Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Tribute to John Dickson Carr

John Dickson CarrThis is the last day in which I can decently mark the centennial of the birth of the truly great detection fiction writer John Dickson Carr. Carr flourished as a writer during the 1930s and '40s and wrote numerous classic detective novels and short stories, continuing to write until the 1970s. With Doyle, Chesterton, Christie, Queen, and Sayers, Carr is one of the greatest of all mystery writers.

Carr was the master of the "impossible crime" story and its best-known subset, the locked-room mystery. Carr's narratives are fiendishly deceptive and puzzling, yet he leaves the crucial clues right out there for the reader to see. Yet we never do, and the detective's revelation of the killer nearly always comes as a big surprise.

Carr's stories tend to include a bit of overly cute romance between some young couple unique to each book or story, and he has a habit of piling on melodramatic language at times (primarily in the dialogue) and setting obviously artificial rhetorical cliffhangers at the end of some chapters, but these are minor inconveniences that detract only a little from the overall excellence of most of his books and stories.

A lovely artistic rendition of John Dickson Carr's character Dr. Gideon FellHis achievement rests largely on two series. One, written under his own name, featured Dr. Gideon Fell, a delightfully larger than life English detective modeled on G. K. Chesterton and Dr. Samuel Johnson. Fell's exploits began with the splendid 1933 novel Hag's Nook, and extended through 23 novels and several short stories, most of which are of very high quality indeed. Highlights are The Mad Hatter Mystery, The Blind Barber, and The Hollow Man (aka The Three Coffins).

The Hollow Man is truly one of the great classics of the genre, and includes Dr. Fell's famous "locked room lecture," in which he tells the reader how to solve locked-room puzzles, in a novel in which the central issue is a murder in a locked room. Of course, even after reading the lecture, no sane reader can actually solve the puzzle anyway.

Although Carr was an American, born in western Pennsylvania, his detectives were predominantly English, and his second great series, written under the pen name Carter Dickson, features Sir Henry Merrivale as detective. These are rather more humorous on the whole than the Fell mysteries, and are indeed often farcical, usually in a highly entertaining and likeable way. (Thanks are due to the late Wyatt James, an enthusiastic and astute reader of Carr, for my capsule description of Merrivale.)

Merrivale, a bald, stout, Churchillian English baronet descended from Cavaliers, is one of the great characters of mystery fiction. Smoking vile cigars and dressed like a villain in a cheap melodrama, Merrivale sweeps grandly through each story, arguing forcefully with his friends and staying about fifty-five steps ahead of both narrator and reader. And the mysteries are often as brain-roastingly puzzling as those in the Fell stories.

Among my favorite Merrivales are The Plague Court Murders, The White Priory Murders, and the delightfully zany The Curse of the Bronze Lamp. One of Carr's very best novels and one of my personal favorites is a Merrivale: The Judas Key. It is one of the most Carrian of all of Carr's novels, and it is one of the greatest mystery novels of all time, in my view.

Carr's first detective character was Dr. Henri Benconlin of the Paris police. The Bencolin novels are highly atmospheric, often almost gothic in tone, and very tense and spooky at their best. The Corpse in the Waxworks is quite impressive. Another Carr detective who was featured in a series of short stories was Colonel March; his exploits are collected in the book The Department of Queer Complaints and in the excellent 1991 collection Merrivale, March, and Murde, edited by Carr biographer Douglas Greene.

Greene's biography of Carr, The Man Who Explained Miracles, is one of the greatest biographies of a mystery fiction writer ever produced. Perhaps the best, in fact.

John Dickson CarrCarr also wrote several excellent mysteries set in historical times; most of these appeared during the 1950s and '60. Among my favorites in this group are The Bride of Newgate, The Devil in Velvet, Fire, Burn!, Most Secret, and The Demoniacs. These are all great fun, often with a good deal of swashbuckling action not found in Carr's other writings.

In addition to all this, Carr wrote several novels and a like number of short stories featuring non-series detectives. Among these are a couple of my favorite Carr novels: The Nine Wrong Answers and Patrick Butler for the Defense. Also among these is my favorite of all of Carr's novels: The Burning Court. The latter is one of the top five mystery novels of all time, in my opinion.

Carr also wrote numerous scripts for radio, and the excellent mystery publisher Crippen and Landru has published a volume of these, Speak of the Devil.

It's a pity that Carr's writings have fallen into relatively obscurity in the three decades since his death. He is truly one of the very greatest mystery writers, and his writings still give great pleasure to those blessed enough to know about them.

One thing that may have contributed to this undeserved obscurity is the unfortunate fact that few of Carr's writings have been translated to television or film. In the 1960s the BBC produced a fondly remembered series starring Boris Karloff as Col. March, which alas I haven't seen and would dearly like to get a hold of. Other than that, there haven't been many adaptations of Carr for the visual media. Some enterprising British or American producer would do well to mine Carr's rich vein of great mysteries and bring these tales to a new audience while taking advantage of some really superb, atmospheric story material. Carr's narratives are ripe for the picking, and it's about time someone who appreciates great mystery fiction brought him to a new generation of readers.

You could certainly do much worse than to make a resolution to read some Carr this year. Start here and here.

Strongly recommended!

From Karnick on Culture.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holland's Post-Secular Future

A very interesting article on a possible religious revival in the Netherlands. Two things to note in particular. First, that immigration into the Netherlands has been more Christian than Muslim. (I've had friends tell me about attending churches where African and Asian immigrants had come in and bought old liberal churches and turned them into vibrant evangelical ones). Second (and this isn't in the article) in spite of the fact that the Dutch are and have long been the most secular of European countries, they have also historically been quite religious. In the late 19th century, the Dutch were the country who had the highest percentage of individuals with no religious affiliation and the country with very devout (and politically powerful) conservative Catholic and Calvinist communities. Perhaps something similar might emerge in the 21st century...perhaps.

