Wednesday, October 31, 2007

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

Of Inadmissible Hobbies

People who boast of a love of walking confuse me. It seems to me that that's rather like saying that you love clipping your fingernails or cleaning your ears.

I don't deny that you might actually enjoy walking, but to brag of this as though it were of a piece with undertaking, say, a translation of the works of Baudelaire, or building your own Han Dynasty junk is, I'm afraid, the stuff of toddlers.

Now, a love of running I can allow as a boast. I happen to think it an utterly tedious and damaging activity--beloved of the sort of dickhead who'll spoil a soirée by complaining of your smoking, only to upstage your righteous indignation by dying of a heart attack two weeks later--but I'll accept that it is remarkable insofar as it isn't something that everyone does, repeatedly, pretty much every day of their lives.

I lived in Switzerland for a time, and would often of a weekend take myself on hikes through the lowlands of the Jura. This was jolly for me, and I enjoyed it very much. I even went so far as to purchase a book of the best walking trails in the canton. But this wasn't a love of walking so much as it was a love of scenery, surely ... Indeed, I should call it a mere appreciation of scenery in that particular case. I find the Swiss landscape to be a bit much, don't you? You half expect Walt Disney to have had something to do with it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


What people, both Christian and not, seem to have lost sight of (or are, God help us, no longer capable of understanding) is that Christianity is meant to be transformative. As such, it is no more accepting of heterosexuality than it is of homosexuality. That is, in the sense we tend instinctively and exclusively to associate it with, of fucking.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My Lady Nicotine

David Warren on the deleterious effects (epistemological and physical) of not-smoking:
More widely disseminated medical literature has documented other risks of non-smoking, that include neurotic depression, violent irritability, and obscene weight gain. But these tend to be discounted because they lead to death only indirectly.

Likewise, indirect evidence for the dangers of not smoking comes from the 150th anniversary number of Atlantic magazine. P.J. O'Rourke points to (actual, serious) U.S. historical statistics showing that, in the period 1973-94, annual per capita consumption of cigarettes FELL from 4,148 to 2,493. In the same period, the incidence of lung and bronchial cancer ROSE from 42.5 to 57.1 cases per 100,000 population.

In the past I have flagged U.N. statistics showing that life expectancy was nicely proportional to tobacco consumption, internationally -- so that e.g. Japan and South Korea were respectively first and second in BOTH life expectancy AND tobacco consumption. Whereas, the lowest tobacco consumption was in “basketcase” Third World countries, where we also found some of the shortest life expectancies.

I think we could also find historical statistics showing that there is a reliable, worldwide relationship between rising tobacco consumption, and rising life expectancy, nation by nation, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

As Al Gore likes to say, "the science is irrefutable."

The weakness in that last statement being, that there is no such thing as irrefutable science. There is nothing in the whole history of science, including physiology and meteorology, that is not tentative. And while, in astronomy, I remain convinced that the earth revolves around the sun, I would not put all my money even on that proposition, but, given attractively long odds, reserve a penny bet on the sun going round the earth.


There is one more hypothesis with which I would like to leave my reader today. It is that the kind of quack “science” that was used to ban smoking has now mutated into the kind that is used to flog global warming. It should have been resisted then; it should certainly be resisted now.
And Bernard Black:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Boy Cries Wolf

What to make of James Loney?
James Loney, who was held by militants in Iraq, says a Catholic-organized peace conference in Winnipeg rescinded his invitation to speak because of his sexual orientation.


Loney said the situation has parallels with his time as a hostage in Iraq, when his sexual orientation was kept secret out of concern that if his captors knew, it could have further endangered his life.

"That was a very clear example of the violence of homophobia, of having to be invisible and silent," he said. "This feels very similar to that. It's an act of silencing and making me invisible as a gay person, and only because of that." (CBC)

Huh?! I'm sorry, James, but could you repeat that line about being "invisible and silent" again--I don't think the national media quite got it all. And smile for the camera this time, why don't you? One question: if the Archdiocese of Winnipeg is being compared to insurgent Islamist murderers then who, I wonder, is supposed to be playing Tom Fox in all of this? You, James?


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Observe in her the Contrapasso

I hate to stoop to the level of celebrity gossip, but I couldn't resist this.

