Saturday, January 31, 2009

(Not) Mad About You

By Drew

No doubt many of you have heard about the, well, mixed reviews for the Met's blockbuster production of Lucia di Lammermoor, starring operababe Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón. (If you haven't, you can read a choice sampling here, here, here and here. If that's not enough, or if you're just a glutton for punishment, you can Google and get a few more.) At any rate, Netrebko's mad scene, not only the showstopper of Lucia but one of the great scenes in all of opera, produced what has politely been referred to as a "tepid" response.

For a look at what the response should have been, check out this video of the great Natalie Dessay's mad scene from last season's production of Lucia at the Met. As John Greenleaf Whittier reminds us, the saddest words are it might have been...

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Choice is Clear, Even if the Progs Don't Want You to Think So.

By Cathy of Alex

Hi, I’m Cathy of Alex of The Recovering Dissident Catholic blog! I thank the Hadleybloggers for inviting me to their forum. You can read more about me on my blog but, just to let you know, I tend to compose blog posts that are informed by my beliefs as a Roman Catholic. For a long time I was Catholic in Name Only (CINO), hence my blog title. I have an insiders understanding of what makes dissenting and progressive Roman Catholics tick because I was one for a long time. I will probably blog about things that are not directly Catholic but in all things, I’m informed by my faith. Unlike most politicians, I make no effort or claims at divorcing my faith from my life. I can’t. Impossible. My Faith IS my life. Period.

Gentle Reader: If there is one thing you can always count on the so-called progressives among us for, it’s a distortion or a complete misrepresentation of the issues. In this post I am applying my lens to the progressive Roman Catholic folks but you can probably say much of the same about much of the liberal left these days.

I’ve ranted about the language of “common ground” and “common good” on my blog before. I believe we saw in the U.S. election just past the politics of common ground ascendant. My take on this push towards commonality is that it’s dangerous to folks like me who have principles that we live by that we’d be willing to die for to defend. I believe, wholeheartedly, that this current push toward commonality is an effort to water everything down that is too challenging, that’s too difficult, that stands in the way of the policies the liberal left would like to legislate.

In my humble opinion, you can see the push for commonality most easily and frequently these days in matters of sexual morality and life issues.

If you listened closely to President Obama’s Inaugural speech you may have heard him say, “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.” Then, he found religion appropriate for proving his next point and talked about “the time has come to set aside childish things”

I could not help but read between the lines: “Those of you who hold to beliefs that are going to hinder me from enacting legislation that conflicts with dogmas you profess better forget about them and join me.” What did the President do in his first week? Overturn the ban on OUR tax dollars funding contraception and abortion overseas (the “Mexico City Legislation”), as well as removing the block on using embryonic stem cells for research. I’m shocked that he even bothered to wait until the day AFTER the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I’m not sure what he thought he was accomplishing by even waiting a day: showing the pro-lifers that he wasn’t tactless enough to enact them on the 22nd of January, but kind enough to the anti-life crowd to enact what he promised them soon after election? In any case, I feel we just saw duplicity in action. Mr. President you can’t be everything to everyone. If the timing was an attempt at that, it will never work. What you just did is unacceptable-at any time. Maybe he’ll sign legislation for gay ‘marriage’ on the day after the Feast of the Holy Family.

The President would have us believe that he just acted for all of us, for the common good. I still fail to realize how, literally, killing our future in a nation that is already teetering on the edge of a demographic death spiral is supposed to help us. But he would not have us fear, because we have immigrants to help us make up the numbers of unborn dead and elderly and handicapped euthanized among us. Note how he did not open his speech with “My fellow Americans” but “My fellow citizens” which sounded like an attempt not to exclude those residing in our borders who are not, legally, Americans. After all, he won a large bloc of votes on his immigration policy pronouncements.

The President is not Roman Catholic but he is not a friend to many Catholic dogmas or beliefs.

The worse enemies however, and I always say this, are the ones within.

Which brings me to the progressive Catholic sets and their horrifying efforts to lessen the seriousness of FOCA, the Freedom of Choice Act. FOCA, which President Obama has vowed to make a top priority (and we know he has already made good on his campaign promises to be no friend to life), will allow our tax dollars to fund abortion, remove the conscious rights of healthcare providers, and allow partial birth abortion among other horrors.

The USCCB (United State Conference of Catholic Bishops) has called all Catholics to write their legislators beginning this weekend expressing their opposition to enactment of FOCA. In an article that had me believing the National Catholic Reporter has completely hit rock bottom and should rename themselves Protestants Pretending to Be Catholics Reporter, the publication has the audacity to not only claim FOCA will have no impact on closing Catholic hospitals but they also belittle what the FOCA law really does.

It’s ridiculous to seriously claim that FOCA will have no impact on Catholic healthcare, and that the bishops and online community are mass hysterics for even being concerned about its potential enactment. Of course its enactment will have an impact on Catholic healthcare. Even if FOCA itself is never enacted, what about the adverse impact of a similar piece of legislation? If Catholic healthcare is to maintain the core Roman Catholic principals it was founded under, bishops and Catholic healthcare systems will have no choice but to close their facilities, if by keeping them open they are forced to perform procedures (like abortion) that are contrary to their principles. Yes, we all know, unfortunately, some Catholic healthcare systems that have caved into pressure and done things that are contrary to Catholic beliefs but we are talking, with FOCA, national law here, not state law. If Obama has a vision of universal healthcare and enacts FOCA he will have his healthcare, but also a large gap in facilities to provide it because many of them will close.

NCRep misses another point. Frankly, who cares if all our hospitals close if abortion on demand is the-trying to hold the line on our principles in the face of brutal persecution will be. Honestly, there probably won’t be enough people left alive to even use any hospitals or clinics still open: ½ being aborted and the other ½ euthanized. (I have not addressed euthanasia much in this post, but I can already see that coming as legislation on a national level.)

