Monday, October 22, 2012

Ponder this one for a bit.

Then get very, very angry.

It is bewildering that no U.S. aircraft ever came to the aid of the defenders. If even one F18 had been on station, it would have detected the location of hostiles firing at night and deterred and attacked the mortar sites. For our top leadership, with all the technological and military tools at their disposal, to have done nothing for seven hours was a joint civilian and military failure of initiative and nerve.

Secretary of State Clinton has said the responsibility was hers. But there has been no assertion that the State Department overruled the Pentagon out of concern about the sovereignty of Libyan air space. Instead, it appears passive groupthink prevailed, with the assumption being that a spontaneous mob would quickly run out of steam.

Firefights, however, wax and wane from dusk to dawn. You cannot predict ahead of time when they will stop. Therefore a combat commander will take immediate action, presuming reinforcements will be needed.

The administration wrongly blamed a mob for the attack. Yet ironically, Mr. Obama’s chances of reelection would have plummeted were it not for the human decency of a mob that took the ambassador to the hospital before the terrorists returned.

If the terrorists had taken his body and, with no Special Operations Forces hot on their trail, taunted America the next day — claiming the ambassador was still alive — the Benghazi tragedy would have escalated into an international disaster. The U.S. military sent no aid. Why?

Monday, October 15, 2012

I am converting to Islam.

I am building a giant cybernetic war badger in my basement.

I love the music of Marty Haugen.

I am receiving locutions from Krishna.

I think Obama is the only permissible electoral choice for Catholics in 2012.

I don't think women should ever wear pants or breastfeed in public.

OK--they can do the latter if they're wearing only pants.

Janeway is way better than Kirk and Picard combined.

The Dallas Cowboys are going to win the next three Super Bowls.

Or the Washington Redskins--whichever you hate more.

Yes, that outfit makes your ass look fat.

The best Stooge was Shemp.

Only Anglican orders are valid.

--I mean, seriously--is this thing on? Traffic is allegedly going up, but I'm feeling like a performance artist here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Romney for President. Sigh.

Or: Lowering Your Expectations Makes American Politics Almost Bearable!

I've made no secret about my disregard for one Willard Mitt Romney, former Governor of the Democratic People's Republic of Massachusetts. He wasn't even my fifth choice in this cycle, and his record is in many respects indistinguishable from that of the President.

Including on the central issue of religious freedom. Yeah, Mitt's a bit of a giant liar on his record in Massachusetts.

But/However/Nonetheless Alert: He has promised in no uncertain terms to shred the HHS Mandate. Ditto his Catholic wingman, who made a big deal of it during the Veep debate.

Why do I believe Romney? Because it takes no political courage to shred it--it costs him nothing with any other constituency that's supporting him to do so. But it will needlessly alienate social conservatives if he doesn't. Being that Mitt's not remotely stupid, he'll do what he says on this one.

In other words, Bonchamps is right, and after much grim wrangling with the issue, that's enough for me. I want someone who will take the boot off the Church's throat, and hand it back to the Left. With the foot still in it.

"Here you go. Don't do that again, champ."

If the only guy who will do it is Romney, then that's the sway-backed, spavined rhino I have to back.

Oh, and there is a second reason: we'll have a free press of sorts again. For the worst, most self-serving and wholly cynical of reasons, but a free press. Of sorts. But that beats the hell out of the palace guard/fanzine media we have now.

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Lady, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave the store."

From one of the greatest films of all time:


Video reveals Tunisia's ruling "moderate" Islamist party colluding with the Salafis.

Something to think about in light of our embassy in Tunis being stormed by Salafis a month ago.

Renewal or rupture?

Or, "Hey, a Catholic post!"

After we moved from our two-bedroom fridge box to the Burrow in 2010, we started attending the nearest parish. Eventually we registered at the new place in 2011, and have been happy parishoners since. One of our concerns early on was that the inner ring suburbs had taken it in the shorts during the last round of parish closings/consolidations, and we were afraid of that happening again. Father assured us that it wasn't likely to happen again, and offered as evidence the fact that the parish was getting a new altar. This year, it most certainly did.

