Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Passion of The Chump.

Senator Dykwia burnishes his Catholic credentials:

The Kerry campaign was said to be surprised at the coverage their candidate received for attending Mass while on vacation in Idaho. "You saw conservatives all up in arms that he was receiving communion, when most American Catholics do the same thing and live a life very similar to the senator's: divorced, pro-choice, etcetera," says the Kerry adviser. "It just highlights how out of touch the right wing is with America, and we can play to that."

To that end, according to other sources inside the Kerry camp, aides are attempting to identify a Catholic diocese, and perhaps even a specific priest and church, where Kerry could attend a Mass with reporters present, and be turned away at the altar attempting to receive communion.

Well, that helps me get over my misgivings about Bush.

[Thanks to Amy Welborn for the link.]

Monday, March 29, 2004

Let's see...

The transmission's going out on my Buick, we had an ultrasound for our third (big, and probably another boy), our daughter is (more or less) potty-trained, two more submissions look like they are going to get published, my parents are back home, work is insane, it appears I won a contest (thanks for the kind comments below, too, Chris), I'm owed a referral fee that I may see before the fourth trumpet, we have water damage that needs to get repaired on the house (see immediately proceeding entry for explanation of delay), and I've likely forgotten something else.

So, how's your week going?

As a result, posting will be sparse to non-existent, and patience with e-mails (already backlogged) would be appreciated.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Sometime today...

This website passed 50,000 visits since May 19, 2003.

I am flattered, and perhaps a little puzzled.

But mostly flattered.

"But you have heard of me...."

I have to admit, I got a big kick out of how Chris Burgwald over at Veritas characterized this-here stump in his blogroll.

Thanks to Mary for the heads-up.

Speaking of whom, make sure to visit the St. Blog's Parish Hall. It's starting to resemble the old-format (parchment-background) Catholic Convert Message Board at its very, very best.
Michael and Marla Sklar have just been admitted to my pantheon of heroes.

Read, and you'll understand why.
A couple of notes for those of you clicking on "Greatest Snits."

1. Why, yes, I do need to add a Volume 2. Thanks for noticing. As soon as I manage to buy some free time here at the hotel (redrum, redrum), I'll get right on it. Meanwhile, I've got to go renovate the bathroom.

"Heeeere's Johnny!"

2. The first two posts have been replaced by notes stating that they are "Temporarily Off-Line."

There's a reason for that.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Libertarian Battles Her Conscience.

Outcome still in doubt.

Don't get me wrong, I have found Wendy McElroy to be a worthwhile read on several occasions. Unfortunately, she can be as dogmatic as the gender feminists she regularly challenges. Exhibit A is this fairly incoherent article: Cooling Down the Abortion Debate.

This Jan. 22 was the 31st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that de facto legalized abortion in America.

The abortion issue is a reminder that not all problems are created by government--but government can always make them worse.

As in seven life-tenured lawyers invalidating the laws of fifty states back in 1973, throwing the issue into the vortex of the culture wars?

Apparently, there is an Italian saying that translates as, "It is raining again--PIG OF A GOVERNMENT!" But the basic dilemma of abortion cannot be blamed on government. Nor does basic blame reside with pro-life or pro-choice advocates. The problem is that, with unwanted pregnancies, human reproduction involves a conflict of interest between the woman and the fetus.

We're veering somewhat close to the unborn-as-parasite language here, which, for human history, has been an ugly, ugly phenomenon.

The "conflict" language sounds like it has the potential for hope, but she's already stacked the deck in favor of the former. The outcome of that "conflict" will be about as obvious as that of a football game between Michigan and Harvard.

I am pro-choice in the full realization that it is a terrible thing to take a human life. The closer a fetus approaches viability, the closer to terrible abortion becomes.

Read "the more it looks like a baby, the more squeamish I get."

By the way, this ultrasound of a 12 week old glob of cells is what our third looks like [explanatory link here].

Three days ago.

I weigh a fetus' potential against the woman's actuality. I also realize that if a woman cannot say "everything under my skin is 'me' and mine to control," then there is no foundation for individual rights.

Game, set, match. "Harvard just can't seem to get anything going today, Keith." Actuality trumps potential every time.

Ms. McElroy, meet Melissa Ann Rowland. Allegedly refused a c-section because of scarring fears, resulting in the death of one of her twins. Good thing her actuality comes first. Turn her loose.

If people have no right to control their own bodies, then such rights as freedom of speech become non-sequiturs.

Free Melissa! Perhaps her initial mistake was not to term the refusal to get the C as a "potential anticipatory selective reduction."

Problem solved--all nice and legal.

And, yet, to the core of my being, I dislike abortion.

No reason to doubt this, but for all the practical impact, it means the same thing as "disliking" anchovies and brussels sprouts.

I have no doubt that many pro-life advocates are also uncomfortable with their conclusions. Placing a pregnant woman's body under the de facto control of the law denies her rights to privacy and to medical control. Where is the line of denial to be drawn?

Indisputably, pregnancy is very, very hard--physically, emotionally, financially, you name it. Then there's what it does to the women.

[*Rimshot*. Sorry, couldn't help myself. It's definitely a joke, because, as a dad, my opinion means precisely squat in the abortion debate.]

Raising the products of conception after they are born is several orders of magnitude harder.


These facts about pregnancy aren't exactly a secret. Moreover, whatever happened to the rugged libertarian demand that one take responsibility for one's freely chosen actions? A responsible libertarian position would say that consensual sex involves a consent to all the reasonably foreseeable possible consequences deriving from that act, except death. That would include, to use the parlance, getting knocked up. In short, responsible, consistent libertarians would be opposed to abortion in all cases except rape, incest, the life of the mother.

Too bad you rarely run into such libertarians these days.

[Divided polls discussion snipped.]

But government has widened the scope of the problem and deepened division of opinion. How has it widened the scope? In the most literal sense, involvement in agencies such as the United Nations has led to the exportation of abortion policy at taxpayers' expense.

You will always find good sense in a McElroy column. Here 'tis.

No government should export reproductive policy -- whether directed at abortion or at abstinence -- to another nation. Despite the nobility and neutrality of its self-description, the United Nations Population Fund is rampantly political and the United States is correct in finally withholding funds.