The progs are making an attempt to try and get Catholics not to participate in the anti-FOCA postcard campaign by making it sound like yet another "ridiculous" demand by the "out of touch" USCCB and not worth our time getting excited about or participating in because it’s just not that critical. Now that we are all one big common family we need to quit believing in what sets us apart and just forget our individual principles in the name of “getting along”. They are wrong. Dead wrong. I find it curious that the only “common principles” are the ones liberals favor and the ones conservatives favor are “individual”; as if we are a nation of common believers with just a few rogue individuals who can’t get with the liberal program mucking things up. The commonality proponents don’t want the anti-FOCA postcard campaign either because they’d have us believe that by sacrificing others our lives can be better. How can a society that kills the weak, the defenseless and the aged to feed itself be anything but corrupt?

Some of our best science fiction has dealt with this very issue: Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, The Matrix. The best science fiction usually has a basis in reality. Somedays it seems like horror, not sci fi.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Letter from the Editor

By Mitchell

Don’t you just love that? “Letter from the Editor” – as if I had a notepad here in front of me, with “From the Editor” stamped at the top. Oh well, we can dream, can’t we? Even if it’s just a little bit of self-importance in the morning.

Anyway. I’m going on sabbatical again, as I did last summer, and for the same reason: to finish a book. My effort last year is still in what you could call post-production – in other words, looking for a publisher. Of this I’m hopeful, but at the same time I’m not quitting my day job. But I’m reminded of one of my favorite authors, Keith Mano, who fell into the habit of always being one book ahead of the game, his second book having been completed while he was still trying to have his first published. Perhaps lightning will strike twice, eh?

I’ll continue to pop in from time to time – it won’t be that easy to get rid of me – but for the next four months or so my colleagues here will be doing most of the heavy lifting. And this year we’ve got a surprise – a series of guest contributors who have agreed to help pick up the slack. I think you’ll find that they are more than up to the task of filling in for me, and I know you’ll agree that they will add a new and exciting dimention to our collection of cultural bloggers.

I’ll introduce our guests as they come aboard, but you will probably be familiar with many of them if you frequent the links on the right-hand side of the page. Our first guest is our dear friend and frequent contributor Cathy of Alex, who can regularly be found at The Recovering Dissident Catholic. Look forward to Cathy’s columns appearing on a weekly basis.

Stay turned for further information – and my personal thanks and gratitude to Cathy and the other bloggers you’ll meet, for making their words part of Our Word. I’ll see you soon!

Friday, January 23, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls

By Mitchell

A last word on the abortion drama - this quote comes from Frederica Matthews-Green, NPR and National Review contributor:

My boomer generation will never see abortion as anything other than the wise and benevolent gift we bestowed on all future generations. We still control the media, the universities, and so forth, and it will take time for all of us to topple off the end of the conveyor belt.

But the time is coming when a younger generation will be in charge, and they may well see abortion differently. They could see it not as “a woman’s choice” but as a form of state-sanctioned violence inflicted on their generation. It was their brothers and sisters who died; anyone under the age of 36 could have been aborted, and somewhere around a fourth or a fifth of all babies are. A younger generation might feel a strange kinship with the brothers and sisters, classmates and coworkers, who are missing.

And I’m afraid that if they do see things that way, they aren’t going to go easy on my generation. Our acceptance of abortion is not going to look like an understandable goof. The next generation can fairly say, “It’s not like they didn’t know.” They’ll say, “After all, they had sonograms.” Even in my generation, people who think of themselves as defenders of the weak and the oppressed may occasionally have a quiet moment when they wonder, “How, on this one issue, did I wind up on the side that’s defending death?”

There's a lot of ambivalence out there, and a lot of unspoken grief too, I think. Our pro-choice generation may have won the day—but sooner or later, that day will end. No generation can rule from the grave. When that time comes, another generation will sit in judgment on ours. And they may judge us to be monsters.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What Has Happened to Proper Singing?

By Bobby

I can admit this now; after noticing how patriotic songs were sung in the Obama Inauguration, standards no longer matter, just like the new government's attitude on values. They must be broken to appease the lowest common denominator.

I have had the opportunity to take classical voice with a young lass who has become one of my best friends over these years we have known each other. Furthermore, I have observed singers at events, both on television and radio -- Denyse Graves, Renée Fleming, Ann Benson (also in-person, but her most famous appearance was on television -- have you ever?) -- and in person -- Tina Stallard, Jacob Will, Mark Husey -- sing these songs properly.

But here comes the Inauguration Ceremony, and Aretha Franklin is supposed to sing and instead of singing properly, as I have learned over the years, she comes in and sings these "patriotic" songs with such long and inappropriate places to hold notes and pause that I thought I had been put in no-man's land. But remember, I am a conservative, and conservatism is dead. Modern liberalism means anything goes, and that means if someone is singing important songs improperly, it's right. The correct way is the wrong way, whatever is inappropriate is legal.

If we learned Aretha's singing of the patriotic tunes was appropriate, and correct, what does it tell those who take music lessons and are classically trained on singing properly?

And remember, MTV, not Fox News, has priority in the new White House. After all, MTV's LOGO was a venue to debate, but not Fox News. MTV had an inaugural ball, but Fox News was relegated to second-tier status.

The Sanctity of Human Life

By Bobby

While in college, I had the opportunity to work with the South Carolina Citizens for Life's Holly Gatling, something which I still do some volunteer time.

I mourn today on the thirty-sixth anniversary of one of America's biggest travesties, created by a liberal court system which has slaughtered more than 50 million in its thirty-six years of terror -- more slaughtered than ever killed in every war fought by this nation. To put that in perspective, the total number of babies killed by this act of terror called Roe v. Wade is more than 14,700 times the number of people killed (about 2,800) in the acts of terror against Americans combined by Usama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terror network. Those acts of terror include the slaughter of American troops in Somalia, the slaughter of a CIA agent through a hijacking in Ethiopia, the Khobar Towers, the twin homicide bombings of United States Embassies in Africa, and of course, the September 11, 2001 quadruple homicide bombings in Shanksville, the World Trade Center Buildings 1-7, and the Pentagon.

