Friday, August 30, 2002

THE ONLY THING I DON'T LIKE ABOUT THIS PROTEST OF THE "RAVE" ACT is that apparently, in order to protest Congress's bizarro anti-drug/glowstick bill, you have to listen to rave music. Sorry, not my idea of ecstasy. Nonetheless, I've marked my calendar for September 6. I note that depending on how this bill gets interpreted, something like 20 or more of my friends could get pulled in on charges. (And that's not even counting charges for actually ingesting illegal substances.)

As an old anti-drug-war ad (can't remember who did it?) read, "Many marijuana users go on to harder things. Like grad school."

A friend once gave, as a reason not to do Ecstasy, the fact that it made you say dumb stuff like, "Your sweater! It's so... sweatery!" This would turn me off pronto, but I was already no Ecstasy fan, just on the grounds that I think its main effect is supposed to be hugginess, or generally acting like an overactive puppy. Eeewww. I've already got a religion that tells me I've gotta love everybody; I don't need a drug that will make me like everybody. But whatever, gettin' stupid isn't illegal, why should this particular method of stupidizing be?
RICK BROOKHISER SHOULD GET A BLOG (of his very own), so that he can offer us daily reflections on how various founders (especially Gouverneur Morris) anticipated modern-day events... like the Sex for Sam contest. I note that is not taken, nor is
OK, I SUSPECT THERE'S A LOT OF HYPERBOLE in this article about whether crows are disappearing from DC due to West Nile, but the article does give a great picture of why people love the big bad black birds so much. (Link via Roy Sheetz.)

UPDATE: TAPPED agrees that the "ring the alarm... another crow is dying" angle is bogus. But again, the article is worth reading for its loving portrait of corvine life.
"FUN SIZE" BLOGWATCH: Good, funny post from Barlow in re Jim Beam idiotic bathroom policy. Read the comments too, of course.

And E. Volokh sums up my basic stance re home-schooling, testing/accountability, parental rights, and libertarianism. Scroll up or click here for the John Ford "110 Stories" poem, as well, which I have not read yet (wanted to work up the mental and spiritual energy first), but which has gotten a lot of good reviews in the blogosphere.
COOLER THAN HOWARD ROARK: KRAKOW--The old quarry where Karol Wojtyla began to work at age 19 is today a silent place, a huge open hole in the south of the city. But the Divine Mercy Shrine, which now dominates the scene with its ultra-modern tower, is not the only change in the surrounding landscape.

On Aug. 17, after consecrating the shrine, Pope John Paul II spent some time in another place near the quarry where he learned to appreciate the value of manual labor and the dignity of a worker during the Nazi occupation.

In the semi-vacant field, which the Pope blessed in the presence of several hundred professors, an imposing library of the Pontifical Academy of Theology will soon be erected. The Holy Father founded this institution in 1981 following the 1950 closure of the theology department of Jagiellonian University by the Communist government.

There will soon be other buildings, as the field will become the new campus of the university, in which Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope, began to study philology. He studied until Hitler invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, and ordered the destruction of Polish culture, the closure of the university and the deportation of the professors to concentration camps.

The old stone quarry is becoming a scientific center; philosophy, theology, exact sciences and biomedical sciences will be studied here.

Rector Franciszek Ziejka reminded the Holy Father that in September 2000, "you said to us in Rome that Poland needs learned citizens, ready to sacrifice themselves for loveof the homeland and the good of Europe. Here we are building that future." (From Zenit via the National Catholic Register.)
IN RE ALLAN BLOOM (II): One way of getting at some of my thoughts on the reason/passion connection: Philosophical discourse is always better with someone who's sung some songs with you. Preferably when you have both had a mint julep, or two. You don't need to do the singing and the philosophizing on the same night... but it can't hurt.
IN RE ALLAN BLOOM (I): Those who have been following the rock'n'roll stuff on this blog (and apparently at least one brave soul actually fought his way through the immense screed below) may enjoy this article from Shamed's college days: "DMX: The Darker Side of Modernity."
IF YOU GET TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES, you're in for a treat tonight at 11:15, when the channel will be airing Tod Browning's "Freaks." At 9 PM it will be showing David Lynch's "Elephant Man"; I haven't seen that one, but I have seen "Freaks," and it's one of the best horror movies ever made. It's a moving and furious story of the beautiful aerialist who betrays a circus freak. There are moments of intense sweetness and intense brutality. (I don't know if TCM will be showing the censored American version, or the, ahem, "uncut" English version.) The direction is just terrific. Go! watch it!

Ooh, and they're showing "Double Indemnity" at 5. An excuse to plug this fun site!

Thursday, August 29, 2002

"The future is a drag, man. The future is a flake."
--Beatnik chick, "High School Confidential!"

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

POETRY WEDNESDAY: Because it's hideous and gray and drizzly outside. I need one last hit of August. From Ira "No, I'm His Brother" Gershwin and DuBose Heyward:
Summertime, an' the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin' an' the cotton is high
Oh, Yo daddy's rich an' yo' ma is good lookin'
So hush, little baby, don't you cry

One of these mornin's, you goin' to rise up singin'
Then you'll spread yo' wings an' you'll take the sky
But till that mornin', there's a nothin' can harm you
With daddy & mammy standin' by
ONE KIND READER has emailed me a farm-subsidy-related link, which I'm about to post over at TFD. I know you want to do the same!, y'all.
STUCK BETWEEN A ROCK AND CATHARSIS: Two (belated) replies to my post about Allan Bloom and rock&roll. First, from someone who prefers anonymity (she's in bold, I'm in plain text): Although I don't share Bloom's distaste for rock 'n' roll (I'm a product of my age; for better or worse I've been formed by the stuff, like you), I don't think that he would find the case you make convincing, as it doesn't address his real concerns.

Like Plato, Bloom believed that all the arts were potentially dangerous. Not because they necessarily threatened the status quo, but because they threatened the principle virtue admired by philosophy: the virtue of reason. Wanting to create a virtuous and democratic state, Plato feared that the passions stirred by the arts (but most of all by music), undermined the citizen's commitment to rational order and aroused the "pity and terror" that could be so usefully exploited by demagogues, kings, and other forces hostile to democracy. Strike up a patriotic anthem; sing a sentimental ballad about your mother; and you can persuade an audience to do almost anything. He thought that music, in short, was anti-democratic.

Aristotle's theory of art, his view that it could be a means of releasing and resolving the passions through catharsis, and not simply
stirring them up, was intended as a defense of the arts and an answer to Plato's criticism of their demagogic character.

Bloom, learning from both Plato and Aristotle (and Nietzsche) saw rock music as an art form that stirred up passions WITHOUT subsequently calming them. And I don't think you've addressed this issue in your blog comments. However pleasurable it may be (and it is to our generation) you can't deny that rock music, and in fact all the popular music of our culture, does exactly what Bloom feared.

What Bloom was really trying to argue is that our culture is musically obsessed to an unprecedented degree; that many people link their very identities to the music they listen to (people choose their mates according to the bands they prefer, for heaven's sake!); and that this is a sign of something larger, a sign of the weakening hold of reason upon our personalities. A society composed of such personalities is one in which the democratic virtues are bound to grow weaker.

The fact that rock music usually (but not always) deals with sex and aggression is really only one of Bloom's criticisms of it, and not the most important one. What matters is that the driving rhythms of rock (whatever the words may say) banish thought in favour of emotion, in a way that the more complex rhythms of baroque music, or even the cathartic story-telling musicality of opera, do not attempt. Bruce Springsteen could do anything with his audiences: it's only our good fortune that he hasn't tried (and not everyone would agree that he hasn't tried).

I'm not exactly disagreeing with you, believe it or not. I'm only saying that if you want to argue with Bloom, you have to tackle the issue of whether rock music is really as anti-cathartic, stirring up dangerous passions without resolving them, as he seems to have believed. You cannot do so simply by insisting that the songs are sometimes more intelligent than he realised.

Fair enough--all good points and very well put. Let me lay out what I see as the six basic points here, and throw out some scattered thoughts on them, from last to first. (Oh, and for those playing the St. Blog's Drinking Game: vast post ahead!) PLATO: 1) Art is dangerous because it replaces reason with passion. 2) Passion is the tool of demagogues and proto-fascists. (Points off for ahistorical reference, I know.) ARISTOTLE: 3) But art that provokes a catharsis can ultimately calm the passions, cleansing the soul and clearing the way for the unopposed reign of reason. BLOOM: 4) Rock stirs passion without catharsis, and thus is anti-democratic and generally bad. 5) We're musically obsessed, and we lack reason. 6) This passion-vs.-reason conflict is a bigger part of Bloom's criticism of rock than the sex/aggression or masturbatory qualities of (some) rock.

Now: 6) Hm. It's likely that I am simply misremembering The Closing of the American Mind (which is where Bloom's attack on rock appears), but certainly the most memorable passages in the section on rock are those dealing with the mind of the typical teenager plugged into his blaring Walkman, and those passages focus on the stuff I talked about rather than on a general critique of art-as-such. Bloom also praises some experiences and literature that themselves privilege passion over reason, poetry over philosophy (I'm thinking specifically of his praise of eros and his lament that so few of his students have read the Bible). So that's why I focused on the sex/aggression stuff. But that doesn't matter so much since the rest of this post will address the larger questions about the relationship of art and reason.

