Monday, October 31, 2005

The Lion That Squeaks

By Mitchell

I'm going to start you out with some quotes from an article I admire, and then we'll discuss it.

One cause of present-day childishness in grown-up people is the change in the character of the work by which an ever-increasing proportion of the world's population has come to be earning its living since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The mechanization of the world's work has been lightening manking's physical labor, but this at the price of imposing on the factory worker a psychological curse from which the pre-industrial farmer was free. This curse is the curse of boredom.

Now, the farmer works from dawn to dusk. His life is not dull. Everything - everything - on the farm requires his attention. On the other hand, the factory worker tends not fields nor animals, but machines. "The factory worker's relation to the machinery is impersonal."

If the wheels are to be made to pay, they must be kept turning 24 hours in the day, so the machine-tender works on a shift; the machine is not his own, in the sense in which the farmer's cow and crop are his.

Understandably, this can lead to a dull life for the factory worker. "He may come out physically fresh; but he is likely to find himself phychologically jaded. What he craves for, in his off-time, is recreation; and of course, he is tempted to choose the kind of recreation that makes the lowest spiritual demand on him.

But this isn't an experience limited to those who work in manufacturing:

The middle-class office worker is also making the same choise, without having the same excuse. In his caes, perhaps, the cause is not so much boredom as it is anxiety. His higher education has made him more acutely aware of problems - political, social, moral, and spiritual - that are baffling him. His flight from these cares to soap-box opera is a case of escapism.

Moreover, the incentives to seek frivolous distractions are growning in strength. The problems that create anxiety become more menacing, and daily work becomes more boring as automation's pace accelerates.

Interesting, isn't it? At least I think so. And you're probably wondering what kind of textbook or philosophical tome it comes from.

Well, in fact, it comes from December 4, 1965 issue of TV Guide (with the lissome Juilet Prowse on the cover), in an article entitled "The Lion That Squeaks" by the famed British historian Arnold J. Toynbee. Now, we could discuss at length what this says about TV Guide, that it could go from such in-depth and distinguished writing by a noted historian, to the pap that it now produces. But we've covered that ground before. What I find fascinating is what Toynbee has to say, and what it says to our own times. The lion in Toynbee's article is television, and his speculation is why TV has failed to fulfill its potential. Keep in mind that this article was written almost forty years ago.

The scene that Toynbee describes is eerily our own. Writing in the 60s, when manufacturing still made up a large part of our economy, Toynbee focuses on the dreariness of factory work and what it does to an individual's spiritual makeup. However, in the paragraph I just exerpted, Toynbee turns his focus to the office worker, and here he describes our service-driven economy to a T.

Working hours are continually becoming shorter and leisure hours correspondingly longer; and here we have a second caues of the public's present choice of forms of recreation that are frivolous and childish.

Toynbee might have been amused to find that although technology has made it possible for us to do more work in less time, we seem to be reacting by working longer and longer hours, in an effort to afford more of the material goods that define our lives, even as in doing so we sacrifice the time available to make use of those toys. But he saw the results coming; oh, yes he did: "The misspending of leisure, even on comparatively innocent frivoloties, will lead to social, cultural and moral regression if it continues unchecked."

Isn't this what we're seeing this very minute? In my past post on TV Guide I cited a publishing expert who looked at the tastes of post-9/11 readers: "Everyone thought that after 9/11, people were going to focus on what really matters, get their priorities straightened out . . . [b]ut I think more than anything people have sought escape at a higher level." In a Strib article on the resurgence of horror shows on TV this season, an anylist followed the same reasoning:

"I think people expected that after 9/11, people were going to want light comedies," said Stuart Gordon, director of "Re-Animator" and the series' installment next week. "But there's so much tension in the world, and people need a chance to get it out of their systems."

It might be well at this point to remember that the great sci-fi movies of the 50s were often seen as cold-war metaphors, the paranoia reflecting our concern with Communism, nuclear war, and the end of the world. And so it's not surprising that we'd turn to horror and celebrity gossip - when we don't believe in anything, when we see no hope for anything other than the world in which we live now; and we see that world seemingly spiraling out of control, then why not turn to more and more destructive ways of living? Even if it's only vicariously, through watching the imploding lives of celebrities or the latest apocalyptical horror story. We're not only escaping responsibility, we're trying to close our hands over our ears and shut the whole thing out. We just don't want to think about it.

Toynbee describes a very Chestertonian-like outlook on economic issues and their relationship to the spiritual lives of people; the need for ownership of work, the essential goodness of physical labor, the dangers of becoming a "wage slave," with no personal stake in the work being performed. He's absolutely right when he talks about the inevitable effects: a rise in anxiety, laziness, moral slackness, an urge for the frivolous. He has looked at today's world through Chesterton's eyes, and seen what the great man predicted.

So what happens next? Toynbee's article concluded with a prescription for what was needed, but doubt that it would happen. First, people need to expect more from television:

How far does this depend on him, and how far does it depend on the policy of the commercial organization that purveys to him those silly programs to which the viewer is now giving an appallingly high proportion of his viewing time?

Networks have to be responsible to viewers, and since they're all businessmen they have to give the viewer what he wants. They can't afford to get too far ahead of the curve, for then it may appear they're trying to force-feed the viewer, who will turn away, leaving the network and its sponsors in a financial dilemma. But, as Barnum (I think) pointed out, nobody ever went broke by understimating what the people will accept:

The purveyor [executives and sponsors responsible for what's on TV] therefore allows himself a margin of safety. He sets the level of his wars below the average level of demand, not above it, and this poor-spirited policy gives him greater freedom of play; for his researches tell him that he can depress the level of his wares at least 12 inches below the average level of demand before his low-brow customers will give up television in disgust because they are finding it too banal to please even them.

Yes, TV needed to become more educational, at least in the sense of feeding the viewer's intellect rather than acting as junk food.

But will just educating the head be enough? The head cannot run far in advance of the heart; and, for bringing about a change of heart, something more than an improvement in formal education is required. A spiritual revolution is needed; and here, I think, we are touching the heart of the matter. We are putting our finger on what is wrong, not just with present-day television, but with present-day Western life.


In our time, we have lost the lofty vision and the serious purpose with which our forefathers used to be inspired by their ancestral religions. This inspiration has now been lost by many people who still attend church and temple and mosque. How is this vital inspiration to be regained? The future of television, and of everything else, will depend on our answer.

Toynbee was right forty years ago; he's even more right today. And while he's talking about TV in the article, he could be discussing all the institutions of our society: government, business, church. The mood he saw in the waning days of 1965 came to flower in a generation that seemed to reject everything: faith, morals, authority, responsibility, convention. They talked of peace, often in the most violent ways possible. The damage caused by the 60s and 70s can't be overestimated; we now see what happens when our major institutions are run by the generation that ceased to believe. And today's culture is being written by their offspring, children of the children who never grew up.

Toynbee saw the warning signs, and they came to pass. We are poorer because of it. And we must now ask, as we see the signs flare up again: what will they produce this time?

St. Jude, Pray for Us

By Mitchell

From Friday, which was the feast day of St. Jude, patron of lost causes, nephew of Mary and Joseph, blood relative of Jesus Christ:

St. Jude, glorious Apostle, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the name of the traitor has caused you to be forgotten by many, but the true Church invokes you universally as the Patron of things despaired of; pray for me, that finally I may receive the consolations and the succor of Heaven in all my necessities, tribulations, and sufferings, particularly (here make your request), and that I may bless God with the Elect throughout Eternity. Amen.

Thank you, St. Jude, for prayers answered and favors granted in the past; and hear and look kindly on my petitions today. MDH

The Supremes, Take Two

By Mitchell

The breaking news on the networks this morning is that Judge Samuel Alito will be the president's new nominee for the Supreme Court. (On NPR's top-of-the-hour news, the big story was Rosa Parks lying in the Capitol Rotunda. What a surprise.)

Everything points to Alito being a very good pick for the post (he's considered so similar to Justice Scalia that some call him "Scalito".) We'll have to see how well he fares in the Senate.

As I'm hearing the headlines, I'm wondering what Bush has in mind. Some wanted to give him credit for appointing Miers knowing she couldn't be confirmed, allowing him to follow-up with his real choice, someone so qualified by comparison that the Senate couldn't help but acquiesce. I really didn't give him credit for being that clever, but now I wonder if he's going the other way: nominate a strong conservative he knows can't get confirmed, just to send a message to conservatives that a third choice, someone who's qualified but moderate, is the only way to go.

And this is an excellent example of why cynicism is considered a sin: it goes beyond prudence and prevents you from taking anything at face value. This kind of thinking doesn't speak well of Bush (although it might turn out to be merited), but neither does it speak well of us. We'll just have to ponder and pray and wait on this one.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Covenant Curses

By Mitchell

John Derbyshire and Mark Shea both mentioned Peggy Noonan's column this week, and approvingly so. Well, that's a recommendation you can hardly pass up. Mark gets the thanks in this case, because he included the link to her column, which is thoughtful as always.

