Monday, January 31, 2005

MH - Wish I'd Written That...

"When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk."

Spoken by Eli Wallach, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Saturday, January 29, 2005

MH - Sorry, You Forgot to Give Me a Lobotomy With My Nametag

I know, I stole the headline from someone else. But I couldn't help it - I loved the headline! The post is both very funny and very sobering, both for the same reason - the utter stupidity of so much of Corporate America. As far as I know, I don't work for this company - but I know how the writer feels...

MH - From Johnny Carson to the Dies Irae? It Can Be Done!

As I write this, theJohnny Carson marathon is in progress on GSN (formerly the Game Show Network; don’t worry, I’m taping it to watch later). There are some wonderful moments of Johnny on What’s My Line?, I’ve Got a Secret, To Tell The Truth, and Password. It’s all very funny stuff, and it seemed the right time for some final reflections on Carson and the meaning of death.

Terry Teachout wrote earlier this week about reader reaction to his Carson piece, to which I linked earlier in the week. 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.

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. 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.

Oh, by the way, if you've never read the Dias Irae, or if you'd like to look it over again, here' s the complete text.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

JH - If You've Wondered Why...

Here’s the headline in the St. Paul Pioneer Press this morning in a story reporting the arrest of Irv “Gotti” Lorenzo, founder of the hip-hop record label “Murder, Inc.”

N.Y. hip-hop mogul nabbed in drug bust
“They don’t call it gangster rap for nothing” FBI says

Those wacky FBIers.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

MH - Four for the Family

The first of a quartet of connected posts on the family is a link to this multi-faceted piece by Eve Tushnet (who is always must reading, if you aren’t already checking her on a daily basis) that touches on a whole lot of things, from love to gay marriage to differences between the sexes. If you want to give your brain a workout but you’re not quite sure how to start, the best way is to read a piece like this, and think –really think – about it. If that doesn’t stimulate your little grey cells, nothing will.

MH - Well, Sure, It's Wrong, But That Doesn't Make It Wrong...

Next up is this observation (thanks for the link, KJL at NRO) from director Mike Leigh, who was nominated this week for an Academy Award for his latest film, Vera Drake, the story of a heroic woman abortionist:

I deliberately and without any affectation made Vera Drake to pose a moral dilemma that has no slick or easy answers. We live in an overpopulated world. There is no question that to bring an unwanted and unloved child into this chaos is deeply irresponsible. There is no question that you destroy life when you terminate a pregnancy. But there is also no question that choice ought to exist. Those are my personal views. The film can only work if the audience takes the moral and emotional debate away with them.

We live in an overpopulated world? According to whom? And isn’t it interesting that he accepts that abortion “destro[y’s] life”? “But there is also no question that choice ought to exist.”

Maybe I’m being cynical here, but I wonder what Mike Leigh’s stand on the Iraq War is? (I could Google it, but I’m too lazy tonight.) Wanna bet he’s against it, and that somewhere he justifies his opposition on the grounds that it’s an immoral war? But Mike, you just said “choice ought to exist.” Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Or is choice only good when you agree with it? Of course, we’ve never seen this kind of contradiction before…

MH - Start the Revolution Without Me

Continuing with the Hollywood theme, we have Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in the latest issue of First Things (no link until next month, alas; buy the issue!) writing about cultural directions as seen from medialand. His target is Caryn James, media critic of The New York Times:
She is impressed by the popularity of the network program Desperate Housewives, and a recent Oprah episode on the joys of infidelity. Then there is the movie Alfie, a remake of a sleeping-around story of the 1960s. Not to mention Kinsey, which casts the pitiful bisexual masochist as a heroic prophet of sexual revolution, and Closer, which adds potty-mouthed dialogue and skin shots to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?, the 1966 assault on the hypocrisies and betrayals of bourgeois marriage.
This in itself isn’t new; this kind of fare is par for the course from Hollywood. Fr. Neuhaus concludes,

The interesting thing is the conclusion drawn by Caryn James. In this world of endless cheating and lying, she says, “monogamy has come to seem an impossible goal; the new ideal is honesty about infidelity.” [MH – not having read the article by James (NYT, December 8, 2004), I can’t rule out that her words were spoken ironically, but I trust Fr. Neuhaus on this one] Open marriage, anyone? Caryn James is a credit to the planet on which she was born.

Maybe the same planet that Mike Leigh came from?

MH - Maybe There's No "I" in Team, But...

And finally, some of you are going to ask what it is about me and Corporate America. Why do I have to let loose with another attack every few days. It’s as if I find big business under the bed of every societal issue there is. Do I have some kind of hang-up? Maybe a CEO-edipal complex? (Sorry about that. No, not really.)

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I work in Corporate America, and have friends in the same position I’m in, therefore we tend to exaggerate the impact it has on our lives and culture. Or perhaps this series of posts will wind up collected into a book that covers the subject in more detail.

Be that as it may, this one seems to tie in to our general theme on the family. It comes from a friend of mine who was complaining about the corporate “team building” trip he was being forced to go on. “For three days,” he said. “Up at some resort. They treat it like it’s supposed to be some kind of reward – snowshoeing, snowmobiling, that kind of thing.”

“Aren’t you going to do any work up there?” I asked.

He snorted. “Yeah, maybe a half day of ‘team’ meetings to figure out our strategy for the next year.”

“But you could do that in a conference room,” I said. “Why drive two hundred miles just for that?”

“Exactly,” he said. “They complain about how we have to increase our return to the shareholders. They keep cutting and outsourcing, trying to find every penny they can pinch. They freeze our salaries, put a freeze on hiring. And then they come up with something like this. During Lent, no less. They didn’t ask me if I wanted to spend three days away from my family.”

“Maybe they just assumed you were unhappy at home, like everyone else.”

He just shook his head. “If they want to reward me, they know how to do it.”

“Show me the money?” I offered, knowing his penchant for movie quotes.

“Well, that’d be a good start,” he said.

You might wonder why I seem to be relating this charming, if somewhat irrelevant, conversation. Well, it all has to do with this link I ran across a while ago, something that I’d found interesting and saved for a later date. It has to do with emotional infidelity, and how the modern workplace contributes to it. The author, therapist M. Gary Neuman, says “We can't fool ourselves into believing that we can have intimaterelationships at work and still have a great relationship at home.”

In his book, Neuman points to the workplace as Ground Zero for the problem of emotional infidelity. Research shows it's where the majority of extramarital affairs get started - perhaps as high as 73 percent, according to one study.

He sees opportunities for inappropriate behavior behind every lunch, every trip for drinks after work, and every business trip where men and women are thrust into prolonged social contact without their spouses.

Modern "team building" retreats where male and female co-workers climb walls or rappel down cliffs? Neuman would like to see them come to an immediate end.

"We have hard and fast decisions to make," he says. "What's the most meaningful thing in your life? We can't fool ourselves into thinking we can have these intimate relationships at work and still have a great relationship at home."
As is often the case with ideas, I think Neuman takes this one a little too far. Men and women can have successful, platonic friendships (I have several – just ask my wife) without seeing them devolve into sexual relationships. Of course, one of the keys to this is to establish a spiritual relationship within your friendship, one grounded in the love of Christ that we pass along to one another.