The horror of some abortionists' tactics, as mentioned by Illinois nurse Jill Stanek at the 2003 South Carolina March for Life, explained how children who are given live births are allowed to die within a few hours. This gargantuan "abortion" is a gross mistake. After hearing this grotesque practice at Christ Hospital, declared a second-trimester abortion (between 13 and 26 weeks), Mrs. Stanek notes the abortionist (who is not a doctor, because he has violated the Oath of Hippocrates, which states he will not induce the murder of his patients) induces medicine which permits the cervix (the opening at the bottom of the uterus) to dilate prematurely. Such actions permit the baby, which is premature (19-23 weeks), to be ejected, and therefore, a baby is born.

Unfortunately, with the procedures of this type of "abortion" where an actual baby is born, the hospital never takes care of the child. The child is clearly premature, born halfway through the cycle of 40 weeks which it takes to mature a child from conception until birth. The nurse is relegated to tending to the baby for as long as it lives sometimes as much as eight hours. The hospital is told in these "abortions" the child is to be treated as if it was an elderly person who has informed the living will they do not want to live. The baby is intended to die -- the baby will not be allowed to live, and unlike actual premature births, the child is not allowed to be treated in special chambers or in special units designed for premature babies.

For someone who has a second cousin who was born premature it breaks my heart to see some premature babies are given a chance to live and others are left to intentionally die.

Mrs. Stanek has testified in Washington many times in regards to this gruesome procedure, and learned her employer, Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, didn't like her testimony in Washington in mentioning the fact these live children are left alone in soiled "utlity rooms" to die, so the hospital, run by the United Church of Christ (any surprise, considering the President is of this faith) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, started a "comfort room," which offended Mrs. Stanek. She proceeded to take photographs of the questionable room, and had them placed into the Congressional Record to show the depths of despair they now give to aborted children.

What is even more gruesome is the "comfort room" contained a camera which allowed the aborted child, as born alive, to have pictures, baptismal, foot printer, and baby bracelets of the children who live less than a few hours they aborted.

That is totally nonsensical and shows the depths of despair the abortion lobby has come.

On August 5, 2002, President Bush signed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act to protect such children, and Mrs. Stanek stood by his side. Sadly, there is a push in Congress to declare this law, along with the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, void by passing the new Freedom of Choice Act bill endorsed by Congressional leaders and the President.

Abortion isn't just a woman's issue either. The grief of the 36 years of Roe v. Wade also hits men, sometimes even harder, as I learned working a Women of Faith conference in Charleston (SC) in June 2002, as founder Stephen Arterburn admitted to the 12,000 women in attendance plus the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center staff, Women of Faith staff, and the conference volunteers of his story when he was young he admitted he had his girlfriend impregnated and had their child aborted. To this day, even with a wife and a daughter, he still feels guilty about the one child he let die on the operating room table because he didn't want it. The grief of the father isn't always mentioned, but it is there. The sadness of the father is part of the problem and rarely do we hear his side of the story. But after hearing Mr. Arterburn's side of the story, it's clear it goes both ways. The father finds out about the child which he lost because the woman killed the child he had. It's his child he lost, and he understands it. While a woman may say "convenience", the man will say "it's my child you're killing". The truth is the father's grief is worse than what most people will admit.

It's clear to me. There has been too many years of murder of children at will created by a court fiat which makes no sense.

The concern now is that everything we have seen to protect human life is now being overturned by the most pro-abortion leadership in this nation, complete with a Congress that has established rules on who may debate and discuss issues. Is our entire accomplishment of the past two decades to be wiped out by one federal law that codifies bad court decisions as law, based on the attitude of legislators who do not represent me at all, decide? As a South Carolinian, what does it say when your legislators are now meaningless and we are letting California, Nevada, Washington, and states over 3,000 miles away determine what feels good is the law, when our legislators say otherwise?

I am afraid my twelve March for Life appearances and the hard work we have done will be wiped away by one law passed by legislators leading by feelings over 3,000 miles away.

The sanctity of human life, whose declaration posted this week by the White House has even been taken away by the new leadership, seems to be lost.

In these twelve marches, I'll never forget Suzanne Vitadamo talking about her evil brother-in-law who killed her sister in order to marry the other woman (2006, ironically on the day she spoke, Michael Schiavo married "the other woman"). I cherish Kathy Troccoli's "A Baby's Prayer" from my first march in 1998 (something that finally gave her an elusive Dove Award three months later). I hear from those who have suffered from having abortions in Olivia Gans (2000), Norma McCorvey (2001), Vera Lord (2004), Jennifer O'Neill (2005), and Beatrice Fedor (2009). I enjoy listening to heroes of the fight such as Wanda Franz (2002), Phill Kline (2008), Steve Mosher (1998), and David Beasley (1998 and 2009). I also have heard from one who suffers from the attempt at aborting her in Gianna Jessen (2007).

I've also through the National Right to Life Convention also heard Sean Hannity and learned more about life than I ever thought.

I cannot imagine the gruesomeness Point of Grace's Leigh Cappillino admitted when she talked about the abortion she had as a young lady (which is referenced in the group's song "Heal the Wound") when I've attended one of their concerts, and I cannot imagine what one man whose fatherhood was stripped by the gruesome practice admits what it is like to have an empty crib because of the stupidity of the idea that killing the baby is appropriate, as Stephen Arterburn has mentioned.

I mourn today for 36 years of children slaughtered by a court which does not understand. But does America understand we have a President and Congress willing to declare the right to kill babies is protected? If life is no longer protected, what can we have? Have we lost the sanctity of human life?

In Memoriam - January 22

By Mitchell

A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they were no more.

(Matthew 2:18)

Roe v. Wade was decided 36 years ago today. It is the human rights scandal of our nation's history; the loss we have sustained over these years - the loss of life, the loss of our spirituality, the loss of our own humanity - is impossible to measure, too staggering to comprehend. And so we pause for a moment of reflection, with two pieces from Fauré's magnificent Requiem. First, the Sanctus, performed by the choir of King's College.