Well, except if abstinence works. Ask Uganda what it's done for AIDS transmission.

Domestically, government also expands the scope of debate by using tax money to support -- at different times, in different venues -- both pro-choice and pro-life causes. For example, although he included a "conscience clause," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made abortion training mandatory for medical students in that city at its state-supported schools.

More good sense, though a bit hamstrung by the attempt to be "even-handed." The goofiness of the attempt will be exposed in the next sentence.

On the pro-life side, various states have sanctioned "Choose Life!" license plates that have been described as state-sponsored infomercials against abortion. In each case, some people were forced to financially support a cause they found morally repugnant. analogy.....

OK: Mike Bloomberg making people learn abortion at city medical schools is the equivalent of a state letting someone select a pro-life license plate.



No. The former makes someone learn a procedure that may be abhorrent to her, while the latter is entirely elective. After all, if you don't like pro-life license plates, don't have one.

[Those of you suggesting the likelihood of conscience exceptions are going to be laughed at now. The courts will tell you how your conscience will guide you, thank you very much. Besides, there is always the likes of Dan "Sacred Choices" Maguire to tell you that there is no conscience to violate on the issue. He's probably available for a modest retainer for the court fight.]

Government also increases the divisiveness of abortion by partisan tactics that turn the issue into a battle of wills. On the federal level, there is Roe v. Wade. But, during a pro-life protest of Roe v. Wade, President Bush beamed a live telephone call to the protesters, praising the pro-life marchers' "noble cause."

Welcome to the post-Roe world. Politics will be a part of it. Especially since the courts have taken the issue away from the people by "constitutionalizing" it.

On the state level, over 600 anti-abortion bills were filed in legislatures nationwide in 2003. But when an "anti-abortion" measure is passed, it risks being overturned in the courts; a U.S. district judge recently struck down Virginia's ban on partial-birth abortion. Or the measure could be vetoed; Michigan's governor recently vetoed a bill requiring girls to obtain a judicial waiver if they do not have parental consent.

See above. Except that "risks being" is a bit of an understatement. A more accurate phrase is "is virtually certain to be."

The divisive machinations of government may be an inevitable reflection of how evenly divided the public is on abortion, but they can be no excuse for politicians to fan the flames of conflict for their own electoral profit. For example, there is no excuse for Hillary Clinton's claim that anti-abortion forces "are counting on the vast majority of fair-minded Americans to be ignorant, to be unaware ... They think they can accomplish their goals as Americans sleep." This statement insults about 50 percent of the population. And pro-life rhetoric is often no better.

Well, all right. Sensible enough as far as it goes. To the extent that overheated rhetoric and offensive signs turn off the undecided, it's useful advice. But the problem with her analysis is that she focuses on the rhetoric without recognizing that the rhetoric stems from two irreconcilable views on the nature of human life and the duties people have to human life that they have created. Without this recognition, she's rearranging deck chairs here. And she's already pretty well come down on one side.

The best hope of limiting the divisiveness comes from voices in the middle that are not fully committed to pro-choice or pro-life.

To quote Derek Smalls, from This Is Spinal Tap (1984):

"It's like fire and ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water."

They know that neither side is populated by monsters. They realize that decent people can disagree. This realization provides space for discussion and better agreement on some of the surrounding issues -- for example, on the question of whether reproductive options for children should require parental consent, or whether abortion should be legal in cases of rape, of severe fetal deformity or when the mother's life is endangered.

"Reproductive options for children." Like I said, she's picked sides. Reinforced by recitation of the hard cases, which truly make all pro-life people of goodwill uncomfortable.

But you never even get to those questions if actuality trumps potentiality. Game, set, match. Such is the logic of choice.

The basic question of abortion -- is it murder? -- may not be susceptible to compromise, but that doesn't mean all aspects of it should be made as socially destructive as possible.

From the red-hot debate over this basic--and inescapable--question all the rhetoric flows. Which is why pro-lifers have been, the occasional victory notwithstanding, increasingly shoved to the margins by the choice people. The p-cs recognize the stakes, and have wielded every weapon in the arsenal--from RICO, to FACE, to regular injunctions against the pro-life legislation that makes it through--in an effort to preserve abortion on demand. For the most part, they've succeeded, in the process creating some precedent that should give libertarians pause. Her recognition of this fact would be nice, but instead we're all supposed to shush and get along.

Tell it to Kate Michelman. I'm sure she wouldn't giggle at you until after you'd left the room.

Shrinking the scope and divisiveness of abortion may be equivalent to treating symptoms rather than offering a cure, but, when no cure is available, treating symptoms is prudent.

Not to mention ineffective, and a sure recipe for continued trench warfare and marginalization of pro-lifers.

[Thanks to Kevin Miller for the heads up and the link].

Sunday, March 21, 2004


I've updated the links for Times Against Humanity and Fr. Jeff Keyes, both of whom have moved to new digs. Make sure to check out the former's Huxleyesque news flashes, and the latter's Lenten manual (available somewhere on the site, but I can't find it at present)

I've also added Todd Flowerday to the links as well. Todd is a musician and liturgist for a parish in the Midwest. It's safe to say that our views on the liturgy converge only on a few points--a preference for three scripture readings (or more) at Mass, belief that immersion baptism is the fullest sign of the sacrament, and probably a couple more areas that my head cold-addled mind can't access right now. We agree much more on hockey (he lives in what can only be described as a hockey purgatory) and science fiction. Nevertheless, he's thoughtful, unfailingly polite and worth a read. Keeps the iron sharp, as the proverb says.
The best commentary on the issue of same sex unions I have read.

By Orson Scott Card, author of the classic Ender's Game. (If you do not own this book, step away from the computer and head for your nearest bookstore. If it's not open, wait patiently until it is. Make sure to read it immediately upon purchase. I don't care if you don't like science fiction [cough--heretic!--cough], you will like this.)

Card explains well my main concern about the issue:

What happens now if children grow up in a society that overtly teaches that homosexual partnering is not "just as good as" but actually is marriage?

Once this is regarded as settled law, anyone who tries to teach children to aspire to create a child-centered family with a father and a mother will be labeled as a bigot and accused of hate speech.

