Idea du jour: the pre-obituary

What a dreary afternoon for a holiday! I needed a pick-me-up, and P.J. O’Rourke provided it.

O’Rourke has a great idea for reviving the newspaper biz, which desparately needs great ideas and revival: the pre-obituary:

What I propose is “Pre-Obituaries”—official notices that certain people aren’t dead yet accompanied by brief summaries of their lives indicating why we wish they were.

The main advantage of the Pre-Obit over the traditional obituary is the knowledge of reader and writer alike that the as-good-as-dead people are still around to have their feelings hurt. It was a travesty of literary justice that we waited until J. D. Salinger finally hit the delete key at 91 before admitting that Catcher in the Rye stinks. The book’s only virtue is that it captures, with annoying accuracy, the maunderings of a twerp. The book’s only pleasure is in slamming the cover shut—simpler than slamming the door shut on a real Holden Caulfield, if less satisfying. The rest of Salinger’s published oeuvre was precious or boring or both. But we felt constrained to delay saying so, perhaps because of an outdated Victorian hope for a death-bed flash of genius.

Let us wait no more. With the Pre-Obituary we can abandon pusillanimous constraint and false hope and say what we think about the lives of public nuisances when their lives are not yet a dead letter. And we won’t be stuck in the treacle of nostalgia and sentiment. We won’t find ourselves saying of some oaf, “His like will not pass this way again.” Or, if we do say it, we can comfortably add, “Thank God!” The precept of Diogenes isn’t “Do not speak ill of the living.”

Think of the opportunities we’ve missed already….

By O’Rourke’s lights, several notables besides Salinger needed pre-obituaries, but we blew the chance:

  • Beatrice Arthur
  • Paul Newman
  • John Kenneth Galbraith
  • Ted Kennedy

But we’re not too late for some others:

  • Jimmy Carter
  • Gore Vidal
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Norman Lear
  • Ed Asner
  • Ben Bradlee
  • Ross Perot
  • Ted Turner
  • Jane Fonda
  • Barney Frank
  • Harry Reid
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Christopher Dodd
  • Bernadine Dohrn
  • Bill Ayers
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • Donald Trump
  • Paul Krugman
  • Ben & Jerry
  • Keith Richards
  • Mick Jagger
  • Janet Jackson

I might quibble with  few on that list, but overall, it’s target-rich.

Beavis and Butthead Conservatism

I know I’ve written bunches about the sorry state of mainstream “conservatism.” I think I’ve specifically pointed out a ubiquitous add at’s columnist page, featuring lame slogan T-Shirts tightly fitted to shapely young females.

Well it’s Summertime, summertime, sum, sum, summertime, and the camera has pulled back a bit:

Yes boys, conservative chicks are HOT (nudge! nudge! wink! wink!). Ann Coulter!!! Michelle Malkin!!! Wouldn’t you like to give her them something to exercise “freedom of choice” about!? (Heh, heh, heh!)

I’d like to think that our fallen soldiers fell for something worthier than this merde.

(For the record, I know this is the softest of softcore. So what? It still offends me.)


I heard that English is the only language with a word for “fun.”A quick Google search suggests that there’s a Spanglish word, too – borrowed, I suspect.

Three questions:

  • Do any of you know this story about “fun” to be false? Or to be true?
  • If language is integral to thought, how would people think differently without a word equivalent to “fun”?
  • If true, does that signify that we Anglophones are particularly prone to frivolousness?

This is not a test. You won’t be graded for any response or lack thereof.

Is Sarah Palin a fake feminist?

It should be no secret that I am not a fan of Sarah Palin, but among her defects is not patent falsity as a feminist, as Jessica Valenti’s column at the Sunday Washington Post alleges. Valenti careens around like a pinball deprecating all things Palin, but in my opinion falls short of making the case that Palin’s feminism is fake.

Pro-life feminism is something I happen to know a few things about. It captured my attention 25 years or so ago when I heard a recording of Sidney Callahan, a distinguished social psychologist, teacher, and syndicated columnist in moral psychology, state the case for it. It had a humane and compassionate angle that I found very attractive personally. (I regret that Callahan’s talk seemingly not available online; I believe I ripped it from tape to MP3 and could share it with anyone interested after checking copyright more closely.)