And here the In Paradisum.

May angels lead you into Paradise;
may the martyrs receive you at your coming
and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.
May a choir of angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, who once was poor,
may you have eternal rest.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Circle Gets the Square

By Mitchell

Speaking of humor as we were the other day, how many of you remember the old game show The Hollywood Squares? It was known for having some of the funniest, raunchiest dialogue on television at the time. It was ostensibly a giant game of tic-tac-toe, in which contestants claimed the square for X or O by asking a celebrity (who sat inside the square) a question. The celebrity would provide an answer, and the contestant would either agree or disagree with that answer. If you were right, you got the square. If you were wrong and the the celebrity was right, you lost the square to your opponent. And so on.

The Anchoress posted some of the show's famous one-liners the other day, and being the television cultural archaeologist that I am, I thought these were too funny to pass up. Peter Marshall asks the questions, and although some (many?) of the answers were scripted, the delivery by the celebrities was priceless. They were even funnier when you watched them, but they're pretty good just reading them. Check 'em out when you get a chance; I think this was my favorite:

Q. When you pat a dog on its head he will wag his tail. What will a goose do?
A. Paul Lynde: Make him bark?

Read more about The Hollywood Squares here.

Random thoughts of America Held Hostage, Day 1

By Bobby

Liberals have begun their massive attempt to turn this nation into the Bolivarian Republic of America (if you cannot understand the title, consider the official name of one of our enemies, one which the new administration admires), and it began innocently as George Walker Bush made his final walk down Washington.

The throngs of Obama Worshipers, fresh off their massive adoration of the One, decided to send off the Terrorist Terminator with strains of rock tunes that are likely to be heard when in baseball, the visiting team's pitcher is sent down, in basketball, when a player is disqualified for fouls, or in hockey, a game misconduct penalty is awarded.

By the actions of these liberals, it showed how the massive adoration to the point that the President is worshipped as a deity, and sadly, when charisma and charm, and going by feelings is the importance, we have sadly created a new society that promotes the symbolism of emptiness and we ignore important substance.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wish I'd Written That

By Drew

[On the inauguration.] "Watching him do everything short of wear a fake beard and top hat is going to be tough for anyone who didn’t buy into the cult of Obama. If, like me, you don’t think that this is somehow America’s great new chance at being “cool”….if you know that unsung heroes within the Bush administration have been fighting against human trafficking for lo these many years while Ashton Kutcher apparently waited until now to get really excited….if you know a campaign for a “within our lifetimes” addition to Mount Rushmore when you see one…well, drink with me, won’t you? Drink, and let us hope the ‘morrow has mercy, because they won’t."

Jude, Big Hollywood

Poetry Tuesday

By Mitchell

Stephen Crane (1871-1900) is best remembered for the Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage. Less well-known are his poems, which were remarkable for the day in that they were written in free verse, with neither rhyme nor meter. They are often dark and tightly wound, not poems one would recognize as being from the 19th Century. "In the desert" presents a stunning image (as well as providing Joyce Carol Oates with the title for one of her novels). It somehow seems appropriate today.

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter-bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Five Things You'll Probably Never See

By Drew

I don't know how many of you have seen the new Pepsi ads. You know, the ones with the logo that looks suspiciously like that of the President-Elect, being used in place of an O. The other night I saw one that had the kind of urban ghetto-speak so popular in advertising nowadays. "Fo Sho," it said, with Pepsi logos for the Os, and the only thing I could think of was that old bit from Buckwheat (or Eddie Murphy, whichever you prefer). And I imagined how in some back room at Pepsi's ad agency, someone was even now at hard work on the next Pepsi catchphrase:

Nah, I thought. We'll never see that. But it got me to thinking about the five things we'll probably never see in our lifetimes. Here are the other four:

2. A university with a "Kennedy Chair of Ethics."
3. An all-white version of Porgy and Bess.
4. An athlete blaming God for a loss in the big game. "It's because I'm Jewish, isn't it?"
5. Oprah telling her audience, "But don't listen to me - I'm not an expert."

What else might we not see in our lifetimes?

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Artlessness of Snark

By Mitchell

Terry Teachout has a terrific piece on snark. Read the whole thing here, but I particularly liked this quote:

I just don't like snarkiness. It's a cultural trend, I think, driven by the Web, where snarkiness is considered a virtue. It's legitimate to be funny in a review, but there's a certain kind of nastiness that I don't like. Sneering about the serious efforts of a serious artist is not, in my opinion, an appropriate way to respond to things.

Now, I'd extend the definition of "art" to cover serious writing (which, sadly enough, is also a commodity in short supply on the Web). And in doing so, it is clear from some sites out there (many sites) that tolerance for opposite viewpoints is fleeting.

There are a few things about this that bother me. One, of course, is the lack of civility that snarkiness has bred. But just as disturbing is the intellectual shallowness which arises from snark, where namecalling is taken as a substitute for serious discussion.

There's one blogger out there whom I've commented on before, who uses the tag line, "So That No Thought of Mine, No Matter How Stupid, Should Ever Go Unpublished Again!" who then goes on to prove it. What saddens me about this blogger (whose name I will not mention; follow the link if you're interested, and I'll only add that his last name is the same as that of the former home of the New York Mets) is that much of his writing is quite good. He has a profound sense of God, and his prayers are often very well done.

However (and I'll bet you knew that was coming), all this good that he might do he proceeds to undo via snark. He might think of it as humor, but there's no small amout of meanness to it as well (for which, to his credit, he has several times aplogized). He's just one of those guys with whom it is very difficult to conduct a serious conversation, because he makes you so angry, you lose respect for his opinion. And while it's up to us to not let ourselves be provoked in this manner, I think he also has a responsibility to try and avoid acting in that manner in the first place. Through his actions he becomes, quite possibly, the worst advocate possible for his beliefs. And this is a shame; as I mentioned, there's much good in what he writes. But it's hard to get past that because of the tone he uses. I fear he's turning away people who might be helped by what he has to say, but are disgusted by his manner. I might be persuaded by some of his arguments, if they were made by someone else. He could argue, of course, that you don't have to listen to him - you can get the same information from others. But if he is turning people away, how likely are they to pursue further investigation? From an advocacy point, this is somewhat counterproductive, to say the least. Sometimes I think he ought to consider changing his last name to Sneer.

