Monday, December 31, 2007

Book Notes: Greeley on New Wine, Old Wineskins

Exploring the “Post hoc, ergo, Propter hoc” Accusation Against Vatican II

I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be able to continue to blog regularly. Career and family demands upon my time are steadily increasing. One thing I might try to do a little differently this year is to post up some book and lecture notes I’ve had the good fortune to take in the past.

A couple of years ago I read an interesting book by Fr. Andrew Greeley called The Catholic Revolution: New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council, exploring what has happened to the Church in the aftermath of Vatican II.

From Amazon... In short, he says, the new wine burst the old wineskins. He attributes this to the Church's failure to adjust its rhetoric and style to educated contemporary Catholics who no longer blindly obey the directives of Church authorities. Thus, he writes, Church leadership is now in conflict with lower clergy and laity, who have redefined Catholicism on their own terms, holding onto core doctrines and traditions even as they disagree with the rules in such areas as sexual behavior. Greeley does not necessarily endorse these unofficial reforms, but he does applaud the laity for their faith and calls on Church leaders to recognize and respect them. He has especially harsh words for authoritarian liturgists who have imposed their vision of worship on congregations starving for a real connection between faith and daily life. Catholics who want to know what happened after Vatican II will find this compelling reading.
It’s a common refrain on traditionalist blogs to blame the ills of the Church on Vatican II, or if not on the Council itself, on the nefarious Spirit of Vatican II as envisioned and implemented by liberals. The basic argument runs along the lines of “Post hoc, ergo, Propter hoc”. All of these horrible things happening in the Church happened after the Council, therefore, the Council must have been the cause of them…

Most traditionalists and conservatives don’t care for Andrew Greeley much. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus reportedly accused him once of writing “bodice ripper” romance novels. I don’t know about that, I’ve never read any of his novels. But whatever else people might think of him, he’s a trained sociologist and a pretty good one. Traditionalists who take in his book might be surprised to find that there are more than a couple of points they might agree with him on. Virtually everyone agrees that there was a “silly season” in the late 1960s and early 1970s when things got out of hand, and a lot of bad decisions were made.

I’ve been on record here several times maintaining that Vatican II was a revolution in the sense that the assembled bishops finally stood up like men and acted like real bishops, and were no longer going to cower before extreme anti-modernist functionaries in the Roman Curia who equated the Church with themselves. The popes were on the bishops' side… at least for a while. Forgive me if what I’m about to post here is repetitive. Much of what I’ve written below is a rehash of what I’ve posted in other topics and comboxes elsewhere…

If you look at the history of Vatican II, it essentially reads as a huge struggle between the vast majority of bishops from around the world, and a small minority of bishops, represented mainly by the Roman Curia, and the other Vatican bureaucrats who represented the administrative layer between the Pope and the bishops. The Curia figured that they were responsible for running the day-to-day workings of the Church, and intended to keep it that way, without meddling from the bishops. The bishops, on the other hand, resented seeing curial administrators attempting to usurp the bishops’ role as legislators.

For the most part, the Curia was opposed to the Council from the start, tried to maintain the status quo with their original schema (before the bishops rejected those and participated in drafting new schema), and dragged their feet the rest of the way, using delaying tactics and other high-handed methods such as delaying votes, or demanding after the votes were taken that the documents pass though their own Theological Commission for revision. Pope John and Pope Paul had to tell the Curia on several occasions to back off, get on board, and to be faithful to their wishes. Pope Paul first told the Curia himself on 09/21/63 that the Curia needed to be updated, and that several reforms were necessary. Cardinal Joseph Frings of Germany (with the help of his young theologian Joseph Ratzinger) delivered a famously scathing speech on 11/8/63 towards the members of the Curia, ripping into the “scandalous” methods of the Holy office (what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was called at the time). In January of 1965, Paul reminded the Curia that they were under heavy criticism from several quarters, including him, and that they were expected to be docile when their reform was eventually announced.

Considering the fact that the theologians and bishops who took part in the Vatican II debates, and later on had sharp differences between themselves over what the proper “Spirit of the Council” was, carrying their debates about "aggiornamento” vs. “ressourcement” into their respective journals Concilium and Communio (although the Communio side has pretty effectively taken out the Concilium side in one way or another over the last couple of decades), I think we all need to be modest in making sweeping claims about what the real Spirit was and what it was not. People who were still in the Roman Curia in the following years, however, such as Cardinal Alfredo Ottavaviani (the head of the Holy Office), were outright opponents of the Council, and obstructionists every inch of the way, and I’d say that at least half of the Catholic blogs I see out there today have veered in the direction of his way of thinking more than they have with either the Concilium or the Communio camps.

One thing I think can be said fairly definitively is that Pope John reigned in his curial cardinals and Roman professors at the start of the Council and gave the bishops and theologians an atmosphere of openness and trust in which to operate. The tenor of the Council was undeniably collegial and open.

Vatican I defined the power of the papacy, but it did not explicitly define the Church. Vatican I was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War before that could happen. There was a corrective needed for the papal absolutism that was seen in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. There was a need for more collegiality. The sails needed trimming a bit. At Vatican II, the Church was defined as “The People of God”, not as a pyramid structure as was assumed by many (with the Pope and bishops at the top, priests and nuns in the middle, and laity at the bottom). The gifts of the Holy Spirit were understood as being distributed throughout the Church, to the laity as well as the clergy, and not handed down from above, as in the pyramid structure... It is not the function of the bishops to lord it over their flocks but to discern spirits within the community and to steward those gifts to the benefit of the local church, and subsequently to the universal Church. Bishop's Synods were to be held regularly, the laity was called on to advise the bishops, there was supposed to be a reform of the way the Curia operated, and there was to be more respect for diversity and for the local churches. Instead, what we’ve seen in recent decades is more and more centralization in Rome, national episcopal conferences marginalized, bishops acting like branch managers, with the bishops at the synods virtually just rubber-stamping what gets fed to them in Rome (this might be changing recently), and the worst relationship between the theologians and the hierarchy that we’ve probably ever seen in living memory. Regarding the synods, many bishops over the last couple of decades have felt very disappointed, claiming that they are called merely to rubber-stamp decisions that have already been made in Rome, that their meetings are subject to curial intervention, and that they are not being seriously consulted. The agendas have been set by the popes, the deliberations are rarely public, and the popes have issued the final documents after the bishops have gone home. National episcopal conferences undeniably have a much lower profile than they did 20 or 30 years ago, as more and more decision-making has been centralized and has been taking place in Rome.

Where I think Paul VI himself specifically ran into trouble is where he took two topics off of the table for discussion in the Council, and reserved them to himself alone. One was priestly celibacy, and the other was birth control. In his refusal to follow the advice of his priests and nuns on the former, and the refusal to listen to the advice of his handpicked commission of laity and bishops on the latter, the aftermath is where we clearly see the effects of the post-conciliar crisis, whether or not we believe those decisions were right or wrong.

Anway, here is a distillation of notes that I took from Greeley’s book. I take responsibility for any errors I’ve made transcribing his thoughts, but I don’t necessarily take responsibility for his thoughts…

Bishops, in euphoria from being freed from the Roman Curia, introduced modest changes that were too much for the rigid 19th century structures to absorb.

Mandated changes persuaded the lower clergy and the laity that “unchangeable” Catholicism could change. They created their own reform, and swept away rules. The laity no longer accept the Church’s right to control their sexual lives. They have become Catholics on their own terms. The higher orders of the Church have not come to terms with the fact that in certain matters, they have lost credibility with the lower clergy and laity.

On the other hand, a small activist elite (principally liturgists?) attempted its own revolution. The tried to sweep out all they didn’t like about traditional Catholic practices and devotions without consulting the laity – resulting in “Beige Catholicism”.