So I became a supporter of Feminists for Life before it had a political action committee — not a member, as I think there’s something creepy about a man saying he’s a feminist (it strikes me as being on roughly the same level as “Hey, baby! What’s your sign?” or “Want to come up and see my lithographs?”) — even though some of its positions were well to my left at the time. (I also supported the “Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians” who intuited that they were particularly vulnerable to selective abortion should a “gay gene” ever be identified.) I have received the Journals of FFL for decades as a result. Valenti can sneer at the “debated notion that first-wave feminists were antiabortion,” but I’d rather have the affirmative than the negative of that in a debate.

I now consider the support of the Susan B. Anthony list, the FFL-affiliated PAC formed years later, a reliable indicator of a bona fide pro-life candidate who is not (necessarily) wedded to the religious right. I give essentially nothing to the National Right to Life Committee or its PAC these days, but in most election cycles, I’ll pore over SBA List endorsements for candidates, almost invariably women, whose positions (and odds) seem especially good, and then I’ll support them modestly. (Public records of such giving has gotten me labeled an anti-choice fanatic by the brain-dead denizens of Journal & Courier online comboxes.)

I probably could go on, but suffice that I know whereof I speak when I say that Valenti is either consciously lying or fabricating factoids when she alleges that pro-life feminism is a cynical ploy adopted only after “protesters realized that screaming ‘Murderer!’ at women wasn’t winning hearts and minds.”

But, of course, Palin isn’t a feminist — not in the slightest. What she calls “the emerging conservative feminist identity” isn’t the product of a political movement or a fight for social justice.

It isn’t a structural analysis of patriarchal norms, power dynamics or systemic inequities. It’s an empty rallying call to other women who are as disdainful of or apathetic to women’s rights as Palin herself: women who want to make abortion and emergency contraception illegal and who fight same-sex marriage rights. As Kate Harding wrote on “What comes next? ‘Phyllis Schlafly feminism?’ ‘Patriarchal feminism?’ ‘He-Man Woman Hater Feminism?'”

So let it be clear: Valenti considers abortion (and “emergency contraception,” but I repeat myself) and same-sex marriage among the sina qua non of feminism. That marks her as a “radical feminist” or something close.

In radical feminism, if you’re not tying “power dynamic or systemic inequities” to “patriarchal norms” — if, for instance, you tie them in the slightest to such phenomena as the Chamber-of-Commerce types pushing to get women into the marketplace in the early 20th century in order to suppress wages, or the prudent self-protection rendered more urgent by no-fault divorce and its effective abolition of marriage — you’re a fake feminist. I’m all in favor of words having somewhat precise meanings if possible, but as a few of my links to Wikepedia in this posting demonstrate, “feminism” as of today can follow a lot of different adjectives.

“So God made man; in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them.” Human equality does not require identity of aptitudes and roles (though it is dangerous, if not outright wrong, to apply generalizations to specific people). A gifted athlete is no more or less fully human that a gifted scholar. A layman is no more or less human than a pastor or priest. Men and women are of equal dignity even if they are measurably different — and not different merely in the matter of some plumbing that only matters on special occasions.

Feminists for Life essentially embraces a form of what apparently is known today as difference feminism, or cultural feminism or new feminism. I have a little trouble getting worked up over the label, or holding myself out as expert in the taxonomy of feminism. But having followed them all these years, I know that the proper valuing of women for the common good is a bona fide concern of Feminists for Life.

So is Sarah Palin a fake feminist? Well, she’s to the right of many SBA-endorsed politicians. And I’m ready to believe that just about anything about her is fake. But I draw the line at credulously falling for an empty screed like Jessica Valenti’s column.

Jetta TDI Sportswagen

I bought a new car. My Passat sedan is gone, replaced by a Jetta TDI Sportwagen.

I’m not going to go all introspective on you, but I still have a little trouble keeping car buying decisions entirely rational. The rational thing, in terms of pure personal/familial economics, would have been to drive the Passat “into the ground” and then replace it with something even more fuel efficient (the Passat got 18-31 MPG in my experience; the TDI, a diesel, should be good per EPA figures for 30 in the city, 42 on the highway).