Now, there are two critical facts to keep in mind (I know you really want to skip down to view the pictures, but bear with me): (1) the parish church was built in 1956, and cost was apparently no object. The stained glass was imported from Munich, or was commissioned from talented local artisan, Mary Giovann (I prefer her figural work, but she had the knack). Before he blew up at me and deemed me a nonperson, Jeffrey Smith indicated that he thought the BVM and SH mosaics (below) were from the craftsmen who were usually commissioned by the Vatican. Longer term parishoners have narrowed it down to either Italy or Poland. So, yeah. Note also the baldachin, which wasn't exactly a standard issue requirement back then. The parish was making a statement in 1956.

(2) Unfortunately, another statement was made in the (early?) 1970s, with a misguided renovation.  The decision was made to put in a wooden table and wooden ambo in the transept, on a raised platform. The said platform was covered with gold plush carpet. No, I don't know what they were thinking, either. Smoky basement scenes from "That 70s Show" leap to mind, but otherwise, it's inexplicable. In all fairness, however, I can't be mad at them, because it wasn't one of those wholesale "Lash Out At Tradition In An Iconoclastic Frenzy" hatchet jobs that have become justly infamous.

Here, as with the King's Men on Numenor, the renovators retained a certain holy fear, and they quailed from defiling Meneltarma--i.e., assaulting the high altar, baldachin, mosaics, statuary, altar rails and so forth.  Minimal hammering, thanks be to God.

The old renovated altar, after removal for installation of the new (sans the dread carpet--gah!) 
The question that should always be foremost with respect to Catholic art and architecture: 
"Is the best we can do?"

Behold the new (and restored, and original):

The new altar, on the new marble platform--complete with fascinated toddler. All of the stone was obtained from the same quarry as 1956.

The old ambo, which had been in storage until the KofC broke it out for a 
state officer installation ceremony--and everyone insisted it stay out.

The BVM altar mosaic. 
Suitably Byzantine for my tastes.

I know, you can read--but for the record, the Sacred Heart altar mosaic. 
The picture doesn't do the gold justice.

The high altar, tabernacle and baldachin.  

A close-up of the tabernacle on the high altar.

The same, from the right.

Four of the altar relics, which were re-placed in the new altar by Bishop Byrnes. I'm sure you can figure out which Saints are which. We also have a piece of the True Cross, but that was NOT displayed for public view for obvious reasons. And permit me to detonate the tired argument that you could build a ship with all the relics of the True Cross bouncing about in Catholic churches: 

So, in response to all of this resplendent Catholic glory, Hilary said: "So, the altar in the nave and the Mass being said outside the sanctuary doesn't bother you?"

After chewing on it for a few weeks, I have to admit she has a point. Not that it's a bad renovation--far from it. It's about the best I've seen. I think it's beautiful, and the kids find something new to examine every time we're there.

Bottom line: it is still a change, isn't it? One that kinda-sorta ratifies the initial rupture-redo. The best rejoinder I've come up with is that had the original renovation been done this way, it would have shown more continuity--a change, yes, but one with a distinct effort to connect to the past, and which does not express embarrassment for the past, and doesn't convey "Eh--it'll do." And better late than never. 

That's good, but it isn't quite dispositive. I guess I keep coming back to my wife's friend, who never made the connection between the Mass and the Sacrifice of the Cross until she saw The Passion of the Christ. And then there's the constant need to tack against the winds of discontinuity.

Rome, we have a problem.

So, yeah, a lot to ponder. 

The Michigan Mutaween.

Give me a second to check the First Amendment....

...still checking...


Nope. No exceptions for the hypersensitivities of the perpetually aggrieved.

Dearborn's slow-learner Virtue Police need another lesson-by-lawsuit, it seems.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Neat baseball story.

Washington Nationals fan Bertram R. Abramson recalls--in detail--the last Washington baseball title.

In 1924.

And he has good news for fellow Nationals faithful:

“I expect good things out of this team,” says Abramson, who watches almost every game at home. “Washington has never had a team like this.”