Can you doubt that the textbooks will be far behind? Any depictions of "families" in schoolbooks will have to include a certain proportion of homosexual "marriages" as positive role models.

Television programs will start to show homosexual "marriages" as wonderful and happy (even as they continue to show heterosexual marriages as oppressive and conflict-ridden).

The propaganda mill will pound our children with homosexual marriage as a role model. We know this will happen because we have seen the fanatical Left do it many times before.

So when our children go through the normal adolescent period of sexual confusion and perplexity, which is precisely the time when parents have the least influence over their children and most depend on the rest of society to help their children grow through the last steps before adulthood, what will happen?

Already any child with any kind of sexual attraction to the same sex is told that this is an irresistible destiny, despite the large number of heterosexuals who move through this adolescent phase and never look back.

Already any child with androgynous appearance or mannerisms -- effeminite boys and masculine girls -- are being nurtured and guided (or taunted and abused) into "accepting" what many of them never suspected they had -- a desire to permanently move into homosexual society.

In other words, society will bend all its efforts to seize upon any hint of homosexuality in our young people and encourage it.

Now, there is a myth that homosexuals are "born that way," and we are pounded with this idea so thoroughly that many people think that somebody, somewhere, must have proved it.

In fact what evidence there is suggests that if there is a genetic component to homosexuality, an entire range of environmental influences are also involved. While there is no scientific research whatsoever that indicates that there is no such thing as a borderline child who could go either way.

Those who claim that there is "no danger" and that homosexuals are born, not made, are simply stating their faith.
* * *
Most kids won't be swayed, because the message of the hormones is clear for them. But for those parents who have kids who hover in confusion, their lives complicated by painful experiences, conflicting desires, and many fears, the P.C. elite will now demand that the full machinery of the state be employed to draw them away from the cycle of life.

Children from broken and wounded families, with missing parents, may be the ones most confused and most susceptible. Instead of society helping these children overcome the handicaps that come from a missing or dysfunctional father or mother, it may well be exacerbating the damage.

All the while, the P.C. elite will be shouting at dismayed parents that it is somehow evil and bigoted of them not to rejoice when their children commit themselves to a reproductive dead end.

But there is nothing irrational about parents grieving at the abduction-in-advance of their grandchildren.

Don't you see the absurd contradiction? A postulated but unproven genetic disposition toward homosexuality is supposed to be embraced and accepted by everyone as "perfectly natural" -- but the far stronger and almost universal genetic disposition toward having children and grandchildren is to be suppressed, kept to yourself, treated as a mental illness.

You're unhappy that your son wants to marry a boy? Then you're sick, dangerous, a homophobe, filled with hate. Control your natural desires or be branded as evil by every movie and TV show coming out of P.C. Hollywood!

Compassion and tolerance flow only one way in the "Wonderland" of the politically correct.

If you think that's over the top, consider New York City's new gay high school, the first in what is likely a developing trend. Great idea--letting confused children lock themselves in like that! Nowhere else do we let the kids isolate themselves, making such a momentous decision.

It's not like we let everyone into the gifted class, eh? If it's not on the menu at lunch, the kid's not getting it. But because some adolescent "self-identifies," that claim is accepted without question, and he's at HMHS in the blink of an eye, locking himself onto a path that goes only one way. O brave new world.

Count me out.

Link via David Mills at Mere Comments.

Friday, March 19, 2004

The Long, Long Shadow of Sr. Margaret Flagrum and Her Six Foot Rosary Belt.

There is a certain type of older Catholic for whom the word "nun" causes the color to drain from the face, replaced by ashen shellshock.

"Aiiiee! The Little Sisters of Vinegar and Gall used to march up and down the classroom aisle, razor-stropping anyone who didn't have the Baltimore Catechism lesson memorized that day! And we chopped wood at recess! And then we'd go home to clean out the paper bag we lived in, and dad would wake us up half an hour before we went to sleep....!"

All of which adds up to a great big "Whew! Goodbye to all that, and thank heaven for the fact we sing the soundtrack for Jesus Christ Superstar at Mass these days. In English! Or Spanish! Or Esperanto! Or Apache! Doesn't matter if we don't understand it! Just so long as it's different."

Pretty much any language will do. Except the one that brings on nun flashbacks.

Dennis Kavanaugh, columnist for the Arizona Republic, appears to be a flashback sufferer. Bishop Thomas Olmstead of the Diocese of Phoenix has announced he's going to actually be generous and offer the Tridentine Mass. Mr. Kavanaugh begs to differ and says this simply will not do:

The announcement by Bishop Thomas Olmsted that Latin masses will be allowed in the Phoenix diocese after a 25-year absence troubles me, particularly in the context of other recent changes in church policy and procedures.

Well, you know, when your previous bishop offers a desert homage to Chappaquiddick with his Buick, consider yourself on notice that change is in the offing. Even if it takes strenuous persuasion to get the "artist" to leave.

Understand that I am the product of a Catholic education throughout grade school, high school and college.

There are certain phrases I see in print that activate the ol' Spider Sense. The first is "raised Catholic." Usually because it's followed by a description of the new spiritual sensibility of the subject, which runs the gamut from $cien---ogy to Aztec ritualism to Buddhism to Four Square Storefront Mini-mall Fundamental Reborn In The Spirit of Elohim's Gospel Church.

It invariably causes serious eye-rolling.

The second phrase is a related one, part of an infinite series of variations where, as here, the speaker offers his Catholic bona fides: "Understand that I am the product of a Catholic education throughout grade school, high school and college."

It's usually offered with an authoritative flourish calculated to plant seeds in the reader's mind. Something along the lines of "Wow. Why haven't I heard this guy's name on the short list for Cardinal?"

But if you've been following generations of catechetical follies, it offers the opportunity for gales of laughter.

It's not something you want to lead a discussion with. "Speaking as an animist with a associate's degree..." might be better.

I lector at my parish and have served on its parish council. My first training as an altar server was in Latin. And, I don't regret the two years of Latin I took in high school.

See above. My suspicion is that he doesn't "regret" the two years of Latin only because (1) he didn't have to take four, and (2) he's a lawyer.