"Do people fear the wheels are coming off the trolley?" she asks.

I'm not talking about "Plamegate." As I write no indictments have come up. I'm not talking about "Miers." I mean . . . the whole ball of wax. Everything. Cloning, nuts with nukes, epidemics; the growing knowledge that there's no such thing as homeland security; the fact that we're leaving our kids with a bill no one can pay. A sense of unreality in our courts so deep that they think they can seize grandma's house to build a strip mall; our media institutions imploding--the spectacle of a great American newspaper, the New York Times, hurtling off its own tracks, as did CBS. The fear of parents that their children will wind up disturbed, and their souls actually imperiled, by yhe popular culture in which we are raising them. Senators who seem owned by someone, actually owned, by an interest group or a financial entity. Great
churches that have lost all sense of mission, and all authority. Do you have confidence in the CIA? The FBI? I didn't think so.

But this recounting doesn't quite get me to what I mean. I mean I believe there's a general and amorphous sense that things are broken and tough history is coming.

There's a feeling in the air, and we don't quite know what to make of it. It pops up in everyday conversation, and it brings us to silence for a moment and then we move on, just as before but not quite:

I know a 12-year-old with dozens of pairs. They're thrown all over her desk and bureau. She's not rich, and they're inexpensive, but her parents buy her more when she wants them. Someone said, "It's affluence," and someone else nodded, but I said, "Yeah, but it's also the fear parents have that we're at the end of something, and they want their kids to have good memories. They're buying them good memories, in this case the joy a kid feels right down to her stomach when the earrings are taken out of the case."

This, as you can imagine, stopped the flow of conversation for a moment. Then it resumed, as delightful and free flowing as ever. Human beings are resilient. Or at least my friends are, and have to be.

Or take another dramatic example, as Noonan recounts a story from Christopher Lawford's new memoir, as he recounts an evening spent with relatives, including his uncle, Ted Kennedy. Ted's in an expansive mood, talking about how if he hadn't gone into politics he'd have wanted to be an opera singer, singing at la Scala and eating pasta every night. Everyone laughed, and then the mood changed:

Then, writes Mr. Lawford, Teddy "took a long, slow gulp of his vodka and tonic, thought for a moment, and changed tack. 'I'm glad I'm not going to be around when you guys are my age.' I asked him why, and he said, 'Because when you guys are my age, the whole thing is going to fall apart.' "

Mr. Lawford continued, "The statement hung there, suspended in the realm of 'maybe we shouldn't go there.' Nobody wanted to touch it. After a few moments of heavy silence, my uncle moved on."

Noonan doesn't think Teddy was worried about the family falling apart. It was everything falling apart. And she thinks, "If even Teddy knows..."

What do we make of all this? Noonan thinks the elites, the

"educated and successful professionals" who are supposed to take care of these things, have given up. "[T]hey're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it."

Not all the elites are in this boat:

There are a lot of people--I know them and so do you--trying to do work that helps, that will turn it around, that can make it better, that can save lives. They're trying to keep the boat afloat. Or, I should say, get the trolley back on the tracks.

That's what I think is going on with our elites. There are two groups. One has made a separate peace, and one is trying to keep the boat afloat. I suspect those in the latter group privately, in a place so private they don't even express it to themselves, wonder if they'll go down with the ship. Or into bad territory with the trolley.

Peggy Noonan echoes the feelings I've had many times (as a natural pessimist, I'm prone to this bleak outlook anyway). But why do we feel this way? What's behind this apprehension we have? Mark Shea does with it afterward, as he launches into a discussion of Leviticus 26, and the "covenant curses," a fascinating observation that I'd never even considered - at least consciously:

John Paul taught that the mark of original sin was the loss of the apprehension of God as Father. When a culture is dominated by original sin and gives in to the abandonment of God, they don't get nothing--they get the apprehension of God as Master. This applies to believers and atheists alike. The great 19th Century atheists were all working very hard to not believe in God. They weren't at all working to disbelieve in Loki, Apollo or Quetzlcoatl. But instead of banishing God, they simply succeeded in approaching him as Master and Oppressor. We're in increasingly the same bind today. We are busily rejecting God as Father and finding ourselves doomed to face him has Judge and Master. And so the subtext of fear and chaos increasingly undergirds all our daily doing. The apprehension of judgment, rather than fatherly love, increasingly dominates our minds. That's not because God has changed. It's because we are changing into a people who are forgetting our vocation to be human and instead increasingly embracing a false vision of ourselves as clever beasts, tools, cogs, slaves, and masters. It is fitting then, that our enemy is a religious tradition that likewise sees our relationship with God as fundamentally that of Master and slave.

Is this what's bothering us, the knowledge that our nation, our society, has rejected God the Father and now awaits the decision of God the Judge? Is this why so many seem to feel nowadays that nothing matters, that one should live for the moment? Having already rejected God as Father, are we now in such despair and denial that we also reject His divine mercy? In fact, are we so stubborn that we refuse His mercy because acknowledging its existance would also acknowledge His? Are we so desperate to deny Him that we consign themselves to hell in the process?

There's always hope, Mark says; the Christian always believes in the possibility of repentence. But can we really say that we see the signs of such a societal movement? Mark concludes:

Nonetheless, grace happens and the bottom line is that just because we are foolish enough to insist on relating to God as Master instead of Father does not mean that God is satisfied with that arrangement. He's forgiven billions of sin. He will not change. But we had better do so or the fear we're feeling will only increase--and justly so.

And this post is an example of why the blogosphere is so great, for where else could one find two such powerful arguments as Peggy Noonan's and Mark Shea's, all in one place? Thanks for both, Mark.

Come Back, Shame

By Mitchell

It's too bad I used such a bad pun for the title of this post, which is a link to Badda-Blog's very good piece on guilt. Seems as if guilt's had a bad name for too long, and more people are coming to realize the beneficial role guilt can play in our lives. Badda-Blogger quotes from a variety of articles and their takes on guilt, but offers an excellent take of his own:

Guilt merely reminds us of loyalty or obligations to others that we are failing to uphold. Some folks work hard to bury their guilt... to forgive themselves. I've actually heard of people forgiving themselves for heineous sins. What hubris! The height of arrogance... to forgive yourself before you have sincerely reflected upon the wrong you commited. You must also admit your wrong-doing to the people you have crossed and then seek forgiveness from them!

As I ventured in the comments section, the important thing about guilt is that you can 1) learn from it (you did it, you know how you felt - don't do it again!), and 2) let go of it through the sacrament of reconciliation. Properly understood, guilt can be a valuable tool, an "early warning system" to help you ward off trouble. Properly confessed, guilt vanishes before the eyes of Our Lord, Who puts between us and our sins a distance that is as great as East is from West.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The War on Christmas

By Mitchell

It's always nice to see someone pick up on a theme that you've written about and run with it. As you know, I've complained frequently (as recently as yesterday, matter of fact) on the war on Christmas, which happens to be the title of the provocative new book by Fox News anchor John Gibson. I saw this book in the store last week and had a chance to leaf through it, and it looks to me as if Gibson has hit the nail on the head. Here's an interview Kathryn Lopez had with Gibson at NRO today. In the interview, Gibson summarizes the problem:

I think there is a general war on Christians underway in our country. You hear it in political discussions all the time when a Democrat or a liberal will decry the power of those "right wing evangelical Christians," and you hear it in the arguments about Intelligent Design, abortion, prayer in school, the Ten Commandments on courthouse walls, and frankly, a bunch of other ordinary discussions.

So in The War on Christmas I expose how that casual, accepted anti-Christian bias shows up once a year around Christmas when people in positions of petty power, such as school administrators, or municipal-hall managers, will suddenly pop up saying things like "We can't have that Christmas tree in here because it's too Christian." I had a long discussion with a city human-resources manager who said precisely that. What I find shocking is that people like that man do not hear the sound of their voices. Substitute any other religion for the word "Christian" and these very people would be up in arms with the cry of prejudice and bias, but if the bias is directed at Christians, it is perfectly acceptable.

In what's a fairly depressing recounting of the efforts of the the unholy alliance (public schools, Corporate America, local governments, and the ACLU), Gibson does note one ray of light:

I do believe the atmosphere is improving in some places, because people have recognized the downside of institutionalized hostility to religion in general and Christianity in particular. Tolerance is the tradition in this country, and tolerance should be extended to Christians during their important holiday period.

If Gibson's right that the atmosphere is improving, I think a major reason is because Christians (and non-Christians with common sense) have become more outspoken in fighting against these "petty" managers and their ridiculous policies. (On a parallel note, I think it was another Gibson - Mel - and his The Passion of the Christ that signaled the beginning of the Christian "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore" movement, but that's another essay for another day.)

Anyhow, I'm hoping for great success for Gibson and his book. When I first started talking about this a few years ago, a lot of people thought I was exaggerating the situation. Now, maybe they'll take it seriously - before it's too late.

