Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Brilliance of "Going My Way"

This is another long post, so I'll begin it here and invite readers to finish reading it at Karnick on Culture.

Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald in Going My WayTV stations tend to show the great 1944 film Going My Way, directed by Leo McCarey and starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, more often around Christmas, even though only a couple of scenes are set during Advent.

The film, however, always repays watching. In particular, it illustrates the superiority of moral suasion over coercion in the creation of civil order -- a lesson always worth remembering. Although Going My Way won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, the film's reputation rapidly declined beginning in the 1960s, and critical consensus has long dismissed as trite, sentimental, and unsophisticated. This is an entirely erroneous and indeed dimwitted interpretation of the film, and one that cries out for redress.

The story is familiar: easygoing, likeable Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) is assigned by the local Catholic bishop to help bring St. Dominic's Church, a faltering urban congregation led by Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), back to its feet and in particular to overcome its financial problems. Crosby's O'Malley represents the liberal side of the church -- as it was then manifested, it is important to remember -- and Fitzgibbon the conservative aspect.

The key element here is that Crosby's liberalism is entirely limited to means, not ends; he is merely trying to find ways to enable the church to treat the ills of a rapidly changing society, not to change its doctrines of belief. In the end, of course, O'Malley's approach proves surprisingly successful, and he is sent on to the next challenge. What is in the middle is a very intelligent, sophisticated, decent, and engaging film -- exactly what we should expect from McCarey, who is now greatly underrated.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the centrality of the motif of generational conflict, and specifically of reconciliation between parents and children. As such, authority is a central concern. Fathers O'Malley and Fitzgibbons initially suffer a good deal of conflict, until O'Malley is placed explicitly in a position of authority when Fitzgibbons consults the bishop and is told that O'Malley is now in fact his superior.

O'Malley had not told him this, preferring to spare him any emotional hurt, though it of course made O'Malley's work much more difficult. Their personal conflicts play out as a clear father-son type of relationship, and they end only when the father figure realizes that the time has come for him to hand over the reins of the "family" -- St. Dominic's church, of course -- to his "son". McCarey and the actors beautifully display the mixture of pride and melancholy in the handover of authority: Fitzgibbons is initially humiliated by it, but ultimately is proud of the fine man the Church has raised up to replace him. . . .

Continued at Karnick on Culture, here.

In the tank

Let’s hear it for NW suburban Gurnee neighbors of Chi Bears DT Tank Johnson for calling the cops about his pit bulls, pot smoking, and gunfire.  Ditto for Gurnee and other N. Suburban cops who knocked down his front door to get the loaded guns, etc. and rescue the two kids from accidentally getting plugged. 

Bad cess to Tank for failing to adapt to new surroundings, i.e. middle-class, law-abiding, orderly behavior as practiced in crispy-clean ‘burb as opposed to gun-totin’ SW U.S., where he came from and pot-smoking friends of which he has too many.

This is the issue here, not repressive gun or drug laws, which often deserve to be the issue.  Adapting to surroundings is the thing: when you move into a neighborhood where people’s accepted ways of doing things are new to you, study these ways and adapt, unless you reject them as incompatible with your mores and moral code.  In that case, either get out or hunker down for a long-haul squabble if not fight to the death. 

Ah, but nobody thinks Tank Johnson was making a statement for gun and drug law reform.  Nobody.  He was just sloppy about running his own household, including, by the way, his not being married to the mother of the two little kids, which says something about his casual approach to a life of orderly behavior. 

He is not a globe-trotting Hollywood star spouting geopolitical opinion and ignoring protocol which most have to undergo in adopting foreign-born kids.  Nothing so vulgar.  He is nothing but a slob with bad habits who doesn’t know how to live — not in Gurnee, anyhow, which he is in process of discovering.  Pray for Tank’s enlightenment in the matter.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Nature of Man, or: I'm feeling a little abolished lately

The great debate between the moderns and those who still cleave to classical philosophy is about the perfectability of man. The moderns think that as a species we're getting better, evolving, if you will, via politics and science. The classicists believe that man's perennial problems are fundamental and therefore permanent because they're in our nature.

So, when modern science evolves to the point where we no longer need intercourse to produce babies---oh, wait, it already has---will we forget how to do the nasty?

