Archive for August 29, 2010

Catholics on Park51

August 29, 2010 Leave a comment

[Chang W. Lee, The New York Times]

In the days since I wrote about the Park51 Community Center (also called Cordoba House, the Burlington Coat Factory Cultural Center, or, erroneously, The Ground Zero Mosque), a few interesting pieces have appeared in Catholic outlets or by prominent Catholics. I have nothing to add to these. I simply want to bring them to your attention.

First, there is the commentary, now online, that will appear as the editorial in the September 10 issue of Commonweal. An excerpt:

The controversy over Park51 was manufactured by opportunists on the Right stoking outrage against what they describe as a “victory mosque” to be built “at Ground Zero” by radical Muslims intent on commemorating their “triumph.” . . . It is an overt appeal to religious bigotry, one that both victimizes Muslims at home and makes it more difficult for ambassadors from the United States to the Muslim world, including Imam Rauf, to win cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

. . .

Muslims were among those who died in the September 11 attacks. They were among the emergency personnel who responded to the disaster and the workers who sorted through the wreckage at Ground Zero. Muslim Americans, like all other Americans, responded to 9/11 in anger and fear, prayed for peace, grieved the loss of loved ones, and enlisted in the armed forces to fight terrorism. Any version of what happened that day that excludes their presence among the victims is inaccurate. Any argument that places all American Muslims outside the definition of “American” or fails to distinguish between ordinary Muslims and terrorists must be rejected.

Asking Imam Rauf and his community to retreat in the face of a deficient understanding of Islam is unreasonable and deeply harmful to attempts to combat Islamist terrorism at home and abroad. It is also a betrayal of the church’s call to rise above prejudice in relations with other faiths. American Catholics should be standing against the opposition to Park51 and all other manifestations of anti-Muslim prejudice. The bishops should be leading the way.

As a complement to this editorial, Paul Moses writes, also at Commonweal, about similarities between anti-Catholic attacks in New York in the nineteenth century and anti-Moslem attacks now. Moses takes us back to 1880 and provides several examples. It’s hard to imagine now that St. Patrick’s Cathedral could have been an object of controversy, but it was:

At the Church of the Disciples of Christ on 28th Street near Broadway, the Rev. Joseph Bradford Cleaver spoke under the title “Crucifix Smiting the Cross; or shall the Papacy govern New York City?” He was among those who saw the opening of the magnificent new St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan the previous year as a dangerous sign of Catholic power and warned that Cardinal John McCloskey, who was “enthroned” there, would rule America as the pope’s viceroy and bring on a new Inquisition if Grace were elected mayor.

Lastly, at the website of the New York Review of Books, R. Scott Appleby and John T. McGreevy (the John M. Regan, Jr. Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame and the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame) have a post with a similar theme. They open with the observation that “As historians of American Catholicism, and Catholics, we are concerned to see the revival of a strain of nativism in the current controversy over the establishment of an Islamic center some blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.” After reviewing some Catholic history, they turn to the current controversy, concluding:

Is it imprudent for Rauf and his supporters to locate the proposed Islamic center so close to the site of terrible violence against Americans committed in the name of Islam? In fact the fault lies less with Rauf than with a debased effort to whip up partisan fervor around the issue. Must Muslims unequivocally reject all forms of terrorism—especially those Muslims who wish to promote full Muslim participation in American society? Of course. But if the Catholic experience in the United States holds any lesson it is that becoming American also means asserting one’s constitutional rights, fully and forcefully, even if that assertion is occasionally taken to be insulting. The genius of the American experiment in religious liberty is precisely this long-term confidence that equal rights for all religious groups builds the loyalty every democratic society needs. Certainly American Catholics learned that lesson long ago.

All three pieces are worth reading in full.

Categories: History, Politics, Religion

Travels in Siberia

August 29, 2010 Leave a comment

I used to love the work of the New Yorker writer Ian Frazier, especially his 1989 book Great Plains (some of which I had read earlier as shorter pieces in the New Yorker) and his 1994 autobiographical volume Family. (I also have his next book, On the Rez, from 2000, and enjoyed what I read of it, but never finished it.)

