“Senior Administration Official” Tells All

When a journalist cites a “senior administration official” for some piece of information that is being provided anonymously, many readers probably think of Woodward and Bernstein meeting Deep Throat in a darkened parking garage somewhere. That, it seems to me, is what the journalist is hoping you’ll think of. And with some people, that makes the information seem more credible; with other people, less credible.

But what many people do not know is that the anonymous source is frequently a government insider who is speaking in a large, well-lit government office, surrounded by reporters whose questions he or she cheerfully answers. Jess Bravin calls attention to the phenomenon in today’s Wall Street Journal, wryly challenging his readers to see if they can identify the “senior administration official” who is quoted anonymously in this White House press release:

Let me just make one editorial comment here. I’ve seen some press reporting says, “Cheney went in to beat up on them, threaten them.” That’s not the way I work. I don’t know who writes that, or maybe somebody gets it from some source who doesn’t know what I’m doing, or isn’t involved in it. But the idea that I’d go in and threaten someone is an invalid misreading of the way I do business.

Why does the government do this? I’m not sure. Maybe in this particular case, the Vice President felt it would not be Vice Presidential to respond to this particular criticism personally. (Though I must say, the “senior administration official” quoted above goes on to make what seem to me to be newsworthy remarks about his recent meetings with Karzai and others in Afghanistan and Pakistan.)

But it is even harder for me to understand why the press willingly goes along with the whole ruse. They pretend they want their readers to know absolutely everything of importance, but in fact they actively conceal whether the speaker to whom they are referring is, say, one of many policy advisors with no real decision-making authority, or is instead the Vice President of the United States. If these are the watchdogs of our republic, then our republic is in real trouble.

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Why does the Church think we are all fools?

Well, James Cameron, of all people, has apparently found not only Jesus’, but also Mary Magdalene’s, Mary’s, Joseph’s, and Jesus’ and Mary’s son’s coffins. Now, that would be the archeological find of the millenium, no? I have no idea, at this point, what Mr. Cameron has found, though of course the story of the so-called James ossuary does give one pause. Details, no doubt, to follow.However, what I do find interesting is the reactions of Christian leaders of various denominations, including, apparently, the Archbishop of NY, who continue to conflate Christianity with fundamentalism and the media’s obsession with getting these people on the record.

Much, if not most, of twentieth century biblical and systematic theology was an attempt to reconcile Christian revelation with the realities posed by the natural sciences and the emerging science of history. Bultmann, Kung, Rahner and many others have done paradigm altering work that allows reasonable Christians to make sense of the content of revelation in a world where scientific, archeological and historical discovery is forever progressing. No doubt, evidence of the physical body of Jesus would require quite a bit of theological explaining. However, the basic tools to understand the cosmic validity of Christian revelation even in the face of such an earth shattering archeological discovery has already been done. And yet, there is no attempt made by the Christian churches, perhaps most especially, the Catholic hierarchy, to make that learning and pastoral comfort available to the people in the pews.

They find it easier no doubt, to organize boycotts of the DaVinci Code and to strongly encourage parents to remove all copies of Harry Potter from the house. They strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. In an effort to maintain a simple and pietistic Vatican I spirituality among the laity, which consistently veers into the heresy (and it is a heresy, make no mistake) of fundamentalism they ignore, at their peril, the miraculous modern additions to the vibrant Christian tradition.

I guess good homiletics doesn’t get you a 30 second spot on the six o’clock news….Sigh.

The First Blogger?

Happy birthday, Michel de Montaigne. The Writer’s Almanac has this bio:

It’s the birthday of the great essayist Michel de Montaigne, (books by this author) born in Périgueux, France (1533). His father was a wealthy landowner. Montaigne went off to college and became a lawyer, but his father died when Montaigne was 38 years old. And so he retired to the family estate and took over managing the property. And it was there that he began to write. He wrote short pieces on various topics, and he called them “essays,” because the French word “essai” means attempt.

He lived at a time when religious civil wars were breaking out all over the country — Protestants and Catholics killing each other. The Black Plague was ravaging the peasants in his neighborhood; he once saw men digging their own graves and then lying down to die in them. Still, while he occasionally wrote about big subjects like hatred and death, he also wrote about the most ordinary things, like his gardening or the way radishes affected his digestion. He wrote about sadness, idleness, liars, fear, smell, prayer, cannibals, and thumbs, among other things.

Michel de Montaigne wrote, “The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.”

On Calendars and Campaigns

David Broder laments the frontloading of the presidential primary calendars in both parties, calling it “insane” and a “mad rush to judgment.” According to Broder, “a selection system that used to begin in March now is over in February — at the latest.” And he thinks that’s bad because (1) it will force Democrats and Republicans alike to pick a winner early based on necessarily limited information; and (2) it will create a nine-month general election campaign that will leave voters “exhausted” and force contenders to raise even more money than they already have to raise.

Hugh Hewitt respectfully disagrees. He does not disagree with Broder that the nominations will be locked up by February 2008, but he argues that (1) it is good to have larger states playing a more prominent role alongside Iowa and New Hampshire, because larger states tend to present a broader subset of the issues that will drive opinion nationally; and (2) the need to cultivate the support of opinion leaders in many different localities early will increase the influence of bloggers and talk radio hosts, at the expense of the mainstream media.

The assumption shared by Broder and Hewitt, of course, is that presidential elections will continue to be two-horse contests for the foreseeable future. Recently, however, I heard an intriguing argument to the contrary from a person whom I’ve always regarded as a savvy observer of the horse-race side of politics. The thesis is that 2008 will be a very favorable year for an independent candidate, for a number of reasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Invention of Fractions

I guess I’ve been in a poetic mood lately. This comes with a hat-tip to The Writer’s Almanac:

The Invention of Fractions
by Jessica Goodfellow

God himself made the whole numbers: everything else
is the work of man.

—Leopold Kronnecker

God created the whole numbers:
the first born, the seventh seal,
Ten Commandments etched in stone,
the Twelve Tribes of Israel —
Ten we’ve already lost —
forty days and forty nights,
Saul’s ten thousand and David’s ten thousand.
‘Be of one heart and one mind’ —
the whole numbers, the counting numbers.

It took humankind to need less than this;
to invent fractions, percentages, decimals.
Only humankind could need the concepts
of splintering and dividing,
of things lost or broken,
of settling for the part instead of the whole.

Only humankind could find the whole numbers,
infinite as they are, to be wanting;
though given a limitless supply,
we still had no way
to measure what we keep
in our many-chambered hearts.

(If you want to read more from Jessica Goodfellow, buy her book.)

Ash Wednesday in the Poetry Corner

At Georgetown’s Dahlgren Chapel today, Fr. James Walsh quoted from this poem by John Donne. Enjoy.

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’ and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

Merck ends campaign to require HPV vaccinations

The heavy-handed lobbying campaign to vaccinate 11-year-old girls against Human Papillomavirus is apparently over. Bloomberg has the story, as does The Washington Post. For some reason, the press does not mention the role played by the incisive questions raised on Reasonable Minds, but I’m pretty sure no one wanted to see any more bad puns on the name “Merck.”

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