Previous month:
October 2013
Next month:
December 2013

November 2013


Not to accept everything, but to understand everything; not to approve of everything, but to forgive everything; not to adopt everything, but to search for the grain of truth that is contained in everything.

To reject no idea and no good intention, however awkward or feeble.

--Elisabeth Leseur (via Magnificat)

This Is Not My Opinion Of Evangelii Gaudium

So, Pope Francis has published an "apostolic exhortation," and I see indications that the Catholic blogosphere is lighting up with comments about it. And I'm tempted to skim the thing as quickly as possible and deliver some quick comments of my own. But I'm going to resist that impulse. This thing is about 50,000 words long, and presumably the pope put a good deal of thought into it. I think it deserves an equally careful and thoughtful reading. So maybe in two or three weeks I'll have something to say.

I expect a certain amount of the commentary, both from within and without the Church, will involve the deployment of selected passages as weapons against enemy factions within the Church. I'm not going to do that. It requires no particular virtue on my part to refrain from it, because the temptation is very weak. Much stronger is the temptation to react to those who do. I'm going to make an effort not to do that, either, although that will be more difficult. I mention it because having said this publicly will help me to resist the urge. I don't think it's useful or spiritually healthy, and I don't think it's what either the pope or God wants.

Here is the text, in case you haven't already seen it. I note with a bit of amusement that one section is called "No to warring among ourselves."

Walker Percy, thou shouldst be living at this hour

This appeared one day last week in Dear Abby:

DEAR ABBY: I read the obituaries in our local newspaper every day to see if someone I know has died. But when I don't see any familiar name, I feel let down and disappointed. Is that weird? -- STILL ALIVE IN SAN DIEGO

Here's the heading for number 9 in the series of self-help questions posed in Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos:

(9) The Envious Self (in the root sense of envy: invidere, to look at with malice): Why it is that the Self--though it Professes to be Loving, Caring, to Prefer Peace to War, Concord to Discord, Life to Death; to Wish Other Selves Well, not Ill--in fact Secretly Relishes Wars and Rumors of War, News of Plane Crashes, Assassinations, Mass Murders, Obituaries, to say nothing of Local News about Acquaintances Dropping Dead in the Street, Gossp about Neighbors getting in Fights or being Detected in Sexual Scandals, Embezzlements, and other Disgraces

And "Abby"--actually not the original Abigail Van Buren, who was actually not herself the WASPy-sounding Abigail Van Buren but Pauline Esther Friedman, but rather Pauline's daughter Jeanne Phillips--replies as follows:

DEAR STILL ALIVE: People read the obituary section for various reasons, including the fact that some of the deceased have lived very interesting lives. Some do it hoping they won't find their own name listed. If they see the name of an acquaintance, they may feel sadness at the loss or sympathy for the family, knowing each death leaves a hole in someone's heart. But to feel "let down" seems to me like a lack of empathy, and in my opinion, it is weird.

Which I think Percy would also have enjoyed.

Los Angeles Guitar Quartet: Pachelbel Canon in D (the "Loose")

Weekend Music

I saw these guys in concert Tuesday night. Most enjoyable. This was their encore.


The most striking thing they did--not the best, but the most unusual and attention-getting--was a piece in which they did things to their guitars that made them sound like a gamelan orchestra. Yes, really. Mostly it seemed to involve affixing objects to their strings.

What does a gamelan sound like? Like this:


Of course the guitars didn't produce anywhere near that range of sound, but really, there was enough of a resemblance as to seem almost uncanny.

On the Wrong Side?

Dick Cheney's daughters are feuding because one of them is a lesbian who has a "wife," and the other believes marriage requires two people of opposite sexes. The former says the latter is on the wrong side of history.

It's a charge one hears pretty frequently. I can imagine few things less likely to make me switch sides in a controversy than the admonition that I am on the wrong side of history.


It puzzles me that it should even be necessary to point out the problems with this argument to any moderately intelligent person. It really means nothing more than "you're on the wrong side," period, since history has not yet spoken and in any case does not have the last word. A Google search for the phrase turns up mostly progressive, but a few conservative, invocations of it, and also this amusing objection at the Intercollegiate Review.

"To Force Its Will On the Opposing Nations"

The more I think about the conclusion of that "Eleven Nations" piece (see previous post), the more it bothers me. What makes it so troubling is that it envisions no other outcome to the national conflict than having one side crush the other.

This reveals something about the thinking of contemporary liberals. I doubt you would find many people in Alabama or Texas who are seriously exercised about the abrogation of second amendment rights in Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., and many other areas of the country. People in the savage provinces might think those policies unwise and unjust, and that in the abstract everyone in those cities should have the same right to bear arms that they do. But they don't really care very much. What they will get exercised about is an attack on their own rights, which the gun control movement is, because it seeks to change the understanding of the second amendment, thus affecting everybody.