Not so far, if you read the tabloids, but it does give one pause and a shudder, especially if he's of the soon-to-be-obsolete male persuasion. Although certain clinics provide a receptacle and a turkey baster to salvage the proceeds of Onanism, in the forseeable future it looks like science will be able to make sperms out of eggs. The perfectable hive won't need us as drones or even Onanists, and all we'll be good for is philosophizing, starting wars, and leaving our underwear on the bathroom floor.

The Abolition of Man is what another fellow called it, in a different context but not all that different. In another generation or a hundred from now, it looks like my species would be laying me off.

(Oh well, enough of this, I'm out. A couple of games I really want to watch are coming on and I have to hunt down the remote so I can toggle back and forth. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. It's his nature.)

A Brutal Christmas Album

If you've read my article on Christmas music below, you probably noticed that the Omniculture has made itself thoroughly manifest in that area, providing an astonishing variety of music for the season, for every taste.

And some for those with no taste at all, or at least an infinite sense of humor and boundless tolerance for chaotic assaults on the senses. Everything happens in the Omniculture, as I've noted, and the following post from CybersMusic illustrates that perfectly: it documents a death metal Christmas album.

Thanks to Mike of CybersMusic for discovering this wonder of nature and troubling to listen to it. I hope that he is out of the psych ward by now, cor bless him. Here's his review:

A Brutal Christmas - The Season in Chaos

Now that we're into the 12 days of Christmas, it's time to unleash the Christmas music. When I think of this holiday season, I don't usually think of the word brutal, unless we're talking about the crowds in the shopping malls.

Thanks to my friend at work Mark, who shared this with me today. This is the funniest, yet absolutely worst idea ever! OMG, this redefines bad. Christmas songs, motorbated into death metal.

Well these eleven bands got together to cover their favorite Christmas songs and just about beat them to death. Death metal, that is. The album is A Brutal Christmas - The Season In Chaos.

Track four "Coventry Carol" is like, WTF? You call this Christmas music?!? This stuff makes me feel psychotic even when I'm straight. At least this title has the word Carol in it.

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence..." now that's a nice Christmas theme, isn't it?

I've never heard "The Little Drummer Boy" quite like this version. Tortured indeed.

The Christmas classics will never be the same again. My throat hurts after just listening to the vocals. Never mind the speed metal drumming and crunchy wall of guitars, or the throat ripping vocals.

Gotta love some of these names, too. Royal Anguish. Yep, it sure was. Tortured Conscience. More like tortured ears. Archer; Frank's Enemy; Hearken; EverSincEve; Faithbomb; Pure Defiance. Mmm, more egg nog. Throw another log on the fire. Crank it up to 11!

An amazon product review says "not for the faint of heart."

Aptly titled...A Brutal Christmas - The Season In Chaos. It could turn your red and green, black and blue.

Track Listing:
1. Angels We Have Heard on High by Archer
2. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Kekal
3. Mary Did You Know? by Royal Anguish
4. Coventry Carol (Lully Lullay) by Frank's Enemy
5. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silcen/O Come Emmanuel by Frost Like Ashes
6. The Little Drummer Boy by Tortured Conscience
7. O Come All Ye Faithful by Hearken
8. Child Messiah by Death Requisite
9. O Holy Night by EverSINcEve
10. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlement (take 2) by Faithbomb
11. Joy To The World by Pure Defiance
From Karnick on Culture.

The Sounds of Christmas

This one's rather long but it's somewhat informative and good fun, I think, so I'll begin it here and you can see the rest at its original home at Karnick on Culture. . . .

Advent is my favorite time of year, for all the conventional reasons, and Christmas music is for me an essential part of it. I listen to it as much as possible throughout the season. (I have found, alas, that this music does not work for me during other times of the year.) Unfortunately, there have not been many truly great Christmas songs composed during the past couple of decades, which means that most of the really good Christmas music is highly familiar to anyone who enjoys the airs of the season.

A shot of a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert

Given that engendering a worshipful feeling is a strong part of the appeal of Christmas music for me, the specter of boredom is of course something to be avoided at all costs. Of course, the true classics never fade. By this I refer, naturally, to the major Christmas albums of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. All of these are quite beautiful and moving. Their makers were incredibly skilled vocal performers, and their talents easily overcome whatever human flaws these gentlemen may have had. The spirit shines through.

