Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wish I'd Written That

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

 - John Adams, second President of the United States, 1798  (H/T

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

National Anthem, yes - Halftime, no

The NFL has made a smart move for the National Anthem during Super Bowl XLVIII in East Rutherford, New Jersey in Renée Fleming.  Just across the Hudson is the home of the great Metropolitan Opera, and why not give America's Soprano the right to do the Anthem prim and proper?

But the halftime show and Bruno Mars?  Give me a break.  The idea of big name pop figures doing the Super Bowl Halftime was a byproduct of successful counterprogramming by Fox in 1992 with a raunchy, Saturday night-night show airing during CBS' coverage of Super Bowl XXVI halftime, and the loss of viewers from CBS, forced the NFL to make changes.  Ten years after the worst fiasco in Super Bowl history with heavy fines, is it time we end this practice?  Surely I would have wanted an exposure of La Belle Renée and bass Keith Miller (a former Bronco himself), heldentenor Lawrence Harris (ex-Titan), and tenor Ta'u Pupu'a (drafted by the Browns but never played because of an injury) with an all-star orchestra trying great opera scenes would have been much better!   

Monday, January 27, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide: January 29, 1966

I'm generally not one to make hay of other people's misfortunes, but there's a line in Robert De Roos' cover story profile of Pat Crowley that shouts out for contextualization.

The actress, currently starring with Mark Miller in NBC's Please Don't Eat the Daisies, is talking about her marriage to attorney Ed Hookstratten.  De Roos asks her if the marriage, now eight years long, will last now that she's working on a weekly series.  "It sure is," she tells him.  "We are Catholics and there is a little solidity there."

That sounded like such a refreshing attitude to me that I immediately went to Google, to find that the Hookstrattens had divorced sometime in the 70s or 80s - Crowley remarried in 1986, to producer Andy Friendly.*

*Fun fact: Andy Friendly's father is legendary TV newsman Fred Friendly; his brother, David Friendly, was nominated for an Oscar in 2006 as producer of Little Miss Sunshine.

I hasten to say here that I have no knowledge of why Crowley and Hookstratten divorced, and I don't want to play either a pop psychologist, a pop marriage counselor, or a pop theologian.  But one of the many tragedies of the Catholic Church in the latter half of the 20th Century - particularly the post-Vatican II turmoil, which reached a peak in 1968 with Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae - is the breakdown of basic Catholic beliefs.  By the late 60s, Catholic doctrine had become a smorgasbord; if you didn't like what one priest had to say on birth control, for example, you could shop around and find a priest who would readily sanction it.  Similar situations existed for everything from premarital sex to divorce and remarriage to a whole host of previous elements of Catholic teaching that had rarely been questioned.  Inevitably, this kind of confusion among the faithful led many to doubt the Church's sincerity, authority, - what have you.  Bottom line: no solidity.

Again, I have no reason to think that this might have had any role to play in Pat Crowley's divorce from Ed Hookstratten. But I do think it's part of this blog's narrative to fit these kinds of things into the larger cultural environment.  The 60s were already a period of flux by now, and they were headed toward even more cataclysmic change. Understanding the climate of the times (even though the insufficient space here hardly scratches the surface) puts little moments like this into some sense of context.  It even adds, I think, a note of poignancy.

*Hookstratten, Elvis Presley's personal attorney, represented The King in his divorce from Priscilla, which certainly suggests mixed feelings regarding divorce.  

Read the rest here.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Thoughts from the Pro-Life banquet

David Barton at Wallbuilders spoke at our 2014 South Carolina Citizens for Life March for Life banquet, which moved to the catering hall next to the State Fairgrounds this year and had an interesting series of notes that came from our banquet:

1.  American Exceptionalism.  There is a Divine Creator.

2.  Inalienable Rights Come from God.  They are endowed by their Creator.  Alexander Hamilton sand they are not to be rummaged, and written by God, and an antecedent to all government was in Genesis 9 (the laws God gave Noah).