Parenthetically, Neuman’s theory that emotional intimacy is a kind of adultery begs the question as to whether same-sex friendships (think of the stereotypical friendship between women who confide their deepest secrets, ones they could never tell their husbands) are a form of homoerotic emotional intimacy. A few years ago this might have been an absurd question, but in light of same-sex marriage, you’d be a fool not to bring it up. Interesting in passing, but not the point of this post.

By taking it to extremes, Neuman runs the risk of discrediting his more pointed (and dead-on) comments on the role of the workplace in emotional and sexual infidelity. I’m not trying to say that Corporate America promotes adultery. What they’re concerned with is their bottom line, nothing more, nothing less. They want to create an environment that, in their opinion, becomes more conducive to productivity.

Somewhere along the line (probably in the mind of an unemployed middle manager who became a consultant) we got this idea of team building, that a group of employees working in a common department had to become a “team,” and that would somehow be good for business. Of course, someone should have pointed to the Oakland Athletics the New York Yankees of the 70s as examples of dysfunctional teams who were nonetheless extremely successful (five World Series titles in that decade, if my memory serves). Fact is, you don’t have to turn the office into a love-in to succeed.

What team building really is is just another new-age mantra that Human Resources executives have latched onto, perhaps as a way to justify their existence as more than Personnel departments. It’s all part of the larger picture, one that I’ve touched on before (See “The Indignity of Work” as an example) of how Corporate America distains the family. They aren’t trying to break the family up, per se, but Heaven forbid it should become an obstacle to the profit margin. We provide conveniences for the employees not to make their lives easier, but to keep them more productive by eliminating reasons to leave the office. We make workforces smaller and require more hours from those who are left, taking away their time with their families. We give them all laptops, making it easier for them to bring their work home. And we introduce these absurd “off-site” team building events that take them away from their home in the middle of the week for no good reason except that we can.

Is it a tall leap from this to the rest of what ails Corporate America? I don’t think so, although perhaps I haven’t had the time (or the skill) to make the point more clearly. But I intend to do so in the future, looking at everything from the nihilism of “Who Moved My Cheese” to the overriding desire for profit, whether it means promoting embryonic stem-cell research because of its effect on the economy and the investment potentials it provides, or working on evil products like the morning-after pill because there’s a market for them, and a market means profits down the line. It’s the old chicken-and-egg question – do they simply answer the demand, or do they help create it? Any marketing expert would tell you that part of a company’s job is to help generate that buzz, the message to the consumer that this product is something they just have to have. If commercials didn’t work, we wouldn’t be inundated with so many of them.

I don’t know how many times I’ll have to say this, but I am not against capitalism (although perhaps I’m leaning a little toward distributionism now and then). What has to be emphasized, again and again, is that capitalism has to have a moral foundation in order to succeed. That means the people who run the company – the officers, the managers, the employees, the stockholders. As Bishop Sheen once said of corruption, it’s like beer – the bubbles rise from the bottom. Until moral values – real moral values – take hold and rise, like bubbles, to the top of the corporate ladder, we’re going to continue to be confronted with issues like this. And I’m going to continue to write about it, again and again.

JH - On the Bookshelf

One of the many reasons we're moving is so that we don't have to spend another year fixing up a house and getting rid of "stuff" we don't use, don't need and don't want. Who knows how many more years we have before we shuffle off this mortal coil and do we want to spend them only getting ready to do what we really want to do. Like read. Not just newspapers and magazines, although the ones we look at are interesting and informative. No, I mean a real book with two hard covers and lots of pages in between. Last year I may have read three books all year. This year I'm already on my third. If I can keep up this pace, I may even get to all the books I received last Christmas and might even start in on the ones from this year.

I like to read authors. Once I glom onto someone whose style and substance I like, I tend to read everything they've written that I can get my hands on. Christopher Morley takes up more than one shelf and believe me, his books are not that easy to find, at least not the ones I can afford. The next shelf is shared by George Sand and Thomas Hardy. Although I hardly think that their personalities could stand the closeness, their books seem to have no trouble co-existing. And we're not just talking Tess of the D'Urbervilles here. I have copies of Under the Greenwood Tree, the Trumpet-Major, Two on a Tower and Desperate Remedies.

Then there is the genre/author combo. Here we have dozens of paperbacks by Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason), Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe), and Ellery Queen (well, you know). Library used book sales and garage sales are excellent places for hunting down these beauties. Oh, and there's the complete Sherlock Holmes.

Moving ahead into Contemporary American Fiction we have Keith Mano, Don Delillo and Paul Auster. We've heard Mr. Auster read twice here in the Twin Cities (I believe his wife's family is from this area) and were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to express our appreciation and admiration for his work. Our appreciation has been shown in a more substantial way, since we've purchased all his books.

Next is contemporary humor/satire. Here we find Joe Queenan, P. J. O'Rourke and Christopher Buckley, all three whom we've heard read. Amusing, entertaining gentlemen all. And their books take up another two shelves. Although it's a combination of spy thriller and political essay (the politics might be considered humorous) another complete shelf is Buckely pere, William F.

For sports fans, Mitchell has all the Mike Lupika novels and a complete collection of Dan Jenkins.

In the non-fiction section is the trilogy of "Not So Small House" books by architect Sarah Susanka. In religion we have Belloc, Chesterton and Bishop Sheen. They are good for almost two shelves.

And those are just some of the authors for whom we have three or more books. All in all, we have ten bookcases of various sizes and we're running out of room. So what do we do? Why, of course, buy more books.

And the latest book to throw a writer into my "read the author" category is Interior Desecrations by James Lileks (click on the right to go to his blog site and see for yourself). I got this for Christmas and sat down within a couple of days to read it. Well, read may not be the best term. Staring in drop-jawed disbelief is more like it. Where does he get these pictures and how does he bear to look at them long enough to write the laugh-out-loud funny descriptions that accompany them. Two years ago Christmas I received The Gallery of Regrettable Food. We almost didn't have Christmas dinner that year because I couldn't put the book down long enough to go into the kitchen. I literally almost fell off the couch laughing reading that book. I also recommend Notes of a Nervous Man and the one I'm reading now, Fresh Lies. Poor Mitchell is trying to read the new Tom Wolfe and I keep interrupting him saying, "I just have to read you this one thing."

And that's the mark of the authors who get into my hall of fame, not to mention my wallet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

JH - Minnesota Orchestra concert of 1/21/05

Ok, so maybe it's not fair to review a concert that I didn't actually attend. I wouldn't have been alone in my absence, since we had a rather nasty snowstorm on Friday evening, which I will not whine about, for we may have readers in New York and Boston where they really got snow.

Fortunately for us here in the Twin Cities, when we can't get to Orchestra Hall we can just pull up a chair and listen to the concert live on our local classical station. With a decent stereo system, it's almost like being there. Well, no it's not, but it's better than nothing.

The concert opened with Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, a Christmas present to his wife Cosima. I'm happy when I get a DVD of any Fred Astaire movie, much less a piece written for me played by fifteen musicians outside my bedroom door. However, Wagner was a man who defined "over the top" for generations to come.

A favorite motif of Wagner's is the use of a solo horn. A few years ago I would have cringed waiting for this passage, but the orchestra's horn section has improved so much over the past couple of years that I looked forward to it instead and was pleased with the performance. The orchestra has steadily improved overall since I began listening to them after moving to the Twin Cities twelve years ago.

