Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Opera Wednesday - Sid Caesar does Pagliacci (?)

Since the Metropolitan Opera presented Pagliacci in its live HD presentation Saturday, I thought it might be appropriate to see this terrific spoof by Sid Caesar and his company.  The description accompanying the video at YouTube says it all, but if you want to know more about the real opera (a wonderful piece, by the way; I don't think the Met production did it justice), you can see it in its entirety here.  Don't be afraid - it's a short opera.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

You do not have a right to ransack

Social Justice is the Left's phrase for the type of extremist changes they demand, whether it is racial, social, or sexual justice that they demand.

The "social justice" over a habitual offender's defiance of police, leading to his death, was endorsed by the mayor of Baltimore, who called it freedom of speech to loot and demolish.  A CVS store in Baltimore was ransacked and burned by thugs rioting over the habitual offender's death, and when police tried to fight the fire, protesters slashed fire hoses to let the store burn, all in the name of "social justice," the Left's magic words awarding specific groups rights to ransack others based on their feelings, whether it is an Oregon bakery ($135,000 fine for not advancing the cause of erotic liberty), a Maryland pharmacy, a Missouri fuel station, or even colleges attempting to show a popular movie about an American soldier, it does not matter.

In their mind, certain groups they claim to be "oppressed" have the right to demolish others' rights, and in some cases, property, in order to create social justice for these groups.  If you offend these groups, you will be punished.  But if you offend groups they hate, it is fair game and they cannot be defended.  These groups demanding justice have popular culture in their control.  Whether it is Occupy Wall Street's class warfare (see a grocer being looted in Oakland), or it is sexual justice activists targeting Christians who own businesses because they believe in a Biblical worldview instead of the one of the state in the eyes of these social justice activists, or police because they dared to defend themselves against thugs willing to ransack their cities, we have a problem with today's brand of social "justice".

How many times, especially in California, have we seen PIT maneuvers and "rattling the cage" used by police in an attempt to send a motorist on the run into armco in order to end a dangerous pursuit?  In the "social justice" world, the thug has more rights than the law abiding citizens.  Those who just happen to believe in the same worldview as these protesters now have control.

What a sad state of affairs in this country when the wants of a few to have "social justice" means everyone else has no rights.  It's clear with this Administration who is a protected class, and who must be punished.  And yet these thugs are the ones in total charge now.

Enough is enough.  Whether it is Christians or policemen, time to stop these attacks based on social justice.  Be responsible.  You do not have a right to ransack who you want because your little protected group was not given the rights you demanded.

IN THE INTEREST OF FULL DISCLOSURE:  Mr. Chang is a shareholder in CVS Health.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Flashback Friday: Johnny Carson and the meaning of death

A DETAIL FROM MICHELANGELO'S THE LAST JUDGMENT, 1536-1541
When I originally wrote this piece, in the days following the death of Johnny Carson in 2005, I had on in the background a Carson marathon that was running on the Game Show Network.  There were some wonderful moments of Johnny on What’s My Line?, I’ve Got a Secret, To Tell The Truth, and Password; some very funny stuff, and it seemed the right time for some final reflections on Carson and the meaning of death.

Terry Teachout wrote earlier about reader reaction to his Carson piece; what he (and I) found surprising was the vehemence with which so many people wrote, in effect saying that if you didn’t praise Johnny as the greatest of all time, you were in some way damning him. Ultimately, I don’t think this has as much to do with Carson as it does our misunderstanding of the meaning of life, and of death, and this seems as good a time as any for instruction on the proper Catholic attitude about death.

This is true particularly especially when one looks at what the modern Catholic funeral has become. Leon Suprenant of Catholics United for the Faith puts it well, saying “the dominant mindset is that the deceased assuredly is ‘in a better place,’ and thus the funeral rite itself should be nothing other than a mini-canonization.” Neil Cavuto, in one of his more rare missteps, was highly critical of a decision by the Archdiocese of Newark to ban eulogies at Catholic funerals. Neil calls himself a practicing Catholic, but his comments make it clear that he’s not always a comprehending Catholic. (In Cavuto’s defense, he wrote this column in 2003; perhaps he’s corrected himself since then). The Catholic writer James Hitchcock, a man eminently more qualified than Neil Cavuto to address the subject, comments on this tendency:

This compulsory praise includes a compulsory insistence that the deceased is already in heaven, indeed has always been one of God's favorite people, probably now sitting in that privileged place that Jesus rebuked his apostles for coveting.