Unfortunately, I have listened to these recordings so many times that they now tend to slide into the background rather than capturing my full attention. Hence, they can no longer supply a steady diet of Christmas cheer, though they remain wonderful complementary dishes.

Bing Crosby White Christmas album cover artOne can, of course, cleanse the musical palate with a good many other Christmas albums of similar sorts, such as those by the Beach Boys, Nat "King" Cole, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mario Lanza, Harry Connick Jr., Patti Page, Oscar Peterson, Mannheim Steamroller, Amy Grant, Dwight Yoakam, and even James Brown, Spike Jones, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. As this list suggests, there is certainly a goodly amount of Christmas music for every taste, and probably an equal quantity for those with no taste whatever. As far as I can tell, in fact, I may be the only person in the country above the age of majority who has not yet released a Christmas album. This is something I hope to rectify soon. . . .

Continued for your pleasure here. Stop by and have a cup of nog.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Torah, Uncut

Not a thesis here, let alone an argument, and let alone a coherent one. Just "musing," an activity that the great and greatly underappreciated American scientist/philosopher, the Father of Pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce said one should dedicate a few minutes to every day. Undoubtedly wise.

Aristotle was the great thinker about the order of all things. He was wrong about some and even many of them---the sun doesn't revolve around the earth, for instance. Still, he derived a lot of principles and truths by the purity of his thought alone that we still use today.

Although Western Civilization had mostly lost Aristotle, the great 12th century Jewish thinker Maimonides learned of him from the Muslims, who didn't.

Although he adored Aristotle, Moses Maimonides wrote that Aristotle's idea that the universe was eternal---always was and always had been---conflicted with Genesis. Maimonides wrote that if Aristotle were proven correct, he could live with that, but in the meantime, he'd hang with Genesis.

Ex nihilo, creation, ostensibly by Someone or Something, out of nothing.

800 or so years later, man in his scientific progress detected proof of a Big Bang. How 'bout that? Genesis was right after all. Weird.

Now, one can poke through the Mosaic Law and find a utilitarian explanation for say, keeping kosher. Some bad pig or rotten clams could do you in, and damned quick.

But the circumcision thing seems a bit perverse. It's reasonable to conclude that developing a layer of callous on the most sensitive part of a fellow's favorite protrusion decreases his sexual pleasure. But what would be the point of that? Genesis urges that man be fruitful and multiply, and the ancient Jews were not Puritans. (Sex is the proximate cause of human multiplication. You could look it up.)

Science, which is often synonymous with reason and fact, kicks up again lately in support of the Torah. In fact, the results were so exciting, clear, bold, and important that the researchers felt morally obligated to announce their findings immediately without waiting for further testing and peer review:

In the circumcized community, the transmission rate of the HIV virus seems to be chopped at least in half (and I suspect it's trimmed even more than that, as individual embarassments take a little off the top of surveys). Why, doesn't a tree live longer, render more fruit, and be less vulnerable to infection if it's pruned?

It stands to reason. Science and reason strike again, yet somehow the Bible got there first.

Not arguing, just musing, and wondering. Awed, perhaps. That's one Good Book, in a pragmatic sort of way.

The Inestimable Larry Miller

Larry Miller as Principal Jindraike in Disney's Max Keeble's Big Move - 2001Larry Miller is one of the funniest comedians around. Rather like a younger Bob Newhart but with a bit more of an edge, the balding, pudgy Miller has made a name for himself as a comic character actor in numerous movies and tv shows, but where he made his name was as a hilariously funny standup comedian who applied traditional morality and sound common sense to our crazy Omniculture society, a place that is simultaneously puritanical about progressive political shibboleths (such as tobacco, fatty foods, and economic freedom) and aggressively nonjudgmental about self-destructive personal behaviors such as sexual weirdness, drug abuse, willful ignorance, and atrocious manners.

Miller caught the inconsistencies and incongruities of that condition admirably, as in his memorable monologue about the five levels of alcohol drinking while on a night out, available here.

Miller has also become an accomplished writer of comic essays, primarily for The Weekly Standard's webpage, and he has a new book out, called Spoiled Rotten America, which sounds like great fun and a nice Christmas gift for your favorite blogger.