The second piece on the program was a 2001 composition by Lowell Liebermann, his Violin Concerto ably played by Chantal Juillet, for whom the concerto was written. I try to keep an open mind where new music is concerned, but I'm so often disappointed that it's hard to remain optimistic. I can't say that I disliked the piece; it just didn't move me much. The orchestra and the soloist did a fine job, and I can appreciate the performance for that much. I just don't think that I'd jump online looking for a recording of it.

Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 made up the second half of the program. Written in 1944, it contains the feelings that Prokofiev had as the 2nd World War wore inevitably down. And, as so many other composers before and after him, he recycled his own themes, using passages that sounded much like the music from sections of the Romeo and Juliet ballet, written almost ten years before. In the second movement especially, his style jumps out. If you had just tuned in, you'd know immediately that it was a Prokofiev composition, a combination of the Russian passion of his musical ancestors and the modern world crashing in, a sort of Copland-goes-to-Russia.

It may have been a small audience, but the orchestra played as though the house were full and listeners - in the hall and at home - were treated to another fine performace from the Minnesota Orchestra.

Monday, January 24, 2005

MH - Here's Jack!

There was a lot of talk about Johnny Carson yesterday, of course. I don't think I can add much to it, certainly not as well as Lileks or Teachout did. But in all of this, I don't think it diminishes any of Johnny's achievements to say that I actually preferred Jack Paar to Johnny.

I was too young to remember Paar; only 2 or so when he left the Tonight Show. I'd heard of him, as any TV buff would, but I didn't really know anything about him until I saw this documentary about him on PBS a few years ago. And once I saw that, I was hooked.

There was something about Jack Paar, something quite different from Carson. A TV Guide from the era described it as "fascinating megalomania," and I think that's probably accurate. But there was something else, too, and I don't know if you can entirely chalk it up to the times.

The times were different, of course. Back then kids didn't stay up all hours. The Tonight Show truly was an adult television show, and there seemed something almost forbidden on those Friday nights when you might be allowed to stay up a little later, at least to see the start of the show. It was comedy for big kids.

The show was different too, back when Paar did it. For one thing it was an hour and 45 minutes long; hard to believe nowadays. For another thing it was live, at least when Paar started. It was urbane, sophisticated. Paar used to tell his guests to talk in a softer voice, befitting the hour of night and keeping in mind a lot of people watched the show in bed.

Paar introduced groundbreaking comics, same as Johnny, but there was more. Watch some of the old shows, on the show I mentioned above or on this one, and see the varied guests - everyone from Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy to Barry Goldwater and Robert Kennedy, to a slightly tipsy Judy Garland dissing Marlene Dietrich, to Jonathan Winters cracking up the joint, to some of Paar's fascinating home movies.

It's true that watching some of Carson's early clips shows you a very similar type of show. Listen to the arrangement of the theme song in those early years and you'll hear something slower, jazzier, more sophisticated. Something very late night. So maybe it really was the times after all. If Paar were around today maybe he'd have an audience of whooping adolescents, adults who act more like participants at a campus chugging contest, cackling at the basest sex jokes and applauding comedians who aren't really funny but who express the correct political attitude, while he was interviewing the latest vapid starlet who can barely tell you how many states there are. Maybe Paar would be like that, but I doubt it. He had too much class, to much ego, to stoop that low. He was witty rather than funny (although he could be silly as well), and maybe that had something to do with it, too.

I don't mean to denigrate Carson by saying this. Watching some of the clips on TV Sunday reminded me of just how quick, how sharp, he could be. I just saw a terrific joke he told about an old high school girlfriend who was called Miss Lincoln because every boy took a shot at her in the balcony. But Lileks, I think, had it right that he was safe. Not as safe as Leno, who seems afraid to offend anyone (except for conservatives), but safe nonetheless. Paar was a lot of things, but he wasn't safe. Remember how he walked off the show - right on the air! - because of a dispute over a joke he'd told that NBC censored? Carson had disputes with NBC as well, but none of them were quite that dramatic. Maybe that's what made Paar cutting edge for the late 50s and 60s.

So all hail King Johnny, but in doing so don't forget that without Jack, there might not have been Johnny.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

MH - Don't Go Away - You Just Got Here!

Well, Our Word has been up and running for almost two months now, and we'd like to hear from you! If you're a repeat visitor, or if you've come across our site for the first time, please drop us an email and let us know you're reading. Tell us who you are and what you like (or don't like) about the site, or just give us a friendly shout. There's no obligation (as the informercials say), we promise we won't put you on any kind of mailing list, and we won't publish your comments if you don't want us to. Heck, if you want to remain anonymous we won't even answer you! But cyberspace can be so impersonal - we'd just like to get to know our internet neighbors, so to speak.

And if you've come across us by accident, stick around - you might just like what you read!

MH - Maybe He's Not Such a Square After All

Christian conservatives launch a protest (see here and here) against SpongeBob SquarePants. The charge: he appears in an upcoming film that's going to be shown in elementary schools throughout the country, the message of which according to it's producers is [RED FLAG ALERT] "to foster tolerance." Furthermore, the group - the We Are Family Foundation - features on their website a "tolerance pledge" that includes "having respect for people whose ... sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own." Conservative groups, among them James Dobson's Focus on the Family, say the film "seeks to coerce children to embrace homosexuality."

Apparently, SpongeBob has for some time now been an underground icon of the homosexual community, according to CNN:

SpongeBob, who lives in a pineapple under the sea, was "outed" by the U.S. media in 2002 after reports that the TV show and its merchandise are popular with gays. His creator, Stephen Hillenburg, said at the time that though SpongeBob was an oddball, he thought of all the characters in the show as asexual..

Now, call me naive ("you're naive!") but I had no idea. I admit to being a fan of SpongeBob - I find some of the humor slyly sophisticated and clearly geared toward an adult sensability. I don't think I'd stop watching the cartoon because of these rumors - after all, you take from it what you want - but I certainly wouldn't walk around wearing a SpongeBob t-shirt in public (for those of you who don't keep tabs on these kinds of things, they do make adult SpongeBob wear - trust me). This kind of thing bothers me, because children are so impressionable, and it's so easy to imbed messages in "harmless" cartoons. Hillenburg doesn't say whether he's bothered by his creation's co-option by the homosexual movement, but if he is he certainly could have done something like prevent SpongeBob from being used in this film.

You have to think there's a special circle in Hell for people who use such means to corrupt children. To be charitable, not everyone in the foundation may be aware of this. But enough of them are for the message to be getting out. Sometimes I think adults are the worst thing that can happen to children.

MH - Last Notes from the Inauguration

Just a few more notes on Thursday's inauguration:

I said before the speech that I liked P.J. O'Rourke's version (see Wednesday's post), but I think I like this Cliff's Notes version even better. (Thanks KJL.)

As for the actual speech, try Peggy Noonan's analysis, elegant as always. A little pessimistic? Time will tell. (Thanks, WJS.)

Finally, an observation of my own - the headline on Yahoo! news Friday read "Thousands in U.S. protest Bush inauguration." That's thousands, not hundreds of thousands or even tens of thousands, in a country of almost 300 million. Ooh, I'm really impressed...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

MH - Encouragement

Well, the inauguration has come and gone, and at least as of this writing, nothing untoward has happened, aside from a few boobs out there protesting, who couldn't resist trying to make themselves the center of attention. We all know, of course, how distraught they get in any situation that isn't all about them. If that's as bad as it gets, I think we can be encouraged.

