Sunday, May 30, 2004

All Quiet

[Started this seems like three weeks ago.]

Jeff Culbreath’s worried about me, because I’ve been so “quiet” lately. It’s touching, actually, that someone you’ve never met could actually care about you. One of the good effects of the internet, I guess. That includes his wife, by the way, even though she’s gone totally silent on me. Typical woman. But I know she cares.

I’ve gotten similar emails from others, like that special Micki person over at Summamamas.

Well, I’m fine. I said I’d be giving this a rest, and I am. For a brief period I’ve got both my girls home, and I’m going to enjoy it. If Elizabeth wants to go to the bookstore, we go. If she wants her car waxed, I do it. She wants pizza for dinner, I make it. From scratch. If Bernadette needs me to come to the golf course to check her swing, I’m there. If she makes it through local qualifying for the U.S. Open, she gets ribs on the grill. I played golf with her two days ago for the first time in a couple months (she’s been on the road playing professionally). Got my ass kicked. She eagled number 4, a par 5, and never looked back. I’ve been thinking of practicing in order to stem the tide of humiliation, but then I remember it has been my dream that she would one day inflict it.

I picked the last of the grapefruit yesterday. They come ripe in late November and I’m still picking them in May. Most amazing. Elizabeth has missed them so much she insists on peeling each one by hand to make them last longer. Tangerines are meant to be peeled, and Temple oranges, but not grapefruit. I don’t know how she does it without the juice squirting all over. Clever girl.

My yard’s starting to look like one again. I’ve cleaned out two rows of hedges, put down mulch, trimmed low-hanging tree limbs, sanded and painted the outside woodwork on several windows, kept up with the mowing and edging, and rewarded myself afterwards with mugs full of Bass ale or Beck’s. Elizabeth just turned 21, so she sometimes sits on the back steps with me to share that beer. “Ballerina diet?” I ask. “You bet,” she says.

And then (to be perfectly honest) there’s the problem of feeling that one has nothing important to say, or nothing that makes any difference. It’s not writer’s block, because I can write on any number of things in any variety of directions till the sun blinks out. It just doesn’t seem important.

I’m living in a country where at this moment queers are getting married in Massachusetts and no one can stop it. The courthouse echoes with the sound of cheering. There are smiles, laughter, tears, squeals of delight, and hugs all around. The wedding cake is cut. It all seems so normal. Except when the judge, sensing the awkwardness, says, “I now pronounce you...married,” or “spouses for life”.

I live in a country where the senior senator from that same state can defecate out the wrong end of the canal by saying that Saddam’s torture chambers have re-opened under new management, George Bush’s, of course. He can say things like this and get elected to term after term, and get paid good money for it. He doesn’t even have to pay into social security. He can say it and no one from his own party disowns him, or calls him a traitor or even a corpulent, carbuncular rotting remnant of a human carcass. More recently, Al Gore took the podium before an audience of the faithful and screamed into the microphone about the disgrace and dishonor the president had brought upon our country, called for the resignation of virtually the entire administration, and was rewarded with nothing but adoring screams sent back at him. No Democrat invited to a post-fit-pitching talk show put his shaking head in his hands and admitted to second thoughts: "I sure am glad Mr. Gore had that election stolen from him. He seems these days like a man gone berserk." No, they all agreed, Mr. Gore had some valid criticisms to offer.

That’s the kind of country I live in, one that sends its young people to die in a desert scorpion’s nest to defend Senator Kennedy’s right to assert that all their deaths are worthless, because this war was a flim-flam cooked up over a Texas barbecue and propped up by a pack of willful lies about weapons of mass murder. (Although somebody killed these people. Have fun scrolling.) Instead of being shunned as a conspiracy nut, he gets to announce it on the TV news to millions of people and we all nod because we understand that this is an election year, and that the noble calling of politics is the only occupation that allows you to destroy another’s reputation without incurring any damage to your own. Maybe we think he didn’t mean it. Did he mean it? He couldn’t have, could he?