3.  Government exists to protect inalienable rights.  James Wilson said Human Life is protected by the Common Law, and the Seventh Amendment protects that.  As we heard, "If they won't protect your life, they won't protect your money."

4.  There is a Fixed Moral Law.  Blackstone's law journals were among the first law journals written for this very country.  The laws of nature and nature's God apply, as shown in Psalms 19 and Romans 1.  In the eyes of the early era, the murder of children in the womb and sexual deviancy are against nature, in violation of fixed moral laws, and what is happening when we pass laws against nature violating fixed moral law?

5.  Consent of the Governed.  What does it say when one activist judge decides he is the superlegislator?  We are seeing it with Proposition Eight in the Autogol Strategy, which can be used to strike down pro-life legislation if an Attorney General is pro-abortion.  That is the bigger hazard we have when tiny loud minorities that oppose Moral Law impose their will to advance an agenda.

In the words of Mr. Barton, a secular government cannot be a limited government, as we are clearly seeing now.  In Grigsby vs. Reib (1913), governments promoted the security of the family.  But that collapsed in the 1960's and since that era.

The truth is that civil government has grown out of [proceeded from] marriage. . . . [Marriage] will produce a home and family that will contribute to good society, to free and just government, and to the support of Christianity. (from Grigsby vs. Reib)

Mr. Barton spoke at both the dinner and the march, though the latter was affected by rain.

Pictures from the South Carolina Citizens for Life March for Life
(click to enlarge)

Forty-one years later, we still march on, defying how the Supreme Court stripped the right of life in "fixed moral law" away. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Can't read? Can't write? Can throw a football or dribble a basketball? No problem!

I'm a little late coming to the party on this, but did any of you see this article from a couple of weeks ago?

It's not a surprise that so many of these college athletes are getting little or no education (a cynic might suggest that at some of these schools, the players are probably better off not learning what the institution has to teach), but that doesn't make it any less disgusting.  My first thought on reading this was that it was child abuse.  How these kids have been let down by the system!  To get all the way through to college, which allegedly prepares students for the real world, without even knowing to read?

As I thought about it, though, a stronger word came to mind.  Obscene.  It is an obscenity that this is happening in this country, that these - well, I don't think the schools even look at them as human beings, but as units of economic currency - are being chewed up, exploited for the school's profit, and then spit out. Excerpt:

"They're pushing them through," said Billy Hawkins, an associate professor and athlete mentor at the University of Georgia.
"They're graduating them. UGA is graduating No. 2 in the SEC, so they're able to graduate athletes, but have they learned anything? Are they productive citizens now? That's a thing I worry about. To get a degree is one thing, to be functional with that degree is totally different."

Yes, I know that many of these athletes stand to make a great deal of money themselves from the unholy alliance into which they've entered, but that's almost beside the point.  As a society - as adults - we're supposed to be stewards of the young, of the next generation.  We're supposed to help them, educate them, steer them in the right direction when they veer off path.  Is that being done here?  No.  Sure, there are plenty of reasons why, but none of them exculpate the responsibility of the college - many of which are being supported by taxpayer dollars.

I suspect there's a special ring in hell for the people letting these athletes down.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It isn't who you are, it's what you are

What Rod Dreher says.  I read the original Grantland piece and didn't think much more about it, other than that I thought it was a terrific story that accomplished one of the tenants of a good piece - it made me want to continue reading it to see how it turned out.  Never once did it occur to me that there'd be blowback on it.  I particularly like this point from Dreher:

[Grantland writer Caleb] Hannan and Grantland are being judged extremely harshly for reporting a relevant piece of information because they didn’t first run it by the sensibilities of the cultural police to see if It Is Good For The LGBT Community. That’s what Kahrl is complaining about in this last bit: that it doesn’t serve the cause of normalizing transgender. Is that what journalism is supposed to do: serve the cause of cultural politics?

