Monday, June 30, 2014

Baseball, we hardly knew ye

It occurs to me that although I never liked baseball as much as I did football, back in the days when I liked them both*, there was something about the drama and romance of baseball that I did like.  Call it the concept of baseball, if you like.  One of the reasons I'm still drawn to vintage broadcasts of old games is that it captures for me the essence of what I liked about baseball: the increasing excitement and tension as a pitcher worked his way in to the late innings of a possible no-hitter, the announcers following the time-honored tradition of dancing verbally around what was happening; the creeping shadows of the light towers and flagpoles as they inched their way across the infield during a day game; the whispered conversations at the mound in the late innings of a tight World Series game, with bunting hanging from the railings and the rising rows of faces of fans captured in the background; the very nature of the World Series itself as the early October showdown between the two best teams in baseball, in the days before interleague play and endless playoffs.  It's not quite the "Green Cathedrals" schlock you here, but it will do.

*Now, I have little time for either of them, at least at the professional level.

As I read back through that paragraph, what strikes me the most is that most of the charm of baseball had to do with the evolution of things - the late innings of a no-hitter, the creeping shadows, the seventh game of a World Series that was the culmination of an entire season of baseball. For some, the attraction of the game was Opening Day, when the umpires cried, "Play Ball!", when every team shared first place, and the hopes of remaining there at the end of the season; for me it was the time after the Seventh Inning Stretch, crunch time, money time, the clock about ready to strike midnight.  I don't quite know what that means, but I like the thought of it.

However, as my interest in the game has faded beyond indifference, it's been much harder to find the words to describe why.  There's the pace of the game, which makes a glacier look like an F1 racer; the endless situational substitutions, which end any momentum a game might have had and thrust most post-season games far beyond even my bedtime, the emphasis on sabermetrics, which makes a simple game much harder to comprehend; the endless commercials, which makes a fidgety fellow like me want to change the channel even in the middle of a no-hitter (which I actually did once; predictably, I missed no action.)  There's the drug scandal, the diffidence of players who are clearly in it for the money, the lack of roster cohesiveness from one season to the next.  When one looks at the deteriorating national TV ratings for baseball, I'm right there with them.

I finally found something that begins to describe why I've stopped being interested in baseball; this column by Grantland's Charles F. Pierce, on the tenure of Commissioner Bud Selig, sums up quite nicely the near-revulsion I have toward the game, the kind of disdain that only a former fan can have.  As Pierce points out, the game is now run by corporations disguised as businessmen, with an eye mostly for the bottom line, and governed by a commissioner who's nothing more than a lackey for the owners.  Pierce writes that "with Bud Selig, the office of the commissioner of baseball finally, completely, and probably perpetually became a management position." In other words, the suits run the game, and in this case I'm not talking about umpires, who don't wear suits anymore anyway, and whose out-of-control egos are just another part of the problem.

I want you to read Pierce's article, so I'm not going to say much more about it other than that it's clear to me that anyone who doesn't have a lifelong love of baseball, who doesn't have a team that they live and die with (even marginally), who doesn't have a memory of how the game used to be when, in the words of the HBO series, "it was a game," is probably going to read this and see everything that's wrong with the sport, and very little of what's right.  I still get great pleasure watching old World Series games from the '50s and '60s, even though I already know who's going to win, even if it's not the team I was rooting for, even though I may have seen the game two or three times already.  The fact that I find that more exciting than a "live" game, with the outcome hanging in the balance, is a sad commentary - and I use the word "sad" deliberately.

Here are Pierce's closing words, but again check out the article in full:
That will be Selig’s legacy — success and labor peace and nothing that ever would disturb the horses to discomfit the folks in the luxury boxes. Those people were his primary constituencies anyway. The rest of the game’s fans will be told to cheer Bud Selig into retirement for all he’s done for The Game. He has been a successful steward of the game’s economy. Why anyone outside of a boardroom would raise their voices for that is beyond me, but, as I said, I don’t get baseball at all.
It used to be said that rooting for the New York Yankees, back when they were in the Series every year and won most of them, was like "rooting for U.S. Steel."  We don't have U.S. Steel to root against anymore, so maybe we should just say that rooting for Major League Baseball in the era of Bud Selig is like rooting for the U.S Government.  Not a very appealing thought.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Thoughts on The Death of Klinghoffer at the Metropolitan Opera

As Jay Nordlinger points out in this article, the Metropolitan Opera was scheduled to broadcast The Death of Klinghoffer as part of the company's 2014-15 HD series.  Now the Met has decided against the broadcast, although they will continue with the performance of the opera, because of concerns that it “might be used to fan global anti-Semitism.”   I don't want to repeat all of Nordlinger's article, because (1) you should read it for yourself, and (2) he's a better writer than I am.  The background of the opera is all there, but suffice it to say that it deals with a true story: the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew, by Arab terrorists on a cruse ship nearly thirty years ago.  In cancelling the broadcast, Met General Manager Peter Gelb suggested that, though he didn't personally believe the opera to be anti-Semetic, he had come to the conclusion that televising at "would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe."