I live in a country with a sense of proportion. When the prison scandal at Abu Ghraib broke, we were all shocked, from the President on down to the bricklayer. Why, your average whore on the street was scandalized right out of her nylon-mesh stockings. All those regular folks who regularly enjoy nudity and more on their cable TV service, rent racy films at the video store, watch them in the movie theaters or in their hotel rooms (to the delight of Marriott, Hilton, and other major corporations), all those who make the porn industry bigger than the NFL, the NBA and MLB combined, were left simply aghast. I know the major media were shocked because they couldn’t gather their wits long enough to stop showing the pictures of it. In fact, when they heard that there were more and newer pictures to follow, they were so appalled that they announced they’d show them to us just as soon as they could get their hands on them. Mona Charen bemoaned the “shame” of it all. "…now any invocation of our values and our standards will be met with contempt and dismissal by the Middle East audience…they must see that our system of justice really does function as advertised. It may be our last chance at the hearts and minds of a critical audience." Yes, they loved us so much before. Now they have an excuse to really hate us. Peggy Noonan was equally "disheartened". She thought the whole thing "mortifying", giving rise to..."a defensive, ‘That is not who we are.’ As indeed it is not."

Yes it is, Peggy. That’s exactly who we are. We live in a pornographic culture. We raise our kids in it. While they’re growing up in public school, we can’t tell them that some ways of behaving are better than others. We offer them wonderfully graphic sex-ed classes, but nothing in the way of religion. We censor nothing except religion. If they come to see public displays of piety as more offensive than public displays of sex, it’s hard to blame them. Censorship is a bad word. An obscene word. Except in the case of children. It’s against the law to use them or look at them in this context. Except in the case of virtual children, no matter how lifelike, because, with the blessing of our Supreme Court, that’s okay. It’s enough to warm the heart of any pedophile. So we raise our kids in our porno culture devoid of condemnation, and then we’re shocked, I repeat, shocked, that when left to their own devices their imaginations fix on what they saw on the internet the night before.

Of the scandal photos, Ms. Noonan is most distressed by the "one of an American woman, a GI, who is laughing, holding a cigarette and aiming her fingers…And as I looked at her I thought Oh, no. This is not equality but mutual degradation…" [I told you she was shocked]. "I've never seen evidence to suggest the old-time WACs and WAVEs had to delve down into some coarse and vulgar part of their nature to fit in, to show they were one of the guys…she looked, shall we say, confused about these issues."

Not to me she didn’t. She looked like she knew exactly what she was doing and enjoying it. As one who opposes posting women to such duty in the first place, what pissed me off about the now pregnant-out–of-wedlock Miss Englund was the danger to which she was exposing her fellow female soldiers. Imagine what will happen the next time one is captured. I don’t think she’ll be subjected to any run-of-the-mill rape.

But the most entertaining reaction was that of Nancy Pelosi, whom I saw emerging from one of those compulsory viewing sessions that senators and congressman just can’t get out of. She had seen the original photos and then the new photos and even some videos you and I can’t get our hands on. Stripped of that plastered-on socialite’s smile she always wears, she looked ashen, grieved, as though she’d just emerged from a tour of Buchenwald. Oh, the horror, the horror.

Actually, Mzzzz Pelosi, here’s the horror:

That's an American civilian contractor after having been shot, now in the process of being burned, later mutilated, and then strung up from a bridge like a dummy in effigy. Three of his fellows met the same fate. Have you seen these images, Madam Minority Leader? If you have, I haven’t heard your indignant and outraged call for retribution. Don’t you want to get the bastards who did this? In fact, after you viewed the prison photos, all I remember is your call for Rumsfeld’s dismissal and your denunciation of Bush’s incompetence. I guess you were paving the way for Kennedy and Gore. But have you seen these images? They’re getting harder to find on the internet, and I didn’t see any on the TV news outlets. You’d almost think there was an agenda in play.

Oh well, you’ll be happy to know we lost Fallujah, not militarily but through the meddling of bureaucrats. Apparently the price in blood we demanded will not be paid. We’ve turned the city over to ex-Saddamites for the sake of tranquillity. The marines had the vermin cornered, and then were ordered to pull back. Now it’s a city where someone like, say, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi can hide out. In case, Miss Nancy, you haven’t been following that end of the news, he’s the guy who (probably) cut off the head of Nicholas Berg. By the way, Nance, have you seen that video? Or are you guys only allowed to watch sex stuff? Well, you’re not alone. No one wanted to see it, and the major media wouldn’t show it. Wouldn’t even tell us how to find it. Just that it’s "on the internet." Christian, atheist, new-ager, Jew – all fell over themselves thanking the media for not showing it, even as they excoriated them for showing too many prison pictures. Bloggers exclaimed righteously how they would not provide a link (implying they had hunted one down but, like good parents, were keeping it from us) to avoid inciting hatred and a thirst for revenge, most un-Christian qualities. Thank God someone’s there to protect me from my own worst instincts, except the sexual ones, which aren’t important anyway. The Christians were especially interesting, unable to watch Nick lose his head, but flocking by the millions to the movie theater to see Jesus Christ torn to shreds. A simple aversion to violence cannot be the thing in play here, so it must be the avoidance of hatred, which is the very objection certain Jews made to The Passion, an argument no one bought. But we buy it with regard to the beheading. You’d think a thirst for justice was an unholy thing.