This, Hitchcock goes on to say, completely misses the point of the Catholic funeral:

The old funeral liturgy was somber, with black vestments and mournful chant, the most shattering of which was the "Dies Irae" ("day of wrath"), reminding people that they would have to answer for themselves on that day "when even the just will need intercession". Since the Second Vatican Council, the emphasis of the service changed to hope, and white vestments, symbolic of the Resurrection, are now always used.

But hope is not the same as presumption, which is precisely what some funerals now are. Another joke tells of the man who died at the same time as Mother Teresa of Calcutta and found himself a few places behind her at the Pearly Gates. He is complacent that he will be admitted until he hears Saint Peter exclaim sternly, "But Teresa, you could have done a lot more."

Hitchcock touches on what I think is one of the major reasons why Catholics have lost touch with the true meaning of the funeral Mass: the elimination of the Dias Irae as a mandatory part of the liturgy. As Hitchcock says, it was a reminder of the high stakes that accompany us in life, and in death. When this was eliminated from the liturgy, as part of the new Mass following Vatican II, this somber realization dimmed as well.

I have an interesting piece on the Dias Irae that I’d planned to hold on to until November 2, All Soul’s Day, when it would have made a nice meditation (maybe when that date comes around I’ll use it again). In the meantime, it seems appropriate to introduce it. It’s from the transcript of the television commentary of Fr. Leonard Hurley during the funeral Mass for John F. Kennedy. (Back in the days of Latin, televised Masses often featured a commentator, who would explain to the viewers what was going on during different parts of the Mass.) At this point in the liturgy Cardinal Cushing, the celebrant, is reciting the Dias Irae:

This hymn is a Christian meditation on the meaning of death. A non-Catholic has described this magnificent hymn as solitary in its excellence. The secret of its irresistible power lies in the awful grandeur of the theme. Intense earnestness and pathos of a poet, the simple majesty and the solemn music of its language, the stately meter, the triple rhythm, all combine to produce an overwhelming effect, as if we heard the final crash of the universe, the commotion of the openings of graves, the trumpet of the archangels summoning the living and the dead. And so the King of tremendous majesty, seated on the throne of justice and mercy, and ready to dispense everlasting life or everlasting woe.

And there you have it, perhaps not quite in a nutshell, but beautifully stated nonetheless. The funeral Mass is not intended for the pleasure of the mourners, nor is it meant to transmit “good feelings” to one and all. What these people really want is a wake, when they can sit around and laugh and cry and reminisce about the good times and the bad. The wake is for the living; the primary beneficiary of the Mass is, or at least should be, the deceased, with the living to receive comfort from it in a secondary way, the hope and faith in that justice and mercy of which Fr. Hurley speaks.  There are some wonderful settings of the Dias Irae in classical music, Mozart and Verdi among the most famous.  However, I think to appreciate the richness of it, the rhyme and meter, it's best to hear it in Gregorian chant, as is the case here:  (For an English translation, you can go here.)


The Catholic funeral Mass signifies the most intimate of connections between man and Creator. It is a plea for compassion and understanding. It is the priest, on behalf of the deceased, throwing himself at the mercy of God. It really is, when you think about it, a beautiful thing, one that never fails to stir me when I do think about it. For when we die we go to our particular judgment, our chance to meet with God, and to receive sentence. To think that this beautiful Mass, with the prayers for the dead offered by the priest and people, exists to mediate for us with God, is a comforting thought indeed.