Jay never approved of this opera, never felt that the subject matter was appropriate.  I have some sympathy with that viewpoint, but I'll leave that discussion alone.  The question, to me, is whether or not the Met should have cancelled the broadcast, and about that I have some definite ideas.

My first thought had nothing to do with the probity of the opera, written by John Adams (Nixon in China, Doctor Atomic).  I'd seen other Adams operas before, and had liked them a great deal more than I'd anticipated, so I was planning to give this one a look as well.  It was also one of the few Met choices that prompted any interest; as the broadcasts approach the ten-year mark, some repetition is inevitable, I suppose, but  between the broadcasts of operas they'd already broadcast previously, and the uninspired choices of the new ones, it was getting more and more difficult to work up any enthusiasm for the Met in HD.*  After looking over the new schedule, we'd already decided to skip most of them, but Klinghoffer - along with Meistersinger (it's Wagner, after all!) and the double-bills ofIolanta and Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and, later on, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci were the only ones we were really interested in.

*On the other hand, not going does save a lot of money.

When I first read last week that the broadcast was off, I immediately thought, "Great.  I suppose they'll schedule Carmen again, or another one we've only heard a dozen times."  (As indeed they did - yet another production of Rossini's Barber of Seville, which I love, but - come on.)  The Met's upcoming season is already bland enough, suffering from a decided lack of creativity; did they have to do Barber again?

Then I started to think more about the cancellation, and what it tells us not only about the Met, but about America in general.  The decision to cancel had come after consultation with Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, “representing the wishes of the Klinghoffer daughters.”  Foxman himself is, in my opinion, an Al Sharpton-like character who tends to see anti-Semitism behind every tree and under every bed, and the fact that violence and discrimination against Jews is on the rise does not mitigate the damage I believe Foxman does through his constant crying of wolf.

But let's suppose, for the moment, that Foxman is right in this case, as many people would agree.  Nordlinger himself points out that, though he hates the idea of the opera, "an opera worth staging is an opera worth broadcasting. And if it shouldn’t be broadcast, it shouldn’t be staged."  Indeed, the notion of cancelling the broadcast after consultation with the ADL is more likely to create the appearance of the Met being censored due to Jewish influence, which can hardly be the image they want to project.

In this very good piece from Alex Ross, it's pointed out that by the Met's own admission, 75% of those who attend the HD broadcasts are 65 years old or more.  Let me repeat that - 65.  My wife and I are no spring chickens, as those of you who follow me know, and there's no way we should be lowering the average age of the audience by as much as we do.  Gelb says that “Those are people who are so old that they can’t go the Met, to the theatre, anymore,” And yet they supposedly could have been aroused to violence by Klinghoffer?  As librettist Alice Goodman states, “The whole idea of pogroms emerging from the simulcast of a modern opera is more than faintly absurd.”

What is he smiling about?
What does this tell us about the Met, and Gelb in particular?  It is hard to believe that someone as savvy as he is supposed to be would have failed to anticipate the controversy over the broadcast.  One might surmise that any GM that dim ought not to be heading up the West Paducah Civic Opera and Barber Shop Quartet, let alone the Metropolitan.  And, as Ross points out, this decision comes from the same man who tried to prevent Opera News, a Metropolitan Opera Guild publication, from presenting negative reviews of Met productions.*

*I still read Opera News, because I enjoy the articles, but I've given up on their Met reviews, which seem to have been much more positive since Gelb's threat.

Gelb was also the mastermind behind Robert LePage's grand - and expensive - production of Wagner's Ring cycle, which left many viewers (including yours truly) somewhat underwhelmed.  Perhaps "underwhelmed" isn't quite right, since ticket sales indicated a drop of fully one-quarter of the tickets sold for LePage's Ring, as opposed to the more traditional version that had been produced less than five years before.  Oh, and did I say it was expensive?  Maybe it's not related, but Gelb is now locked in a death struggle with the unions over their next contract, which could be, shall we say, interesting.

What this indicates to me is that Gelb, if he ever was the right man to run the Met, is no longer that man.  The Met has become stagnant, offering retreads that do little to make one excited about listening or viewing.  His innovations to the longtime radio broadcasts, such as dropping audience lectures, "informalizing" the opera quiz, and introducing color commentator Ira Siff to join announcer Margaret Juntwait*, have damaged the broadcasts, without noticeably moving the demographic needle.  His proudest accomplishment, the Live in HD series that was supposed to bring opera to the masses, has often been accused of pandering to the cinema audience at the expense of those in the opera house, with productions and performers much more suited to video than the in-person experience.  And for what?  If 75% of the audience is 65 or over, how does that lead to growth?

*My main complaint is that a solo voice in the booth speaks to us, the audience.  Anyone who's listened to a baseball game knows the intimate relationship between the announcer and the listener.  Introduce a second person in the booth and, no matter how knowledgeable they are, they invariably talk to each other - not us.

