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Teacher and friend

(01/30/09 9:00am)

I was surprised and saddened to learn of the death of my teacher and friend Edward Mahoney, professor emeritus of philosophy and a Catholic priest in the Raleigh Diocese, who passed away Jan. 8. Only a month ago, his health, although poor, appeared stable. I expected to see him upon my return in late January to continue the trivial but cathartic task of sorting through his old files. Although one can hardly call the death of a chronically ill 76 year-old unexpected, it was nonetheless untimely.

Ecce Sacerdos Magnus

(04/04/05 4:00am)

The 20th century ended this past weekend with the death of its most important figure. Pope John Paul II breathed his last Saturday evening in a Vatican apartment overlooking St. Peter’s Square where thousands had gathered to pray the rosary. The accomplishments of his 84 years were numerous and continued into his final days, during which he taught primarily by his example. Much of the world will recall John Paul II as a political leader who, after enduring both the Nazi and Communist occupation of his country, rose to catalyze a solidarity movement that would eventually lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Others will remember him as a gracious and far reaching advocate for human dignity, and some will cast him as a backward-looking impediment to progress. John Paul II was certainly a distinguished and sometimes controversial scholar, playwright, diplomat and activist, but above all a magnanimous priest at the service of the Church—and it was through this role, above all, that he profoundly influenced the course of human events this past century.

Trent Revisited: the future of housing?

(03/07/05 9:00am)

In the autumn of 2004 I returned to Duke as a graduate student, and many things on campus had changed. Here at the age of 23 I began to feel old. I felt stiff and weary in the evenings and reluctant to go out to bars. I developed proprietary claims to certain seats in the classroom. I regularly drank three bottles of beer with dinner, never more or less. My interest in coursework had waned and little remained except the chill bonds of law and duty and custom. Occasional talks still intrigued me, and it was for this reason that I planned to attend an event organized by the Social Science Research Institute.

The A(bortion)-bomb

(01/24/05 5:00am)

This afternoon tens of thousands of Americans will march in our nation’s capital to mourn the victims of 32 years of legalized abortion and to urge judicial reconsideration of the infamous verdict of Roe v. Wade. This decision of the Supreme Court, in particular, and the frequent practice of abortion, more generally, remain among the greatest scandals of modern America. One can hardly wonder why.

Column: Iraq: A just war?

(03/31/03 5:00am)

It should go without saying at this point, that the left is wrong about the war. Saddam Hussein is not morally equivalent to George W. Bush, nor are American forces on par with the Iraqi militants who have, in the last week, tortured and executed American POW's as well as fired on their fellow, noncompliant citizens. This war is not about the expropriation of oil resources, nor is it a ploy to get Bush elected for another term. It is being conducted as a legal response to 12 years of weapons violations, the extent of which now gravely threatens populations of both the Middle East and, perhaps, the U.S. directly. The latter threat appears increasingly genuine as more information comes to light regarding Iraq's role in sheltering and aiding al Qaeda terrorists. Bush and Tony Blair are acting with integrity and in the best interests of their countries, which they have sworn to protect. Both hope that this military intervention will prevent much greater catastrophes down the line. Coalition forces are waging one of the most humanitarian-minded military campaigns in history and going to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian causalities. Iraq will have a brighter future after Saddam is deposed, though many Iraqis and Americans will lose their lives in this cause and not by their own choice. One problem, however. These facts, in and of themselves, do not make the war just. I will return to this troubling thought, but first a digression.

Column: John Rawls, rest in peace

(12/02/02 5:00am)

John Rawls, the eminent Harvard philosopher, died last week at the age of 81. He was, perhaps, the most influential ethical apologist for liberal democracy of the last half-century and known primarily for his seminal work A Theory of Justice. His death has occasioned a number of kind reflections on his long and distinguished life-the life of a humble man and a deep thinker. While many pause to pay their respects at the passing of this great figure, it is a perfect time to write a second obituary for Rawls's theory of justice, which should have died long before he did. The most brilliant defense of the liberal state failed, and the time has come to acknowledge that liberalism is dead.