Not even in 1924, when the roster was loaded with future Hall of Famers and won it all? “Not even in ‘24,” the semi-retired accountant says.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Be honest with yourself.

And, on the odd chance it matters, yes I came up with it.

Cheer up, Democrats!

Sure, by all accounts, the President was less-than in the debate last night.

But the good news is that you have Joe Biden warming up in the bullpen.

A truly historic, unexpected performance last night.

Congratulations to Triple Crown-winning Detroit Tiger Miguel Cabrera!

Best quote:

Eric Adelson, "Miguel Cabrera became a baseball legend this year because of how magnificently he swung a bat. But one of the most heroic things he did all year came Wednesday night when he simply picked one up. Cabrera became the first major leaguer in 45 years to win baseball's hallowed Triple Crown, leading the sport in home runs (44), runs batted in (139) and batting average (.330). That feat will go down in history. But those of us alive to see this achievement will remember how he could have sat out the final game and won the Crown. He chose not to. He chose to play."

That trade keeps looking better and better.

Also, a big tip of the fedora to the classy fans of Kansas City, who gave Cabrera not one but two standing ovations. Great fans in a great baseball town.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Mourning the Middlebrow.

I recall "The King's Speech" being derided in a review as "middlebrow mush." The term figured prominently in discussions of the film.

My thought: "What's wrong with middlebrow?"

Truth be told, that's probably the most apt term to describe my cafeteria-style cultural tastes. I aspire to highbrow in nothing (all together now: "We could tell!"), but have a hobbyist's interest in a wide swath of topics.

It boils down to a belief that exposure to art, religion/thought, culture and history on a broad scale--enough to have a conversational knowledge, or to acquire the same with reasonable diligence--is critical to being a fully-rounded man or woman.

If I could sum it up using a pop-cultural reference that's probably fading from view: not a Cliff's Notes version of the world, but rather the Time-Life Books level. And, yes, I have bushels of Time-Life books--just ask the long-suffering Much Better Half.

Or, if you're feeling particularly ambitious, The Story of Civilization level. Yes, I have that one, too.

Such works used to be staples, but now they have vanished from the scene, along with the middlebrow mindset that sensed such things were important. Stumbling about recently, I'm at least slightly reassured to see that I'm not the only one to mourn its loss. From the latter, a particularly telling quote about the present predicament:

One reason why culture has become so polarized is that the Internet rewards those who connect to it with more or less exactly what they want. For those who want to find the remnants of middlebrow culture, there are writers like Teachout and James Lileks. For those who wish to find angry bitter screeds, there’s no shortage of them on both sides of the aisle. Pop culture? Porn? Unlimited quantities of both.

Technology is one element in that divergence, and I’m very happy to be connected to an Internet with unlimited options. (And happy that it’s allowing you to read this as well.) But long before there was an Internet, the institutions that gave us the middlebrow culture of the 1950s and ’60s ceded their responsibility for the care and feeding of their audiences’ minds. In her latest blog post on another facet of our fractured culture, Dr. Melissa Clouthier writes, “America has become The View.” But doesn’t ABC share some of the blame for putting such a trainwreck of a show on the air in the first place?

Fair enough, but more than a little blame goes to the individual staring back from the mirror: if it was deemed important enough by the consumer, the institutions would have continued to churn it out. But we didn't want it, so they didn't.

We don't live in a morally sane world.

Because in a morally-sane world, Eric Hobsbawm would have been every inch the pariah David Irving is.

The eliminationist sentiment that mars the Left was perfectly embodied in this unassuming little man, who was feted and esteemed as a grand old man of letters until the day he died. Because apologizing for the murders of tens of millions does not disqualify you from polite society when it's the Communists who were doing the murdering:

Although increasingly on the defensive, and quite willing to say that the great Communist experiment had not only failed but had been doomed from the start, Mr. Hobsbawm refused to recant or, many critics complained, to face up to the human misery it had created. “Historical understanding is what I’m after, not agreement, approval, or sympathy,” he wrote in his memoir.