Comedy writer Warren Bell reviews it here. Here's an excerpt from the review:

Larry Miller is profound. He possesses an ability to look deep within a thing, whether it’s the racial divide in America, or the surpassing greatness of Lou Costello, and bring forth a richness of understanding, a new way of seeing it, or maybe a surprising and funny and sweet observation. His book is packed with laugh-out-loud moments, but they surround a wonderful, refreshing take on life, a traditionalist’s view that dares to note (for instance) that men are given to wander, but shouldn’t, because if they’re married, they promised not to. In the midst of a several-chapter rumination on adultery and the male libido in general, he hits on the Unified Moral Theory: “There’s no free lunch.”

Everything has a price, up front or later. That’s not cynical, it’s liberating, and a big step toward individual accountability, responsibility, and loyalty – which, if you think about it, is the whole point of the Ten Commandments to begin with. In fact, “There’s no free lunch” is a pretty good secular reduction of numbers 1 through 10 right there.

And here's a very brief excerpt from one of Miller's Weekly Standard Online pieces, discussing how he gives haircuts to his sons:

There was hair piled and sifted over everything in the room except for one place: the newspaper I had laid out. It was still as clean as when I slid it out of its womb that morning. It was amazing. That section couldn't have had less human hair on it if I'd left it wrapped on the driveway. The fact that it was also the section that has all the toupee and hair-restoration ads was not lost on me.

You can find Miller's Weekly Standard pieces here, and get more info on his book here.

Conan the Influential Barbarian

John J. Miller of National Review has put together a nice overview of Robert E. Howard's "Conan the Barbarian" tales, for the Wall Street Journal. Miller notes that Conan has been a highly popular character in the original pulp tales and subsequent comic books, movies, and simply as a widely known fictional character. Miller's article is well worth reading as an introduction to this important literary phenomenon.

Comic book cover image of Conan the Barbarian
Conan was the muscular, aggressive hero of 21 narratives the lonely, unhappy, Texas-born and -based Howard wrote in the pulp era. Miller does a good job of describing the character and his influence:

With Conan, Howard created a protagonist whose name is almost as familiar as Tarzan's. In his influential essay on Howard, Don Herron credits the Texan with begetting the "hard-boiled" epic hero, and doing for fantasy what Dashiell Hammett did for detective fiction. Suddenly, the world--even a make-believe one such as Conan's Hyboria--was rendered seamier and more violent, and Howard described it in spare rather than lush prose.

Conan has a knack for locating damsels in distress, but he is no knight in shining armor who piously obeys a code of chivalry. Instead, he is a black-haired berserker from a wild and wintry land called Cimmeria. He has little patience for social conventions he doesn't understand. "The warm intimacies of small, kindly things, the sentiments and delicious trivialities that make up so much of civilized men's lives were meaningless to him," wrote Howard in "Beyond the Black River." Conan occasionally thinks his way out of a problem, but more often he reaches for a weapon and slashes his way out. "There's nothing in the universe cold steel won't cut," he boasts.

To this I would add the following brief observation:

The bleak, existential approach that Miller correctly attributes to the stories and which Herron traces to Hammett is a byproduct of the post-World War I culture in which writers looked at traditional values of honor and concluded that they were no longer viable in the cruel world that had been revealed by that horrendous war.

They were wrong, of course, in that the new world needed those values more than ever before, but that was the thinking, and the Conan tales reflected the violence of the trench wars superbly. They ironically brought the modern world to a mass audience through a series of adventures set in an ancient world. That is the kind of achievement pulp fiction can accomplish.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Black Cultural Crisis

The esteemed editor of this fine blog saved me from my ignorance. I had written a piece about an article of Stanley Crouch thinking he is a liberal. Boy was I wrong. Not sure how that happened. I know I’ve read stuff by him before, but for some reason I had liberal on the brain. What he says would have been astounding coming from a real liberal, but it’s merely fantastic coming from him. So we’ll consider this take two. I came across a bio piece in Salon from 1999 that gives some good background on what makes Mr. Crouch tick. I’m glad he’s on our side in the culture wars. Here is what the author says about the label that Crouch might carry:

Although routinely and incorrectly described as a black conservative, Crouch calls himself a "radical pragmatist." To the uninitiated, his philosophy might best be described as rigidly humanist. It centers on an unsentimental vision wherein we must fight the siren temptation to obsess about our (mostly superficial) differences, lest we miss the chance to embrace our (very real and very numerous) commonalities.