Instead, the feel-good funeral, understandable though it may be, winds up a true disservice to the dead. As Hitchcock puts it,

Mother Teresa herself would have insisted that she could have done a lot more. It is one of the characteristics of saints that they are acutely aware of their sins, of how completely they depend on God's mercy, of how little they "deserve" at God's hands. But modern sensibilities have subtly changed hope -- that a merciful God will grant me salvation -- into arrogant certainty…

Even if the eulogist is aware of the deceased's perhaps considerable faults, he dare not hint that the dearly departed is not in heaven. An unfortunate result is that it forestalls people's praying for the dead, which used to be regarded as a solemn duty.

What we ultimately wind up with, as in Neil Cavuto’s case, are people who mean well, who think they’re doing the right thing, without realizing that the Church has a reason for everything it teaches. That rationale doesn’t come lightly, as if someone woke up one morning and for no apparent reason decided, “I think I’ll ban eulogies today.” It usually comes out of considerable thought, and for good reason. But these do-gooders put an emphasis on feeling, rather than reason. They rely on those feelings to dictate their actions, and while those actions may be innocent enough, at the very least they minimize the amount of good that can be done.

My own instructions upon death include a stipulation that there be no eulogy at the funeral Mass, that the celebrant wears black vestments, and that the Dias Irae be done. (At the parish to which we now belong, I've got a pretty good chance of having my wish fulfilled, since that's the only kind of funeral Mass they do.)  The way I look at it, this is my last shot to have the Mass my way; I’m going to make sure I get the full benefit of it.  After all, unless I die a martyr's death, I'm going to need all the prayers I can get.  So shall we all.  And in the powerful intercessory prayer that is the Requiem, the Mass for the Dead, we can rest assured we will get it.

Revised from the original publication, January 29, 2005

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Final Chequered Flag for Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes, whom most of us know as a motorsport commentator on Fox working pit lane, though he had moved up to the lead role for the Camping World Truck Series prior to his second cancer diagnosis last autumn, has died of cancer.

The Maryland Terrapin was 56.

One of the good guys of television, with his hard work, and even was given an NFL assignment in 2006 (Carolina vs. Minnesota), he was truly a hard worker.

I can remember reading the commentary between him and Jeff Hammond in 2002.  Byrnes' wife Karen was having issues with her pregnancy for what would become their only child, Bryson, when Steve was asking if he should work the Sonoma race on pit lane.  In conversation, it only took Jeff Hammond, then the studio analyst, to inform Steve no problem, as he would gladly jump into Steve's role on pit lane of a depleted team.  That said so much about how much respect he had in the paddock.  And on social media, you could see that he kept in touch with former racers, their children, and for those killed in action, their widows.

He was one classy gentleman.

Réquiem ætérnam dona eis Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat eis. Requiéscant in pace. Amen.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Opinion Digest

Opinions on the issues of the day:

The death of Nobel winner Günter Grass was the subject of Albert Mohler's commentary, no less, recently.

Mike Huckabee believes Walmart executives opposed to the Arkansas RFRA are "victims of an Al Sharpton-like shakedown."  Years ago, on radio, I discovered there was one Seattle group that did the shakedown on them.

Time to stand against evil, no less, as we remembered the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah.

Wesley J. Smith asks wither the Hippocratic Oath?

John Stonestreet warns of rogue courts making mothers and fathers both disposable.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Flashback Friday - a tribute to two great athletes

Nation Prepares for Unveiling of Bonds-Landis Monument
Famed Cultural Archaeologist Looks Back at His Landmark Find

(April 25, 2274, Jerrylewisburg) – This Saturday the nation prepares for the formal dedication of what is already considered one of its greatest monuments: the unveiling of the sculptures of the landmark 21st Century leaders Barry Bonds and Floyd Landis at the picturesque mountain that bears their names.

On the eve of the ceremony of Mount Bonds-Landis, Dr. Walter Leibowitz took time out from his busy schedule to discuss the discovery which brought him overnight fame.

It was Leibowitz, currently the Hadley Chair of Cultural Archaeology at Harris University, who as a young man was responsible for one of the greatest cultural finds of the 23rd Century, the discovery of the Bonds-Landis civilization.

