Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Rest in peace, Bob Hoskins.

The superb actor died today after a battle with Parkinson's and pneumonia.

Like most people, I first recall seeing him in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Not only was he more than able to hold his own as straight man Eddie Valiant in an animation festival (remember--it was not CGI), his line reading in this exchange is a personal favorite:

Roger Rabbit: Yeah. Check the probate. Why, my Uncle Thumper had a problem with HIS probate, and he had to take these big pills, and drink lots of water.

Eddie Valiant: Not prostate, you idiot--PROBATE!

After WFRR?, if I stumbled across a film with him in it, I made sure to watch his scenes at least. A real talent, and one who will be missed.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"A Rival Good to God's."

Tom Piatak explains why Cardinal Kasper's divorce proposal is anything but serene and prayerful theology:

Cardinal Kasper’s proposal does more than denigrate the sacrifices of those who have struggled to remain faithful to Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the impossibility of remarriage after divorce.  By signaling the Church’s acceptance of divorce, Kasper’s proposal would create more divorces, just as liberal “reforms” of civil divorce laws created more divorces.  We now know how damaging divorce is for children, even adult children.  We also know that changing Church practice would increase divorce because, as the invaluable 1964 blog affiliated with the Center for Advanced Research in the Apostolate noted in September 2013, American Catholics still have a lower divorce rate than other groups. Belonging to the only Church that does not allow divorce still discourages divorce, despite the paucity of sermons on the indissolubility of marriage in recent decades.  If Church teaching in this area were watered down, we could certainly expect the Catholic divorce rate to catch up to the general divorce rate, and then remain at that same high rate for the foreseeable future, with all the disastrous consequences this implies for the children whose parents divorce and for society as a whole.

Read it all.

A very interesting infrastructure project.

Actually, substitute "insane but admirable" for "interesting": a transcontinental tunnel under the Bering Strait.

Yes, it's an older story, but it's news to me. Leaving aside the engineering issues, I have only one question: did we green-light it at our end, or will it just be that one of these days Pootie-Poot is going to emerge from the ground near Nome shirtless and shovel in hand, to the adoring applause of the Russian press?

American approval seems to be a rather significant bit of data the article is lacking.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Orwellian group-think comes to real-world science fiction writing.

A little recondite, but instructive: the Hugo Awards and SFWA are the latest (if minor) institutions to have succumbed to the left's jackbooted tolerance enforcers. The issues have risen to the attention of USA Today, so it's newsworthy instead of merely nerdworthy.

Larry "Monster Hunter" Correia explains part of the problem (the Hugos) in a link within the USA Today column.

Then there's just the general stupidity of demanding that one simply must incorporate PC tropes in one's speculative fiction.

Finally, Sarah Hoyt (not exactly a charter member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy herself) and John C. Wright both lower the boom.

The Left: You'll Have Their Worldview and Like It, H8R!™

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Misery loves company.

At the risk of erecting/strengthening the walls of an echo chamber:

I know of a few people who are experiencing unusual discomfort with this papacy, but I was brought up short by Dr. Mabuse's comment yesterday, having crossed paths with her on the World Wide Web over at Chris Johnson's place.

I'm not asking--much less expecting--people to agree with me, but a quick poll: if you've been having more problems with Francis than you did with his immediate predecessors, would you kindly indicate this in the comment box below? I'm not asking you to explain the nature of it (though you can if you want), or even to ID yourself (though you can if you wish to as well). You don't even have to be Catholic--one of my wife's cousins isn't, and he's found PF questionable of late.

It's a show of hands thing. And yes, it's partly to reassure me that I haven't been slipped crazy pills.

A truly superb use for your television.

My wife and I have an insane nightlife: after the kids are down, we frequently spend our time together watching DVDs from The Teaching Company's "Great Courses" catalogue. What is TTC? Basically, TTC offers a college-level lecture series in CD, download or DVD format on a variety of subjects. The lectures last 30 minutes each and range from six lectures to 48 for the more massive surveys. Depending on subject matter, some are offered only in video format (especially those involving the arts, visual sciences, math, and the like).

Yeah, we also have six children, so...