The long reign of John Paul II was an attempt not to repeal the Council, but to repeal the Revolution.

Catholics have withdrawn sexuality from the area in which they feel they have to listen to the Church.

The leadership lost control of the post-conciliar moment because of what seemed to the laity to be an obsession with sex.

The “Revolution” lasted most generously from 1965 to 1974, but was more accurately within the period from 1966 to 1970.

The Council Fathers poured new wine into old winekins and they burst. Then they denied that it was new wine, or that the skins had burst. Finally, they blamed everyone else for what happened and made no attempt to fashion new wineskins. Many tried to repair the old ones.

Church leaders were frightened by the chaos and the student unrest, and aborted the reform. They didn’t proceed with the reform of the Papacy and the Curia called for by the Council Fathers.

Historical Background…

In the period prior to the Council, the Church had taken a decidedly confrontational stance to the modern world. As a reaction to the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, and Italian Nationalism, Catholicism had delivered an empahatic “NO” to liberalism, modernity, and the enlightenment.

This was a sort of departure from the normal course of history. Previously, the Church had taken in and absorbed the positive elements to be found in Platonism, Germanic folk religion (under Gregory the Great), Irish monasticism, Aristotle, Renasissance humanism, and Baroque art. It couldn’t, however, find any positive aspects of modernity to absorb.

Clericalism, of course, generates anti-clericalism.

Pre-World War I, the French 3rd Republic was anti-clerical.

Post-World War I, the Church was faced with the Communist threat.

Post-World War II, we start to see some movement against the fierce anti-modernist stance. Under Pius XII, there were somewhat progressive encyclicals issued on biblical scholarship and liturgical reforms.

Most early 20th century Catholics did not know that what they presumed had always been the style of the Church had evolved in a century-long struggle with the French Revolution.

A Church of Rules…

Catholicism had two faces:

- One of sacrament and celebration and community.
- One of rules and enforcement

There was little nuance among them. All the rules hung together, not logically or theologically, but psychologically in the minds of those who were forced to keep them, so that if one changed, the whole ball of wax would disintegrate.

The laity engaged in prescribed rituals because they had to. They had no experience in making up thir own rituals. Their identity was tied to obligatory fish on Friday (after the Council, their bishops told them that instead of obligatory fish on Friday, they should do other forms of penance… “What did that mean??”)

The rules were the Church… Sleeping together before marriage, using birth control, getting divorced, not going to Mass on Sunday… The glue that held it together was sacramentality and community.

What happened between the end of the Council and 1974?

Youth culture and a lack of respect for authority? Even older people had a change in attitudes about sex, birth control, and divorce.

Alarmed Reactions…

Certain groups of traditionalists wanted to undo the Council outright.

Modifed traditionalist version – Claimed that the Holy Spirit abandoned the Church in a Council.

Other modifed traditionalist version – John XXIII didn’t know what he was doing. Paul VI was a vacillator. Restore tradition, emphasize continuity with the past, and gradually restore the old discipline.

Post hoc, ergo, propter hoc?

The theory of “Post hoc, ergo, propter hoc”. “Negative changes occurred after the Council, therefore, the Council caused them.” (The following charge is made by Greeley – Jean Daniélou, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger, and Jacques Maritain all turned their backs on the Council they’d helped to make).

Greeley notes, however - After the Council, until 1968, Mass attendence actually increased.

* An aside from the book notes for a minute… regarding the Post-Conciliar period, and problems in actually implementing the Council…

Paul VI believed it would happen by “osmosis”. This was a “trickle down” theory on how Vatican II would be implemented, but things were coming from below as well.

Greeley’s position was that the Council was enthusiastically received, but that Humanae Vitae fractured the Church.. The birth control crisis stopped positive movement, and the renewal movement was fragmented.

Council theologian John Courtney Murray maintained that it was a Council of renewal and reform, and that we failed to understand the complexity of those terms. Renewal is about one thing. Reform is something else altogether. Renewal is about the world of ideas. Reform is about institutions, in the political arena. The Council laid out a grand vision of renewal, but without the supporting institutions to implement it. Subsequently, there has been conflict, confusion, and a struggle for consensus. The Council has let loose a pwerful set of themes….
-- Rev J Bryan Hehir
There are two major tendencies in interpreting the Council…

1) The Council was an occurrence… An exercise in continuity, not change.
2) The Council was a momentuous event… A revolution. A structure-shattering event.

Greeley notes that prelates today tend to take the view that the Church should have proceeded more cautiously.

Greeley’s position is that that they should not have tried to make so many changes while simultaneously asserting that nothing was changing.

Prior to Vatican II…

- There was centralization of power in the Vatican
- There was a Post-Tridentine understanding of sin
- There was a conviction that the Church is immutable
- There was an assumption that all decision-making flowed downward
- Those who disagreed with the Pope were not considered good Catholics
- The primary goal was the salvation of the soul by avoiding sin and keeping the rules

Where were the major changes immediately seen by the laity?

- The Liturgy. In 1965, the altars were turned around
- Ecumenism. Other Christians were considered “separated brethren”
- Meat on Friday. The ban was lifted by the American bishops after the Council was over. Greeley calls this decision unneccessary and devastating (I tend to disagree. IMHO, the mandating of such an obligatory practice flew right in the face of the law-free ethos to be found in the letters of St. Paul, but I see the cultural point he’s trying to make).

None of the reforms touched on the essence of doctrine, but the distinctions were lost on the laity. “What would change next?”

Implicit in the new mutability was the notion that if something ought to change, and would be changed eventually, it was alright to anticpate the change and act on one’s own authority.

- Birth Control… The laity and the lower clergy embraced the principle of following one’s own conscience.

People justified their decision by appealing not to a Pope who did not understand, but to a God who did.

- Priests and Nuns… The dispensation of religious to leave and get married. “Why not let them get married?” Catholics were coming to believe that the Church could change whatever it wanted to, whenever it wanted to…

Central authority has lost its credibility.

The Vatican II message about the Church being horizontal as well as vertical came crashing through to the laity loud and clear.

Greeley quotes John O’Malley SJ – “The Church is defined in the first instance not through the hierarchy and clergy, but through all its members, without regard to ecclesiastical status or office.”

Is a restoration possible? That was the hope for the new catechism, but the new structures are not likely to go away.


Greeley went on at length about a thesis by Melissa Jo Wilde called
The Theory of Collective Behavior, which is defined as…

“The expectations of individuals merging into a group experience that often overrides and even reverses the emotions the individuals bring to it, and produces a mobilization of resources toward achieving the goal of the group.”

Wilde calls this “effervescence”. Wilde contends that the Council Fathers were caught up in collective behavior of the most extraordinary kind. Hope and euphoria swept through the Council. Initially thinking that nothing would happen, they began to realize things could change, and that they were going to change them.

The top leader (the Pope) had undercut the rigid controls his staff (the Roman Curia) had tried to impose on the bishops of the world. The bishops voted for reform measures, attributing the euphoria to the Holy Spirit. They knew that the Pope was on their side.

“Liberal” leaders mobilized resources to achieve the ideals of a reformed Church. They arranged formal and informal efforts at organization and coordination – a temporary social movement – to build large majorites at the Council. The Curia, on their part, waited and bided their time.

The bishops went home and left their effervescence behind them. They tried to tell their congregations, afraid of hostile reactions, that nothing much had changed, but the euphoria had already spread to much of the lower clergy and laity.

As early as 1965, people were asking about birth control, and priests were telling them to follow their own consciences.

At the time, 75% of priests expected celibacy to become optional within 10 years.

“Anything goes”, or “Everything is going” seemed to be the order of the day.

