Monday, December 31, 2007

A wish for the New Year

Several years ago, on a New Year's Eve radio show, I heard Karl Haas recite this poem of Alfred Lord Tennyson's. I found it both apt and touching, and now inflict a reading of it upon my helpless family every year.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thoughts of the Curé d'Ars

From the vatious writings of Saint Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney, “the Curé d’Ars,” patron of parish priests:

“God will forgive those who have forgiven: that is the law.”
— Homily

“All soldiers are good in garrison. On the field of battle, we see the difference between the brave and the cowardly.”
— Lenten Sermon

“There is such a thing as holy anger, which comes from our zeal in upholding the interests of God.”
— Sermon on Anger

“If you are afraid of other people’s opinion, you should not have become a Christian.”
— Sermon on the Fear of Other People’s Opinion

“In our actions we must always choose the most perfect.”
— Catechism on the Cardinal Virtue

“Worldly people have not the Holy Spirit, or if they have, it is only for a moment. The noise of the world drives him away.”
— Catechism on the Holy Spirit

“The Saints were so completely dead to themselves that they cared very little whether others agreed with them or not.”
— Catechism on Pride

“Those that love themselves with a love that seeks themselves and the world — that seeks creatures more than God — are never satisfied — never quiet. They are always uneasy, always tormented, always upset.”
— Catechism on the Love of God

“We must love while we suffer, and we must suffer if we love.”
— Catechism on Suffering

“I often think that even if there were no other life than this one, it would be enough happiness just to love God here and to do something for his glory.”
— The Curé d’Ars and the Love of God

“We have nothing of your own but out will. It is the only thing which God has so placed in our own power that we can make an offering of it to him.”
— Mortification of the Curé d’Ars

“To do things well, one must do them as God wishes.”
— Notre-Dame d’Ars, Meditation 22

“God commands you to pray, but he forbids you to worry.”
— On Keeping Sunday

“Do not be like the proud who are always want to assert their own opinion … I have known people with whom this had become a daily habit.”
— On Mortifying the Self-Will

“Are you falsely accused, or loaded with insults? All the better! It is a good sign; don’t worry about it. You are on the road which leads to Heaven.”
— The Strength of the Curé d’Ars in Suffering

Friday, December 21, 2007

I am remiss in posting the news!

My dear sweet friend Maggie Baran was given a son, Michael, on Wednesday the tenth of October last. Thanks be to God and Saint Ulrich for her safe delivery.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Koba, beloved of Valechka

In 1932, Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili was in a bad marriage. The Alliluyevas were all high-strung and neurotic, and Nadezhda was no exception. She was also a type that Koba would later claim to detest, an intellectual "world improving" woman, a "herring with ideas." The marriage had always been strained, and now with the political difficulties coming with forced collectivisation and Stalin's ever more frequent infidelities, things were worse than ever. And so, on 9 November 1932, Nadezhda Alliluyeva-Stalina left a dinner party without her husband, went home, and shot herself through the temple.

Koba was devastated, telling friends alternately with bitterness that "She left me as an enemy!" or remorsefully "She crippled me!"

The conventional accounts of Stalin’s life take this as a turning point. Stalin is said to have lost his last link with humanity, to have become cold and calculating, to have become paranoid in his suspicious after this. The purges did begin soon there after, and their brutality would seem to offer support for this position.

But I take a contrary view.

Koba was probably, more than anything else, relieved to be out of a stifling relationship with a highly-neurotic woman. Though he had been discreetly seeing women before her suicide, afterwards he was more open, seeing ballerinas from the Bolshoi, actresses from the Moscow Arts Theater, opera singers (he preferred mezzo-sopranos), and having a series of young “housekeepers” posted to his dachas for his carnal use. These all appear to be rather above-board affairs, neither coercion nor prostitution seems to be involved, simply the seductive attraction of a hugely powerful man.