Halle Berry--the Halle Berry of those innumerable, sickeningly average blockbuster Hollywood films; of the drooling, gaping-mouthed Oscar/herself worshipping session of 2002; and of the lesser known hit and run incident of 2000--has managed to get herself into a rather large, and a rather hot pot of soup.

Apparently Ms. Berry appeared on Leno the other night and said of a photoshopped picture of herself: "Here's where I look like my Jewish cousin." (The photo distorted her features such that it gave her nose a, how should we put it?, capacious appearance.)

And, I'll admit that for a second there, my heart went out to this girl about to be blistered by an inferno of outrage over nothing. For a second, I say. Then I remembered my rule about sympathizing with movie stars post-1960. That is: Don't. You could spend that time cleaning out the kitty litter or something.

Welcome to the world that you yourself have helped to beget, Ms. Berry! You who dared accuse a man of racism because he did an impression on BBC radio of a "fat American black guy"; you who maintain that it is still disproportionately hard for a black woman to get roles in Hollywood. You are, simultaneously and (but for the age of unreason) paradoxically, the proof that virtually all accusations of racism in the 21st century West betray an element of projection, and that such accusations tend, almost always, to be patent bollocks.

... Anyway, I hope your cousin is pretty well connected, Halle, because--heh, heh, heh--we all know who runs Hollywood. Right?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Silver Fox Awakes

The Ambler is back online. For which, needless to say, I am taking full credit.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Cruelty of Heresy

In Martin Luther's "Table Talk," there is a story of family prayer that involved a discussion of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. His wife, Katie, speaking for all of us, exclaimed, "How horrible! God would not allow his son to be sacrificed!" And Luther quietly replied, "But, Katie, he did." The horror of the story is only partly relieved by the substitution of the ram for Isaac, and not at all relieved later by the absence of any intervention to bring Christ down from the cross. But beneath this horror is a love that is tough enough not to destroy humanity in order to save it, and a love powerful enough to see humanity vindicated over death.

Divine patience that insists on working through and thereby transforming humanity is not the whole story (there are times to intervene--on God's part and ours), but it is an essential part of it. The unwillingness of God to intervene prematurely, to save the Only Begotten from the betrayal, from the agony of the garden, and from the cry of dereliction and temptation to despair on the cross is the greatest challenge to our all-too-human desire for an Apollinarian short-cut.

A seminarian taking a summer's course on the oncology ward of a hospital was described by his supervisor as making the universal mistake of "giving premature reassurance." "Premature reassurance" is a kind of Apollinarian sentimentality that is long-range cruelty. Unfortunately, everyone does not always get well, and to suggest that they will does not provide for that patience which allows one to respond in trust to whatever reality obtains. We need to make room for a deeper hope than the one we pray for at a given time.

A New York jazz pianist once observed, "God never comes when you want him, but he's right on time." All of us caught in the agonies of God's failure to come on our schedule become especially susceptible to the seduction of the Apollinarian hope that we will be saved without being changed, without our wills being changed through the painful stretching of our time into God's.

Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison The Cruelty of Heresy

Nothing Coming From Nothing

I thought this both sad and hysterically funny:

Tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m., Ms. Shephard and the grieving mothers and relatives who make up U-MOVE (United Mothers Opposing Violence Everywhere) want Torontonians to shout, honk their car horns and generally make a ruckus to help halt violence in the city.

"We're asking everyone to stop for a minute, a minute of noise," Ms. Shepard said at a news conference where Mayor David Miller proclaimed tomorrow as the U-MOVE day of nonviolence. "We're not interested in a minute of silence. Too many of our kids have already been silenced."

One wonders what they'll resort to once this contemptible gimmick goes the way of the poor old moment of silence. A moment of moderate din, perhaps, just distinguishable from the overall hubbub?

Action, ladies. Action with purpose and action with design. Otherwise all you're doing is whiting David Miller's sepulchre.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Le Mot Juste (UPDATED)

I came across this review of the new film Elizabeth: The Golden Age (sequel to the Elizabeth produced in 1998) and was struck by the following line:
If someone says something like “God has spoken to me,” it’s a sure bet that (a) the speaker is a Catholic, and (b) whatever God had to say spells trouble for non-Catholics. Ditto any reference to “true believers,” “God’s work,” “legions of Christ,” you name it. In this world, God-talk is troubling Catholic behavior; Protestants don’t talk to, or about, God. Their religion is little more than a slogan for conscience, religious freedom, and of course heroic resistance to Catholic oppression.
Note that the "this world" of which the reviewer is speaking is the pseudo-historical world the film depicts (or, if you like, the spottily historical world the film has cherry-picked). But what serendipity! He has captured the very essence of Protestantism--particularly Anglicanism--in the 21st century!