Sadly, as we all know, that seems to be just what journalism's supposed to do - toe the party line.   

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Six Steps . . . of Kam Fong?

During Friday's Hawaii Five-0 (note the use of the zero in the 2010 retelling), the backstory of Detective Chin Ho Kelly was the discussion, his relationship with Malia (his wife murdered at the end of Season 2), and questions regarding potential coverup involving the investigation into the murder of his father resulted in a storyline case of integrating the original Five-O (note the letter "O" in the 1968-80 series) in a way that also involves Sgt. Duke Lukela of the current series, and also the Officer Kelly of the original series.

In the episode, Chin's father was named "Kam Tong Kelly". It turns out it was an homage to the original series, and the Chin Ho Kelly name himself.

When the actor known as Kam Fong was in school, his teacher misunderstood his name and taught him to write it as "Kam Fong Chun" instead of his birth name (Tong). Later, he legally changed it to "Kam Fong Chun". CBS dropped his surname for the original serie for a stage name. His son, Dennis (who does use the family surname Chun), played extras on the original series and on the current series is a recurring character of Sgt. Duke Lukela (in uniform), who works with the detectives during the show. You wonder if Dennis Chun melds both generations together.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide: January 14, 1961

After two weeks in the 70s, it's back to this 60s with this issue celebrating the upcoming inauguration of John F. Kennedy as President.

Actually, it's kind of strange (not to say disconcerting), having so recently spent a good amount of time on Kennedy's assassination, to suddenly be propelled backwards to a time before "Ask not," before Camelot, before any of the myth.  In an ideal world I might well be giving you this TV Guide series in chronological order, but I have to go with what I have, and this happens to be the only available issue that fits the bill for what we need this week.*

*Of course, if' you'd like to help me rectify this by expanding my TV Guide collection, I'll be more than happy to accept your donations.  Email me and I'll give you my Paypal account.


Perry Como has no complaints about being labeled a nice guy.  "I suppose it is a tag it's hard to swallow at times.  Mr. Nice Guy.  But what in hell is wrong with that?  I don't know anyone in his right mind who doesn't like to be thought of as a nice person.*"

*Dennis Rodman doesn't count; we're talking about people in their right minds, remember?

Como is the 50s version of the king of cool, with one wife, three children, two homes, two cars and two offices, all of which are an oasis of calm.  As of 1961, Como has been on television longer than any other singer, and NBC pays him $1,250,000 per year for his services.  (He has an additional two-year, $25 million contract with Kraft Foods, sponsor of his show.)  And his biggest problem, according to industry insiders, is that Perry Como is bland.  As one says, "Perry's got all the seven sins - green, envy and so on - but he's blocked them out - almost."  When asked to explain the "almost," the source replies, "Well, he gets just as angry as anybody else if the men's room is locked."

Como's lifestyle would probably be considered unacceptable today, lacking the spicy elements of "celebrity" that seem to be prerequisites for stardom.  He's heard it all, of course, but "It really doesn't make a hell of a lo of difference to me."  But, he adds, ""I've got my moments, like everyone else.  But I hide 'em better'n anyone else*.  That's all it is."  When arguments do arise during production, "It takes me just 10 seconds to tell 'em - to set things straight.  And then maybe they think, 'Maybe this old so-and-so, he's been around, maybe he's right.'  I haven't beat anyone up lately.  Nobody's beat me up.  Maybe they have respect for my old age.  Here's a guy - me - sings a song, goes home, takes a bath, grabs what few dollars he can - of course, I'm exaggerating; it's a damned sight more than a few dollars - and doesn't beat up the old lady. She could probably beat me up.  What do they expect me to do?"

*Obviously, the man is immune to Freudian theories of repression.