But anyhoo. Every year, about tax return time, we pick up a deeply discounted video set or two from TTC. Don't let the list price deter you--they are frequently offered at 70% off. Fair warning, though: once you buy from them, you are on their mailing list forever. "We want you back!" is a frequent missive--most hilariously sent right after a purchase. They're rather like Sports Illustrated that way--with the exception that TTC is worthwhile whereas SI no longer is.

We have just about finished Professor William Cook's 12 hour lecture series on The Cathedral.

It is magnificent. Prof. Cook's course surveys cathedrals from their beginning as re-purposed secular Roman basilicas up through the late "flamboyant" Gothic era, with a few modern gothic structures in the New World thrown in. Cook is able to pack a lot of information into a half hour, and he has a superb eye for detail. Also, he's a practicing Catholic and is able to deftly and correctly convey the theological significance of the art and architecture. There is considerable focus on France--immortal Chartres gets three lectures--which makes sense given that France was the birthplace of Gothic. But he is careful to visit other regions as well, and helps you to see church art and architecture in a new light.

If you have the opportunity, see it--it is well worth your time.

The crossing tower of the medieval gothic masterpiece 
that is Ely Cathedral, featured in the lecture series.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened."

It is reported that a day after the Pope told a divorced and remarried couple they could go receive communion, he said something about the indissolubility of marriage to a group of South African bishops.

I am told that such is significant.

Except that it isn't. Not really. My first reaction was "Whoop. De. Doo. Nothingburger."

Wha-?!!!! But he just said it! What more do you want, H8r?

Again, it's insignificant. Why? Because, in that Kasper presentation so volubly praised by the successor of Peter, the Cardinal from restive, pro-divorce Allemagne swore up and down how indissoluble sacramental marriage is before insisting that we had to give communion to those who remarried after a divorce. "Tolerating what we cannot accept," yadda yadda yadda. the Pope's mind, the phone call and his speech to the RSA bishops aren't inconsistent. Even though under every objective and reasonable standard they are, in fact, irreconcilable, they aren't to him.

Unless you share his understanding, you are misreading him.

Yes, I know--I'm out of communion and not worth listening to. Contradicting the spirit of Jesus and whatnot. Perhaps. But the problem seems to me that those who are celebrating this are just engaging those statements of Pope that reassure them that we're always going to have really good, prudent, smart and careful Popes, and shelving those that don't fit the template.

Even though we aren't promised any such thing.

Anyway--carry on.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Bactrian's vertebrae begin to crack.

At a minimum, it's time to face up to the glaring fact that the Roman communion is being led by a heedless, imprudent exhibitionist. The chattiest possible, it seems.

Which is, frankly, hard to square with any previous understanding of humility, but we live in an era where black is white, up is down, Maroon 5 is Metallica, etc.

In short, we have a Pope who insists upon himself. As much as we (read: I) want to be able to ignore him, that has proven to be impossible.

In an ideal world, I could view the papacy as Catholics did for centuries during the age of sail: pray for and with him during the Mass, get the occasional report of a new writing or comment when the mail arrived from the triple-master, and hear about the white smoke a couple/three times during my adult lifetime.

But, no. This is the cursed Age of Twitter and 24/7 "news" networks. He's everywhere. He knows it, and is perfectly fine with that. And make no mistake, he's the headline act. He's Natalie Merchant to the rest of Catholicism's 10,000 Maniacs. The Puppet Show to the Church's Spinal Tap.

Which brings us to this latest stunt: cold-calling a correspondent to tell her she can indeed receive communion despite the fact her husband is a divorcee without an annulment.

Whoa, whoa, whoa--that's just her side of the story!

And? The Vatican's official statement is not a denial. It's a Glomar non-admission/non-denial.

And isn't it just like the Holy Spirit to neither admit nor deny, eh, no?

Add in the fact that it's a time-tested rule of evidence that people under emotional excitement don't tend to make crap up. And it sure sounds like how he speaks, right down to the request for prayer and a shot at priests who are "more papist than the pope."

"We don't have all the facts"? Well, no, we don't. But we almost never do. In this case, we have plenty of credible facts and a non-denial from Rome's end. Really, what we don't have are any exculpatory facts that make this look good for the defense of Christ's teaching.

