Daniel Larison

Xena, Warrior Planet?

The discovery was announced by US scientists yesterday and the object has unofficially been named Xena, after the TV series starring Lucy Lawless. ‘We have always wanted to name something Xena,’ said Michael Brown, a member of the team that made the discovery using telescopes at the Palomar Observatory, outside San Diego, California. ~The Observer

This must be one of the more pathetic moments in the history of man. Leave it to the truly lame and geeky among scientists to name the tenth planet in the solar system after a fictional Amazon with a meaningless name. When I first read about the new planet, such as it is, I thought they might be at least as classy and basically educated in classical mythology as the astronomers who named Pluto’s “moon” Charon. Every other planet continues to bear the name of a member of the Roman pantheon, including the eighth and ninth planets that were not discovered until modern times. The moons of those planets bear the names of related mythological figures. There is a certain harmony, intelligence and minimal cultivation in the way the planets and satellites have been named, all of which has come crashing down thanks to a gang of American barbarians who probably think the Titans are an NFL franchise or who can only recall a floppy-eared cartoon dog when they hear the name Pluto.

In years to come, our children will be learning astronomy and their unfortunate teacher will have to explain that a badly-made syndicated spinoff with none-too-subtle lesbian overtones was the inspiration for naming an object of scientific inquiry. That truly awful show will live on in the annals of science to the embarrassment of many, and generations to come will point to it as one more example of the barbarians who dwelt at the dawn of the millennium. If there is a special level in Inferno for those who make a laughingstock of their own vocation, these astronomers will be there.

Correction: Thanks to an attentive reader’s comment, I see that my response was a bit rash. Xena is only the temporary name until the permanent name has been approved. That will teach me to be a bit more thorough. All the same, the ‘nickname’ may not end up being the planet’s name, but it is still every bit as stupid.

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The Media, Sabotage and Laughter

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show was recently interviewed by NPR (see also this older interview), and (perhaps like Matt Taibbi) I think the man may be a minor Pantagruelist. His remarks about mainstream media journalism imply a positive rejection of its pretense of liberal neutrality. Perhaps this bodes well for the future, as mainstream journalism, particularly print journalism, is a failing business that particularly fails to reach the kinds of people who apparently like Stewart’s show. It would not be a bad thing if “the news” were to be overtaken in the future by satirical iconoclasts free from the encumbrances of romantic sub-Habermasian notions of the public sphere. ~Japus Gassalascus, The Japery, part of The New Pantagruel

Coming across this post at The New Pantagruel was fortuitous, as I had heard the Stewart interview during my seemingly interminable road trip and found myself wanting to include something about the irreverent Daily Show on the blog. One show this past week including a spoof of the tawdry, ridiculous government switchover from one inaccurate propaganda name (Global War on Terror) to another (Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism) was a perfect example of the devastating, humourous criticism that Jon Stewart and The Daily Show are capable of producing when they are successful. Stewart is also well ahead of most others on television in seeing the futility and actual journalistic irresponsibility of most cable television talk shows, which have long been simply venues for hired hacks to recite their talking points without any effort on the part of the “journalists” involved to keep anyone honest.

Some lamented a year ago that 20% of the 18-24 age range gathered their information about current events from The Daily Show rather than from proper news sources. But in light of what passes for proper news, it is entirely possible that Daily Show fans end up being at least as well informed, which only further confirms Stewart’s point.

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Returning from Asia by way of Byzantium

Since the Byzantines were often keen to point out that it was at Byzantium that the Ten Thousand first found real refuge from the pursuit of the Persians and the hostility of locals, it seems fitting that my first post after my return from my so-called anabasis touch on something related to Byzantium.

Thomas Madden, a fine historian who works in Crusades history as well as on Byzantine-Venetian relations, has an excellent, professional review of three new Crusades books in the latest issue of First Things. As my main period of interest is a bit earlier, I have not had the opportunity to read Madden’s works myself, but I am aware that he is very highly regarded and his recent work on Enrico Dandolo is, from all accounts, an accomplished piece of scholarship. I recommend the review to anyone interested in a learned opinion of the three books by Asbridge, Phillips and Tyerman, as well as a short but informative recapitulation of the Fourth Crusade.