The “Confident Church” was in a state of chaos…


Did the Council Destroy The Church?

It destroyed some of the structures of the pre-conciliar Church. Other structures survived, as well as core matters of doctrine, but the structures concerning sex and authority were the ones that collapsed. The bishops were not allowed to address matters related to sexuality at the Council. Paul VI reserved those matters to himself.

If you had been brought up being taught that nothing had ever changed, nothing could change, and then something did change, the changers, without intending it, would have put everything in doubt.

Blind obedience may have worked with peasants, but not with an educated laity.

The Church waited too long to change. After the interventions by Cardinals Lienart and Frings (challenging the preparatory work and tactics of the Curia) , and their acceptance by John XXIII, there was no way to prevent Vatican II from being a revolutionary event.

To blame Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council is to refuse to face the critical question of why the old structures – the patterns and their supporting motivations – collapsed so easily and so quickly.

The key element in the revolution was the demolition of the structure that said that the Catholic Church would not, and could not ever change.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan on the Brink

Regardless of however one might feel about the corruption charges that were once levelled at her and her husband (perhaps out of political motivation), Benazir Bhutto was an incredibly courageous woman and a sincere believer in democracy. She may have been the last great hope for Pakistan to break out of a death spiral of chaos. Her loss is a great tragedy.

The reports coming out about her assassination have been strange, conflicting, and sketchy. Who was responsible for her death? The al Qaeda/Taliban militants? General Musharraf? Both? All of the competing political factions within Pakistan? Was the US partly responsible, in putting intense pressure on her to risk her life in coming out of a comfortable exile in London and Dhubai, while putting insufficient pressure on Musharraf to look after her security, even after a failed assassination attempt in October?

What is happening in Pakistan is incredibly perilous for the entire world, and is one of the most under-reported stories out there. See Newsweek's October article, The Most Dangerous Nation In the World Isn't Iraq. It's Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in the US, with our strange propensity to mix news with entertainment, while out troops in the mountains of Afghanistan are attacked by militants crossing the border with impunity from Pakistan, we invite thugs like Musharraf to crack jokes on The Daily Show with John Stewart.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas 2007

The Nativity with the Infant Saint John, by Piero di Cosimo
(c. 1500)

The Savior must have been
A docile Gentleman—
To come so far so cold a Day
For little Fellowmen—

The Road to Bethlehem
Since He and I were Boys
Was leveled, but for that 'twould be
A rugged Billion Miles—

-- Emily Dickinson

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fejzic's Milk Cow

"In his act, lay an ocean of hope."

I don't know about you, but it's felt like a dark Advent Season to me. It seems that more than ever, we need that light to penetrate the darkness. We need hope.

The new encyclical Spe Salvi is on hope. Today Andrew Greeley wrote a column titled Why Christmas season is time of hope.

The Bosnian city of Gorazde under siege, 1992

The conflicts around the globe often seem so intractable, and it's a common refrain to hear people say as they throw up their hands in either despair or indifference, "The Jews and the Arabs have been fighting for over a thousand years... What can you do about it? The Sunnis and the Shia have hated each other for over a thousand years... What can you do about it? The Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims have hated each other for over a thousand years... What can you do about it?" Etc... etc...

Is that really true? Or are those convenient excuses for despair and inaction?

The past year or so, Sam Harris, the militant-atheist/crypto-Buddhist, has gotten a lot of mileage out of books that are primarily based upon the claim that religion is the primary source of conflict in the world. In this, he's been taken to task lately by the war correspondent Chris Hedges, who questions the shibboleths above, as well as Harris' main thesis, although championing religion is not his primary purpose in his own writings. He certainly doesn't let blind dogmatism and religious fanaticism off the hook. He debated Harris (look here for the debate), and I think that his opening statement was brilliant and worth reading - I Don't Believe in Atheists.

I'm inclined to believe Hedges, who has risked his life on many occasions covering wars in El Salvador, Bosnia, Nicaragua, Gaza, Yemen, and the Persian Gulf. Human beings have a natural tendency to get caught up in tribalism. If it isn't over religion, it would be (and certainly has been) over political ideology or skin color. If there was no difference to be found in either of those, people could be persuaded to kill each other over hair color or eye color, I'm quite sure...

In the book by Chris Hedges that I've been reading recently, he states:
The ethnic conflicts and insurgencies of our time, whether between Serbs and Muslims or Hutus and Tutsis, are not religious wars. They are not clashes between cultures or civilizations, nor are they the result of ancient ethnic hatreds. They are manufactured wars, born out of the collapse of civil societies, perpetuated by fear, greed, and paranoia, and they are run by gangsters, who rise up from the bottom of their own societies and terrorize all, including those they purport to protect.

Often, none of this is apparent from the outside. We are quick to accept the facile and mendacious ideological veneer that is wrapped like a mantle around the shoulders of those who prosecute the war. In part we do this to avoid intervention, to give this kind of slaughter an historical inevitability it does not have, but also because the media and most of the politicians often lack the perspective and analysis to debunk the myths served up by the opposing sides.

-- Chris Hedges, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning

In his book, Hedges points out the high price paid by dissidents when the psychosis of war fever grips a nation, but there was an anecdote in his book that I though was a wonderful portent of hope - a beacon of hope that resonates well in the Spirit of Christmas.

Fejzic's Milk Cow...

I sat one afternoon with a Bosnian Serb couple, Rosa and Drago Sorak, outside of the Muslim enclave of Gorazde where they had once lived. They poured out the usual scorn on the Muslims, but then stopped at the end of the rant and told me that not all Muslims were bad. This, they said, it was their duty to admit.

During the fighting in the bleak, bombed-out shell of a city that was Gorazde, where bands of children had become street urchins and hundreds of war-dead lay in hastily dug graves, a glimmer of humanity arrived for the Soraks in the shape of Fadil Fejzic's cow. The cow forged an unusual bond between Fejzic, a Muslim, and his Serbian neighbors, the Soraks.

When the Serbs began the siege of Gorazde in 1992, the Soraks lived in the city with their older son, Zoran, and his wife. They were indifferent, although they were Serbs, to the nationalist propaganda of Bosnian Serb leaders like Radovan Karadzic.

After Serbian forces began to shell the city and cut off the electricity, gas, and water, the family refused to move out. They threw their lot in with the Bosnian government and were branded by the Bosnian Serbs, who pounded them each day from the mountains above the town, as traitors.

On the night of June 14, 1992, the Bosnian police came to the door for Zoran, who until the war was on Yugoslavia's national handball team.

"The Muslim police said they were taking him away for interrogation," said Drago Sorak, "but he never came back. We went nearly every day to the police station, until we left Gorazde, to beg for information. They told us nothing. We assume he is dead."

Soon afterward, their second son, who fought with the Bosnian Serbs, was struck by a car and killed. The Soraks were childless.

The couple, harassed by some Muslims in the town, began to consider fleeing, although it would be months before they could get out. Drago Sorak was increasingly pressed into digging trenches and chopping firewood for the Bosnian Army. The couple had little to eat.

"As things deteriorated it got worse and worse," he said. "Some of the Muslims wanted to kill us and others defended us. There were only 200 Serbs left in the city. On some nights, groups of Muslims came to the apartment looking for us. We had to hide until they left. We were frightened."

The difficulties, the harassment, and the disappearance of Zoran all helped turn the couple against a Muslim-led government that they had been willing to accept at the start of the war.

"I would live in Albania before I would go back to living with the Muslims here," Rosa Sorak said. "How can you expect us to live with those who murdered my son?"

Five months after Zoran's disappearance, his wife gave birth to a girl. The mother was unable to nurse the child. The city was being shelled continuously. There were severe food shortages. Infants, like the infirm and the elderly, were dying in droves. The family gave the baby tea for five days, but she began to fade.