Miers Withdraws

By Mitchell

Of course, after my post earlier this morning, she had no choice... ;)

Conservatives Left at the Altar

By Mitchell

Here's another one from Jimmy Akin, linking to a terrific op-ed by Rod Dreher on the Harriet Miers fiasco. Unlike some conservatives who viewed Bush through rose-colored glasses, I don't believe Miers was a wake-up call for Rod - I think he had things in perspective all along.

This presidency has been one thing after another for conservatives - increased spending, higher deficits, loose borders, campaign finance reform, endorsing pro-abort Republicans, the mishandling of Katrina, the sellout to pork legislation; but somehow, through all of this, there were a lot of conservatives who were able to look the other way, to make up some sort of excuse as to how none of this mattered, that W was still their man - and anyway there was still the big one out there - the chance to remake the Supreme Court.

(Full disclosure - I believe I've said it before, but I did vote for W in the last election, gladly so. And I'll still say that I'm not sorry about that vote, nor that Bush won - not when you measure him against the man he was running against. That does not mean, however, that I looked at Bush through the starry-eyed gaze of a lovestruck teenager. As I said, I've found it rather entertaining to watch the reaction of these jilted lovers.)

Anyway, Dreher really nails it with his analysis, especially here:

Mr. Bush has alienated both a significant portion of his base and all of his opposition, so he cannot hope to triangulate his way out of this one. With his political blood in the water and toothsome challenges making ever-tighter circles around his presidency, Mr. Bush should give his mutinous mates a reason to toss him a life preserver.

(Notwithstanding the corrections Jimmy provided.)

This was never entirely about the Harriet Miers herself; I don't know the woman (apparently not many people do, even those who've worked with her), and for all I know she might be a real peach. The fact is, I firmly believe she is unqualified for the Supreme Court, and her appointment reeks to high heaven: of cronyism, of quotas and pandering, and of taking conservatives (and what they stand for) for granted, with a wink-and-a-nod. It's the worst kind of political arrogance, and Bush's failure to realize this and withdraw the nomination is not only stubborn, it's destructive in so many ways. Rod's conclusion:

Conservatism is in an unhappy place now, but the movement is still bristling with intellectual ferment and ideological confidence and is beginning to look past the Bush era to new leadership.

Truth to tell, Mr. Bush needs conservatives a lot more than conservatives need him.

Let's hope the president takes this to heart. The Miers nomination It's not too late for him, for the conservative movement, or for the country.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Teacher's Pest

By Mitchell

On the other hand, public schools don't have a monopoly on stupidity. Read Jimmy Akin's account of the all-girls Catholic high school that employed a teacher who was a former volunteer at Planned Parenthood (aka Murder, Inc.).

Read the story of the courageous woman that blew the whistle on this outrage, prompting the Bishop to call for the teacher's dismissal, as covered in the blog of her daughter, Katelyn.

With sadness, read the filthy, vile comments that this student has had to face in her combox. And, as Jimmy and others have mentioned, please take a moment (as we did) to drop her a favorable comment. Thank her and her mother for having the courage to stand up for the truth, regardless of the consequences they might face.

These, these... well, I don't know what to call them, the people who've left such repugnant messages. Actually, I do know what to call them, but it's such an offense against charity I wouldn't print it. But they do much through their actions to diminish themselves, and raise the stature of those whom they slander.

Education Through Ignorance

By Mitchell

Mark Shea has a couple of posts up this week that touch on an institution that ranks up there on my "Public Enemies" list, alongside Corporate America, pro-abortion Catholics, and unprincipled Republicans: Public Schools. (Standard disclaimer: we all know there are many fine individual teachers in the public schools; they wind up suffering by associaiton because the entire establishment, from teachers unions to school boards, is riddled with corruption and hypocracy.)

First is this piece about a school district petitioned by Muslims to recognize one of their religious holidays. The district's answer: ban all religious holidays. Of course, they still have a "Winter Holiday" that conveniently runs from December 18 to January 1 - coincidentally, that holiday that dares not speak its name falls smack in the middle of that period. How fortunate! This reminds me of a friend whose wife worked in the public schools; she related how all the teachers in the district were under orders not to wear any red or green clothing during the month of December, lest they be accused of passing subliminal messages to their students.

The other post doesn't actually have anything to do with education, but Mark uses the public school system as a brilliant example of why "zero tolerance" is a bad idea:

"Zero tolerance" is one of those catchphrases we Americans like to coin in order to substitute for thought in approaching the human person. Zero tolerance has been a gold mine of stupid policies in our school system. Zero tolerance for sexual harrassment has resulted in the prosecution of six year olds who jump out of the tub naked and run to the front yard to wave goodbye to the school bus (I am not making this up). Zero tolerance for school violence has resulted in students being expelled for drawing Star Wars blasters doodles in the margins of their notes. Zero tolerance for "hate speech" has resulted in mass campus protests over use of the word "picnic" (which some ignoramus decided was "racist"). Zero tolerance is an incredibly bad way of dealing with the complexities of human life--which is why the Church's moral theology never employs the term.

What do these examples have in common? Only that the people responsible for teaching your children (at taxpayer expense) have yet to figure out how to think themselves. Not only does this explain why the schools are turning out such poorly educated students, it also shows why so many concerned parents turn to homeschooling.

Of course it doesn't stop there. The same diseases of stupidity, intolerance and diversity that infect the public schools transmit themselves all the way to the upper reaches of our institutes of higher learning (i.e., colleges). And one other thought - these schools are the spawning grounds for a lot of our highly paid corporate executives and HR managers. Is it any wonder that we see the same intellectual viruses running rampant in Corporate America?

Like attracts like, in other words. And, this kind of result being the goal of the public education establishment, they must be very pleased with how it's all turned out. They've bred an entire generation for whom "common sense" is a toxic disease. That being the case, you wonder why they're so opposed to merit pay? Ironic, huh?

Catholic Carnival LIII Is Up!

It's up and availalable at the fine blog A Penitent Blogger. Be sure to check out this week's collection!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What the Heck Is This?

By Mitchell

I was just on Yahoo! getting my mail, and this ad pops up on the mail page. Here's the headline:

"You Don't Have to Cheat on Your Husband...But it's nice to be asked."

It's an ad for a product called Hydroderm, "guaranteed to reduce wrinkles by up to 63.5%" Now, I don't know if they're trying to say that you're "cheating" by fooling your husband about your appearance, or that you'll find yourself being propositioned by all kinds of men turned on by your hot looks (thanks, of course, to Hydroderm).

But I have to wonder: what kind of advertising hook is this? Is this any way to plug a product, by suggesting that women have the option to cheat on their husbands? Of course we all have the option to sin if we so choose, but things are bad enough as they are without encouraging more immoral behavior, even if you're "just kidding."

I could ask what we're coming to, but I think we've been there for quite a while.

Tribute to a Great Priest

By Mitchell

This Sunday is a momentous day at St. Agnes Church. At the 10am High Mass, we'll be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the ordination of Msgr. Richard Schuler, our pastor emeritus, who has spent over half of that time in service to St. Agnes and its parishioners.

It's difficult to overstate the accomplishments of Msgr. Schuler. He's a prolific writer, a world-renowned expert on liturgical music, founder of the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale, past president of the Church Music Association of America, editor of the CMAA's journal Sacred Music, active for many years in the International Papal Church Music Society (CIMS) and general chairman of the CIMS Fifth International Music Congress in 1966. He served as an inspiration to many parishes (such as St. John Cantius in Chicago) as they attempted to introduce the authentic liturgy of Vatican II, not the mess of a Mass that was foisted upon many parishes. (In response to a question, he made the prescient observation that "[t]he Council has not failed. It has never been tried." One of the priests at St. Olaf commented that whenever visitors ran into Cardinal Ratzinger in Rome, the Cardinal (upon finding out that they were from Minnesota) would tell them, "Give my regards to Msgr. Schuler!")

But don't think that Msgr. Schuler is merely an intellectual. He's also been a gentle pastor to countless parishoners who've sought his help and advice in and out of the confessional, a firm defender of the faith who starred down a threat to the authentic Catholic teaching in the parish school, an adviser to those seeking to discern their vocation (the parish has produced an average of one new priest a year over the past twenty-five years, including two last year alone), the man primarily responsible for the beauty that is the Latin High Mass at St. Agnes.

It would be pointless for me to go on when you could read what Msgr. Schuler himself has written, and what others have written about him:

Click here for Msgr. Schuler's article on what Vatican II really meant by "active participation" in the Liturgy. This is his article on "The Outrage of Inclusive Language." A sampling of other articles includes essays on Faith and Art, Faith and Culture, and the relationship between art and architecture. (More articles by Msgr. Schuler can be found here at the St. Agnes website.)

This chapter from the 100th anniversary history of St. Agnes Church tells of the role Msgr. Schuler played in steering the parish through the turmoil following Vatican II, and how he defended the school in the early 70s against the threat posed by liberal nuns trying to circumvent the teachings of the Church.