We know that the live opera audience is getting grayer by the moment (as it is in all arts), and now the Met itself admits that the audience in the movie theater isn't much younger.  Given all that, it's understandable that opera companies look for something safe, a sure crowd-pleaser.  But does that really serve the public?  My argument for many years has been that the vast repertoire of opera is being underutilized.  We hunger for something new, something different; but instead of turning to a Menotti, for example, we commission new operas left and right, many of which are heard once and then no more, or at least sparingly. Regietheater, which is all the rage throughout European opera houses, is frequently crude, sexually explicit, and blasphemous - hardly, one would think, the ticket to attract new opera attendees.  Officials look at the dwindling attendees and trot out the old, inoffensive warhorses, from Barber to Carmen to dozens of operas that are done over and over and over - again, not the kind of thing that would incline newcomers to go to the opera.  Producers try to jazz them up with ridiculous stagings, such as that of Tosca at the Met several years ago, and only succeed in antagonizing those who have been opera fans the longest.

We've been harsh critics of Gelb in the past, as this piece shows, so to expect anything different from him is not surprising.  He's botched this, in other words, but what else would we expect?  And given the death wish that not only the Met but so many companies have now, why would I be shocked?  I still love opera, still love going to a live production and watching a good one on the big screen.  But, having said that, the Metropolitan Opera is becoming a less and less important part of my life.  As Ross puts it, "the image that Gelb is trying to project—stylish, theatrically savvy, up-to-date without being avant-garde—has proved insubstantial."  What I seek is substance, and the Met is proving once again that there is precious little time any more to waste on things that don't have it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Headline of the day

I'm not what you'd call a regular reader of the Huffington Post, but this headline from yesterday's World Cup match was too much for a fan of either soccer or puns to pass up.  What a shame, in that Luis Suarez is such a gifted player, but at least the rest of the world is getting a laugh out of it.

And for you younger readers out there who might not quite get it, back in the '80s there was a band called "Huey Lewis and the News."

Typing that last line really made me feel old . . .

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What the Church needs is not guys, but men

Ideas often come from strange places.  I was reading an article from The New Yorker, to which I was steered by Uni-Watch, on the clothing choices made by the U.S. World Cup team’s coach, Jurgen Klinsmann.  (By the way, I’m not impressed, with either him or his clothing, but that’s for another day.)  The New Yorker in turn directed me to an article by Wesley Morris at Grantland, writing about the sartorial disaster that is the NFL coach.

Nowhere do any of these articles reference either the Church or religion, but I’m going there nonetheless, because that’s where it’s pointing me.

In his Grantland piece, written almost two years ago, Morris decries the often-slovenly sideline look of NFL coaches:

The changes in men’s attitudes toward clothes in the last two decades are evident in [Rex] Ryan, [Andy] Reid, Mike Tomlin, the Harbaugh brothers, Sean Payton (God rest his season), and most men paid to pace sidelines: Athleticwear promotes the impression of a blue-collar masculinity of looseness and relaxation. These clothes foster the sense that American males are more comfortable with being guys than being men. In the way some grown women refer to themselves as girls and have become culturally indistinct from their daughters, so, too, have modern fathers become culturally indistinguishable with their sons.

And there we have it.

The Church is, and always has been, involved in spiritual battle.  Battles are fought and won, not by guys, but by men.  Yet walk into any Church for a Sunday Mass, and unless you’re in a very special venue (such as my old parish, St. Agnes in St. Paul), you’re apt to see, relaxing in the pews with their wives and children, a bunch of guys.  The better dressed ones wear sportshirts and khakis, but too many of them show up in jeans and even shorts, and their kids are often dressed in t-shirts with some kind of nonsense or other written on the front.  (Note to self: don’t start in on how some of the women dress, as if they were skanks in training.)

Now I know what some of you are thinking:  Isn’t it enough that they’re actually in Church?  Does God really care how they’re dressed?  And to the extent that God looks at designer labels, I doubt whether He has a preference for Nike over adidas or Reebok.  As an expression of interior spirituality, however, I think God very much does care what we wear.

(Full disclosure: most of the time I wear a suit and tie to Mass.  Occasionally it will be a sport coat and slacks with a tie.  If I'm feeling particularly rebellious, I might throw in a pocket hanky.  When it’s really, really hot and the church lacks air conditioning, I might wear a conservative polo and slacks.  Rarely have I worn jeans to Mass, and I’ve never felt good about it afterwards.)

There used to be a phrase, “Sunday best,” that implied you wore your best possible clothing to church on Sunday.  It didn’t have to be a suit; in fact, if you were a farmer, a working man, a man just scraping by with enough to support his family, you might not even own a suit.  It meant that you took pride in what you wore; it told others and, more importantly, yourself, something about who you were.  Sadly, “Sunday best” has fallen into the graveyard of generational egalitarianism, part of the rebellion against our parents and their old-fashioned ways.  As Morris notes,

Until the late second half of the 20th century, no great confidence was needed to put on those clothes, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. If you were a man, that’s more or less what you wore. At the end of the ’60s, great political upheaval and conflict pitted one generation against the children it produced. For a long time, no child wanted to resemble a parent. Men stopped dressing like [Tom] Landry and Vince Lombardi partially because that meant dressing like their fathers.

