Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Supreme Court Hears Anna Nicole Smith's Case

By Mitchell

Sometimes all you have to do is read the headline. You can't make this stuff up...

Cheney's Got a Gun...

By Mitchell

Since it's Gilmore Girls night, that means I get some extra time in front of the computer; and since we seem to be passing along good links tonight, here's one from Hadleyblogger Mike - a very, very funny parody of VP Cheney's recent difficulties. Most of you have probably already seen it, but if you haven't - make sure you're where you can have the sound up when you watch!

DaVinci Outreach.com

By Mitchell

Our friend Hadleyblogger Ray passes along this link to DaVinci Outreach, a new site billed as "a powerful antidote to the spiritual poison found in The DaVinci Code." With sponsors such as Ascension Press, Catholic Exchange, Catholic Outreach and the Catholic League, it sounds like a good bet to us. Check it out.

Speaking of the DVC, although we hate to do so, Ray also forwards this link to "The DaVinci Code Disarmed," a talk given by Fr. Joseph Carola, SJ, given at the University of St. Thomas' Bernardi Campus in Rome on February 22nd, 2006. It's hard to tread the line between ignoring this claptrap and educating yourself to make sure you can debunk it when talking to your friends (who probably have no idea how heretical this work really is).

Thanks to the St. Paul Cathedrial website for linking to this important talk.

Monday, February 27, 2006

How Practical Is Equality?

By Judith

Here's one of those stories that drives me crazy. A group of parents and other liberal activists got together and forced the Minnesota State High School League to move the girls' state hockey tournament from Ridder Arena (on the campus of the University of Minnesota, where the Gophers womens' team plays) to the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild, which is where the boys tournament will be played in a few weeks.

Now, Ridder Arena seats about 3,400, whereas the X holds maybe 18,000. And Ridder is perfectly adequate for the girls tournament, where last year's tournament drew a total of 13,548 for three days (with games being played in both the afternoon and evening). And while some of the girls were excited about playing on the same ice as the Wild, many were apprehensive about the whole thing. Equality is nice, one player said, "But the Xcel Energy Center is too big for a girls' tournament at this time. It will feel empty compared to Ridder."

Some who were in favor of the change even had the gaul to suggest that Ridder's small capacity was holding crowds down. Sure, I can imagine that, although somehow I missed the stories last year about 15,000 trying to cram their way inside Ridder to see the finals. (Sarcasm alert.)

Anyway, predictably this year's tournament was played in relative quiet. Even though the championship game drew a record crowd, the arena was still mostly empty. The Class 2A title game at the Xcel Energy Center before a crowd of 3,517, the largest in the 12-year history of the state tournament, which meant there were still about 14,500 empty seats. But never mind all the empty seats - they were playing on the same ice surface that the boys play on.

Chesterton wouldn't have been surprised by this, of course. He as much as predicted it nearly 100 years ago, in his What's Wrong With the World? After this, there's nothing more to be said on the topic. Although he might not have had high-school girls hockey in mind back then, who's to say? If the shoe fits...

There is not, there never has been, even the vestige of a new idea. All the educational reformers did was to ask what was being done to boys and then go and do it to girls, just as they asked what was beind taught to young squires and then taught it to young chimney-sweeps. What they call new ideas are very old ideas in the wrong place. Boys play football, why shouldn't girls play football; boys have school-colors, why should girls have school-colors; boys go in hundreds to day-schools, why shouldn't girls go in hundreds to day-schools; boys go to Oxford, why shouldn't girls go to Oxford - in short, boys grow mustaches, why shouldn't girls grow mustaches - that is about their notion of a new idea. There is no brain-work in the thing at all; no root query of what sex is, of whether it alters this or that, and why, any more than there is any imaginative grip of the humor and heart of the populace in the popular education. There is nothing but plodding, elaborate, elephantine imitations. And just as in the case of elementary teaching, the cases are of a cold and reckless inappropriateness. Even a savage could see that bodily things, at least, which are good for a man are very likely to be bad for a woman. Yet there is no boy's game, however brutal, which these mild lunatics have not promoted among girls.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Any Port in a Storm

By Mitchell

There's been a great deal of controversy over the President's plan to allow a UAE-based company run six major United States ports.