"She was dying," Rosa Sorak said. "It was breaking our hearts."

Fejzic, meanwhile, was keeping his cow in a field on the eastern edge of Gorazde, milking it at night to avoid being hit by Serbian snipers.

"On the fifth day, just before dawn, we heard someone at the door," said Rosa Sorak. "It was Fadil Fejzic in his black rubber boots. He handed up half a liter of milk. He came the next morning, and the morning after that, and after that. Other families on the street began to insult him. They told him to give his milk to Muslims, to let the Chetnik children die. He never said a word. He refused our money. He came for 422 days, until my daughter-in-law and granddaughter left Gorazde for Serbia."

The Soraks eventually left and took over a house that once belonged to a Muslim family in the Serbian-held town of Kopaci, two miles to the east. They could no longer communicate with Fejzic.

The couple said they grieved daily for their sons. They missed their home. They said they could never forgive those who took Zoran from them. But they also said that despite their anger and loss, they could not listen to other Serbs talking about Muslims, or even recite their own sufferings, without telling of Fejzic and his cow. Here was the power of love. What this illiterate farmer did would color the life of another human being, who might never meet him, long after he was gone. In his act lay an ocean of hope.

"It is our duty to always tell this story," Drago Sorak said. "Salt, in those days, cost $80 a kilo. The milk he had was precious, all the more so because it was hard to keep animals. He gave us 221 liters. And every year at this time, when it is cold and dark, when we close our eyes, we can hear the boom of the heavy guns and the sound of Fadil Fejzic's footsteps on the stairs."

Fejzic fell on hard times after the war. I found him selling small piles of worm-eaten apples picked from abandoned orchards outside the shattered remains of an apartment block. His apartment block had been destroyed by artillery shells, leaving him to share the floor of an unheated room with several other men. His great brown-and-white milk cow, the one the Soraks told me about, did not survive the war. It was slaughtered for the meat more than a year before as the Serbian forces tightened the siege. He had only a thin, worn coat to protect him from the winter cold. When we spoke he sat huddled in the corner of a dank, concrete-walled room rubbing his pathetic collection of small apples, many with brown holes in them, against his sleeve.

When I told him I had seen the Soraks, his eyes brightened. "And the baby?" he asked. "How is she?"

The small acts of decency by people such as Slavica, a Serb, or Fejzic, a Muslim, in wartime ripple outwards like concentric circles. These acts, unrecognized at the time, make it impossible to condemn, legally or morally, an entire people. They serve as reminders that we all have a will of our own, a will that is independent of the state or the nationalist cause. Most important, once the war is over, these people make it hard to brand an entire nation or an entire people as guilty.

"I do not understand," wrote Primo Levi. "I cannot tolerate the fact that a man should be judged not for what he is but because of the group to which he happens to belong."'

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The Journey of the Magi, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1894)

Journey Of The Magi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

And the camels galled, sore-footed,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and
And running away, and wanting their
liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the
lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns
And the villages dirty and charging high
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears,
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a
temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of
With a running stream and a water-mill
beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped in
away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with
vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for
pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so
we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment
too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say)

The Adoration of the Magi, Rembrandt van Rijn (1632)

All this was a long time ago, I
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had
seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like
Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these
But no longer at ease here, in the old
With an alien people clutching their
I should be glad of another death.

--T. S. Eliot

Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo Da Vinci (1482)

Monday, December 17, 2007


Dan Fogelberg passed away yesterday

Dan Fogelberg (1951-2007)

Strange that we were just talking about him a couple of weeks ago.

Sad news, and it reminds me of both the days of our youth and of our own mortality.

Rest in Peace.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Jesuit and the Skull

A new book about Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ (1881–1955)

Jesuits and skulls? No, this is not another post about Henry Garnet. It's not another post about Zurbarán and "Memento Mori". This Christmas I'm asking Anne to buy me a new book by Guggenheim fellow Amir D. Aczel called The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (third from right), on a paleontology expedition in China, 1920s

I really don't have a problem believing in both God and evolution. Maybe I've mastered the ability to shut off certain synapses in the brain from firing off over it, but I don't feel much cognitive dissonance around holding this view. Following St. Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus, I look for God to reveal himself in nature. To me, pitting science against religion is stupid and futile. I don't need biblical literalists calling me to task for being a heretic over it any more than I need atheists accusing me of being a creationist cretin just because I won't kneel down to the "blind watchmaker" of capricious chance.

Apparently, without my really being aware, it is the work of Teilhard de Chardin that has made this somewhat easy for me. I admit I don't know as much about Teilhard de Chardin as I should. I know that he was a scientist whose experiences in that discipline, along with his experiences as a stretcher-bearer in the trenches during World War I, led him towards a theology of convergence and ultimate unity, defining "the Cosmological Christ", and that his works got him into trouble, enjoyed a period of favor and recognition, and then fell out of circulation again. I also knew that as a paleontologist, he was involved with the team that discovered several specimens of Homo Erectus that came to be know as Peking Man. This is what the book is largely about. Consider a Jesuit in the 1920s who digs for hominid fossils in the Gobi Desert. This is the kind of thing that makes the Society pretty cool...

Let me take the opportunity to make a plug for someone here. Please take a look at Kevin McManus' fine "Portinexile" blog called Stranger in a Strange Land. It's full of references to interesting and excellent articles such as Who was this guy called Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? Why is he Famous in the Scientific Community? The actual origin of the reference is from the blog Are Jesuits Catholic?:
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a visionary French Jesuit, paleontologist, biologist, and philosopher, who spent the bulk of his life trying to integrate religious experience with natural science, most specifically Christian theology with theories of evolution. In this endeavor he became absolutely enthralled with the possibilities for humankind, which he saw as heading for an exciting convergence of systems, an "Omega point" where the coalescence of consciousness will lead us to a new state of peace and planetary unity. Long before ecology was fashionable, he saw this unity he saw as being based intrinsically upon the spirit of the Earth: "The Age of Nations is past. The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the Earth."
Looking at Amazon, I noticed that Publishers Weekly panned the book for being superficial, but not all the editorial reviews were so negative. Some excerpts from the reviews:

In December 1929, in a cave near Peking, a group of anthropologists and archaeologists that included a young French Jesuit priest named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin uncovered a pre-human skull. The find quickly became known around the world as Peking Man and was acclaimed as the missing link between erect hunting apes and our Cro-Magnon ancestors. It also became a provocative piece of evidence in the roiling debate over creationism versus evolution. For Teilhard, both a scientist and man of God, the discovery also exposed a deeply personal conflict between the new science and his faith. He was commanded by his superiors to deny all scientific evidence that went against biblical teachings, and his writing and lectures were censored by the Vatican. But his curiosity and desire to find connections between scientific and spiritual truth kept him investigating man's origins. His inner struggle, and, in turn, his public rebuke by the Catholic Church personified one of the central debates of our time: How to reconcile an individual's commitment to science and his commitment to his faith...

Teilhard de Chardin's colleague, Lucile Swan

Readers will marvel at how loyal Teilhard remained to a church that repeatedly disciplined him for heresy in his evolutionary explanation of human origins. It was, ironically, by exiling Teilhard from his beloved France that church authorities put him in China, where in 1929 he shared in the discovery of the famous Peking Man fossils. Aczel details Teilhard's role in that discovery, highlighting his involvement with Lucile Swan, an American artist commissioned to sculpt the ancient hominid. That relationship finally foundered when Teilhard refused to break vows of celibacy sanctified by a church that repaid his fidelity with continued hostility. Nonetheless, Aczel discerns an abiding legacy in the words and writings of a thinker who suffered much for his synthesis of pioneering science and iconoclastic faith.