Now to my updated take on his most current missive . . .

As we’ve seen more and more black liberals are finally speaking the truth about the problems with black culture. Stanley Crouch has been doing this for years, and it could be argued he paved the way for black liberals to finally begin admitting the truth about the sickness of much of black culture. In a piece this week he writes about hip hop culture, and the degradation it promotes. Even better is how he calls white liberals and the black middle class on the carpet for their silence in the face of this scourge besetting black youth.

That was part of what has surely become a cultural crisis in which young black men adorn themselves with surface trappings and take on the obnoxious vulgarity of thugs in order to meet the expectations of young black women who have embraced their own degradation, seeming to find it sexy. That degradation is expressed in the misogynistic doggerel that dominates popular hip hop recordings.

Added to this low-lying mix are the supposedly sympathetic white liberals, who are more than happy to submit gutlessly to the black middle class. These white liberals have been intellectually hustled into believing that the inarticulate thug and the freelance slut are young black people in their natural state.

The black middle class, terrified of being defined as a group that kowtows to "white values," does not tend to have the nerve to stand up to this crabbed vision of life or ethnic "authenticity."

But, at the end of the ride, the ones losing and left holding the bag are neither white liberals nor the black middle class. The tragic losers are those black kids who believe that their true identity is achieved through illiteracy, thuggish behavior, dropping out of school and psychologically ingesting the subterranean attitudes toward women that are espoused by pimps. They are sloughing through a spiritual sewer, incapable of knowing just how much it stinks.

Wow. Those are some strong words that black elites cannot blow off so easily today. Bill Cosby, who several years ago who created “controversy” by saying things exactly like this, opened the door for others to admit the problem. It is likely that blacks like Crouch who have been preaching in the wilderness for years are finally getting through.

This is a profound condemnation of the very essence of liberalism. For at the core of modern liberalism is a kind of antinomianism, a conviction that to be truly “authentic” mankind, to use that antiquated phrase, need not be encumbered by constrictive moral laws. Of course nobody can live that way, but their hypocrisy never seems to bother them. So white liberals and the black middle class (90% of whom embrace a liberal Democrat Party) can vicariously live their amoral secular philosophy through black, and many white, youth.

Unfortunately turning around an entire culture is a very difficult thing (whether it be sick or infected), to state the obvious, and as long as liberalism eschews traditional morality and religion taking on hip hop and the black underclass will resemble spitting into the wind. Talk as we know is cheap, so it will take more than talk to change things. We also know a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (that’s a biblical allusion for you liberals out there), and the noxious fruit of liberalism has shown us these last several decades just how destructive is that tree.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I have a new paper on the effects of federal price negotiations for pharmaceuticals, as advocated by many of the Democrats (and others) for the new Medicare Part D benefit. You can see it here.
Comments welcome.

When the End Is the Means

Stephen Murmer has found a new way, perhaps a defining 21st century way, to suffer for his art.

Mr. Murmer is an art teacher at a public high school in Richmond, Virginia, by all accounts an amiable and popular instructor. Mr. Murmer is also "Stan Murmur, the *ss-Painter," who dunks various below-the-belt parts of his body into paint, smears them on canvas, and sells the creations online for hundreds of dollars apiece. (The sudden notoriety has caused bandwidth problems for his site, so don't all click the link at once, OK??)

Both students and faculty have known about the Professor Buttbrush alter ego for several years, and despite a certain unease no official reprimand was delivered, until this past week. Apparently, the school administration just became aware that "Stan Murmer" had appeared on a cable TV show to discuss and demonstrate his, uh, unique talent, and that moreover the clip was attracting attention on YouTube.

Mr. Murmer has been suspended with pay from his teaching duties while an inquiry is underway; the ACLU hovers above the scene squeaking about freedom of expression; the students find the whole controversy "kind of retarded" and no doubt Stan Murmur is going to become much better known and sell a lot more paintings once Jay Leno gets hold of this.

So the story combines several perennial TRC themes: the Omniculture, in its iconic YouTube incarnation; the duty of role models in a culture teetering on the edge of degeneracy; personal freedom vs. responsibility; and the possibility of a long string of barely tolerable puns and double entendres.