Res ipsa loquitur, bro!

However, permitting or encouraging Latin masses is part of a misguided trend to go back in time to the romanticized church of the 1940's and 1950's. Today's Catholic Church is not the fictional movie church of Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman or Barry Fitzgerald.

Yeah. Those of us who were itches in our dads' pants during those decades are suffering from restorationist nostalgia. Especially those of us raised Methodist and unable to pick Barry Fitzgerald out of a lineup.

Although I suspect Mr. Fitzgerald would be the one acting an awful lot like Terry Kiser in Weekend At Bernie's.

We don't speak Latin to each other.

Unless you're a lawyer. Then, it's Katy bar the door! Res judicata! Mens rea! Actus reus! Illegitimus Non Carborundum!

I greet people with "hello" and not "salve".

Hmm. Gonna have to try that one today. "Salve, Espous-ed One!"

Don't worry--I get that look every single day.

There was a reason that the Second Vatican Council called for services to be held in the vernacular.

Alas, for all those years of Catholic education. From Sacrosanctum Concilium s. 36(1):

Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

Which explains why, in my six years there, I've heard more Spanish than Latin at my Polish/Italian parish.

Greater understanding and participation by lay members led to a renaissance of the Catholic Church in the 60's and 70's.


No, of course not. He did not just say that. Not possible. No freaking way. Let's try that again:

Greater understanding and participation by lay members led to a renaissance of the Catholic Church in the 60's and 70's.

He freaking did!

Where do you begin to respond to this?

Maybe: "What color is the sky in your world?"

"Renaissance"? What part would that be? The flatlining Mass attendance? The wholesale de-Catholicization of formerly Catholic higher education? Priests and religious abandoning their vows by the trainload? Vocations dwindling away to nothing?

If that's a "renaissance," God spare us a dark age.

Sadly, some in the church today would prefer to reverse many of the Vatican II reforms.

Most of us are not so interested in reversing the reforms so much as exorcising that Spirit™, which is lingering like a fart in a ballroom.

Conservative groups such as Opus Dei have infiltrated the clergy in many communities and are subtly wielding power to influence many of these changes.


Such groups would be much happier if all priests wore cassocks and birettas and all nuns returned to wearing habits and living in convents, instead of actively participating in community affairs and in encouraging social justice.

Actually, again, most of us would just settle for our priests and religious acting like, well, priests and religious. Instead of bad stand-up comics/performance artists/talk show hosts.

Admittedly, though, we do find it odd that Sts. Martin de Porres, Clare, Vincent de Paul, and even Francis of Assisi were prayerful, wore distinctive religious garb and yet somehow managed to "participat[e] in community affairs and [] encourag[e] social justice."

But Fr. Cool and Sr. Moonbeam can't. Strange....

This past year, we have seen a de-emphasis in the role of the laity in Mass services, with lesser roles for lectors and Eucharistic ministers and an emphasis on the roles of priests and deacons.

You mean, your bishop actually expects your Presiding Sacramental Technicians to do something other than wave a little hocus pocus over the Wine 'n Wafers?

Where is this all leading?


Will the next papal bull require women to again wear hats in church?

Uh, Dennis? They're called "encyclicals" these days. Have been since the 18th Century. Do keep up, or I might think you are suffering from some unreconstructed nostalgia for the "good ol' old days." Lord knows, we'll have to do something about that.

I don't know where this new church road is leading, but going back to Latin Masses certainly is not going my way.

On that happy note, we'll finish.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Dominik Hasek is a different breed of cat.

[For those of you not in the know, Hasek was the goaltender for the Wings during the 2002 Cup run, and is a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame. He's also on a stamp in his home country, the Czech Republic, because he led his nation's Olympic team to the gold medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Briefing over.]

We here in Wingnut Country thought he'd quit on the team. Probably not, given that he hasn't drawn a paycheck since early January--at his own request:

“He just felt that he wasn’t doing what he really had set out to do which is to play hockey and play at a high level,” [Wings General Manager Ken] Holland said. “At that time, he told me that he did not want to receive any further salary until he was ready to play.”

By Jan. 9, Hasek had received a little more than $3 million of his $6 million salary for the season.

“I think it’s an unbelievable gesture,” Holland said.

From the Roar of Cotton Mather to the Bleat of Mr. Whipple.

You can now officially round file that "tough new Vatican liturgy document":

The Catholic Herald reports that Vatican officials have "simplified the document and moderated some of the more controversial proscriptions."

"Moderated some of the more controversial proscriptions...." Something tells me this allows enough wiggle room to drive a supertanker through. Any takers?

Wouldn't want to keep those who dwell in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles from hearing an dance-accompanied version of "Mele Kalikimaka" during Christmastide, now, would we?

[Thanks to Dom Bettinelli for the link.]

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Lileks on "Sophisticated" Terrorists.


I’m somewhat annoyed by the assertion that this act was “sophisticated,” and hence the work of those brilliant stratgerists of Al Qaeda. My definition of sophistication is somewhat different: it’s an unmanned drone flying over Pakistan, piloted by a guy in Florida, dropping a laser-guided bomb into the passenger cab of a truck full of Taliban. That’s sophistication. Synchronizing watches on detenators is not exactly all that tough.

I'll go him one better: "Sophistication" would be the ability of your home nation(s) to produce or duplicate wristwatches, semtex, or even subway cars.

As opposed to merely holding squatter's rights to several bazillion gallons of fermented triceratops.

[FWIW, I don't think this is the ETA, either--Basque nationalists are more than a little like their Irish counterparts--butchery of six month old babies doesn't go over well with most supporters of the cause, many of whom have a residual attachment to a faith that frowns on such.]

Friday, March 12, 2004

Prayer request for friends in Spain.

I love Spain--one of my favorite places, and I hope to go back there one day.

One of Heather's friends, Lisa (a college sorority sister), and Lisa's boyfriend, German, live in Madrid. We haven't heard from them, but that doesn't mean much given that the only contact info we have for them is an older e-mail address. They have a band--the closest analogy for their sound is Yo La Tengo--and they do a haunting cover of "Just Like Heaven."