Column: Rival versions of student life

(11/04/02 5:00am)

I have previously used this space to suggest some indications of the fragmentary nature of undergraduate life at Duke. This has included commentary on the difficulty of holding certain conversations outside of restricted spheres, the implicit moratorium on politically incorrect speech, the dominance of pre-professional aspirations for which the liberal arts are a decorative afterthought, the hypocrisy of selectively applied diversity platitudes and the adversarial nature of social life priorities played out between students and administrators. The full consequences of such fragmentation merit further exploration.

Column: The role of rhetoric at PCU

(10/21/02 4:00am)

What are the standards, written and unwritten, that govern debate at Duke? On paper they aren't too bad. Indeed the ACLU would probably step in if they were. It is fairly hard to get slapped with a disciplinary hearing for voicing unpopular views. The unwritten code of conduct, however, and the tacit assumptions shared by a good part of the student body, faculty and administrators are less forgiving, one might even say illiberal.

Column: The trouble with the women's initiative

(10/07/02 4:00am)

I like women, I really do. I have come to the important conclusion, however, that I can still care about women and not care at all about "women's issues." I think I am not alone in holding this view; indeed, I imagine many women may share it. When I say women's issues, though, I don't mean things like the 19th amendment and spousal abuse. Those are human issues. All citizens should have the right to vote, and no person should be beaten. Such issues ultimately rest on an appeal to an individual's status as human, not as woman.

Diversity will solve our problems? Please...

(09/09/02 4:00am)

Did anyone see the smile on Nan's face last week? She tried to hide it but you could tell. Nine years of her hard work finally paid off when our University won the most prestigious ranking it could ever imagine. Nine years of running this school as if diversity were the answer to every problem, nine years of pumping money into any multicultural collection of students that could come up with a way to spend it, nine years of hiring according to a litmus test of "commitment to diversity" and word had finally gotten out that Duke is the diversist of the diverse among America's universities. Could there be a greater honor? I imagine there were a lot of high fives and champagne toasts in the Allen and Flowers Buildings when the news broke. What must have been hard, though, was hiding the enthusiasm outside of the office.

What is a university?

(08/26/02 4:00am)

A curious thing happened a few days ago. While walking across the Chapel loop during the last quiet days of summer, I stopped and read the imprinted metal plaque that sits midway along that path, directly in front of the Chapel. I had never read it before and was surprised to find that it says the following:

Liberalism and the absurd in wonderland

(04/01/02 5:00am)

The Gothic Wonderland is a continual blessing and curse--always so much to say, yet such little space to say it. I have, for a long time, agreed with the great journalist Auberon Waugh in believing in the need for vituperation and critique; that is, to expose those truths and insights least desired to be heard to a crowd that most needs to hear them. For a campus often rife with contradictions and oblivious to itself, I would like offer the following observations on some recent happenings:

Tuition hike needs justification

(03/07/02 5:00am)

Have plans for a big spring break? Well, let me ask you this--what would you do if you had an extra $1,000? By my calculations, that could cover a week in Europe, including airfare. It would be enough for a seven-day Caribbean cruise for both you and your best friend. You could drop over $100 a day for the entire break at home with high school buddies. Saving the $1,000 now could provide some of you with real freedom over the summer, and donating it to a soup kitchen could feed hundreds of people. Why do I ask?

V-day, redefined by feminists

(02/14/02 5:00am)

"Modern feminism is perverse." There, I've said it. "Modern feminism is perverse"--said it again. I've been saying this for a long time, and fortunately for me, politically correct feminist activists never cease to help my case. The bizarre response of "feminist thought" to the idea of love that we consider by custom every Feb. 14, is a brilliantly awful example. On campuses throughout the country, many students will spend part of this Valentine's Day attending a production of the infamous play, The Vagina Monologues. This "play" has become the centerpiece of a new holiday called "V-Day" (as in violence, vagina but certainly not St. Valentine), which instead of celebrating romantic love, focuses on the victimhood of women.

Beware of the residential changes

(01/24/02 5:00am)

The largest changes that will ever happen to residential life on this campus are taking place right now, and only a disturbingly small number of people are paying any attention. I'm not talking about sophomores to West or fraternity relocation, though both are important. These changes only scratch the surface of what, over the next year, will become the greatest transformation any of us have ever seen at Duke. Things could certainly stand to get better here, but God help us if they get worse. That so few undergraduates know the extent of the changes only suggests that the process has been truly alien to their interests. If we do not assert a role in shaping these developments in the next few months, the negative costs to undergraduate life will likely last decades.