(On a side note, I have to add that bloggers like him are what prompted us to turn this site away from being a full-time religion blog and toward a more general culture blog. Frankly, the tenor in the Catholic blogosphere can be quite, what should we say, un-Catholic. And again, in helping to create this atmosphere, a blogger - no matter how good his intentions, no matter how strong or orthodox the faith - becomes a poor ambassador for his beliefs.)

Oh well. It's not as if we haven't been guilty of this in the past ourselves, and I suspect we will again in the future. But there just has to be some sense of responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with the keyboard, doesn't there?

Doesn't there?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ricardo Montalban, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

I don't have an intensely personal story to share on Ricardo Montalban, who died yesterday at age 88. But one can't let his death go unnoticed, either. There's so much to choose from: Rich Corinthian Leather! Zee Plane, Boss! Khan! I'll remember him most from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when his wonderfully over-the-top villain helped save a franchise that, in its first movie incarnation, threatened to become bogged down in metaphysical and philosophical mystery. Khan was what the Star Trek movies desperately needed: a juicy, exciting, action-packed shootout in space. It had it all, topped off by the scenery-chewing of Shatner, Montalban, Walter Koenig, and all the rest. That was a two-popcorn-tub movie.

But Montalban, though he may never have been a mega-star, was a star indeed, with a long and successful career. CNN refers to his "dignified demeanor and rich accent" - Ricardo Montalban was a class act on the screen, and that's the way we'll remember him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Patrick McGoohan, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

I was in high school the first time I saw The Prisoner on television. It ran, as most British series did at the time, on our local PBS station, in this case at 10:30 on Sunday nights. I kept seeing the listing in the TV Guide for this show with characters who had numbers instead of names, and after a few weeks of this I decided I had to check it out for myself.

I was hooked, as so many high school kids of that era would have been - high school being the time for angst and existentialism and deep introspection, of course. I knew nothing of the background of the series, of the controversy it had caused during its initial run in Britain in the 60s. It didn't always make sense - actually, to be perfectly honest, it often didn't make sense. And since I had no idea how many episodes there were in total, I had no clue that, after a few weeks of viewing, the series was approaching its stunning finale.

That final episode - appropriately entitled "Fall Out" - had an opening unlike that of the other episodes, and that, along with the bizarre conclusion of the previous episode ("Once Upon a Time"), gave me the hint that something was up. And at the end of that magnificent, mystifying, infuriating, mind-bending hour, I sat in front of the TV and thought to myself, "Did I just see what I think I saw?" I won't tell you what it was, of course, since some of you may not have seen The Prisoner, but suffice it to say that I had, indeed, seen what I thought I saw - I just wasn't quite sure what it meant. Then or now. Which puts me pretty much in the majority of people who have, at one time or another, watched Patrick McGoohan's most famous television project.

It was a premise that, in other hands, could have been quite hoary: a secret agent, for reasons unknown, retires from active duty. Soon after, he is kidnapped and held prisoner. His captives? Well, we're not sure. They could be the enemy, trying to find out his secrets. On the other hand, it could be his own side, desperate to make sure he doesn't spill them. And about that opening sequence - wasn't that something? McGoohan, as the Prisoner, demanding of his unknown captors, "What do you want?"

"Information," an unseen voice would respond. "We want information, information, information."

"Who are you?" McGoohan would ask. (Although, with his booming voice, it was more like a demand.)

"The new Number 2," the voice (a different one each week) would inevitably respond. To McGoohan's question "Who is Number One?" the voice simply and blandly replied, "You are Number 6."

"I am not a number; I am a free man!" McGoohan would bellow. And at that, the voice would simply laugh.

Week after week, we would watch the desperate attempts of the guardians of this place - "The Village" - try to elicit information from Number 6. Or rather, the answer to one question and one question only: why did you resign. It was a question that Number 6 refused, week after week, to answer. Sometimes he would outwit his captors totally, turning the tables on them. Other weeks, they would defeat his attempts to escape. In the end, - but then, I'm afraid I can't give that away.

Patrick McGoohan, who died today at age 80, was what George Clooney wishes he was: handsome, articulate, provocative, brilliant. True, Clooney's got the good looks (he even looks good in a tux), and he's no slouch when it comes to words; but the shallow political fables that he tries so very earnestly to sell to the public can't begin to hold a candle to the layered depth and sinister undertones present in The Prisoner" and many of McGoohan's other works.

He first came to the public eye in a half-hour British spy series called Danger Man, which later expanded to an hour and was known (in this country) as Secret Agent. In it, he played a mysterious agent named John Drake, who never carried a gun and fought the bad guys with his wits as well as his fists. He was twice offered the role of James Bond in the 007 movies, and twice turned it down. He won two Emmys for his work with Peter Falk in Columbo.

But it was as Number 6 that the public most knew and identified with him. The Prisoner was always something of a cult favorite - one critic called it "brilliantly obscure." Not only was he the star, he was co-creator, wrote several of the episodes himself, and even suggested the show's famous theme. There was no doubt that McGoohan's DNA was imprinted on every inch of The Prisoner.