But the TDI is simultaneously:

  • Sportier (it has a slightly rakish look and a sunroof that goes on forever)
  • More practical (station wagon in slight disguise; my older brother said of his that he feels like a teenage boy with his first pickup truck: “Can I take a bunch of stuff to Goodwill?”
  • Obviously, much more fuel efficient.

I’m aware, however, that it’s still a part of the great, ultimately-unsustainable, Happy Motoring Great American Auto Scam. It even comes with a tax rebate for energy efficiency.


Well, gotta go now. The road beckons.


The Democrat primary winner to run against Indiana Congressman Dan Burton is a young fellow, energetic and … Uh. Well. Did I mention that he won the Democrat primary? I did? Oh, darn!

It seems that he has some history — now, mind you: this guy’s too young to have much of any history —as a Republican! Oh, the horror!

But rather than being welcomed as party-switcher, a Jim Webb Blue Dog Democrat type, he’s being lambasted. “I want a credible candidate,” a blue-haired Democrat woman lamented after her group of blue-haired Democrat women grilled him, post-primary, and found him largely unsympathetic to Democrat party positions.

Well, mam, the time to field an ideologically true Democrat was before this fellow won the primary. Got that? Before. BEFORE. It wouldn’t matter in the end, because Dan Burton presumably will win again. That’s why no credible, pure Democrat bothered running.

I have some Republican history, too, and I’ve long thought that our County had lots of “Republicans” whose positions were dubious for that party identification. And I recall when our GOP could muster against our entrenched late Mayor James Riehle (not a bad Mayor, apart from his choice of City Attorney, police chiefs and a few other thugs-in-government) nobody except a seeming escapee from an asylum. The same may happen with current Mayor Roswarski — by some accounts, it did happen.

I can’t help but feel schadenfreude.

Deep down, Emergent Church is shallow

I left the Evangelical world decisively about the time Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Church was its fad du jour, so Emergent Church was largely unknown to me. Having left, and after a few years having given up on the idea that surely the folks over there are just waiting to hear what stunned me 14 or so years ago (Orthodox Christianity), I haven’t really kept up with the characteristic novelties, fads, charlatans, personages and artistes of Evangelicalism. (Oh yeah: I did read Blue Like Jazz and kept thinking that Donald Miller was channeling Holden Caulfield.)

But Father Gregory Jensen apparently has kept up, with the Emergent-flavored variety of Evangelicalism at least, and despite some sympathy, sees it as rooted in Oedipal adolescent rebellion.

From his review of Andrew Farley’s new book, “The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church,” extended quote:

Whatever might have been the justice of his criticisms of the Medieval Catholic Church, Martin Luther began a historical process that embodied a fundamentally different understanding of what it means to be Christian. For Luther and those who followed in his footsteps, to be a Christian meant not to live according to Tradition of the Church but to protest against it. We have reached a point now that when tradition–even Christian tradition–conflicts with the individual and his desires it is the individual and not tradition that is given the primary place.

Within the broad context of Protestantism is that people criticize yesterday’s critics. (sic) We come to see yesterday’s heroes as those who would bind us, the new generation, even as they were once bound by those who came before them.  The dynamic here is almost Oedipal.  Just as a man rebels against his father, his son in turn rebels against him.  But this isn’t maturity but childishness.

Thanks to my relationship with the Ooze, a site “dedicated to the emerging Church culture,” I’ve had the opportunity to read and reflect on works significant to the Emergent Church movement.  For all that I admire the energy and enthusiasm of this movement, I’ve concluded that it is simply the latest manifestation of the anti-Traditionalism that is at the core of both Protestantism and neoliberalism.  And like both, I fear the Emergent Church movement will in time fragment into every smaller sects, leaving it is wake spiritually and psychologically damaged men and women.