Nicholas Berg can suffer having his head cut off, but we can’t suffer watching it. We are told that it’s enough to be told. Okay, I’ll tell you. He’s sitting there on the floor in his orange jumpsuit with his hands tied behind his back. He clearly doesn’t know what’s coming. He thinks it’s just another rote, ritualistic humiliation American prisoners must endure. Eventually they’ll see he’s a good guy and a nobody and let him go. After the head cockroach, supposedly Zarqawi, finishes reading his scripted outrage (he would not, you see, have killed an American Jew without the incitement of Abu-Ghraib), he pulls a long-bladed knife from the breast of his garment, grabs Berg’s hair while a couple of other roaches help roll him over, and starts cutting. The screams start immediately, partially obscured by the incessant chants of his murderers: Allah Akbar – God is great. There’s a moment when the video goes blurry while the cockroach behind the camera learns on the job how the zoom function works. The screams go on for about 10 seconds (that’s a guess) to be replaced by what seemed to me a gagging gurgling sound as the vocal cords are cut and a great spurt of blood suddenly floods the floor beneath and in front of Mr. Berg, and you are left to wonder at just what instant he realized that the rituals were over, this was the last one, that his throat was being cut, his head removed…Maybe he never got that far. Maybe Jesus came to him in a light and took him away from it all.

Does a slaughtered innocent have his part in Christ’s passion?

Here’s a link to some still photos of the execution. Don’t look unless you can bear to see Nick Berg’s disembodied head, his orange “prison” jumpsuit serving as the platter. Here’s a link to a small screen version of the video. (Link now dead). At the least you can minimize the window at the point when the knife comes out and listen to the screams of someone who may have died for you and me. My wife and daughter watched it, under no compulsion. I told them I’d finally found it on a site unblemished by porno links, and they came to watch. My wife cried out when Mr. Berg’s head was held aloft, as though she never really believed what was happening. Elizabeth just watched, somberly, then wondered how there could be such people among us. And no one can give her an anwer. Some things you just have to do battle with. When our young people join that battle, I hope they’re dying for a concept of freedom that is something more than licentiousness or leisure.

Yes, I want to write things people will read, increase prosperity for myself and my family, gain success for my children, happiness for my wife, watch television at my leisure, read books when I get to them, play golf in the sun, and drink beer on the back steps with my daughter. Is this what they're dying for?

I had thought to write, on this Memorial Day, of my grandfather, WWII hero, lifelong friend of the Eisenhowers, who landed at Omaha Beach and later took a 50 caliber round in the leg while trying to save an American ammunition depot that had been strafed by German aircraft. I sit now surrounded by his commendations hanging on the wall - the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the French Legion of Honor, and so on; and by autographed pictures of Mark Clark, Lightning Joe Collins (commander of the 7th Corps and my grandad's boss), and of Ike, Supreme Allied Commander, who once asked him to come be his executive officer, but grandad turned him down. "Biggest mistake I ever made," he said in later years. I was going to tell you about the time, some years after Ike's death, that Mamie surprised my grandparents when she stopped by the house I now live in to pay her respects. A chauffeur knocked at the front door and asked if Mrs. Eisenhower might come in for a while. She was in Florida for some reason and was looking up old friends. But so many of the details died with him in 1988 - a crime on my part for never taking them down - and I don't think he'd much recognize the country we now ask our soldiers to die for. Gay marriage? He'd have laughed and then cried. He didn't get to live through the presidency of Bill Clinton, whose behavior he'd have found simply incomprehensible. Impeachment wouldn't have been sufficient. The old atheist - in his self-sacrifice, generosity, and manner of living, he was a better Christian than most I know, and certainly better than this one.

Time won't stop. The older daughter played her Open qualifying in Atlanta (so that the boyfriend could caddy) and came in third, which moves her on to Sectionals. Then she came home for a week. Then she hit the road again, heading for tournaments in Indiana and Michigan. She loves it - the traveling, the competition, the sunshine and the rain, the companionship of her fellows. She makes friends easily. People are drawn to her. They want to give her things. The sponsor of the last tournament, president of some bank, played with her in the pro-am, and that night at a meet-the-pro event in a casino outside Chicago gave her and her traveling partner, a sweet kid named Libby, 100 dollars each to gamble with. They decided to save the money instead. He asked about her sponsor situation, gave her his card, and told her if she ever needed anything to give him a call.