They are both American citizens, so the fact I haven't heard anything about Americans being involved helps.

I rode the subways in Madrid during my bohemian moment in 1989, with two friends. We joked that if they served beer on the cars, we'd never have left--we could have watched the Spanish women 24/7.

Backpacks were everywhere: on tourists, students--you stopped noticing them very quickly.

[Update: As I said in the comments, they are both fine. They live in Madrid, but a distance away from the explosions. Although Lis was on her way to the subway when she heard about it.

Heather spoke with her at length on Friday, and they are coping.

Whether our phone bill will cope is another matter....but I'll get over it pretty quick.]

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Remember: Mel Gibson's the bad guy.

Unable to derail the film (at nearly $220 million and counting), dismissive critics decided to go after the man--call it Plan B, the "Weird Mel" Option. Consider Chris Hitchens, who offers the "Closeted Mel" essay:

The closeted homosexual is a sad figure from the past, and so is the homosexual who tries desperately to "marry" a heterosexual, thus increasing misery and psychic repression all round.

This may seem like an oblique way in which to approach Mel Gibson's ghastly movie The Passion. But it came back to me this week that an associate of his had once told me, in lacerating detail, that an evening with Mel was one long fiesta of boring but graphic jokes about anal sex. I've since had that confirmed by other sources. And, long before he emerged as the spear-carrier for the sort of Catholicism once preached by Gen. Franco and the persecutors of Dreyfus, Mel Gibson attained a brief notoriety for his loud and crude attacks on gays. Now he's become the proud producer of a movie that relies for its effect almost entirely on sadomasochistic male narcissism.

Now, I had to re-read it carefully to make sure if the "sadomasochistic" and "anal sex" references were bad things in Mr. Hitchens' mind. After all, he's been somewhat ambiguous on that point himself, as Time's film critic pointed out:

Leading the attack, Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens appropriated rhetorical tactics employed by both political fringes. Like some segments of the Christian right when Last Temptation and Dogma came out, he called for a boycott of a film he apparently had not seen. And he exhumed that favorite old pejorative of the Bolsheviks, fascist: he said the movie is "quite distinctly fascist in intention," adding that it is "an incitement to sadomasochism, in the less attractive sense of the word."

Then we have another "Weird Mel" variant, the PETA Option. This one comes courtesy of Endless Love director Franco Zeffirelli, who worked with Gibson on Hamlet way back in 1990.

The veteran Italian director also recounts his own curious experiences of working with Gibson, recalling one scene in Hamlet where Gibson intervened on the set when British actor Ian Holm (news), playing Polonius, acted out his character's death with his eyes closed.

Zeffirelli recalls Gibson saying: "A wounded animal about to die does not stay with a fixed look, but rolls its eyes in the final spasms, first together, then in the opposite direction, like a cross eyed person. It's almost funny."

"And how would you know?" responded Holm, according to Zeffirelli.

"I've seen plenty die,” replied Gibson, Zeffirelli claims. “When I can, to relax, I go to my farm and kill a lot of calves on the days when they are slaughtered."

Persuasive. I mean, if you can't trust a fourteen year old anecdote from an extremely hostile witness, what can you trust?

There's a two word rebuttal to the character attacks on Gibson: Victor Salva.

Salva, too, is a Hollywood director, with a film due to be released this year: The Watch.

Unlike Gibson, however, Salva has had an unfortunate scrape with the law, one with which Catholics ought to be familiar by now:

Child molestation.

Salva confessed to having oral sex with Nathan Winters in 1987 while directing the then sixth-grader in "Clownhouse," a film about three boys terrorized by circus clowns.

"Clownhouse" won several awards and was the first horror movie released at the acclaimed Sundance Film Festival.

Salva was sentenced to three years in state prison, serving 15 months and completing parole in 1992, according to the state Corrections Department and court records in Contra Costa County. He is a registered sex offender in Los Angeles County, according to state records.

Laws in 46 states, including California, treat sex offenders differently than other convicted criminals in that sex offenders, once released from prison, are required to register with authorities in communities where they take up residence. This is because pedophiles are driven by a psychological compulsion that has typically not been cured by therapy, according to criminologists and prosecutors.

* * *
Winters, who also acted for Salva in the 1986 short film "Something in the Basement," told his mother during the making of "Clownhouse" that Salva had forced sex on him.

When police raided Salva's house, they found two homemade pornographic tapes, one showing Salva having oral sex with Winters.

In April 1988, Salva pleaded guilty to one count of lewd and lascivious conduct, one count of oral copulation with a person under 14 and three counts of procuring a child for pornography. At his sentencing hearing, a prosecutor said Salva appeared to seek jobs where he could work with children. Salva has written children's books and in 1985 worked at the Crawford Village Child Care Center in Concord.

And in another twist familiar to my brethren, approval to film one of his works near an elementary school was granted in 2000 despite the studio's failure to inform school board members about his status as a registered sex offender. Oopsie. Only bad when a bishop does it, I guess.

And how does the higher-budget vision of Mr. Salva translate to the big screen? I'll let Ms. Malkin answer it for me:

Consider the wretched plot of "Jeepers Creepers 2": An ancient demon dubbed "the Creeper" preys on teenage basketball players trapped in a broken-down bus on a rural highway. Convicted child molester Salva's camera lingers on the shirtless torsos of the boys, alive and dead. The boys, all buff and beautiful in that pedophilic Calvin Klein/Abercrombie and Fitch kind of way, sunbathe on the bus roof. The lascivious Creeper stalks and harvests his victims, devouring "certain parts of their anatomy while laminating the rest," in the words of one movie critic. This orgy of bare skin and blood splatter, the sophisticated artistes lecture us, is convicted child molester Salva's redeeming contribution to society.

But, he's paid his debt, right? Cured?

Catholics--all together now:

Sgt. Gary Primavera, the police officer who handled the Winters case, said: "Victor has every characteristic of a pedophile that I know of -- and I've worked with enough of them. There was no remorse. The only sadness on Victor's part was that he got caught."

Don't forget--Salva's got another horror film in the can, and it comes out this year. For some reason, I don't think we'll hear "Weird Vic" stories.

Despite the ample public record and guilty plea.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

What's missing?