The same is at least somewhat true with regard to the deeply divisive social issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. Pro-lifers believe that abortion should be illegal or mostly illegal everywhere. But it was the Supreme Court's insistence that it must be allowed everywhere that made the movement the powerful thing it has been, and insured that the nation remains as deeply divided on the question now as it was in 1973. Had the states that wished to outlaw abortion been allowed to do so, the matter would not be nearly as inflamed, and politicians would not have been able to exploit it as they reliably do in every national election. Similarly, people in  Georgia who oppose same-sex marriage might not be pleased that California allows it, but they wouldn't really care that much if they didn't know that the proponents clearly believe that it must and shall exist in the entire country.

In contrast, present-day liberalism feels that a Christian prayer at a high school graduation in a small Mississippi town is a threat to freedom everywhere, and must be stamped out. Liberals, for all their chanting of the word "diversity," really don't want to allow much of it where something important to them is concerned. They see these questions as matters of fundamental right and wrong, and tolerance of the wrong as an unacceptable compromise with evil.

Even if we grant that the noisier element on the right gives the impression that it would like to force its reactionary will on everyone, the fact is that it has no plausible means of doing so, while the imposition by the courts of liberal prescriptions on everyone is a present reality. I've thought for many years that recourse to federalism would be the only way of preventing our deep divisions from paralyzing and perhaps destroying the country. But liberalism really has no use for it, except occasionally as a means to get a foot in the door for some innovation. 

The Eleven American Nations(?)

This has been getting some attention for several days now: a sort of cultural map of the U.S. based on the varying cultures of origin of current inhabitants. The first thing I noticed is that it conforms to what I was saying in a discussion with Art Deco a few weeks ago about the culture of the region including north Alabama and Tennessee.

In naming Vanderbilt as a university located in the Deep South, I asserted that if northern Alabama is in the Deep South, then so are the neighboring regions of Tennessee. Or, conversely, if those parts of Tennessee are not in the Deep South, then neither is the part of north Alabama where I grew up. As you can see, this map draws the line between Greater Appalachia and Deep South well south of the Alabama-Tennessee line. Call the regions what you will, there is a noticeable cultural similarity, at least in some classes, among people living in north Alabama and as far north as southern Indiana.


Any exercise of this sort can only be taken as an extreme generalization. Still, with that in mind, I think there's something to it.

The analyis, at least as represented in the accompanying article, is concerned only with regional differences in attitudes toward violence, and though the author seems to be trying for detachment is clearly written from a liberal point of view. It's pretty clear that the southern region is to be considered backward if not crazy.

One possible lesson that might be drawn from this is missed by the author, though he states the premise:

With such sharp regional differences, the idea that the United States would ever reach consensus on any issue having to do with violence seems far-fetched. The cultural gulf between Appalachia and Yankeedom, Deep South and New Netherland is simply too large.

The conclusion I would draw from that observation is that, given the deep differences among the regions, a great deal of latitude in ordering their own affairs ought to be accepted, and that an attempt to impose uniformity on the entire nation would a big mistake, and bound to cause more trouble than it prevents, not only in relation to the problem of violence but to many other disputes. Unfortunately that is not the conclusion the author draws, but rather:

The deadlock will persist until one of these camps modifies its message and policy platform to draw in the swing nations. Only then can that camp seize full control over the levers of federal power—the White House, the House, and a filibuster-proof Senate majority—to force its will on the opposing nations.

This is unwise. And, I might say, a characteristic northern mistake.

The Jewish Cardinal

As I've often lamented, the little town where I live has gotten all uppity and is overrun with rich people, many of whom are artsy, which is sometimes almost as bad as uppity. But there are benefits, too, and one of them is that there is now a Fairhope Film Festival.

It ran Friday through Sunday of this past weekend. My wife and I considered trying to catch several of the films, but there was really too much else going on. So we picked one that looked particularly interesting: The Jewish Cardinal, a French movie about Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, whom you may remember as something of a protege of John Paul II. Born Jewish, he became a Catholic in 1940 at the age of 14, a priest in 1928, and archbishop of Orleans in 1979, quite early in the papacy of John Paul II.

The film covers almost exclusively a period of a bit less than ten years, from his consecration at Orleans until sometime toward the end of the 1980s. It focuses on his relationship with the pope, and on his role in the controversy surrounding the establishment of a Carmelite convent at Auschwitz. As you no doubt remember if you're old enough, that was quite a bitter controversy. I didn't follow it very closely, but I know that Jews objected very strongly to it, and Christians objected to their objection.