One such “housekeeper” was the nineteen year old Valentina Vasilevna Istomina who was posted to the suburban Moscow dacha of Zubalovo in 1934. Valechka, as Koba called her, was Stalin’s ideal type: shapeless, yet not fat, buxom and neat, round-faced and pug-nosed, mousy hair, simple yet clever, unlettered yet talkative, in a word wholesomely Russian. Over time she came to prominence, taking care of Koba’s personal effects, becoming in charge of the whole house-hold, and then in charge of all his houses. Koba was proud of her, in an odd sort of way, showing friends his piles of brilliantly white underwear that she kept immaculately clean and starched (surely a unique point of pride among dictators).
By the end of the 1930’s, Stalin’s days of philandering were drawing to a close. The last such affair appears to be with a beautiful Georgian woman who was a test pilot for the Commissariat of Aviation. All sources are agreed that, after 1939, Stalin had only his Valechka as mistress, though some called her his “secret wife.” His orphan daughter, Svetlana (whom he called his “little housekeeper”) came to see her as a second mother. Commissar for Heavy Industry, “Iron Lazar” Kaganovich, told his daughter at this time that Koba loved his little Valechka. Even so, she remained in the background, serving at table as if she were simply one among many household servants.

In was while serving in this role that he turned to her for advice once in 1941. It was in the dreadful October of that year. The Nazi army was only twenty miles from Moscow and the order had gone out for all commissariats to make ready for evacuation. Summoning the various commissars to the Kremlin for dinner, he asked them if their commissariats were ready for evacuation. Misunderstanding the question, each of the commissars averred that they were ready to leave Moscow. Turning to the ever smiling Valechka in her white apron, Koba asked, “Valentina Vasilevna, are you preparing to leave Moscow?”

“Comrade Stalin, Moscow is our mother, our home. It should be defended!”

“That’s how Muscovites talk!” Stalin told his Politburo, thus shaming the commissars into staying in the beleaguered capital with the example of his housekeeper.

Valechka attended the war time conferences at Yalta and Potsdam with her Koba, though as always in her role as housekeeper. First Roosevelt and Churchill, and then Truman and Atlee had no idea that the round little woman who served them at table was their host’s lover. And, though diplomatic protocol demanded that the President of the United States (as head-of-state, a rank that neither the British Prime Minister nor Chairman of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union enjoyed) be served first, Valechka always attended to her Koba first.

It was at this time, while preparing for the Potsdam conference, that Valechka told Koba to cut his hair short, since he looked younger with short hair. Thus, Potsdam photos show a younger looking Stalin than do pictures from Yalta.

On the fifth of March 1953, Stalin suffered a stroke of apoplexy. It took him hours to die, eventually drowning in his own fluids. By that time Svetlana and all of the major commissars had been called to his side. When he finally succumbed, first KGB chief Beria, and then one-at-a-time all of the others, came forth and kissed Stalin before leaving. When, at last, all of the powerful magnates were gone, Valechka pushed through the crowd around the body and threw herself on him, in Svetlana’s words, “wailing at the top of her voice as the women in the villages do. She went on for a long time and nobody tried to stop her.”

Valechka was only thirty-eight when her lover died. She is still alive, aged ninety-two and living in Moscow. And, if you ask her, she will tell you that “no better man ever walked the earth” than Stalin.

Now, my point is this: no matter how many crimes Stalin is guilty of, no matter how much human suffering he caused, no matter how many mistakes he made, he did succeed at this one human relationship. Every scrap of evidence, every bit of testimony indicates that Valechka loved her Koba with unmitigated devotion and that this love was genuine, unforced, and profound. Whatever else he may have been, Koba was the beloved of Valechka.

And you, comrade?

When you are dead, will anyone wail over you “like a peasant woman?” Will anyone beg God to save your soul? Will anyone care if you suffer the torments of the dammed?

Do not think that if you have not earned someone’s love right here on earth that you will be granted divine mercy when you are dead, no matter how you might think you love Jesus. What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only? For even as the body without the spirit is dead: so also faith without works is dead.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Life and Death / Then and Now

Just before his death in July of 1553, King Edward VI of England changed the law of succession, disinheriting his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth (on the claim that they were illegitimate), recognizing instead as his heir his first-cousin-once-removed, Lady Jane Grey. He did this because the Heiress Presumptive, Mary Tudor, was a Catholic, while both he and his cousin were Protestant.