It puts me in mind of something Kevin Grace once said to me about Anglicanism; he said--invoking either Smollett or Sterne, he couldn't remember which--that "the Anglican Church is the best church because it interferes neither with a man's politics nor with his religion."

... Of course, by 21st century standards we should exchange the word "religion" with the more Oprah-ready "spirituality", else likely your average Anglican might protest that this still makes him sound too much like a fundamentalist.

(That's the same Kevin Grace, by the way, whose site has been malingering in darkness lo this last month or so. Why? He refuses to give me a persuasive answer. I strongly suggest that you email him and ask him yourself. Honestly: do! Just a couple of words of stern rebuke for his ongoing, callous neglect of his readership, and a request that he stop.)

ADDENDUM (October 22nd)

Further to the Revionist Liz, KMG emails to say:
Dear Ted,

As to your post on Queen Bess, I too am appalled by the myth that claims Elizabethan England as a paradise of religious tolerance (ask the Puritans about that).

I came upon this most recently watching "The England of Elizabeth," ( part of BFI's otherwise delightful See Britain By Train. (The historical adviser was AL Rowse, so one shouldn't be surprised.)

Under Elizabeth, Catholic priests were relentlessly hunted down, tortured and killed like beasts. One of the most famous was Saint Edmund Campion. You can read about him here ( An account of his martyrdom (largely from Waugh's biography) can be found here ( I particularly like this detail: "[While on the scaffold, members of the mob] called to him to pray in English, but he replied with great mildness that 'he would pray God in a language which they both well understood.'"

As to Campion's (and the Jesuits's) "treason," here is his immortal defence, composed while travelling the country administering the sacraments and awaiting imminent arrest and the rack (

To those who might interject that Mary Tudor persecuted Protestants with no less vim or vigour than Elizabeth I did Catholics and Puritans, I'll simply ask that you bear in mind that neither are there any films suggesting that she (Mary) was a paragon of religious tolerance.

... Nothing, you'll notice, from Mr. Grace explaining the condition of The Ambler.

And my old nemesis, Jay Currie, too writes in:
Hi Ted,

I have been bugging Kevin re his blog and his annoying phone message - bottle factory indeed.

I am throughly amused at the description of Anglicanism you quote KMG as quoting. The most annoying aspect of it being that the Anglican Church, having drunk the bien pensant Kool Aid, is far more likely to interfere in your politics. For several years I had a spiritual director with whom I debated the necessity of going to Church. My argument being that I didn't at all mind the religious bits but the politics from the pulpit annoyed the Hell out of me.

He suggested, and I think rightly, that the main event was the Communion in itself and that little of spiritual value was lost in missing the sermon or, indeed, what passes for the Collect these days,

Yours in irritation,

Touché, Jay! But you know my opinion on this: you have only yourself to blame! I should add too that, being that my particular church is of the Anglo-Catholic variety, and that I mostly only go to Low Mass, not only is the liturgy entirely Cranmer's, but I'm also spared the sermon. Ha!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Blut und Wissenschaft

How is Dick Dawkins going to blame religion for this?
A leading museum has cancelled a talk by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist from the United States who reportedly claimed that black people are less intelligent than whites, it said Thursday.

The Science Museum in London had been due to host a lecture on Friday by Doctor James Watson, who won the Nobel prize for medicine in 1962 for his part in discovering the structure of DNA.

But it pulled the event after Watson told the Sunday Times newspaper that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours -- whereas all the testing says not really".