More on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin from Company Magazine:

In the 1960s and 70s, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's writings--from the scientific The Phenomenon of Man to the mystical The Mass on the World--fit the optimistic, forward-looking mood of the times. This Jesuit paleontologist, philosopher, and theologian, who influenced college students and Vatican II participants alike, was one of the rare literati who reached beyond academia and into the mainstream, at least for a while.

It's safe to say that most college students today, even at Jesuit schools, aren't familiar with Teilhard, one of the most influential Jesuits of the twentieth century. "When I started teaching Teilhard, everybody on campus knew who Teilhard was," says Fr. Thomas King, SJ, who has been teaching about the Frenchman at Georgetown University since 1968. "Now it's a name they haven't heard of, and you have to introduce it."

Teilhard's reputation has ebbed and flowed with the times. During his life, his writings were suppressed by some of his Jesuit superiors and the Vatican; his attempts to reconcile evolution with original sin and other Catholic doctrines were viewed as a threat to orthodoxy...

Soon after Teilhard's death in 1955, his writings, published by friends, developed a reception that the visionary himself never did. But his name recognition has dwindled in recent decades. Bookstores at seven Jesuit universities could find no books by Teilhard being used in courses this fall; only two courses at these institutions used his books last year...

Though Teilhard is less well known today than in the past, his ideas continue to evolve. James Landry, chair of the natural science department at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, asks a question of scientists regarding Teilhard's work: "Has his time come and gone, or do we need to look at his writings again in terms of new things we know?"

One of Teilhard's ideas that raises both scientific and theological questions is his notion of the "within" of things, the idea that particles of matter have an innate quality bringing them together. As the particles aggregate, a new energy emerges. This explains how what Teilhard called the noosphere, the realm of human consciousness, emerged from the biosphere. " Teilhard seems to be talking about the evolution of consciousness and soul," says Fr. Joseph Fortier, SJ, a biologist at Saint Louis University. "It's as though the within, this propensity to unite, is the pre-soul or proto-soul." Fortier, who teaches a course on evolution and Christian theology, sees Teilhard as one of his principal spiritual mentors and lauds his role in helping Catholicism to embrace evolution...

As to why Teilhard's popularity has decreased, Fortier speculates that the Frenchman's dense writings clash with the age of immediacy. He also notes that Teilhard worked in two fields often hostile to each other...

"Darwin was martyred by the religious establishment, so he's a martyr for the scientific establishment," says Fortier. "Teilhard was martyred by both establishments, so he doesn't have the hero appeal that Darwin does. But anybody who deals with evolution and religion is on the back of Teilhard, who's the giant. He's really the architect of the evolution-religion dialogue."

Teilhard's words will remain in at least one place. At Georgetown University's Edward B. Bunn Intercultural Center, King helped secure Teilhard's words on a prominent wall: "The age of nations has passed. It remains for us now, if we do not wish to perish, to set aside the ancient prejudices and build the earth."

"The Eucharist is celebrated in order to offer on the altar of the whole earth the world's work and suffering in the beautiful words of Teilhard de Chardin," wrote Pope John Paul II in Gift and Mystery. He was referring to prayers in Teilhard's The Mass on the World, which the latter had said 80 years earlier in the Gobi Desert, when he had run out of bread and wine and made the whole earth his altar.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bing and Bowie

Does anyone else remember this?
Bing Crosby and David Bowie sing a duet - The Little Drummer boy (1977)

Peace on Earth
Can it be?
Years from now
perhaps we'll see
See the Day of Glory
See the day when men of good will
live in peace
live in peace again
Peace on Earth
Can it be?

I pray my wish
will come true
for my child
and your child too
He'll see the Day of Glory
See the day when men of good will
live in peace
live in peace again
Peace on Earth
Can it be?
Can it be?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Behind the Eight Ball

The Pieces of Eight Meme

I was tagged by both William and Talmida for the "Pieces of Eight" meme

"The assignment: To write about certain topics in blocks of 8."

8 passions in my life:

My faith
My wife
My kids
Reading history

8 things to do before I die:

Make sure all of my children are brought up in faith, attend college, and outlive me. All the rest is gravy…
Learn how to manage my finances (so at least somebody’ll get something)
Ride a horse
Learn to play a musical instrument
Work full-time for a charity or a non-profit
Write a book about something
Visit the Grand Canyon
Visit Paris

8 things I often say

Rats! (that is, when I can restrain myself from saying “For ___’s sake!”)
If I wait until the last minute to do it, it will only take me a minute to do it.
A winner never quits and a quitter never wins, but someone who never quits and never wins is an idiot.
Do your homework!
Pick up your room!
Brush your teeth!
No one ever listens to me!
I love you!

8 books I read recently

Joe Bageant - Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War
Chris Hedges – War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Jack Beatty - Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900
Sam Harris - Letter to a Christian Nation
Amy Jill-Levine - Jesus The Misunderstood Jew
Henri Nouwen - Peacework
Henri Nouwen - The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life
Jon Sobrino – Jesus the Liberator

8 films that mean something to me

(Kind of like the songs listed further down below, not necessarily what I consider the best, or even my favorites, but have meant something to me for one reason or another)

El Amor Brujo
The Gods Must be Crazy
A Fish Called Wanda
To Kill A Mockingbird
The Haunting (1963 version)
West Side Story

8 songs that mean something to me

The Marshall Tucker Band - Can’t You See?
The Beatles - Another Girl
The Beatles - You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
The Saw Doctors - I Useta Love Her
John Waite - Missing You
Dire Straits - You’re So Far Away From Me
John Lee Hooker - You Ain’t No Big Thing
The Allman Brothers - Whipping Post

(Can you tell I’ve had a heartbreak or two? What else are most songs supposed to be about?)

8 living people I'd like to have as dinner guests

(Do they all have to be there at the same time? There might be a food fight. Or worse… Better not have any sharp utensils present. Maybe we’ll go to a rib joint…)

I’d like to have all of my regular guests here on the blog. You know who you are. But if I can’t have that…

Pope Benedict
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini
John Dominic Crossan
B.B. King
Hines Ward
Billy Crystal
Lewis Black
Isabelle Adjani (and it’s OK if she brings Daniel Day-Lewis with her. If she can’t make it, Sophie Marceau could fill in, but not if she brings Christopher Lambert with her)

Consider it open tag season...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Are the Wheels Coming Off the Bus?

Exploring the notion of "Peak Oil". Is "Hubberdt's Curve" for real?

With Joseph (right) in Sevilla, moments after delivering a muezzin's call to prayer from the Giralda Tower (formerly a minaret) at the cathedral

Clever... Real funny guys... Well, OK. Actually, it was just me who did it. Something I wouldn't even consider doing today... My best friend Joseph moved to Spain in 1989, with little more than the clothes on his back, a basic knowledge of Spanish, and a determination to marry the lovely madrileña he had fallen in love with back here. Shortly before that, you might say that we were as cocky, combative, parochial, and provincial as two Irish-Catholic Americans from Boston can commonly be.

No, something I wouldn’t consider doing today… It’s funny to look back sometimes and to reflect upon the fact that although things don’t look very different on the surface at first glance, the world is constantly changing and shifting under our feet as the years go by.

A simple change of scene can go a long way towards erasing provincialism. People who’ve spent a significant amount of time out of the country often point out to me that there is a certain (and predictable) way of presenting news stories here, and that the way the news is presented overseas can be quite different. A lot of things tend to go under-reported here, or even unreported altogether. There is a whole perspective out there that can be quite alien to our way of thinking, which is why we find ourselves puzzled when foreigners question what we consider to be our pure motives.