5) Criticism of American contemporary response to/use of music. I largely agree with this; see previous post. However, our society is so complex, and we have our faces pressed so close against it, that we can't really see it well enough to discern internal conflicts as well as we might. We certainly have an oversupply of Oprah-esque "feelings worship" (vote Bush--for the children!), but we also have a strong streak of bureaucratic intellectualism--why aren't we more upset that we're ruled by self-crowned philosopher-kings? We have an astonishing tendency to abstract and intellectualize (she's not a child, she's a choice) at the same time that we accept anecdotes as data in public debate. So I'm not sure how to describe the peculiar problems with the American passion/reason imbalance.

Partly this is due to my confusion about the use of the term "reason" here--throughout this post, I will be using "reason" to mean "ratiocination" (is that the word I want?), syllogistic reasoning, the standard stuff you find Socrates unleashing on everybody except Parmenides, who opens a big ol' can of syllogistic whoop-ass on Socrates (to the gleeful Schadenfreude of millennia of philosophy students). I know there's also an understanding of "reason" that is more like what I mean by "right reason" or perhaps "prudence," in which reason includes only those processes of ratiocination that actually lead to true conclusions--in other words, reason includes both the process and the necessary true premises. Thus Communism would be irrational, say, or Objectivism, even though both philosophies obviously make use of syllogistic reasoning. ANYWAY, like I said, I will be using "reason" to mean "ratiocination" and not "prudence" or "right reason." Thus reason, too, can be misused, misdirected, or misleading. Apologies if that definition obscures rather than clarifies matters.

A further complication, of course, is that passions themselves can spur rationalizations. (Chesterton's line about the man who says he disbelieves in the Trinity, but what he means is that he's sleeping with his neighbor's wife.) I'd rather not even get into that for now.

4) Rock is catharsisless. (Try saying that three times fast.) The boring response: This isn't true of all rock. Elvis Costello's "Little Palaces," which I listed in the earlier post, has a degree of catharsis; so does "99 Luftballons."

More interesting response: Catharsis is very rare in rock. Does that matter? I'll get into a more vigorous defense of the passions later, but for now, let me just point out that rock songs tend to be short. Expecting catharsis from a single song (an album might be different; and many do, in fact, provide some degree of catharsis) is like expecting it from a Weegee photograph. Rock songs are snapshots, not movies. Again, this is only a problem if a) exciting passion is always bad, and b) your society, as ours does, favors rock/pop intensely as vs. other forms of art or communication.

3) Catharsis is the justification for art. I think there are others, of which more below, so I will avoid taking issue with Aristotle in order to skip directly to taking issue with Plato.

2) Passion is anti-democratic. This Glenn Reynolds column on Elvis Presley might make an interesting contrast here: Reynolds lauds Elvis for inventing the rock star--providing, basically, a way for people to feel part of something larger than themselves and bond with others. Reynolds's column is too quick-and-easy, and the thread of the argument gets a bit lost, but some relevant good points stand out: You can't ignore, suppress, or dissolve the passions. You can only guide them. Even catharsis doesn't really do the trick--first, because catharsis can sometimes be simple exhaustion, but second and more importantly, because catharsis must somehow appeal to the passions while drawing them toward reason. Thus the end-result of reason must be continually supported, either by an ebb-and-flow cycle of catharsis, or by a more constant attraction toward reason and self-government. In other words, we have to keep wanting self-government; if we reason our way there without any emotional forward thrust, the reasons alone simply won't motivate us enough.

Similarly, democracy and freedom (very different concepts!) require emotional support. If they are to stand against (often very persuasive) counterclaims, and against the always-persuasive claims of our emotions, they need to be supported by other emotions themselves. This is one of the many ways rock music can operate: It can oppose one passion with another. The example that springs to mind is using pity to oppose lust. This is one reason I kept yammering about the dialectical nature of rock; it often embeds a critique and a conflict. It often expresses a conflict within our own souls, generally coming down on one side or the other. That dialectical and passionate approach is often more effective than a purely reason-based approach, since it acknowledges and respects our experience of the passions rather than simply dismissing it.

And finally, 1) Art is dangerous because it replaces reason with passion. Earlier, I discussed possible confusion about the word "reason." A parallel confusion has probably seeped in with regard to the word "passion." I've been using it as a strange medley of "emotion" and "motive." There are emotions that are obviously motives--like anger, sexual desire, or adoration--and emotions that are less obviously motives--like resignation, hope, or regret. Rock is just as good at expressing the latter kind of emotion as the former. (In fact, this whole thread started because Unqualified Offerings pointed out that rock's bluesy lineage makes it especially well-suited to expressing resignation and endurance.)

I'll defend both kinds of emotion as legitimate. Reason (/ratiocination) isn't the only means of attaining wisdom. Ecstatic experience is one terrific way of gaining insight, even if one needs to return from the ecstasy in order to articulate the insight. Rock, like other art, is able to "take you places." Art often offers insights even when that wasn't the artist's explicit or acknowledged intention; you can put a lot more in a piece than you intended. (I write fiction, and that's definitely true of my experience.) Rock is non-rational, no kidding. No matter how "intelligent" it is, most of its appeal will always be non-rational. (The earlier post includes some thoughts on why this is especially true of music, but it is really true of all art, as my correspondent noted.) I don't view the emotions as opposed to reason such that stimulating one necessarily reduces the other. So perhaps much of my disagreement with Bloom should be traced to that disagreement.

I've been focusing on art's effect on its audience, partly because I'm being too clinical, and partly because I really don't want to open yet another area of inquiry in a post that is already too complex and too long. But the reasons artists do their thing should also be taken into account. The whole notion of art as "sub-creation" is really interesting. Art (including rock) is also a means of distilling the world, simplifying and intensifying it, responding to our belief that the world and its events and inhabitants mean something-- that they are, to some degree or another, allegorical. But this post is probably not the best place to get into that whole discussion.

As I said before, there's also a lot of rock that's just fun. Some of that fun comes with an admixture of raunchy or critical or regretful or resentful elements; I don't ultimately think that matters too much. Rocking out is about pure physical joy. It's like running or eating chocolate. Sometimes there's also a strong element of aesthetic wonder, making the experience more like watching a tiger's fur shimmering over its muscles as it leaps, or like looking out from a rock promontory, or like touching or tasting rough icicles. The combination of that pure pleasure with perhaps less pure pleasures doesn't necessarily bother me--the Cramps, for instance, are fun not just because they're inherently fun but also because they clearly have loved much of the same music that I love, and because bawdiness without grossness is always fun (maybe a later post on this). And because of a lot of other stuff. No pleasure is really "pure" in the sense of "unmixed."

Anyway, it was a good letter. Don't blame my correspondent for provoking this (drink!) vast post.
ALLAN BLOOM, HEP CAT: And from Michael Tinkler (the Cranky Professor): I fall back on the great, misguided, but useful division of all into Apollonian and Dionysiac and/or listening music in opposition to dance music. The condemnations of the waltz are very much the same as the condemnations of Brand New Lover (B.N.L. and Right Round Baby are both in high rotation on my iPod this month!).

I think that part of this can be put down to middle age, and part of it to temperament. Bloom was obviously just not much fun at parties.

Now I know that's shallow, biographical criticism, but we've all known people who elaborate positions about the world to fit their temperaments, and I fear most musical commentary falls into that category.
MUG SHOTS: Come 'n' get your mugs! (and other gear.) We've got pro-life feminist mugs. We've got Ratzinger Fan Club mugs. We've got Yale Free Press mugs. Mugs mugs mugs!

(For whatever reason, I've been seeing a lot of cool CafePress links lately. Hence this post. I do have some advice for CafePress users, though: Match the item to the message. For example, a BBQ apron with the words, "Abolish Abortion," is freaky.)
Blog Watch, where are you?
Everybody's eyes are closed
I can't see why I miss you so
So Blog Watch, where are you?

Ted Barlow: Iraq now vs. Vietnam then (good roundup post); Islamic banking restrictions, and how people get around them.

E-Pression: Lots of good stuff, including a link to this pro-life Catholic feminist guy (who likes Artemisia Gentileschi!), and thoughts on parental divorce and religious conversion.

Unqualified Offerings: Arguments for privatizing libraries. I spent a summer as a volunteer assistant children's librarian, and I really haven't found any problems with the DC public library system. (I know three libraries pretty well--one branch in a ritzy neighborhood, one in a middle to lower-middle class neighborhood, and the main library, MLK.) None of the problems described in the article UO cites (they're ugly, they're never open when you want them, they have no selection) could be found in the libraries I know. Those libraries have a lot of books (not everything, but inter-library loans get you pretty much everything you can reasonably expect from a non-university library), friendly and knowledgeable staff, and interesting book sales. I enjoyed my time in the Chevy Chase children's section immensely. However, I fully realize this could be one of those suburban "My kid's public school is great, I don't get why all those people want vouchers" problems with anecdotal evidence.

