Archive for July 13, 2009

Caritas in Veritate

July 13, 2009 Leave a comment
Signing the encyclical at the Vatican

Signing the encyclical at the Vatican

Last Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI came out with his third encyclical since assuming the papacy in 2005. The first was on Christian love; the second on Christian hope. The latest is on integral human development in charity and truth.

I don’t generally make it a habit to read papal writings, but I have read a little bit of Pope Benedict’s, and I have found them to be intelligent and well reasoned. Of course, I start from different hypotheses, and I am likely to reach different conclusions, but I still have an appreciation for Benedict. You may recall that his lecture at the University of Regensburg in September 2006 led to a controversy about his mis-characterizing Islam. But you probably haven’t read the lecture itself. You might find it of interest. Have a look.

On many issues, the Pope is what we would call conservative. But to identify his views with those of conservatives as the term is generally understood in the US would be to simplify his thinking vastly. His latest encyclical makes this evident. Indeed, as E.J. Dionne (yet another of my college classmates) pointed out in his Washington Post column last Wednesday, “While American conservatives, including most Catholics in their ranks, see capitalism in an almost entirely positive light, Benedict — following a long tradition of church teaching — is more skeptical of a system rooted in materialist values. In that sense, he is to the left of his American flock.”

Ross Douthat makes a similar point in his NYT column today: “The pope is not a Democrat or a Republican, and his vision doesn’t fit the normal categories of American politics. … It represents a kind of left-right fusionism with little traction in American politics.”

I have read only part of the encyclical so far, but I plan to keep reading. To give you a taste, I quote below the very long paragraph that forms Section 21 and the second of the two paragraphs that form Section 25.
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Categories: Economy, Politics, Religion, Society

Robert McNamara

July 13, 2009 Leave a comment


Robert McNamara died a week ago today. He left the Department of Defense on my 16th birthday, having stopped believing in the US mission in Vietnam long before that, but never speaking out publicly against it. His failure to alter the course he was largely responsible for setting was high in his list of sins.

Perhaps because of my age, I have focused more over the years on Kissinger’s Vietnam sins than McNamara’s, though of course without McNamara (and Johnson and Bundy), there would be no Kissinger. Nonetheless, Kissinger was the architect of war strategy when I went off to college in 1969 and when I registered for the draft in 1970, so he’s the one whose sins I have carried with me for decades.

On a side note, I didn’t have a birthday in 1970. This led me to imagine that maybe I wouldn’t turn 18, thereby being free from registering. But I decided the government wouldn’t see it that way. I also had a related hope, a year and a half later, when the draft lottery for my birth year was held in August 1971, that they might leave out February 29. They didn’t. (On the other hand, the date drew number 305, so I had nothing to complain about.)

As for McNamara, Errol Morris had a blog post about him in the NYT last Tuesday. Morris, of course, made the 2004 documentary Fog of War, drawn from Morris’s interviews of McNamara. Here’s an excerpt from his post:
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Categories: Biography, History, Politics

Al Knows US

July 13, 2009 Leave a comment

This week’s New Yorker has an article by staff writer John Colapinto on the newest US senator (and my college classmate), Al Franken. I haven’t read the article yet. It just appeared online today, and I’d rather wait to get the print version. But I’ve looked at an accompanying blog post by Colapinto in which he compiles video clips of Franken and of the senior senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar.

The first clip, which I’ve provided above, is of an appearance by Franken and his comedy partner Tom Davis on Letterman in 1987. Colapinto notes that “Anyone who doubts Franken’s patriotism—and I suspect some people at Fox News do—should go to the 6:36 mark, where you can see Franken draw a map of the United States, freehand, in less than two minutes.” I’m not entirely sure what this has to do with patriotism, but I must say, I’m impressed. Do watch, starting at that 6:36 mark.

I know the layout of the 48 contiguous states as well as the next guy. Point to any one of them and I’ll tell you instantly what it is. But Franken does something more challenging. He draws them all from scratch. Even the blocky states of the west can be a little tricky. Take the 42nd parallel for instance. It’s the border between Oregon and California. But Oregon is wide (west to east) and California is narrow. What’s next? Nevada of course, on the south side. But just how far east does it run? Where does Idaho come in on the north. And Utah to the east of Nevada on the south. And how does Wyoming fit into Utah to the east of Idaho? When I see it on a map, it all makes sense, but I would have some trouble reproducing it freehand.

Not Al. Have a look.

Categories: Geography, Politics

iPhone phaser

July 13, 2009 Leave a comment


It’s lame. Real lame. In writing about the movie, I stumbled on it and decided to download it. It doesn’t do much. I can aim my iPhone at people, push STUN or KILL, and have the iPhone make phaser firing sounds. There’s a two-person game. I need to wait for Gail to get home so she can download it and we can try it out, but my expectations are low.

Categories: Computing, Film

Star Trek

July 13, 2009 Leave a comment


We saw Star Trek on Saturday. We don’t go to movies very often. This was the first one in months. And we don’t always agree on what we want to see. But we agreed on this, and we enjoyed it.

I enjoyed seeing our favorite characters introduced, one by one, in their youths. The back stories were well done, and it was good fun seeing the first appearance of some distinctive saying or behavior of each character. I would happily see them all again, boldly going where no one has gone before, and the sooner the better.

On the other hand, the time travel aspect of the story was completely incomprehensible. Time travel necessarily introduces paradoxes, but I don’t know when I’ve seen them handled so poorly, or so carelessly, or with so little concern for making any attempt at logical coherence. The pity is that nothing in the story required a time travel component, in contrast for example to the Terminator movies, whose plots depend entirely on time travel. As far as I can tell, the only possible reason to introduce time travel is to provide a means to have Leonard Nimoy appear as Old Spock. Better to do without his character, or to give him a cameo as another character.

Well, no one asked me. Maybe next time we can dispense with such silliness. It marred an otherwise excellent movie.

Categories: Film