But enough of that. Speaking of encouragement, Hadleyblogger Dan wanted to share this email he got, as part of, which describes itself as "a daily, Bible-based perspective of hope, encouragement and exhortation."

Seeing as how the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is coming up on Saturday, I thought this was an appropriate message for us all. Not a Catholic site, but I think this is another example of how we can all find encouragement from one another, and make peace around the areas of common agreement we share.

"From Infancy"

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15).

Last night Brooksyne and Ester took a meal over to our Amish neighbors who just had a baby daughter. They came home and told me how very tiny and cute the baby is. Brooksyne said we need to go over again and visit the family. This baby is clearly loved and valued by her parents and toddler brother.

Postmodernism has contributed greatly to the devaluing of life. The latest issue of "Consumer Reports" candidly deals with birth control and also touches on the subject of abortion. The procedure is said to remove "uterine contents." Is that a new low in Orwellian doublespeak or what!

There's a powerful truth related to this in our daily verse. Notice the phrase "how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures." Timothy had a godly mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5). They apparently made known the Holy Scriptures to Timothy even as an infant. The word "infant" is a very interesting Greek word, "brephos". This same word is used in Luke 1:44 to describe John while he was in his mother's womb.

John was not "uterine contents" but a tiny developing baby, who grew up to make a mighty impact in fulfilling the purpose for which God made him. Timothy was impacted by the Holy Scriptures from infancy, which I certainly believe is prenatal development as well. Even many in the world recognize the intricate development that takes place in the womb, not only physically but in many other ways as well.

Consider today the awesome power of God's Word, the Holy Scriptures. Some of you, like Timothy, have known Biblical instruction from infancy, having a godly heritage. Others have come into this knowledge later and are the first generation in your line to have godly faith. Regardless, hold on to the divine truth in the Holy Scriptures, "which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

Seeing as how the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is coming up on Saturday, I thought this was a most appropriate message to share with you all. This email also contains an important reminder about Consumer Reports, that it too has apparently bought into the Planned Parenthood culture of death by "rating" various abortion procedures. This after its ratings of different brands of condoms. Read more about this outrage here at American Life League and and click on "Planned Parenthood bias infiltrates Consumer Reports."

Thanks for the email, Dan!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

MH - A Thought For the Inauguration

Well, the inauguration is tomorrow. I'm sure the President's speech will be adequate, although I like P.J. O'Rourke's version better. And unless something unexpected happens at the last moment, there will be a prayer, and the oath of office will conclude with the phrase "So help me God," despite the best efforts of buffoons like this. (Ah, we must pray for these misguided folks, although frankly I think they overestimate the amount of influence religion has in this country. If only.)

Speaking of which, it's time to play guess the author again. Check out the following quote:

"The decay of deceny in the modern age...the treatment of human beings as things, as the mere instruments of power and ambition, is without doubt the consequence of the decay of the belief in man as something more than an animal animated by highly conditioned reflexes and chemical reactions.

"For, unless man is something more than that, he has no rights that anyone is bound to respect, and there are no limitations upon his conduct which he is bound to obey. This is the forgotten foundation of democracy in the only sense in which democracy is truly valid and of liberty in the only sense in which it can hope to endure. The liberties we talk about defending today were established by men who took their conception of man from the great central religious tradition of Western civilization, and the liberties we inherit can almost certainly not survive the abondonment of that tradition."
Now, if you guessed that this came from Rush Limbaugh, you'd be wrong. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or some other right-wing religious zealot? Ditto. Likewise, if you thought this was ripped from yesterday's headlines.

The writer was in fact the famed columnist, Walter Lippman - anything but a conservative. Lippman died in 1974, but the quote above actually appeared in The New York Times of November 25, 1963. Even more amazingly, the quote, cited by James Reston, was something the Times clearly agreed with. Imagine today's Times approving of such things!

I have no idea when Lippman actually wrote it - Reston simply says it was "many years ago." But isn't it amazing how prescient Lippman was, how accurate his forecast? For we have indeed gone far down the road of abandoning our religious traditions, as well as much else that was once seen as the glory of Western civilization. We see our fellow man as an economic tool, a sex instrument, a lump of flesh that doesn't even deserve to be born. He is an inconvenience, one that should be put out of his misery when he becomes sick or old. His creation is to be prevented at any cost, unless we decide to play creator ourselves, to make spare parts. We harvest his cells while still in a test tube, and throw what's left in a trash can. While living in this vale of tears, we abuse, we ridicule, we ignore, we hurt. Self-gratification is the name of the game, and "anything goes" is the rulebook.

At this point it might help to recall the words of the Psalmist in #52: 1-9:

Why do you boast, O mighty man, of mischief done against the godly? All the day you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. [Selah] You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. But God will break you down for ever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. [Selah] The righteous shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, "See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and sought refuge in his wealth!" But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God for ever and ever. I will thank thee for ever, because thou hast done it. I will proclaim thy name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.
Trust in the love of God, indeed. Trust, and remember Lippman's words. The decay of decency. It's happing all around us, but we don't have to help it along. Trust, and pray that the men and women on the steps of the Capitol tomorrow will meditate on such sentiments, as a warning and a lesson, for our own lives and our own times.

JH - I'm Not Armstrong Williams...

...I don't even play him on tv. So I want you to know that I'm not being paid for this endorsement. In fact, I used my own money to purchase these tapes.

As I have ranted in the past, Minnesota is not the kind of place to take a nice stroll in the middle of the day in the middle of January. So, how do I continue those great 2 mile walks I started in the Spring that contributed so much to my well-being and fitness and mental health. Work-out tapes. I've tried a bunch in the past and usually ended up tossing them out or passing them on to friends who had great plans for a healthy new lease on life. One fitness guru annoyed me so much that I almost threw the tape at the tv. Reason prevailed and I only threw it in the trash can. Just can't stand those white-toothed, tanned, trim automotons who move in ways the human body was never designed to, never break a sweat and then shout at you, "C'mon you can do it. Move, Move. 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. C'mon just 84 more!"

Well, I finally found someone who had some respect for out-of-shape, over 30 people. The work-out is aerobically great, but it's not out to kill you. Your back and your knees are in the same positions at the end of the session as they are at the beginning. And you don't have to learn confusing dance routines. Each day I go for a two mile walk with Leslie Sansone.

She's encouraging without being patronizing. She doesn't care whether you lead off with the left foot or right, whether you have a "stretchie band" or just use your arms, or even if you have to slow down. She just wants you to keep moving and maintain good posture. Kind of like your mother used to tell you.

I have three different 2-mile walking tapes and I really enjoy the variety. I try to work out at about the same time every day so that I don't "accidently" run out of time for exercise. I also have some free weights that I use for some strength and toning in my arms (not in conjuction with the tapes) and I think the whole thing has helped tremendously in my stamina, my mood and in keeping me awake at least until 9:00 pm.