Scary True Believers

Dan Drezner has a nice round-up of the blogosphere dustup regarding Ann Althouse's attendance at a Liberty Fund conference and her horror at discovering that there are people who really, really believe things. Really.

Now, I have my libertarian (or what our STK would call classical liberal) leanings and I'm instinctively unsympathetic to someone like Althouse who bursts into tears on learning that some young woman doesn't quite appreciate the importance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But I have to say that, having been to a few Liberty Fund conferences myself, it is true that you can run across people who are so committed to their ideas that they really lose their capacity for judgment. I was at one where a young woman opined that the people of North Korea must not mind having the government they did. Since outcomes reflect "revealed preferences", they must be ok living a collective gulag. After violating the Liberty Fund rules (by talking out of turn) and calling her view "the dumbest thing I've ever heard someone say", I didn't think I'd get invited back to another conference.

I did, though, and I'm happy to say that in general, that young woman has been a minority and the LF conferences I've been a part of have been delightful weekends of serious, thoughtful, and invigorating discussion. Indeed, they are places where people take ideas and texts seriously and truly try to understand what some of our forbears have written - much more so than any university campus I've been on (and I've been on way too many). It's a shame Professor Althouse couldn't seemingly handle such an environment.

(As a side note, the incident is reflective, I think, of how much contemporary liberalism sees its moral capital tied up in the 1960s Civil Rights movement.)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Theology or Character?

Richard John Neuhaus responds a bit to this piece by Slate's Jacob Weisberg over at FT basically suggesting that Mitt Romney should be disqualified by voters from serious consideration for the presidency unless he denounces some central Mormon tenets. Neuhaus suggests, in response:

Mr. Weisberg is less than civil, but one may well share much of his evaluation of the LDS belief system without excluding the possibility of supporting Mitt Romney. (For my misgivings about the LDS, see “Is Mormonism Christian?” in the March 2000 issue of First Things.) First, what would people think of someone who abandoned the religion of his forebears in order to advance his political career? (Mr. Romney is apparently having difficulties enough in explaining some of his political changes.) Second, do we really want to exclude from high office millions of citizens born into a religion whose tenets strike most Americans as bizarre, especially when there is no evidence that those peculiar tenets would have a bearing on their public actions? Third, candidates should be judged on the basis of their character, competence, and public positions. That one was born a Mormon is not evidence of a character flaw. That one remains a Mormon may be evidence of theological naiveté or indifference. But we are not electing the nation’s theologian. And, it should be noted, there are very intelligent Mormons who are doing serious intellectual work to move their tradition toward a closer approximation of Christian orthodoxy, which is a welcome development.

In any event, Romney’s being a Mormon may be a factor but it should not be the decisive factor in supporting or opposing his candidacy. Once again, in politics the question frequently comes down to, Compared to what? Depending upon the character, competence, and positions of the other candidate or candidates, it is conceivable that one might support Mitt Romney.

Please note that this is not an endorsement. It is a response to Jacob Weisberg and others who would use religion to oppose a candidate for the presidency in a manner not substantively different from their use of religion in opposing the present incumbent of the White House. One need only recall the innumerable rants against a president who is born again, prays daily, thinks he has a hotline to God, and is bent upon replacing our constitutional order with a theocracy. In the game book of unbridled partisanship, any stick will do for beating up on the opposition.

This seems to me a bit tougher of a call than RJN seems to make it out to be, mostly because I don't think you can distinguish quite so distinctly between a candidate's "theology" and his (or her) "character" and while theology might or might not matter politically (does the Spirit come from just the Father or the Father and the Son?) surely character does. Most presidents get defined by quite unexpected events and they are judged by how they handle them, at least part of which depends on their judgment, their capacity for moral and practical reflection, their character. Now, as I said, some theological questions don't show us much of anything about character, but surely others do. If you're committed to believing things that are flatly untrue what might this suggest about your judgment in other things? Suppose a candidate is such a biblical literalist that he thinks the sun actually revolves around the earth? Would you vote for such a man or woman? I would be very loathe to do so, thinking that such commitments reveal something unsatisfactory about his (or her) judgment. (On the flip side, just to be fair here, I would be equally suspect of someone who embraced the mushy-minded view that all religions are just different paths to God, as if the very real and very serious distinctions were just so much fluff above the "real" stuff "we all" believe.)

So what does this say about Romney? Well, it's unclear - he hasn't really addressed this yet. Does he really believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet who translated a new Revelation? Does he really think there was an enormous civilization in North America that vanished without so much a trace? If so, that seems reason enough to at least wonder about his judgment. That doesn't mean, though, that it's a smack-down case for thinking his judgment thereby necessarily bad. I'm not quite sure how to draw those lines, but I don't think RJN gives the question enough credence.

King Jr. (But No Memorial)

The passing of former President Leslie Lynch King Jr. goes unremarked, because he is better known by his adoptive name, Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr., which he spelled as Rudolph, perhaps because he had a red nose.

Of course, he did accede to the Presidency because people said: "Let's lynch the king." The king said, "Nix on that." And Gerald was resigned to his fate.

But the object lesson is this. Had Leslie Lynch King Sr., the wealthy wool merchant from Wyoming, been an honorable mensch, he would have honorable mention in every history book, because his eponymous son became President. Instead house painter Gerald Rudolff Ford Sr. gets that honor.