Morris’ point that “That  generational dovetailing risks ceding the aura of authority. Clothes can no longer be relied upon to tell us who runs the show “ is well-taken.  So many modern men today dress like they’re still teens, act like they’re still teens, and in many cases are teens, at least emotionally.  While it’s true that Audie Murphy won the Medal of Honor for heroism when he was 19, I’d suggest that the future of the Church depends on its men growing up and acting like men, instead of guys.

Morris adds that,

With the unifying ubiquity of Internet culture and without the random obligation of a war draft or roiling, sweeping sociopolitical movements to put generations at odds, children who disdained their parents for reasons of politics and who were bound up in social concerns produced generations wary of their parents for reasons of vanity. They placed a premium on maintaining an air of adolescence. They didn’t want to resemble their parents even once they were parents. They wanted to resemble their children. A suit doesn’t make you look young, per se. Gym clothes do.

We might be more comfortable with that generational rejection, with that subsequent embrace of youth and the illusion of egalitarianism it fosters. But when no one wants to look like the grown-up, what’s chipped away at is a crucial air of respect.

As I say, you have to remember that Morris is talking about sports (and culture in general), because so much of what he says is relevant to my point.  Being young – and we’ve all been there – leads to, among other things, a disproportionate amount of confidence in one’s ability to know everything, combined with a lack of real-world experience and more than a dollop of emotion.  When one looks at how so many men behave nowadays, it’s not difficult to surmise that they’ve never evolved from their younger years.  Wisdom rather than impulsiveness, reason instead of emotion, thought as opposed to feelings – those are the trademarks of adulthood, in our case manhood.  And if today’s male chooses to express himself outwardly as a guy instead of a man, what else can we surmise when it comes to crunch time?

Morris concludes that “If a coach sets the tone for a team, the clothes are a barometer of leadership. Would a coach in a suit be more successful than one in a dingy-looking hoodie? Is that a distinction that would amount to anything during a game? Should a football coach really be dressed like the world’s soccer coaches, like a businessman at a late dinner? I don’t know. He just shouldn’t be dressed like a slob. “

And so I repeat the words I wrote as the title of this piece: what the Church needs is not guys, but men.  You can worship the Lord just as well in a suit, Bermuda shorts, prison dungarees, or nothing at all.  The question is whether or not you’re willing to fight for Him, because that’s what the Church needs today.  C.S. Lewis famously wrote that “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”  Clothes do make the man, or at least the guy, and in the absence of reading a man’s interior heart and soul, we can never know for sure – we’re simply left with the impression cast by the part of his outward appearance that is under his control, and that includes the kind of clothing that covers his chest.

In short: if Church is important to you, dress like it.  If you aspire to be a leader within a fellowship of followers, dress like it.  If you’re not afraid to face a world increasingly hostile to your beliefs, dress like it.  And it doesn’t mean you have to run to Brooks Brothers and spend a small fortune – just dress as if you cared, even a little.  Don’t treat Church like a high-school picnic, because the truth is we're in for a very bumpy ride.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Throwback Thursday - The Rat Pack in Heaven

Some years ago around Christmastime, I was walking home from work. My regular route at the time took me past one of those establishments which is often euphemistically referred to as a “gentleman’s club,” the term “gentleman” being applied to various degrees depending on its degree of appeal to the hoi polloi (i.e. truck drivers or professional athletes).

At any rate, what caught my eye was a sign in the window featuring a portrait of what looked to be a Vargas girl dressed up in a Santa suit (or, at least, what Santa would wear if he were in fact a Vargas girl), with an appeal for “Toys for Tots.”

OK, I thought. I suppose even in a place like this people aren’t immune to the spirit of the season and the desire to help out the less fortunate, especially children. If their appeal brings a little happiness to some poor kids at Christmas who don’t have much, then bless their hearts, even if they are a little degenerate.

Upon closer inspection (yes, the things I do for my readers), the sign turned out to be for something that wasn’t quite “Toys for Tots,” although it was close. (I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what it really said although, as they say, consider the source.) But as I continued home, I wasn’t quite able to shake off this thought of strippers and their bosses collecting toys for kids, and what it all meant.

Most of us believe, to one degree or another, that there is an innate desire within everyone toward goodness. We think, or like to think, that even the meanest, the most irascible, the least pleasant people we know, are all capable of unexpected acts of kindness, even if they’re few and far between. Why these acts of kindness should have to struggle to emerge is just one of those mysteries of life.

In Harlan Ellison’s original script for the classic Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” we are presented with a Spock whose logic is at a loss to explain why a character who is “amoral, evil, a killer. Selfish and capable of anything,” would still risk his own life to save the life of another. Kirk, who understands humanity in a way that Spock cannot, can only offer a philosophical reply:
We look at our race, this parade of men and women, and the unbelievable harm and cruelty they do. And we sigh and we say, “Perhaps our time is past, let the sharks or the cockroaches take over.” And then, without knowing why, without even thinking of it, the worst among us does the great thing, the noble deed, that spark of impossible human godliness. And we say, “Perhaps the human race is entitled to a little more sufferance. Let them keep trying to reach the dream.”
Spock, understanding, sums it up: “Evil can come from Good, and Good from Evil.”