I'm posting this without a real opinion one way or the other. On the one hand, my high school art teacher was a prune-faced old scold with the personality of a stalag commandant and the creative scope of a rutabaga. She spent her instruction time ripping up students' work and redoing it in her own image, and in the six years I attended Westfield Jr.-Sr. High she never once unloaded the pottery kiln without cracking every single object inside. I would have traded her for Mr. Groucho Thong in a heartbeat. On the other hand, I had to admit relief that my daughter's art teacher spends her offtime serving in the Navy Reserve and we are unlikely to be treated to a look at her panties, on YouTube or anywhere else.

In an age when Chris Ofili's elephant dung painting is the hit of the Tate, painting pictures of tulips with your rear doesn't seem that cheeky.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Infected or Sick?

Recent exchanges here at The Reform Club have given your Curmudgeon to think, for the first time in a long while, about the gray and misty borderland between a sick culture -- i.e., one that's laboring under an explicit and undeniable cultural malady that could eventuate in disfigurement, disability, or death -- and one that's been infected by a toxic agent but has not yet begun to suffer visibly from it. The distinction is important, for many an infection merely strengthens its host without ever causing him the least inconvenience. The subject hasn't gotten a lot of hard thought, despite the passions cultural pustules can raise.

Your Curmudgeon intends to press hard on the biological analogy. Analogies are indifferently useful in policy analysis, but indispensable to cultural analysis, because a culture is itself an analogical conception. There is no object in the material realm to which one can point and say, "There's my culture. Like it?" Nor is a culture sufficiently abstract to be classed with items of pure logic; it invariably unites a profusion of physical and informational objects, which vary in innumerable ways, with a profusion of private and public attitudes toward them, which vary at least as widely.

Though there will undoubtedly be objections to any definition of something so diffuse, one must at least attempt to define a culture before proposing to assess its health. Here is your Curmudgeon's definition:

A society's culture is the union of its perceptible themes, motifs, and constraints in all aesthetic and semi-aesthetic matters with the attitudes toward them that prevail among its members and its sources of authority.

To this let us add conceptions of cultural infection and sickness:

A culture is infected if it has accepted elements which, under certain conditions, could cause sickness, whether physical, intellectual, or emotional, in members of its supporting society. A culture is sick if its dominant elements conduce to such sickness.

Yes, such a formulation raises important questions with non-obvious answers. For example, "intellectually sick" is a term one might never have encountered before happening upon this screed. Nevertheless, it has a clear meaning. As the intellect is our tool for acquiring useful knowledge about the laws that govern the world, an intellect is justly called sick if it is incapable of reaching correct conclusions about cause and effect. Intellects afflicted by an unshakeable belief in magic are therefore sick. "Cargo cults" are a typical real-world case.

But there are more pressing questions than that one. Is it really possible for a culture, defined in the fashion above, to induce significant maladies in individuals immersed in it? Since Man possesses free will, it should be possible to withstand anything non-material the world throws at one, no?

In theory, yes. In practice, not everyone possesses the strength or the endurance to hold off a culture-borne infection. The power of the culture arises from its ubiquity and its persistence; in many ways it's merely peer pressure writ large.

Consider the situation of a man bathed in a sea of disease bacilli. Perhaps he's entered a hospital whose sanitary standards are indifferent or worse; perhaps his family is currently down with "something that's going around." If his exposure is prolonged and his immune systems are not perfect, something is likely to establish a beachhead within him. Depending on the size of that initial colony and the stresses upon him, the invading bacilli might or might not succeed in multiplying sufficiently to cause him visible symptoms of illness: discomfort, fever, congestion, skin rashes, lesions, hallucinations, disorientation, or death. It's at that point that he would be called sick, but even if he were sufficiently strong to withstand the microbial invasion without ever displaying a symptom, it would still be valid to say he'd been infected.

It is defensible to say that American culture has been infected by several toxic elements:

  • Pointless prurience in art and fashion;
  • Sadomasochism as a motif in sexual depictions;
  • Entertainments that slander freedom, capitalism, and love of country;
  • "Art" that categorically rejects beauty as one of its objects;
  • "Music" that celebrates social ills from discourtesy to violent hatred;
  • Innumerable fictions and dramatic works that foster undeserved guilt and self-hatred, condemn procreation and undermine family feeling, promote hostility between the sexes, portray large categories of persons as intrinsically evil, or present ugly futures as inevitable.