Take a look over the dancer's left shoulder.

For my part, I can't imagine getting myself all decked out in stretch fabric and shaking my tailfeather in front of a crucifix.

How 'bout you?

Makes me think there might be a reason people are trying to get rid of the traditional visual symbols of Catholicism.


On the other hand, this positive, affirming guy would probably approve.
Yes, I've been busy.

Life trumps blogging.

At least it better...
"This one goes out to all you Red Sox fans, and everyone else unlucky at love..."

The Onion nails the essence of BoSox fandom (check out today's News In Brief):

Every Song On Radio Reminds Man Of Red Sox Loss
BOSTON—Every song on the radio reminds Red Sox fan Patrick O'Malley of the team's loss to the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. "'One Call Away' on 94.5 reminded me of how [manager] Grady Little's call kept Pedro Martinez on the mound in the eighth," O'Malley said Monday. "So I flipped over to 97.9, but then Van Halen's 'Poundcake' reminded me of how Yankee batter Aaron Boone pounded Tim Wakefield's knuckleball over the fence." O'Malley then switched to AM radio, where a farm report reminded him of that corndog he threw on the ground when Boone crossed home plate in the game's 11th inning.

Thanks to homey, frequent commenter, and Sox diehard Bryan for the heads up.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Don't forget.

Read Mark Steyn as often as possible.

Here are two examples why.
We now have an easy solution to those priest sex scandals.

Lower the age of consent.

[V-8 moment.]

Just think of the trouble it would have saved if the Paul Shanleys of the world could have simply said of their inamorati: "Hey, he's legal."

I eagerly await (without breath-holding) Rosa Parks' denunciation of this developing trend. Oh, hell--I'll supply the response for you: "same sex marriage will tame all these chickenhawking impulses and turn them into Ozzie and Harriet Redux. And if it doesn't work out, the kid'll get alimony."

Hey--isn't Forever Eden on?

[Thanks to Jeff Miller for the link.]
Interesting Blogs.

1. Spring has sprung, and a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of baseball. Time to start consulting the Detroit Tigers Weblog regularly again. After all, the Tigs could have upwards of 65 wins this year (more thoughts on that later). Even if you are not a Tigers fan (and I can certainly understand why), there are plenty of baseball-related links at the site to peruse, including other team blogs.

2. The High Crusade. Tim Enloe's weblog about the intersection of science fiction and the Christian worldview is well-worth a stop. Most recent post? About Babylon 5, and some interesting questions about why Christian writers seem unable to present our worldview in other contexts.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Let's dispense with this argument, right now.

"The gospels don't offer that much detail about the Crucifixion, so how do you get a movie out of it?"

And? This proves what? Most manuscripts of the Gospel of St. Mark don't depict a resurrected Jesus, either.

More importantly, the gospels were deliberately sparing of details because the evangelists assumed (1) the readers had the cultural background or (2) teachers would help fill in the details.

Let's try an analogy: if Jesus lived in 21st Century Metro Detroit, and went to see the Tigers play the Red Sox at Comerica, an account using the same style would simply report it as "He went to a baseball game."

The Gospel would not say that the Tigers' starting pitching collapsed after 4 and a third, that Manny Ramirez was moody, nor would it indicate when the infield fly rule was in effect. That is, of course, no argument against the occurence of each of those events, contained as they are in the spare account, "He went to a baseball game."
The Man is the Message.

Richard Cohen is a columnist I find myself reading periodically. He is one of those many syndicated columnists with whom I rarely agree--in fact, the disagreement is usually vehement. However, unlike most, our opinions have been known to be in lockstep on rare, happy occasions that leave me hoping for more. I'm usually very, very disappointed. His heart seems in the right place, but most of the time he's too trapped by his ideological commitments to follow it.

In other words, when he's right, he's perfectly right. When he's wrong: ugh.

This is one of those "ugh" moments. Mr. Cohen saw That Film, and left with a thumbs-down. I'm not going to go into depth on this one--just a couple of points. Besides, I sort of agree on the Pilate point, but again, he simply blipped over the sympathetic Jewish populace. That, and a column that uses "fascist-" like a diuretic isn't worth too much time.

I thought the movie was tawdry, cartoonish, badly acted and anti-Semitic, maybe not purposely so but in the way portions of the New Testament are -- an assignment of blame that culminated in the Holocaust.

Yes. An inevitable straight-line progression, that. If memory serves, Himmler even had the Einsatzgruppen read the Gospel According to St. John before every kill sweep. Also explains why, of all the Christianized peoples of the world in the two thousand years since the NT was written, only 1930s Germany set up extermination camps. OK.

And, in the future, please try to refrain from referring to my sacred scripture as "tawdry, cartoonish, badly-acted and anti-Semitic." Doesn't do much for interfaith dialogue.

Oh, wait--Christians are on the receiving end of the invective.

Never mind. Please proceed.

The violence was the message. It overwhelmed the message of Christ, which even a non-Christian can admire and endorse.

Here's a bigger problem--Jesus isn't Confucius, merely an admirable moral philosopher. Unlike Confucius, Jesus' teaching is inseparably bound to his own person. Oh, people understandably try to, picking and choosing--no doubt the instant columnist likes "blessed are the peacemakers," "honor thy father and mother," and related proscriptions. Unfortunately, there are all those messianic and, more scandalous--divine claims regarding his person. Even the ethics-heavy Sermon on the Mount is tied to his claim to be greater than Moses.

The message is the man.

In other words, you can't honestly start treating Jesus like a salad bar--Thousand Island yes, chickpeas no--without distorting him into, well, yourself. Like it or not, the violence done to him was because of who he was, and what he claimed to be--both vindicated by the Resurrection.

Which is why Christians are stampeding to the film.

And others are perplexed.
Another parishioner review.

Patty's is worth your time.
For those of you who might have missed it...

Greg Krehbiel explains the raven scene.

For the record, I too was more disturbed by the treatment of Christ throughout the film. But I was at least partially prepared for that, finding it in the Gospels and all. The raven was likely the most jarring extra-scriptural addition to the film.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Zach Frey's interesting Lenten sacrifice.