Chew on that as they drop the ball for the new year and resolve: in this new year I will not drop the ball.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bobby Knight and the Power of the Press

Never a silent KnightTomorrow night Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight goes out to break Dean Smith's record for lifetime victories by an NCAA men's basketball coach. Knight has been vilified for years by the press, and of course some of his behavior has certainly earned rebuke. However, as Michael Ledeen points out in National Review Online, the press tends to hold Knight to a higher standard than it sets for most coaches. For example, Ledeen notes,
Yes, he’s got a temper. I have never known a winning coach in any spot who did not have a terrible temper. A few years ago I went to the Final Four in Indianapolis and watched Wisconsin lose to Florida. The Wisconsin coach was named Bennett, and everybody loved him. At a certain point one of his players committed a stupid foul and he called timeout, walked onto the court, and let fly at this poor kid with a torrent of abuse that would have made Knight blush (which is saying something). We were sitting two rows down from the Arctic Circle, and we heard every epithet. But there was no mention of it in the press coverage, because the hunting pack had decided the guy was lovable.
That is a thoroughly correct observation, and I'll add the "why" to it. The real reason the press go after Knight so aggressively is not his infamous actions such as chucking a player under the chin during a game or throwing a chair, unpleasant as those incidents may look on television.

The press will forgive even things such as that—consider the kind of rancid behavior we've seen on football and baseball fields that has been entirely forgotten by the press.

But what the media won't forgive or forget is being exposed as ignorant. And that that is what Knight consistently does in his postgame press conferences and other public forums. Knight treats the press just as he does his players: when they do something stupid, he tells them so, in no uncertain terms.

His press conferences are often hilarious, as he takes ignorant writers to task for asking absurdly stupid questions.

Knight is the one sports figure who does this consistently, and he has paid the price in public scorn. Yet he doesn't appear to mind at all. Here is a man who does what he thinks is right and doesn't give a crud who thinks otherwise. That's a very masculine way to act, and Knight makes no apologies for it. That's another reason many in the press fear and dislike him: he's not the type to worry about other people's opinions and back down under fire. Instead, he fights back.

That's what men do, and it's something our modern mores find unacceptable. That's a pity. We need more examples of fortitude like Bob Knight.

Congratulations to Coach Knight on tying the record for victories. I wish him continued success.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Christmas Derangement

From Yahoo News:

Israel agreed Monday to remove some of the military roadblocks that have hindered Palestinian travel in the West Bank, one of several gestures aimed at boosting moderate President Mahmoud Abbas in his bitter struggle with the militant Islamic Hamas.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved streamlining checkpoints and removing roadblocks "to strengthen moderate (Palestinian) elements," according to a statement from his office. Olmert has already offered $100 million in frozen tax income to Abbas and indicated he might release some Palestinian prisoners.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said inspections would be eased at 16 checkpoints, and 27 unmanned roadblocks would be removed. Also, crossings for people and cargo between Gaza and Israel would be upgraded "in order to accelerate the economy in Gaza to lessen the poverty and despair."

This may appear as insane to you, Gentle Reader, as it does to your Curmudgeon. But, needless to say, it does not appear insane to Ehud Olmert. Why?

Heads of state habitually favor other heads of state, including heads of hostile states and pseudo-states such as "Palestine," over other forms of life. It's midway between professional courtesy and a fantasy that elected officials are inherently supreme over their peoples. Olmert probably believes he can buttress terrorist-turned-politician Abu Mazen -- Abbas's cognomen from his terrorist days -- in a fashion that will conduce to the security of his own consitutents. But has he reckoned with the hostility of HAMAS, or with that of the many thousands of Palestinians who voted HAMAS into overwhelming power? Is his belief in the supremacy of political authority as firm as that?

Possibly. And let's be candid: Olmert could be right even against such formidable odds. But he's playing high-stakes poker with the lives of Israeli citizens, when the evidence is strong that the dominant sentiment in the West Bank is viruently hostile to Israel. If the slackening of security eventuates in an increase in Israeli deaths at Palestinians' hands, will he take responsibility for the outcome? Will he admit that his gambit has failed and should be retracted?

Admitting their mistakes is another thing heads of state don't do terribly often.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas from the Moon

(The below was our blog's message from this time in 2005. Just a year has passed, but remembering the important things, as these men did, seems longer ago and even farther away, and even kind of silly. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all those here gathered, and may we smile today, give thanks, and be inspired in the coming year to perpetuate their silliness...)

It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:

Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

It is good. God bless us, every one.

Friday, December 22, 2006

How Rudy the Social Liberal Can Sell Himself to Conservatives

As we all know Rudy Guiliani’s chances of being elected in Republican primaries appear to be slim because he’s a social liberal. And as we also all know, Republican primary voters are overwhelmingly socially conservative. Yet, as Jonah Goldberg states in a Thursday LA Times’ piece, and as I’ve read elsewhere, Rudy promises that he would appoint judges in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. This opens a door to the heart of conservatives in a way that an apparent flip-flop, a la Mitt Romney, cannot.

Let's say I’ve just been hired as a consultant to the Rudy for President Campaign, and here’s what I’m going to tell them.

Ever since Jimmy Carter Democrats have played the “I’m personally opposed to abortion” game. How is this game played? A Democrat politician with syrupy sincerity says, “I’m really pro-life, but I can’t impose my ‘personal’ moral values on society. Thus because of Roe v. Wade I cannot do anything to hinder women in America from being able to terminate the lives of their babies in vitro for all nine months of pregnancy.” Or something like that.

So, Rudy, let’s turn that around. You are “personally” pro-choice, but you choose not to “impose” your view of the issue on the American people. You feel that is exactly what Roe v. Wade did when it took the decision away from the American people by overreaching judicial fiat. You can state that you believe this is an issue too important for judges to decide, that the American people through their elected representatives are wise enough to work this out in a way most American’s can live with.