President Bush is strongly supporting the plan, and he was confused as to why the idea was so controversial; however, he understood completely once it was explained to him.

You see, he thought the ports were being sold to China.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Curt Gowdy, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

Curt Gowdy, the legendary sports broadcaster, died today at the age of 86. In talking about Curt Gowdy, I could just as easily reprint the post I did about Chris Schenkel's death last year. Like Schenkel, Gowdy was a big-game announcer: when you heard his voice on the telecast, it made you want to stop and listen.

He had many of those big-game moments over the years: the Heidi Game in 1968, the Jets' Super Bowl win two months later, Ted Williams' final home run, UCLA's reign of terror in the NCAA finals. From pro football to major league baseball to NCAA basketball, an entire generation knew Gowdy as the voice of NBC Sports, and they knew that if NBC was covering a major event, Gowdy would be there. He also worked for many years at ABC, primarily as the voice of The American Sportsman and Wide World of Sports' coverage of the Cheyenne Rodeo.

The CNN obit talks of Gowdy bringing "a warm feel to the broadcast booth, his commentary always full of good humor and enthusiasm." He preferred to refer to "Sudden-Death Overtime" as "Sudden-Victory," focusing on the success of one team rather than the failure of another.

Having grown up in Maine, Judie learned of the talents of Curt Gowdy before many of us did. For it was as the long-time radio voice of the Boston Red Sox that he first made his mark, and that was how Judie (the non-sports fan) always thought of him. Upon hearing the news today, she remarked that it another part of her childhood had died along with him.

You know you're getting old when the voices of your youth begin to die off. Sports was immeasurably richer for the presence of Curt Gowdy in the broadcasting booth; and while we may be poorer for his loss, we were richer for being able to hear him.

Wish I'd Written That...

By Mitchell

Your Horoscope
Scorpio: (Oct. 24 - Nov. 21)

Sometimes, all one can do is step back and laugh at the absurdity of it all. However, the jury will note that a fire extinguisher was within easy reach.

- "Lloyd Schumner Sr.", from The Onion: Fanfare for the Area Man

Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggarman, Thief

By Mitchell

In these weeks leading up to the beginning of Lent, we’ve been hearing from the Letter of St. James. One of the things I like about James’ teaching is the way he presents a kind of balancing act using couplets of behavior: the inadequacy of faith without works, the emptiness of a life of worldly pleasures that lacks eternal ones, the contrast between rich and poor.

It’s the last one that I want to address briefly. Much is made of how James urges us not to favor the wealthy man over the poor one, and rightfully so. Indeed, a great deal of this Epistle could be read as a warning (not an indictment) to the leaders of Corporate America to keep their priorities in order. To this I would fully subscribe. And yet this calls for a word of caution, one that I think James intended for us to recognize as well.

There has been a great deal of talk over the last few years about class warfare. Today’s political atmosphere, with its polarizing agendas, has done much to engender this talk. And, viewed in the light of politics (or perhaps we should say "darkness"), much of this talk has been counterproductive, if not destructive, to our society. It seems as if there’s nothing we like better than to demonize our opponents (read: those who disagree with us). And in the world of Us vs. Them, the "Rich" have become a prime target.

There’s much to be said about the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s work. Chesterton was a great believer in the importance of private property, especially the ownership of land. There’s so much to be said about this, in fact, that I’m not going to say it right now.

No, what I’d like to point out is just this: that we should take care not to sanctify the poor simply because of their poverty, nor should we stigmatize the rich simply because of their wealth. Someone reminded me the other day that quite a few people have, as their goal of accumulating wealth, the intent to perform great works of charity with it. This isn’t to suggest that the ends justify the means, far from it. It merely points out that some people desire money in order to give it away, one way or another.