Is it just me, or is this kind of refreshing?  It didn't hurt Como's career; his regular series runs until 1967, and his Christmas specials run for years after that.  Perhaps it's because Como was a barber before his musical success, and could probably go back to cutting hair if he wanted.  There's no sense of entitlement from Mr. C, though - "I've had things so good, I've just never really had to worry.  It's a hell of a feeling.  If that's bland, then I'm bland.  And pretty damned glad of it, at that."

Read the whole piece here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Russell Johnson, R.I.P.

In the days of my youth, when I most definitely favored Mary Ann over Ginger (and still do), there was something comforting about The Professor. Among the band of loonies occupying that uncharted island, The Professor often seemed to be the only sane one*. Unlike many of the others, he was usually slow to attack Gilligan. He was the focal point of whatever sexual tension might exist among the castaways (given that Mr. Howell was married, The Skipper was too much like Dad, and Gilligan was Gilligan). He was unquestionably brilliant, an early-day MacGyver able to concoct scientific marvels out of the most primitive materials. And yet, for all that, he was an everyman, neither a pocket-protector nerd nor an elitist, conquer-the-world mad scientist. Even his seldom-heard name, Roy Hinkley, was connotative of an ordinary man, someone who might have lived right next door.

*NPR had it right, describing him as "the voice of reason and calm on an island of shipwrecked ninnies."

It's fashionable, I suppose, to think of Gilligan as a show you should be embarrassed to have watched as a kid, before you became a sophisticated adult.  I can't speak to that; it's been a long time since I really tried to watch an episode.*  But even if Gilligan didn't stand the viewing test of time, there can be no doubt that it won a place in the hearts of millions of young viewers and stayed there forever, frozen in that memory, a series that was more than the sum of its stories.  It may or may not have been very good, but it endeared itself to people in a way that most series can only aspire to.

*I don't recall if I watched Gilligan's Island in its first-run days, though I suspect I did, but I definitely remember watching it when it was a fixture on Channel 11's after-school programming.  

How else to explain the outpouring of affection upon the news yesterday of the death of Russell Johnson at the age of 89?  It was Breaking News on CNN's website, a featured story in newspapers and broadcasts everywhere, an immediate topic on Facebook pages and Internet message boards and everywhere else classic television fans might reside.  Johnson was never a major star aside from Gilligan, but he did a lot of TV and movies over the years, playing both good guys and heavies.  Every time his face popped up (and it really wouldn't take long, if you were a dedicated viewer), the reaction was instantaneous: "Hey, it's The Professor!"

I started off talking about The Professor's likability quotient, and it seems that Russell Johnson the man was much the same way.  Dawn Wells said yesterday that "Russell was a true gentleman, a dear friend with a fantastic wit, and a wonderful actor."  It was a sentiment echoed by many others.

There are television stars and television celebrities, and we seem to have no shortage of the latter and too few of the former.  But Russell Johnson was something more than that; an icon, if you will, always remembered with warmth and affection by fans who invariably shared memories from their days watching Gilligan and probably knew the stories better than the actors did.  That takes something more than "talent," and it makes for a different kind of "success."  It's the ability to make that personal connection to the viewer and to leave an impression that can stay for upwards of 40 years.  Go back to the early 60s, check out what was on television, and see how many actors had that quality.

That's Russell Johnson's legacy, and I suspect there are a lot of stars and celebrities out there who would trade a lot to have it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mid-January reflections

Rookie, Is That Legal? The National Football League has strict policies on items there athletes cannot endorse. 49ers running back Marcus Lattimore, who has been on the "Non-Football Injury List" all year for legal reasons, could run afoul of the NFL's rules against gambling endorsements after he accepted money from a state gambling commission to appear in ads for the state gambling agency. Under League policies, appearing in advertising for gambling is strictly prohibited.