It’s not logical, the thought that a fundamentally bad person can still be capable of selflessness, any more so than why a fundamentally good person can still commit acts of coldness. But then, there are many things about humans that are not completely logical.


Which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to the title of this piece. Ah, The Rat Pack - Frank, Dean, Sammy, Joey and Peter (the one everyone forgets). The other night I was watching an old Frank Sinatra TV special from the mid 60s. What a talented man, I thought: charasmatic, confident, able to phrase a lyric like nobody's business. Great actor. Generous, both with his talent and with his money. And, as many people have written, a pretty nasty guy as well: abusive, domineering, thin-skinned, four-times married, a brawler, a dropper of friends at the smallest provocation.

Yeah, Frank was a very tough, very complex guy. The rest of the Pack, though perhaps not as flamboyant as Sinatra, had their own share of flaws - infidelity and divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, arrogance and distain, selfishness and cold-blooded business dealings. Sammy converts to Judaism, and you have to wonder about that. Heaven knows I'm not trying to point fingers here; we all have our own share of flaws, and in proportion ours could well be even worse that that. But it goes to show, as I mentioned earlier, that the human animal is not only a very complex one, but most illogical as well. You look at a celebrity - a movie star, an athlete, a politician, or Frank Sinatra - and you struggle to reconcile their feats and their flaws, their tenderness and their cruelty. On the one hand you marvel at the gift, on the other you despair at the waste. Maybe you feel guilty for liking them so, knowing what you do about them; maybe you make excuses or try to understand, but you can't stop liking them anyway.

Flaunting many of the rules of common decency, treating several of the Commandments with distain - truly, you worry about someone's mortal soul in a case like this. But, you think, there must be some kind of trade-off here. How can someone cause such pain, hurt, humiliation - and at the same time touch you in such a way that produces delight and wonder? There must be something about the charity, the generosity, the simple pleasure and entertainment that they provided for people - that couldn't all be for naught, could it? It has to count for something, you think.

And so you resort to the great bastion of Christianity - hope. You dare to hope that God, in His infinite wisdom and justice, will temper His justice with mercy. You think of the joy you experienced, the memories you have, you recall the generosity you received - and you hope. You trust, because you know that God's judgement is perfect, but you still hope.

Avery Cardinal Dulles writes at length on the population of Hell, addressing the question as to whether or not we can dare to hope that all will be saved. Salvation, we know, is offered to all, even though not all will choose it. As Paul writes, the gospel contains “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Rom. 1:16). So we look at The Rat Pack, we love them for the pleasure they gave us, how we laughed at their jokes and thrilled at their talent, how we listened to their music and for a while felt young again. And we hope.

Ultimately, as it should be, salvation remains a mystery of God's province. And while mystery often causes doubt, it also creates hope. As Cardinal Dulles writes,"Paul, without denying the likelihood that some sinners will die without sufficient repentance, teaches that the grace of Christ is more powerful than sin: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Passages such as these permit us to hope that very many, if not all, will be saved.
That, indeed, is hopeful. So do we dare to hope that The Rat Pack, for all their flaws and imperfections, are there with the rest of the saints, playing their heavenly music even if their halos might be a bit tarnished? Such a hope might seem to some to be most illogical. But humans, as Spock found out, are most illogical beings.

Originally published January 8, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wish I'd written that - Looking in the mirror

What have we become? We dehydrate and starve those who we deem useless, the elderly and infirm. We kill those in the womb who are deemed unwanted. Lord, help us."

Abby Johnson, of And Then There Were None, a ministry dedicated to assist abortion clinic workers to leave the industry, commenting on the death of Casey Kasem by his daughter. (And yes, the title is the same as the politically correct title of a book you've probably read called "Ten Little November" -- can you identify the author?)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wish I'd written that

Apropos of what I wrote yesterday, this quote seems to fit.  (H/T Teachout)

“Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe.”

- Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why some good writers are bad bloggers (and other things that bother me)

If you'll indulge me for the moment, there are times when I simply can't resist quoting myself quoting someone else. And so I'll hearken back to a situation from a few years ago, during which I quoted Tom Wolfe from The Right Stuff - it was a situation "that would have made the Fool Killer lower his club and shake his head and walk away, frustrated by the magnitude of the opportunity.”  Then, as now, I write about the blogosphere; then, as now, it's the Catholic blogosphere.

I could simply direct you to that link and leave it at that; there's not a lot more that can be added to what I wrote back then, and I did a pretty good job then, if I do say so myself.  But there are a couple new things that I think should be pointed out; besides, this way I get to add another piece to the blog.

Today's immediate inspiration comes from a a piece I read last week at LifeSiteNews, and a follow-up at the blog of the chairman of the Latin Mass Society.  I won't go into any details aside from these links, because I think they tell the story pretty well (at least from the point of view I want to discuss today); that way, if you're not interested in the particulars, you can stick around for the generalities.  And if that don't suit you, I'm sure you'll find something else here in a day or two that's more interesting.  I'll do my best.