Like a deluded fool, I try to believe the angels are watching out for her. We've talked, and she knows that when she dies God is not going to ask how her golf game's doing. At least she says she knows. I'm inclined to believe her, because on the way to that last tournament she and Libby stopped at a motel in downtown Nashville in the dead of night, exhausted after 12 hours of driving. They checked in at the office, during which process Bernadette had to use the restroom. When she came out, the guy behind the desk, an Iranian (she thinks), had called in the security officer, a black guy in a uniform, and was telling him he had a couple of young women here and he wanted the officer to keep them safe. Libby looked a little wide-eyed. The place had seemed all right when they pulled in. The officer escorted them to their room. They passed a barefoot black girl in cut-off jeans and a tank top swilling something concealed in a brown paper bag. The girl gave the newcomers a hard look. Or perhaps it was indifference. Hard to tell. They caught sight of other unsavory characters, though she was vague about the details. She doesn't like to be bothered with them, hates it when I press her.

She has spent many nights in motels, but for the first time she was afraid. The security officer parked his car outside their room all night, but still she had a hard time falling asleep, and when she did it was to passages from the prayer book assembled by Jeff Culbreath. I had made her take it with her, without any real hope she'd ever crack it.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, Our Savior...

Or maybe it was the Anima Christi, which I often read to her and her sister when they were infants:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me;
Body of Christ, save me;
...O good Jesu, hear me;
...From the malicious enemy, defend me;
In the hour of my death, call me;
And bid me come to thee.
That with thy saints I may praise thee
For ever and ever..

Maybe that's why the soldiers are losing limbs and giving their lives, so that you and I, in our desperation, can offer prayers for safety and salvation, and teach them to our children. She's a good girl, a good person, a good Christian. That's why they're dying, so that she can be that person. After all the great works have been written, the masterpieces painted, and the symphonies scripted, what is there, really, left to any of us but a prayer before dying?

I hope that Nick Berg, as the knife sliced deep and he understood that no legion of angels would come to him until it was over, was able to slip one in. It's the prayer of us all.


