Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

Buried Treasure

Tonight while rummaging around on the dirty, unkempt bookshelves of a local Salvation Army I came across the sort of thing one always dreams about coming across in these situations but rarely does. What I found was a first-edition copy of the first novel of my favorite novelist, A Piece of My Heart by Richard Ford. The book cover isn’t much to look at (see the picture below), and the spine is a little warped, but hey, one doesn’t complain about these things at the Salvation Army, where books are usually priced under a dollar. The book isn’t worth much; similar first editions start at $30 at (but go up significantly and sharply after that. There’s also a signed copy at the Manhattan Rare Book Company that’s going for $800). Nevertheless it’s a very exciting find for a fan. They ain’t many of these floating around anymore.

Needless to say, I put a temporary but brief hiatus on the book-buying moratorium.



We Interrupt This Blast of Nonposts to Bring You A Testy Conservative Rant

I know better than to base my opinion on editorials with summaries that say things like, “the pope deserves no credence when he distorts scientific findings about the value of condoms in slowing the spread of the AIDS virus” (from where else), so when I saw those very words in my daily headlines email I did what I usually do when major (liberal) media outlets cover the latest supposedly inflammatory words from the current (conservative) pope: Ignore. And then I assume that somebody will provide me with the context or perspective lacking in the sputtering, apoplectic screed with which I was originally confronted.

It turns out this time around that that “somebody” was the Harvard School of Public Health, specifically Edward C. Green, a senior research fellow there.

But let’s go back to the original editorial. The little summary sentence, it turns out, is an elision and conflation of the first two sentences, the first of which reads, “Pope Benedict XVI has every right to express his opposition to the use of condoms on moral grounds, in accordance with the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church.” (How magnanimous. Here’s my headline in response: “New York Times Gives Pope Permission to Exercise Role as Infallible Magisterium of Roman Catholic Church.”) Then the second sentence reads, “But he deserves no credence when he distorts scientific findings about the value of condoms in slowing the spread of the AIDS virus.” Distorts? Really? Duplicity and willful deception are pretty strong accusations to lay at the feet of one of the world’s most influential moral voices, and a careful and pedigreed scholar to boot. But when somebody not only questions but assumes to be false a central piece of ideological dogma, its defendants naturally can get pretty antsy. To be fair, at almost the end of the editorial, the authors concede, “The best way to avoid transmission of the virus is to abstain from sexual intercourse or have a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected person.” But this is in the middle of an otherwise unceasing torrent defending condom usage as the best way to prevent AIDS.

And then this.

Edward C. Green—a self-professed liberal mind you—steps up to the podium and defends the pope! Here’s a chunk of what he has to say:

Yet, in truth, current empirical evidence supports him.

We liberals who work in the fields of global HIV/AIDS and family planning take terrible professional risks if we side with the pope on a divisive topic such as this. The condom has become a symbol of freedom and — along with contraception — female emancipation, so those who question condom orthodoxy are accused of being against these causes. My comments are only about the question of condoms working to stem the spread of AIDS in Africa’s generalized epidemics — nowhere else.

In 2003, Norman Hearst and Sanny Chen of the University of California conducted a condom effectiveness study for the United Nations’ AIDS program and found no evidence of condoms working as a primary HIV-prevention measure in Africa. UNAIDS quietly disowned the study. (The authors eventually managed to publish their findings in the quarterly Studies in Family Planning.) Since then, major articles in other peer-reviewed journals such as the Lancet, Science and BMJ have confirmed that condoms have not worked as a primary intervention in the population-wide epidemics of Africa. In a 2008 article in Science called “Reassessing HIV Prevention” 10 AIDS experts concluded that “consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often aggressive promotion, to produce a measurable slowing of new infections in the generalized epidemics of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Amazingly enough pope Benedict doesn’t just make stuff up as he goes along! This is something I thought the New York Times would have figured out by now.