Likewise, there are those in poverty who have wound up there through their own actions – crime, drug use, or simply sloth, to name three. While we should show great compassion for these people, and are called to do whatever we can to help them (as the Holy Father pointed out in his recent encyclical), we should not anoint them with some type of holiness simply because they are lacking in material possessions. And while we must provide them with those material things that can provide them life-saving comfort, we simply cannot ignore the spiritual gifts that can provide them with soul-saving comfort.

So I think James would add that we should not view the piety of the rich man with skepticism, simply because he is rich. Wealth and the responsibilities it engenders are a great burden (I hasten to add that I have no personal knowledge of this!), one that definitely requires spiritual guidance in order to be properly exercised. And if in fact our worst suspicions regarding the character of the rich have any validity at all, is this not all the more reason to welcome them when they come looking for the comfort which only the Truth of Christ provides?

"Show no partiality," James exhorts us, "as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory." (James 2:1) Whether rich or poor, dressed in fine cloths or rags, we are called to share that saving message with all those with whom we come in contact. If we can afford to look at others with scorn, cannot our Lord Jesus look at us likewise?

Happy Presidents' Day...

By Mitchell

…or is it? In this fascinating little tidbit from The Corner, John J. Miller provides the answer, courtesy of Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation:

The third Monday in February has come to be known - wrongly - as President's Day. ... Although it was celebrated as early as 1778, and by the early 19th century was second only to the Fourth of July as a patriotic holiday, Congress did not officially recognize Washington's Birthday as a national holiday until 1870. The Monday Holiday Law in 1968--applied to executive branch departments and agencies by Richard Nixon's Executive Order 11582 in 1971--moved the holiday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. Section 6103 of Title 5, United States Code, currently designates that legal federal holiday as "Washington's Birthday." Contrary to popular opinion, no action by Congress or order by any President has changed "Washington's Birthday" to "President's Day."

That should give you some food for thought, hmm?

I’ve always had a great admiration for Washington. He towers over the history of our country, even in those scenes in which he doesn’t directly appear (in the musical 1776, for example, Washington’s presence is always there through the dispatches he sends the Second Continental Congress, even though Washington himself is not a character in the story). There’s a nobility about him that made quite an impression on his contemporaries, a nobility that seems to be missing from much of our culture today, political or otherwise.

Washington had quite a different view of the presidency (an office that was tailor-made for him, as the documents from the Constitutional Convention show) than we do today, believing that the president should be more of an impartial adjudicator of events, a man whose first priority was to represent the interests of the nation as a whole, even as Congress had their own personal constituencies to represent.

There is much to admire in Washington, both as a man and as president. He is, in my estimation, the greatest American (which is not to denigrate men such as Franklin and Lincoln, who would stand out in any age). There are many outstanding books on Washington; two of my favorites are the multi-volume biography by James Thomas Flexner (available in this handy one-volume printing), and the brief, excellent Founding Father by Rick Brookheiser. A pity that so many schoolchildren nowadays, when they hear of Washington at all, are taught merely that he was a slave-owner.

Speaking as we have been of presidents, John Derbyshire has an unfortunately accurate (in my opinion) critique of the faults of President Bush. Derb strikes to the heart of the problem many conservatives have of the president, and the damage he has done to the movement:

Reagan came out of an America whose commanding heights, cultural and political, were held by liberals. Yet he was a true conservative, of great principle and conviction. In the later America from which GWB emerged, conservative ideas were much more accessible & widespread, and there was a wider, deeper pool of real conservative from which the GOP might have chosen its presidential candidates. Yet here is a guy from that much-improved background, who is insouciant to, perhaps (I wouldn't personally rule it out) ignorant of, two of the most fundamental principles of modern conservatism: fiscal restraint and government limitation. He is also distressingly naive on some key points of foreign policy, apparently believing, for example, that Vicente Fox is a friend of the USA, that Palestinian Arabs "yearn for freedom," and so on.

That GWB put forward Harriet Miers as a plausible candidate for SCOTUS is bad enough. Worse is the suspicion, among many of us limited-govt, national-issue, and fiscal conservatives, that GWB is Harriet Miers, and that Bill Buckley and the other great nurturers of US conservatism over this past half century may have labored in vain.