Sir, You Can't Use Your Name. While walking in downtown Charleston over the weekend, the local "Second Sunday on King" had book signings from local media personalities Ken Burger (retired from the local newspaper) and Bill Walsh (weatherman in the Charleston area for over 25 years, initially at WCIV-4 (then an NBC station, and in the early 1980's had Steve Byrnes as weekend sports), but the past 20 at WCSC-5, eventually replacing the legendary Charlie Hall, whom after his death the road leading to WCSC's new studio being constructed at the time was named for the station's first sign-on personality in 1953 -- 2126 Charlie Hall Blvd) with their novels. In order to prevent mainstream confusion for reasons (the late gridiron legend), the popular weatherman has to go under an assumed name for his novel so that nobody knows he works for a television station or his station. (Photo of author W. F. Walsh.)

So Freedom Doesn't Ring, but Adult Language, Adult Content, and Psychological Nudity is Permitted. Sean Hannity's decision to break up from Cumulus Media has led my regional market to lose Sean Hannity, but we now have live three hours of San Francisco's Michael Weiner, Ph. D., and his legendary "The Savage Nation." So freedom won't ring now, but one of the notoriously nasty radio personalities is now on air regionally.

Crazier Denouncements of Pro-Life Groups. The notorious Steve Lefemine came to protest the South Carolina March for Life Saturday. According to his protests, aimed at the National Right to Life and its South Carolina chapter where I marched for the 17th time in 2014, the "road leads to Rome" because the pro-life marchers were Catholic and the affiliation was with Roman Catholics. What does it say when the President of the group and many sponsors are South Carolina Baptists including Convention-affiliated North Greenville University teachers, staffers, and the college-student karaoke performers? You're barking up the wrong tree with your anti-Catholic zealotry, Mr. Lefemine! Furthermore, our speaker this year was David Barton of Wallbuilders -- and he is not Catholic.

Islamic Cheering over Israeli Deaths. The classlessness of many Palestinian and Islamic organisations after high-profile Israeli deaths is poor behaviour that I cannot stand. Eleven years ago we saw it after STS-107 (an Israeli astronaut). With the death of Ariel Sharon, we are seeing numerous cheers and parties by anti-Israel groups. And now we have a college group saying the Holy Land is evil. What is happening?

Bourgeoisie vs Proletariat. So the new Governor of Virginia was elected by the "city-state" of Fairfax, which has effectively turned Virginia into a city-state run by the area near Washington, and he boasts of every leftist cause with codewords to protect "women's rights" (code for "men are bad" and "kill as many babies as you can) and "no matter who you love" (code for driving the church out of the public square and imposing a new state religion that will eliminate God's Moral Law, as we learned from our March for Life weekend). Then you have the socialist New York mayor who wants to ban horse drawn carriages. If it isn't clear now that there is a new "proletariat" of liberal leaders attacking the "bourgeoisie" who believe in a Moral Compass and high standards, it's clear.

Commie Core. A recent report noted how Classic Literature has been replaced by propaganda for left-wing causes in reading classes for Common Core. That is part of the plan to bring more liberals who cannot read, write, do arithmetic, but will feel good and follow in the steps of every leftist cause.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide: January 10, 1976

Thought we'd stay with the 70s for another week, see what happens.  Will I live to regret it, or be pleasantly surprised?  Stay tuned.

This is another TV Guide from my own personal subscription, meaning it has my name on the mailing label and serves as a constant reminder of the programs I wasn't able to see while living in the world's worst town.  Shows like Happy Days, starring our cover boys, Ron Howard and Henry Winkler.  Oh sure, I'd heard of Happy Days, was aware that it was a hit, but the only time I might be able to see it was when we traveled back to the Twin Cities on vacation.  It seemed a lot more exotic then than it does now.