He's blogging, but he's not reading other people's blogs.

Technically, that means you can say whatever you want to about him at your blog, and he'll never know....

Go on over and say hi.
Thankfully, this hasn't happened to us yet.


I'll let Pansy Moss tell you her hilarious story, involving the interaction of a 4 year old and the authorities.
"Quid est veritas?"

Est vir qui ad est.

Thanks to AMDG for the discovery of this interesting....coincidence.

Monday, March 01, 2004

The Film.

Until this morning, I wasn't able to put a finger on my emotions upon leaving the screening. It was an odd sensation that was familiar, but I couldn't categorize it.

Until today.

All of the sudden, I remembered that about three years ago, I was driving home from work. I was on the concrete slalom run known as Interstate 696 (Fun Fact: The middle 6 is upside down!) in northern metro Detroit. About two hundred yards ahead of me, some idiot in the far left lane decided she really needed to get to the exit on the extreme right hand side of the road.

So she cut across three lanes of traffic in her effort to do so. An S-10 pickup in her path tried desperately to swerve out of her way.

He failed.

They made contact at about 70 mph. Her car was knocked back toward the median, and the S-10 began, in seeming slow-motion, a perfect, nightmarish, debris-strewing barrel roll. The traffic behind them began reacting as best it could, but two more contacts were made. I managed to luge around the mess, and pulled up behind a couple of other drivers, just before where the S-10 had skidded to a stop.

The S-10 was resting on its caved-in roof.

I got out, and discovered that miraculously, not only was the driver alive, he was unhurt--apart from perhaps needing a new pair of shorts. In fact, no one in the entire mess was seriously hurt, although the police had no choice but to shut the expressway down.

As I drove away, I felt an odd surge of adrenalin-fueled relief--but for some heedless decisions resulting in a delay of a few seconds here and there, I would have been right in the middle of the accidents. Under those circumstances, who could have said whether I would have been as blessed to walk away?

I rode the rest of the way home in chastened relief and gratitude.

I had the same sensation last night, as I left. That could--by all justice should--have been me. But He took it instead.

The scenes which stand out are many, but one which has particular force occurs after Jesus arrives at Golgotha. He lays on the ground, half-dead already. The cross, too, lays upon the ground. Battered and wounded out of all recognition (Isaiah 53 in spades), he crawls to the cross, and lays upon it. Embraces that which, hours earlier, he was asking to let pass. It is a powerful moment, burning itself into the brain.

The film is filled with them--raw images that etch themselves, willingly or no, into the memory.

Three times, the "fourth wall" is broken, and either Jesus (twice) or Mary look at the audience. The first is Jesus, staring ostensibly at Peter following the third denial. The second also is Jesus, warning the disciples that they will be persecuted for His sake. And the final, most wrenching example is Mary's long, unflinching stare at the Pieta, holding her beloved and dead son. I thought I'd been numbed by that point, but it all came rushing back. I understand those reparation devotions held on the first Saturdays of the month now.

Viscerally. Sin is social, and mine was the reason for which her son died.

I could go on--there is a vision of Hell as a featureless salt flat, and a shriek from Satan in the midst of it at the instant of Jesus' death. Some have interpreted it as a howl of victory. It is definitely not that. Chilling, and it acknowledges a victory, but not the Fallen's.

As I have thought about the film, I think there is a great, ragged cross-shaped hole in American Christian spirituality. There is a tendency to try to beam to the empty tomb on Sunday, bypassing All That Unpleasantness on Good Friday. Catholicism has hardly been immune, what with a treacly, self-centered spirtuality that predominates at far too many Community Affirmation Hours, which never quite get past celebrating what wonderful folk happen to be in attendance.

But this film reminds us there is no way out but through. You can't get to the Resurrection without the Crucifixion. The letters of St. Paul, preaching Christ and Him Crucified, dying and rising with him, reminding us we were bought at a price--all have a fierce new immediacy. My already-strained tolerance of community-centered liturgy has probably frayed beyond all repair.

This film fills that cross-shaped hole in ways that forty more years of Catholicism: Wow! and Josh the Palestinian Tolerance Mascot™ never will.

Which brings me back to the initial point--this is a hard film to love--especially if you can't see the love in what happened on Good Friday. This is not a "Precious Moments" love, a Hallmark card love, a "Greatest Love of All" love. It is a depiction of love as the ultimate sacrifice--a love only God could offer. Only in that way can anyone love this film--a film that captures a seemingly harsh, but wholly redemptive, unflinching, and absolute love that cannot be earned.
Film Thoughts, Part II.

3A. Historical Accuracy and the Feud with the "Mainstream" Scholars.

I think I picked up where the vitriol toward the film from Our Masters, The Scholars, started. It begins with the opening credits, which quote from Isaiah 53. What is interesting is the dating--700 BC. For those of you not in the know, critical biblical scholarship has dispensed with the notion that the Prophet Isaiah wrote all of Isaiah. Instead, the basic view is that it was written in two or three (or even more) chunks by 2-3+ writers, during 2-3+ eras. Isaiah 53 is held to be one of the later sections. Not that this is a fringe view (though the 3+ in each category is lunging for the margins), and even those who hold to complete Isaianic authorship concede there are good arguments in favor of the opposing view. In fact, the majority of scholars hold that there was more than one author, etc.

I think the scholar-critics saw this at the head of the purloined script, snorted in contempt, and it went downhill from there. "We'll educate this Hollywood twit..." Alas, he spurned the lecture--which is unfortunate, because had there been some real orthodox mainstream scholarship offering advice and riding shotgun, most of the controversy would have been avoided. Instead, when he was hit with a fringe histo-crit broadside, he dug in his heels. Understandable, and, again, unfortunate.

4. What I Did Not Like.

In addition to the desire to see Pilate with more menace and Caiaphas humanized, a lot of people have mentioned the crow scene, and I agree. I'm not sure what Gibson was trying to do here, but it seems odd that it would happen after Jesus prayed that the others would be forgiven.

Also, some of the demonic flourishes seemed a little cartoonish, although I appreciated Gibson's effort to bring the "big realms" aspect of Good Friday into the mix.