And why should we have expected any such thing? That's not "serene theology."

Anyway, if you need me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An interlude with C.S. Lewis.


"The real reason I cannot be in communion with you [Catholics] is not a disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say."

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Another post inbound.

I've been married to a French teacher for nigh-unto fifteen years. It was bound to happen one of these years.

But such has natural limits which cannot be overcome, and for obvious reasons.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Just so.

Gentlemen, take note. For my part, the next selfie I take will be my first.

The End of the War to End All Wars.

Poilus and Yanks sharing a trench. 
We got along just fine back then.

This year marks the centenary of the beginning of Europe's first suicide attempt, the Great or World War. The World War would get a modifier in 1939.

The Western Front during the First World War was an endless horror of slaughter, mud, madness and misery, broken only by glimpses of chivalry during the Christmas truces or the war in the air.

It is unrelentingly grim to read about--there are few brilliant maneuvers, fewer brilliant (or even competent) leaders or decisions. Mostly, it is simply just a bleak, hellish gauntlet of futile trench warfare punctuated by earth-shaking barrages, the endless chatter of machine gun fire and the grisly thump and hiss of poison gas shells.

Such was the war in France and Belgium from late 1914 through the spring of 1918.

I wish it were an exaggeration. Massive attacks would go "over the top" after days-long artillery barrages ceased...only to be cut down by deafened-but-effective machine gunners who carpeted the lunar landscape with the dead as the survivors struggled through the mud and wire. A week-long assault at the Somme, Verdun or Chemin des Dames would be considered successful if it gained a few miles. 

At the cost of hundreds of thousands of casualties.

At Verdun, the goal of the Germans was simply to bleed the French Army to death, but the Kaiser's army was nearly as damaged at the end of it as their foes. 

In the spring of 1917, the French nearly broke after another futile assault at the Aisne, with a significant part of the army mutinying and refusing to fight. Somehow, the Germans never learned of this, and the French managed to patch together their crippled army.

But in early 1918, the stalemate was broken, and decisively.

What changed? First, America declared war in April 1917, giving the beleaguered British and French hope for reinforcements and victory. But it would take time for an utterly-unprepared America to marshal, equip and ship enough American troops across the Atlantic to make a difference. With the collapse and surrender of Russia in February 1918, it became a race against time, as the Germans used their forces in the East to gain a numerical advantage in the West and attack before enough Yanks could arrive.

The German offensive, called the Kaiserschlacht (or "Emperor's Battle") nearly worked, with the French (with some well-timed American reinforcements) once again just able to stop the Germans short of Paris in late April 1918. The Germans would batter away until July, but the chance for military victory had passed. 

In August 1918, the Allies, now reinforced with one million American troops able to take over a large section of the Front, and another 250,000 more Yanks arriving each month, began to strike back. This time, it worked, and the French, British and green Americans began to break through with fewer losses.

That's where British historian Nick Lloyd's excellent Hundred Days begins. A fair warning--Lloyd's account presumes an understanding of the brief narrative I set forth above. It is not a book to start with if one wants to understand the First World War or even the Western Front. The major players (Foch, Haig, Petain, Pershing) are introduced briefly and with the assumption that the reader knows who they are. The same goes for the great poet Wilfred Owen. Less well-known figures are given more background, including, most touchingly, Lloyd's great-uncle, who died in combat in September 1918.

[If you want a solid general narrative, the American Heritage History provides a good overview. It was a surprise gift from my late grandfather, treasured to this day, so I'm rather biased on that account.]

What turned the tide? In three words: Shells, Tanks and Yanks. Specifically, commanders who knew how to handle them.

Lloyd is careful to give credit to officers who deserve it, and three generals in particular are held up for admiration. Two are virtually unknown, and one acquired a darker notoriety after the war.

The first two were commanders of the Canadian and Australian contingents, Generals Arthur Currie and John Monash. Both were clever and resourceful commanders who did not spend their small nations' manpower like water. They couldn't, even if they had been inclined to. 

Instead, they were masters of the new tactics: the walking barrage and gleeful users of the tank, the now-ubiquitous weapon of land warfare that made its debut in 1916. 