Still, you might ask, why should it follow that Richard Dawkins defend his fellow scientist in so prickly a matter? Well, for one, Watson too is an avowed atheist and evolutionist; a strong adherent of the belief that all religion is ignorance and sadism corrupting man's (apparently) natural moral state. Hell, he's even gone so far as to shill for Dawkins' book:
Passionate religious irrationality too often poses serious obstacles to human betterment. To oppose it effectively, the world needs equally passionate rationalists unafraid to challenge long accepted beliefs. Richard Dawkins so stands out through the cutting intelligence of The God Delusion.
One would think that this would be reason enough. But then there's this:

It seems that, way back in 1997, there was a great to-do over Dr. Watson's apparent endorsement in the Sunday Telegraph of the abortion of homosexual foetuses. Watson himself was furious at the accusation and threatened to sue. (He clarified that his position was that a woman should have the right to an abortion whatever the reason--including the prospect of progeny with tin-ears or short legs.) And sure enough, our friend Dr. Dick leapt astride his high-horse to play Lancelot to Watson's Guinevere. ( ... A very appropriate analogy if I do say so myself.)

Clearly then, Dawkins has got a fairish amount invested in his association with Dr. Watson.

So: accepting that religion, in its broadest sense, has much to account for when it comes to the harm that has been done in its various names, will Dr. Dick then concede the very real harm posed the world by his beloved science too? Will he acknowledge that, even within his own little section of the field, the biologist's skin doth conceal the eugenicist's organs? Or is this a case of Dr. Watson fighting the great white fight against "passionate religious irrationality" to clear yet another "obstacle to human betterment"?

I'm betting that he'll just say Watson's senile.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

When the Philistines of Gath go out against the Philistines of Gaza

Wow. Richard Dawkins really isn't a very smart man, is he? I had no idea.

Viddy this:
It is easy for religious faith, even if it is irrational in itself, to lead a sane and decent person, by rational, logical steps, to do terrible things. There is a logical path from religious faith to evil deeds. There is no logical path from atheism to evil deeds. Of course, many evil deeds are done by individuals who happen to be atheists. But it can never be rational to say that, because of my nonbelief in religion, it would be good to be cruel, to murder, to oppress women, or to perpetrate any of the evils on the Hitchens list.
Oh my dog, Dick! There is a logical path from religious faith to evil deeds, but there is no logical path from atheism to evil deeds?! How very convenient for you! But really: even if we were to take this on your own terms, it is at best a bizarrely pointless thing to say. I mean, given that you're rather clearly not trying to draw our attention to the apparent limits of (those utterly man-made constructs) logic and rationality, we are then supposed to be blown away by the observation that people are more likely to act if they have an opinion of a given matter than if they don't.* Brilliant, Dick! Just bloody brilliant! Next thing you'll be telling me people who aren't hungry are less likely to slaughter and eat a helpless wheat field than people who are. Or perhaps, people who aren't taught how to read are less likely to embrace the ideas contained in Mein Kampf.

... But what's really painfully fascinating about Dawkins' sophomore-level brain fart is this:
Religion changes, for people, the definition of good [from what, one is forced to ask --ed.]. Atheists and humanists tend to define good and bad deeds in terms of the welfare and suffering of others. Murder, torture, and cruelty are bad because they cause people to suffer. Most religious people think them bad, too, but some religions (for example the religion of the Taliban) sanction all of them under some circumstances. For non-religious people, the behavior of consenting adults in a private bedroom is the business of nobody else, and is not bad unless it causes suffering – for example by breaking up a happy family. But many religions arrogate to themselves the right to decide that certain kinds of sexual behavior, even if they do no harm to anyone, are wrong.
An unbelievable amount of rubbish here, I know, but focus on this the religion of the Taliban business? What was that called again, Mr. Dawkins? Islam, wasn't it? Could there be a reason for your refusing to name the religion of the Taliban even as you use it to smear every other religion known to man?

Could it be, I wonder, that to specifically name that one religion--whose doctrinal incompatibilities with your humanist orthodoxy are as a mountain compared to the molehills of, say, oh I don't know, Christianity or Judaism--could it be, I say, that to name Islam directly would be to violate the labyrinthine code of political correctnesses that your beloved "atheists" and "humanists" now enforce as law in the post-religious West? Could it be, Dick, that you yourself know that the only thing worse--and more likely to discredit you--than believing in God in the Cruelty-free New World is, strangely, illogically, irrationally enough, being what's now voguishly called an Islamophobe?

But if you can't even bring yourself to name your enemy, Dick, how the hell do you expect to defeat him?

Ah, well. Tangle on, my lad, tangle on!


*Of course, this requires of us that we accept the demonstrably false reasoning underlying this belief: that atheism is a position of neutrality.