Now I know that this is a contentious and complex issue, and I don’t hinge my arguments solely on the latest scientific study (and what this excerpt points out is that clearly many pundits on the other side of the issue don’t either, though they would like to believe they do), which is why this whole argument seldom goes anywhere, because it tends to be cast as progressive, empirical science vs. outmoded moralism. And so it goes.

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

I reproduce these here for your enjoyment:

Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why
several of us died of tuberculosis.

Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself:
"Mankind." Basically it's made of two seperate words-"mank" and "ind." What
do these words mean? It's a mystery, and that's why so is mankind.

I hope if dogs ever take over the world, and they choose a king, they don't
just go by size, because I bet there are some Chiuahuas with good ideas.

It takes a big man to cry, but a bigger man to laugh at that man.

I guess we were all guilty, in a way. We all shot him. We all skinned him. We
all got a complimentary bumper sticker that said,"I helped skin Bob."

I bet the main reason the police keep people away from a plane crash is they
don't want anybody walking in and lying down in the crash stuff, then, when
somebody comes by, act like they just woke up and go,"What was THAT?!"

The face of a child says it all, especially the mouth part of the face.

Ambition is like a frog sitting on Venus FlyTrap. The flytrap can bite and
bite, but it won't bother the frog because it only has little tiny plant
teeth. But some other stuff could happen and it could be like ambition.

I'd rather be rich than stupid.

If you were a poor Indian with no weapons, and a bunch of Conquistadors came
up to you and asked where the gold was, I don't think it would be a good idea
to say, "I swallowed it. So sue me."

If you define cowardice as running away at the the first sight of danger,
screaming and tripping and begging for mercy, then yes, Mr.Brave man, I guess
I'm a coward.

I bet one legend that keeps returning throughout history, in every culture,
is the story of Popeye.

When you go to a job interview, I think it's a good idea to ask if they ever
press charges.

To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there is no music, no choreography,
and the dancers hit each other.

What is it that makes a complete stranger dive into an icy river and save a 
solid gold baby? Maybe we'll never know.

We tend to scoff at the beliefs of the ancients. But we can't scoff at them
personally, to their faces, and this is what annoys me.

Probably the earliest flyswatters were nothing more than some sort of
striking surface attached to the end of a long stick.

I think someone should have had the decency to tell me the luncheon was free.
To make someone run out with potato salad in his hand, pretending he's
throwing up, is not what I call hospitality.

To me, clowns aren't funny. In fact they're kind of scary. I've wondered
where this started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus,
and a clown killed my dad.

As I bit into the nectarine, it had a crisp juiciness about it that was very
pleasurable--until I realized that it wasn't a nectarine at all, but

Most people don't realize that large pieces of coral, which have been painted
brown and attached to the skull by common screws can make a child look like a

If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We 
might, if they screamed all the time for no good reason.

Better not take a dog on the space shuttle, because if he sticks his head out
when you're coming home his face might burn up.

You know what would make a good story? Something about a clown who makes
people happy, but inside he's real sad. Also he has severe diarrhea.

Sometimes, when I feel like killing someone, I do a little trick to calm
myself down. I'll go over to the person's house and ring the doorbell. When
the person comes to the door, I'm gone, but you know what I've left on the
porch? A jack-o-lantern with a knife stuck in the side of it's head with a
note that says,"you". After that I usually feel a lot better, and no harm

If you ever teach yodeling class, probably the hardest thing is to keep
students from just trying to yodel right off. You see, we build to that.

If you ever fall off the Sears Tower, just go real limp, because maybe you'll
look like a dummy and people will try to catch you because, hey, free dummy.

Anytime I see something screech across a room and latch onto someone's neck,
and the guy screams and tries to get it off, I have to laugh because-
What IS that thing?

The memories of my family outings are still a source of strength to me. I
remember we'd all pile into the car--I forgot what kind it was--and drive and
drive. I'm not sure where we'd go, but I think there were some trees there.
The smell of something was strong as we played whatever sport we played. I
remember a bigger, older guy we called "Dad". We'd eat some stuff, or not,
and then I think we went home. I guess some things never leave you.