On the larger question, the for-profit booklending outfits sound great, the private charitable libraries (how the US public library system started, if memory serves--another example of public aid killing private charity, or of the government relieving the rich of their responsibilities, or of the government attempting to "equalize" charity and ending with inequality and big free-speech hissyfits) also sound terrific, and building a private library foundation or network might be a really interesting project. Just as there's no hope for welfare reform without a vigorous network of small private charities, so there's no point in talking about privatizing libraries unless you already have the skeleton of a working private system. (The article UO cites is too sunshiney about the difficulties involved in this project, though. One of the biggest hurdles, I would guess, is the need for informed and enthusiastic librarians--at least for the larger libraries.) And a working private system is one that serves poor and rich alike. If the libertarian arguments are right, such private libraries should be able to do better at serving the poor than the government has. Let's find out if that's as true of libraries as it is of welfare.

The Widening Gyre is back.

The St. Blog's Drinking Game; and the funniest Jonah Goldberg column in a long time (and I don't just say that because of the libertarian undercurrent).

Why? Because emus can't fly.
"You have to listen! You have to listen to what the bees have to say!"
--Angel Tompkins, "The Bees"

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

MUST-READ POST on science and religion, from The Old Oligarch (a physics and philosophy major). It's the second post on the page, in case Blogger links are screwy.
WHAT I LEARNED LAST NIGHT: Jeeves shares the Rat's love of Dostoyevsky "and the great Russians." One presumes, however, that he does not share her taste in footwear.
SUNDAY LITANY: Tom Kreitzberg writes: Catching up on my blogreading, I see you've recently read Dies Domini. We discussed this letter in my Lay Dominican chapter last summer, and I was moved to construct a "Litany of the Day of the Lord" from the words and phrases of the Pope.

Re-reading it a year later, I think I'd drop the "First Day of that Cosmic Week" line (the phrase works in the letter but comes off a bit crystal-and-pantheism here), and find a livelier translation than, "In the midst of the church I will praise you."

Otherwise, I think a rousing recitation of this or a similar litany at sunrise every Sunday would help make the Lord's Day something Catholics might bother to keep.

Also, I found this through, I think, Father Tucker. It's terrific. Poke around there a bit.
"Let us eat, then we will transplant the brain."
--Dr. Frankenstein to assistant, "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell"

Monday, August 26, 2002

PRAYER TO SAINTS: Lynn Gazis-Sax asks a good question: "What does prayer to the saints add to your devotional life, that wouldn't be supplied simply by prayer directly to God?" I think her summary of the theology behind prayer to saints is fine, so I'll just address the experiential, "what does it feel like?" side.

The veneration of saints has all kinds of salutary effects, especially on judgmental or impatient souls like mine--click here for a previous post on that subject. (If link is broken--and I apologize, I really don't know how this software works, I just type and click--go here and scroll down to "There Is No Future in Einstein's Dreaming.") But the experience of praying for the intercession of saints is different from the experience of meditating on the lives of saints or being sharply reminded of some event in a saint's life.

Prayer to saints gives me a very strong feeling of community that has persisted throughout time. This is similar to the way that I think Christians generally feel knit together in community when we ask one another to pray for a sick relative, or a teen facing an exam. Prayer to saints specifically unites us with the Church Triumphant in heaven, and thus is a much-needed reminder that the Church has endured for almost 2,000 wild and woolly and often hideous years. That's one reason I find prayer to saints especially helpful amid the current priestly-abuse crisis.

Also, there's pretty much nothing you or I face that a saint hasn't already undergone. Saints have dealt with everything under the sun, it seems. Simply being reminded of that fact is strengthening; we can call on the prayers of holy men and women who have suffered all kinds of different trials. And this is not true of prayer to Jesus, for the saints have undergone sin and repentance from sin. Just knowing that there are saints who backslid, saints who tried to hedge and escape the Hound of Heaven, saints who screwed up, saints who denied Christ three times, saints who accepted Christ only at the point of death... knowing all that gives me hope for my own soul and the souls of those I love. It reminds me that nothing human is alien to the Church. I'm especially heartened by remembering how many saints faced hostility or condescension from the Church authorities of their day; that helps me to remember that the Church's claims about herself and her structure have never rested on the personal holiness of her clerics. Perhaps we should say that God works through the Church, but He sometimes has to work around bishops...

Anyway. Saints are more than role models. Prayer to saints also allows me to join in fulfilling God's plan for their lives. Maybe the example of St. Michael the Archangel will help clarify this point. I'm not sure whether Protestants who have a problem with intercessory prayer to dead holy humans also have a problem with intercessory prayer to angels--my guess is no, but really I have no clue. There's a basic, simple, but fiery prayer to St. Michael that makes it clear that one of his roles is specifically to defend us against the Devil. Similarly, each of us has a place in God's plan. We're generally confused about what that place is; we have to be ready, always, to ditch our preconceived notions and let God surprise us--often unpleasantly! Patron saints are one of the ways that the Church emphasizes this notion that each person has a role to play. Thus when I pray to Elizabeth for assistance in counseling pregnant women, I'm both acknowledging her role as friend and counselor to the Blessed Mother, and acting in harmony with her as she performs one of her roles as intercessor for counselors of pregnant women. (I doubt there's a specific patron saint for such counselors, but it should really be Elizabeth!)

The main things, in terms of how intercessory prayer feels, are: a) kinship with others who have doubted, suffered, railed against God or the Church, and ultimately trusted and believed; b) a sense of harmony with the Body of Christ, a sense of acting in concert with the saints; c) a strong reminder that God didn't just swoop into history and then swoop right back out--He has been with us since the beginning of time. Prayer to saints, like the Eucharist in which we do encounter God directly, helps us keep a very "incarnational" faith, in which God's transcendence never eclipses His presence in our lives.

Other people should feel free to email me about their own experiences of prayer to saints; but check out the email policy to your left before you hit "send."
BIG BIG SPIDERS OF THE SILVER SCREEN. We seem to be on a spider kick over here.

Oh, and here are four one-line reviews taken at random from this site (it doesn't really matter what the movies are called, does it? Scroll down to "The Letter U" if you must know...): "A killer mutant cat that hides inside another cat."
"Another example why malaria, alcoholism, and dinosaurs don't mix."
"Huge fish threatens a resort full of morons."
"I am firmly against nuclear war if it means people are going to make movies like this."
SPIDERS AND WATER: Two random links to things I haven't read (entirely) yet! First, "Spiders," a terrific comic about one possible alternate-future scenario for the war in Afghanistan. Haven't finished yet, but it looks really, really interesting. Plays on all kinds of relevant themes--dynamist war being the most obvious one. The view of Islam seems a bit simplistic, but whatever. Go read it! --uh, when you're done working, that is.

And the New York Times has been running front-page stories on the world's water crisis. The Times, predictably, thinks the free market is the problem. Here's a chapter (in PDF format) from Sustainable Development: Promoting Progress or Perpetuating Poverty?, which offers a very different take on the role of property rights and markets. You can get the whole book here. (Edited to add that I haven't even started this one yet, but it is vouched for by Someone Who Should Know, so it is likely to be well worth your time.)
TRUFFAUT ON HITCHCOCK: One of the charges frequently leveled at Hitchcock is that the simplification inherent in his emphasis on clarity limits his cinematic range to almost childlike ideas. To my mind, nothing could be further from the truth; on the contrary, because of his unique ability to film the thoughts of his characters and make them perceptible without resorting to dialogue, he is, to my way of thinking, a realistic director.

Hitchcock a realist? In cinema, as on the stage, dialogue serves to express the thoughts of the characters, but we know that in real life the things people say to each other do not necessarily reflect what they actually think and feel. This is especially true of such mundane occasions as dinner and cocktail parties, or of any meeting between casual acquaintances.

If we observe any such gathering, it is clear that the words exchanged between the guests are superficial formalities and quite meaningless, whereas the essential is elsewhere; it is by studying their eyes that we can find out what is truly on their minds.

Let us assume that as an observer at a reception I am looking at Mr. Y as he tells three people all about his recent holiday in Scotland with his wife. By carefully watching his face, I notice he never takes his eyes off Mrs. X's legs. Now, I move over to Mrs. X, who is talking about her children's problems at school, but I notice that she keeps staring at Miss Z, her cold look taking in every detail of the younger woman's elegant appearance.

Obviously, the substance of that scene is not in the dialogue, which is strictly conventional, but in what these people are thinking about. Merely by watching them I have found out that Mr. Y is physically attracted to Mrs. X and that Mrs. X is jealous of Miss Z.

From Hollywood to Cinecitta no film-maker other than Hitchcock can capture the human reality of that scene as faithfully as I have described it. And yet, for the past forty years, each of his pictures features several such scenes in which the rule of counterpoint between dialogue and image achieves a dramatic effect by purely visual means. Hitchcock is almost unique in being able to film directly, that is, without resorting to explanatory dialogue, such intimate emotions as suspicion, jealousy, desire, and envy. And herein lies a paradox: the director who, through the simplicity of his work, is the most accessible to a universal audience is also the director who excels at filming the most complex and subtle relationships between human beings.

--Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock
MORE MURNAU: Over the weekend, I realized that I'd completely neglected to give Murnau props for the astonishing technical/artistic achievement of "The Last Laugh" (scroll down to previous Murnau post if you want to find my disses of the master): TLL is a silent film with no title cards. (Maybe one or two, but no more than that.) This means that the entire plot, all the inner life of the characters, everything we typically expect from dialogue, must be expressed physically and visually. No words. This is doubtless one of the main reasons TLL was so groundbreaking, and why it was especially loved by filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock who use the camera to "replace" or counterpoint the dialogue. (I'll post an apposite quotation above.)

So let me try to make my problem with TLL clearer. It's remarkable that I could follow the plot of TLL, get a sense of the characters' motives, with no words. But that's all you get. The doorman (the main character) gets a pretty complex characterization--we see his pride in his position, but also his love of children, his pompousness but also his kindness. But none of the other characters are anything more than a collection of actions and motives. We know that his daughter and her husband reject him, but why? What in their personalities prompted the rejection? What in their personalities spoke against it but was overruled? Nothing, as far as we know. The movie offers melodrama in place of psychological insight. Camerawork can and should turn a character into a (relatively) full personality, not a mere plot device. So put it this way: Objectively, TLL features excellent camerawork; subjectively, in the way the movie was experienced by at least one viewer (hi there), the camera didn't do what it needed to do in order to make the picture more engaging than any random melodrama I could have seen.
"Well, I've had enough of the unknown for one afternoon."
--Mara Corday, after facing off with a giant spider, in "Tarantula"

Friday, August 23, 2002

IF YOU CAME HERE BECAUSE AMY WELBORN said unnecessarily nice things about this page, you want to scroll down to yesterday's posts, and start with the one headed, "Faith." It continues through several posts ending with "Final thoughts."
LET US MURNAU PRAISE FAMOUS MEN: Sorry! Sorry! Anyway, I got this email from a friend, in re this post: Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but to describe the camera work in The Last Laugh as "nothing special" is factually incorrect. There are at least two great shots in the film: the opening ride down the elevator, through the lobby, and out onto the street (cameraman on a bicycle), and a view through a window, down to a courtyard, finishing in close-up (camera on a pulley-rope). Plus many other instances when the camera leaves the tripod behind or crouches at odd angles; this remains one of the most mobile cameras in film. Maybe it's not your thing, but it is certainly special.

Once sound came in, cameras had to be put in cages, lest their noise make it onto the soundtrack, and Murnau's brand of creativity largely disappeared for most of the '30s. Only later, with quieter cameras, more sophisticated sound systems, redubbing, zoom lenses, Steadycams, and other gadgets, were cameras freed again. Yet even then, the truly great shots remained silent (that is, accompanied by music, not dialogue), including the greatest moving-camera shot of all time: the opening of Touch of Evil (1957). Even today, you will find crummy movies (Return to Me) with magnificent opening shots, thanks to the crane- or helicopter-mounted zoom lenses that no doubt filled Murnau's dreams.

The film's ending is, alas, indefensible. But that's Hollywood. Or UFA. Whatever.

OK, here's the deal: I didn't notice cool camerawork, and I was looking. "Cool camerawork," for me, is defined as camerawork that in some way illuminates what's going on; makes the movie visually more striking (to me); makes me go "oooh!"; in about that order. What I like best in camerawork: a combination of subject matter, angle, and lighting that either underlines the point of a scene or, better yet, shows the scene's subtleties and complexities. I like both very sensual or thing-focused camerawork, and also camerawork that forms a counterpoint to the scene (am I using that term right?), kind of the way the guitar and bass often play differing and almost opposing, but complementary, lines in Smiths songs.

All of the above is not to say that "The Last Laugh" was not groundbreaking. I'm sure I missed things. I'm also sure I was judging the movie pretty harshly because a) I wasn't particularly sold on the plot or characters, so I was looking hard for other things to be interested in; b) I had high expectations for Murnau; and c) I had relatively recently seen "The Bat Whispers," a later movie but with (to those of us who know little about film history) a similar old-timey "feel." TBW is a fun, cool movie, and includes several showy but not-unrelated-to-the-plot camera swoops and angle choices. Perhaps the most important reason I missed all the good stuff going on with TLL's cameras is simply that I don't know enough about film history to know what is groundbreaking. But for whatever reason, even trawling my memory of the movie I can't come up with any directorial choices that seemed to enhance or deepen the movie. But I've only watched it once; I defer to the judgment of people who know the period and the movie itself better than I do.
"THAT'S A LOT OF MAN YOU'RE CARRYING IN THOSE BOOTS, STRANGER" (John Carradine to Sterling Hayden, "Johnny Guitar"): So what brings you to this fair website? Is it any of these search requests, perchance? (You can find tons of hilarious, though sometimes very VERY off-color, search requests here.)

"jonah goldberg annoying arrogant"
"haiku marriage" Keep your pants zipped up/Unless you can face shotgun/With a diamond ring. How's that? Or, It's a sacrament/Not an excuse for your fam/To eat lots of cake.
"jokes about nagging" You are always joking about nagging and it makes me so mad!
"picture on winnie the phoon"
"alien peace through superior firepower" What if I prefer Earthling peace through superior firepower?
"interracial asian white love spells"
"nickel and dimed unnatural" I'm no huge Barbara Ehrenreich fan, but this seems a bit harsh...
"prudential claims and ethics" None of that here!
"robin hood of disney porn" Uh, he wasn't a fox in that sense...
"closeted homosexual republicans" This website has no comment.
"juicer restaurant product homemade carrot juice" Well, if this one is from Bugs Bunny, perhaps he should meet up with Robin Hood of Disney and become a closeted Republican...
"free gay picks free sides" They're free you know!
"elvis priestly marriage"
"joycelyn elders genius" You've gotta be kidding me.
"ark of hopelessness"
"odin goth anderson" Arthur Andersen changes its name to something more homey, trustworthy, and all-American...
"what is the symbol for tentmaker" I think it's a little picture of a person making a tent.
"how to outwit a libra"
"flaming eyeball clip art"
INTERESTING SMACKDOWN OF MARTIN AMIS but gets one thing very wrong: Simon Carr opens his review with, "There are very few novelists of our generation (I’m assuming you’re 50) whom we can quote by heart. Perhaps there aren’t any. When you cast back over your reading list — Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, William Boyd, Sebastian Faulkes, Salman Rushdie, David Lodge, Clive James, even — what are your favourite lines? Anything spring to mind? At all?"

I've never read a single one of those authors. But I did read a review of Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh once, and it quoted this terrific parenthetical description of an Iranian restaurant in Bombay, called the Sorryno: "(so called because of the huge blackboard at the entrance reading Sorry, No Liquor, No Answer Given Regarding Addresses in Locality, No Combing of Hair, No Beef, No Haggle, No Water Unless Food Taken, No News or Movie Magazine, No Sharing of Liquid Sustenances, No Taking Smoke, No Match, No Feletone Calls, No Incoming With Own Comestible, No Speaking of Horses, No Sigret, No Taking of Long Time on Premises, No Raising of Voice, No Change, and a crucial last pair, No Turning Down of Volume -- It Is How We Like, and No Musical Request -- All Melodies Selected Are to Taste of Prop)."

For some reason, that has stuck with me for more than six years. Good stuff.
"Once they were men. Now they are land crabs!"
--"Attack of the Crab Monsters"

Thursday, August 22, 2002

FATHER TUCKER'S HOMILY on the Queenship of Mary, a feast that is very important to me, in part because of a reason you may find illuminated here. (If that link is broken, go here and scroll down to "On this day.") It looks like there's been an enormous amount of cool stuff on his site lately, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet.
FAITH: I wrote too much below. But I did want to explain one other thing: Why my faith in the Church has not been shaken by these scandals. I feel a little strange that it hasn't, at least not for very long. Random personal weirdnesses, crushes, stress, etc. have shaken my faith much more than what is obviously a crisis in the Church in the USA. So I don't know if this makes me a better witness or a lousier one. But my experience is all I've got, so I present it in hopes that it may help some people.

And as for the stuff below: If you're sick of this discussion, by all means, skip it. It's several posts long because I ran off at the mouth, sorry. Now, why my faith has remained pretty steady:

1) I didn't really know anything about the Catholic hierarchy when I became Catholic--all I "knew" was that they'd done the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition and whatnot--so I had low expectations. My reasons for becoming Catholic (as vs. Protestant--or, when I learned a bit more about it, Orthodox) were that it made the most sense, and the witness of the Catholics I knew personally. (Including Zorak and her mate.) Why not Protestantism? Partly it was standard questions like, Who actually maintained a connection to the Apostles and the early Christians?, Where's the Bible from?, and Does it make the most sense to interpret Christ as promising a lasting and visible Church? But also, Catholicism was more sensual, more "incarnational," more scholarly, and simultaneously more rational and more mystical than any variety of Protestantism I knew about then or since. But none of that had anything to do, really, with the hierarchy; and especially not with their personal holiness.