The "walking" barrage would be timed to "walk" just ahead of the infantry attackers, who would go over the top before it stopped. The Germans would not have the chance to man their defensive positions as effectively, having to keep their heads down while the barrage crept over them. Against this, there was no countermeasure. It also invariably resulted in some "friendly" fire casualties, but not as much as one might think.

The British Mark V tank, "male" version. 
"Male" ones had cannons, "female" machine guns. 
I dunno--ask the Brits.

The French Renault FT-17 tank. 
Patton's first tank command was a brigade of FT-17s.

Second, the tank. Ironically in light of WW2 developments, the Germans built very few tanks during the First World War, and the ones they built were overmatched by the British and French models. Of course, when you consider that the Germans stood on the defensive for most of the war, the lack of a breakthrough weapon makes sense.

However, the World War One tank was not the speedy model of the second, and it had an insoluble problem: mechanically, it was as reliable as a rain dance. Most were not lost to enemy fire (despite being very vulnerable to artillery), but to breakdowns. It was typical that an attack that began with 150 would end up with less than ten still functioning by the fourth day.

However, it was well worth the trouble because the tank was the death of the machine gun nests that had butchered Tommies and poilus for the previous three years.

Finally, the Yanks. By August 1918, not only had our troops been pouring into France, but they had been trained by the British and French in the methods of trench warfare. Fortunately, the lessons were taken to heart, but that did not mean the casualties would be light. To the contrary: in terms of casualty rates in combat, the First World War was our bloodiest war, and the Meuse Argonne campaign our bloodiest battle. Lloyd points out a particularly hideous fact about American casualties: over 25% were the result of poison gas. 

But the mere presence of the building wave of Yanks was enough to rejuvenate the British and French. In fact, when asked when the French Army would resume the offensive after the Mutiny, the most revered French general of the war replied: "I am waiting for the tanks and the Americans."

Which brings me to the man who uttered that sentence, the third figure mentioned above, and frankly, the hero of the Hundred Days:

Henri Phillipe Petain, Marshal of France. 

The man who became notorious as the leader of the Vichy French puppet of Nazi Germany was not so stained in 1918. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that he saved France in 1916 and 1917: first by stopping the Germans at Verdun, and second by keeping the French Army from disintegrating after the Mutiny. 

Petain was a tragic rarity during the early years of the war--he was very careful with the lives of the soldiers under his command. His motto was "Firepower kills," and he made sure his men had it and the Germans were on the receiving end of it. So when the tottering French nation had to rebuild her army's morale, she naturally went to Petain, who did so in a nearly miraculous fashion. He restored discipline, but heard out the complaints and addressed them swiftly. He was also very, very sparing in his use of the firing squad: of the more than 500 soldiers sentenced to death for their roles in the mutiny, fewer than 50 were executed. So it is easy to see why the beaten French rallied so readily to the Marshal in June 1940--he was a genuine hero and patriot who had come through brilliantly before.

In 1918, he took to the walking barrages and tanks like a duck to water, and he methodically planned France's counter-offensives. Which, starting in August, began to shake the German forces to pieces. The battle of Amiens was a shattering defeat for the Germans, which their second in command called "the black day of the German Army." For the first time, the Germans surrendered in droves and the Allies broke through with (comparatively) light losses. This was followed by comparable success for the British at Ypres and the Americans at Saint Mihiel. The blows were coordinated and hit the Germans at different parts of the line, not permitting them to shift forces around to support those under attack. The end result was that by November the German Army was near collapse on the front and the Reich was facing revolution at home, making an Armistice necessary.

Lloyd narrates this effectively and with a journalistic prose style that keeps the account flowing. He also offers details from the German side, with the most effectively drawn figure being Erich Ludendorff, the second-in-command referred to above. Despite his humble title of "Quartermaster" of the German Army, Ludendorff was in reality the most powerful man in Imperial Germany from 1916-18, one even the Kaiser dared not cross. [As an aside, Ludendorff would have a positively surreal post-war career, going from advocacy of an Orwellian "total war" state, a mentor of Hitler and Norse pagan to being, as of his death in 1936 a convinced pacifist, proto-New-Age spiritualist and reviler of Hitler who prophesied that the Fuhrer would lead Germany to its destruction.]

