13 January 2009

January snippets

  • With only days to go until the inauguration of the new president, many are relieved at this report: Obama to order Guantanamo prison closed: adviser. This is a needed first step in restoring America's reputation around the world.

  • After some uncertainty, Roland Burris will be occupying Obama's vacated Senate seat after all. Incredibly, the US Senate has decided to allow discredited Governor Rod Blagojevich's appointee to take the seat. Illinois politics at its best goes to Washington. Where is Jimmy Stewart when we need him?

  • Tributes continue to pour in following the death last week of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Among those weighing in on his life and work are his close friends and colleagues, Michael Novak and George Weigel, Canadian priest-journalist Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, Alan Jacobs, and his current colleague, Joseph Bottum. With some justification, de Souza argues that Neuhaus was the original blogger, beginning in print what later took off with everyone else on the internet. Of course, like all of us, Neuhaus had his dark side, as former colleague Damon Linker points out: The Two Neuhauses. "Crunchy Con" Rod Dreher remembers his own interactions with Neuhaus, some of which were less than positive.

  • As I read these reports, I am at a loss to know how to describe what exactly Neuhaus was. He has been called a theologian, but that doesn't exactly ring true, as theology never seemed to be his primary concern. Social commentator may be closer to the mark, but that description is too pale. The term public intellectual is vastly overused these days, but it may be the best we can do. My own guess is that Neuhaus, like his late friend, Cardinal Avery Dulles, would have called himself above all a priest in Christ's church.

  • And one more recent death: conservative political organizer Paul Weyrich, whose appreciation for rail transit has always struck a chord with me. By the way, whoever is now in charge of the Free Congress Foundation website might wish to correct the date of the article on the right hand side of the front page. Unless, that is, their founder really is writing posthumously.

  • Speaking of Dreher, his report here recalls to mind a name familiar to readers of this blog: A populist prairie fire from the right? Some of us, including yours truly (and also Fr. Neuhaus), have crossed swords with the formidable Caleb Stegall in the past. It seems that moving to Kansas was not enough for our friendly combatant. Stegall was recently elected Jefferson County district attorney on the following platform: "Stand up! Stand up on your own two feet. Stand on your own ground, with your own family and culture to love and care for. And if anyone comes to take that away, you give them hell!" Perhaps he'll take on Barack Obama in 2012?

  • If not Stegall, Canada's own David Warren envisions another possibility. Few were surprised when TIME Magazine chose Obama as its Person of the Year last month. Warren, on the other hand, would have preferred Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, whom he still judges — even post-Katie Couric — to have "star quality." As for her evident deficiencies, Warren judges that, "thanks to the loss of her ticket in what may well prove the recent U.S. election most worth losing, Ms. Palin now has time to hone her skills, to study and supply her deficiencies, and focus on the road ahead." That's putting it charitably.

  • The Orthodox Church in America has a new leader, Metropolitan Jonah, a convert from Anglicanism who was born in Chicago. Given that the OCA is an autocephalous (i.e., self-governing) church, I've often wondered whether it would not make sense for the other overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions, with their ongoing ties to their mother countries, simply to join the OCA. The quest for Orthodox unity in North America would appear to accord with Orthodox polity, especially the ancient canon that there should be only one bishop per city. Yet no one seems to have the authority to effect this unity. The Ecumenical Patriarch, in particular, has little motive for pursuing it, because it would vastly diminish his own flock, the majority of whom are part of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which is under his jurisdiction. Bishops are hardly exempt from the influence of institutional self-interest, so the current organizational disarray is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

  • Conventional wisdom tells us that Christmas began its life out of an attempt by the church to christianize a pagan feast day that had already occupied 25 December. However, William J. Tighe plausibly argues that the causal connection may have been quite the opposite: Calculating Christmas.
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