If the court in 1973 had allowed this common sense approach to continue the issue of abortion would not have become the contentious one it’s been these last 30 plus years. Personally if I were the all-powerful benign dictator of America I would completely outlaw abortion in every case. Unfortunately on this issue we have to deal with the representative republic we’ve inherited, and bringing the issue back to the people to decide is the best we can hope for in the foreseeable future.

I am convinced social conservatives would buy this version of Rudy. No flip-flop, no opportunistic waffles at just the right time. And of course Democrats would howl and hate Rudy even more, which would only endear him to conservatives of all stripes even more. Add to that the arguments Goldberg makes about tough guy Rudy, the defender of American culture, and I can believe that he would have a shot at the nomination. Maybe I should get my resume updated and give Rudy a call. You never know when they might be looking for another political genius to help with the cause.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Idolatry of Christmas

Not quite the theological screed the provocative headline seems to portend, but I kid thee not:

Actually, from what I heard on Hugh Hewitt's show, not too bad. Sort of like the guy at the party who sings a little better than everybody else.

Idol plays it straight with the material, his solid-enough yet unnuanced baritone no threat to the masterful velvet croon of Der Bingle, although a few of Billy's trademark growls spice things up a bit. (For those who came in too early like Hewitt himself, Billy Idol sang punky-glossy 80s hits like "White Wedding," and for those coming in late, well, you're young enough to know how to google "Bingle.")

The adventurous or the merely morbidly curious will check out samples of it here on Billy's MySpace page, accompanied by some properly foul-mouthed street cred CYA commentary by the erstwhile rocker himself: I did it, I hated it, it's bogus, but it's still kinda cool. Above all, buy it.

It's a nice day for a
White Christmas---
Nice day to
Make a buuuuuuuuuck...

The Donald Versus The Rosie

I notice in the news blabbery that the ineffable Rosie O'Donnell is unhappy with the tolerance shown by the ineffable Donald Trump toward the extracurricular activities of the fair Mizz USA, a young lady who knows how to have fun, and so the ineffable Donald in turn is unhappy with the deep musings of the ineffable Rosie, and is threatening to sue her. For something. Or something like that. Anyway, this tempest in a p***pot reminds me of The Great Harry Truman's reaction in June 1941 at the outset of Barbarossa (the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union): "If the Germans are winning we should help the Russians, and if the Russians are winning we should help the Germans." Truer words were never spoken.

Trump Thumped

I previously wrote approvingly of Donald ("The Donald") Trump's Jesusian wisdom in the matter of the fallen woman, Miss USA Tara Conner.

This photo for informational purposes only.

I recounted a favorite story, where a crowd of Pharisees and the like had gathered around a similarly fallen woman, but Jesus said, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone."

All of a sudden, a woman elbows her way through the crowd hefting a huge boulder, which she promptly crashes down on the poor girl's head. Jesus turns and says, "Mother! You're always spoiling my fun!"

Oh, man, we Catholics love that one. Anyway, today the vivacious Rosie O'Donnell cast herself in the role of our deranged Virgin Mary and pelted The Donald over his various adulteries and divorces, expressing her grave reservations about his suitability as any sort of national moral compass. She'd make for one fine Pharisee, I think, except for being Irish.

His noggin no doubt smarting over such a brutal beaning, Trump retorted, "Rosie O'Donnell is disgusting, both inside and out. You take a look at her, she looks like a slob, she talks like a truck driver. She'll say anything that comes to her mind and you know her show failed when it was a talk show---the ratings went very low and very bad, and she got essentially thrown off television, and I mean, she's basically a disaster." Trump went on to say that he might send some presumably male friends over to steal O'Donnell's girlfriend.

Decidedly unJesusian, Donald. America's moral compass spins wildly out of control, like its hair.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Ugly Side of the Omniculture

Candace de Russy has provided a nicely informative article about the uglier side of the Omniculture, in today's edition of National Review Online. The American public square, de Russy notes,

has been blitzed with what, a gossip website, calls “revulse-amusement” and misused for what columnist Andrea Peyser terms a “raunch-fest” — revelry calculated, according to the New York Times, to churn up waves of “ethical nausea.”

After recounting some of the recent seamy media events, such as the O. J. Simpson book and Britney Spears' unfathomable exploits in public exhibitionism, de Russy notes that many of these occurrences are manifestations of publicity schemes pandering to the American public's "apparently boundless public appetite for debased and scabrous material." But they are also more, she observes.

De Russy aptly cites Temple University humanities professor Noel Carroll's observation of a "tolerance of boundary breaking," or as de Russy puts it, "the increasingly nonchalant acceptance of the violation of what were once accepted as the common standards of decency," which de Russy describes as ever-increasing.

Seeking the social meaning behind the trend, de Russy writes:
Janice Irvine, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, interprets this tolerance as a kind of perverse holier-than-thou hedonism. She maintains that the public’s reaction to “socially sensitive issues,” such as O. J. Simpson’s book, “looks like rage, but there’s a lot of pleasure bound up in it. There’s incredible excitement in being publicly outraged. It’s what makes it so powerful.”

Other critics, myself included, view the gross-out phenomenon as a particularly conspicuous sign, among other related cultural dysfunction, of serious rifts in the aesthetic and moral foundations of American civilization (“Hollywood’s Gross-Out Comedies: Cultural Crisis or Festive Freedom?,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 22, 1999).
De Russy notes that fasionable leftist academics praise public assaults on refined sensibilities, calling these attacks "transgressive." (Interestingly, transgressive means not only boundary-breaking but also sinful, and the left seems not to see the irony in their use of this term.)

De Russy concludes that the trend is not just an outpouring of weirdness on the fringes of society but has at least begun to suffuse the culture and inculcate an increasing, progressive rot:
If civilization is to be salvaged, we must transcend transgression — “regress,” as it were, to an understanding of culture as famously defined by Matthew Arnold, culture as the repository of humanity’s highest spiritual, intellectual and aesthetic aspirations, or “the best that has been thought and said in the world.”