She has other programs too such as Pilates and Yoga, neither of which I've tried, but if you do, let me know how you like them. Go for it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

JH - Home, Sweet Home

Every January or so, or at least some time during the winter when the temperature catapults below zero and doesn’t have the strength to drag itself up again for days, I wonder, what am I doing here? Not so much in the metaphysical sense (although that, too) but in the sense of what am I, a diabetic with very poor circulation, doing living in a place that has winters so brutal that my fingers and toes could dull to the point that I may never get the feeling back into them. Why, in fact, have I lived in this kind of climate, first in Maine, now in Minnesota, for all of my life? Why, after high school, didn’t I follow one of my best friends who moved to Florida just for fun, for a change of scene? Why didn’t I take that trip to California after I started working and saved some money? Why couldn’t I have married a man who lived in Florida or California? Well, this year the answer would be because he probably would have been washed out to sea or buried under a ton of mud. But that’s a good question. Why don’t we live somewhere else with more temperate weather? Why don’t we go now? What’s keeping us here? If I could only answer that question, and the larger one: where is Home?

I excerpt here a posting on Terry Teachout’s excellent blog, About Last Night. (See the link to the right of our favorite blogs. I read his every day.) He wrote this just after Christmas when he was visiting his family in Missouri.

When I leave, it’ll be with the usual mixed feelings. I have a million things to do in New York, and I’ll be more than ready to get back to my desk. I love my work—probably more than I should—and I love my friends with all my heart. I even love New York, though it took me long enough to admit it to myself. (I didn’t really make up my mind about New York until after 9/11.) It is the place of my real life, and increasingly of my memories as well. I won’t be surprised if I spend the rest of my days there, whereas it isn’t likely that I’ll ever again spend more than a week or two at a time in Smalltown. Yet this town, and this house, are what I think of when I think of home.

As I write these words, I’m listening to a record by a friend of mine, a Brazilian singer who lives in New York and became an American citizen earlier this year. Right now she’s in São Paulo visiting her family, and I know her heart is as cloven as mine. I asked her once what language she dreamed in. “English, mostly,” she said, "but with an accent.” So, too, do I dream in and of New York—but with an accent.

When do we acquire the grace to feel at home where we are? Do we ever? Or can we do no better than to make a home for our own children, who will grow up and do the same for their children?

I wrote those words in 1991, a few years after I moved to New York. I still can’t answer any of the questions I asked back then, perhaps because I have no children for whom to make a home, and now wonder whether I ever will. More and more I find myself wondering, too, what home means, and where it is. Yet at least I know where it used to be. Not everyone knows half as much.

I love maps and I look at the atlas just for fun. Ok, I confess, I read encyclopedias when I was a kid, too. But I look at the maps of each of the states in the U.S. and ask myself, can I picture myself living here? Does anything about this place call to me? Does it say Home? I don’t wish to offend anyone in my home state, but I wanted to leave there back when I was a kid. Always fantasized living in some place more exciting, where I could have a Life. And now I don’t wish to offend Minnesotans, but this isn’t exactly the place I dreamed of then. So, back to the maps.

Florida? Humid in the summer. Hurricanes. Alligators in the back yard and bugs big enough to hitch to a cart. California? Too expensive. Hardly anyone can afford to own a home. Smog. Traffic. Mudslides, fires, Hollywood. Arizona? Too hot, too dry, snakes. Texas? I was there after a big hurricane in September one year and the air was so thick that you couldn’t breathe outside. And the Houston Symphony isn’t doing so well.

There’s a clue. Good music. Culture. Hmm. Chicago Symphony, Lyric Opera, museums, climate’s not any worse than Minnesota. But boy, is Chicago BIG. I grew up in a state that had a total population equal that of just the greater Twin Cities. It makes a huge difference when you take all those people and pack them into one metro area. Took me a long time to get used to finding my way around here. I still get lost in the skyways.

Still, there has to be a place where I’d be comfortable, where I’d feel as though I’d finally made it “Home.” Or is there? Is there supposed to be? Here’s where the metaphysical part comes in.

The long and short of it is that this world is not our home. The city, the small town, a cabin in the middle of nowhere. It’s not where we’re called to be, not our final resting place. Our hearts should be on the hunt for Home, but we won’t find it in this world, or we shouldn’t be content to do so. There’s a place where our hearts and souls long to rest, to be reunited with the One who put us here. Our restlessness is an indication that there is a place for us that will satisfy all our needs, our wants, our longings. Nothing in this world can do that. We are given people and things in our life that show us a preview of what real satisfaction is about, but we should never be so taken up with the window dressing that we are distracted from looking inside to see the really exquisite goods.

I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter where I live. There are things that I enjoy, that I like to do that can be done in some places more easily than others. But with computers and fax machines, I can write from anywhere. I can work on my artwork and hobbies anywhere. I can listen to CDs, watch movies, read books anywhere. I can work on the most important thing of all anywhere: preparing myself for my real Home.

Monday, January 17, 2005

MH - And How Much Do YOU Pay In Income Tax, Excellency?

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops have called for an increase in the state income tax as a way to address the budget deficit.

Wait, I have a better idea. Why don’t we leave the income tax rate the same or, better yet, lower it. That way people will have more money they can give to charitable organizations to help the poor.

What’s that, you say? You’re afraid people won’t give, that they’re too far in the grasp of materialism to be charitable? Maybe the bishops could start preaching about that – teaching their flocks the need to give to those less fortunate, to share their time as well as their money, to treat everyone they meet as another Christ, to –

Whoops, I forgot. The bishops are too busy politicking their liberal agenda to preach about such trivial, secondary issues as living your faith in everyday life, areas where they really are needed to make a difference. Never mind.

I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but every time I read something like this, I’m reminded of one of the great lines from the great TV series Yes, Prime Minister about the Anglican church, where (I’m paraphrasing) “belief in God is optional.”

Yes, it’s true that the legitimacy of taxes is part of accepted Catholic teaching. I don’t think anyone here would dispute that. And I’m the first one to criticize the materialism that can be found to one extent or another by some conservatives (read any of my posts on Corporate America). But there’s no reason why someone should leave the Catholic Church because of the Church’s “political” stance.

Some might ask what the difference is between this and other “politicized” issues such as abortion and Communion to pro-abort politicians. Well, the prohibition on abortion (and euthanasia, cloning, and embryonic stem-cell research) is a fundamental part of natural law – I don’t know if it’s accurate to call it part of Catholic doctrine, but it’s pretty serious, one of those black-and-white, good-and-evil things. Reception of Communion by pro-abort Catholics is a violation of Catholic teaching, regardless of what some bishops seem to think. Point is, issues like these are part of the bishops’ duty to teach the Catholic faith, to help politicians form a Catholic conscience to guide them in making authentically Catholic decisions. If it becomes wrapped up in politics, that’s more the fault of the politicians.

Taxes, on the other hand, aren’t so cut-and-dried. I haven’t heard the governor advocate starvation as a way to deal with the problems of hunger. Seems to me that this is more a question of policy implementation – how best to care for the vulnerable, the less fortunate among us. Catholics with the same end as a goal can legitimately disagree as to the means best suited to meet that goal. On issues like this, the bishops should, respectfully, butt out.

Whenever I hear friends, especially conservative friends, talk about leaving the church because of political meddling like this (remember how the bishops called for a nuclear freeze about 25 years ago? That was a nadir of the post-Vatican II period!) or because the priest in their parish prays to “the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier,” or because they’re hearing some claptrap about the need or create global government or water down Catholic teaching to make it more “ecumenical,” it breaks my heart. If only they could see and hear what the Church really stands for. These people don’t have the vaguest idea what the Church really teaches, and I’m afraid the bishops aren’t doing much to help them.

