Sep 122012

When I get a few minutes tonight I am going to explain why Dinesh D’Souza gets this point exactly backwards.  It’s from a great interview, though.  Thanks deserved both by him and Stanley Fish.

D.D.: My definition of American exceptionalism is one of identifying the ways in which America is unique in the world. First of all, America is unique in being a country founded, in a sense, by a group of people sitting around a table. Other countries have been founded by “accidents of force.” America is a creation of thought.

via D’Souza Responds – NYTimes.com.

Sep 112012

Someday, hopefully next year, the American economy will come back to life. Banks will begin to lend, the money supply will expand, and the velocity of money will rise. Unless the Fed responds by reducing its balance sheet, inflationary pressures will build rapidly.

At that point the cost of our current monetary policy will be all too clear. Like Mr. Obama’s stimulus policy, Mr. Bernanke’s monetary expansion will ultimately have to be paid for.

via The Hidden Costs of Monetary Easing – WSJ.com.

Mar 172012

Grafton Street, DublinI usually downplay holidays and ceremonial celebrations to the greatest extent I can get away with.   But since it’s St. Patrick’s day, I decided to post a few photos from a day in Dublin that wasn’t quite St. Patrick’s day.  (We weren’t there on Patrick’s day.)   This one is from Grafton Street.

Inside the Guinness StorehouseNo Guinness in the house today (or most any day) but here’s one stop inside the Guinness Storehouse, the building where Guinness used to be made.

From the top of the Guinness StorehouseAnd a view from the top, where the “free” pint of Guinness is exceptionally good.

Nov 072010

So President Obama has been making business deals in India. No wonder capitalism gets a bad rap, if that’s how it works. I think it’s called crony capitalism when deals are made on the basis of connections.

He’s certainly not the first politician to do this. The last two governors of Michigan, one from each major party, have also acted as though this is appropriate behavior.

But if businesses can’t make these deals themselves without intervention from politicians (and what legitimate consideration could a politician possibly offer to sweeten the deal?) then it would seem that our news media need to be investigating. Maybe new laws and regulations are needed, or maybe bad ones need to be removed. But there is no news that any of that is getting done in the wake of the President’s visit.

May 032010


Lyndal Roper says this pair of statues in the city market at Wittenberg is “disconcerting.” The wide-bodied man in the foreground is Martin Luther. The narrower one further away is Philipp Melanchthon. She refers to the statues in her essay in the April issue of American Historical Review, Martin Luther’s Body: The “Stout Doctor” and His Biographers:

The two Reformation heroes tower over the meat stands and vegetable stalls like two caged giants. But the effect of their being seen side by side like this, even with the nineteenth-century attempts to minimize the difference, is disastrous: the stout Luther confronts the cadaverous Melanchthon.

But her article, although it includes many portraits of the “stout” Dr. Luther, doesn’t feature a photo of the statues. It was harder to find one on Google than I would have expected, but I came up with the above from someone who seems to have vacationed in Wittenberg. (Click on it to go to his gallery at WebShots.)

The essay really is about Luther’s large physical body.

Luther was stoutly built. Saints and pious clerics tend, on the whole, to come in Melanchthonian shape, their thinness underlining their indifference to the temptations of the flesh.

Luther was not only different, especially as he grew older, but his iconographers found it important to picture him that way. It’s a good fit with Lutheran theology, too, and its treatment of the relationship between body and spirit.

You could say that Luther was a “get in touch with you body/listen to your body” kind of guy. He especially was in touch with its digestive and excretory functions. When it came to the latter, he recommended that the devil listen to his body, too. Roper calls it “integrating his anality into his theology”:

…Luther is able to joke about both the devil and excrement, and he integrates his anality into his theology rather than just projecting it onto others.

But he was more than anal. Even in something like the Eucharist, he saw no reason to give up the physicality of it, no matter how ae-reasonable it might seem.

Luther’s physicality was integrally connected to some of his deepest theological insights. It was central to his rejection of monasticism and its abhorrence of sexuality, eating, and drinking. It was also, one might suggest, profoundly linked to his intransigence on the issue of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, making it impossible for him to compromise with Ulrich Zwingli at Marburg and to find common cause against the Catholics, however advantageous to the movement that might have been. His insistence on the physical materiality of the Eucharist divided him from both Catholics and Zwinglians: for Catholics, the bread appears to be bread, but its essence is transformed into the body of Christ; for Zwinglians, the bread remains bread, but it symbolizes the body of Christ; for Luther, the bread was at once a material thing and the body of Christ. Tellingly, when Zwingli and Luther debated the issue, Zwingli adduced John 6:63: “The flesh profiteth nothing.” Luther’s position is well conveyed in the words attributed to him at Marburg: “The word says that Christ has a body. This I believe. The word says that the body of Christ ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God. This I also believe. The word says that this same body is in the Supper, and I believe this. Why should I discuss whether it is outside of a place or in a place? This is a mathematical argument. The word of God is above it, for God created mathematics and everything. He commands us to have faith in this matter.” Even if human rationality cannot comprehend how it is that Christ can be present in the bread and the wine, it remained true, Luther argued; it was a theological truth surpassing reason. It is surely not too farfetched to connect this insistence on the materiality of the Eucharist and the reality of Christ’s presence to Luther’s generally positive attitude toward the physical.