There is no denying that it will be a long climb up from the current day depredation of gross-out culture and its like. But climb we must or sink in grossness, and thus be infantilized and ultimately rendered powerless in face of barbarism.
I have argued to the contrary, that phenomena such as these are not a new rot but a public manifestation of the wide variety of human activities and interests that always exist but have not been able to reach wide audiences in the past. De Russy suggests that a powerful cultural response to counter these phenomena is in order, and I would certainly welcome that. However, I rather doubt that it will do much to suppress the impulses that bring on such behavior, and given that the technology that brings it easily to one and all onlookers is not going to go away unless the Muslims take over, this sort of open vulgarity is never going to recede in the rearview mirror.

I would suggest, as I have done in the past, that supporting what we think to be good and salutary is the best response we can make, for now at least. And I'm sure Candace de Russy would agree that it's worth a try.

From Karnick on Culture.

Mike & Val, SJ, RIP

Jesuits die almost every day, Chi Province alone. Today’s listing has three. One was a nice fellow, personable, who headed St. Ignatius High in Chicago for a time. The other two had color to burn.

Mike English died in 1973, seven years to the month after he offered me a job at Loyola Academy, Wilmette, where he was rector. I was loose, having done a turn at U. of Ill. at Chi intending to become a sociologist but giving up after a quarter, still living at Ignatius on the West Side. He had a hole to fill, of a Jesuit who he told me was “nervous from the service” and was checking out. I would take over this man’s religion classes and help people forget him. I would need summers free to continue heading up a summer enrichment program for neighborhood boys, I told him when we ran into each other at Loyola in the week after Xmas. He agreed to that, I said I’d get back.

I did, on time to wish him a happy new year and to decline the offer. Instead, I hung on at Ignatius and did a semester of giving retreats around the Midwest.

Mike’s color lay in his being quick on his feet, for one thing. He was a born administrator and leader. Spotting me earlier, he had put the offer to me face to face. When I said no, he returned my happy new year wish, and we closed the conversation.

Some seven years before that, I had gone to him to check on what I had heard, that the sole black kid taking the entrance exam was doomed to fail it. Not yet, said Mike when I, a teaching scholastic, put it to him, probably in the very parlor where he asked me to join his faculty. It would hurt us, he said, meaning that desperately needed funds would dry up if the school took a black kid. Tell that to the Jordan brothers these days, as they play and star while their father Michael watches from bleachers.

Things were different then. Mike English was saving the school from dissolution, having relieved its founding rector (in its new location after moving from Rogers Park) after only two years, as creditors were closing in. He did save it, for the Jordans among others. But what I was amazed at was his candor with me and his not getting nervous when I asked. I was a big race man in those days, bringing students out to the South Side to meet blacks in Friendship House programs. He never once slowed me down on that.

The third Jesuit is Brother Val, a short pudgy guy who would have done Damon Runyan proud for volubility and willingness to stop in the middle of his none too productive work day to jabber with a philosopher or theologian. He died in ‘90. His ideas would get ahead of his ability to spit words out. You wanted time to burn if he headed your way. He also didn’t let data interfere with the flow.

Theologian (theology student) George, a stocky ex-footballer from John Carroll U., would engage Brother Val now and then. Val was going on about major league baseballers, when George asked him if he knew of or had seen Joe Gosman play. Oh yes, Val told him, his eyes widening. George had made Joe Gosman up, but he listened eagerly as Val recounted his exploits. George, still a Jesuit, became a psychiatrist.

Deflating the PPI Inflation Report

You're all having way too much fun. Time for some truly boring economics.

On Larry Kudlow's radio show last Saturday, he reminded me that in August I wrote a couple of columns explaining how and why some economists and journalists were greatly exaggerating the reality or threat of inflation.

It should be reasonably clear by now that I was probably right about that. Yet here comes today's Associated Press report: "Wholesale prices surged in November by the largest amount in more than three decades, led by huge increases in the cost of gasoline and new cars and trucks." The comparison is made with "November 1974, back during a decade when repeated oil shocks sent inflation spiraling." That isn't history, but hysteria. In December 1974, the core PPI was up 17.4% from a year earlier, without any help from energy or food. The CPI was up 11.7% with energy excluded.

Before making such ridiculous historical comparisons, we have to at least leave out recent gyrations in energy prices, which caused the PPI to fall for 3 of the past 4 months. Aside from energy, the PPI in November was up 1.7% from the previous November which, in turn was up 1.5% from a year before. The November before that (2004), the non-energy PPI was up 2.3%.

None of these year-to-year increases is statistically much different from zero, because (1) the PPI cannot fully distinguish between changes in prices and improvements in quality and because (2) the PPI cannot fully distinguish between list prices and discounted prices. Dealer discounts are particularly important with cars and trucks, so any apparent spike in the dealer cost or consumer sticker price when new models come out is often ephemeral. It may also mean dealers are meeting demand for more luxurious vehicles with more options, which is not a true price increase.

In any case, the PPI has a terrible record for predicting consumer prices, partly because (1) the PPI is mostly goods while the CPI is half services, and because (2) global competition makes it difficult for producers or dealers to pass on higher domestic costs to consumers. A monthly change in the PPI obviously tells us nothing, or the press would have been fretting about "deflation" when the September and October PPIs came out.

Just as it was misleading to include energy in the PPI and CPI through June, when oil prices were rising, it can also be misleading to include energy prices when they fall. Aside from energy, U.S. inflation this year was and still is about as low as it has ever been in the postwar era. And surges in energy prices are typically followed by lower overall inflation in the following year, contrary to what Fed officials (who must not have looked at the data) have sometimes implied.