Joe and I have kept in touch, we’ve usually been able to get together at least once a year, and we often exchange views on world events and politics. When I look at a situation like Iraq, I tend to look at the origin of such a conflict in terms of a clash of civilizations and competing worldviews, with part of the world embracing globalization enthusiastically, even to the point of forcing it upon those who fear it and resist it. In analyzing conflicts, I tend to lay a heavy emphasis on ideology, religion, and mankind's seemingly endemic urge towards tribalism.

Joseph certainly doesn’t resist those ideas or reject them out of hand, but I think he gently tries to lead me towards considering an old axiomatic dictum – Follow the Money.

Joe's been asking lately what I think about the situation with Iran... My take is, the administration would probably like to strike Iran if they could (recent NIE estimate be damned), but that this congress would never go along with it. Joe's not so sure, I think, reasoning that there are iron laws of economics (that we are locked into) at play here.

In making his own way in Spain, Joe managed (impressively, I might add, as a non-citizen) to land a job as a sales rep for Alcon, and eventually worked his way up to the most senior executive levels of marketing management, handling hundreds of millions of dollars in budgets for a couple of different pharmaceutical companies. He now runs his own leadership and strategic management consulting company. ( And he did marry the girl :-) ) In other words, he’s level-headed, knows a thing or two about business, and the cash flows that businesses need to operate. Neither one of us is given over to conspiracy theories or overall cynicism... but have we been had?

One of the most dramatic effects of globalization over the last couple of decades has been the explosive growth of the economies of China and India, each of which have populations of over a billion people. I know it’s not fair to pull the ladder up behind us, but in a world where markets are driven by energy, energy driven by fossil fuels, how sustainable is this way of living?

The Fall of Saigon - A metaphor for the global economy?

Follow the money. Specifically, follow the money related to oil. Are we approaching the end of our way of living? Are the wheels about to come off the bus?
If current predictions of population growth prove accurate and patterns of human activity on the planet remain unchanged, science and technology may not be able to prevent either irreversible degradation of the environment or continued poverty for much of the world.
--Royal Society of London and U.S. National Academy of Sciences'

It is impossible for the world economy to grow its way out of poverty and environmental degradation ... As the economic subsystem grows it incorporates an even greater proportion of the total ecosystem into itself and must reach a limit at 100 percent, if not before.
--Herman Daly

What has gone wrong? Why is the dream that should be in our grasp turning to a nightmare? The fundamental nature of our problem was dramatically articulated in 1968 by Kenneth Boulding in his classic essay "The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth."' Boulding suggested that our problem results from acting like cowboys on a limitless open frontier when in truth we inhabit a living spaceship with a finely balanced life-support system.
-- David C. Korten, When Corporations Rule The World

We joke about having transferred from the Marine Corps to the Oil Corps, or the Petrol Battalion, and while we laugh at our jokes and we all think we're damn funny jarheads, we know we might soon die, and this is not funny, the possibility of death, but like many combatants before us, we laugh to obscure the tragedy of our cheap, squandered lives with the comedy of combat and being deployed to protect oil reserves and the rights and profits of certain American companies, many of which have direct ties to the White House and oblique financial entanglements with the secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, and the commander in chief, George Bush, and the commander's progeny. We know this because Kuehn, one of our representatives from Texas, says, "All those old white f*****s from Texas have their fat hands in Arab oil. The motherf*****rs drink it like it's beer." And at this point we also know that the outcome of the conflict is less important for us-the men who will fight and die-than for the old white f*****s and others who have billions of dollars to gain or lose in the oil fields, the deep, rich, flowing oil fields of the Kingdom of Saud.
-- Anthony Swofford, Jarhead
Alarmist, crackpot conspiracy theories? A bit of both? I'll report, you decide.

British Comedian and Political Activist Robert Newman's History of Oil ( Part 1 of 9 )

The falling dollar, falling home prices, the subprime mortgage crisis, Tom Brady's girlfriend demanding to be paid in euros... WBUR On Point - debating the state of the economy with Dr. Doom. "Investment guru Peter Schiff, who CNBC has dubbed "Dr. Doom," has prophesied a flight from the dollar abroad and inflation, recession, even a depression at home. As the author of Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse, Schiff has a vested interest in gloom. Still, he's made money as a bear, and it may pay to listen to him now."

Extended excerpts from

Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists, bankers, and investors in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global "Peak Oil."

Oil will not just "run out" because all oil production follows a bell curve. This is true whether we're talking about an individual field, a country, or on the planet as a whole.

Oil is increasingly plentiful on the upslope of the bell curve, increasingly scarce and expensive on the down slope. The peak of the curve coincides with the point at which the endowment of oil has been 50 percent depleted. Once the peak is passed, oil production begins to go down while cost begins to go up.

In practical and considerably oversimplified terms, this means that if 2005 was the year of global Peak Oil, worldwide oil production in the year 2030 will be the same as it was in 1980. However, the world’s population in 2030 will be both much larger (approximately twice) and much more industrialized (oil-dependent) than it was in 1980. Consequently, worldwide demand for oil will outpace worldwide production of oil by a significant margin. As a result, the price will skyrocket, oil dependant economies will crumble, and resource wars will explode.

Peak Oil is also called "Hubbert's Peak," named for the Shell geologist Dr. Marion King Hubbert. In 1956, Hubbert accurately predicted that US domestic oil production would peak in 1970. He also predicted global production would peak in 1995, which it would have had the politically created oil shocks of the 1970s not delayed the peak for about 10-15 years...

Petrochemicals are key components to much more than just the gas in your car. As geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer points out in his article entitled, "Eating Fossil Fuels," approximately 10 calories of fossil fuels are required to produce every 1 calorie of food eaten in the US...

It's not just transportation and agriculture that are entirely dependent on abundant, cheap oil. Modern medicine, water distribution, and national defense are each entirely powered by oil and petroleum derived chemicals...

In addition to transportation, food, water, and modern medicine, mass quantities of oil are required for all plastics, all computers and all high-tech devices...

What about alternative energy systems like solar panels and wind turbines? Are they also manufactured using petroleum and petroleum derived resources?

When considering the role of oil in the production of modern technology, remember that most alternative systems of energy — including solar panels/solar-nanotechnology, windmills, hydrogen fuel cells, biodiesel production facilities, nuclear power plants, etc. all rely on sophisticated technology and mettalurgy.

In short, the so called "alternatives" to oil are actually "derivatives" of oil. Without an abundant and reliable supply of oil, we have no way of scaling these alternatives to the degree necessary to power the modern world.

Is the modern banking system entirely dependent on ever-increasing amounts of cheap oil?

The global financial system is entirely dependent on a constantly increasing supply of oil and natural gas. The relationship between the supply of oil and natural gas and the workings of the global financial system is arguably the key issue to understanding and dealing with Peak Oil. In fact this relationship is far more important than alternative sources of energy, energy conservation, or the development of new energy technologies...

The issue is not one of "running out" so much as it is not having enough to keep our economy running. In this regard, the ramifications of Peak Oil for our civilization are similar to the ramifications of dehydration for the human body. The human body is 70 percent water. The body of a 200 pound man thus holds 140 pounds of water. Because water is so crucial to everything the human body does, the man doesn't need to lose all 140 pounds of water weight before collapsing due to dehydration. A loss of as little as 10-15 pounds of water may be enough to kill him.

In a similar sense, an oil based economy such as ours doesn't need to deplete its entire reserve of oil before it begins to collapse. A shortfall between demand and supply as little as 10 to 15 percent is enough to wholly shatter an oil-dependent economy and reduce its citizenry to poverty.