If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is "God
is crying." And if he asks why he is crying, another cute thing to tell him 
is "probably something you did."

Contrary to what most people say, the most dangerous animal in the world is
not the lion or the tiger or even the elephant. It's a shark riding on the 
elephant's back, just trampling and eating everything they see.

As we were driving, we saw a sign that said "Watch for Rocks." Marta said it
should read "Watch for Pretty Rocks." I told her she should write in her 
suggestion to the highway department, but she started saying it was a joke-
just to get out of writing a simple letter! And I thought I was lazy!

One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my
little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out
warehouse. "Oh no," I said, "Disneyland burned down." He cried, and cried,
but I think deep down, he thought it was a good pretty good joke. I started
to drive to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late.

If you saw two guys named Hambone and Flippy, which one would you think liked
dolphins the most? I'd say Flippy, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong though it's 

Laurie got offended when I'd used the word "puke". But to me, that's what her
dinner tasted like.

We used to laugh at Grandpa when he'd head off and go fishing. But we wouldn't 
be laughing when he'd come back with some whore he picked up in town.

I wish a robot would get elected president. That way, when he came to town,
we could all take a shot at him and not feel too bad.

As the evening sky faded from a salmon color to a sort of a flint gray, I 
thought back to the salmon I had caught that morining, and how gray he was,
and how I named him Flint.

If you're a young mafia gangster out on your first date, I bet it's real 
embarrassing if someone tries to kill you.

Whenever I see an old lady slip and fall on a wet sidewalk, my first instinct
is to laugh. But then I think, what if I was an ant, and she fell on me? Then
I wouldn't think it was so funny.

If you go parachuting, and your parachute won't open, and your friends are
all watching you fall, I think a funny gag would be to pretend you were 

When I was a kid, our favorite relative was Uncle Caveman. After school we'd
all go play in his cave, and every once in a while, he'd eat one of us. It
wasn't until later that we found out that Uncle Caveman was a bear.

Peter Leithart’s Irenaean Theology of Fasting

If you want to know what fasting is all about, boys and girls, read this article, posted today at First Things’ On the Square blog. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Leithart places the whole idea of feasting and fasting in the context of Christ’s recapitulation of Adamic humanity. The Adam-Christ parallel is originally Pauline, was systematized by Irenaeus in the second century, and bore much fruit throughout the entire patristic era. According to Leithart’s application of this model, Jesus Fasted where Adam feasted, and in so doing succeeded where Adam failed. Here is an exemplary quote:

Jesus is the Last Adam because He keeps the fast. He enters a world that is no longer a garden, but a howling waste, and in that wilderness Satan tempts Him to break the fast, to be an Adam: “You’re hungry; eat this now. You deserve the accolades of the crowds; you can have it now if you jump off the temple. You want all authority in heaven and on earth, but your Father won’t give that to you unless you suffer an excruciating, shameful death; you can have it all now, no cross or self-denial required. It’s yours, and you only need to do a bit of bowing. Life, glory, power, everything you want, everything you deserve—you can have it all now.”

Jesus refused, and refused, and then refused again, and in so doing broke the power of Adamic sin. Jesus kept the fast; he waited, labored, suffered, died, and then opened his hand to receive all the life, glory, honor, authority, and dominion that his Father had to give Him. He kept the fast and as a result was admitted to the fullness of the kingdom’s feast—because by that time both it and he were ready. And by resisting the devil, Jesus sets the pattern of true fasting and reveals a Lenten way of life.

Leithart sees ramifications of this “Lenten way of life” for politics, economics, and sexuality. This is great stuff. Check out the whole thing.

That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, the happy highways where I went and cannot come again.


Taken Saturday in Vancouver. Now I am in back in Starbuckia. The title of this post is a quote from A. E. Housman.