MH - Odds and Ends

A couple of interesting links. First, this article from Christianity Today (courtesy Steve Beard's that asks "Why don't Christians live what they preach?" No finger-pointing intended, just a reminder of how important, and how difficult, it is to be a witness to your faith, and the need for all of us to be vigilant. The former basketball star Charles Barkley once famously remarked that he wasn't a role model. The fact is, we're all role models for someone, whether we know it or not, and we need to live every minute of our lives that way.

And then there's this bit from CNN on PBS's decision to alter a scene an HBO-produced movie "to avoid showing the front of a nude woman being scrubbed down after a fictional chemical attack." PBS will instead broadcast "extra footage" that "depicts the woman from a more discreet angle," according to a PBS programming executive. I don't doubt that there was nothing erotic intended by this shot, so my only question is this: if the scene can be accurately portrayed with this "extra footage," why was there the need to have a nude shot in the first place? Go back and watch some of the classic films of the 30s and 40s, and you'll see they were often able to convey the meaning of a scene subtly, without resort to either nudity or profanity - and many times more effectively. So if you don't need it, why bother? Just because you can? That's the only answer that comes to mind...

MH - New Link

I've been a big fan of Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for some time now (alas, I'm not a member - better put my money where my mouth is!), but after seeing him on The World Over with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN Friday night, I knew it was time to put up a link to the League's website. Check it out on the sidebar - visit this site often, and you'll learn about the massive disinformation campaign in progress against the Catholic Church; you'll also learn how you can fight it with fire and panache, using the facts to tell the real story. Share this with your friends and others looking to learn the truth of the Church, for the better informed we are, the more effective witnesses we'll be. As Boris Badenov would say, Bill Donohue is "my kind of folks."

Friday, January 14, 2005

MH - Whose Sunday Is It, Anyway?

This seems to be my day for linking to interesting items - of interest to me, anyway. This one appears in the weekly bulletin of St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis, and it has to do with the disgraceful disruption of family life by the opressive schedule of sports - not just the pros, but especially youth sports. It's a parasite that feeds on free time the same way the salt monster in Star Trek latched onto and sucked the life out of its victims. It's not enough that youth sports takes up every hour during the week - now it's monopolizing Sundays as well. It hardly leaves anyone time for church - but then, how dare the Church try to intrude into our free time on Sunday.

A few notes on St. Olaf's - when I worked downtown, I used to go there for noontime Mass and confession. Even though I don't work downtown anymore (at least for the time being), I'm still able to make it down there every once in a while.

It's true that I have had and continue to have issues with St. Olaf's. Their previous pastor was known as a liberal, one of those who helped perpetuate doubts about Pius XII's role in the Holocaust. Their Masses, especially the ones with visiting priests, can be, shall we say, less than the letter of the liturgical law. And that doesn't even begin to go into their monthly African Mass.

Nevertheless, I believe in giving credit where credit is due. I don't know the current pastor, Fr. Tiffany, author of the article, so I have no desire to link him with whatever has gone on or has been established at St. Olaf's in the past. I only know that I was impressed with what he had to say in this article, and I thought it was worth sharing.

MH - Dilbert Lives!

It's been a couple of weeks since I ranted against Corporate America, so I figured it was about time.

Seriously, it's this story (thanks, KJL at NRO) on how some bloggers are getting in hot water with their employers about the things they post on their blogs (yes, I know the article is from the BBC, but they're talking about American companies as well as British ones). And there's a new term for it, according to "dooced," which means "losing your job for something you wrote in your online blog, journal, website, etc."

Now, I can understand if you're writing your blog on corporate time (that is, after all, a form of stealing) or if you're revealing confidential company secrets (say, insider trading). There is such a thing as proprietary information, not to mention the always popular "intellectual property" arguement.

But what I get out of all this is the overwhelming image of the humorless, soulless corporation - the Dilbert company, in other words. It's the increasing attempt of the corporation to take over the lives of its employees. It's hardly uncommon nowadays to find a corporate "campus" that includes food courts, day-care providers, workout facilities, beauty shops, banks, company stores, medical and dental clinics, dry cleaners, car license renewal services - all the comforts of home, without ever having to leave the office. While it's true that this can be very beneficial to those who work there - especially when the company is located somewhere out in the boonies - it's also true that all these services have the consequence (and, I think, hardly an unintended one) of freeing up additional time that you can spend at your desk.

Think about it. When did you get time to do these errands before? You'd do them on your lunch hour, or on your way home, or in the case of a doctor's appointment you might leave early. But now you don't even have to leave the building to take care of them. And with statistics showing that American employees are working more hours than ever, what could be better than removing all those nasty distractions that keep you from focusing on your job?

After all, the dry cleaners might be closed by the time you get done with that important project. Having the cafeteria open at 7 means you can grab breakfast at the office instead of eating at home with your kids. And if things get too frustrating, don't worry - you can take the escalator down to the gym, run a few laps, and return to your desk refreshed and ready for a few more hours' work. I suspect pretty soon some company will add a vet's clinic, so you can bring your dog in for a trim while you're finishing up at the Xerox.

I thought of all these things today while reading a review of the new movie In Good Company on In discussing the plot of the movie - a long-time employee who suddenly finds himself the victim of his company's new regime - the reviewer, Paul Clinton, makes an excellent point with this rhetorical question: "How do we balance a career with a full, outside-the-office life and a family? The answer is, we don't. Today, it's nearly impossible to have control over both your professional and personal life."

And as you know from this earlier post, Corporate America recognizes this as well. That's why they don't want you to have a personal life. They want you to live for the company, the same way they do - that is, when they're not spending time with their trophy wives out on the yachts they purchased with their multimillion dollar year-end performance bonuses.

Believe me, please, I'm not a Commie, or a Socialist, or anything like that. I believe in capitalism. A lot of companies have done a lot of good things over the years, for America, for the world (witness the massive financial aid for the tsunami victims), and for their own employees. Judie and I owe our employers a lot; we wouldn't have our home, our medical coverage, or the resources to have this blog site, without them.

But as I've said before, Corporate America is its own worst enemy. Even as devout a free-market capitalist as my friend Gary says as much. That doesn't mean the government should get involved; they'll just make things worse. The point is, you can't force a corporation to have a conscience. That has to come from the individuals who run the company.

A conscience they might be able to more fully develop if they weren't so busy worrying about what their employees might be saying on their blog sites.

MH - The Land of Free Speech?

Here's a rich one - a college bans showings of The Passion of the Christ claiming a policy against showing R-rated movies - a policy, incidentally, that doesn't prohibit performance of a live play entitled "F**king for Jesus." Double-standard, anyone?

As I said, it's a rich one - only we're all the poorer for things like this happening. Thanks to Stanley Kurtz at NRO for calling attention to the story.

Oh, and by the way - there are email addresses at the end of the article. And it's OK to get mad about things like this...

Thursday, January 13, 2005

MH - Wish I'd Written That...

"What did he want to do?" [Wolfe asked]
"Nonsense. Only a saint wants to do nothing."
Pete grinned. "Man, that's good. I like that. It's not true, but I like it. Who said it?"
"I did."
"But who said it first?"
"I seldom let another man speak for me, and when I do I name him."

Rex Stout, Death of a Dude

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

JH - Pop Culture, the Good Old Days?

I often meditate on whether I'm becoming more focused or whether I'm just getting older and running out of the energy to keep up with the world. Mitchell linked to this post the other day, but I'll do it again.

