Thursday 9/1/16

  1. No thanks: I already have a religion
  2. Apple in Ireland
  3. The real “taking the Lord’s name in vain”
  4. Bodies matter: it’s the law

1

Whether or not some guy stands for it, why do we play the National Anthem before every sporting event? A New York Times column explores answers.

For my money, the best of the lot is this:

No national anthems are played before a French league soccer game or a German handball league game or a Japanese rugby game. So why does the connection exist in the United States?

According to Eric Liu, a former speechwriter and adviser to President Bill Clinton who co-wrote a 2007 book on patriotism titled “The True Patriot,” the difference probably lies in America’s distinctive foundation.

Unlike a majority of countries in the world, the United States was not created on a common platform of religion or ancestry or, as Liu said, “some origin myth which goes all the way back to the beginning of history.”

Instead, Americans are bound by notions and concepts — that all men are created equal, as one example — and the ethereal nature of those ideas makes anything that Americans can latch on to concretely seem more important.

“I think that’s why this whole thing strikes so many people in such a passionate way,” Liu said. “This is not a country in Europe or Asia that has the traditional patriotic ideas built into it. We are united by a creed, and in a creedal society, the outsize rituals — like the anthem — just carry a lot more weight.”

And maybe that’s why the “outsize rituals” tend to repel me: I already have a religion, and am loathe to celebrate the liturgies of the competing civil religion.

2

We report, you decide.

Is Tuesday’s European Commission decision against Apple:

  1. Appropriate retribution for a company that aggressively sought tax havens?
  2. An ambush, shocking “even by the usual Brussels standards of economic malpractice“?

Yes, at least on this subject, there really is a vast gulf between cross-town rivals New York Time and Wall Street Journal.

3

Catholic controversialist Mark Shea reflects on the meaning of “taking the Lord’s name in vain” beyond the typical expletives.

I note that right wing political candidates have a terrible habit of humbly announcing that God tells them to run for president–and then losing. The problem with doing that is that unbelievers notice when you do that and then mock God. A further problem with doing that is that GOP politicos never seem to learn from their blasphemies but instead turn God into a sort of tribal fetish whose blessing is merely transferred to the winners of their power struggles.

Take Michele Bachmann. No matter how wrong she is, it never occurs to her to suppose that she is wrong to take the Name of God in vain. Says she:

“I actually supported Ted Cruz. I thought he was fabulous, but I also see that at the end of the day God raised up, I believe, Donald Trump who was going to be the nominee in this election,” she said.

Cruz, you will recall, not only claimed to be called by God, but even had a father who declared that his Only Begotten Son was an “anointed king” appointed by God to bring about the End Times transfer of wealth from the wicked to the royal priesthood and chosen nation of his followers.

God, however, had other plans and his Holy Anointed One lost.  The lesson for many people beholding such an epic failure would be “You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.”

The lesson for Michele Bachmann, however, is “Whoever wins is God’s *real* Anointed.” And so she recovers from her epic bad call with… an even more epically blasphemous bad call ….

I love the closer, too, describing Trump as

a strip club owner who led them to an exceeding high mountain, showed them the kingdoms of this world, and promised them “All this will I give you if you will bow down and vote for me.”

This, too, from the Babylon Bee.

4

Eve Tushnet steps out of her more usual role as media and drama critic:

Last month a Michigan appeals court considered the case of a man convicted of methamphetamine possession … [T]he decision of the three appellate judges addresses not only the length of the sentence but also, and at greater length, the way it was delivered: via videoconferencing. The defendant was in the county jail when he was sentenced; he never shared a courtroom with the judge who determined his fate.

On a basic legal level, the court noted that Michigan law specifies when you can sentence via videoconferencing, and it’s not an option in felony cases. But the appeals court’s decision raises deeper philosophical issues. The three appellate judges provide a stirring defense of the antimodern belief that human dignity inheres not solely in the mind or the will, but in the body.

A defendant already has the right to be present at sentencing … A defendant’s right to allocute before sentence is passed—to look a judge in the eye in a public courtroom while making his plea—stems from our legal tradition’s centuries-old recognition of a defendant’s personhood, even at the moment he is condemned to prison.”

The Michigan decision, though short, frequently returns to the language of human dignity. The appeals-court judges intuit that acknowledging the personhood of the defendant and his intrinsic dignity requires his physical presence. But why would the body be the necessary locus of human dignity? Why isn’t the man’s voice and image, far away and mediated by a screen, enough to remind a judge of his humanity?

… A defendant has the right to address his judge at sentencing, but speech is as likely to display his inequality with his judge as his human equality. A defendant who is more educated, more intelligent, more articulate, or just less of a jackass is more likely to paint a compelling picture of himself in speech—but uneducated, unintelligent, inarticulate jackasses have exactly as much human dignity as the best among us, simply because they are human individuals.

… Liberalism tends to treat the body as an instrument of the will; the Michigan case makes little sense unless you acknowledge that the body is an icon. Plenty of commentators, from Jonathan Haidt to Paul W. Kahn, have noted the difficulty liberalism has in grappling with the sacred. The sacred is not defensible in terms of utility, efficiency, rationality, safety, or choice. Videoconferencing wins on all of these grounds except—and this one exception applies only if you are willing to take the prisoner’s perspective and not the judge’s—choice. (Even a prisoner’s safety may not be best served by in-person sentencing, for reasons that are shameful.) In the gaze of the defendant the judge encounters a human dignity and equality that go beyond what rationalistic discourse can prove; they must be experienced. Like all sacred things they must be submitted to rather than comprehended.

“The right to look your judge in the eye” is an attempt to put into words something of that irreducible encounter. The judge has a “duty to acknowledge the humanity of even a convicted felon,” the court says: to recognize him- or herself in the eyes of the defendant.

… The willingness to share physical space with someone, to confront them in person and meet their gaze, can be profoundly humbling. The unwillingness to do this–the use of power to prevent it—is always dehumanizing. This is part of what it means to be human: to keep body and soul together.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.