Excellent questions indeed. History will, I assume, speak to the answers, in its own good time.

In the meantime, take a moment to reacquaint yourself with the man of whom history has already spoken, the Father of Our Country, G. Washington.

UPDATE: I don't know how I missed this the first time, but there's also a fine interview with Michael and Jana Novak regarding their upcoming book Washington's God, which takes a look at the role religion played in Washington's life. Among their conclusions: Washington took his Anglicanism much more seriously than many others of the time; his actions (if not his documented words) suggest that he was a Christian; and, if he had Deist leanings, he also believed in a God Who could and would intervene in the affaris of man. Certainly sounds like a book worth checking into when it comes out.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

What's Opera, Doc?

By Mitchell

OK, so maybe it isn't such an original post title. But they can't all be gems.

It's been cold here this weekend; a few years ago a true Minnesotan wouldn't have blinked at weather like this, but we've gotten kind of spoiled over the past few mild winters, and so when it gets down to -20 at night we start to act as if we've never felt cold air before. And before you say anything, we're just like the rest.

So we stayed in most of the weekend, a good time to catch up on the opera. Friday night on XM (which we get courtesy of DirecTV) featured a Callas tribute, with three of her greatest performances: Aida, Tosca and Norma. Yesterday's Met Opera broadcast also featured Aida, and while it was pretty good, it couldn't begin to compare with that of Callas. There was something dangerous about the whole thing, a feeling as if you were listening (were that possible) to a train that could jump off the tracks at any moment. Not reckless, but moving with a dangerous speed. It's that kind of thrill that you ask for in opera (which is, lest we forget, theater as well as song), and that's the kind of thrill that Callas (when she was on her game) could deliver. Check out this site for more on the magnificant singer.

I don't pretend to be an opera expert - I really just developed a taste for it a few years ago, but like so many of my enthusiasms, I jump into it with both feet. Verdi, Puccini, Mozart - wonderful stuff. Of course, my personal favorite (as I've mentioned before) is Wagner - wretched human being though he might have been, the man could really compose.

Hadleyblogger Mike noted our appreciation for opera over the weekend, and suggested several thought-provoking sites for those who might share our enjoyment: his own essay on The God of the Operatic Canon, and two very interesting blogs I might have to add to our favorites list: his very interesting blog Opera in Civilization, and the provocative Alienated in Church, to which he contributes.

As Mike said, "Conservatives who prefer the company of wine-and-cheese liberals, on the condition that they prefer opera to country music, can’t be all bad."

Thanks for the tips, Mike! Look forward to reading them on a regular basis!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Cupid!

By Mitchell

Yes, it's Valentine's Day. I suppose I'm dating myself (yet again) by mentioning that I can remember when it was known as St. Valentine's Day. Watch movies like Holiday Inn, or any story from that era that took place around this time of the year, and you'll hear it called that all the time. (Incidentally, read here to find out more about the real St. Valentine, who was martyred for the faith, and his association with love. HT Jimmy Akin.)

Nowadays, thanks to our slickly secular society, you seldom ever hear it referred to as St. Valentine's Day, except when talking about the famous massacre of the same name. And yet, a year or two ago, so great is our urge to completely erase from earshot anything that even smacks of religion, I heard a newscaster actually refer to the "Valentine's Day Massacre," so great is our urge to wipe out any possible popular mention of saints. Not only was this piece of PC historically incorrect (like it or not, the name St. Valentine's Day Massacre is a historical fact), it just doesn't sound right. It makes me wonder how long it'll be before we're celebrating March 17 simply as "Patrick's Day," and somebody's asking why they named a holiday after a pink starfish in a cartoon.