It was unfortunate that Prof. Madden did not have the opportunity to include Prof. Angold’s recent work on the Fourth Crusade (Longman, 2004), called simply The Fourth Crusade, especially since the book touches very directly on Madden’s point about the historiographical pattern of depicting the Fourth Crusade in the most lurid colours. Since Prof. Angold takes a noticeably different view of the Fourth Crusade from essentially all previous scholars, who have tended in their pro-Byzantine or anti-Crusader sentiments to emphasise the violence of the sack of the City, this may explain Prof. Madden’s lack of attention to it. It should be noted that his book does not minimise the political consequences of the Crusade, which were horrendous for the empire and ultimately ruinous for the Balkans in the long run, nor does he minimise the looting and desecration of Constantinople. Where Prof. Angold does depart from the standard story is in his account of the slaughter attending the sack of the City, which I believe he regards as essentially a popular and propagandistic myth. Whether or not Prof. Angold’s arguments ultimately convince, his book probably deserved at least some attention in a review dedicated to the Crusades as a topic, even if the audience for the review is not one of professional medievalists and Byzantinists. In the coming months, if there is time in my reading schedule, I will look at the books under review here, as well as Angold’s, and put up my thoughts on them.

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Roberts “Not An Ideological Person At All”

[He] “is not an ideological person at all…. In the eight years since he left the solicitor general’s office, I don’t think Roberts has filed a single amicus brief for a conservative ideological organization. And I will guarantee that given his prominence, he’s being asked all the time to do so. He just hasn’t played at all in that game.” ~Richard Lazarus, Director of Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University Law Center

This is reassuring in one sense, in that real conservatives ought to have nothing to do with any ideology, but I am doubtful that Mr. Lazarus was imagining clear distinctions between a seriously principled conservative philosophical persuasion drawn from the best of the inheritance of Western wisdom and shallow, reductionist ideology. This might suggest that Judge Roberts is not especially committed to advancing any particular causes, which will both please and annoy conservatives. This is the double-edged sword of judicial restraint in an age of usurpation: the unwillingness of the contemporary, “restrained” strict constructionist to ignore unconstitutional precedents and return ad fontes or, rather, ad fontum, the Constitution.

What this quote from 2001, before Judge Roberts’ confirmation to the appellate court in 2003, should also tell us is that all of the sound and fury from the left is simply SOP for their activists, as there is no track record of Judge Roberts being an activist for conservative causes before the Court. Leftist activists would have made these same noises no matter the nominee, as should be obvious. This lack of activism is reassuring in a second way for traditional conservatives, as it suggests that Judge Roberts does not have the immature and unbalanced temperament of an activist, possessing instead perhaps a more sober and intelligent view of things. However, for “conservative” activists Judge Roberts lack of enthusiasm for “ideology” may make him a much more disappointing pick for those interested in rolling back the errors of the Court.

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Question for Conservatives: Is the Roberts Pick Worth the Cost?

The consensus emerging online seems to be that John Roberts is the long-awaited fourth conservative justice on the Supreme Court, the prize for which the rank-and-file Republican conservatives have been labouring, arguing and compromising away all other principles to achieve. This makes me wonder whether “conservatives” will now find their long, twilight struggle to get another solidly conservative justice on the Court to have been worthwhile. Having embraced democratism as one of their core beliefs in betrayal of their entire heritage, having sold out their movement on almost every other issue, and having succumbed to every perversion of conservatism in the name of electability, will “conservative” activists really feel as if they have been sufficiently repaid by the meager gain of this Supreme Court nomination, perhaps to be followed by a second less satisfying or indeed countervailing choice?

Those who endorsed Mr. Bush at the last election primarily over the issue of judges will feel vindicated–the meaningful difference between Kerry and Bush is now clear, they will say, and they will not be entirely wrong. Obviously, Kerry would never have picked John Roberts or anyone like him, and it may be argued that Roberts will be one more roadblock to national ruin that would otherwise have been missing in the event of a Bush defeat. But has it been worth all the compromises and abandonments of principle that conservatives have endured for all these years? Was it worth supporting such a dreadful president? I doubt it very much. But, ever driven by token symbolic achievements, the dessicated conservative movement will continue on, believing that it has struck the first blow in some sort of regeneration of the country.