In 1994, he shocked viewers when, in an interview with Michael Ignatieff on the BBC, he said that the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens under Stalin would have been worth it if a genuine Communist society had been the result.

Far from getting you booted from polite society, it appears that the ability to spew Marxist apologetics is a tenure requirement. Can't make an omelete, etc.

Hat-tip to Mark Sullivan for the first link.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Gotta love used bookstore discounts.

Finding this in like new condition at 90% off was...nice.

If the ball gag fits...

Never heard of Peter Roff before, but I'm going to start paying attention now: this is a pitch-perfect satire of the inevitable post-debate media coverage.

Best line, which nukes Chris Matthews and his "news" network?

President Obama's performance was so good, my whole body was tingling," said Matt Christopher, the noted commentator for the SMBND cable news network.

As George Takei puts it: "Oh, myyyyy."

[Hat-tip to Don McClarey for the find.]

Happy Birthday, Tommy!

Born--in a hurry--a year ago today, at 7:31am.

Our only child to require a sprint to the hospital after water breaking.

I still think it was because Heather was jonesing for a new mattress and box springs. Mission accomplished!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Holy crap.

First bacon, now a threat to the global supply of disposable diapers.

A completely impartial TV program review.

 Revolution: The Cast

For the moment, I'm going to completely bracket the fact that NBC's Revolution is a blatant, soulless rip-off of my friend Steve Stirling's Emberverse series. Instead, I'm going to give it an objective analysis, focusing on the strengths and flaws of the series, as based upon my viewing of the first two episodes.

1. It's a blatant, soulless rip-off of the Emberverse series.

OK, I tried. But there's no getting around this fact, and this fact ripples throughout the plot. The fact that it is a thinly-disguised ripoff ("How about we let guns work? That'll keep him from suing, right?") with hot-rod flames here and there and a new monkey-fur dashboard warps the storytelling, rendering it a mess that doesn't work on its own terms.

Remember the Porsche "makeover" in Bachelor Party
 Revolution is exactly like that.

2. Is there anything good about it? Sure--the cast is solid and workmanlike, with Billy Burke a credible heroic lead. Which is critical given his role in the story.

Giancarlo Esposito (a perpetual favorite of mine since the too-soon gone Bakersfield PD) is his usual excellent self in a supporting role as a lieutenant of the Bad Guy. No one stands out in a bad way, but they're all pretty well flat, save for Esposito who manages to wring hints of complexity out of the script. I'm willing to excuse initial 2D characterisations, though--it takes time to flesh out characters. In addition, the sets and camera work are decent and intriguing. The swordfights are ridiculous, but fun in a lightsaber-duel way.

3. And the bad?

Let me channel my father for a moment and borrow one of his favorite exclamations used when faced with needless irritations: "Oh, my achin' ass."

Oh, my achin' ass: the writing is a such a paint-by-numbers, hackneyed disappointment. And I think that stems from the fact it is a badly-disguised ripoff.

The world isn't believable on its own terms. Look, the creator, Eric Kripke, is known for supernatural horror (e.g., WB's competent Supernatural), not sci-fi. But here he had to adapt someone else's well-thought-out sci-fi world building, and do so in such a way that the lawyers could say "Someone Else is probably not going to win a lawsuit." Which meant the only thing to come to a screeching halt was electricity. Which, yes, is a civilization ender.

Alas, he had to sneak in an X-Files-ish IT WAS CAUSED BY A CONSPIRACY! as part of the obligatory Slow Reveal, but hey--that seems to be the echo chamber at work. As I mentioned before, the Slow Reveal is perfectly legit--indeed, it's an essential part of long-form storytelling. But the Adapt/modcop has left a giant plot hole which makes what I've seen so far largely idiotic, at least as far as coherent storytelling goes.

Oh, my achin' ass, Kripke: THE GUNS.

The firearms--she a'work!

There are roughly 270 million firearms in civilian hands in the United States. That's roughly 89 guns for every one hundred people.