Upon the death of the king, Jane's father-in-law, John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, announced the proclamation of the change of succession and began to gather troops in London to uphold this claim. Despite having all of the resources of the state behind him however, Dudley's attempted coup failed, as almost the whole of the country rallied to Mary. Jane's reign lasted only nine days, and before July was ended she was a prisoner in the Tower of London. All of the conspirators were tried and found guilty of treason, but only Dudley was executed immediately. Jane, being scarce sixteen years old, was thought to be less culpable and so her execution was stayed. Mary hoped that Jane might be pardoned once Mary had produced an heir and her hold on the throne was thus more secure.

The Protestant rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt in late January 1554 sealed Jane's fate, however. Though the rebellion failed almost at its inception, Mary's councelors pointed up the fact that as long as Jane was alive she would serve as a rallying point for Protestants. They had counceled severity from the start and, as this new uprising seemed to prove them right, Mary signed death warrants for Jane and her husband.

On the morning of 12 February 1554, the authorities took Jane's husband, Lord Guilford Dudley from his rooms at the Tower of London to the public execution place at Tower Hill and had him beheaded. Being of the Blood Royal, Jane was not executed publicly, but was beheaded in a private room in the Tower later that afternoon. She is said to have been reconsiled to her fate and comported herself with great dignity.

Thus were taitors dealt with in the sixteenth century.

In reading a fuller account of this incident I happened to take note of one of the practices of that time. On the 10th of February, two days before the execution was to take place, three matrons were dispatched to Jane's apartment in the Tower where they examined her to make sure she was not pregnant. Had she been with child, the execution would have been postponed so as not to take that innocent life.

Contrast that if you will, to the situation today where thirteen states no longer execute criminals, yet in every state abortion is legal.

New baby at the Dziak house!

Little Daniel Joseph Dziak was born on the first of December.
Congratulations to Dick and Joan.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Is IVF as bad as Abortion?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2004 there were 134,242 ART ("Assisted Reproductive Technology") cycles performed at reporting clinics resulting in 38,910 live births of 52,041 infants. According to Wikipedia, when ART (more commonly called In Vitro Fertilization or IVF) is begun,ten or twelve eggs are usually harvested and fertilized, then two or three are implanted, of which only one is expected to survive. Statistics are very hard to come by on this, but let us extrapolate for a minute. Let's assume that the average woman going in for treatment tries it twice, meaning that 134,242 represents 67,121 women who begin ART annually. This means probably 671,121 eggs harvested each year to produce 52,041 living babies. The rest, about 618,080 fertilized embryos are — what? Thrown out? Wasted? Murdered? As good as aborted?

These numbers are shocking when you consider that there are about twice as many induced abortions annually. Think about it: one third of all embryos killed by medical science are a result of IVF.

Where is the movement to ban IVF?

Think about it: people who get abortions usually didn't want to get pregnant in the first place, they're usually stuck making a hard decision about their lives, many of them are unmarried or can't afford another child, some of them are pretty hard cases that might just deserve some sympathy from us. But IVF? That's just a calculated decision, a premeditated attempt to play at being God.

Shouldn't we do something about this?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Why Christians Hate Darwin

Recently, there was a dust-up in the Bourgeois press about a few statements made by Nobel laureate James Watson.

"All our social policies are based on the fact that their [i.e. Africans'] intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really ... there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."
James Watson

Of course, the media immediately piled on Watson, alleging that these statements were “racist.” Racism, properly understood, is a prejudice holding that one’s own race is superior to another. It would most assuredly not be racism to believe a provable differentiation among races; as for instance, that (on average) Indo-Europeans are taller than Inuits, or that Bantus have darker complexions than Semites. Watson, it a grotesque violation of Bourgeois Propriety (also know as “Political Correctness”), simply stated as fact what many researchers claim to be able to prove statistically. (cf. Charles Murray, “The Bell Curve”)

What makes his statement intriguing is that, inherent in his reasoning, is the notion that Darwinian evolution makes intelligence differentials among races not merely explicable, but inevitable. This is the dirty secret of Darwin: he’s anti-social.

To understand this, we must take separate the elements of “Darwinism” into the several component idea that comprise his theory.

First, there is the notion of Evolution proper. The idea that more complex forms of life developed out of simpler forms pre-dates Darwin by at least one hundred years. First proposed by the Catholic biologist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, it was elaborated by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and had found wide acceptance among the educated by Darwin’s day. This notion is commonly not viewed as being at variance with the idea of Divine creation; after all, God can make the world by any method that serves his purpose. Only the most doctrinaire of Bible literalists reject this notion.