Contrary to his own assertions, Farley’s book is not about the Gospel.  While I think he is right in rejecting the deformation of Evangelicalism, he simply substitutes his own idiosyncratic view of the Gospel for the one under which he grew up.  This is simply another in a long string of attempts to justify Evangelical Christianity’s love affair with rebellion against Tradition.  St Anthony the Great warns his monks about just this when he says “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’”

The problem here is that without a solid grounding in the Christian Tradition, the Emergent Church movement, like Protestantism and Evangelical Christianity before it, has little to offer.  My earlier reference to Oedipus was not accidental.  Like the rebellious adolescent, Farley’s book confuses criticism with mature thought and supplanting one’s father with being an adult.  This is not a surprise; criticism is easy.  But stripping away the neuroses of Evangelical Christianity is different from presenting the Gospel in its fullness.

Farley does not present the Gospel in its fullness; he wants to present the “Naked Gospel.”  But the Gospel isn’t, and never has been, “naked.”  Like Joseph, the Gospel has always worn that divinely tailored coat of many colors (see Genesis 37:3) called Holy Tradition.  “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NKJV).

If readers finds Farley’s critique compelling, they owe it to themselves to seek out an Orthodox Church and discover the Christian Tradition in its fullness.  It is possible to live a life that is more than criticism.  Through the sacraments of the Church you can become a “partaker of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), progressively freer from your sins and evermore the person God created you to be.

In a sense, the only thing remarkable about this is that there’s a felt need to remark on it. The glimmers I’ve gotten of the Emergents suggested that they are the latest Evangelical schtick (sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper), wherein the distinctive transgressivism is borrowed artifacts — candles, incense, silence, maybe a few icons — from Christian traditions that actually are rooted in something.

But maybe if Father Gregory has earned their respect, they’ll hear him when he says the Emperor’s new clothes look suspiciously like the old clothes — under the nice-smelling Fabreze, the same superstructure of rebellious and novelty-seeking thought, convinced that only the chains of the past prevent fulfillment, and that going back to the Bible (or the “Naked Gospel”) will unlock the door thereto.

I was privileged for a year and a summer to attend Evangelicalism’s best, Wheaton College, preceded by four years at Wheaton Academy, its loosely-affiliated Christian boarding school. Many (not all) of my friends from there have crashed and burned. Some know they’ve apostasized. But some still think of themselves as Evangelical Christians of some sort, while manifesting by attitude (and in at least one disappointing case, by explicit words) that there’s no love of God, but only some cheap fire insurance. Church attendance pays the premiums. They never saw, or long ago ceased seeing, the rabbit. I was one of them (I’d ceased seeing what I saw as a child), though I hadn’t yet abandoned the chase before Orthodox Christianity blessedly blind-sided me.

What’s at stake is not bragging rights, much as we all love to brag. What’s at stake is sheep without a Good (and stable) Shepherd, becoming over time Father Gregory’s “spiritually and psychologically damaged men and women.”

Perhaps what deters them from the fullness of the Gospel is precisely that it’s not shallow; that you can’t jump in and feel the bottom; that the Christian tradition “is what it is” despite your pet theories of what this (or that) verse “means to me” —and that what it is is 2000 years deep; or just that it brings God so uncomfortably near (rather than freezing Him in a book one can manipulate to mean most anything).

The best lesson I learned coming into Orthodoxy was that if it and I disagreed, it was probably right. Time has proven that true in many ways, is still proving it true in some ways, and has in no wise ever proven it false.

Chasing the rabbit

Father Stephen recounts an evocative story from the Desert Fathers, set in the context of the Gospel According to John (1:14 “we have beheld his glory”) and John’s first epistle (1:1 et seq: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it”). The story is the perfect conclusion — indeed, could almost stand alone:

There is a story from the Desert Fathers about a young monk who asked one of the holy men of the desert why it is that so many people came out to the desert to seek God and yet most of them gave up after a short time and returned to their lives in the city.

The old monk responded:

“Last evening my dog saw a rabbit running for cover among the bushes of the desert and he began to chase the rabbit, barking loudly. Soon other dogs joined the chase, barking and running. They ran a great distance and alerted many other dogs. Soon the wilderness was echoing the sounds of their pursuit but the chase went on into the night.

After a little while, many of the dogs grew tired and dropped out. A few chased the rabbit until the night was nearly spent. By morning, only my dog continued the hunt.”

“Do you understand,” the old man said, “what I have told you?”

“No,” replied the young monk, “please tell me, father.”

“It is simple,” said the desert father, “my dog saw the rabbit!”