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Roberts Nominated

President Bush on Tuesday chose federal appeals court judge John G. Roberts Jr. to be the 109th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and Bush’s first nominee for the high court. The president selected a rock-solid conservative whose nomination could trigger a tumultuous battle over the direction of the nation’s highest court. ~MSNBC

It was good to see that the conventional wisdom about the Supreme Court nomination was wrong. Mr. Bush did not feel compelled to find a “replacement” for someone “in the mold of Sandra Day O’Connor,” but chose a rather different sort of judge, John Roberts from the U.S. Appellate Court of the D.C. Circuit. From the standpoint of his nominee’s being confirmed by the Senate, the President has made one of the best choices he could have made. I was pleased to see that my guess was right, though I am less confident that Roberts is as “rock-solid” in his conservative judicial philosophy as many seem to believe. This is not because of John Roberts, about whom I admittedly know little, but because of Mr. Bush’s perverse understanding of the Constitution and conservatism. A president who imagines it is lawful for him to declare any individual an enemy combatant, including U.S. citizens, and strip him of all legal protections, or who imagines that he can start wars at his discretion after a mere congressional resolution is not a fit judge of what “strict construction” or judicial restraint are. I fear anyone he regards as being a strict constructionist might well be more activist and revolutionary than anyone now imagines.

From what I do know, Judge Roberts seems to be a fairly conventional Republican lawyer with extensive party contacts and a long career in Washington. That in itself will reassure the mandarins in the Capitol that he is no threat to their order, as he has been part of it for a very long time. In his brief remarks tonight, he made all the appropriate noises of defending the “institutions of our democracy,” which was presumably meant to be reassuring to all who were listening. Personally, I am immediately skeptical of anyone’s conservative credentials when he is pleased to descrive America as a democracy (it may or may not be, depending on how we define it, but there is scarcely a kind of democracy beyond the polis level that a conservative should be pleased to defend).

He has some record of taking up for corporate interests, but in environmental regulatory cases where he is on much firmer constitutional ground, whatever the unfortunate public policy that might result. However, his siding with corporations in the past hardly will endear him to traditional conservatives lamenting the disaster of the Kelo eminent domain decision–in this sense he will truly not be anything like Justice O’Connor, and it will be a pity. He has shown intimations of being hostile to the Roe decision, but then so was O’Connor before she went native at the Court. Very recently, he joined with his colleagues on the appellate court in a 3-0 decision affirming the legality of military tribunals for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo, which will probably endear him to the editors of the Wall Street Journal and our friends at RedState.org, but which suggest he will probably be more accommodating on expansive federal antiterror powers than some other justices. It is, as of yet, too soon to tell much, but only a nation that does not truly rule itself could ever be so concerned about the appointment of one of judges who are its real rulers.

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Prediction: John Roberts as New Justice

This will very probably be wrong, as we will find out in a few hours, but I have had a sneaking suspicion that the selection for the Court will be John Roberts, who has received relatively little buzz in the media, though his name and profile have been mentioned in some prominent news accounts, and he fits none of the so very precious preoccupations of pundits or news anchors. It may be that this president, famous for his rather pathetic pandering to interest and minority groups with “symbolic” appointments, will throw out the conventional wisdom that he should replace Justice O’Connor with a woman or some other “historic” nominee and choose someone who suits his goals for the Court. Of course, all the latest rumourmongering has focused on Judge Clement, and these rumours may well be based in more reliable information, but don’t be surprised if the “swing vote” goes to the rather non-descript white guy from Buffalo.

This guess, which is all it is, seems to be supported by at least some of the earlier speculation at the start of the month. He has enough connections to the Bush dynasty and Bush personally to make him a known asset to the President, while his lack of a paper trail makes him less of a lightning rod for opposition activists’ attacks. The fear of a new Souter may be haunting “conservative” activists, and Judge Roberts may well become a new Souter (almost everyone goes native at the Court to some extent), but I doubt that will weigh heavily on Bush’s mind.

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Sobornost Is Unity

Thus the Orthodox hesitate at a phrase like the pope’s “multiform fullness.” Catholic diversity makes it easy for Catholics to embrace us: When they look at us, they see the early church. We fit right in. But when the Orthodox look at Catholics, we see an extra thousand years of theological development, plus rebellion in the pews. What kind of unity do Catholics have, at present, that we could enter?