Speaking of Valentine's Day, AdoroTeDevote has a nice piece on some of the ways in which Valentine's Day could be celebrated, and why there are people out there who don't want to hear about it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Penny For Your Thoughts

By Mitchell

I meant to post this earlier, but as usual I just didn't get around to it. Yesterday was, of course, Lincoln's birthday; and I'm probably dating myself in saying that I remember the days when both Lincoln's and Washington's birthday were holidays. By the time I was in school the system had adopted a cumbersome policy whereby they alternated the dates that would be school holidays. One year it would be Lincoln, the next year Washington, and so on. Eventually both were replaced by the much blander "Presidents Day," which in my more ambitious political years I came to think of as "my day."

At any rate, you're almost certain on Lincoln's Birthday to hear some classical music station play Copeland's famedLincoln Portrait, in which the great composer's music is matched up to some of Lincoln's most memorable phrases. Nowadays it's common for the words of Lincoln to be voiced by a black actor (most often James Earl Jones) or a woman (I even ran across a recording in which Lincoln was read by Katharine Hepburn). I suppose the record producers felt they were making some kind of political statement; after all, Lincoln freed the slaves, and you can't have freedom anymore without including the oppressed female.

But for my money the definitive Lincoln Portrait is that narrated by Henry Fonda. Fonda had, after all, played Lincoln in the movies. Like Lincoln, he came from the Midwest, and spoke in the flat tones of a Midwesterner. Most of all, like Lincoln he was a man; and there just seems to be something appropriate about hearing Lincoln's words recited in this fashion. They become living words, more real - not simply something read from a history book. As we hear them we can see the man, feel his era, and appreciate even more the meaning of what he says. And, of course, Fonda was one of the best actors of his time. Can't say I liked the man's politics, but I admired his talent.

So don't accept any substitute. If you want to offer a toast to Honest Abe, celebrate with Henry Fonda's voice, Aaron Copeland's music, and the words of the Great Emancipator himself. Honestly.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Musical Mush

Guest Comment

Hadleyblogger Bobby reports:

I have enjoyed reading articles from Town Hall since 1996, when it was the old H&R Block CompuServe service. (One of the original Town Hall members has a space now on Blogspot.

It has been some time since I last pulled out choir folder #5 from my church's locker. This article had me pondering what has happened, and the perspective of Charles Colson on music, and even our local radio stations. In the market where I live, Focus on the Family was pulled for more music in 2003 after the show started to discuss the Roy Moore situation, Terri Schiavo's fight for life, and other major issues of a Christian nature. Members of the statewide Citizens for Life grew increasingly concerned of the radio station in question, and I informed a friend at the 2006 March that station had lost its moral compass, and had fallen into the trap of modern radio, where it's all music, all entertainment, no information.

I live 40 miles from a Southeastern Conference school (my alma mater), and despite that, the radio conglomerate which runs the city's radio stations dumped them while letting an ACC school nearly 175 miles away be covered. On a clear night, I can get two other ACC schools and another SEC school far away, but my local station won't carry the local team, and won't even carry news anymore. We used to get Rush Limbaugh, but this monopoly dumped him for more music. Has radio become dumbed down too?

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The Enemy Within

By Mitchell

In today’s Gospel we hear Christ tell us that “[T]here is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him." (Mark 7:15)

This message evidentially puzzled the crowds, and the disciples too. And at first it does seem a contradictory message. We commonly think of the threats posed to us as being external ones: crime, natural disaster, famine, disease, violence, terrible and random accidents of one kind or another. Is Jesus suggesting that these aren’t things to worry about? What could He mean by such a suggestion?

It’s only after we dig into it a bit more (and after Jesus gives us a major clue) that we start to uncover the meaning packed into this teaching. What Jesus is telling us is that we need to reexamine just what it is we’re afraid of. We aren’t supposed to live a life governed by fear, but there are definitely some things we should fear for what they can do to us. Conversely, there are things we greatly fear (for what may appear to be either rational or irrational reasons), but maybe we need to rethink how we look at them.

What are the things we should fear? He explains to the disciples, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man." (Mark 7:20-23)

Think of these as “internal,” or “man-made” (as opposed to what “ goes into a man from outside [that] cannot defile him.” (Mark 7:18), and perhaps it becomes easier to understand. Not only that, but other things begin to fall into place.