Roper is said to be working on a biography of Luther. I look forward to reading it when it comes out.

URL here even though it doesn’t do much good unless you have a subscription to AHR.

Dec 222009

Here’s why there should not be a playoff system for college football like there is for basketball. It’s a comment from the Live Glog for the MSU-Texas game at CBS Sports. It was made well into the first half, when the teams were neck and neck.

Agreed, texas looks great. Both these teams i think are going to go deep in the tournament.

So in a well-fought game that is almost becoming a traditional rivalry, instead of enjoying the athleticism of the players and the drama of the contest, people are instead thinking about the tournament.

Well, in basketball that’s OK. There are a lot of games so the individual contests don’t count for as much. But for football it would be a great loss.

Nov 022009

At the close of our church service today, I stuck around in the pews instead of going downstairs for coffee, not wanting to let the postlude go to waste. It was a Bach piece, I don’t remember what, played by Roxanne, our substitute organist for today and our onetime regular organist. I wasn’t the only one who stayed behind just to listen.

Later when told her how much I enjoyed it, I joked that it was like Paul Manz coming back. Then she informed me. Paul Manz had died just a few days ago. If I could listen to it again, I could probably explain what parts of the Bach had reminded me of Manz. Roxanne said she had played a Manz piece for the offertory, as a tribute. Usually I notice things like that, but I had stepped out for a few minutes and missed it.

Paul Manz was at Concordia College, St. Paul, when I was a student there. We all knew we had a great one among us. I got to see and hear him play just a few times, but it was always a treat even to hear one of his students play. If I hadn’t skipped chapel so much of the time, I would have heard even more. But this was when the Vietnam war was heating up. The school was dropping requirements and standards left and right, as was happening at most colleges. So I skipped morning and evening chapel more often than not. But there were also the times when one could wander into Graebner Memorial Chapel late in the evening and listen to students practice. I knew already then that the sounds and sights would be the source of future nostalgia.

When I was a new freshman I had to take piano, as did all students in the teacher education program. My father had made some attempts to teach me when I was younger, so I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with a keyboard. The professor (a man named Brauer, perhaps?) said I had a nice touch on the keyboard. At one of my lessons he said, “John, you could still be an organist. It’s not too late!” But I wasn’t interested in working that hard. If I was going to work at anything, it would be history and science. When the piano requirement was dropped, I dropped it.

There was a pecking order among those who were going to be teachers. Those with usable musical ability were higher than those who had none, who were at the bottom of the heap. Those who were organists were higher than the others, and could write their own tickets, so to speak. And at the top were the elite ones who studied under Dr. Manz. (Things like history, literature, and science were not factors in establishing one’s status.)

A roomate-to-be had come to Concordia expecting to be one of Paul Manz’s students. He had already served as a frequent organist at one of the downtown Detroit churches, and had an ability to improvise that was way beyond my understanding. He auditioned, and then was crushed to learn that Dr. Manz would not accept him as once of his students. If Roy ever sees this, maybe he can tell the story himself, as he did many times back then to entertain us. But none of what happened changed the fact that we were in awe of Dr. Manz.

Today I listened to the tribute that Michael Barone has done at pipedreams.org. (As far as I know, none of the local public radio stations carries Pipedreams. I occasionally get to listen to it when we’re traveling.) Tonight I listened to the hour-and-a-half program — twice — and came away with an even greater appreciation for the range of what he has done.

I tried to explain Paul Manz to a friend who had joined the conversation with Roxanne this morning. I pointed out that when you hear organ preludes that remind you of a steam calliope at a circus, that’s Paul Manz’s music. Roxanne’s way of explaining it was better: His music is joyful. (You can hear the steam calliope effect in some of the pieces on Pipedreams, but there is a lot more than that.)

The Pipedreams program was recorded in 1981 2001, and features interview segments with Dr. Manz. In one of them he describes how he and Herman Schlicker designed the Schlicker organ at Mt Olive Lutheran Church. He explained that he wanted an organ that was big enough to lead the congregation in song, but not so big as to overwhelm and frustrate them. That is a characteristic of a lot of Manz’s organ preludes. To put it crudely, they are right-sized. And they are joyful. (I’m now listening to the Michael Barone program a 3rd time.)