There are plenty of good reasons for the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches to talk. Discussion clears away misunderstanding, and common causes can benefit from the energies of both churches. But we can’t be fully united until we agree on what “unity” means. ~Frederica Matthewes-Green, OpinionJournal.com

I appreciate Mrs. Matthewes-Green’s comments on this question, and she conveys the very practical difference between the two conceptions of church unity that are often at work in disagreements between Orthodox and Catholics. For my part, I would have to say that I have no idea what might be meant by “multiform fullness,” which would sound to a great many Orthodox people as a vague endorsement of just about any form of Christianity. Proper ecclesial unity does not obliterate, but fulfills, particularities, but at the same time it reconciles them in Christ just as Christ reconciles all oppositions in Himself. Nonetheless, that unity presupposes adherence to a common faith, a common hierarchy and a common Eucharist. Most Orthodox people cannot imagine having the latter two without the first–this is the lack of what we would regard as substantive unity among Catholics that makes reunion especially daunting.

However, it would be unfair to good Catholic ecclesiology to reduce the Catholic conception of church unity entirely to an institutional model, as if Catholics were Catholics only on the basis of lines of authority and common membership distinct from communion based in homonoia or common-mindedness. Whether or not homonoia actually obtains among Catholics might be another question, but that better Catholic theologians see it as necessary for true ecclesiological unity is hard to deny. The institutional model is precisely the sort of model of the Catholic church that Pope Benedict XVI, according to what little I know of his predilections and views, apparently wishes to deemphasise. This is most welcome, since it is this institutional aspect that has for many centuries seemed one of the glaring consequences of the legalism and insistence on authority in the Roman church that seemed so alien to the spirit of Orthodoxy when Alexei Khomyakov was writing his delightful, short treatise The Church Is One. We would also miss something if we thought of unity-as-membership and unity-as-homonoia as genuinely different or opposed conceptions, since communion (sobornost in Russian or koinonia in Greek) implies and needs both and one cannot be a member of Christ without confessing the truth that He has revealed and which the Holy Spirit has confirmed in the teachings of the Church.

Hat tip to Orthodoxy Today.

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Britons See Link Between Iraq, London Attacks

Two-thirds of Britons believe there is a link between Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq and the London bombings despite government claims to the contrary, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today.

The poll makes it clear that voters believe further attacks in Britain by suicide bombers are also inevitable, with 75% of those responding saying there will be more attacks.

The research suggests the government is losing the battle to persuade people that terrorist attacks on the UK have not been made more likely by the invasion of Iraq.

According to the poll, 33% of Britons think the prime minister bears “a lot” of responsibility for the London bombings and a further 31% “a little”.

Only 28% of voters agree with the government that Iraq and the London bombings are not connected. ~The Guardian

These results can only be a surprise and a scandal to that small group of core Iraq war supporters, mainly found in the political and chattering classes, who seem to feel paranoically vulnerable to even the slightest setback or criticism. Common sense dictated that the bombings were connected in some way to ongoing military campaigns in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan. It is all more predictable that the public would view the attacks in this light when it has been the cardinal talking point from Washington and London that Iraq always had something to do with antiterrorism, even though it manifestly did not. One need hardly be an opponent of one or both wars to see the connection, since it is the most straightforward explanation and the one most consistent with al-Qaeda’s motivations. That means that the Iraq war will have costs beyond the loss of soldiers and the waste of resources. There will also be casualties at home, which in a justified and legitimate modern war might be expected but also something simply to be borne and endured. In a profoundly illegitimate and illegal war, an attack hitting the homefront can only explode the last surviving, but most important, illusory reason given for invading Iraq in the first place: to make America safer. Once that illusion has been dispelled, the Iraq war will stand forth in all its putrid injustice, and perhaps then Americans will see the callousness that allowed them to acquiesce in making someone else’s country their killing fields. This is the truth that the jingoes desperately wish to keep concealed–hence the usual bluster was at full boil in the wake of the London bombings. Only the moral cowards who started and cheered on the Iraq war would feel the need to disassociate their disastrous cause from the predictable and natural consequences of retaliation.