Not so BTW, I think SAM's criticism of Jim Cork on his choice of review quotes is over the top. I don't think Jim's post can be fairly read as a blanket endorsement of everything in the Coren essay, and it's wrong to fang a guy who has been as open-minded and fair as Jim has been. He doesn't like the movie--hey, no skin off anybody's nose: this is not the Gospel, after all, it's just a depiction of an aspect of it. It's not like Jim is (unlike Coren) criticizing those who do like it, or their piety--a failing of both critics and supporters. However, I wish he'd stayed on the fence--as he notes, that would have made him pretty well unique.

5. "The Evangelical Opportunity of a Lifetime."

As with many aspects of this film, the answer is "no"--and "yes." No, in the sense that I don't think taking your heathen/apostate/fallen-away/indifferent friend or family member will lead to a Damascene conversion story. The altar call (a sacramental if there ever was one) will not necessarily follow.

However, in the sense that it will strengthen flagging believers, recharge their faith and send them boldly out into the world to witness, I think it will do that. He did that for me, so I think I could risk a little embarrassment for Him. I also think that this two hour film will build far more bridges between Catholics and evangelicals than decades of official chat-shop dialogues, with all that means for the Gospel in the world. Of course, you should pause to savor the irony of such a result coming from a product of the least "ecumenical" wing of Catholicism.

Then again, irony and providence are simply two sides of the same divine coin.

So, what did I think about the film?
"You've got strep!"

Courtesy of my one year old son (he turned 1 on February 24, which I omitted to mention--happy birthday, Dale!).

As a result, I may have the opportunity to blog today.

I saw TPOTC last night.

Part I of a multi-part review.

I wanted to see it yesterday afternoon, but it was sold out through the next-to-last showing. I think we are seeing the beginnings of a bona fide phenomenon here. I ended up seeing the last showing of the day--also sold out.

What do I think? It is hard for me to say I "love" the film--it does not lend itself easily to that characterization, but that eventually will bring me to a related point, so bear with me.

First, to the controversial points.

1. Anti-Semitism.

It's not for me to tell Jews how to react to the film. I think, though, that the wisest commentary on this issue has been from Dennis Prager, who says that Jews and Christians are seeing two different films. Honestly, I don't see how one could come to the conclusion that the film indicts all Jews of the time, let alone all Jews, in every time and place. Sympathetic Jews abound--at the Sanhedrin trial, and all throughout Jerusalem and the Via Dolorosa. You have to be trying not to notice them. More importantly, in making Caiaphas the central focus of villainy, the film takes the steam out of a collective guilt interpretation. One is left with the inclination to dislike "this guy" as opposed to "all these guys." That said, I would have like to see a more humanized Caiaphas, along the lines of Pilate, an exploration of motivations. This could have been done with a couple of lines he said in John.

When I get my $25 million, I can shoot my own film.

But perhaps the best rebuttal of the anti-Semitic charge comes in the form of one character--Simon of Cyrene, press-ganged into helping Christ carry His cross. A very reluctant figure (a father with a young daughter), he initially makes very clear for all the bystanders that he's not the condemned criminal here. Nevertheless, he quickly becomes a heroic figure, stopping the relentless abuse from the hellish Roman guards, at no small risk to himself. For all intents and purposes, he willingly bears the load up to Golgotha.

All very well and good, critics might say--how does that help?

How is Simon garbed? Throughout, he prominently wears the most common religious garb seen today on Jewish believers--a yarmulke.

Hint, hint.

2. The Violence.

It's grim, and I know I and the rest of the audience were horrified.

[Insert favorite qualifier here]

I've seen far, far worse. "Pornographic?" Puh-leez. The violence in the critics-darling Scream flicks was far worse--Drew Barrymore's character being disembowled and hung from a tree, for starters (literally). Hello? Nightmare on Elm Street 1 (another critical fave-rave), with its Johnny Depp blood geyser, anyone?

Then there's the non-slasher flicks--like those of Tarantino (who I generally like)--that are more violent. Reservoir Dogs' cop-torturing scene, along with Tim Roth virtually swimming in a spreading pool of his own blood, come to mind. Saving Private Ryan was more gruesome. And, speaking as someone who's seen Woo's Hardboiled, where the body count literally requires a digital counter, TPOTC is something of a piker in the violence department. I think S.T. Karnick at National Review Online has it nailed--the difference is, we care about this victim.

None of this is to deny that TPOTC is disturbingly violent--it most certainly is. The scourging scene is nothing short of horrific. But it would be interesting to cross-reference the negative Passion reviews with the same critics' takes on the other films mentioned above. I have a suspicion it would be very revealing.

3. Historical Accuracy.

Which brings me to one Pontius Pilate, Procurator of Judea, 26-36 A.D. I thought he was a little too sympathetic. For my money, Rod Steiger's version in Jesus of Nazareth seemed to get it better. Still, let us lay to rest the notion that the Jewish leadership had no pressure points over Pilate. In 26 AD, he had the legions enter Jerusalem bearing shields with the image of the Emperor Tiberius. According to Josephus, outraged Jewish leaders protested to his superior in Syria, who ordered Pilate to remove them. According to Philo, in 32 AD following the execution of his patron, Sejanus, by Tiberius, Pilate attempted to suck up by having shields bearing Tiberius' name inside Jerusalem. This time, the leadership went straight to Tiberius, who immediately rebuked and overruled Pilate. In 33 AD, certain members of the leadership had a problem with a Galilean preacher...

Let's just say "you are no friend of Caesar" would have a special resonance under these circumstances.

A better point would be to question why the bloody Pilate would have hesitated in getting rid of another Jewish troublemaker. I look at it this way--it is consistent with human nature to take the opportunity to grind your heel into the insteps of people who irritate you. It is also fully consistent with the Roman principle of "divide and rule." Finally, it takes into account the effect our Lord had on people in his earthly ministry. Anyone else remember Jesus' effect on a particularly corrupt tax farmer named Zaccheus?

In other words, the psychology of the situation is more complex than those screaming "unhistorical" are willing to grant.

More to come.

Someone finally solves the "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" argument.

And that someone is me. The answer is: "No, of course not." My reasoning: “Set at Christmas” does not "a Christmas movi...