Don't say I didn't warn you that this would be dull. Reality often is.

Donald Trump, Jesus, Etc.

As you might know by now, Donald ("The Donald") Trump, in his role as co-owner (with NBC) of the Miss Universe pageant, found himself obliged to render judgment on Miss USA Tara Conner, a now-21-year-old who partied heartily after her coronation, her hardy partying even including the nasal ingestion of a very popular powder.

If you know what I mean, and you do. There was other stuff, too. In short, she was a very, very bad girl.

Very bad.

And so, it was put to His Donaldness to decide her fate, whether she should be made to pay for her crimes against propriety (as a talk show host I happened on today thymotically urged) and lose her standing as the representative of all that is good and holy about these here United States, or not.

Perhaps my favorite story in the gospels:
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.

They said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.

Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?"

They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.

But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.

And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.

Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

She replied, "No one, sir." Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more."

"I‘ve always been a believer in second chances," said Trump. "Tara is going to be given a second chance. She left a small town in Kentucky, and she was telling me that she got caught up in the whirlwind of New York," Trump said at a news conference with Conner at his side. "It‘s a story that has happened many times before to many women and to many men who came to the Big Apple. They wanted their slice of the Big Apple, and they found out it wasn‘t so easy."

Miss Conner will enter rehab, etc., and be put on a very short leash. She wasn't given a pass.

Beautifully done, Mr. Trump. WWJD?

You must have read The Book or heard the story, or perhaps you simply opened your heart to the Right Thing. I don't care. You did very, very, very good, and I'm sure He's proud of you. In your way, you get it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Noddy vs. Roy on Christmas: The BIG Question

Caitlin Moran of the Times of London asks several important questions about Christmas in the paper's December 18 issue, the most important of which is, who wrote and performed the better Christmas song, Roy Wood of Wizzard or Noddy Holder of Slade?

Slade is one of the most underrated rock bands of all time, at least in the United States. The great pub rockers brought a delightful Scottish, working-class flair to hard rock in the early to mid 1970s (and some of the worst clothing fashions of all time), and made great, fun music well into the 1980s. You've probably heard Quiet Riot's cover versions of Slade's classic songs "Cum on Feel the Noize" and "Mama Weer All Crazee Now," but Slade's originals are far superior. Slade is simply one of the fun-est rock bands ever.

Yes, it's Slade on Top of the Pops

Then of course there's Wizzard, led by mad musical prodigy Roy Wood, about whom I've written earlier on this site. (Hit the search box for more.)

Roy Wood in 2004And the two wrote a pair of great Christmas rock songs. Roy wrote, performed, and produced "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" (see video here), and Noddy and his band put out "Merry Christmas Everybody," which Ms. Moran describes as Noddy's attempt at "the great working-class Christmas song." Well, they're both perfectly delightful, but the point of Christmas arguments is that you have to decide. Here's what Moran has to say:

Slade v Wizzard: in the thrilling Merry Christmas Everybody, Noddy Holder intended to write the great working-class Christmas song. With its euphoric debauchery undercut with melancholy, and its Royle Family-like lyrics (“Does your granny always tell ya that the old songs are the best?/ Then she’s up and rock’n’rolling with the rest”), Merry Christmas Everybody does, to its endless credit, accurately simulate wandering round your home-town Woolie’s, drunk and whimsical on Christmas Eve, wondering whether to buy your mum a pink Ladyshave for £9.99. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, meanwhile, is so great that one simply goes along with Roy Wood’s assertion that it would be great if every day were Christmas Day. Rather than pausing for a minute and saying “Actually, Roy, if it were Christmas every day, the UK’s productivity rates would ensure that we were a Third World country by March, and we’d all have scoliosis from sleeping on an inflatable mattress in the spare room. And, indeed, would have noticed that the person most set to benefit from it being ‘Christmas every day’ would be someone famous mainly for having written a very big song about it being Christmas every day (ie, you).”

Winner: Slade. However much of a genius Wood is, there’s only one song that has Holder shouting “IT’S CHRIIIIIIISMUSSSSS!” Though honourable mention must be made of John and Yoko’s hilarious Happy Christmas (War Is Over), and the bit at the end where Lennon clearly can’t be bothered to write another verse of slightly pious yuletide doggerel, and he and Yoko go “ARGH ARGH ARGH ARGH” instead.

I love her description of John Lennon's song as pious and the lyrics as doggerel, though I would delete the word "slightly" and substitute something like "horrendously." But we're in basic agreement on that one, I'd say.

Getting back to happier things, however, why not compare the two contenders yourself? Here's the video for Roy's and Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday," and here's a nice independent video of a couple of lads and their friends and rels larking about to Noddy's and Slade's "Merry Christmas Everybody!" Enjoy.

From Karnick on Culture.

Blame apportioned

The lay woman who heads the West Side parish school where Rev. Daniel McCormack apparently molested students is up in arms about getting blamed.  Barbara Westrick went on TV last night to complain about Chicago archdiocesan authorities who are making her, she said, a “scapegoat.” 

If she had known what Cardinal Francis George knew when the mother of an apparently abused child came to her, she would have gone to police with the information, she said.  Now one of George’s minions is putting it to her in a letter that she was delinquent in her duty.

She had "either assigned Father McCormack or did not question his teaching math and coaching boys' basketball," the minion, superintendent of schools Nicholas M. Wolsonovich, said in a letter, adding, "These are matters which involve serious omissions in the prudent administration of a school in the protection of students."

But when the mother came to her, the archdiocese already had assigned a monitor to Fr. McCormack, a fellow priest with many duties who was ineffective in the role, perhaps not fully understanding what it required.  Apparently Westrick was not informed of this.  She seems not to have been in the loop and now she is accused of ignoring intelligence to the detriment of her pupils.