And here is an article about Msgr. Schuler's legacy written by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf in the most recent issue of The Wanderer.

For those of you in the Twin Cities area, you're welcome to join in the Mass and the reception that follows on Sunday. But although we like to think of Msgr. Schuler as "ours," he really belongs to the Church and, by extention, everyone. His accomplishments in the fields of liturgy, music, and thought can only be matched by those as a priest and pastor. It is not only us at St. Agnes, but the entire Church, that owes him a heartfelt thanks for his 60 years of service to the Church, and the legacy that will last for many, many more years. He truly has been a good and faithful servant.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Wish I'd Written That...

By Mitchell

Q: What is TV's greatest need?
A: A sense that getting people to buy things they do not need is morally indefensible. One does not ask for Utopia, only a slightly less frantic exploitation of the innocent.

Gore Vidal, as quoted in TV Guide, May 9-15, 1964

Live Your Life According to Christ

By Mitchell

By the way, the readings for Sunday contain a precise, almost seamless, message as to the importance of following the teachings of Jesus, and making them part of your everyday life:

Here is what you should do:
And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)

Here is how you should do it:
For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:8)

Here's what happens if you don't do it:
Whoever sacrifices to any god, save to the LORD only, shall be utterly destroyed. "You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:20-24)

Now, we have to ask ourselves: do we take these teachings to heart? Do we live the Commandments in our daily lives, or only in church? At our workplace, or only at home? Would others know your beliefs by the way you live? Might their behavior change by observing the example set by yours? Or would your beliefs be a secret to others? Do we treat everyone as brothers and sisters in Christ, or is it only our friends and allies, and do we do it only when it is to our advantage?

We read the words, we hear His teachings. Are we prepared to follow them, are we willing to defy those who try to stand in our way through policy or ridicule? Or would we be more comfortable just going along to get along?

It's all out there, written down for our benefit. What part of it don't we understand?

Why We Emphasize the Saints

By Mitchell

It's a question Protestants often ask Catholics, and in Sunday's homily, Fr. Welzbacher provided some perspective on the Catholic teaching.

The answer, fundamentally, lies in this quote from Sunday's first reading: "And you," Paul says, "became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia." (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; emphasis added)

"Imitators of us and of the Lord." This is not the first time Paul speaks of imitation; in his second letter to the Thessalonias he repeats this, saying, "You know how one must imitate us." (3:7). In his letter to the Phillippians, he says "join in imitating me and observe those who live according to the example you have in us." (3:17)

Imitation of Godly people is a good thing. As John says in 3 John11, "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good." And what else is important in this respect is to remember that imitation of the saints is for the praise and glory of God, by Whose grace men and women assertain the holiness that He desires of us. We do honor to God by following His saints, in much the same way as our behavior can often reflect upon our parents, who are given credit for the way in which they brought us up.

All right, Fr. Welzbacher says, Protestants may concede the point, that it is a fine thing to admire the saints. But then what about the statues, the icons, the pictures in the churches. Is that not a form of idolatry? Indeed not, Fr. W. replies, for we do not worship the statues. We do not believe that the statues are living, that the person who they represent dwells in the icon, that pictures make that person present with us. (This does not, of course, refer to miraculous apparations when statues appear to weep tears or shed blood; this should be understood as precisely that, miraculous, an intervention by God into that which is ordinary, to make it extraordinary. To the extent that statues "come alive," they do so only as the power and presence of God cause it to happen.)

Instead of idolatry, think of it as a family portrait. For we are all brothers and sisters, members of the Body of Christ, united within His Church. And in the same way that we cherish family portraits, photos of our parents and sibilings and other loved ones, so do we cherish those of our spiritual relatives, Jesus and Mary and the saints. A man keeps a portrait of his wife on his desk at work to remind him of her, so that even when she is far away in body she may be near to him in spirit. A picture of a special event, a small piece of sculpture that is a memento of a particular place; all these serve to remind us, and to recreate the spirit, the feelings that were originally present in that time and place.

This is nothing new; iconoclasm (literally, image-breaking) was present in the eighth and ninth centuries and was condemned as heresy at the second Council of Nicaea in 787. (It should be noted that this was long before the Reformation or other schisms which the Church has endured; by the late 800s one could say that it was understood by the universal Church that iconoclasm was wrong.)

So we take the saints as our role models. (Something I've written about extensively, so it shouldn't surprise you that I conclude by returning to this theme.) We emphasize them by following their example, something we do at the express command of Paul. We pray to them to intercede for us before the Lord, as we ask our friends and loved ones to pray for us during times of need. For if your spouse or parent or closest friend's prayers can be beneficial, how much more so when that person resides in Heaven, with Jesus at the right hand of the Father?

Friday, October 21, 2005

A Forecast of Sin

By Mitchell

Friday's Epistle and Gospel readings once again work in tandem to bring home the message that our hope is in the name of the Lord. It's not always easy to see the linkage between the readings, but in today's homily, Fr. Tiffany was able to show how the two compliment each other by giving us another way of looking at what they say.

In the Gospel, we see Christ once again pointing to the contradictions held by the multitudes:

He also said to the multitudes, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, `A shower is coming'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:54-56)

You're not stupid, He tells us. You're able to study the conditions and make observations about the weather, and based on this you're able to predict with some degree of accuracy what the weather will be. And yet, as Fr. Tiffany pointed out, we fail to do this with our own lives; for every sin leaves behind it a trail, and through the same observation and study we can follow that trail and find the conditions in our own behavior which can produce sin.

In theological terms we speak of the "proximate causes of sin," those things which, though they may not be sinful in and of themselves, put us in a condition or frame of mind which may lead us to sinful behavior. Given a study of our own weaknesses and strengths, we should be able to recognize those circumstances and causes; and our goal must be to avoid those situations. As St. Thomas tells us in the Summa:

That which causes sin, as a power produces its act, is natural; and again, the movement of the sensitive part, from which sin follows, is natural sometimes, as, for instance, when anyone sins through appetite for food. Yet sin results in being unnatural from the very fact that the natural rule fails, which man, in accord with his nature, ought to observe.

Christ tells us this in the Gospel - you're not dumb, you should be able to figure this out. The hypocracy is in using our reason to predict the weather, but not to predict the consequences of our own behavior.

Paul understands these temptations. "For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it," he says in the letter to the Romans (7:18). It should be obvious by now that this is not something we can do alone. It is the weakness of which Paul speaks elsewhere when he says that in his weakness can be found the strength of Christ, and it is that strength which is our hope and salvation.

Sin happens, and sometimes there's nothing we can do about the circumstances under which we fail. But often we recognize the conditions that are present, and we must be honest with ourselves in realizing that we must act accordingly; we must turn to Jesus. Fr. Tiffany frequently reminds us that too often when we come to Jesus in prayer we seem intent on flooding Him with our words; sometimes it's good to simply be silent and listen to Him. It is particularly during those clamorous times that accompany sin for us to seek out the silence and hear not the sound of the world around us, but the words of Christ.

"Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Paul asks? For us, as for him, there is only one answer, and that answer is Jesus Christ.

You Can Call Yourself Whatever You Want...

By Mitchell

But at the end of the day if you're a Catholic, you're a Catholic. Cyntr on "identity" religion:

When one describes oneself as a Catholic, nothing ought to go before the term "Catholic" unless it properly describes the Rite to which one belongs; last time I checked, there is no Conservative Rite, no Liberal Rite, and no Neo-whatever Rite. It implies that WE are the only REAL Catholics, which is a HUGE judgment on the rest of the Catholic Church that absolutely nobody is qualified to make. It's a blatantly evil division in the church, "MY piece of the Catholic Church is better than YOUR piece of the Catholic Church". One may as well say that since I attend St. Thomas Aquinas church, only *I* have the Essence of Catholicism, whereas you over there at the church with some non-POD name are not actually Catholic.

There are those who are more observant and orthodox Catholics than others, but there is no "American" Catholic, nor is there a "Vatican II" Catholic or anything else. As Judie puts it, you can call yourself whatever you want, but at the end of the day it's your fidelity to Christ and His Church, your faithfulness to His teachings, and the way that you've lived your life according to His words, not the label you adopt for yourself, that tells the story.

There is only one Holy, Catholic, and Apolistic Church, and that's the Church we're a part of.

The Platinum Rule

By Mitchell

Ever heard of The Platinum Rule?

"Treat others the way they want to be treated."

Hmm, you're thinking. It sounds kind of familiar, but there's something just a little off, isn't there?

The Platinum Rule is one of those behavioral style assessments that Human Resources departments are so wild about nowadays. And it perfectly illustrates the point I've made time and time again about the insidious nature of Corporate America, about the growing influence of New Age philosophy in HR departments, and why we ought to be concerned about these trends.

The Platimum Rule is the brainstorm of one Dr. Tony Alessandra, who describes it as follows:

We have all heard of the Golden Rule - and many people aspire to live by it. The Golden Rule is not a panacea. Think about it: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The Golden Rule implies the basic assumption that other people would like to be treated the way that you would like to be treated.