The coming oil shocks won't be ... short lived. They represent the onset of a new, permanent condition. Once the decline gets under way, production will drop (conservatively) by 3% per year, every year. War, terrorism, extreme weather and other "above ground" geopolitical factors will likely push the effective decline rate past 10% per year, thus cutting the total supply by 50% in 7 years.

These estimate comes from numerous sources, not the least of which is Vice President Dick Cheney himself. In a 1999 speech he gave while still CEO of Halliburton, Cheney stated:

"By some estimates, there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three-percent natural decline in production from existing reserves.That means by 2010 we will need n additional 50 million barrels per day."

Some geologists now believe 2005 was the last year of the cheap-oil bonanza, while many estimates coming out of the oil industry indicate "a seemingly unbridgeable supply/demand gap opening up after 2007," which will lead to major fuel shortages and increasingly severe blackouts beginning around 2008-2012. As we slide down the downslope slope of the global oil production curve, we may find ourselves slipping into what some scientists are already calling the coming "post industrial stone age."

Is the war in Iraq really a war for the world's last remaining significant sized deposits of oil?

Although the answer to this question should be obvious, broaching the issue in such a highly public forum would bring more skeletons out of Dick Cheney's energy task force closet than any sane member of the Senate, Republican or Democrat, would ever want to face.

Global oil discovery peaked in 1962 and has declined to virtually nothing in the past few years. We now consume 6 barrels of oil for every barrel we find. As mentioned previously, this is exactly what happened during the oil shocks of the 1970s - shortfalls in supply as little as 5% drove the price of oil up near 400%. Demand did not fall until the world was mired in the most severe economic slowdown since the Great Depression. The only thing that alleviated the economic crisis was the discovery of the world's last few "elephant" sized oil fields in the North Sea and Alaska as well as increased production from nations like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Once global oil production peaks (if it hasn't already) turning to new sources of supply won't be an option.

As affordable oil is necessary to power any serious attempt at at a global switchover to alternative sources of energy, these "extreme" prices will severely hamstring the ability of the market to handle these problems. The economic fallout from such high prices will likely raise geopolitical tensions (i.e. war) thereby futher hampering the development of large-scale alternative sources of energy.

It is becoming evident that the financial and investment community begins to accept the reality of Peak Oil, which ends the first half of the age of oil. They accept that banks created capital during this epoch by lending more than they had on deposit, being confident that tomorrow’s expansion, fuelled by cheap oil-based energy, was adequate collateral for today’s debt. The decline of oil, the principal driver of economic growth, undermines the validity of that collateral which in turn erodes the valuation of most entities quoted on Stock Exchanges. The investment community, however, faces a dilemma. It desires to protect its own fortunes and those of its privileged clients while at the same time is reluctant to take action that might itself trigger the meltdown. It is a closely knit community so that it is hard for one to move without the others becoming aware of his actions.

The scene is set for the Second Great Depression, but the conservatism and outdated mindset of institutional investors, together with the momentum of the massive flows of institutional money they are required to place, may help to diminish the sense of panic that a vision of reality might impose. On the other hand, the very momentum of the flow may cause a greater deluge when the foundations of the dam finally crumble. It is a situation without precedent.

Nearly all the work done in the world economy, all the manufacturing, construction, and transportation, is done with energy derived from fuel. The actual work done by human muscle power is miniscule by comparison. And, the lion's share of that fuel comes from oil and natural gas, the primary sources of the world's wealth.

In October 2005, the normally conservative London Times acknowledged that the world's wealth may soon evaporate as we enter a technological and economic "Dark Age." In an article entitled "Waiting for the Lights to Go Out" Times columnist Bryan Appleyard reported:

"Oil is running out; the climate is changing at a potentially catastrophic rate; wars over scarce resources are brewing; finally, most shocking of all, we don't seem to be having enough ideas about how to fix any of these things. "

US News and World Report recently published a six page article documenting the nightmarish scenarios soon to unfold across North America. According to the normally conservative publication, people in the northeastern US could soon be facing massive layoffs, rotating blackouts, permanent industrial shutdowns, and catastrophic breakdowns in public services as a result of shortages of heating oil and natural gas.

What all of this means, in short, is that the aftermath of Peak Oil will extend far beyond how much you will pay for gas. To illustrate: in a July 2006 special report published by the Chicago Tribune, Pullitzer Prize winning journalist Paul Salopek described the consequences of Peak Oil as follows:

. . . the consequences would be unimaginable. Permanent fuel shortages would tip the world into a generations-long economic depression. Millions would lose their jobs as industry implodes. Farm tractors would be idled for lack of fuel, triggering massive famines. Energy wars would flare. And careless suburbanites would trudge to their nearest big box stores, not to buy Chinese made clothing transported cheaply across the globe, but to scavenge glass and copper wire from abandoned buildings.

Journalist Jonathan Gatehouse summarized the conclusions of Oxford trained geologist Jeremy Leggett, author of The Empty Tank: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and the Coming Financial Catastrophe, in a 2006 Macleans article as follows, emphasis added:

. . . when the truth can no longer be obscured, the price will spike, the economy nosedive, and the underpinnings of our civilization will start tumbling like dominos. "The price of houses will collapse. Stock markets will crash. Within a short period, human wealth -- little more than a pile of paper at the best of times, even with the confidence about the future high among traders -- will shrivel." There will be emergency summits, diplomatic initiatives, urgent exploration efforts, but the turmoil will not subside. Thousands of companies will go bankrupt, and millions will be unemployed. "Once affluent cities with street cafés will have queues at soup kitchens and armies of beggars. The crime rate will soar. The earth has always been a dangerous place, but now it will become a tinderbox."

By 2010, predicts Leggett, democracy will be on the run. . . . economic hardship will bring out the worst in people. Fascists will rise, feeding on the anger of the newly poor and whipping up support. These new rulers will find the tools of repression -- emergency laws, prison camps, a relaxed attitude toward torture -- already in place, courtesy of the war on terror. And if that scenario isn't nightmarish enough, Leggett predicts that "Big Oversight Number One" -- climate change -- will be simultaneously making its presence felt "with a vengeance." On the heels of their rapid financial ruin, people "will now watch aghast as their food and water supplies dwindle in the face of a climate seemingly going awry." Prolonged droughts will spread, decimating harvests.

In other words, if you are focusing solely on the price at the pump, buying a hybrid car, or getting some of those energy efficient light bulbs, you aren’t seeing the bigger picture.

Is the Bush administration aware of this?

As mentioned previously, Dick Cheney made the following statement in late 1999 while still CEO of Halliburton:

"By some estimates, there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three-percent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day. "

To put Cheney’s statement in perspective, remember that the oil producing nations of the world are currently pumping at full capacity but are struggling to produce much more than 84 million barrels per day. Cheney’s statement was a tacit admission of the severity and imminence of Peak Oil as the possibility of the world raising its production by such a huge amount is borderline ridiculous.

In light of this information, Cheney knew the only way for Western oil majors to stay oil majors was to use force to grab what's left in the Middle East and then give the contracts to pump that oil to the oil majors. Four years after the invasion of Iraq, this is exactly what is happening.

Lest there be any doubt about what was at stake, the man who was to become one of the most powerful proponents of the invasion of Iraq went on: "Oil is unique because it is so strategic in nature. We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear ... The Gulf War was a reflection of that reality."

Well, seven years on, Mr Cheney's solution to the impending oil crisis is well on its way to being implemented. In the aftermath of another war, Iraq's Council of Ministers is today expected to throw open the doors to the country's oil reserves - the third largest in the world - to private companies, the first time a major Middle Eastern producer has ever done so. Source
Not surprisingly, George W. Bush has echoed Dick Cheney’s sentiments. In May 2001, Bush stated, "What people need to hear loud and clear is that we’re running out of energy in America."