Today I read a short article of his in the current New Yorker about a visit in 2005 to the site of a former gulag in northern Siberia. It’s superb. Read it if you can (but you won’t be able to read it online without access to the New Yorker’s archive). An excerpt:

Prisoners who suffered the terrible fate of being sentenced to work in the gold-mining camps of the lower Kolyma, in the far north, where the river empties into the Arctic Ocean, went by train to Vladivostok, and there or in the neighboring port of Nakhodka boarded slave ships that could carry thousands of prisoners for the long voyage northward along Siberia’s Pacific coast, through the Bering Strait, and westward along the Arctic coast to the Kolyma River delta. These ships sailed with their decks battened down, few lights showing, and the prisoners kept below, in conditions that survivors described as something out of Dante.

Frazier, by the way, is yet another of my many talented college classmates whom I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing at the time but would come to admire later. His book Travels in Siberia is due out on October 12. I’ll be looking for it.

Categories: Books

Felix Hernandez

August 29, 2010 Leave a comment


It’s been a bleak year for the Mariners. When a team does poorly, it is natural to shift one’s attention to individual performances, but even there, there’s not much to get excited about. I’ve been tracking Ichiro’s march toward another season of 200 hits, a march that has been alarmingly slow.* Perhaps it’s time to shift attention to Felix Hernandez’s superb but little-noted pitching performance this year.

I noted a few days ago in my obituary of my brother-in-law Gary that two Fridays ago — the last time he was awake and alert in my presence — the Mariner-Yankee game was on in the background. The volume was off, but we could still see that Felix was dominating the Yankees. He pitched 8 shutout innings with 11 strikeouts, raising his won-loss record to 9-10 and lowering his ERA to 2.51. In his next outing, last Wednesday in Boston, he gave up one run in 7 and a third innings against the Red Sox, with 9 strikeouts, raising his won-loss record to 10-10 and lowering his ERA to 2.47. He leads the league in innings pitched, is second in strikeouts, third in ERA.

There is that 10-10 record, which doesn’t look so hot, but remember, he’s pitching for the worst-hitting team in baseball. He can’t control what his team does at bat. With any reasonable support, he would have a record more like that of the Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia, who last night won his major-league leading 18th game.

Normally, what happens here in Seattle, this provincial baseball outpost, stays in Seattle. But what do you know? People far away are paying attention. At least the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner is. In the weekly Sunday roundup of baseball news around the league, he leads with a discussion of Felix’s plight.

Voters for the Cy Young Award showed last season that they place less emphasis than ever on victories. The National League winner, Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants, had 15, the lowest full-season total for a starter who won the award. Kansas City’s Zack Greinke won in the American League with 16 wins.

Hamels is not a real candidate for the N.L. award (his teammate Roy Halladay will make a strong case), but Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, who has had similar bad luck, should receive consideration in the A.L. The problem is that pesky won-lost record.

Lincecum and Greinke won more than two-thirds of their decisions last season. That is impossible for Hernandez, who is 10-10 after beating Boston on Wednesday. Hernandez finished that start as the league leader in innings (204 1/3) and strikeouts (192), with a 2.47 E.R.A.

Hernandez gives a quality start (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs) almost every time out — 25 of 28. He gives what we could call a high-quality start (seven innings, no more than three earned runs) nearly as often — 20 of 28. Yet he has lost five of those games, and had no decision in another six.

Pitching for the worst offensive team in the majors, Hernandez has had to be nearly perfect to win; his E.R.A. in victories is 0.87. In his 18 other starts, he is 0-10 with a perfectly respectable 3.55 E.R.A.

Just for fun, let’s apply the Mussina principle and give Hernandez victories in half of those 18 starts, which is reasonable for an E.R.A. that low. Nine more victories would give Hernandez 19 with more than a month to go. The A.L. Cy Young race would be all but over.

Something to root for! Go Felix! And go Ichiro!

*The choice of 200 is of course an accident of our use of base 10, but nonetheless, a 200-hit season has become a sign of excellence, and only the greatest of hitters have 200-hit seasons with any frequency. Pete Rose had 10, the record. Those 10 occurred over fifteen seasons, from 1965 to 1979. Ty Cobb had 9, between 1907 and 1924. Ichiro is in his tenth season, and in his first nine he had over 200 hits every time. Thus, if he reaches 200 this year, he will tie Pete Rose for the most 200-hit seasons, and do so in his first ten seasons. An astonishing record. Going into today, he was second in the majors in hits for the season, with 165 (behind Josh Hamilton’s 175). Alas, he went 0 for 4 today against the Twins, so he is still at 165, through 130 games. At that rate, he will reach 205.6 hits at the end of the season (162 games).

Categories: Baseball