *   *

Then we were sitting there in our chairs in the living room trying not to weep in front of your representative, who was opposite us on the sofa, and we were very tired first from sitting up with my father, and then from worrying about whether he was comfortable as he was dying, and then from worrying about where he might be now that he was dead, and your representative referred to him as “the cremains.”

At first we did not even know what he meant. Then, when we realized, we were frankly upset. Cremains sounds like something invented as a milk substitute in coffee, like Cremora, or Coffee-mate. Or it sounds like some kind of a chipped beef dish.

Lydia Davis, “Letter to a Funeral Parlor,” in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009).

The full piece is reproduced on the NPR website [link].

Scoop!

ScreenShot164I knew that Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, but this was a part of the story I had not heard:

In late August 1939, [Clare] Hollingworth was a 27-years-old cub reporter for the Telegraph in Poland. After talking a British diplomat into allowing her to borrow his car, she drove across the border into Germany, where she observed large numbers of troops, tanks and field artillery lined up along a road.

As she wrote in her autobiography, when the wind blew open burlap screens “constructed to hide the military vehicles . . . I saw the battle deployment.” Her story appeared in the London newspaper on Aug. 29 under the headline “1,000 Tanks Massed on Polish Frontier.” Germany invaded Poland three days later.

Melanie Kirkpatrick, “The Woman Who Scooped Everyone on World War II,” Hudson Institute (Jan. 12, 2017) [link].  Interesting story, which also appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

J.R.R.T.

jrrt “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

     J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892 – September 2, 1973) was born 125 years ago today.  He has been singing at the throne of God for 40 years.

The Nightingale

nightingaleKristen Hannah, The Nightingale (2016).

This month’s book club offering is a lively story of two sisters who live in France during the Nazi occupation.  Although it is longer on emotional than historical detail, it is definitely one of those novels that make you wonder how well you would hold up under the pressures of that situation.  The book was similar in tone and gravity to something like The Winds of War, thus not as serious as All the Light We Cannot See, or as literary as Brideshead Revisited, or as witty as Everyone Brave is Forgiven.

I like the cover design very much.

Recommended.

“A religion of losers.”

ScreenShot164Matthew Schmitz wrote this back in August, but I just read it today.  It is an interesting take on Donald Trump’s “faith,” and attempts to trace the influence of Norman Vincent Peale on Trump.  Apparently Trump once said that Peale “thought I was his greatest student of all time.”  Schmitz goes on to explain why that might actually be true.

But the best thing in the article is this description of Christianity:

“Christianity is a religion of losers. To the weak and humble, it offers a stripped and humiliated Lord. To those without reason for optimism, it holds up the cross as a sign of hope. To anyone who does not win at life, it promises that whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake shall find it. At its center stands a truth that we are prone to forget. There are people who cannot be made into winners, no matter how positive their thinking. They need something more paradoxical and cruciform.”

Matthew Schmitz, “Donald Trump, Man of Faith,” First Things (August 2016) [link].

That seems pretty thoughtful, though to my way of thinking it does not go far enough:  The penultimate line should probably read: “People cannot be made into winners, no matter how positive their thinking.”

There is none righteous, no, not one.

Born at the Right Time

What the Incarnation Means for Us All

December 18, 2016 | Galatians 4 (“In the fullness of time . . .”)

born-at-the-right-timeTaiwan, it seems, has one of the highest rates of Caesarian births in the world, which leads to two questions.

“What are you talking about, Al?” and “Why is that?”

A Caesarian section is an operation whereby a baby is born by surgically opening the womb of the pregnant woman, usually because of some medical emergency. It was done in ancient times, nearly always at the cost of the life of the mother. I would have guessed that it was called a Caesarian birth because Julius Caesar was born that way, but that is apparently a myth. In any case, it is relatively common these days, and not terribly dangerous.

It is apparently very common in Taiwan, even when it is not medically indicated.

A study followed 150 women in Taiwan who were pregnant with their first child, and found that 93 of them had caesarean deliveries before 39 weeks, though none of them had any complications.

This seemed decidedly odd, since of course pre-term Caesarean births require more medical and surgical intervention, require longer hospital stays, cost more money and are somewhat more dangerous for mother and baby. To be clear, these were not emergency Caesareans, these were elective Caesareans by women who had never been through childbirth before. Continue reading Born at the Right Time