Ah yes, after two thousand years or so, we discover that the Golden Rule (which comes from the Beatitudes, Luke 6:31) just isn't good enough anymore. Alessandra goes on to say "The Platinum Rule accommodates the feelings of others. The focus of relationships shifts from 'this is what I want, so I'll give everyone the same thing' to 'let me first understand what they want and then I'll give it to them.' "

OK, so The Platinum Rule is not some new type of credit card. It's a new way of thinking about life. "Treat others the way they want to be treated." This would be laughable if one treated this with the seriousness which it deserved (or rather, the way in which it wants to be treated). Just think about it for a moment. If I'm a criminal, woudn't I want people to treat me with leinency when I'm captured? Therefore, shouldn't you give me a free pass out of jail?

And that's only the beginning. Suppose you walked into your bosses office this morning and told him, "Boss, I want to be treated like the CEO of the company. From now on, I think you should do what I tell you to do. Now that you understand what I want, don't you think you should give it to me?" He'll give it to you, all right, and pretty soon his HR department's going to be using The Platinum Rule to assess the person taking over your job.

At the very least, Alessandra shows that he really doesn't understand the depth of the Golden Rule, at the layers which go into its true meaning - Tobit 4:15, "What you hate, do not do to anyone," for example. I'd suspect that Christ (who fulfilled the Old Testament, after all) might possibly have been familiar with this passage. If you read this into the Golden Rule, as most sensible people do, then most of Alessandra's arguments fall apart. And as for treating people the way they want to be treated, as St. Augustine pointed out, we must "do many things against the will" of certain people, becaues they need to be "punished with a cetain kind of harshness." (For that passage, thanks to Robert Louis Wilken's review in the November First Things of Robert Dodaro's Christ and the Just Society in the Thought of Augustine.)

If people really did laugh this ridiculous theory into oblivion, then we wouldn't have much trouble. Alessandra would be a stand-up comedian, since he succeeded so spectacularly at making people laugh at him, and we'd be on our merry way.

But that isn't the case. This guy writes books, has a speaker's bureau, and influences HR departments and corporate executives. A quick Google of "The Platinum Rule" shows it appearing at sites of groups such as the "School for Champions" that provide keys on how you can "increase your performance" in both your business and your personal life. The subtitle of Alessandra's book is "Discover the Four Basic Business Personalities -- and How They Can Lead You to Success." (In fact, its classification is under "Business & Money") It boasts that you too can:

  • Predict the behavior of others and adapt your own for the best possible outcome
  • Identify the many "mixtures" -- people whose styles embrace more than one type
  • Get people together who enhance each other's potential -- for dynamic work groups, a better balanced staff, better company-client relations, and more "sell by style" -- using five essential Platinum Rule steps
  • Defuse conflict and dissatisfaction -- and boost energy, productivity, and profits.

In other words, everything that the modern HR department looks to maximize. Ah, they must love this stuff.

I think my favorite sentence of all, the one that really crystalizes what this is all about, is the one that The Platinum Rule "accommodates the feelings of others." And of course there's the key. In this day and age where we can't offend anyone, where we have to be sensitive to the point of banality, when we serve our love with soft edges so as to not hurt anyone's feelings, it's natural that something like this would catch on. And it's particularly appropriate that HR departments would adopt it for their "diversity" training programs.

We all know that the principal of diversity, as preached by HR, is that everything is equal, that all philosophies, all cultures, all ethical standards, are equally valid. (Look no further than the "Diversity Luncheon" that we encounter every December as proof of this.) Benedict XVI, as Joseph Ratzinger, spoke of the dictatorship of relativism, and the ideas contained in The Platinum Rule are prime examples of this school of thought.

This kind of thing really is dangerous. As Fr. Mitch Pacwa has pointed out, new-age personality tests such as the enneagram are directly contrary to Catholic teaching. And I'm always suspicious of anyone who tries to improve on Jesus' teachings - "well, that Jesus guy, he had some good things to say, but his statements aren't a panacea, you know."

We shouldn't be surprised that this kind of thinking would be popular in Corporate America, where over the last hundred years or so we've seen religion go from being recognized (Christmas Day as a vacation) to tolerated (well, you can have Good Friday off, but you have to take a vacation day) to shunned (no Christmas decorations in the workplace) to scorned (schoolteachers who can't wear green or red during December) to out-and-out hated (employees fired for failing to toe the corporate line on celebrating homosexual "diversity"). (Of course it's no wonder that HR departments are apprehensive toward religion; after all, in God they see a rival to the control they presume to have over the employee's life.) Perhaps Augustine has the answer for why so many people in the workplace seem unhappy, for in looking at the Psalm verse, "Happy the people whose God is the Lord," he concludes, "It follows that a people alienated from that God must be wretched."

It's hard to know how much of a point to put on this; you'd like to think that people can see through this kind of rubbish, but Corporate America has a way of jumping onboard the latest trends, and The Platinum Rule is certainly sexy enough to cause executives to salivate. It reeks of political correctness, which makes it a prize of any HR department. And it provides another way of assessing personality types that dehumanizes the individual.

But in the end, I get uncomfortable with someone who tries to trump Christ. It's really kind of a zero-sum game, like trying to outdo your Boss. One can imagine Jesus slapping His head, thinking to Himself, "The Platinum Rule! Why didn't I think of that?" And Alessandra, like all ambitious people, should fear the consequences of this game of oneupsmanship. Because when this Boss calls you to His office, it's a one-way trip. And being dismissed from His presence is eternal.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

TV Guide, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

TV Guide died this week. It had actually been brain-dead for some time, a mere shadow of its former self; and this week the editors finally euthansied it. Oh, there's still going to be a magazine out there called "TV Guide" with the same logo, and they'll claim to be the same publication (even though it's now the same size as other magazines). But it's nothing more than a sham, an imposter, someone who's borrowing the family name but doesn't have the DNA to back it up.

The new "TV Guide" intends to compete with the rest of the scandal sheets out there - US Weekly, In Touch, People, The Star, to name a few. "All the dirt that's fit to dish," as the Strib put it today. One might think it a good time to be getting into the celebrity-obsession business; as the Strib article suggested:

One of the most thought-provoking comes from Ken Baker, West Coast executive editor of US Weekly, which became much more dish-oriented about a year after the World Trade Center attacks. "Everyone thought that after 9/11, people were going to focus on what really matters, get their priorities straightened out," said Baker. "But I think more than anything people have sought escape at a higher level."

(If that's true, that might be the most alarming fact of all. Our obsession with celebrity is closely tied to our obsession with eternal youth, which really translates into a perpetual immaturity. One of the hallmarks of that immaturity is a refusal to accept responsibility, and so many seem unwilling, or unable, to face up to the fact that life is kind of hard right now. Perhaps if we found out that Bin Laden was the one responsible for the Brad-Jen breakup, we might care more.)

The editors said that change was necessary in order for the magazine to survive; that it was being held together mostly on the strength of giveaways to hotels, that it’s audience was shrinking (down from a high of 16.4 million in 1972 to just over 9 million today), that the audience was skewing older and older, that with the advent of TIVO and the existence of literally hundreds of stations it wasn’t that important anymore to have the hourly TV listings customized to each market of the country. All of that might be true, but survival is a loaded word; and even if everything they say is true, that doesn’t mean it’s right.

I’ve mentioned previously that I cancelled my subscription to TV Guide a few years ago, after having had it for over thirty years. The main reason I did was that the magazine was in the midst of a long slide into the cesspool of slime and snarkiness; I just couldn’t take another story (complete with pictures, of course) on how homosexuality (especially of the female persuasion) was becoming a more acceptable topic for TV. When you think about, a guide to what’s on TV shouldn’t be the kind of a periodical that you need to keep in a brown paper wrapper, even if most of the shows on TV fit that description. (Hey, they don’t call it the boob tube for nothing.)

I’ve also talked of my modest collection of TV Guides, mostly from the 50s and 60s. All you have to do is page through them to see what we've lost with the death of TV Guide. Real authors used to write for TV Guide: Edith Efron, Gore Vidal, Arnold Toynbee, John Gregory Dunne and Malcolm Muggeridge, to name a few. There were reports on the effects of TV on chidren, the influence of foreign lobbyists on the news, how the networks covered the Vietnam war, and the role of TV in terrorism.

Sure, it wasn’t an intellectual tomb; there was fluff and dirt dished along the way (writers in the 60s seemed particularly bent on presenting the negative side of celebrities, as a 1968 profile of James Garner - the grumpy nature of Garner "keeps him from making it big quite, the way he should." - demonstrated). But it wasn’t intended to be that kind of publication. It was designed to present TV in all its aspects: the incredible promise of the new medium, the new stars that emerged, the successes and failures along the way (and why they happened). And all along the way they issued a constant challenge to network executives and studios: to keep standards high, to introduce programming that was new and innovative, entertaining but still stimulating, shows that took advantage of everything that TV had to offer.