Some legal hardball is in progress, it appears.  In addition, the letter and her response expose the archdiocesan bureaucracy, around which Cardinal George has never got his arms, it also appears.  This is the benign interpretation, that he is busy with other things and is not in charge.

At issue also is the openness to contributions from lay people (priests too, probably), who are not in the habit of rattling higher-ups’ cages.  Priests have told me they do their best to have nothing to do with The People Downtown.  Thus be it ever in badly run organizations.  It’s endemic in this case.  The priestly class are lords of the manor — they have their chamberlains and proctors such as Wolsonovich — who hold tightly to their demesne.  So it has been described to me.  In any case, the letter on TV bespeaks distance and formality which lends itself strongly to this interpretation.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hell Just Froze Over: MSM Reveals Positive News from Iraq

And Newsweek Magazine of all places. I’m telling you that I was flabbergasted as I read this. One could expect such a report from NRO, The Washington Times, the Weekly Standard, you know, the conservative underground. But right out in the open at Newsweek’s international edition website? I wonder if the editor and writer might be looking for work in the next day or two.

Ok, enough of the sarcasm. I’ll let the title do the introduction: “Blood and Money: In what might be called the mother of all surprises, Iraq's economy is growing strong, even booming in places.” Of course it wouldn’t be quite so surprising if anybody in the MSM would have been paying attention these last few years. Think about it (I know, liberal journalists don’t really think), on any given day let’s say there are a dozen bombings and dozens die. Very sad, of course, and frustrating to no end, but this in a country of 25 plus million people roughly the size of California. The impression our friends in the media leave us with is that every square inch of the country is a bloody mess. It ain’t!

Check out some of the startling statistics:

Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and—mother of all surprises—it's doing remarkably well. Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank has it lower: at 4 percent this year. But, given all the attention paid to deteriorating security, the startling fact is that Iraq is growing at all.

Just think if for every 10 blood and misery stories there were just a few in our mainstream media like this, that actually explored more about Iraq than death and mayhem. Bush’s poll numbers would be up by at least 10%, the Republicans would still control Congress, and Democrats would be revealed for the cowards and political opportunists they are.

Is it so surprising that Iraq’s economy is so robust? As much negativity as is spread about the Iraqi people very little is said about the resilience and determination they obviously possess. The bad guys in the country are a small minority, but fear and example carry a lot of leverage. So many Iraqis keep quite and try to survive, to get by hoping that one day this madness will all be over. You can equate that hope with a growing GDP.

The human spirit has proven again and again throughout history that it is ultimately indomitable. Even in the darkest times of the unimaginable evil that comes from the other side of human nature, mankind has refused to give up, to retreat, to say it can never be better. I have an idea. Let’s all call Time Magazine and tell them to change their choice for “person of the year.” I really don’t feel worthy anyway. Let’s set up a draft movement to make the Iraqi people Time Magazine’s “People of the Year.” They are indeed worthy.

I could quote and comment more on the article, but it would be a waste of your time. Just go and READ IT, and then tell others about it. Maybe, just maybe, one day the secret will get out that all is not lost in Iraq.

From his parents do we know him?

Clarence Page asks if we know Obama’s middle name, gives it, says now we know.  OK, but do we know he’s the son of two Ph.D.’s?  Now we do.  The Hussein middle name is easily dismissed.  So what?  Lots of people have it.  But two Ph.D.’s for parents?  Not only rare but instantly controversial.  Do we really want so academically infected a person to rule us? 

Besides, his hot-seller book is brainless, to go by Dick Morris’s account of it:

In reading Senator Barack Obama’s #1 bestseller, The Audacity of Hope, one begins to wonder whether he is another cynical politician or just a helplessly naïve neophyte.

Morris, a Clinton specialist from a ‘way back, excerpts with alarming aim:

Sometimes he sounds downright juvenile. Consider this missive, which opens chapter five: “One thing about being a U.S. Senator - you fly a lot.” Brilliant! It gets worse: “Most of the time I fly … in coach, hoping for an aisle or window seat” (But not always.) “ … there are times when … I fly on a private jet.” Then, “the flying experience is a good deal different.” Wow.

Obama’s first book got a rave from the Time Mag cover-story writer-cum-sycophant — it “may be the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.”  Give him credit for the “may be.”  Otherwise, just gasp.

Or accept it.  In the Time writer’s account, Obama does come to life.  Ditto in lawyer-novelist Scott Turow’s Salon story.  The more recent book is the one that made him the big money, however.  And helped his candidacy.  Bad books do that.  He has all that education to live down.  The American people get suspicious.  Ever since Woodie Wilson the Princeton president. 

Can we imagine ourselves electing another in his image?  Dems give us Gore and Kerry, Repubs give us GW, whom I vastly prefer.  But the son of two Ph.D.’s?  That’s the thing to learn about the Big O.  See how that flies once he’s on the hustings full-time.

Slight omission

Fr. Jn L. can’t call God his father. So he changes wording of a standard prayer during mass, subbing “almighty God” for “almighty Father.”  Or he won’t, maybe because he considers it unfair to women. In either case, he should (a) get over it, maybe seeing God as his father will help him lose or crowd out bad memories of his father if that’s the problem, or (b) accept the idea that as mass-celebrant he is not a free agent but operates in service of something considerably bigger than himself, namely the church.

Later, from Reader M:

It's a trend. At my parish, the pastor says the "Our Father" correctly, but just about any other reference to "Father" he changes to "God." It's for the two feminists in the congregation. He also substitutes "friends" for "disciples" at the opening words of consecration — "gave it to his friends" rather than "gave it to his disciples." This rewriting by a local nudnick priest irks me.