In any event, Lloyd's book is, with the caveat noted above, an exceptionally valuable account of events that have vanished from the collective memory of Americans in particular but the West in general. With the centennial of the Great War upon us, we would do well to remember it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Just because I don't post Catholic commentary these days...

...doesn't mean I can't refer to other people's.

1. Steve Skojec ruminates on the apocalyptic. And offers some solid advice on prayerful responses. The latter seems especially fruitful, and worth pondering. God knows my own prayer life is best described as "undead" these days. Read both.

With respect to the former, I don't have much to offer. It strikes me as moderate, thoughtful and speculative, with Steve freely admitting the latter.

My only thought is it seems to be in the cultural air, so to speak--"it" being apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic thinking. From people spending hefty sums on the latest survivalist "cottage" to shows about "preppers" to hotcake-sales of young adult fiction (Hunger Games, Divergent, The 100), a discordant chord is chiming through our society right now. We sense that something is really wrong, even as we try to distract ourselves from facing it. Mostly successfully, if not entirely so.

I'm the least capable prognosticator you've ever run across, so I'm not going to begin to speculate, at least not in the religious realm (my exegetical skills being even less trustworthy at this point). To the extent I will venture out on a limb, I am reasonably certain we're past the point of no return, fiscally-speaking. We're an interest rate spike from being unable to service our debt. Not a new dark age, but more of a slow-mo tumbledown, with the related corrosive impacts on the social fabric. Zero-sum gaming begins once the money runs out. That, and the scapegoating. Our progeny will have ample reason to resent us, and wonder why we wasted so much time on bullshit and reality-avoidance.

2. Elliot serves up some weapons-grade snark at Catholic quietism, but there's a deadly serious argument wrapped up in it. Namely, in our post-conciliar age, with its mashup of collegiality and soft ultramontanism, Catholicism is no more than what the Pope and/or your bishop say it is.

Given the irresistible and undeniable power of the episcopacy to do whatever they want with the traditions, disciplines, and “style” of the Church at any time in history, why should I bother clinging to those features from any age in the Church’s life, as if such pesky particulars mattered? The Faith is the thing, the Creed is the thing, the Mass is the thing–not how it’s lived, expressed, or celebrated. What am I, more Catholic than the pope?

Admittedly, this quietist position does not help me resolve the tension created by seeking above all to “empower the laity” in the past half-century or more, but, again, I am a mere worm, and the Church certainly doesn’t need my input. The key to Catholic happiness, apparently, is more than “pay, pray, and obey.” The key to happiness in the Church in our day is not simply to submit, not simply to commit all things to the Lord, but, rather, actively to flout one’s sense of tradition and prudence in order to defend and valorize and “internalize” every aspect of the status quo. Resignation is not enough; celebration is the sign of a Serious Catholic. After all, didn’t Luther criticize the hierarchy and various abuses, and we know how that turned out? The key to happiness in the Church now is to breathe deeply and unflinchingly from the exhaust pipe of the New Evangelization as the hierarchy drives the Catholic Cadillac where God knows it must go. Woe to the man who would lay a finger on God’s anointed one. Just ask St. Athanasius. 

Which is, I think, a--if not the--root of my discontent.

By the way, I recognize the following sorta violates my no-commentary rule, but permit me to answer a question/charge posed to/thrown at me before. Namely, if I fall away, it won't be to sojourn to the weird, illogical faerie realm of sedevacantism, nor to the anomalous-status Society, whose position doesn't really compute, even where I sympathize with layfolk who have gone that route. That, and the repulsive Jew-hatred that permeates some sectors of trad-dom also finds fertile enough soil in both places.

Nor does Orthodoxy persuade--despite my incurable love of things Byzantine. I'll just be...gone, I guess. So much for my earlier bravado.

Such are the twists and turns of life. Your prayers continue to be welcome.

And it's November.

  I look forward to making some kind of effigy of 2022 and setting it on fire on December 31.  Things have steadified, to coin a term. My so...