It’s not just that TV Guide has thrown away any pretense toward journalistic integrity. We’re also losing a sense of the individuality of America. The new TV Guide does away with the individual editions for each market, in favor of a national form that no longer has programming grids, but instead gives us “highlights.”

What you gain is additional room to present rumor, gossip, scandal - Jen and Ben and Brad and J-Lo and whoever else there is out there. And what you lose is the unique voice of America’s individual parts - their local programming, their advertising; all the things that give you an insight, a unique slice of what life was like at any given time and place. A 1964 Minneapolis-St. Paul edition with a promo for the new season of "Polka Jamboree"; a 1963 Kansas City edition that features an ad for a bank giving away snowmen salt-and-pepper shakers if you open a new account; a bank promising readers of a 1965 issue that they'll provide the loan for you to buy that new color TV set. You won’t get that from a national publication, one that only focuses on “highlights.” It’s something the Founding Fathers surely would have frowned upon, for even in their desire to create one country, few of them forgot that besides being “Americans” they were also “Virginians,” “North Carolinians,” or “Bostonians.” And as we lose our individual identity, we also lose the ability to tell succeeding generations what we were all about.

The sin in nostalgia is in assuming that whatever is old is automatically worthy of merit, that nothing which is new can be good, that the past cannot be improved upon. Reviewing the story of our culture in the pages of TV Guide, one can see that we never really lived in a Golden Age, that there was always mediocrity on television. But there was also glory and wonder that seemed to justify the promise that television held: regular symphonies and operas, 60- and 90-minute live plays. The Hallmark Hall of Fame, before it became a Lifetime Movie of the Week, used to specialize in Shakespearean plays and serious drama. Documentaries used to be a regular feature; although never highly rated, they were still available (and TV Guide used to complain about them being scheduled opposite each other, forcing viewers in the pre-VCR era to have to choose between two or more at the same time). You had actors like George C. Scott, Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen becoming big stars on TV.

And there are good shows today, I’m sure, although probably not to my taste. Many laud the dramas on HBO and Showtime; gritty TV movies have dared to tackle issues that big-screen productions no longer have any interest in, movies that feature quality actors and excellent writing. Occasionally you have actors like Denzel Washington and Hilary Swank emerging from ensemble casts to become major movie stars. Coverage of news and sports has never been more accessible, even as the quality of each diminishes.

My point in all this is not to say that the “old days” were necessarily better, although in some respects they were. Rather, if you accept my opinion that TV Guide holds up a mirror to our culture, you can see the seismic changes we’ve gone through - and few would claim that these changes have all been for the best. And now, finally, TV Guide has looked in the mirror itself and become the very reflection that it saw. Like the Medusa, the image was deadly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Wish I'd Written That...

By Mitchell

"[W]hoever peruses my writings after my death may happen to think that during a certain term the people of Pennsylvania chose into all their offices of honour and trust the veriest knaves, fools and rascals in the whole province."

Benjamin Franklin, quoted in The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, by H.W. Brands.

They Just Don't Get It

By Mitchell

I'm about to do something I don't really want to do: offer advice to Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party. And free advice, at that. (Although if he wants to send me a check I'm not going to turn it down.)

My advice, Howard, is this: shut up, and tell your people to shut up. If you do that, I guarantee you're going to win the next election.

Let me explain.

This morning, as is our wont, we had our local classical music station on the radio. It's not a very good station, quite honestly - it has a very small playlist which it tends to repeat over and over (I mean, how many times can you listen to The Four Seasons in one week?), but it's the only classical station around since they bought out their only rival. (A nice bit of capitalism there - I'll bet they hated to stoop that low.)

It's part of National Public Radio - or National Communist Public Radio, as Joe Bob Briggs put it. And it has Garrison Keillor. I'm not sure what else you'd need to discredit it, but that should be enough for starters. It's why we refuse to become members during their endless pledge drives (The next time I hear them talking about how people who aren't members are really using their service without paying for it, I think I'll remind them that I do indeed pay for it, out of my taxes.)

Anyway, the noxious, bloviating Keillor came on this morning with The Writer's Almanac, and it was another one of those mornings where I couldn't reach the remote control in time to turn it off. I did learn that today was the anniversary of the surrender of the British at Yorktown in 1781, and I was glad to hear that. But then Keillor launched into his pious, ever-so-earnest rendition of the poem of the day (and by the way, the man has no concept of how to read poetry; he can make a Shakespearean sonnet sound as exciting as a grocery list), "Of Presidents & Emperors" by David Ray, which as far as I could tell consisted mostly of comparing President Bush to the emperor Nero. He did this in a most clever way, by insisting all along that there was no comparison between the two - one ofthe oldest rhetorical tricks in the book.

After all, Nero murdered his mother - Bush and his mom are on excellent terms. And Bush doesn't force people at swordpoint to worship him, or even applaud his words. Of course, there is that little thing about murdering innocent Iraqis with Tomahawk missiles. And since "Congress consists of the deferential," he has nothing to worry about there. (Hmm, wonder if anyone's told W. that Congress is made up of pushovers and pansies?) I could go on, but you get the point.

This was not only a bad poem, it was stupid. I'm not even going to link to it; if you want to read it you can Google it. And of course Keillor read it in the most keening voice, trying to infuse it with all the grandeur he could muster, even though he succeeded only in sounding pompous, as usual.

But here's where my advice to Howard Dean comes in.

As you regular readers probably know, I'm not a Bush fan, let alone a Republican. I disagree with him on the budget deficit, immigration policy, increased spending, the response to Katrina, No Child Left Behind, and his nomination of Harriet Miers, and I'm not too sure about Iraq sometimes. And that's just for starters. But by the time Keillor was done, I felt like defending George Bush against everything anyone (including me) as ever accused him of. I practically had my checkbook out to make a contribution to the RNC.

Howard, if you're reading this, believe me when I say this: your people just don't know when to stop. If you'd just shut up loudmouths like Keillor, or Michael Moore, or three-quarters of Hollywood, your guys and gals would win in a landslide. Because there's nothing that unifies the Right more than the Left. There are a lot of people out there like me, people who've either dropped out of politics altogether or were never very interested in it in the first place. We might vote, but then again we might not. We stay away from the news, and try to lead normal, quiet lives with our families, friends and loved ones. We're slow to get riled up.

But when we do get riled up, it's a doozy.

And when your nattering naybobs get up there pontificating in the most obnoxious, arrogant, and crude manner, it gets us riled up. Oh, at first we just get angry, but then you push it that one extra step, and it sends us over the edge and into the ballot box, where we wind up voting for another Republican candidate, even after we swore we'd never do it again.

Trust me, that's what happened in 2004, when I voted for Bush. It's what happened in 2002, when the memorial tribute to Paul Wellstone turned into a campaign rally and put a lot of disgusted Minnesotans right into Norm Coleman's camp. (And Tim Pawlenty's, too. I liked him even less than Coleman, but I got upset enough that I made it a two-for-one.)

You lefties out there just don't know the art of the subtle approach. You're like the pushy salesman who doesn't know when to let up, and winds up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. You've worn most of us down by sheer disinterest, to the point that we're not going to vote at all. Your own base is secure in the common contempt you hold for Republicans. And yet your message is based on such hatred that you can't hold it back, even though you're just preaching to the choir. You have to let loose, and when it does you've succeeded in two things: making your own supporters, whose votes you already had, very happy; and making a lot of common people, who weren't going to vote at all, very angry.

Now, I did come to my senses finally; I turned off the radio, and my moment of sympathy for Bush passed. But the fact is, while I disagree with Bush on many issues, I disagree with his Democratic opponents on almost all issues. And yet I'm still reluctant to get involved in politics, except when the liberals drag me into it, kicking and screaming.

The kicking and screaming, by the way, is directed mostly at the liberals.

So Howie, if you're still with me, take my advice. Stealth is not a bad thing here. You can get a lot of your agenda accomplished simply by saying nothing. After all, most Democrats and Republicans are just flip sides of the same coin anyway - you both want to spend our money; you just disagree on what. Democrats may be more outspokenly pro-abortion, but the Republicans are just as weak when push comes to shove. You both talk a good game about reforms, but in the end vote in your own self-interests. The areas in which there are real differences are few, and aside from the most staunch conservatives there aren't many people (Republican candidates included) interested in them. The table's set, but you always wind up ruining it.

Tell Michael Moore to make an infomercial. Suggest to Garrison Keillor that he read poems like Three Blind Mice. Get Barbra Streisand to make another album of Broadway hits. And above all, whatever you do, keep them away from the microphone. Get it?

No need to thank me, Howie. Just drop the check in the mail, babe.

As We Sow, So Shall We Reap

By Mitchell

Katherine Kersten at the Star Tribune has another of her outstanding columns, this time on the Vikings fiasco. I know many of you are probably sick and tired of hearing this, but I find the moral dimensions fascinating, not least of which that people still have enough sense to be offended by this. But, as Kersten says, nobody seems to be able to articulate why they're outraged.