2) I find a lot of hope in history, the ways that the Holy Spirit has corrected and sustained the Church when things looked completely hopeless. Also the saints, especially the ones who were rejected or harassed by the hierarchy (which is a lot of them!).

3) Amy Welborn and her companions in Catholic blogging provided me with a model of honesty, righteous anger, and the kind of charity that doesn't slide into falsehood and cruelty. Credit where it's due and all that.

4) This is immensely important: I know and hang out with faithful Catholics a lot. People in crisis need community. They need it especially when the crisis is taking place in the Church, which is a mystical community. If you're feeling confused or troubled, talk with priests who are up-front and who understand why you're having difficulty trusting the Church. Face to face, "real time," personal contact with other Catholics who make no excuses and who embrace the Church is one of the best sources of hope.

I think CS Lewis says somewhere, "The Devil tempts most at the steps of the altar." I think I was prepared to believe that even before this dramatic and terrible confirmation of it. When one serves the Church in a visible and obvious way, it is so easy to think that serving oneself is serving the Church; so easy to begin to confuse one's own desires and ego with God's will. And similarly, I think some lay Catholics also confuse serving the Church with serving particular bishops or priests. (Note: I am not saying that all lay Catholics who have, say, disagreed with Rod Dreher of thinking this! That would be really lousy of me.)

I think also of Lucifer, who (I think--?) initially ranked high among the angels. Rank doesn't seem to imply virtue in any variety of Christianity.

I'll try to post more on keeping the faith as I think about it more. But for now, that's what has been sustaining me. That, and prayer, especially prayer to the saints.
SHEPHERDS AND SCANDALS: So Rod Dreher's op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, criticizing Pope John Paul II for being overly lax in his governance and allowing American bishops to shield predator priests, has provoked a pretty enormous hurricane in the Catholic blogosphere. I'm coming to this discussion very late (Internet time moves fast--too fast, really), so I will use this post to collect the statements I find most persuasive (or, alternatively, the ones we most need to grapple with and respond to), and make a few observations I haven't seen elsewhere. You can find a lot of the discussion here, here, and here, especially in the comments sections.

First I have got to say that the level of vitriol directed at fellow Christians in this dispute has been startling. Although I think that I basically disagree with Tom Hoopes's position (as laid out here), he's been attacked personally; people have assumed that he has no children (bizarre, inappropriate, and false); people have assumed that he's a bland yes-man who would set fire to an infant if the pope told him to. Hoopes was my boss for a year, and so I know how ridiculous this image of him is. But the vitriol directed at him is as nothing in comparison to that directed at Dreher himself. So let me start out by saying that I absolutely agree with Amy Welborn's assessment of what Dreher was and was not saying in his WSJ piece. Of the people who have replied to Dreher, I found Hoopes to be the most challenging, and although there were some misunderstandings of what he was saying, it seems they've been cleared up. And like I said, I know and like Hoopes personally, so there's my deal.

I don't want to psychologize too much, but I wonder if the rhetoric is so ferocious not only because of the emotions of anguish, shame, and protective urges (toward the ailing pope, the Church, falsely accused priests, and, of course, the victims of abusive priests), but also because none of us wants to be saying this stuff. I doubt anyone wants to be cast in the role of apologist for cardinals who have shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish. I doubt anyone wants to be viewed, by other orthodox Catholics, as performing "spin control" for a callous bishop or an out-to-lunch Vatican. And I am 100% certain that Rod Dreher neither expected nor desired to find the sewer of filth he has spent the past several months excavating. Dreher's love (yes, love) for John Paul II shone, in my view, from his WSJ piece. He was careful to say that he was deeply grateful for the pope's teaching, for his personal witness, indeed, for everything except his administration of the Church. That gratitude did not seem to me to be in any way forced or "for show." I mean, for Pete's sake, the guy says that John Paul II will most likely be remembered, eventually, as John Paul the Great! There was not a sentence in Dreher's article that I could not sign my name to.

But honestly, I don't care too much why people are assuming the worst about one another, I just want it to stop. So.

What does Dreher want? What do I want? I don't want heads to roll throughout the American hierarchy--I can see that that would leave our dioceses in chaos. I don't think it's necessary, either. But to leave every single one of the cardinals who have sheltered predators in place seems to me like a colossal mistake. Many have participated in the creation of this horror in some way, but some are (much) more egregious than others. The worst should go.

Even if you disagree with that, I think it's impossible to take issue with a point Dreher made in a comment at Mark Shea's site: "[W]hy doesn't the Pope order his bishops to quit frustrating the attempts of secular authorities to investigate what has happened? Why doesn't he instruct his bishops to knock off the ugly legal strategies being employed against victims with legitimate grievances? You would scarcely believe the abuse many of these people have had to take at the hands of diocesan lawyers paid for with our tithes." Similarly, the Pope could meet with abuse victims. That would, it seems, make the "Carmelite approach" (discussed below) all the more obvious, just, and striking. So it seems like even if you think that every single cardinal in the USA should keep his office, there are still actions the Vatican could take (and take publicly, to promote accountability!) that it has not taken.
THE WAY OF THE CROSS: Mark Shea has suggested (and he has always presented it as a possibility, not a certainty) that the Pope's inaction here is the expression of his Carmelite spirituality, and especially his focus on the Way of the Cross. In essence, this view holds that the Pope is forcing Cardinal Law and the other abuser-shufflers to undergo public humiliation, to take the consequences for the harm they have worked, to take up the cross of public shame. Shea's reasoning, I think, is based on two pillars: the Pope's evident holiness, and the pain that, no doubt, Cardinal Law is suffering.

I doubt neither of those pillars. But I think there are simpler explanations: Holy men do not always make good governors of the Church. Sandra Miesel, also in a comment at Shea's blog, points to the example of St. Pius V's excommunication of Elizabeth and proclamation that English Catholics needed bear no allegiance to the Queen. And while the Pope is, as far as I or anyone can tell, deeply holy, he is also very far away. We've been seeing the up-close effects of clerical "insiderness" and protection-of-the-group here in the US; is it impossible to believe that even a holy man in Rome can succumb to the temptation to imprudently protect clerics at the expense of lay Catholics?

And: OK, so let's assume that the Pope did in fact refuse Cardinal Law's offer of resignation [edited to note that I'm not sure that rumor/report was ever actually confirmed], and did not ask for the red caps back from anyone else, because he desired the cardinals to take up the cross and take public responsibility for the mess they made. Like Shea's, my crystal ball is on the fritz, and so perhaps in the long run this is the best thing to do. I can't know. But neither can the Pope, folks! It is perfectly acceptable to point out the obvious prudential and spiritual down-sides to this "Carmelite" approach. (In quotes not because I think Carmelite spirituality sucks, or whatever, but just because I am not sure that Shea's tentative explanation is the accurate one.) Prudential: When the Vatican does not act, does not impose some humiliation itself (since the Carmelite explanation assumes that humiliating bishops is one of the benefits of the Pope's hands-off approach), many, many lay Catholics and non-Catholics will look at the situation and say, For crying out loud. Do they expect us to do all the work of keeping the clergy from monstrosity? Can't the Pope pitch in here, or will he leave it all to the Boston Globe? And similarly, it is not hard to imagine that many bishops breathe a sigh, not of pain and humiliation, but of relief, when they see that not even Cardinal Law will suffer removal from office. The spiritual down-side is a direct result of the prudential: People--clergy, laity, and non-Catholics--who look at the Pope's inaction in the way I have just described may be wrong about what the pope intends, but their reaction is understandable and it presents a major spiritual stumbling block for them. That's what scandal is. How many people do you know of who have left the Church in part as a result of the sex-abuse crisis? How many of them would have been so comforted, so much more willing to listen to the Church, to trust her, to try to conform themselves to her, if they saw some public action from the Pope--if the worst bishops had been either removed or publicly reprimanded and (say) instructed to cooperate fully with civil authorities? Calling the cardinals to Rome was not enough, I think, to provide real accountability. When major malfeasance has occurred, accountability almost always requires someone to step down. (To quote Dreher on Fr. Johansen's blog: "The solution is not more rules, I agree. The canons were already in place to have prevented this catastrophe; they were widely ignored by bishops, who rightly figured that there would be no consequences from Rome for allowing these things to slide.")

Let's also ask whether Cardinal Law can be a good shepherd right now. His remaining in office is, no doubt, a cross for him to bear. But isn't it also a cross for pretty much everyone else in the Archdiocese of Boston? That should also be considered, when we are considering the spiritual effects of the Pope's decisions.