Last week I wrote about ABC's penchant for "prestige" dramas, and mentioned the acclaimed Eleanor and Franklin.  Well, that's the ABC Theatre two-part presentation on Sunday and Monday nights. The movie, which stars Jane Alexander and Edward Herrmann, will go on to win nine Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody, and spawn a sequel - The White House Years - that will air the following year. However, ABC doesn't have the Prestigious Presidential Biography category all to itself; NBC counters on Monday night with part five of Sandburg's Lincoln, starring Hal Holbrook in the title role.  That series, part of the ongoing Bicentennial celebration, was aired in six episodes over a year and a half, beginning in September 1974 and concluding in April 1976.  I won't spill the beans on the surprise ending...

Continuing our political theme, first lady Betty Ford appears on Saturday's episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, playing herself.  Probably just as well that I missed that one.  I didn't miss the replay of John Wayne's Swing Out, Sweet Land though.  The star-studded 90-minute special, which had originally been broadcast in 1970* and was being repeated as "A Bicentennial Salute," featured Lorne Greene and Jack Benny as George Washington and friend, Rowan and Martin as the Wright Brothers, Bing Crosby as Mark Twain, Bob Hope and Ann-Margaret as entertainers at Valley Forge - well, you get the idea.  Surprisingly, it's available on DVD (under the title John Wayne's Tribute to America), and it's actually not bad.  Mind you, it's not great, either.  But who am I to judge - see for yourself and make up your own mind:

*Come to think of it, that's probably the airing I remember.

Read the rest here.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Retro TV Friday - 50 years of deals

One thing about the 50 Years of Deals this year is that the show was exported to Egypt this year. From the channel itself (Al Hayat), here's an episode of Let's Make a Deal in Egypt, complete with a playing of "Gold Rush". Interestingly with the culture of playing cards and the Arab world, the game "Race to the Finish is played with cards representing the three levels of prizes (car, cash, furniture) and the Zonk.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wish I'd written that...

"W e could discuss this question for a long time, and analyze it from different angles. But, when all is said and done, both Nazism and Communism are tyranny. Murder. Murderous people decide to murder others, just because those others see the world differently.”

János Horváth, Hungarian economist, freedom fighter and Member of Parliament, and former candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana.  (H/T Nordlinger)   

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Is Francis the sorrow and the pity of the Catholic Church?

Back in the day, when I was going through my instruction prior to converting to Catholicism, a priest asked this question: "If you stood accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"  It's an excellent question, thought-provoking but also chilling, when one is forced to admit (as I do, freely) that most of the time I'd get off scot-free.

Pertinent to this, here's a corollary to that question, which I don't mind posing today: "If you weren't already Catholic today, would you be convinced to convert?"

I'm not entirely sure what my answer would be - it's always hard to answer a hypothetical, especially in a situation that depends on ignorance of what you already know.  Given that, my temptation is to answer that question: No.

(If this were a radio program, you'd now hear me say, "The reason why, in a moment," followed by a commercial.  But since I don't have commercials, you'll just have to imagine it, as a way of building a dramatic cliffhanger.  OK, we're back.)

Catholicism had held a great deal of interest for me over the years prior to my conversion.  At the beginning, there was an aesthetic component to it, what with the ritual and the symbolism and the ceremonial nature of the Mass.*  I'd been drawn to the news coverage of the deaths of Paul VI and John Paul, I in 1978 and the conclaves that had ensued, and I'd been impressed by the dignity and bearing of the new pope, John Paul II. I'd begun reading more about the Church some time after that, and found not only an intellectual component that had been missing from my spiritual life, but a core set of beliefs that convinced me the Catholic Church stood for something.  There wasn't anything particularly political or ideological about it - it was more of the idea that the Church, in her teachings, was something worth living - and dying - for.

*Much of which had, in the post-Vatican II world, disappeared by that time.  Nonetheless, there were memories of earlier days, seen on television; in addition, mass media has always had a hard time shaking the myth of the old days in the Church; whenever you want to suggest religion on television or in the movies, the shorthand is always an ornamental Catholic church.

I've not made many comments about the current pope; it's a fray that for the most part is not worth getting into, since the voices that speak the loudest often have the least influence.  Wading into the Catholic blogosphere is also an invitation to act in an uncharitable manner, and God knows I don't need any provocation in that area; I do well enough on my own.