It will be interesting to see if any of the obituaries in the next few days touch on the religious overtones of The Prisoner. Mary Morris, the actress who played Number 2 in "Dance of the Dead," referred to McGoohan as "a very religious man." McGoohan's famous hand gesture, delivered with the cryptic "be seeing you" to fellow villagers, was, according to Morris, intended to represent the sign of the fish. Number 6 often put himself on the line for fellow Villagers, urging them to stand up for their rights, all to no avail; was it an allegory for Christ's self-sacrifice, which also went unappreciated by so many? In one famous scene, Number 6 is shown struggling against his captors, his body ridid, his arms stretched out to the side in what is clearly a Crucifix form. One of the definitive books on the series, The Official Prisoner Companion, devotes an entire section to the idea of Number 6 as "the Prophet." The apocalyptic overtones of "Fall Out" were unmistakable. (The fact that the role of Number 6 in the coming Prisoner miniseries is to be played by Jim Caviezel can only make that speculation more ironic.)

It will also be interesting to see what the obituaries make of the political content of The Prisoner. Based on several comments made in interviews, McGoohan appears to have been no political conservative; nonetheless, The Prisoner was most decidedly a cautionary tale against the pervasiveness of big government. "I am not a number, I am a free man!" was the rallying cry for the rights of the individual - rights that seem to disappear a little more each time we turn around. His weapon, the authors of the Companion point out, was "his uncrushable spirit." It was that spirit that we saw in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, in the rise of John Paul II and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and any other place where man years for freedom. In the words from another great British television series, Doctor Who, human beings "always have to fight for their freedom," and it was this sensibility that emanated from The Prisoner.

One of the enduring questions that Prisoner fans continually asked from the outset of the show: was Number 6 really John Drake, the star of Danger Man and Secret Agent? McGoohan insisted publicly that it was not so, but that could have been a product of not owning the intellectual rights to Drake, a character which he did not create. The real answer, one suspects, was - like so many things - to be found inside that brilliant mind of Patrick McGoohan. And that secret is now safe with him.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oh, brothers

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: Best of Season 3
 Available on DVD through most retailers

When discussing the Smothers Brothers, one doesn't review a television show as much as an specific time in history. Not the era of the Smothers Brothers themselves, for they really flashed across the sky for but a brief moment; and not an epochal moment in history, for much of what the Brothers accomplished was, shall we say, less than timeless.

No, to understand the Smothers Brothers, and what their comedy was all about, one has to understand the 60s, or at least be conversant with them. Taking them out of context, watching or listening to them without that background information, can leave one wondering what all the excitement was about. (Frankly, even with an understanding of the 60s one might have that same reaction, but that is a discussion for another day.)

If you've ever wondered what all the shouting was about, why so many people supported and admired them while so many others were outraged and disgusted by them, why they were the idols of college campuses and the bane of politicians and network censors, then you could do worse than to have The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: Season 3 as part of your DVD collection.

I remember watching them back in that year of 1968, and I suppose I understood the humor about as well as any eight-year-old could (even a politically savvy eight-year-old), but one thing I did understand was that the Brothers were very good at raising the hackles of a good many people.

So what was all the shouting about? You might ask yourself that very question after watching a few episodes from this, the third season. For one thing, taken in the context of other variety shows of the day (Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, even shows to come such as Sonny & Cher), the Smothers Brothers Show was amazingly conventional. There was an opening bit (not quite a monologue, since there were two of them), appearances by special guests (standup comedians and rock stars), scripted bits, production numbers, and other things one might expect from a variety show. If you wanted cutting-edge television, this wasn't it; Monty Python was certainly far more advanced in breaking the mold, and even Laugh-In was far more creative in establishing a new way of thinking about the variety show. It's true that the Brothers had The Doors as special guests, but then so did Sullivan. And while their clothes were often vintage 60s (try a red blazer and turtleneck, for instance), it's also true that if you let the coat out a bit and lower the cut, you come up with a fairly fashionable double-breasted coat, and that turtleneck cut down just a little looks like a very sharp mock-turtle. If you'll look closely, you'll notice that Dick (he was the one mom liked best) even wears cufflinks.

So the show wasn't nearly as cutting-edge as we might remember. Nor could one say that the writing was exceptionally clever. Nothing, certainly, like the talent on shows such as Your Show of Shows. (Try Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Howard Morris for starters.) I doubt that the writing bench was as deep as those of Carson or Paar, for example. One thing that strikes me on watching these shows is that so many of these bits go on for far, far too long. The writers really don't know when (or perhaps even how) to end some of these sketches, which gives it more in common with Saturday Night Live than anything else.

(By the way, did you know that the original title of that show was NBC's Saturday Night? Why, you ask? Because the name "Saturday Night Live" was already in use - by Howard Cosell, in his short-lived Saturday night variety show.)

Anyway, I suppose the comparison to SNL is perhaps the best one on a number of levels, for what made the Smothers Brothers unique - the reason why I'm watching this DVD and writing these words - is that they took on the law and won (for at least a little while). Their comedy writers were those who wrote the lead stories in the nation's newspapers, and their targets were the politicians who ran the government, the church leaders who guided the nation's morals, and the suits who ran CBS.

I said earlier in this review that viewed out of context, without knowing what the 60s were like, much of the humor in these episodes (which, I should say, have been beautifully mastered, with the vivid color saturation that is so typical of 60s television) might fall flat, or at least seem tedious and didactic. Fortunately, some of the features included in this set help to set the table: a brief documentary featurette on the 60s helps to give the show some perspective, and optional opening and closing comments by the Brothers provide some real insight and background on the episode in question. There's the complete "Pat Paulson for President" special, with Henry Fonda (another old radical) as narrator. There's a rich collection of outtakes, uncensored (and never seen) episodes, and a rich collection of correspondence between the Brothers and CBS documenting the many disputes between them. I've already mentioned the beautiful look to these episodes, and the set itself is nothing if not comprehensive. No, if you're looking for quality and comprehensiveness, you won't have to look far.

The talent is certainly there, as well. One episode featured a very funny George Carlin and a brilliant performance by The Doors (brilliant, that is, if you're a fan of theirs), and other guest stars in this collection include Bob Newhart and Steve Martin, Judy Collins and Joey Bishop, Ike and Tina Turner and George Harrison. There's comedy, rock, folk - all kinds of stuff.