The second notion is that this evolution happens gradually, over vast periods of time, through mutation and adaption, and that one species develops imperceptibly into another. (Buffon defined the species as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding.) Spengler refutes this decisively:

There is no more conclusive refutation of Darwinism than that furnished by palæontology. Simple probability indicates that fossil hoards can only be test samples. Each sample, then, should represent a different stage of evolution, and there ought to be merely ‘transitional’ types, no definition and no species. Instead of this we find perfectly stable and unaltered forms persevering through long ages, forms that have not developed themselves on the fitness principle, but appear suddenly and at once in their definite shape; that do not thereafter evolve towards better adaptation, but become rarer and finally disappear, while quite different forms crop up again. What unfolds itself, in ever-increasing richness of form, is the great classes and kinds of living beings which exist aboriginally and exist still, without transition types, in the grouping of today. We see how amongst fish, the Selachians, with their simple form, appear first in the foreground of history and then slowly fade out again, while the Teleostians slowly bringing a more perfected fish-type to predominance. The same applies to the plant-world of the ferns and horsetails, of which only the last species now linger in the fully developed kingdom of the flowering plants. But the assumption of utility-causes or other visible causes for these phenomena has no support of actuality. (In the language of Gœthe, we see how the ‘impressed form’ works itself out in the individual samples, but now how the die was cut for the whole genus.) It is a Destiny that evoked into the world life as life, the ever-sharper opposition between plant and animal, each single type, each genus, and each species. And along with this existence there is given also a definite energy of the form — by virtue of which in the course of its self-fulfillment it keeps itself pure or, on the contrary, becomes dull and unclear or evasively splits into numerous varieties — and finally a life-duration of the form, which (unless, again, incident intervenes to shorten it) leads naturally to a senility of the species and finally to its disappearance.
— Decline of the West v. II : p. 32

The third component of Darwinism is the mechanism for evolution, the survival of the fittest. This phrase actually comes not from Darwin, but from the social scientist, Herbert Spencer, and the concept too is one from social science not hard science. Darwin took this notion directly from the economic writings of Parson Malthus who proposed that populations always increase faster than food supplies and thus there was always a struggle for survival in which only the fit would succeed. This notion is not borne out by history and is, in fact, nothing more or less than a justification for the oppression of the poor. There is no better proof of the speciousness of this notion than the fact that, shortly after Darwin published his theory, the social philosopher Herbert Spencer justified social inequality with a theory of “Social Darwinism” holding that the rich were the fittest and thus entitled to their wealth no matter how they got it or what the social cost.

[As an aside, it is interesting to note that, years ago as a Marxist, I was taught to reject Darwinism because he was based upon this reactionary theory and to embrace the neo-Lamarckism of Lysenko. Subsequently, red-diaper-baby Steven Jay Gould gave us an even better neo-Lamarckist hypothesis, “Punctuated Equilibrium.”]

And this is where Christians begin to balk. Social Darwinism (which is, ultimately, inseparable from biological Darwinism) is antithetical to Christian notions of charity and the dignity of the human person. The statements of James Watson are exactly what a Christian would expect from a Darwinist and it is this kind of racist thinking that they perforce reject. Unfortunately, the attack on Darwin came in the form of a Bible fetishism known as Fundamentalism. Rather than attack the scientific flaws in Darwin, or expose his political agenda, the early opponents chose simply to reject science and insist upon a super-natural creation.

As a Catholic, of course, I have no problem with Buffon’s notion of evolution, but I have to reject the notion that God would use an immoral process (survival of the fittest) to accomplish the moral end of the creation of our world and its myriad creatures. It is time to make the Darwinists own up to the fact that their system is based upon a brutal, dehumanizing, mechanism that is repugnant both to Christian morality and a truly humanistic secularism.

To the materialist, people can be ranked and valued by strength, robustness, and intelligence — just like breeding stock! But to the Christian, each and every human soul is equally precious and valuable. Spengler, perhaps the greatest mystic of the twentieth century, states the case succinctly:

It is only from the standpoint of the Stoic and of the Socialist, of the typical irreligious man, that want of intelligence is a matter for contempt.
— Decline of the West, I : 409