We often hear people try to explain or excuse their behavior by citing their “environment” as a contributing cause. A lot of times we put this in the context of a criminal pleading for leniency in court, but I think we’re making a mistake if we try to limit it to that context. Take pornography, for example. In this sex-drenched society of ours, it’s pretty hard to avoid it (if you take pornography to encompass the whole range of what once was called “soft-core” or “sexually explicit” material). Anyone would be a fool to suggest that over time this doesn’t begin to have an effect on us. You can make the same case whether you’re talking about sex, violence, diseases such as AIDS and HIV, or the objectification of the individual (which has elements of both of the above included in it).

But do you notice what all these have in common? Each one has, to a certain extent, a man-made element to it. The “evil thoughts” that Christ mentions above - they’re not called the seven deadly sins for nothing. They're all generated from the human heart - from someone's heart, even if not our own. And while many innocent people are hurt, you can’t deny that in some way all this is traced back to someone, somewhere doing something they shouldn’t have been doing. Perhaps we aren't directly responsible for the cause, but we share a world with those who are.

I think the answer to the meaning of today’s Gospel is this: Christ isn’t talking about what can kill our living body, He’s concerned with something much more important and much more dangerous: those things that can kill our souls. How many times does He warn us that it’s not death of the body we must fear, but death of the soul?

And it’s those man-made things that come from within our hearts that cause the most potential harm. For each of these threats - pornography, violence, immorality, objectification - come from some urge lodged within the deepest reaches of our hearts. We all have them, to one extent or another. We may try to suppress them as best we can, with varying degrees of success. But it is only by giving up control of our lives to Christ that we gain control of our emotions.

The moral of the story is what Christ has been teaching us all along, and what He will continue to teach us: don’t worry about the things over which we have no control. Do be concerned about the things over which we do have control - the passions and desires of the human heart. And trust in Him to help us along the way, with the help of Mary and the saints, by providing us with the grace and courage required to handle it.

Monday, February 6, 2006

Wish I'd Written That...

By Mitchell

"The only way true men can show their love is to insult the hell out of each other."

Milburn Stone (Doc on Gunsmoke), quoted in TV Guide, June 12, 1965

(Are you listening, Gary?)

Please Patronize Our Links

By Mitchell

I wanted to pass along an excellent new Catholic blog (well, new to me anyway) that I've started reading lately. It's Adoro Te Devote, from a fellow resident of these fabulous Twin Cities. Julie's had some very thought-provoking posts lately, including this one on struggling against the Devil and his weapons. His greatest weapon, of course, is fear, and there's only one response to it:

And as I struggled with this, I prayed to the Lord and to my Guardian Angel for assistance, and finally, the words I needed came to me, "I have not given you a spirit of fear...."

No, indeed. As JPII said so often, "Be not afraid." Those are easy words to recite, but understanding them is sometimes more subtle. The comfort they provide, nevertheless, is immeasurable.

Be sure to check in on this fine blog at this link. (If I weren't so lazy, I'd go ahead and update the sidebar with our blog links. But until I get to that long-overdue maintenance, this will have to suffice.)

Happy Birthday, Gipper

By Mitchell

Lest we forget, it's the 95th anniversary of the birth of the man I truly believe to have been the greatest president of the 20th Century, Ronald Reagan. There are many wonderful tributes out there; here's a great one from another Mitch (not me, alas) at Shot in the Dark (HT: BaddaBlog). I'm reminded that Judie and I were headed to Chicago on vacation the day of Reagan's funeral, and I couldn't help but think at the time how ironic it was that I happened to be in the state of his birth while all that was going on.

In the same post in which BaddaBlogger linked to this story, he also mentioned that he and his wife, the dutiful & beautiful Mrs. Badda-Blogger, are celebrating their seventh wedding anniversary today. Happy Anniversary to one of the nicest couples we know!

Thursday, February 2, 2006

The Shadow of the Future - or the Past

By Mitchell

Today is Groundhog Day, the gift that keeps on giving.

If you understand the joke, you've probably seen the movie. Click here to see what we had to say about Groundhog Day last year.

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