However, based on the few things I've written, it probably would come as no surprise to you that I'm not a big fan of this Bishop of Rome.  One must be careful here in parsing words; to say that I do not like him does not mean that I dislike him.  It's more of a studied indifference, I suppose; nonetheless, I say in honesty that I do not like him.  I worry about the fast and loose way in which he appears to use words, his apparent indifference to liturgical beauty, his identification with social justice to the (perhaps) detriment of theology.  I don't like the way the MSM fawns over him.  I don't like the way liberal Catholics use his words to justify their own reactionary beliefs (assuming, that is, that those beliefs are different from his own - with him, who can tell?), and I don't like the way "conservative" Catholics ridicule those who express such concerns.

This last group can be the most infuriating.  When I was in politics, I used to say (coming from a conservative Republican perspective) that at least when the Democrats stabbed you, they did in in the chest, which meant you could see the blade coming.  If you were stabbed by a Republican, on the other hand, you wouldn't know about it until you saw the tip of the blade protruding through your chest - in other words, after they had stuck it in your back.  I feel much the same way about these supporters of the pope.  They seem to go out of their way to antagonize people like me, using phrases like "those of us who get him" (meaning the rest of us are just too damn stupid to understand), and "I love this guy" (and the rest of us, apparently, don't).  I'm not sure if these words are meant to infuriate, like poking a stick in the tiger's cage, or if they're just thoughtless. However, as is the case when a hammer falls on your foot, it doesn't matter whether it was accidentally dropped or if someone hit you with it: it still hurts.

I've resolved over the past months to watch this fight from the sidelines.  When I was hospitalized last month, I made a vow that I would try to avoid any discussions which tended to inflame the situation*.  (I've been pretty good about that, but not perfect.)  So I've had some time to think and observe what's going on, and try to keep from getting sucked into a whirlpool of depression.

*I also knew, instinctively, that were he at my bedside the pope would be as gentle and gracious as anyone could ask for.  Which, again, is why I caution that I do not dislike him, something that would require active participation.  Plus, just because someone is kind and loving, that doesn't necessarily mean they're competent.

And to get back to the question from the beginning of this piece (before the commercial break), my feeling is that there's very little coming out of the Church right now that can be considered a flag to which the wise can repair.  There's precious little intellectual stimulation emanating from Rome; people who try to assure us of the orthodoxy of papal pronouncements often seem to be required to twist themselves into shapes that even the best chiropractor would be challenged to untie.  For the first time since before my conversion, I didn't watch any of the papal ceremonies at Christmastime; I just didn't have the interest in it.  There's no heft, no gravitas.

Frankly, were I approaching this as an outsider, I'm not at all sure I'd see anything that would convince me of what the Catholic Church stood for, if anything.  That whole, "Who am I to judge?" fiasco was, I think, incredibly damaging to the Church, because it not only implied (rightly or wrongly) a lack of importance in taking the measure of a situation, it also encouraged people to parse all of the pope's other words on that basis.  When words can be twisted as easily as this, then everything becomes relative.  I'm only glad that the workers who build airplanes work from more specific instructions than those that come to us from Rome.

At worst, this pope is a dangerous man, prepared to set the Church back to the dark ages following Vatican II, a time of confusion, disappointment and alienation, a time when "everything goes" seemed to apply to everyone except those who thought they were following what the Church had always taught.  This would be an invitation to the second pontificate of Paul VI, and we all know how successful that one was.  At best, this pope is a man who means well, has a good heart, and lives by orthodox beliefs, but has an amazing lack of awareness, an almost naive misunderstanding of the media, and a stunning inability to express himself with clarity and authority, leaving demoralized and dispirited believers in his wake.  At any rate, a man who lacks the ability to be "as cunning as a serpent." Either of these alternatives, it seems to me, suggest an uncertain future - uncertain, and just as disastrous as the one above.