Your screed against civil rights and civil behavior is rather unchristian. Citizens of the state of MA can not and should not be denied their right to create the family of their choosing. This is what is great about America.
As for the burning of bodies and benahior of insurgents in Iraq, your comments suggest we should behave as they do. So is it an eye for an eye or turn the cheek christianity you embrace. Your tome could as easily be found on al-Jazeera, decrying the actions of citizens ratehr than believers. Jihadists, you're all the same regardless of religious delusion.
Posted by William email at May 31, 2004 06:06 PM
William, that W H O O S H I N G sound is Mr. Luse's point going right over your head. If you didn't "get it" from him, you're certainly not going to from me. Pity.
Posted by Elena email at May 31, 2004 09:33 PM
Reading your excellent post and then seeing the comment by "WIlliam" is like finding a turd in my salad.
Posted by Jeff Miller email at June 1, 2004 05:44 PM
Posted by Elena email at June 1, 2004 07:27 PM
"After all the great works have been written, the masterpieces painted, and the symphonies scripted, what is there, really, left to any of us but a prayer before dying?"
Amen to that. And if TSO doesn't put it in his "Spanning the Globe" feature this week, I'll eat my hat.
It is great to see you posting again, and when you do, you never disappoint. About Libby taking the prayer book with her ... I don't know what to say other than "Deo gratias".
Posted by Jeff Culbreath email at June 1, 2004 09:38 PM
That would be Bernadette who took the prayer book. Libby is her traveling companion.
Posted by William Luse email at June 1, 2004 09:46 PM
Of course. I get your beautiful daughters mixed up and for a minute imagined that "Libby" was Elizabeth's nickname and the Elizabeth was the golfer, not Bernadette. It's nothing personal: I've been calling Amanda "Amy" now for months. :-/
Posted by Jeff Culbreath email at June 1, 2004 10:35 PM
It is relatively easy to tell the truth about our enemies. It is far more difficult to examine—much less tell—the truth about our own nation. Your crie de coeur, which speaks the hearts of countless Catholics, manages to do both in the frank and literate manner that has become Apologia's trademark.
As I conclude my commentary "Who We Are" on Times Against Humanity, " a noble word. Thanks for telling it, Bill, in and out of season."
Posted by Earl E. Appleby, Jr. email at June 2, 2004 07:20 AM
Thanks, Earl.
You're forgiven, Jeff, as you knew you would be.
Posted by William Luse email at June 2, 2004 01:24 PM
"As for the burning of bodies and benahior of insurgents in Iraq, your comments suggest we should behave as they do."
Not at all, William. What he suggestst is that we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, not mearly scandalize over those who scandal.
I was quite angered, actually outraged, over the treatment of those prisoners by our soldiers. But the one-day wonder of civillian contractors, of decapitated Nick Berg...has raised in my heart a quiet certitude that some people just don't give a darn about human life and dignity unless it advances their agenda.
And don't sit there and think, "Yeah, conservatives and Republicans and Right-Wingers, oh my!" Don't you do it, because the liberals have become that which they abhorred. They have become self-righteous, hypocritical politicos. It should break your heart. It sure as heck has broken mine.
So be a little pissed-off and cast a few aspersions, but don't you dare equate the deaths of US citizens with the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners. The latter is a felony offense while the former is a capital one and all the moralistic aggrandizement in the world cannot make them the same.
Posted by Julie email at June 2, 2004 04:21 PM
Jeff, save your hat. Bill gave me too much to Span the Globe with so I just linked directly instead. Bill's right on with the whole hypocrisy of the media being shocked (shocked!) by the pornography aspect of the prisoner abuse. Ditto the fisk of "Saddam's torture chambers are re-opened", the most ridiculous line I've heard lately. No sense of proportion.
Posted by TSO email at June 2, 2004 07:23 PM
Don't go on vacation, TS.
Posted by William Luse email at June 2, 2004 09:22 PM
you've given me one helluva headache, mr. luse.
{thinking does that to me.}
Posted by smockmomma email at June 2, 2004 11:23 PM
Bravo! Well said Mr. Luse. Thank you.
Posted by John email at June 3, 2004 08:00 AM
Yee haw, from here in the fine state. Wonderful. Absolutely.
Posted by Terry email at June 3, 2004 11:42 AM
A young man from my hometown died in Faluja--he was a marine. A week prior, he was able to talk with his parents with the help of a reporter's satelite phone. His voice cracked when he told them he had recently lost friends there. But he toughened up and indicated his determination and resolve to beat the insurgents. He was killed a week later.
The newspaper articles about the young man included photos of him in his best miltitary uniform. I printed out one of those photos and put it next to my computer.
When I see it, I ask myself how am I using my freedom--am I squandering it or making the most of it? Am I adding any value to the all too frequent sacrifices of our fellow countrymen who have made the ultimate sacrifice?
Even if you dont believe in the Iraqi war--perhaps thinking incorrectly that the goals of freedom are not served by that war--you still have to acknowledge that the freedom you enjoy to hold your view was paid for with the blood of soldiers like the one keeping now adorning my workstation and keeping an eye on my work.
The relationship between knowledge and freedom is sufficiently analyzed by now in philosophy and theology. For me, I'm just happy that I have the opportunity to grow my freedom and create a beautiful life.
The premise of the value of freedom is that it enables people to create a beautiful life. That is what freedom is all about.
Posted by Joseph email at June 5, 2004 11:19 PM
The contrast is striking between the photos of prison abuse and the killing of the contractor above. The killing of the contractor, just in case the blind need to be told, is much more vicious, malicious and hateful. Look at that blood and tell me it isn't.
Yet, some biased individuals in our culture fail to see it. Incredilble.
We seem to have lost all ability to make distinctions in this country. It's all semantic mush for some people, and that's pathetic.
Posted by michigancatholic email at June 6, 2004 11:44 AM
Thanks for stopping by, Michigan Man, and to Joseph, John, and the ladies as well.
Posted by William Luse email at June 6, 2004 12:32 PM
Worthy and powerful post.
The death (more, the suffering) of Nick Berg was only one among many other evils in this world that flung me (as occasionally happens) into a dark mood. In the thick of my depression I turned to Scripture, and the Bible happened to fall open onto the first page of the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.
And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
That last verse did it. It is a line I repeat to myself again and again when the world seems dark and evil seems to prevail. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Posted by Christine email at June 8, 2004 01:23 PM
Thanks, good lady.
Posted by William Luse email at June 8, 2004 08:30 PM
Would that the pen was mightier than the sword rather than might by omission. It sickens me to hear Kerry speak and that flaming idiot Gore shouting his outrage, indeed "how DARE HE?" In my perpetual pollyanna coma, I continue to pray God will forgive us and heal our land. Thank you for the lucid summation. Brilliant.
Posted by Karen email at June 12, 2004 08:28 PM
Thank you, Karen.
Posted by William Luse email at June 12, 2004 08:38 PM

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