If the film is accurate, Lustiger was very involved, was deeply affected, and found himself at odds with John Paul. I don't know enough to say whether it is accurate, but I can say that taken on its own terms it's an excellent piece of work, very well produced and acted. See it if you get a chance.

Here's the trailer:


As we left the auditorium in the library where the movie was shown, I told my wife that next year we'll take Friday off work and spend the whole weekend going to movies.

The Pope's Movies

I've had these two movies on DVR for quite a while now, recorded from Turner Classic Movies. I'm  sure it's been over a year, and it may be two, because I think I recorded them not long after we subscribed to AT&T's Uverse service for Internet and TV. (The TV part is soon going to be cancelled; it works really well, but we don't watch anything but TCM, PBS, and football games, and they aren't worth the cost.) But I haven't watched them because...well, mainly because I didn't have any great desire to. I felt that I had some kind of duty to see them, because they're such well-known landmarks of cinema, but somehow I didn't think I would like them all that much. As with other classics that seem more admired than enjoyed, such as  Paradise Lost or The Faerie Queen, I wanted to have seen them, but not especially to see them.

 But then a couple of months ago came Pope Francis's interview in America in which he named exactly these two films as his favorites, or at least very high among his favorites. So the added motive of curiosity finally overcame my foot-dragging.

La Strada

An added incentive for me to postpone seeing this one was that it's by Fellini, and after seeing his reputed masterpieces 8 1/2La Dolce Vita, and Juliette of the Spirits I had decided that I don't really care that much for his work. I'd also seen Amarcord and Satyricon many years ago when they were released, liking the former and being indifferent-to-negative about the latter, but I don't remember them well enough to speculate about what I'd think of them now. So my expectations for La Strada were fairly low.

Somehow I had the idea that La Strada means The Street, and was expecting some kind of story of the urban proletariat. But it actually means The Road, and takes place mostly in rural and small towns. (And I must say in passing that it certainly makes rural Italy seem desolate.) It opens with a circus strong man, Zampano, negotiating with a peasant widow over what amounts to the purchase of one of her daughters. The girl, Gelsomina, is in some unspecified way not quite right mentally. Perhaps the old term "simple-minded" is appropriate. She's not very bright, but she's capable of learning to assist Zampano in his act. And she's simple: trusting, credulous, easily pleased, easily injured. 

Zampano is rather a brute to her (and to everybody). In her misery she meets another circus performer known as The Fool, who is both a highwire artist and a clown. In the interview in America, Pope Francis asserts that there is an implicit reference to St. Francis in the film. I didn't see that--that is, I didn't see anything that struck me as an unmistakable reference to St. Francis, though obviously The Fool's title could be taken that way. But there is a scene between Gelsomina and The Fool which is very beautiful--the most moving thing I've seen in Fellini--and certainly has very strong Christian resonance.

I didn't really like La Strada all that much. It didn't often strike me as visually beautiful. And, unfortunately, the crucial character of Gelsomina was portrayed in a way that I found annoying. The actress, Giulietta Masina, was Fellini's wife, and also was the Juliette of Juliette and the Spirits. She got on my nerves in that movie, and in this one. I don't know how much of this is the fault of the actress and how much the director, but she is made to resemble and to behave very much like Harpo Marx--a female Harpo with straight hair. Her expressions are often exaggerated in just the way Harpo's are, and I had trouble taking her as a real character. In spite of that, there were moments when the pathos of her character overcame that problem, but I can easily imagine liking the film more if Gelsomina had been played differently. 

The sound is dubbed, which is somewhat distracting, and although Anthony Quinn's performance as Zampano is visually effective, he can't get credit for the character's voice, which belongs to an Italian actor. I mean that the original soundtrack, in Italian, is dubbed, not that I was watching a dubbed English version. Apparently the limits of the technology available to Fellini required it, and the actors at times weren't even speaking their lines, just counting off a sequence of numbers roughly equal in length to the lines. (I learned that from Wikipedia, but if you haven't seen the film don't read too far at that link, as it contains a plot summary.)

Notwithstanding my cool reaction, I've found myself continuing to think about La Strada, and I may see it again sometime. It may be better than I first thought.

Rome: Open City

This movie about the Nazi occupation of Rome was made while the war was still in progress, immediately after Italy had been freed. Narratively, it's a pretty straightforward thriller involving a resistance group and its supporters. It has nothing of the feel of an "art" film; while both it and La Strada are described as "neo-realist," the term seems considerably more accurate for this one. 