The problems associated with world oil production peaking will not be temporary, and past 'energy crisis' experience will provide relatively little guidance. The challenge of oil peaking deserves immediate, serious attention, if risks are to be fully understood and mitigation begun on a timely basis. . . the world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary. Previous energy transitions were gradual and evolutionary. Oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary..

As one commentator recently observed, the reason our leaders are acting like desperados is because we have a desperate situation on our hands.

If you've been wondering why the Bush administration has been spending money, cutting social programs, and starting wars like there's no tomorrow, now you have your answer: as far as they are concerned, there is no tomorrow.

In 2003, the BBC filmed a three-part, relatively apolitical, documentary entitled "War for Oil" about the role the Bush administration's knowledge of Peak Oil played in their decision to invade and occupy Iraq. As the documentary explains, in private the Bush administration sees the war in Iraq as "a fight for survival." From a purely Machiavellian standpoint, they are probably correct in their thinking.

O'Donnell Blows a Gasket

Not Rosie... Lawrence.

From last night's McLaughlin Group program (12/07). O'Donnell goes off on a tirade that makes even Pat Buchanan look like a moderate. Regardless of how one happens to come down on the particular question at hand, consider that O'Donnell works for MSNBC. Can he do this?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Now, This Is Really Weird...

Fr. Henry Garnet, SJ
Head of the Jesuit Mission in England
Born: 1555 at Derbyshire
Died: 3 May 1606 at Saint Paul's Churchyard, London

Were the "good old days" of faith so great? What kind of twisted minds come up with things like this?

Book bound in skin of executed Jesuit to be auctioned in England

Not to single out one side or the other (or to minimize today's common atrocities), but what kind of fanatical, blindly fundamentalistic religion was it (on both sides) that drove people to burning, crushing, drawing-and-quartering, hanging, drowning, beheading, flaying, breaking-with-the-wheel, the rack and ladder, strappado and squassation, and making book covers out of people's skin, all in the name of Faith and Truth?

The same kind that drives them into buildings in airliners today? The same that refuses to call waterboarding torture?

Who took perverse pleasure in reading a book bound in the skin of his enemy? What nerve for people of the Old World (on both sides) to call the Native Americans in the New World "savages". They obviously couldn't rightfully claim to be too far removed from savagery themselves.
A book bound in the skin of an executed Jesuit priest was to be auctioned in England.

The macabre, 17th-century book tells the story of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and is covered in the hide of Father Henry Garnet.

The book, "A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings Against the Late Most Barbarous Traitors, Garnet a Jesuit and His Confederates," contains accounts of speeches and evidence from the trials. It measures about 6 inches by 4 inches, comes in a wooden box and will be auctioned Dec. 2 by Wilkinson's Auctioneers in Doncaster, England.

Sid Wilkinson, the auctioneer, said: "The front cover is rather spooky because where the skin has mottled or crinkled there looks to be a bearded face.

"It is a curious thing, and we believe it to be taken from the skin of Henry Garnet," he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview Nov. 28.

He added that it was common for the skins of executed criminals to be used to cover books about their lives, a process called anthropodermic binding.

Wilkinson said the owner was an academic but declined to name him.

He said the book might be auctioned for hundreds or thousands of British pounds, but added: "It may not even sell. It is quite macabre and not to everyone's taste."

Father Garnet had been acquainted with the plotters and had heard their confessions but he always insisted he strongly opposed their designs and tried to stop them. He was convicted of treason and was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Father Garnet went to his death pleading his innocence. Members of the crowd prevented the executioner from cutting him down from the scaffold until he was dead. Others pulled on his legs to hasten his end so that he would not have to endure the ensuing horrors.

Garnet's Last Letter Before His Execution

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Advent 2007... Waiting

From Life of Christ, by Rev. Fulton J. Sheen

In the filthiest place in the world, a stable, Purity was born. He, Who was later to be slaughtered by men acting as beasts, was born among beasts. He, Who would call Himself the "living Bread descended from Heaven," was laid in a manger, literally, a place to eat. Centuries before, the Jews had worshiped the golden calf, and the Greeks, the ass. Men bowed down before them as before God. The ox and the ass now were present to make their innocent reparation, bowing down before their God.

There was no room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. The inn is the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But the stable is a place for the outcasts, the ignored, the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born - if He was to be born at all - in an inn. A stable would be the last place in the world where one would have looked for Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

No worldly mind would ever have suspected that He Who could make the sun warm the earth would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; that He Who, in the language of Scriptures, could stop the turning about of Arcturus would have His birthplace dictated by an imperial census; that He, Who clothed the fields with grass, would Himself be naked; that He, from Whose hands came planets and worlds, would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle; that the feet which trod the everlasting hills would one day be too weak to walk; that the Eternal Word would be dumb; that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes; that Salvation would lie in a manger; that the bird which built the nest would be hatched therein - no one would have ever suspected that God coming to this earth would ever be so helpless. And that is precisely why so many miss Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

If the artist is at home in his studio because the paintings are the creation of his own mind; if the sculptor is at home among his statues because they are the work of his own hands; if the husband-man is at home among his vines because he planted them; and if the father is at home among his children because they are his own, then surely, argues the world, He Who made the world should be at home in it. He should come into it as an artist into his studio, and as a father into his home; but, for the Creator to come among His creatures and be ignored by them; for God to come among His own and not be received by His own; for God to be homeless at home-that could only mean one thing to the worldly mind: the Babe could not have been God at all. And that is just why it missed Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

The Son of God made man was invited to enter His own world through a back door. Exiled from the earth, He was born under the earth, in a sense, the first Cave Man in recorded history. There He shook the earth to its very foundations. Because He was born in a cave, all who wish to see Him must stoop. To stoop is the mark of humility. The proud refuse to stoop and, therefore, they miss Divinity. Those, however, who bend their egos and enter, find that they are not in a cave at all, but in a new universe where sits a Babe on His mother's lap, with the world poised on His fingers.

The manger and the Cross thus stand at the two extremities of the Savior's life! He accepted the manger because there was no room in the inn; He accepted the Cross because men said, "We will not have this Man for our king." Disowned upon entering, rejected upon leaving, He was laid in a stranger's stable at the beginning, and a stranger's grave at the end. An ox and an ass surrounded His crib at Bethlehem; two thieves were to flank His Cross on Calvary. He was wrapped in swaddling bands in His birthplace, He was again laid in swaddling clothes in His tomb-clothes symbolic of the limitations imposed on His Divinity when He took a human form.

The shepherds watching their flocks nearby were told by the angels:

And this is your sign: you will find a baby lying wrapped in his swaddling clothes, in a manger.
-- Luke 2:12

He was already bearing His Cross - the only cross a Babe could bear, a cross of poverty, exile and limitation. His sacrificial intent already shone forth in the message the angels sang to the hills of Bethlehem:

Today in the city of David a deliverer has been born to you-the Messiah, the Lord.
-- Luke 2:11

Covetousness was already being challenged by His poverty, while pride was confronted with the humiliation of a stable. The swathing of Divine power, which needs to accept no bounds, is often too great a tax upon minds which think only of power. They cannot grasp the idea of Divine condescension, or of the "rich man becoming poor that through His poverty, we might be rich." Men shall have no greater sign of Divinity than the absence of power as they expect it - the spectacle of a Babe Who said He would come in the clouds of heaven, now being wrapped in the cloths of earth.

Only two classes of people found the Babe; the shepherds and the Wise Men; the simple and the learned; those who knew that they knew nothing, and those who knew that they did not know everything. He is never seen by the man of one book; never by the man who thinks he knows. Not even God can tell the proud anythingl Only the humble can find God!