It is as if the jingoes would like us to believe their “fly strip” theory (i.e., fighting terrorists in Iraq rather than fighting them elsewhere), but then forget everything else the administration and its supporters have said, as if everything else we have been told about international terrorism ceases to matter when it comes to the colossal, tragic waste that is the war in Iraq. We were assured for many months, and not incorrectly, that the present antiterrorist campaign against al-Qaeda would not be like any previous war, that there is no “front line” and that it would not follow the pattern of a conventional war. Then, when the jingoes are backed into a corner because of the predictable retaliation that must come from invading another country, they quickly bury all those claims. They fall back upon the enemy’s unreasoning hatred of freedom, or some such nonsense, and expect the public to accept that sort of spin.

If fighting al-Qaeda is unlike any previous conflict, then al-Qaeda is not bound by standard rules of engagement or the conventional tactical need for concentration of forces to overwhelm their enemies by superior mass and firepower. As such, it can launch attacks in a dozen different locations, if it so chooses, to achieve multiple objectives. If the group, or the ideological movement that it represents, has some general overarching Islamist and anti-Western principles guiding it and giving it coherence, it is conceivable that there is a plethora of various local objectives that might be considered as consistent with the larger goal of ousting Western interventionists, deposing their “puppets” and establishing an Islamic state.

The supposed attempt, however fictional and dishonest, to concentrate terrorists in Iraq would inevitably fail even if it were something other than another lame ex post facto justification for unjustly attacking another country, because there is nothing about Iraq that makes it a singularly compelling target for international terrorists to the exclusion of all others. It is Washington and London that need Iraq to be the “central front” or “front line” in a broader antiterrorist campaign, but for al-Qaeda this would be only need to be the most active of many alternative fronts. If the group ever did possess the sort of organisation and reach attributed to it by the administration, the only things that have prevented them from bringing the consequences of the Iraq war to America are lack of opportunities or a desire to hit other targets first.
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Anti-European Libel Returns

Too many Europeans are ambivalent, like Livingstone. Terrorists, they figure, are evil; but if their preferred victims are Jews and Americans, how bad can they really be? As Europe prepares its own destruction, it resembles Germany in the early 1930s: Jew-hatred everywhere, on a low boil. ~David Gelernter

No one needs to defend Ken Livingstone or the company he keeps to realise that Prof. Gelernter has unfortunately joined in the deluded chorus of Europe-haters who share a far more visceral, irrational and ugly prejudice than most so-called anti-Americans. It is understandable that Prof. Gelernter, himself the target of the Unabomber, takes issue with those who are willing to turn a blind eye to the incitement of Islamic terrorism, and he is actually right about Ken Livingstone. It makes far less sense that he would then generalise from Ken Livingstone’s chumminess with Islamic clerics to say “Jew-hatred is Europe’s eternal flame.” Someone with a more informed and less biased view of European history might say more intelligently that the truths of Athens and the Truth Who rose again in Jerusalem are Europe’s eternal flames, with rather a lot of emphasis on the latter.

Of course, most of his article supposedly about the Mayor of London is really yet another tasteless, tired screed about the perpetual Jew-hatred of all Europeans everywhere at all times, as if the preoccupations of some Labour elites in Britain were representative of anything in the rest of Britain or the entire Continent. Someone who knows nothing about modern Europe and the vast bulk of European history, except for what he has picked up from the anti-Western agitprop that passes for the teaching of history in most schools today, would claim such a thing. Someone who knows it to be a gross and massively false over-generalisation, but who wishes to create a caricature of all Europeans for mean political ends, would also make such a claim.

This is the typical sort of filth one would expect from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, The Weekly Standard‘s hacks or any of a number of untalented scribblers who pass for the pool of “conservative intellectuals” today. It is not what I would have expected from Prof. Gelernter, whose book Drawing Life has been recommended to me as a truly exceptional and intelligent work.

Surely what drives the anti-European mad is their vague awareness of the fact that the noxious, explosive and empowered political anti-Semitism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is quite distinct from the old, generally mild, religious “Judaeophobia” as Prof. Lukacs calls it, and that Europe became more virulently anti-Semitic to the extent that it became modern, secular and democratic. Political anti-Semitism flourished precisely in those societies to the degree that they were introduced to modernist, secularist and revolutionary principles and the degree to which they departed from their traditional Christianity. What must drive him even more mad is the awareness that there are practically no anti-Semites left in Europe, and that the penal codes against anti-Semitic expressions in most “free” western European countries are extremely strict, which makes the perpetual anti-Semitism of all Europeans a hard proposition to prove (not that this stops the assertion of it at every turn).
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