We are left, then, with the title stars themselves. This is a DVD review, not a cultural essay; anyone looking for information about the Smothers Brothers won't have far to look. But it is a fact that many watching these shows for the first time ever, or the first time in a long time, will be apt to find parallels between the political landscape of today and that of the 60s. Some will rejoice in that, others will roll their eyes.

The Brothers could be, by turns, funny, tiresome, smug, naive, entertaining, boring, infurating, and subversive. They showed then, as now, a pronounced lack of respect for current mores, for authority, for rules and regulations and propriety. There's no question that some of the tiresome molds of the era needed to be broken, but (as the Catholic Church as since found out) sometimes when you open up the windows to let the stale air out, you let a whole lot more come in. And once it's in, it's damn hard to get out. The Smothers Brothers helped change television, just as they helped define a generation. They didn't do it all themselves (for very little that is either very great or very evil can be boiled down to just one or two individuals), and while they might not have meant for everything to happen that has since come to pass, we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Then again, maybe they did mean for it all to happen. Who knows?

Really, there's not much we can do except try to understand it. Sometimes that understanding can only come with perspective, with time and distance. And then we may find out that what we thought we knew we didn't really understand at all.

So is The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: Season 3 worth your investment? If you're looking for a cultural artifact, a window into time, a sense of what it was like back in the day - then the answer is yes. As for the entertainment value, well, that is probably left in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Something's fishy at the Orchestra

Something truly was fishy when I was at the Koger Center for the Arts to attend Dancing with the Phil, the annual South Carolina Philharmonic Pops series concert that is the traditional Viennese New Year concert, complete with some ballroom dancing, the winner of a singing contest (with Tina Stallard and Maestro Morihiko Nakahara as two of the judges), and some things that I never thought we'd see.

I never knew how strange it would be when my voice teacher and friends, fresh off a lesson that afternoon, saw me already waiting at the ticket line when they knew they were in the line too.

The first thing that had me piqued (since I had never attended such an event) was the overture to Crazy for You -- I'd heard the pieces but as I am still admittedly not as experienced, I had to learn more about the movies of the past. I wish I could have seen Ken Jennings because he has a much bigger library of movies (as he's admitted in the past) than any of us could know. Also, since I had never experienced the Viennese New Year experience, Mori told the crowd (first with a laugh about English!), but then had me understanding that the waltz was the dance of a new year's concert in Wien, and also the Dvorák Slavonic Dance in E Minor, Op. 72, No. 2.

Obviously there's a reason my voice teacher and friends were there -- a student had won the singing contest, singing "Tutto è gioia, tutto éfesta" from La Sonnambula. The poor direction of the publishers of the program had me asking questions, since neither Mori nor the program described the opera, or the soprano's aria. The orchestra was loud at points that neither my teacher nor I could hear the aria.

The orchestra finished with some tango, and I wondered about the women's costuming -- it was a bit too over the edge for the classical music types who are accustomed to finely dressed sopranos. I don't think I'd see the soprano show as much leg as what the tango dancers showed. It was a bit too sultry and makes me wonder what lust would be there if I take ballroom classes so that I can find that lady that God has calling for me to dance! Waltz, tango, and swing (see later) would be much better than the country line material we see too many of this generation want.

This Just In

By Steve

God Accuses “Conversations With God” Author of Plagiarism

(PEARLY GATES, HEAVEN - January 12) Neale Donald Walsch, the best-selling “Conversations With God” author who was recently accused of plagiarism by a fellow writer, now faces an even more serious challenge – an accusation by God Himself that the author has “misquoted" and taken "out of context” comments made by the Almighty in their conversations.

“Of course I’m disappointed, although I’m not surprised,” God said. “Being omnipotent, it’s pretty hard for Me to be surprised. But, quite frankly, I was appalled, not to mention saddened, by some of the things Mr. Walsch quotes Me as having said. Over the centuries I've often been misquoted, distorted, and taken out of context, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still bother Me. I'll tell you this much," the Almighty vowed, with magisterial resolve, "this is the last time I'm talking to someone on the record without a tape recorder in the room."

Earlier this month, Candy Chand accused Walsch of having plagiarized the story “Christmas Love,” which tells about a kindergarten Christmas pageant. Walsch had passed the story off as a true incident which had happened to his own son. He later admitted he had made a “serious error” in having “convinced [himself]” that he had written the essay, and said he was “chagrined and astonished” that his “mind could play such a trick” on him. But he admits that the charges from God are quite a bit more serious.

“Look, every writer faces accusations of theft once in a while,” Walsch said in response to the accusation. “It’s an occupational hazard, especially when you’ve hit the big time like me. But it’s one thing to have your credibility questioned – it’s another to have your mortal soul in jeopardy.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Richard John Neuhaus, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

I liked and admired him, and felt that I knew him in some way from his writing. Although I never met nor spoke to him, I read the words of many who did, including some whose acquaintance with him was merely casual. Many of those people have left reminiscences of him (read here, here and here for starters), and there isn't anything I can add that would be particularly worthwhile.

What I will say is this: a number of those writing on the web mention, in some way, that though their contact with Fr. Neuhaus might have been minimal (contacting him with a question or a request for a comment), he was always gracious in reply, and thoughtful in response. He was, in other words, approachable. He was also a parish priest, one who married and counseled and buired, who heard confessions guided conversions and celebrated Mass; and in the sense that he did so many other things (writer, editor, commentator), that can sometimes be lost.

So the moral of the story is this, and it's one that I must apply to myself as well as those whom I've admired throughout the years continue to fade away: never be afraid to approach anyone, whether it be the priest you see every Sunday or an author whose works you admire, someone you think might have the answer to a question, or even your parents. Don't be afraid to ask for an opinion, or some advise, or simply to pass along a word of support. It's kind of like the story about the most beautiful girl in class, the one who never gets asked out because every boy assumes she already has others beating down her door. Those who may seem most unapproachable may in fact be the ones just waiting to share a word with you. If you don't hear back from them, it's not as if you're any the worse off than you would have been if you had never tried. And even if you never become best friends with them, you'll probably emerge from the exchange richer in some way.