There are three points to be had from the above, and I'll try to keep them short:

  1. There are some people who just shouldn't blog.  They're too thin-skinned, too snarky, or simply unable to converse in what used to be called polite society.  It doesn't really take too much effort to remember that every word written on the Internet is available forever, and if you want to be taken seriously as an advocate for a particular position, you might want to keep that in mind.  Otherwise, you not only discredit your own abilities, you undermine the credibility of your intellect by antagonizing readers who might otherwise profit from your writing.*

    *Now, I'm not saying I haven't made mistakes in the past, said or written intemperate words, or in general made a fool of myself.  Of course I have, as I suspect all of you out there have.  But I'd like to think that I've matured since then, that I've improved my writing style, and that I've learned the valuable lesson of thinking before writing.

  2. You may well be wondering if this discussion really matters.  Isn't this just a local fight, one that attracts the attention of maybe one-tenth of one-quarter of one percent of Catholics?  My friend Terry, who blogs at the excellent site Abbey-Roads, is one of the most gifted bloggers out there; his ability to cut to the deep is profound.  Anyway, Terry points out often that most Catholics aren't even aware of the issues that have aroused such venom, and therefore aren't we giving it a bit too much attention?

    He may well be right, but I'd suggest in response that history is written by the winners.  It is true that most Catholics don't follow such things, but in this sense the Church is more like a political party than anything else.  Look at the GOP primary in Virginia last week - Eric Cantor, the U.S. House Majority Leader, was defeated by a sizeable margin, partly because primary turnouts are low, and partly because those who do vote are the ones who are most invested in what's going on.  At the end of the day, the country is ruled to a great extent not by the wishes of the masses, but by the convictions of those who cared enough to get involved, and were rewarded by getting the chance to set policy.

    It's much the same in the Church.  Ultimately, it will be a small number of people who determine policy, not only at the highest level, but at the lowest - the parishes, the dioceses, the schools.  They are the ones who get involved, who understand the issues, who read (and write) the blogs and say their pieces.  They may be disproportionate to the larger body of the Church, but in the end their influence, rightly or wrongly, will be far greater.

    And that's why this internal struggle matters, because it's being conducted among the people who reach a lot of people and have a lot to say about how the future shapes up.  If I'm wrong, I trust Terry will be able to provide a more than adequate rebuttal, but I don't think I am.

  3. Which brings me to the part that may disappoint me the most: these bloggers who can't resist acting up - whether on their blogs or through other social media - are capable of better than that.  If there's one thing that I pride myself on with my blogs, it's that I generally put out a polished product.  Without sounding too conceded, I like to think I have a way with words, one that I put on display every time I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.  With rare exceptions, what I've written both here and at It's About TV is, I think, as good as about 95% of what you read anywhere else online.  I could be overestimating that a bit, and I hasten to add that percentage doesn't apply to the content or thought displayed therein, just the style employed.

    But there are few things that irritate me more than wasted potential.  Whether I'm writing on Facebook, or commenting on someone else's blog, or doing anything that can be seen and read by more than just me - I always try to keep in mind the old adage about asking yourself whether or not you'd be comfortable seeing what you'd just written on the front page of The New York Times.*  Hell, I even proof emails three or four times before I'm comfortable with them.  Once I marked up a letter a friend of mine sent me; I didn't send it back to her, because that would have ended the friendship, but I did correct a couple of things so I wouldn't notice them if I read the letter again.

    *Not a particularly high standard to live up to nowadays, I realize, but remember - I said it was an old adage.

What all three of these things amount to, and I realize I might be a bit redundant here, is to ask the question what it means to be a writer.  Are you a craftsman of your art, a wordsmith who works with the language the way other artists deal in clay or oils?  Are you proud of your craft, even when it's a one- or two-sentence product on Facebook?  Or are you just a hack?

Assuming you're not a hack, but instead a professional writer, one who perhaps even makes a living from what you write, then why would you ever put out something less than that?  And if you're what I'd call a "professional blogger"; that is, someone with a far higher readership than what I'm used to, one whose site features advertising, is seen as a source of information for others of a similar interest, perhaps even someone recognized as an expert and appearing from time to time in other media - then why would you cheapen that reputation by producing hack writing in public?  Why?

The fact is, there are some good writers out there who are bad bloggers, and I don't think that's a secret to anyone who spends any time in the blogosphere.  They're capable of writing with exceptional wit, clarity and grace, but too often they use their talents in a manner which could be described as malignant - as if they had Pulitzer-level writing ability, but wasted it by writing porn novels.  Their idea of evangelization too often consists of encouraging dissent in the same way that one would by poking a stick in a tiger's cage.  They are the Skip Bayless of Catholic writing.*  In their haste to be first with a story, they print first, source later; and they spend a fair amount of time either retracting what they've written, or apologizing for it.

*Particularly the part of Bayless that's described as hyperbolic, boring and excessive.

Unfortunately, it's for all these people that the adage "act in haste, repent in leisure" was written.  Do they remember, or were they ever taught, about how when one writes an angry letter, they should sleep on it before mailing it?  I know that the digital era makes instant responses far too easy, and it's never been so easy to press "send" before teaching the mind to "think first."  Do they really get a charge out of antagonizing others, to the extent that they do more harm than good?  Are they in this to support a cause, to teach others, or simply to draw attention to themselves?  Which wunna dese?