Much has been written about the "cult of personality" surrounding the modern papacy.  I think there's more than a little merit to this, although in an era of 24/7 news that seeks to turn all leaders into media "newsmakers," it's probably impossible to completely avoid such a situation.  But there's an old saying that I think applies in this case - you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  And anyone who's part of an organization, large or small, knows that they may be the ones responsible for the first impression someone else gets.  In other words, we're all role models.

Perhaps, with the oversized papacies of John Paul II and (to a lesser extent) Benedict XVI, we became used to seeing the pope as synonymous with the Church, and that's obviously false; over two centuries, the Church has survived many a bad pope.  Still, for an outsider, someone who looks at the Catholic Church with an eye to conversion, that first impression may well come from the world's most visible Catholic.  What impression is he giving?  That of a man ready to lead a Church during uncertain times in a hostile world?  A man of strong beliefs, representing solid ground upon which the faithful can stand?  A man who understands the problems the Church faces?  Or is it a man reassuring us that we're all OK, someone who places earthly needs above spiritual ones, someone who in his celebrity is all style, no substance?  A man content to be all things to all people, with nobody quite sure of what he really believes in?  A man hostile to the traditions of the Church, and indifferent to those who have fought hard to preserve them?

So here's the answer to my question: if I were looking at the Church from outside, I would see few of the things which drew me to Catholicism in the first place.  I'd see people campaigning for social justice rather than trying to bring salvation to men's souls.  I'd see that Church being led by a man who is soft, who doesn't have the stomach for the fight that lies ahead.  I'd see dissension and discouragement in the ranks.  I'd see very little that would convince me it was worth dying for.

I might still convert.  But in doing so, I'd keep in mind the words of Whittaker Chambers, who remarked that in leaving Communism, "I know that I am leaving the winning side for the losing side, but it is better to die on the losing side than to live under Communism."

The Catholic Church cannot be the losing side.  Christ Himself promised that "the gates of Hell" would not prevail against His Church. And that is the reassurance that keeps us from slipping into despair.  If the pope can't infuse us with that confidence in Christ's words - if he cannot share with us that hope amidst a world of despair - then, quite frankly, what can he do?  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A final tribute to 2013

Obviously, there's plenty of sports often discussed here. And there's one one perfect tribute to 2013 . . . let's open the gate one more time . . .

Monday, January 6, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide: January 5, 1974

A fter spending a few weeks in 1963, we're skipping ahead by 10 years, taking a look at what's happening in January 1974.

In general, issues from the 70s aren't my favorites; this might be strange considering I subscribed to TV Guide throughout the 70s and therefore should have more of them than I do for any other decade. In addition, I was alive and watching television for the entire decade, which means in theory I could have seen any or all of the episodes in any of these issues.

But in truth, as I've mentioned before, the 70s issues leave me unimpressed.  The typeset is minimal and unappealing; the ads are cluttered and lack the simplistic charm of earlier editions, the programs themselves have moved on from the days of live drama and experimental programming.  In short, TV Guide - like television itself - is older, more mature, more polished - and, as is so often the case, less interesting.

There's another, more personal, reason for my dislike of the decade, however, and that's because I spent so much of it in the worst place on earth, where life with only one television station (NBC) meant I was constantly being taunted and mocked with listings for programs I would never see, shows that in the pre-cable, pre-VCR days remained mere rumors to those living out in the hinterlands.  It may be true that small-town life has its advantages, but watching television in those days was definitely not one of them, especially for someone who'd already begun to mainline programming like a milder version of Mike Teavee.

The 70s aren't without their charms, though.  Some of the things in these issues attain mythic status precisely because they were unavailable to me, while others display a genuine quality and feel that seem (to me, at least) unique to that era.  Let's see if we can find some examples, shall we?  

Read the rest here.
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