You don't have to be a math whiz to know that that's a lot of guns. Leaving aside government arsenals (i.e., your local National Guard armory).

Which means there are going to be a lot of guns floating around, and even more entering circulation, after the lights go out.

Which leads me to the problem of Our Bad Guy, General Sebastian Monroe, head of the "Monroe Republic." Now, warlordism would be the natural result of a systemic collapse of civilization, so no problem. But...just how did Our Bad Guy (and by implication all the other warlords) successfully confiscate the firearms? Mechanization is dead (steam power should still work--but, oopsie--PLOT HOLE!) in the series, and there's no air cover, no tanks, no AFVs (at least none that need electricity to operate). Without extra firepower, your local confiscatory warlord doesn't have the force multipliers to pull this off on a regional basis.

"I'm here in the name of the Monroe Republic to take your guns! Hand 'em over or -- [fusillade of gunfire, followed by thud of falling Republican Guards.]" Then there's the slight matter of the sudden availability of military-grade hardware which still works--machine guns, grenades, mortars, claymore mines, missiles--and lots of survivors who know how to use them, and are willing to train others to use them.

I dunno--maybe the folks of Illinois are remarkably sheep-like and happy to assume the position? Hmmm.

No, in most places, it wouldn't work like that, or at least not for long. Our Bad Guy's Army would bleed out fast, and he'd be reduced to a small power base in short order. And even if you managed to take most of them away, there's sufficient gunsmithing and machine tool knowledge out there to ensure you're still going to be facing repeating rifles. Then there's the matter of the other warlords sneaking in weapons to keep your Army tied down, distracted and whatnot.

Speaking of which--Our Bad Guy's Army spends an inordinate amount of time in the field in their Civil War style white tents, which is a hell of a good way to weaken yourself in the medium term. Basically, the disaffected are going to be making your life hell in the parts of the realm where the Army is not, and your loyalists aren't going to be able to work as hard for you in civilian life. Also, remember your rivals arming your disaffected. Hell, your inner court just might pull a Byzantium and lock the capital city gates behind you after you leave.

So, no. Unconvincing on its own terms, which is...a slight problem.

Other storytelling problems:

Steam power--it still works. Trains, improvised road vehicles and tractors? None to be seen. Oh, my achin' ass.

Our protagonist family waits a week before leaving Chi-town. Which means that, barring a series of thus-far unrevealed miracles, they should be dead. Especially when all they are bringing with them is two kids' wagons not-very-full of foodstuffs.

You probably wouldn't organize your new feudal villages around McMansion subdivisions, what with all the soil being paved over.

There's the cliched Mom-is-stronger-than-Dad-and-does-what-he-should flashback moment that made me yawn.

Contra the story, the cities--especially metropoli like Chicago--are going to probably be empty for a long time. And in much, much worse shape. They are simply too far from the food, and too tempting as targets to salvage/looter forces from the rural areas.

The script could have wrung a lot more heartrending pathos from the collapse. One nerdy-thug-robber in a dirty suit...underplays that.

Our Bad Guy doesn't run Chicago, but he gets a uniformed military goon squad through the gates, no questions asked to attack Our Male Hero. Um...I'm thinking...probably...not.

 People aren't going to look that nice 15 years after civilization collapses, both clothing and health-wise. And the younger generation is going to think differently, especially those with fainter pre-collapse memories. The survivors are going to be more eccentric, too.

This brings up another storytelling problem: it doesn't "think" from the perspective of survivors who have seen everything die, and have struggled to rebuild some semblance of a life. Rather, we see modern people who think pretty much the same way as us pre-crisis, but now they have to herd sheep and pay taxes in crops.

And only one reference to religion? I'm left with the distinct impression of the Apocalypse According to Aaron Sorkin--and no, that's not a good thing.

Overall, I can see why people would watch it, but only if you don't think too hard about it.

Which is a *lot* like an Aaron Sorkin show in that respect.

A rough stretch.

  Forgive the vagueness and ambiguity, but I am going through a tough patch at the moment. July was full-stop awful, and August, while bette...