Our one-year ordained, 40-something priest must never have had a lick of Latin. He called it "Gow-dee-tee" Sunday today. A year ago he wanted to give a Latin touch to the Mass and said, "ecce PECK-atta mundi." [It’s “ecce” (behold) “agnus Dei” (lamb of God), who takes away the sins (“peccata”) of the world, or “the sin,” say some]  Oy vey. I recommend Lutheran Hour’s Rev. Ken Klaus on WGN-AM Sunday mornings 6-6:30 a.m. central. Good homily, usually on our Sunday Gospel.

Same as RC gospel, by the way.  Homilies are a longstanding RC problem.  Weak or even bad preaching is a specter haunting the RC church.  It’s not clear what RC bishops can do about this problem of the Uneducated Priest beyond holding a second Council of Trent — not an option at this point.  Commonweal Mag has been grappling with this problem. 

The Catholic priesthood in the United States stands at a crossroads. An increasingly sophisticated Catholic laity fills the church’s pews and staffs its ever-growing parishes, and yet the church has failed to produce a corps of new priests to match it-in either quantity or quality.

Longtime church researcher Dean Hoge “paints a worrying portrait”:

[T]oday’s new clergy are not only fewer in number but also older, less educated, less thoroughly schooled in theology, and less likely to see its relevance to ministry.

There was bad news already:

[T]he Keystone Conferences, which convened Catholic seminary faculties annually from 1995 to 2001, assessed merely 10 percent of their priesthood candidates as highly qualified, and estimated that roughly 40 percent exhibited educational shortcomings ranging from insufficient preparation to learning disabilities.

Now Hoge has discovered “a striking drop in theological preparedness”:

In 1990, only 17 percent of diocesan priests in his sample required remedial pre-theology courses after entering the seminary. Today, that figure has leapt to 47 percent. In focus groups, some priests even voiced serious doubts about the relevance of their theology courses to their ministry. How then can they hope to relate doctrine to experience when parishioners come knocking for counsel?

Or when they pew-sit and would rather not hear pet notions proclaimed during the canon.  How dare they?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Trouble, I got trouble

It troubles me that a certain sentiment “troubles” Dawn Turner Trice in today’s Chi Trib. Her issue is Bill Cosby talking up hard work and perseverance to school parents when he recently settled a sexual harrassment suit. She is troubled by people’s paying it no attention because they like Cosby’s message.

She’s come a long way since January, 2001, when she gave considerable ink to a similar view about Rev. Jesse Jackson, exposed as a philanderer and father of an illegitimate child. Rev. J. had “taken a jump [actually several, over many months] and left a package,” realizing concerns voiced by an A.M.E. pastor in Iowa City about a handsome visitor who was giving his pretty daughters some attention in the summer of ‘63.

Not a problem, according to one of Trice’s sources in a Tribune piece.

"You deal with this the same way you deal with Bill Clinton," [Lorn Foster, an American politics professor at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.] said. "You teach fallibility."

In that respect, Foster said, almost every newsmaker in the 20th Century has had indiscretions and public failings.

"Really, if you use that criteria for not teaching Jackson . . . how do you teach Franklin Delano Roosevelt? How do you teach JFK?" Foster said.

Trice was not troubled by this, but she is by Cosby-excusing. Almost six years have elapsed, and that may be why. Who knows? In any case, my being troubled at her being troubled has less to do with Cosby vs. Jackson — middle-class values vs. victimhood in rebellion — than with a writer trying to disguise her feelings.

You can condemn someone faintly but tellingly. That is, you can be troubled when you’re actually pissed off, or should be, based on the data you present. In which case as a writer, you’re in trouble.

A Christmas Film to Remember

Tonight at 8 p.m. EST, Turner Classic Movies is showing an excellent Christmas film, one which I recommend highly. Remember the Night (1940) stars Barbara Stanwyck as Lee Leander, a beautiful shoplifter in a big city (New York City, I think), whose court case is continued until after Christmas by clever assistant district attorney John Sargent (Fred MacMurray, who would costar with Stanwyck in Billy Wilder's 1944 venture into film noir, Double Indemnity), who realizes that no jury will convict her right before Christmas.

When Lee is led away to jail, however, Sargent's conscience convicts him, and he posts bail for her. Lee, however, has no money and nowhere to go, so when he discovers that she is from Indiana, where he is about to go to visit his family for Christmas, he offers to drive her to her mother's house.

Lee's mother, however, despises her because Lee never could live up to the puritanical woman's perfectionist standards of behavior, and the mother coldly turns Lee away at the door. Jack begins to understand how Lee ended up as a thief and so tough herself (to steel herself against the hurts she is sure are always on the way), and he brings her home to have Christmas with his family.

Barbara StanwyckNaturally Jack and Lee fall in love with each other, and a less suitable match could hardly be imagined. Further complications ensue, of course, and a pair of difficult moral choices arise, one for each half of the couple. They both ultimately do the right thing, with Jack the prosecutor showing impressive sympathy and mercy, and Lee the thief showing powerful moral strength.

As this description should make clear, Remember the Night goes to the heart of the Christmas story: redemption. And what is most wonderful about the film, helmed by steady Paramount studios house director Mitchell Leisen from a superb screenplay by Preston Sturges, is that it doesn't limit the theme to its obvious subject, the thief Lee, but also shows it in play in Jack and all the other characters.

This is a film that not only keeps the surface aspects of Advent and Christmas in the foreground but also, and more importantly, stresses the real meaning behind it, our human condition and overwhelming need for a a Savior.

This is one you really should not miss. As far as I can determine, the film is not avaiable in any official release on DVD, but a VHS version is available.

Highly recommended.

From Karnick on Culture.

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.