And finally, I do not think any of the things I or Dreher have said so far (and I link our names this way because I agree with his substantive points, not because I would have phrased things the same way) require a view of the Church as a corporation or some other secular model. We can respect the mystical reality of the Church and still say, The Pope has had several opportunities to make prudential judgments. He's made, as far as we can tell, the wrong choices. He is still the Vicar of Christ. We are still his flock. The Church is still the Bride of Christ. None of that means that the Pope's prudential judgments in this matter have been right.
WHY TALK ABOUT THIS? Is there a point in discussing this question, since none of us are likely to influence clerical (let alone papal!) decisionmaking? And, in a related question, should Dreher have published his criticisms somewhere other than a secular journal? I think there is a point. People are very, very confused as to what the scandals mean about the Church and the faith. If people who disagree with the Pope's actions, but nonetheless remain loyal to the Church, can discuss that, I think we can provide a lot of hope to people who wonder if the only options are agreeing with everything the Pope does or leaving the Church. Thus I think it's pretty important that Catholics who do think the Pope is being imprudent (and this is a matter of prudential judgment; I understand it's an extraordinarily difficult situation to handle, and no approach will be perfect) explain why we believe that and, more importantly, why that does not lead us to leave the Church. (I'll post on that toward the end.)

As for where Dreher published his piece, honestly, there are major benefits to the Church as well as drawbacks. The drawback is, of course, that the piece is more likely to be read by people who don't wish the Church well and who will use Dreher's claims, against his intention, as ammunition in their various disputes with the pope or God. The major benefits are, a) many Catholics don't read Catholic publications!, and b) many non-Catholics are confused in just the way I described above, and Dreher's piece would help them see that anguish and anger at the scandals need not be accompanied by hatred of the pope, rejection of the Church, or agitation for women priests or whatever.

But the criticism directed at Dreher for publishing in a secular journal reminds me of one of the weirdest aspects of the scandals: the way Catholics have retreated into an insular, suspicious mindset that is utterly alien to the "new evangelization" we've been called to. Frankly, I associate that mindset--in which no criticism of pope or clergy is allowed, in which congregations applaud and praise their molestor-priest, in which if you must say something unpleasant about the clergy can't you at least say it where none of the Protestants will hear you?--with the late 19th century, or maybe the era of Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? We've been called to engage with the culture, and I think part of that includes respectful, loving acknowledgment of the Church's faults. Pope John Paul II has done this, by apologizing for sins committed by members of the Body of Christ. We too need to show that the Church is accountable and up-front, not hiding and retreating when challenged.

I used to wonder whether Vatican II had come at the wrong time culturally. I wondered whether it didn't open the floodgates to a destructive and almost insane culture. I wondered whether rhetoric of "aggiornamiento" was really the greatest idea on the threshold of the 1960s. Now I wonder if maybe Vatican II didn't come early enough. Many of the abusers attended pre-Vatican II seminaries; but more importantly, the instinct to protect the Church's reputation by refusing to publicly acknowledge real faults or crimes strikes me as absolutely opposed to the kind of change Vatican II was in fact trying to provoke. We should be, as John Paul II has emphasized so often, reclaiming the culture, and that includes Catholic culture, where it has become ingrown and oppressive. It does not hurt the Church nearly as much to expose abusers as it does to shield and make excuses for them.
HOW MANY ARE REALLY GUILTY?: Who knows? I think there's been some misuse of the maxim, Innocent until proven guilty. It should be obvious that there are false accusations out there; we are in the late stages of a (delayed, and understandable) media pile-on, after all. In any individual priest's case, we should always keep that possibility in mind. But "innocent until proven guilty" is a principle of the courtroom, not everyday life. Think about it this way: Do you really believe that OJ Simpson is out there looking for the "real killer"?

So I really take issue with the people who have challenged Dreher, sometimes even implying that no minors were ever raped by clergy. Dreher has detailed some of the awful things he has seen and heard as a reporter. He's explained that many of those cases will never come to court, because necessary witnesses have refused to testify. (Hmm, that doesn't sound like most other rape cases, does it?) That doesn't mean the abuse never happened. I believe Dreher because a) he has personal credibility, and b) more importantly, he's clearly reporting something that goes against his own biases and desires. When the Boston Globe reports on priestly abuse, it's more understandable that Catholics might dismiss it (although such Catholics would have been proven wrong, of course). When Dreher reports it, I believe it for sure, because he has no reason to be making it up. Oh, and because it fits in with the way the world works: People abuse power; people shield those who seem "like them"; people blackmail in order to cover up their own crimes; people refuse to testify as witnesses in rape trials. All. The. Time.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Scattered comments I agree with on other aspects of this stuff: Is it un-Biblical, and not warranted by Church history (especially the models of the saints), to take the Pope to task lovingly but publicly? Fr. Paul, commenting on Mark Shea's blog: "Regarding St. Catherine approaching the Pope privately, he forgets the rest of the scriptural admonition: start privately, then bring a witness, then bring in the Church. In the vast majority of the cases, the victims did exactly that: going first privately, then, after being rebuffed, bringing in witnesses, then after further rebuff, going to the Church, where they were stonewalled. And now they have the option our Lord himself gave: 'treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.'

"- And finally, 'set straight through exhortation'? Yep, St. Paul did indeed exhort his people: 'Drive out the wicked person from among you.' (1Cor5) Sounds like action to me. Action that hasn't been taken."

This is too important to be left as a tag-end here, but I couldn't think of a place it would fit in. We need to be very careful that in calling for needed accountability, we also reiterate again and again that the Church is the place for sinners. All sinners. Including rapists. If we throw to the wolves a cardinal who shielded abusers, how can we expect to witness to anybody--women who have had abortions, people who have been involved in Satanism, alcoholics, people who have destroyed reputations through gossip, men who have used prostitutes, people who have lusted, cheated, lied, stole, hated, or killed?

But charity is not like a "rewind" button, making it as if misdeeds never happened. Charity doesn't mean abusers go free. Charity doesn't mean no cardinal should ever forfeit his position due to his actions. Charity is visiting prisoners--not releasing them to prey on more victims. Misguided attempts at charity can actually become cruelty, by enabling wrongful actions. I envision myself in Cardinal Law's position, and I empathize for him, and we should pray for him and let him know that he is still one of us, one of the sinners in Christ's flock. But I don't see why that means he should still be a cardinal. And I don't know why there seems to be some kind of mental dissociation that allows people to empathize with bishops but not victims, with priests but not with scandalized laity. Surely we're called to love all of them. Not just some.

And finally: 1) Whenever other people fail (as so many bishops failed), especially people in authority, it is easy to slip into resentment and pride. It's easy to feel superior, and to thank God that our sins are not as bad as the sins of that tax collector. I don't know of any response to that temptation except to pray, watch yourself, remind yourself of your own brokenness, and seek Christ's humility. 2) Whatever you say about this stuff--and if you say nothing!--the only thing to do is to give it to God, to pray, and to trust in Him. Duh.
MORE ON D.C., PLUS TWO CORRECTIONS: I'll respond to the Lord Mage of Good later (probably tomorrow). For the moment, some good points (including correction #1) from Steven desJardins: Correction: We do know that DC's Medical Marijuana initiative passed in 1998, with 69% of the vote, because a federal judge ruled that Congress couldn't prevent us from counting the vote. The results were announced 321 days after the election.

You reject the idea of merging DC with Maryland because Maryland wouldn't take us. Okay. But what about a merger just for federal voting purposes? A Constitutional amendment providing that DC and Maryland shall be considered as a single unit for purposes of federal representation, while maintaining separate governments, avoids the problem of giving DC two Senators. (We still would have Senators who would be responsive to our needs, but we'd share them with Maryland.) We would get our own Representative. Our representation in the Electoral College would drop from three delegates to a one-delegate increase in Maryland's electoral tally, but those Maryland delegates would be more likely to swing Democratic. The result is a small overall plus for the Democratic party, but a
tremendous increase in fairness to DC. Speaking as one of the disenfranchised, I'd be happy with it.

This still wouldn't solve the budget-oversight problems, would it? But it's better than status quo, and an intriguing idea.

And Rodney Welch notes, for correction #2, that the Sex Pistols album I like so much is, of course, Never Mind the Bollocks, not "God Save the Queen."
SPECIAL OPS FOUNDATION UPDATE: You know that very cool charity whose link I posted earlier this week? The one that pays for the education of children of Special Operations fighters who die in the line of duty? Maybe you were skeptical of them, or of charities in general, and held off on donating.

Worry no more. JB the Kairos Guy shared your concerns. He did some investigating (apparently he works in fundraising), and found that although the foundation has high expenses (sometimes, but not always, a bad sign) its finances are sound and its fundraising is standard-issue for that type of charity. So please consider making a donation. Here's the link again. And thanks to JB for his very helpful (and appropriately skeptical) investigation.
NINOMANIA, a blog devoted to the jurisprudence of Antonin Scalia. Not quite as scary as this... but almost! (I think both links were ultimately from Cacciaguida.)

Edited to add that Ninomania looks like it will be pretty meaty and intriguing. And I know the guy who runs it... another one of the YaleMafia.

Plus what may be the first candidate for US Congress with her own blog. She looks pretty sketch though. Oh well, the ragged edge of innovation ain't always pretty! (Link via Pigs and Fishes.)

It's a fool's game to try to predict the course that a new technology will take; but here are a couple rough thoughts on blogging candidates for political office.