I readily admit I don't have the answers to these questions.  Most of the time, it's a waste of energy to even consider them.  But every once in a while it gets to me - not just the content, not just the stand that someone takes on an issue, but the abrogation of the responsibility that someone has to use their talent in the right manner and for the maximum benefit.  And while I could let off with a rip job of my own - and, believe me, I'm fully capable of it, sinner that I am - I figure, why bother?  Why name names?  Why pick fights that aren't my own?  Why, above all, give them more importance than they merit?

I'd rather keep it general.  If you're reading this, if you're an aficionado of writing, or if you just like to see things kept civil, then I hope you'll agree with me, and keep holding others - me included - to that standard.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fitting only for Fathers' Day

Genuine Parts Company has launched a new campaign, "When I was Eighteen," in promoting their NASCAR up and coming star Chase Elliott, that has me looking at the ad with a hilarious reflection of the eras of the young driver (who is 18), his father, and his team owner, and how they looked at 18 each.

I had to laugh at this idea, but it's a wonderful giggle for those of us who remembered either era pictured by the father and the boss.

Happy Father's Day, everyone!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Tour de France Edition

Of all the articles we've printed here over the years, I don't think there's ever been one better, or funnier, than this one from Steve Harris. It first ran in July 2005, even before Lance Armstrong got pinched, and it's just as good today.  With the Tour just around the corner, it seems like a great time to take another look.


Rider Stripped of Title After Having Failed to Fail Drug Test

(PARIS, France) - Norwegian rider Pers Häavsrud was stripped of his Tour de France title today after having failed to fail a routine test for performance-enhancing drugs, Tour officials announced.

“Häavsrud has brought shame and disgrace to professional cycling through his actions,” Tour director Jean-Marie Frommage said in an emotional press conference announcing the decision. “By refusing to join other elite cyclists who have used blood doping, testosterone, and other performance-enhancing drugs to great advantage, he has not only cast confusion and suspicion on the rest of the Tour, he has shown how selfish he really is.”

Häavsrud's GlaxcoSmithKline team expressed disappointment in the test results. “If true, Pers will be dismissed from the team immediately,” team manager Raoul Dunleavy said. “Rampant individualism and self-centeredness are threatening to destroy professional sports at all levels. He has let not only his teammates but his sponsor down as well. When athletes put themselves ahead of their sport everyone loses. They must remember there is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’ Or in testosterone, for that matter."

Häavsrud was not immediately available for comment, but said through a spokesman that he planned to bring in Barry Bonds’ former personal trainer to assist him in fighting the charges. “I will not take this lying down,” Haavsrud was quoted as saying. “My involvement in blood doping has been well known amongst my teammates. I am tired of always having to be the, how you say, needle of suspicion.”
Whatever. Piss on him.- Tour de France cyclist Hans Hans
Häavsrud also expressed surprise at the negative testing result.

"My body must process these illegal substances differently," he said with a shrug. "What am I to do?"

Thirteen riders were banned from the start of this year's tour for failing to fail their tests, but this was the first time a winner had actually been accused of testing clean since the introduction of stringent new drug confirmation tests. Austrian Hans Hans spoke for many riders in his blistering criticism of Häavsrud. “It’s not easy timing our injections just right to make sure they match up with the unscheduled tests. We have to work hard at it. And now this Swede comes along and passes his test. What’s he accomplished, besides besmirching the hard-earned reputations of so many who dedicate their lives to the Tour?” When reminded that Häavsrud was actually Norwegian, he replied, “Whatever. Piss on him.”

Other cyclists were quick to join the discussion. Elco Advarian, who was suspended from the Tour two years ago for a similar violation but has since completed a Tour-sponsored counseling session and subsequently failed seven consecutive tests, was more sympathetic and suggested that Häavsrud might have been naïve. “When you get into something as big as the Tour, sometimes you’re overwhelmed. You don’t know what you’re doing, you listen to the wrong people, you make mistakes. Failing to fail that test was a mistake I’ll never make again,” the Team BALCO rider added. “Hopefully Pers will learn from his as well.”

Former two-time Tour champion Renaldo Maria Jiminez attempted to explain why the charges against Haavsrud were so damaging. “Sports is about winning, true, but it’s about much more. The world of professional cycling is more like a fellowship. You know, the camaraderie that is built up when riders travel through the circuit together, all of us struggling against the elements, carrying out our secret steroid use, working together to reach the finish line. A great element of trust is required in this sport, and it’s threatened when a rider thinks only of himself.”

Frommage was more blunt in his comments. “We’re trying to run an honest sport here, but when athletes persist in trying to play by the rules they only succeed in making others look bad,” he said. “We’re trying to do something here to rehabilitate the image of this sport, and Häavsrud won’t cooperate. There is no room on the Tour for his ilk."

Norwegian fan and cycling enthusiast Lars Bersvich spoke for many in the tiny country when he asked for his opinion. “I’m not angry,” he insisted. “Just disappointed. But we must look to the future, to the next generation of young Norwegian cyclists who will enthusiastically join in the use of illegal, even toxic substances, and will put the sport of cycling back on its normal course."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

World Cup fever

If you're a regular reader, either here or at the TV blog, then you know how often it happens that some of my greatest pleasures have come to me purely by accident.  Such is the case, at least indirectly, with the World Cup.