George Bernard Shaw said, "Youth is wasted on the young." Perhaps, but I think that pop culture is better left to the young. It's something that takes too much time and requires a level of vitality that is perhaps beyond the ability of someone in middle age. No, better to be left with our memories of when everything was new and exciting and we had to experience everything before we got old, say 35 or so.

Music has always been a part of my life, a part of my being. I listened to everything when I was a kid - classical, folk, top 40, rock, swing, jazz and bits of everything else. I learned a lot of classical "tunes" by watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, listening to the records my older brother had and standing beside the old upright piano as my grandmother played. I loved the quaint old-fashioned sound of the 78s of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey my mother bought when she was young. My romantic nature was fed by the Child ballads that Joan Baez and Judy Collins used to record. And then came the Beatles. I just about melted watching their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. I carried a small transistor radio everywhere and could sing every song that came on the radio. I loved tv and watched it for hours. I read the trashy, gossipy movie magazines my aunts would give to us when they were done reading them. In the early 70s when I was finally able to drive myself around I went to every movie playing. I went to concerts, both popular and orchestral, listened to Alec Wilder's American Popular Song program on the radio and tuned in to the Texaco broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera. Then I'd put on a Led Zeppelin record. I was immersed in popular culture.

Somewhere along the line, especially in the last ten or fifteen years, I started to be put off by the fare which was offered to me by television and radio and movies. I started not to like the crudity, the silliness, the downright offensiveness of the wares that the purveyors of pop culture made available. I started to watch less television until what I watch now is usually on tape and in black and white. I rarely listen to the radio except for classical music (and even that has become the lowest common denominator, but I'll save that rant for another time. As a matter of fact, I listen more often to the classical music stations that are available from our satellite tv provider.) Movies? Instead of the three or four a week I used to see, I'm lucky if I can find 3 or 4 a year to see. Fortunately, there are DVDs of my favorites - Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, William Powell. I only know about current celebrities now from things I overhear other people say. By osmosis, as it were. I don't know, I don't want to know.

And it isn't just that I don't care about new things. I can barely stand to listen to or watch many of the things I thought were great when I was young. I think it's this: classics of any era stand the test of time and most things that are thrown out for public consumption - in any era - won't ever make it past those who have not yet been able to develop a discriminating palate. Many people, even those who don't like or understand it, think that all classical music is sophisticated, more learned, somehow, better, than other music. What they don't realize is that the drek of the 17th century never made it to the age of recordings and some of the trash written in the 20th century may be recorded for posterity, but may be forgotten in the hearts of most listeners. Not every song written by the Gershwins was a gem, but those that are still popular have stood the test of time. Who remembers most of the bubblegum music of the 70s? Who wants to? But the bands that could still crank out another concert - the Who, the Stones, Led Zeppelin - are still selling remastered CDs. U2 just issued a new recording that's wowing the critics and the music-buying audience.

There comes a time for each one of us when we begin to realize that there isn't that much time left before we shuffle off this mortal coil. What do you want to spend your precious time on? Another episode of Survivor or spending $8.00 to see Without a Paddle? It's your choice if you do, but I think that I'll be settling down with a DVD of Parsifal and a biography of Hilaire Belloc.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

MH - God and Tsunamis

John O'Sullivan has an eloquent meditation on the recent disaster. Some real food for thought. Courtesy NRO.

Monday, January 10, 2005

MH - The Devil You Don't Know

Does the name Sam Harris ring a bell with you? If it doesn't, it should, because of the new book he's promoting, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. I'm not going to link to this because I don't want anyone to make the mistake of buying it. You should, however, become familiar with what this man says, because this, my friends, is the face of the enemy.

Want an example? Try this excerpt from Publisher's Weekly:

"Harris calls for the end of religious faith in the modern world. Not only does such faith lack a rational base, he argues, but even the urge for religious toleration allows a too-easy acceptance of the motives of religious fundamentalists. Religious faith, according to Harris,r equires its adherents to cling irrationally to mythic stories of ideal paradisiacal worlds (heaven and hell) that provide alternatives to their own everyday worlds. Moreover, innumerable acts of violence, he argues, can be attributed to a religious faith that clings uncritically to one set of godmas or another. Very simply religion is a form of terrorism for Harris."

Now, maybe most of you aren't surprised by this. I wasn't particularly myself. But there may be some of you who didn't think that people like this really existed. He almost seems cartoonish in his hatred of religion. You might think he's so ridiculous that nobody will pay serious attention to him. Don't make the mistake of taking him lightly. He's been making the rounds - Hannity & Colmes, Scarborough Country, probably other talk shows. People like him are getting their books published and their message across, and their numbers are growing. Are they in the majority yet? Not in this country, perhaps - not yet, that is - but just look at the voice of secular Europe and its increasing hostility to religion, and you see what kind of influence Harris and his ilk have.

Worried? You should be. We all should be. But we can't stop there, we can't give in to despair. Remember Our Lord's promise that He would be with us until the end of time. We owe it to Him and to ourselves to fight this Satanic school of thought, while we still have the time. Be prepared. Educate yourself and then educate others - your family, your friends, and others. Steel yourself for battle, don't be afraid to speak out. Set a good example, be a good witness to our faith. Pray unceasingly. And love.

I'm not going to preach about this - I just want you to know what's out there, because I hadn't heard of Sam Harris until I read two articles in the same issue of the Wanderer last week, by Frank Morriss and James K. Fitzpatrick (who have excellent thoughts on this - get out there and buy an issue of this newspaper if you can, or better yet, subscribe), and one of the purposes of this blog is to share what we know with as many people as we can. Hopefully, some of you will offer your own thoughts on things you've done that works, and what we all can do.

UPDATE: Hadleyblogger Mark has some additional comments on this, which are well worth reading and taking heed of:

I was not aware of him before you wrote your blog article, but appreciate your level of spiritual insight. The face of Satan takes many forms, widely ranging from a trivializing mocker to an emboldened soldier of evil. And because people do not understand the basis of our faith, or the deep dimensions of the battles that rage in the spiritual realm, some will unwittingly pick up a sword for Satan, and others will actually choose to carry the message of evil - all for, say, 30 pieces of silver. Actually thinking they are doing good through their actions.I think it would be good to recommend the Book of Acts of the Apostles as a must-read for Christians - or for Sam Harris. Sam embodies a not uncommon 21st century disconnect that is present in so many people - even in today's believers. The Book of Acts relates in the first person (and that's important) how God not only poured out His Holy Spirit to the first round of believers, but also how He dealt with disbelief and evil in the early church through His apostles. Taking that into today's arena, it is imperative that we must understand that if we are to stand against the onslaught of the evil one, we must be girded in His spiritual armor. And be ready to do "battle" with weapons that are not of the usual sort... Acts spells that out.

As followers of Christ, he told us to expect opponents like Sam Harris. And we must expect God to lead us in how to respond - continually reminding ourselves that it is not us responding, but Him responding as He uses us as vessels for His eternal purposes. Purposes that go way beyond our line of sight.Because our Heavenly Father is not subject to the shackles of time and space like we are, He works on many levels and in many forms at the same time for His good ends. Even as He leads his angels in great spiritual warfare He simultaneously becomes the Hound of Heaven to bring each soul home - one at a time. His mysterious "shapeshifting" is way beyond my understanding - I only know that our mighty Father moves in wondrous ways that befuddle mere men like Sam Harris, and humble men like me who have been given just a glimpse of His workings. As a result, Sam Harris needs to "dis" that which he cannot see and chooses not to understand.