“As is the case with so many great finds, the discovery of the Bonds-Landis civilization was purely accidental,” Leibowitz said with his characteristic modesty. “While rummaging through what we assumed was some type of storeroom, we came across several small vials containing an amber liquid. Subsequent analysis showed that they were samples of body fluids which had been carefully preserved for at least two centuries. Many of these vials were unlabeled, but we found two with faded writing that our cryptologists were able to decipher: B. Bonds and F. Landis. At first we didn’t know what we had, but even then it was clear we’d stumbled onto something of great significance.

“The rest,” Leibowitz said with a smile, “was history.”

Almost six years of continuous research followed, allowing archaeologists to fill in some of the blanks surrounding the lives of Bonds and Landis, and while many aspects of their lives remain unknown, Leibowitz says one thing is for certain.

“These two men were widely admired and respected. There can be no doubt of this. For a civilization to preserve these mementos and enshrine them as relics speaks volumes to the regard in which they were held. We can only speculate as to some of their accomplishments, but the scattered references we’ve discovered lead us to believe that they were certainly leaders, quite probably warrior-kings of some kind.”

The eventual collapse of the Bonds-Landis civilization, occurring sometime in the mid-21st Century, indicates an inability to replace the two men, Leibowitz said. “Evidence of the ‘Great Man’ theory of history is prevalent throughout the ages. Some leaders are simply irreplaceable, as were Bonds and Landis.”

Of the two men, Bonds is the most accessible to historians. “The evidence regarding the greatness of Bonds is undeniable,” Leibowitz said. “Why else would anyone seek to preserve the body fluids of another individual except as an act of reverence? We are currently searching for traces of ceremonies that might have been performed using the specimen in some fashion.

“In addition, we have fragments of announcements made by what appears to be an oracle of some type, judging by his stentorian voice, named Ber-Man, in which he refers to ‘Barry “U.S.” Bonds,’ which we take to be proof that Bonds was, indeed, considered the father of his country.

“And finally,” Leibowitz added, “there are the pictures.” He gestured toward the climate-controlled container encased in bullet-proof transparent glass, behind which are displayed the two portraits believed to be those of Bonds himself. Pointing to the word “GIANTS” written across the front of Bonds’ shirt, Leibowitz cited the pictures as the most graphic evidence of Bonds’ stature in his society. “The fact that Bonds was required to wear this – I suppose you’d call it a uniform of some type, although the helmet he’s wearing and club he’s holding suggest it might have been armor used in warfare – the fact that he wore this in public would indicate that his own people recognized his greatness in his own time. We can surmise that he must have worn it with some reluctance – it would be quite uncomfortable for a man of such humility to have it proclaimed across his chest like that.”

The historical evidence for Landis’ greatness is more obscure, Leibowitz said. “The mentions of ‘Floyd Landis’ appear to be confined to a relatively brief period, perhaps no longer than a year or two.” Fellow historians speculate that Landis may have been a boy king who died at an early age, or perhaps a martyr for the faith. However, "the existence of the ‘Landis’ specimen is clearly proof of his importance to this society.”

The use of the plural form of “Giant,” Leibowitz continued, probably was a reference to Landis’ co-equal status in his countrymen’s eyes. “A picture of Landis wearing the “GIANTS” shirt would probably be the greatest archaeological find of the century,” he said wistfully. “But such is the life of a cultural archaeologist – one challenge after another.” Security measures, Leibowitz said, probably prevented the two men from appearing together in public.

Referring to the nameless vials, Leibowitz said the full story would probably never be known. “Who can imagine those other pioneers of this civilization, their names known but to God? It’s not a stretch to think that we owe much to these unknown heroes.”

With regard to Bonds and Landis, however, history has given us clear evidence of their greatness. “One thing we can be sure of is that neither man disgraced himself in the eyes of his fellow countrymen,” Leibowitz concluded. “To have lived and died with such admiration from their peers – well, the shirts say it all. They truly were giants.”

Originally published on April 24, 2007

Wish I'd Written That

Whenever you read a good book, it's like the author is right there, in the room, talking to you - which is why I don't like to read good books.