Benefits to the candidate: If you have an idea-oriented campaign, blogging is a great way to show how your ideas respond to or flow out of events in the daily news. For example, if one of your big issues is cutting regulations that hinder small businesses, you'll probably find something to blog about in the news every few days, at least. Each egregious example of just the sort of thing I'll stop if you send me to Congress! is one more piece of evidence that you're right on your pet issue(s), that you've identified a genuine problem, and that your opponent is obviously not as on-the-ball as you are. Moreover, each little piece of news that you blog will allow you to highlight your own practical solutions and philosophical approach. You can talk about what, specifically, you would do to fix this problem and why. You can also spotlight innovators who are already successfully using your approach.

If you have a scandal-oriented or scandal-plagued campaign, blogging might also be helpful. Your candidate site might become the place to go for updates on your opponent's troubled financial dealings, for example--a sort of opposition-research Drudge Report. You could break news, ideally, but also simply show connections, truffle up overlooked aspects of the scandal, debunk your opponent's excuses, and, of course, influence the spin. If you're the one with bimbo eruptions or whatever, you can use the blog to get your spin out ASAP. (This is one of the ways Jesse Ventura used his email list, JesseNet, during his gubernatorial campaign. The press would run some report--sometimes accurate, sometimes not--in which Jesse ran his big mouth, and he would quickly issue a "clarification" or correction stating either that he didn't say it or that he didn't mean it quite the way it sounded. Obviously that's not a scandal, but similar strategies would apply.)

It looks hip and with-it.

Having to produce material at a bloglike pace, with archives and everything, would mean you'd be going on the record a lot. That's an obvious drawback (you might say something you'll regret). But it could become a potential, hidden benefit if it gives the impression that you're accountable and willing to say what you think.

Drawbacks for the candidate: It takes time--yours or your staffers'.

Blogging, unless you have a comments box, is one-way rather than two-way communication. You want to be able to know how your constituents are responding to your message, and blogging won't necessarily give you that information.

Uh, not many people read blogs. Sure, some influential types (like op-ed journalists) read 'em a lot, but even the editor of the New York Times only has one vote.

I predict that while a few campaigns will end up blogging, most will not--although they might incorporate bloglike features (a news ticker, or a small blog along the side of the page, or something) onto pre-existing web pages.
HEY-O THE DERRY-O, THE FARMER ON THE DOLE: I know I haven't updated my page on farm subsidies in a while. That's because I haven't seen any new developments or arguments. So this is my twofold plea: 1) Please email me at if you see any intriguing, strange, or troubling farm-dole news, or, especially, if you read any defenses of the subsidy regime that are either popular or persuasive. I'd also like more stuff on Republicans and the farm dole; the history of farm subsidies; information on the Farm Aid concert; blogs, webrings, and other personal pages of farmers; pages on information technology and farming; and, most importantly, web sites for farmers who need support but don't want to perpetuate the farm welfare system. Some of that info (like the history and Farm Aid items) I'll eventually scrounge up myself. But much of the site's future goodness will depend on links people send me and things I just happen to run across. Be a part of the goodness!

2) I read somewhere or other that Google finds and ranks sites partially based on links--in other words, if people keep linking to pages debunking Marc Herold's Afghan civilian death estimates, eventually those pages will be first in the rankings when you Google "marc herold afghan civilian deaths." Similarly, I'd like to make The Farm Dole a much better site than it is--and I think it does have some good stuff on it now--so if you all like the page and want me to get more responses for it, please consider doing this: farm subsidies
on your own sites.

Thanks. And now back to our feature presentation.
"She didn't die of pneumonia, she died of life."
--Red Buttons, "Harlow"

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

DREHER AND POPE: I've been reading the blog-discussion of Rod Dreher's WSJ piece (try here and here, and be sure to read the many comments) and will comment on it (and the sex-abuse scandals generally) tomorrow. I'm deeply sympathetic to Dreher and think he is basically right, though I think there have been some valid points made about what the Pope can or should do. More presently.
BUT I THOUGHT CAPITALISM SUPPRESSED DISSIDENT VOICES!: From the Village Voice article linked below (Palast is Greg Palast, the leftist author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy): "'What I'm happy about is that with no money, no marketing, and a completely amateur operation, you can get 40,000 copies sold in the U.S.,' Palast said, 'if you've got something to say.'"
KEEP ON ROCKIN' IN THE FREE WORLD: News from around the USA.

"Quirk" may free man who admits he killed 13 women and vows to kill again

At custody trial, judge forces mom to represent herself (her lawyer broke his foot)

Barnes & Noble plans to prominently display Noam Chomsky's 9/11 on September 11, 2002
PERFECT: Uncertain Principles has a very useful definition of the "perfect album": "A really great album is a collection of songs that all work together, and add up to something more than the sum of the individual tunes-- mediocre songs should be lifted up in the context of a really great album, and sound better than they would on their own. It's also crucial that none of the songs be actively bad or annoying."

I might like individual songs from other bands or albums more (hello, New Wave one-hit wonders, my adored companions...), but there's something so satisfying about a band whose worldview and basic attitude is so unified that it can sustain an entire great album. So here's my (extremely personal) list of Perfect Albums; you get get UP's at the link above, and several other folks' in his comments section.

In the order in which they spring to mind (and I'm including compilations, live albums and whatnot, because, uh, because I am):
The Smiths, Rank. I know Morrissey sounds like he's trying to swallow a hive of honeybees, but this is a fantastic live album. Brings out the growl behind the gloomy bounce. The Smiths Peel Session also rocks, but has only four songs, none of which are "Rusholme Ruffians" or "Vicar in a Tutu," so no dice. If live albums are excluded I'd name The Smiths, but although I love every song on that album, if you listen to them all together portions are much too slow and Mike Judge's boring drumming eventually begins to bother you (by which I mean, me) a lot. The Queen Is Dead is also a runner-up, now that I like "Frankly, Mr. Shankly"; but it's a bit too poppy for me and just not as intense as plain old The Smiths or flawed-but-terrific Meat Is Murder.

The Slits, Peel Session. If live recordings are out, Cut. Freaky, shattered girl-punk. Runner-up: Return of the Giant Slits, which is a reggae-fied heatwave, but with only two standout individual songs (the one that goes "Am I looking for love," which has an excellent noir-ish bassline, and the one that goes "This heat is hotter than the sun," which pretty much defines DC summertime for me).

Patti Smith, Horses. There's nothing bad on this album, I don't think. Wow.

Huggy Bear, Taking the Rough with the Smooch. Crashing, half-coherent juvenile delinquent album. Runner-up: Our Troubled Youth, which is fun but slightly less distinctive and which I've only seen as the B-side to the gets-old-fast Bikini Kill album Yeah Yeah Yeah.

Cat Power, Myra Lee. Spare, high-lonesome voice plus creepy oblique imagery plus occasional rock-outs = terrific album. "Wealthy Man" and "Ice Water" (which I think is on this album???) are some of the saddest, countrified, rip-your-heart-out songs I know. When she sings, "All the lies aside, I believe I am the luckiest person alive," you want to just crawl into a whiskey bottle and never, ever come out. Good stuff.

Violent Femmes, The Violent Femmes and Why Do Birds Sing?. "Blister in the Sun" is my least favorite song from TVF, which should tell you something. WDBS? doesn't have too many songs that stand out by themselves, but the angry, fun sum is greater than the parts.

Fugees, The Score. Again, the better-known songs (the covers of "Killing Me Softly" and "No Woman No Cry") don't do nearly as much for me as the rest of the album. Swinging; good mix of rough and smooth. Runner-up who may soon take the top spot: Wyclef Jean, The Carnival. This is growing on me as an album rather than a few great tracks ("Apocalypse," "Year of the Dragon," "Sang Fezi"). Just terrific sampling, lyrics, swing, rock, Haitian infusion... all marred by the super-annoying between-songs shtik that was a lot less annoying on The Score.

X-Ray Spex, Germfree Adolescents. OK, not as great as some of the other albums here, but that fantastic scraping wail, weird sax, day-glo lyrics, and general I-don't-care-what-anybody-thinks-ness of this album make it another perfect summertime pick.

The Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen. You, uh, really get the sense of where they're coming from. Snarly. And has "Submission" as well as the more famous songs.

Velvet Underground, VU and Nico. Whoa, how did I forget this until now? Probably the "perfect album" with the widest variety of styles or sensations. How gritty New Yorker plus strung-out Valkyrie plus wig-out violin add up to a coherent album is beyond me, but there it is.

The Raincoats, The Raincoats. Harsh, matter-of-fact breakup album with off-kilter vocals that sometimes seem dissociated but sometimes seem like the girl next door. Runner-up: Odyshape, quieter and wavier album with boring B-side.

The Doors, The Doors. Admit it, you love this one too. Runner-up: Waiting for the Sun.

Exceptions and caveats: Blondie, Best of Blondie. Contains "Rapture," a song with some of the dumbest lyrics ever, and is a best-of album, but gives such a strong sense of "place" or consistent vision, and is so much fun, that I had to at least give it a shout-out.