I am not afraid of Sam Harris. As I am comforted and encouraged in realizing the incredible Nature of our Heavenly Father, I am sad for Sam Harris. And for the blackness that grips his heart.

Dear friends, the battle rages for this man's soul. We will not win by fighting him. We need to fight the one who is sucking the life out of him. That is the real battle. We need to pray tears for this man who is in danger of losing his very soul. He only has one.

MH - Speaking (As I Was) of Growing Old...

Ever get the feeling you're just a little out of step? Michael Blowhard hits the nail on the head in this essay from 2Blowhards. Am I this bad, Judie? Wait, don't answer that...

MH - The Street Where You Live

One of the advantages of thinking about a blog site for a long time before actually starting one is that you build up a surplus of good items that you can pluck out at the appropriate time. Such a one is this very interesting story from 2Blowhards, which I'd been saving since September, on the gentrification of urban neighborhoods.

As a political science major, I'd been introduced to different concepts of urban renewal, but it wasn't the poli sci version that intrigued me; my interest was much more of a popular one, a combination of a fascination with architechture from the 20s to the 50s (the 1939 New York World's Fair, for example, or the magnificant WPA-era buildings of the Minnesota State Fair Grounds) and the growing nostalgia that grips you once you realize you're starting to use the phrase "the good old days" a little too often.

I became much more intrigued watching the final three episodes of Ric Burns' remarkable New York documentary. I knew of Robert Moses, of course, from reading about the '39 Fair (and I'll echo Lileks here in that I've got to read Robert Caro's bio of Moses one of these days); but I'd never heard of Jane Jacobs before, and I found the documentary's story of her battle to save her Greenwich Village neighborhood from the wrecking ball a fascinating one. Even more interesting (and heartbreaking) was watching the destruction of historic buildings (the original Penn Station) and the demolition of old neighborhoods.

Since then I've become much more interested in the impact centralized planning (such as the construction of massive freeways) has had on the character of our neighborhoods, and I've tried to incorporate it into a more broad, holistic view of culture in general. In particular, I'd recommend a very provocative book, The Slaughter of Cities, that argues "the breakdown of the [Catholic] Church in modern America had its origins in government-directed social policies of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s." Read it and see what you think.

I was reminded of all this by this story in yesterday's Star Tribune, in which our liberal daily makes the shocking admission that gentrification of downtown neighborhoods may not be all bad. Granted, you have to wade through some standard liberal boilerplate to get to it, but I particularly enjoy this quote from Steven Belmont, the Minneapolis author of an American Planning Association volume called "Cities in Full," who says, "We have got to stop thinking of any part of the metropolis as the exclusive domain of the poor."

Well, I realize I've prattled on about this a little too long. Trust me, the subject is more interesting than I've made it. Just click on the links, and you'll find out these people say it a lot better than I do.

Friday, January 7, 2005

MH - The Best News Money Can Buy

It was revealed on Friday that the Department of Education paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote the President's No Child Left Behind policy, and the media was justifiably outraged. After all, why should he get paid for slanting the news when they do it for free?

UPDATE: Well, Williams was fired by his syndicate this week. Read about it here. Best line - Bryan Monroe, VP of the National Association of Black Journalists. "I thought we in the media were supposed to be watchdogs, not lapdogs." So did I, Mr. Monroe, so did I. Maybe you should talk to Dan Rather about it...

Thursday, January 6, 2005

MH - Wish I'd Written That...

“[Wolfe] grunted. ‘I have told you a dozen times, sarcasm is the most futile of weapons. It doesn’t cut, it merely bounces off.’ "

Rex Stout, A Family Affair

(Yeah, I know, maybe I should follow that advice more often myself...)

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

MH - BCS Predictions, Continued

OK, so I was wrong about the Orange Bowl. Three out of four ain't bad, right? Besides, in retrospect, USC appears unbeatable, especially with O.J. Simpson's support. After all, he had such a slashing style...

JH - What's Opera, Doc?

One of the only nice things about winter is that the weather can cooperate to create a good excuse for staying in on a Saturday afternoon so that you can hear the entire performance instead of just snippets while getting in and out of the car. I'm talking about the radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera and last Saturday was one of those days. In the Twin Cities we got pelted with a sleet, freezing rain, ice thunder storm, making travel impossible. Unless, of course, you enjoy waiting to be towed out of a ditch on the side of the freeway. We don't, so we stayed in and enjoyed the wonderful experience of hearing a live, full-length Handel opera, in this case Rodelinda.

This was a first for the Met and I believe the Saturday performance was sold out. I love the chestnuts, too, but I was eager to hear an opera that I'd never heard before. Or had I? A Handel opera is a far different animal than it's later cousins by Puccini or Verdi or Wagner. It's more like an oratorio interrupted by applause, and I've heard many, and sung in several, oratorios. Like many other composers, Handel borrowed frequently from himself. More than once I expected to hear the familiar strains of an aria from Messiah or Samson. (Who can blame them; if you had to come up with a new piece for a church service every week or at the whim of your royal employer, you'd probably recycle a bit too.)

Handel's operas are accused of being static and perhaps they are. Since I was not able to see the action, I can't make a fair comment on that. In a sense, only being able to listen to them on the radio, all operas are periods of singing interrupted by applause (except maybe Wagner who rarely left room for applause). In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance, even though I'm wasn't crazy about the singers. I'm not a big fan of Renee Fleming; I find her voice too cold. And I don't like countertenors; I think that their sound is too forced, too jarring to be pleasing to my ear. However, Miss Fleming did a wonderful job and even achieved moments of sweetness and David Daniels sounded heroic at times. Perhaps his unnaturally high voice sounded even higher because the opera was being performed on modern day instruments which have a higher pitch than did instruments in Handel's time. It would be interesting to hear the work played on period instruments or modulated into a different key to approximate the original.

I've always enjoyed listening to and singing baroque period music so hearing Rodelinda was a real treat. It's so unusual to hear a harpsichord during a broadcast from the Met. This is an orchestra that can do almost anything. Large or small, they always sound great.

Judging by the ovation at the end, the audience must have liked the performance too. It was wonderful, but I suspect that some long-time opera goers were just glad to have something new to sink their teeth into. Because we live in a place where live opera is so limited, I'm a sucker for almost anything the Met does. Perhaps if I lived in New York or Chicago, I'd be more jaded, or at least more discriminating. As it is, I say bring on whatever the season holds, and thank God that the Met is still broadcast on the radio, at least for one more year.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

MH - Wish I'd Written That...

From Lileks today:

"The [Star Trek] Vulcans not only follow Surak’s teachings, they have built up what appears to be a religion around them - but there’s no element of the divine. Everyone gets to act like true believers, and everything sounds and feels like a religion, but it’s not. And that's fine; I don't care, but it's instructive: the writers seem to want all the trappings of a religion without, y'know, the God thing. It's like the Force. They have statues and chants and monasteries and devout unblinking acolytes who are Very Serious, but no God. It's like Amway with Gregorian Chants."

Monday, January 3, 2005

MH - What Did You Say Your Name Was?

This has got to be one of the dumber ideas I've seen in a long, long time. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? Who came up with this name, Prince?
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