We sense something is disastrously wrong with such lascivious conduct. But in America in 2005, we've lost the language to say exactly what. The players and women involved were apparently consenting adults. And consenting adults can pretty much engage in whatever sexual activities they want, right? For decades,
enlightened free thinkers have worked to drill this into our heads.

It's time to speak the truth. Nothing happened on those boats that many of our teenage boys haven't already seen repeatedly on the Internet, where the raunchiest porn is a mouse-click away. Our 14-year-old girls have heard jokes about oral sex and masturbation on "Sex and the City," maybe watching with Mom. On cable TV shows such HBO's "Real Sex," explicit sex acts are regular fare. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that "virtual" pornography that portrays life-like children in the most degraded acts is protected "free speech."

You reap what you sow. Schools teach kids that "sex is a matter of lifestyle choice." Ideas that sex is about love, that abstinence is good - they're "laughed out of town."

Our kids don't need "Vikings behaving badly" to act on the messages that society gives them every day. A recent survey found that 55 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds have engaged in oral sex. (I have friends who moved back from Chicago because their elementary school kids were regularly witnessing oral sex in the back of the school bus.) In college, kids "hook up" for anonymous sex, or enjoy "friends with benefits" - a sexual relationship that neither party expects to lead to commitment.

The Vikings have long been known as an outlaw outfit, made up of players with questionable character, two-bit hoodlums who spend considerable amounts of time in trouble with the law. But, as Kersten concludes, this whole sorry episode is more than a commentary on the Vikings and their out-of-control players. Bishop Sheen often said that corruption is like beer - just as the bubbles always rise to the surface, corruption doesn't start at the top; it begins at the bottom, and works its way up.

What were the Vikings thinking? Unfortunately, perhaps merely what our society has taught them to think.

Minnesotans' reaction to the Vikings' sex-capades may be muddled, but it's heartening. At some level, we still revere the dignity - the sanctity - of sexual love. Occasionally, our residual sense of decency can still rise to the surface and shout its outrage.

Katherine Kersten is without question the best columnist gracing the pages of the Strib. WIth this column, she's scored another touchdown. Which is more than the Vikings, or the society that spawned them, can say.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Take This Team and ...

By Mitchell

I swear I don't look for this stuff. Really, I don't.

But the day after I launched into the Twins and Vikings for tying to get the taxpayers to pick up the tab on new stadiums, comes the story that the Twins have filed suit to get out of their lease with the Metrodome. Now, the Twins lawyer says that this "shouldn't be viewed as a first step in an attempt to move the team." No, of course not. Why would anyone possibly think that? Just because the team's duplicitious owner, a man with a net worth estimated at over $3 billion, a man who in 2002 was #258 on Forbes' A People<>, a man who once tried to convince the public that he was willing to contribute $80 million toward a new stadium only to have the public find out it was really just a "loan," a man who actually volunteered his own team to be contracted in order to run off with the money - nah, why would we possibly think that this was any kind of a threat? The lawyer says, "It's not a threat at all" - hey, I'd believe that. Wouldn't you?

The question is whether or not this cheap blackmail attempt (one that even smarmy divorce attorneys and their private investigators might blush at) will work. One has to wonder, in light of the tremendous backlash against the teams following the Vikings' sex cruise scandal, how the Twins could have been dumb enough to think they could pull off this stunt now, when the public seems to want none of it.

Of course, when you consider the kind of effort the front office put up this year, in trying to con us all into thinking they wanted to put together a contending ball club, maybe they do think we're that stupid.

As for me, if they want to leave I'll walk down to the Dome (it's only a few blocks away) and help them pack.

The 52nd Catholic Carnival Is Up!

It's the 52nd Catholic Carnival, which I reckon makes it about a year since this started. We here at Our Word have only been involved for about half that time, and this is only the second time we've hosted, but I suspect the Carnival has come a long way in the last year. Let's see what this week brings...

We start with a few thoughts on the importance of marriage. The deliciously-named Confessions of a Hot Camel Sundae heard the story about the new trend - divorce parties - and asks the question, "What's shame got to do with it?" She says it's tragic, and I agree. Fortunately, not everyone looks at marriage as something to treat so cavaliarly: Ales Rarus reflects on the Church as the bride of Christ, and looks at how the marriage was consummated (hint - The Cross). And for you married couples ready for the happy event, Bearing Blog has a great answer for you to give when someone asks about the sex of your unborn baby if you don't do ultrasounds or prenatal testing.

[For those of you who read last night's post, I've just come back from looking at the blimp.]

Marriage can be a trip, to be sure. Some of our other posts feature different travelers of one kind or another. Kicking Over My Traces takes us on a road trip to the first-ever convention for Godbloggers, a "rip-snorting good time." At Exultet, Therese takes us on a different kind of trip: her real-life experience with an angel, and it's not what you'd expect. It is, however, what you'd want.

Speaking of journeys, faith is often a rugged one. Along the way we often run into doubts - about ourselves, about our faith, about what it all means. A Penitent Blogger takes a look at the different kinds of doubt and how we can deal with it. And many would say, looking at the latest pedophile scandals, that the Church is in for a rough ride once again - Herb Ely says that the Church needs another reformation: this time, a managerial and corporate one.

In the theology department, HMS Blog looks at Sunday's Gospel reading and helps us understand how to give Caesar his, and God His. That's always been one of those that's easier to understand than explain, but HMS does a great job. Meanwhile, la nouvelle theologie looks at Wolfgang Smith's book on Telihard, and offers us a defense of the man whom Cardinal George wrote his doctoral dissertation on. And Veritas notes the theological illiteracy of a self-described progressive Catholic, indicative of a broader tendency among those who make similar claims.

Finally, from yours truly, we offer The Anti-Vegas. Vegas is, you know, the city where what happens there stays there. Too many of us have the same opinion of what happens in church - and that's no way for us to treat the inheritance we received from Christ's disciples.

So these are the entries for the 52nd Carnival, and here's hoping the next year is even better! As Jay often mentions, make it a point invite any other Catholic bloggers who might be interested to join - I can't tell you how many excellent sites we've been introduced to through the Carnival. Growth in the number of participants can only bring growth in the intellectual and spiritual quality of our blogs, and a wider audience for us all.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Not Just a Lot of Hot Air

By Mitchell

For the last few weeks we've had this mystery blimp hovering over Minneapolis. Not just a balloon; we're talking about a blimp - you know, like the Goodyear one. There was no overt advertising on the blimp, just two messages: "Enough is enough!" on one side, and "Had it up to here?" on the other. It kept flying around, usually in some area that was seeing a good deal of traffic. We saw it several times ourselves. Everyone wondered who was behind it, but the identity of the mystery blimp remained just that: a mystery.

Turns out it was an advertisement for one of the local TV stations introducing a new 5 p.m. newscast. (Well, I never said this was the most exciting area; I guess we can get worked up over just about anything, including a newscast.) The newscast debuted today, so I figured the jig must be up.

Except, just now, while I was working on the Catholic Carnival entry for tomorrow, I looked out the patio window and there it was.

What a sight.

It was illuminated in a harsh white against the night sky, moving soundlessly over the twinkling lights of the skyline. A huge glowing white light just gliding slowly, soundlessly through the blackness.

There it is again - I just walked out on the balcony to take a look at it.

The mystery message is gone now, replaced by the ad for Channel 9. It's the most striking sight; I wish I had a camera to show you what it looks like. I've seen blimps at night on TV before, but usually the only illumination is provided by the blinking lights of the message board attached to the blimp. But not this: it's either shining from within or the blimp has lights on the outside that are turned back on the skin.

But what a sight. Out on the balcony I looked up into the night sky, at an angle where you couldn't see the lights from the buildings, and all you have is this moving light, passing through the blackness. I wonder if this is the kind of experience the wise men felt seeing the Star of Bethlehem moving ahead of them, leading them to the Christ Child.

I'ts just moved behind the IDS Building, tallest in Minneapolis. I keep moving from room to room, trying to see if it reappears. There it is again - it must be circling around our area.

You might think I'm just some Midwestern hick who's never seen a blimp before. Well, I have - I've even seen the Goodyear blimp with my own two eyes. That was just a factual, if fun, thing to see.

But this is, I don't know, I guess it's just a thing of beauty. If it didn't sound sappy, I"d say that it had the kind of luminessence that reminds you that there is a God after all.

What the heck - I said it anyway.

If We Don't Build It, Will They Finally Leave?

By Mitchell

As you know, I've written over and over about the obligation of each of us to act as a role model. I've particularly targeted professional athletes and other celebrities in these discussions. So of course I wasn't surprised by the antics this week of our "professional" football team, the Vikings. (Of course Governor Pawlenty is wrong when he says that "We understand that athletes aren't necessarily role models." The fact is that we don't have a choice - we're all role models, whether we like it or not. The only question is whether or not we're going to live up to our obligation.)