The World Cup* begins tomorrow, and while it might not be the greatest soccer competition (that would probably be one of the European leagues, the English Premier League or the German Bundesliga), it definitely is the most important soccer tournament anywhere, not to mention the biggest sporting event in the world.  I'd always liked soccer, in a passive sort of way, and I even watched the World Cup on Univision one year just so I could see the matches live.  But it wasn't until five or so years ago that I truly began to appreciate the sport.  And it all happened because of the Canadian Football League.

*Or the FIFA World Cup™, to be legally precise.

Let me explain.  At the time, the only way to get CFL football on television in the United States was to subscribe to a sports package with one of the satellite TV providers.  Since I've been a CFL fan from decades back (go ahead, ask me who won the 1963 Grey Cup), there was no question what I had to do.  What I didn't realize at the time was that, besides getting the various regional sports networks that picked up the CFL, the sports package also included Fox Soccer Channel.  And since even I can't spend seven days a week watching Canadian football (particularly since they only play four games a week, only one or two of which were televised here), it didn't take long before I surfed to FSC's coverage of their prime property, the Premier League.

As I've said, I'm no stranger to soccer.  Back in the day, I used to watch PBS' Soccer Made in Germany, so I even knew what the Bundesliga was all about.  But it had been a good long time since I'd seen any kind of match outside of the World Cup and MLS, so the first time I came across a game, I was immediately transfixed by the experience.  It wasn't just the constant singing by fans, or the marvelous British commentators*, or the sudden, mercurial way that the momentum of a match could change.  It was all of those things, plus a history that went back to the 19th century.  It was different, sure, but that isn't the only thing that attracted me; it was the passion of it all.

*Martin Tyler, Jon Champion, Ian Darke.  Should I go on?

By the last World Cup, in South Africa four years ago, I'd become a devoted fan.  I had a favorite English team (Arsenal, followed by Chelsea and Man City), and a favorite international team (Germany, then Brazil), to go along with my favorite announcers.  I wrote about that experience four years ago, and while I was disappointed with the final result, it didn't diminish my new enthusiasm for the sport.

Tomorrow it all begins again, and while things will be different (no Martin Tyler, no vuvuzellas, a time difference that allows me to catch games after work but eliminates that wonderful early morning match), the drama and emotion will be the same.  There are many doubts about Brazil's ability to host the World Cup (not to mention the Olympics in two years), and there are even more doubts about the United States team's ability to escape the Group of Death (my prediction: no wins, three losses, no goals), but hopefully the competition on the pitch will be enough to overcome all that.

As for who'll come out on top?  Never bet against the home team, especially when it's as good a side as Brazil.  I wouldn't be surprised if another country took the title, especially Spain, Argentina or Germany, but neither would I be surprised if Brazil wins its sixth World Cup.  Only time will tell, but next month at this time, we'll hopefully have quite a tale to tell.

Monday, June 9, 2014

End of an era: the last NTSC (480i) 4:3 broadcast signs off

This month, CBS will mark the end of an era in television.

From the initial era of television, the aspect ratio of television broadcasts were 4:3, but starting with STS-95, and a Major League Baseball game in 1998, through Super Bowl XXXIV, the winds of change were fast approaching.  By the end of 2010, only two shows were still in 4:3, as everyone switched to high definition 16:9.

When the season finale of Let's Make a Deal airs this month, the era of 4:3 480i NTSC-specification television will end, as every new program that airs on network television will be in high definition.  That was announced last week as taping of the sixth season of the Brady Deal last week confirmed the high definition switch, and Big Brother (16th series starting June 25) will switch.

With the final switches, it can all be confirmed why older television programmes will be harder to find – there is no way that they can air with blank spots on each side when high definition is now the standard.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Wish I'd Written That - Same Tune, Different Year

From Mark Helprin, one of the finest writers around, of whose talent I'm immensely jealous. (H/T Nordlinger.)  I'll give you some background after the quote.

The task is to address the question of [the President's] fitness for office in light of the many crimes, petty and otherwise, that surround, imbue and color his tenure. The president must be made subject to the law.

When that moment arrives it will signify the rejection of flattery, the rejection of intimidation, the rejection of lies, the rejection of manipulation, the rejection of disingenuous pretense, and a revulsion for the sordid crimes and infractions the president has brought to his office. It will come, if it does, in one word. One word that will lift the fog to show a field of battle clearly laid down. One word that will break the spell. One word that will clarify and cleanse. One word that will confound the dishonest. One word that will do justice. One word. Impeach.

Mark Helprin wrote that for the Wall Street Journal - in 1997.  About Bill Clinton.  Even before Monica Lewinsky.  Remarkable how little things have changed, isn't it?  Substitute the current incumbent for Clinton, and you could say the same thing, no?  After all, if the shoe fits... (You can read Helprin's entire piece here.)

It won't happen.  It should, though.
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