Jane Hohenberger, Lickety Split. She comes so close!!! The ultimate outerspace breakup album, ranging from the pure eeriness of "Tooth Fairy" ("She's the tooth fairy/Come to kill me"--no, I promise, she makes it work...) to the mad-as-hell "Redemption Song" ("Even the garbage is better off than me!... Wish I were a tin can, then someone could redeem me"), but ruined as a "Perfect Album" by random passages of boring noise. Some of the random noise is really cool; most of it just sounds like she was trying to fill space. Too artsy for its own good. That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy it... if you can ever find a copy. (I think even this site doesn't have it.)

Nirvana, Nevermind. The A-side is perfect, the B-side scattershot.

Trying Too Hard And Thus Failing to Make a Perfect Album:
Nation of Ulysses, Plays Pretty for Baby. Much fun, screechy squawky punk weirdness, ultimately too much pretentious revolution/"the kids" rhetoric, plus all the songs kind of sound the same. Like eating too much Kool-Aid powder. The Make*Up (some of the same people) then did Destination: Love--Live!, which is vaguely churchy-sounding, significantly more pretentious, and generally too much of a muchness, but when taken in small doses it's more fun than PPFB.
PASCAL'S GOT MY BACK: From the Pensees: "The greatness of man is so evident that it is even proved by his wretchedness. For what in animals is called nature we call wretchedness in man; by which we recognize that, his nature now being like that of animals, he has fallen from a better nature which once was his. For who is unhappy at not being a king except a deposed king? Who is unhappy at having only one mouth? And who is not unhappy at having only one eye? Probably no one ever ventured to mourn at not having three eyes; but anyone would be inconsolable at having none."

From me: "But while an experience of beauty in inanimate objects is a radical encounter with the present tense, an experience of beauty in human beings or human acts is more often a radical encounter with the subjunctive tense--the might-have-been. Human beauty is always 'almost,' always more poignant and more sublime because of the great disjunction between what we are and what we feel we should have been. ...Human beauty, to my mind, is a clue that man is not inherently good (since our beauty always comes with this downward pull toward decay; and since we are even able to pervert beauty and submerge it in lust or hate), nor inherently bad (since it would not be nearly as painful--as sublime--to see a bad thing just being its ordinary bad self), but fallen--a good creature that cannot, in this life, be what he was supposed to be."

I was reminded of the Pascal passage by this good article on original sin.
WHAT I THINK ABOUT ON WEDNESDAY MORNINGS: If Dr. Laura battled Dr. Ruth... who would win?

(Of course, in some sense we'd all be winners....)
"War! War! That's all you think of, Dick Plantagenet! You burner! You pillager!"
--Virginia Mayo to George Sanders, "King Richard and the Crusaders"

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

IS "WINGS OF DESIRE" A BAD MOVIE?: A letter of dissent from Geistbear. He's in bold, I'm in plain text, you know the drill... Okay so you didn't like "Wings of Desire", I don't agree, simple difference of opinion, but then you say "Does the world really need another movie about preferring the evanescent and temporal to the eternal? Are we really beset by a passion for eternity that denigrates mere fleshly life?" I kinda more got that impression from Nick Cage/Meg Ryan remake of it that the original.
Haven't seen remake, so I think my perceptions of the Wenders flick were relatively uncolored by expectations of what I thought it was "supposed to" be about.

Besides, it so speaks of the Wall and German mindset about Berlin at the time in a lot of ways that were a lot more concrete at the time. 12 years after the Wall is gone, if you don't know the history and social environment maybe it comes off as "incredibly pretentious art flick". But I think it really reflects the Germans and their lives at the end of the Cold War.
Yeah, I'm sure I missed any German cultural references, and perhaps that explains at least some of my dislike of the movie.

...As for Murnau, you didn't like that film ["The Last Laugh"], but he deserves a lot of credit: He basically invented the horror film as a style.
Oh, yeah, in general I'll give mad props to Murnau, and in fact that's why I was so disappointed in "The Last Laugh."
SPECIAL OPERATIONS CHARITY: I guess our armed forces really do need a bake sale. From the web site: The Special Operations Warrior Foundation strives to relieve Special Operations personnel of the one concern, their families, that might distract them from peak performance when they need to be -- and when America needs them to be -- at their very best.

Since the tragic day of September 11th, thirty Special Operations members have lost their lives leaving behind 33 children. Today, over 370 such deserving children exist who should not be denied the education their fallen parent would surely have wanted for them. Currently an annual estimated outlay of nearly $1.2 million is required to meet this need through the year 2020.

Link via Shamed.
DISTRICT OF CHAOS: Christopher Badeaux, the Lord Mage of Good, writes (he's in bold, I'm in plain text, as is traditional): A few points:

First, you mentioned two reasons why D.C. won't become a state any time soon. I'm sure you know this, but there's also the Constitution -- you know, Article II, Clause 17 -- and that seems to preempt full autonomy for DC.

There's a good argument to be made that Congress may authorize the creation of a new state (or lay aside all power) from/over the District -- but that's for another time, and I think it fails. (Then again, it's similar to the argument for and against legislative handoffs to executive branches, and my side has lost that battle for the last seventy years.) Anyway, point is, there's a big, potentially even amendment-big obstacle to complete home rule.
Oh sure. I was discussing what I thought would be the best thing for the city, barring Constitutional issues. I figure once we figure out what we want, we can figure out how to get it, and if it takes an amendment, we could push for that. My main purpose in the big DC-related post was just to rebut people who claim the District's current situation is actually good or "as good as you can expect for those Barry-votin' freaks."

There's also the plenary concern -- yes, this is a more integrated, nation-first, state-second country than at the Founding, but is it really that good an idea to give schizoid Virginia or screwed-up Maryland control over the seat of Congress? I still have friends in the area, in both states, and none are impressed with either state -- and that's with what they're dealing with now.
I guess I just don't see what they could do. Could they screw up DC worse than quasi-home-rule-quasi-colonialism has? Yeah, I'm not impressed with many governments, but there is no "only good governments get to control the District" option. If Maryland or Virginia wanted to jerk around the District, they could do it now; in fact, by linking DC's fortunes to Maryland's, the re-absorption plan might make such jerking-around less likely. I wouldn't put money on that, but it seems at least as likely as whatever state-sponsored scuzziness Badeaux is envisioning.

I lived in D.C. I really didn't like it. (Yes, the seafood, especially at Phillips, when you can afford it, rocks. But being shot at on the way to a $580/month studio apartment does not.) One *can* move. In fact, people -- based on the census over the last couple of decades -- have moved. It happens. (In response to your point about NYC and the burbs: (1) That's a false analogy, except, insofar as I
understand it, Albany can revoke NYC's city charter at will; (2) Hells, yeah, they should move if things get ugly. Then again, I moved seven or eight times before I turned eighteen. I didn't get stuck on one particular place.) The DC metro area is so tiny that the differences are really, to my eyes, only in crime rates.

I'm sorry, I think I wasn't clear--I certainly didn't mean that you can't move, or that people shouldn't, or whatever. What I meant is that "You could always move!" isn't a good argument for withholding self-government. If you don't like DC, by all means, skedaddle. But just as I wouldn't say to a New Yorker, "Bloomberg's smoking regs are fine--I mean, come on, you can always just move if you don't like them!", so I think it's even lousier/stranger to say to a DC resident, "You know those guys you didn't get a chance to vote for or hold accountable? If they jerk you around, get over it--you can always move!" Conversely, if "you can just move" is a good enough argument for jerking around DC, it should be good enough for jerking around NYC. That's all I meant.

Before you say anything, I concede how lousy Metro service is beyond (and in) the District; but last I checked, that was getting better too.
[shrug] I got no beef with the Metro. Anyway, thanks for the letter.
INFANT BLOGWATCH: Julian Sanchez replies re baby-killing. I've only had time to skim this; for now, at least, Sanchez gets the last word. I'll return to the fray later, possibly.
SUNDAY MORNING: Recently read the apostolic letter Dies Domini (On Keeping the Lord's Day Holy). Good stuff. Some characteristic JPII touches--lots and lots and lots of citations of the Second Vatican Council (this pope always makes it crystal clear that he sees his job as clarifying and extending, not rejecting, the council); a strong emphasis on the millennium and the philosophical study of history; and a significant amount of quotations and insights from Jewish thinkers. Anyway, maybe I'll blog about other tidbits from the letter later, but the first point that really leaped out at me was the description of Sunday as a re-enactment and honoring of pre-Fallen human life, the crowning act of God's creation. Sunday is a small Eden in the week. Hence we refrain from unnecessary labor. A small connection, but one I'd never considered.

There's also a good discussion of the connections between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday, including a discussion of why Christians don't celebrate on Saturday as Jews do. Mike Yaeger asked about that in this symposium that you all should read, so, Mike, check out DD--it's short, and provides some insight into the Jewish Sabbath as well.

There's a lot to criticize in the Pope's governance of the Church (and Rod Dreher says it about as well as it can be said, in today's WSJ), so I feel a bit odd posting this; but there's no reason to ignore the immense teaching work John Paul II has done, despite what Dreher (as far as I know) accurately characterizes as an overly hands-off, un-authoritative governance.