Jack Handey

Not really - I read good books all the time.  I just like the smartass way it sounds.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Remembering the death of FDR, which wasn't such a surprise at that

THE FUNERAL PROCESSION IN WASHINGTON FOR PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT, APRIL 14, 1945
Sunday was the 70th anniversary of the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. As anniversaries go, 70 years is no biggie; in 2020, on the 75th anniversary, which will also be the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we may have more material on which we can ponder.

It is not etched in the memory in the same way as the death of JFK, although it made no less an impact at the time, for several reasons.  Television, of course, is first and foremost; with the exception of the shooting itself (which we wouldn't see until some years later, when the Zapruder film was made public), everything was carried on television.  It was a community experience, and the availability of that coverage, all these years later, makes the event vivid even for those who weren't alive in 1963.*  And then, there was a war going on.  Much is made of the famous headline in The New York Times on Friday, April 13, in which the news of the President's death and the succession of the new President, Truman, has to share top billing with the latest Allied push toward Berlin.  It seemed to a great many at the time that Roosevelt's death was a part of that war, the most significant to be killed in action, although far from the only one.

*The continuing mystique of the Kennedys doesn't hurt, either.

I was looking through the online archives of the Chicago Tribune yesterday as I am wont to do*, reading some of the stories from that time.  We learn, for instance, that shocking though Roosevelt's death may have been, life continued pretty much as usual in the Capital.  "Capital Gayety Uninterrupted by News of President's Death," one story tells us, adding that with the exception of prayer services at churches and continuous reporting on radio, "the glittering capital maintained its war time carnival air, with bars jammed, movies playing as usual, crowds standing in line for cigarets, and Thursday night shoppers thronging the stores."  Washington, where so much of the action was during the war, may have been the exception; another article notes "N.Y. Night Life Loses Gayety as President Dies," with nightclubs and hotels eliminating their musical entertainment, and many diners leaving restaurants as soon as they'd received the news.

*And what a magnificent resource it is - digitized copies of entire issues going back as far as the eye can see, and all for free.  Other newspapers should take note. 

The death of Franklin Roosevelt came as a shock to the nation; as one teenager would later note, he was the only president she and many others had ever known.  However, what I find most interesting about this issue is the article headlined, "Roosevelt's Health Failed Steadily Since Late in '43," where we learn that the President's declining condition had been an open secret in Washington and among the press for almost two years - a period of time which included the 1944 presidential election.  "For the most part the press of America refrained from publishing alarming stories, altho [sic] reporters saw the President wither under their eyes, lose his mellifluous voice, and slow down mentally."

It had been known since December 1943 that Roosevelt was having health troubles; prostate surgery had been planned for late 1944, was postponed until after the election, postponed again until after the inauguration, and then abandoned altogether when doctors decided it was "too late."  "In recent weeks," the paper reports, "physicians who examined the chief executive or cardiograms, reported he could not live six months.  One of these reported privately the President would be dead before July.  Another said the President was undergoing a complete physical collapse."  During a recent banquet, Roosevelt seemed at times to be "out of the room," repeated asking those sitting next to him to repeat remarks made by speakers, and lighting his cigarettes with hands that "shook markedly."  Roosevelt had lost 35 pounds in the past year, and "within the last few weeks, his impending death was open conversation among senators."  In just the last month, three Secret Service men had been assigned to the Vice President, providing him 24 hour coverage.

So then, Roosevelt's death was no surprise to those in the know.  Reading this was no great surprise to me either; based on histories I'd read, doctors had been increasingly worried about his health for some time, and what happened - the outcome, if not the specific cause - was entirely predictable.  What I didn't know, however, was how quickly this knowledge had come to light; here we have a major newspaper (albeit one not terribly friendly to FDR) printing this information the day after his death.  How did those who had voted for Roosevelt, with little interest in his little-known running mate, feel about the disclosure?  There had been much speculation about the President's health during the campaign, speculation that was dismissed by the chairman of the Democratic Party as a "whispering campaign going on and being intensified about the President."  Presumably he, too, knew the truth, and was part of the coverup.

The press was in on it, of course.  I doubt they'd be part of that today, if they were doing their job.  Maybe they would, if it behooved them to keep such a secret quiet for ideological purposes.  And I suppose one could make an argument that, being in wartime, it was not in the national interest to publicize the failing health of its President, which could create an air of instability and serve to encourage the enemy .  But then, one could argue the same thing about holding a presidential election in the middle of a war, as the United States did - twice.  How did Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate in 1944, feel about it?