Now, one of the unintended consequences of this fiasco is that it may have killed any support there was in the state legislature for new stadium construction. I wrote earlier this month about the pressure on the legislature to approve funding for new stadiums for the Vikings, the Twins, and the University of Minnesota. As late as last week there was still doubt that a special legislative session would be called to address funding for at least one of the stadiums; in the wake of the Vikings' problems, all three of them may be dead. Any support that continues to exist would probably focus on the University stadium, since the U is the one institution that doesn't frequently threaten to move out of the state.

Well, aside from being a testimonial on why it is important to be a role model, what does this tell us? It's about a lot more than sports; we're really talking about subsidizing any kind of private industry, which means we're invariably dragged once again into the world of Corporate America.

There's no doubt that a lot of people like the Vikings and Twins, and would be sorry to see them go. It's kind of a moot point for me; sports fan though I may be, like many people I can't afford to see many games in person in the first place, so I'll get my sports fix watching TV. (Besides, I'm not a fan of either the Vikings or the Twins anyway; go White Sox!)

But let's look at these two teams. The Twins are owned by a miser who seems interested only in lining his pockets and accumulating as much possible wealth as he can (even though he can't take it with him), surronded by a front office of sycophantic incompentents and a general manager (Terry Ryan) who isn't fit to coordinate the activities of a Little League team. While I'm willing to give the new owner of the Vikings a honeymoon, he's presiding over a coach (Mike Tice) who was nabbed for scalping tickets and players who seem to be auditioning for a role in the next remake of The Longest Yard. In any event, we're dealing with multimillionaire owners who could easily finance construction of new stadiums without making a dent in their net worth. And that's what we're really talking about: Corporate Welfare, the taxpayer being forced to pay to guarantee that rich men make profits.

So often you hear two specific things when a team asks the taxpayers to foot the bill for a new playground: one, the owner needs it to guarantee profitability; and two, construction of the stadium will be good for the local economy.

First things first: as bad as the Supreme Court has been lately, I don't think they've yet discovered a constitutional guarantee of profitablity. In theory, business is pretty simple - if you run it well, you succeed. If you don't, you fail. But if profit is a direct correlation to the success of the business, then by asking an outside agency (in this case, the taxpayer) to intervene to guarantee profitability, the owner removings any incentive to ensure a competenly-run organization. Talk about toxic business practices! (Of course, pro sports is run on a completely different economic model in the first place: most times, the consumer can vote with their checkbook as to whether or not a product meets their needs. In sports, when this happens the owner can pick up and move his team to greener pastures. Try doing that with a toothpaste that doesn't sell - it's not as if you can find another market to introduce it.)

Second is the myth of tying stadium construction to economic growth. Team owners and their media flacks like to point this out. Look at how much money you'll have coming into the downtown area! they say. Look at the jobs you'll create! Look at the spending you'll have in the restaurants and bars! It's like having a license to print money! Forgetting the obvious (that if a new stadium is a slam-dunk promise of prosperity an owner would be stupid not to build the stadium himself, redevelop the entire surrounding area, and keep all the profits), is this really true? A growing body of economists say no.

Professor Robert Baade of Lake Forest College in Illinois was asked to analyze the situation in Seattle after construction of new stadiums for the Seahawks and Mariners. His conclusion:

Contrary to many of the arguments made to support public subsidies for the stadiums, Baade found that local business suffers greatly in the wake of the new super-structures that often sit empty for many days at a time.


Baade's study confirms what many local merchants and residents of the [neighborhood]have been saying all along while nearly $1 billion in new stadium construction has landed in the neighborhood: sporting events in the area "frustrated rather than contributed to many business activities in Pioneer Square."


Ethnic restaurants, art galleries, professional services, legal services and most retail outlets reported a decline in business of up to 25 percent, due mostly to lack of parking on game days. Merchants reported that just as much business activity is generated by First Thursday gallery walks as on game days for either the Mariners or the Seahawks.

And it's not limited to this particular example. The Cato Institute conducted a forum in 2001 on this issue. One of the authors, economist Brad Humphreys, had this to say:

There are non-monetary benefits associated with professional sports. Economists refer to these as "consumption benefits:" The image of a "world class city," civic pride, good feelings, some local thing that residents can identify with, etc. These things have some value to the residents of a city. If a municipal area values these things highly enough, then they should go ahead and subsidize a stadium and franchise. But it doesn't make sense to subsidize professional sports on the grounds that it will improve the economic well-being of the residents of the area.

As Humphreys points out, it's a myth that having a pro sports team brings more money into an area: "spending on professional sports is not new spending; it’s just a reallocation of local spending on other entertainment like going to a movie or out to dinner."

Want more? There's Roger G. Noll and Andrew Zimbalist's book Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums , which reaches these conclusions:

[F]irst, sports teams and facilities are not a source of local economic growth and employment; second, the magnitude of the net subsidy exceeds the financial benefit of a new stadium to a team; and, third, the most plausible reasons that cities are willing to subsidize sports teams are the intense popularity of sports among a substantial proportion of voters and businesses and the leverage that teams enjoy from the monopoly position of professional sports leagues.

With this kind of evidence piling up, some teams shift tactics (hey, these guys didn't get to be rich by being stupid, or by underestimating the stupidity of much of the public). In Kevin Delaney and Rick Eckstein's Public Dollars, Private Stadiums: The Battle over Building Sports Stadiums, the authors make the point that:

In the face of studies demonstrating that new sports facilities don't live up to their promise of big money, proponents are using a new tactic to win public subsidies - touting intantible "social" rewards, such as prestige and community cohesion...[these are] empty promises as well, demonstrating that new stadiums may exacerbate, rather than erase, many social problems.

Indianapolis faces a similar situation to Minneapolis, in that the Colts are demanding money for a new stadium. Samuel R. Staley, Senior Fellow at the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, took a look at the Colts' claims:

Academic researchers have reached near consensus that these publicly financed projects are little more than economic white elephants.

The reasons are pretty clear. Take the projected employment impacts. The city suggests that the two projects will generate 9,100 new jobs region-wide. More than half are temporary construction jobs and would likely have been created elsewhere in the metropolitan area. About 4,200 are considered "permanent," but these numbers assumed the Colts would leave if the new stadium weren't built and include an estimate of 2,700 new jobs if the convention center's expansion is completely successful.

Yet, these rosy economic effects are miniscule in the bigger picture. The Indianapolis region employs 903,000 people. The "new" permanent jobs represent less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the economic base. Most of these jobs will be low-wage, part-time jobs keyed to specific events.

I could go on, but why bother. And to those of you who wonder why I'm spending this much time on a sports issue, my answer would be that this isn't really about sports. It's about Corporate Welfare and the burden being put on the taxpayer, which makes it more of a political, indeed a moral, issue.

So far Minneapolis seems to be one of the few areas in the country to put up a fight over building new stadiums for their rich owners. This almost cost us the Twins, as the owner, Smilin' Carl Pohlad (alias Silas Marner) tried to have the team contracted. That failed miserably when the Twins unexpectedly became contenders. The need for a new stadium, at least in the eyes of many, became evident. And yet the stadium has not been built. Even though the effort to contract the team has disappeared, there's still the possibility that the team might move. And yet the stadium has not been built. The Vikings have been casting doe eyes at other cities for years, notably San Antonio (home of former owner Red McCombs) and Los Angeles. And yet the stadium has not been built. It could be that Minnesota, one of the bluest states in America, is right in at least one aspect - it's time to say no to wealthy businessmen.

Part of this could be that our lawmakers have their sights set on other things to do with our tax money: programs for educational and other subsidies, for example, are always popular (and they're "for the children!"). It's caused more than one normally level-headed Minnesotan to throw his hands up in disgust and exclaim, "They're going to spend my money anyway. They might as well spend it on a stadium!"

But I'm not sure this is going to be the case any longer. The Vikings have done incalculable damage to the new stadium movement, at a time when it could least be afforded. (Not to mention that they're having a bad season, which is perhaps the worst time to pull such a stunt.) The Twins have teased their fans the last several years into thinking they have a winning team, but this act too is wearing thin, as we begin to suspect management is more interested in making money and talking a big game than really doing anything. (That team's chemistry, punctured by their share of prima donnas, hasn't been too good lately, either.) Sid Hartman may think that without pro sports the Twin Cities would be nothing more than a cold Omaha, but Omaha's looking better and better to a lot of people.

This controversy has dated back to at least the 70s, and the Metrodome (possibly the worst stadium in professional sports) was pushed through by a coalition of business and political leaders over the objections of many in the state. Back then, opponents had a saying: Go Vikings, and take the Twins with you.

Today we might better look to the famous words of Oliver Cromwell. There are two sayings of his I have in mind; maybe one for each team. To the first Parliament he said, "Weeds and nettles, briars and thorns, have been thriven under your shadow, disentitlement and division, discontentment and dissatisfaction, together with real dangers to the whole." (Maybe the "real dangers" part applies to the Vikings, or at least to anyone sailing with them.) And to them both we can quote his speech dissovling the Rump Parliament:

You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!
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