No doubt this list could be extended, but the point has been made. Nor is it disputable that the psychic pressures engendered by such themes and motifs do afflict some Americans, particularly our younger set, to their detriment. The remaining question is one of degree: How many seriously afflicted infectees do we require to deem the culture itself as sick, rather than merely infected?

Questions of degree are endlessly debatable; just assemble a group of any size and try to get unanimity from it on what constitutes poverty. But many would allow that the proliferation of visible self-mutilations is at least disturbing. Many would allow that a youth population that seeks out entertainments specifically for their damaging qualities has some severe problems. And many would allow that a public sector that provides material support to ugly, offensive art, to "documentaries" that slander the nation itself, or to expressive works that condemn the principles upon which the society is based, is a danger sign of no small importance. Such infections are already claiming victims in significant numbers.

Your Curmudgeon would say that our culture is sick for one reason above all others: thanks to cultural infections of the sort tabulated above, nearly half of us have no confidence in our nation's ability to meet our needs, satisfy our desires, or uphold our vision of justice without abandoning its founding principles. A large number of Americans completely reject the philosophical basis of their country, for no better reason than that major cultural trends have imbedded that rejection as a core theme. How American society can continue to function, given so great a number of disaffiliated participants and hangers-on, is a huge question, upon whose answer the future of the nation will depend.

How parishes thrive

Rev. Jack Wall is leaving Old St. Pat’s in Chicago after 24 years.  He found four people when he arrived, now there are 3,000.  It hosts the famed “ass mass,” attended by spouse-seeking young Catholics.  It’s solvent and thriving, which is no small thing in our time.  Wall is off to the Extension (bishops’ missionary) Society, where his exquisite marketing skills should find an outlet.

Yes, marketing.  Wall has not let his light remain under a bushel, to adapt his Leader’s phrase.  Not only has he worked hard, beginning by hands-and-knees scrubbing of an encrusted rectory-kitchen floor.  He has demonstrated entrepreneurial shrewdness of the first order, finding a niche and filling it.

A, he has ridden the Irish-heritage pony hard.  The place reeks of Celtic ambience and draws disaffected or wandering Irish people from far and wide.  B, he has made it a hot gathering place for the young, whom he dispatched sometimes to various help-neighbor works such as tutoring kids at nearby, historically all-black St. Malachy’s parish on the West Side — historically not since its start, which was as Irish as St. Pat’s but declared black in the wake of black migration.  C, he has raised money and made important political connections, such as with the incumbent Mayor Daley and family.

None of it would matter if he and the other staff did not preach and teach and work hard for their own people, inspiring them to work for others.  But neither would this preaching etc. have mattered without the marketing.

His is the first of the Chicago Triumvirate of niche-marketed parishes which have been immensely successful in the last 30 years.  St. Sabina on the South Side is a black cathedral.  Rev. Michael Pfleger has made of that once-Irish bastion a gathering place for the well-heeled but race-conscious black community.  Al Sharpton has “preached” there (scare quotes by me).  So has “Minister” Farrakhan, who we presume did not make his crack about what’s under the Pope’s cassock.  But believe me, apart from these distractions from The Message, that St. Sabina jumps with Christian-related noise and joy.  Solomon in all his glory had not an orchestra like Sabina’s.

The other of the Three is St. John Cantius, whose modern founder and pastor, Rev. Frank Philips, who had been sent there by his Resurrectionist superiors to close the place — farsighted and idealistic they were, indeed — went to Wall for advice.  About niche marketing of The Word, to be sure, though Fr. Frank did not use the phrase when he told me about seeing Wall.  St. John C. is traditionalist, has had Latin masses (in addition to English) from the start of its renovation by Fr. F.  It has become a mecca for Catholics enamored of old-time Catholicism who also like splendid music.

All three churches are grand and old and sparklingly renovated.  All three parishes are busting with Catholics.  God hath wrought this in part through marketing skills of his ministers.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Apocalypto Opens Strong

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, reviewed earlier on this site, opened strong this weekend, leading the movie box office race with a take of $14.2 million. That is much less than the opening weekend take of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which brought in $83.8 million in its first weekend in 2004.