In making such a decision, to hide the truth of Franklin Roosevelt's medical condition, it would seem that the press overstepped its bounds, becoming a part of the story rather than reporting the story itself.  It kind of makes a mockery of the Times' motto, "All the News That's Fit to Print."  If the health of a president who isn't expected to live even one year beyond his election isn't fit to print, then what is?  Perhaps the voters would have reelected him anyway, putting their trust in his judgment, and in the men with whom he chose to surround himself.  I don't know.  I do know that these aren't questions that are being asked for the first time; the controversy about Roosevelt's health and the press' complicity in hiding it have been an issue for decades.

But it was seeing it right there in print, the day after, that proved to be the shock to me.  It wasn't a coverup that had to be uncovered; there was no search for a smoking gun, no digging in archives to find out the truth.  It was an open secret, not only with the press but, apparently, with almost everyone in Washington.  The man who ran the tobacco stand at Union Station probably knew more about FDR's health than the average citizen in middle America.  The press was complicit in this, a partner with the President and the Administration to keep quiet about something they knew.  Is it ethical behavior?  Does it belie the duty of a free press?  Were the reporters acting as Roosevelt "partners" first, and journalists second?  Or did they see themselves as Americans first and foremost?

Could something like this happen today?  My first instinct is "no," but then I ask myself: are there any true journalists left in Washington, or anywhere else?  To the extent that they are in Obama's pocket, would they keep something like this quiet?  Particularly if they saw it as improving the chances of advancing an ideological policy they favored?  I don't have the answer to that, and the fact that I can't answer it tells us more about the state of the press today than anything that might have happened 70 years ago.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Throwback Thursday: On the aesthetic pleasure of art

"I am completely an elitist in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work or a good carpenter chopping dovetails. I don’t think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones. I would rather watch a great tennis player than a mediocre one, unless the latter is a friend or a relative. Consequently, most of the human race doesn’t matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights. I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this. I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate, pretentious, sentimental, and boring stuff that saturates culture today, more (perhaps) than it ever has. I hate populist shit, no matter how much the demos love it."

- Robert Hughes, the former art critic for Time; I originally shard this on the date of his death in 2012. Rarely have I seen anything in print that so accurately describes the way I view myself, or makes me wish I was talented enough to have written it.

Originally published on August 7, 2012

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

You're paying for this?

The Los Angeles Dodgers' payroll is at $226 million for the 40-man roster, plus $44 million for players not on the roster with previous deals.  But with its television contract with Time Warner Cable being lucrative (Sportsnet LA), the rest of the nation with TWC, including our Midlands market, must pay the bill without anything given back.

What they do is insert a per-subscriber fee for Sportsnet LA, then pop the screen "This program is not available in your area," on all day and night long.  Does that seem to be part of the tactics subscription television is resorting to shut out local television?  If this is the next lowball tactic, what's next?  The Yankees (YES) and Red Sox (NESN) also pay their salaries by making more of the nation pay their per-subscriber fee, but the difference is both teams have interests in the Premiership (Manchester City for the Steinbrenners and Liverpool for John Henry), so they air magazine shows for their clubs.  Both Boston and New York are in ACC territory, so ACC sports ticketed for regional channels often air on both, and are not under territorial restrictions.  NESN also has college hockey and because Boston College is all-sport, unlike Syracuse (YES), can air more ACC coverage.

The tactics for the regional sports networks are starting to become questionable as games are going to these specialised channels.  Local broadcast stations are being treated without relevance as more regions are unable to watch local games.

Has the HBO victory 40 years ago created this?  Consider that two of soccer's top leagues are pay-television only in their home markets (Barclays and BBVA leagues), and the players' salaries are greater than the NFL, which has an FTA deal that requires local over-the-air broadcasts of all games involvinig the local team.  The NFL is the only league left that puts a greater emphasis on over-the-air broadcast television instead of subscription television.