Because once they're gone, so is your chance.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Eartha Kitt, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

As promised in my comment below to Bobby, here's a little more on Eartha Kitt, who died late last month. Most people remember her as the Catwoman, or as the singer of the "sultry" (as all her obits seemed to describe it) "Santa Baby." She also dabbled a bit in politics, getting herself banned from the White House by LBJ during the Vietnam War. But here she is from the December 18, 1955 performance of Salome on CBS's Omnibus.

(N.B.: As the TV Guide close-up mentions, this is the original Oscar Wilde play, from which Strauss' opera was based.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Departed

By Mitchell

I've been woefully behind lately, particularly with our obituaries. Over at Stella Borealis, Ray has this excellent roundup on Avery Cardinal Dulles, who died in early December. (Sadly, it appears that Fr. Richard John Neuhaus may soon be joining his company.) The same day it was announced that the actor Van Johnson had died, and Dirty Harry's Place presented a very warm remembrance. The owner of the Minnesota Twins, Carl Pohlad, died earlier this week - I have nothing to add to that.

As always, Turner Classic Movies presented an elegant tribute to those in the entertainment industry who died in 2008, and in watching this see if you're not stunned at the magnitude of those who are no longer with us.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Random Thoughts

By Bobby

Al Franken as Senator. Liberals found a way to steal elections in 2004 when Dino Rossi in Washington was robbed of the Governorship. He won the election, but Democrats called continuous recounts to steal the election from the winner. This tactic is found again in Minnesota, where Al Franken is finding a way to steal a win after he had lose the election. At this rate, will we ever have free elections again when liberals find ways to turn elections into professional wrestling matches, where liberals are the heels, conservatives are jobbers, and referees are "bumped" by the liberals so elections will be fixed? This will be interesting.

What's Next for Opera? With the announcement last year that An Inconvenient Truth will become an opera, I wonder how liberal activists will turn opera into places to turn their activist maneuvers into places where culture will be removed and replaced by one-sided liberal activists that will indoctrinate people into their agenda that matches that of the Obama Administration. How many love stories will now be aimed at supporting bogus marriage? How many stories will be turned into very erotic stories that would anger most people? I have a scare in my thought that the Communist goal of inferior art will be enforced by stating the only way of showing superiority in their eyes is as much gore, sex, erotica, and fetish is art, and Godly standards must go. How can we make it government-endorsed?

We'll Comply With It versus You Must Pay For It. Ford said by not wanting any of the government bailout money for now that they will comply with the federal microcar mandate instead of fighting it, unlike GM and Chrysler which are saying it's an unfunded government mandate to the greens, and they will only produce the mandated vehicles if the government pays for them, since they cannot make a profit off them.

Prayer Request. Ingrid Schlueter, whom I've quoted a few times and have developed friendship, is pregnant in her 40's with another child. Keep the family in your prayers. Also, another college friend, Lorann Cook (, is pregnant with a third son of hers and husband Jason.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Is the BCS Moving to Pay-Per-View?

By Bobby

The global economic crisis has led to many discussions of finance in various discussions. RTL has made changes to both of their major television franchises in the United States, eliminating the “Gives Back” show on the US version of their Idols franchise for the upcoming season, while the types of prizes and values on The Price Is Right has been increased (fancier prizes, especially leather, that had previously been banned, have been legalised, and also values of some games have increased, most notably the $25,000 on the bonus spin in the Showcase Showdown).

But the economic crisis has hit the media harder than what most people would expect. Companies are reducing advertising budgets, cutting back on 30-second commercials while the rates are continually increasing to pay for higher budgets caused by wage hikes for labor such as production staff and cameramen, which are used even in “reality” television programs. Such a problem led to the Bowl Championship Series bids by the three networks (NBC, CBS, Fox) to be considerably lower than cable (ESPN).

The result is starting in 2011, the BCS moves exclusively to cable on ESPN, at a rate of $125 million per year for four years. This could also bring to fruition the constant discussion of mainstream sports moving to pay-per-view, which is a constant issue being discussed by many in the sports business market. With the current economic downturn hurting advertising, this may be the time that ESPN implements pay-per-view for the BCS Championship, considering that most of the country were unable to see the Big 12 battles weekly except for pay-per-view under ESPN's policy on all college football being regional on the ESPN Broadcast Network. (Only the Southeastern Conference, on CBS, has a national game on network television weekly.)

The economic value of a BCS Championship pay-per-view after four BCS bowls on the ESPN Cable Network is now much easier to pull off than it was in the past because of the advertising policies.

First, ESPN has a $2.96 (current as of the time) per-subscriber rate it charges to cable and satellite providers. Raising it to $3.50 per month for the 90 million subscribers would generate about $48.6 million per year for the three BCS games, where they can sell advertising for the games on the ESPN cable network.

Second, ESPN can charge about $250 per bar (50,000 bars in the US), for a rate of $12.5 million total after all 50,000 bars to show the BCS Championship Game. Large venues (over 25 people) in areas near the two schools' hometowns would also buy the large venue fee.

Third, ESPN can use the pay-per-view to charge $30 per home, and with about three million homes that would buy a BCS game, that amounts to $90 million. This game would not be “televised” for purposes of NCAA media policy.

Together, ESPN could easily profit $150 million a year on the BCS, and when production costs are considered, they could easily turn a tidy profit for the BCS Championship Game on pay-per-view (the rights fee is $125 million a year for four years), and the other four games on the ESPN Cable Network.

This, when added to internet pay-media coverage of the games and highlights, was too much in easy profit that the networks could not offer. The concern now is that the BCS could easily go to pay-per-view, considering that the pay-per-view could easily make home at least $102.5 million (or more if the bar rate was increased) of ESPN's $125 million for the five games.

Therefore, the consideration of a pay-per-view of the BCS is now more serious than ever because ESPN has the resources to make the championship game a pay-per-view option that would make profits at the expense of viewers.
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