Overall box office was down 25 percent from the same weekend last year, when The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe opened. However, the relatively strong performance of Gibson's movie, which has no big stars and is set in the past and spoken in a defunct foreign language translated in subtitles, suggests that his recent run-in with the law and controversial statements made while under the influence of alcohol did not harm the film's appeal.

In fact, the publicity surrounding the incident and Gibson's contriteness may actually have spurred some interest in the film, according to an industry analyst quoted by the Associated Press. AP notes that the film's appeal was fairly broad: "Disney reported that Gibson's Apocalypto drew solid crowds across-the-board, with movie-goers equally split between men and women and the core of the audience ranging from 18 to 45."

From Karnick on Culture.

Augusto Pinochet, Rest In Torment

The AP writes quite approvingly that former Chilean strongman Gen. Pinochet is morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead.

He's not only merely dead, he's really most sincerely dead.

I wonder if they'll write an equally bad review when his fellow cutthroat Fidel Castro finally croaks.

Fat chance. You put a "People's Republic of" or some such nonsense in front of a country's name and give them Universal Crap Healthcare, and you're a saint, not a tyrant, no matter who you waste.

(Mitt Romney recently figgered out this li'l fact, instituting a healthcare program as governor of the People's Republic of Massachusetts. If he weren't a Republican and a Mormon, the AP already would have anointed him heir apparent for January '09. But Romney has never disappeared anybody, which is why Massachusettsians, in their 1994 US Senate election wisdom, went for Ted Kennedy instead. By comparison, Romney is a bit of a slacker.)

Sunday, Sunday . . .

Soon it will be Christmas Day. . . .

Mary Ann gave me communion this morning with serious face. She did not greet me as if I had just arrived with six paying customers at her restaurant, grinning and seeking strong eye contact. I took the host with gratitude, to her as well as to the Savior who died for my sins.

Fr. John M. began his sermon with his walking the Brooklyn Bridge recently. I related to this, having walked it some months back myself. He pictured a sort of community forming, people going in the same direction as dedicated Christians do. Alas, my mind wandered as a cloud. Reader, I fell off that bridge before Fr. J. got to the end of his sermon. Maybe next time . . .

We prayed for those who "accepted the call to lead the church," and for a dreadful moment, my hearing failed me, and I thought the lady said "leave." That will be the day, when we make that prayer. However, the devil was at work in me in other ways, leading me to ponder those who angle and play cards right to make bishop. There have always been those among us. In fact, Our Leader warned us, did he not? Beware wolves in sheep's clothing?

Meanwhile, the parish came up in the black this year, by $51,000, while supporting the parish school, which had almost closed 18 months ago. The school's $198,000 deficit was borne by the parish, or -- for financial report purposes -- the church. Of the three categories, church, school, and religious education (of public school kids), only the church is in the black. Which is another way of saying that the parish's education ministry has been taken on by the parish.

And why not? Andrew Greeley, featured in a Sun-Times interview story today with the Lutheran church historian Martin Marty, once inveighed against Catholics who were ready to jettison parish schools. He convinced me but hasn't said anything about it lately, not in his newspaper columns at least, where George W. Bush and the Iraq war has been his focus. He and Marty were born on the same day, Sun-Times tells us. It was a good day for liberals.

They are called "icons" in a head, by the way. But Chi Trib uses "icon" today for the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose icons (images) are widespread in the Mexican community. If Greeley and Marty are icons, what the heck is the Virgin?

To return to preaching, where we began, Fr. Kilbridge, O.P., at St. Vincent's (another parish) the other day, preaching on the Immaculate Conception of that very Virgin, Mary -- out of Gualupe or otherwise -- quoted Wordsworth. In a throwaway reference, Fr. K. called her "our tainted nature's solitary boast." Boy. Here I am used to truly pedestrian references from the pulpit -- and I do not refer to walking the Brooklyn Bridge, which has great possibilities -- and this man quotes Wordsworth. W. was no Catholic, of course. He used the phrase in his poem, "The Virgin":

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast; . . .

W. died in 1950, four years before the pope "defined" the Immaculate Conception as a sure thing. No connection, we may be sure, except that W.'s using that language lends credence to the widespread belief that founded the definition.