The story opens with the Nazis invading an apartment buildin in search of a resistance fighter, who escapes through a window and across rooftops. We soon become acquainted with those in his personal circle, especially his fiancee, Pina, played by Anna Magnini, and the parish priest, Don Pietro (reportedly based on a real priest), and with their various connections, voluntary and involuntary, to the resistance movement. There's no need to summarize any more of the plot; suffice to say that it's a convincing and powerful story. I had intended to watch it in two sessions, because I had other things that needed attention, but had to find out what was going to happen after that first hour or so. 

The priest was to me the most interesting character. At first he seems an ordinary parish priest of the type you might expect to find in a movie: well-fed, a little prim, a little harsh with the sexton who serves him as a general sort of servant. I half-expected that he would be portrayed as a hypocrite, if not worse. But that is not the case at all. Not at all.

You can't see a movie like this without being struck not simply by the oppression and violence inflicted by the Nazis, but the moral corruption created by such brutal rule. The struggle to survive brings out the worst in too many people, and many who would have been quite decent under normal circumstances do despicable things in order to survive or to get a few luxuries.

This is the first of Rossellini's work I've seen. It's the first of a trilogy, and I'm interested now in seeing the other two.



 Aside from their artistic merit and the simple human interest of the stories they tell, each of these movies is a keen affirmation of the good at work in circumstances of great difficulty, especially the virtues of love and courage. Love is foremost in La Strada, courage in Open City, but both are very important to each. And hope: both movies are grim, but nevertheless full of an elemental hope. What does it mean that the pope loves them so much? I think the implications are very good, and very encouraging.

Wet Guitar in Dry Country

Weekend Music

Demonstrating the folly of trying to associate music very closely with specific images and narratives, the heavily reverbed guitar sound has somehow become associated with the desert as well as with the ocean. You hear it a lot in movie sound tracks and commercials, though frequently it's a dobro or other slide guitar rather than a standard one. I wasn't able to locate many examples, but here's one, from one of my favorite ambient albums, Dust to Dust, by Steve Roach and Roger King. As it happens, of the tracks I found on YouTube, this one, which includes the sounds of rain and thunder, also has the most guitar.


And from the great Daniel Lanois, from his instrumental album, Belladonna. I think this is pedal steel. But the reviewers all talk about it being a Southwestern sound, and some of the track names bear that out: "Dusty," "Agave," "Oaxaca."


And there's more than a hint of the sound in the theme from Breaking Bad, which is set in Albuquerque and has a lot of scenes that take place in the desert.


I sort of think some of Morricone's sound tracks include a surf-spy-desert guitar sound, but I'm not sure. Maybe it was other spaghetti westerns.

"Protestantism Has Had A Good Run"

Well, here's a major argument-starter. Peter Leithart in First Things argues that Protestantism is over, that Protestants should stop calling themselves Protestants and call themselves "Reformational catholics" instead.

I sympathize, and of course speaking as a Catholic I think it's a step in the right direction, but:

Like a Protestant, a Reformational catholic rejects papal claims, refuses to venerate the Host, and doesn’t pray to Mary or the saints....

In short, this Reformational catholic will adopt a certain number of Catholic beliefs and practices, but continue to reject certain crucial ones (refusal to venerate the Host implies disbelief in the Real Presence), most crucially the authority of the Church. He doesn't say so explictly, but it's an obvious corollary.

This makes me think of a Chesterton observation about Protestants adopting Catholic practices: that, like shipwrecked mariners, they are always going back to the wreck for something. I'm afraid Leithart is only edging toward the same untenable position that Anglo-Catholics have occupied for so long.

Those Were the Days

The un-ecumenical days, when books like this were published:

The Lenten Lectures of Rev. Thomas Maguire;
delivered in Dublin in 1842,
in answer to the Thirty-nine articles of the Church of England

Lecture V is:

        The Absurdities, Contradictions and Blasphemies of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Parliamentarian Rule of Faith of the Episcopalian Protestants

Yesterday was Guy Fawkes Day, of which there is a pretty complete treatment here.  The lasting animosity generated by the Gunpowder Plot is a good lesson in the harm that can be done to a cause by its more fanatical members. Though of course if the cause eventually wins, it doesn't look so much that way. John Brown is not remembered very fondly, but he is not the arch-villain of a nation that Fawkes was for so long. And no doubt still is in some minds. It's not unusual to find Englishmen who are no longer Christian but are still anti-Catholic.

That word "parliamentarian" might be the most telling of Maguire's points. That the English government had (has?) the power to make theological judgments on the Church of England was one of the things that helped push Chesterton to Rome.

The Maligned Tea Party

That's the title of this piece by Charles Cooke at National Review Online. While I sympathize with at least some of the Tea Party's complaints and proposals, I also have my disagreements with it, and in general find its rhetoric simplistic if not entirely wrong. I don't believe, for instance, that excessive taxation is, in itself, a major source of our problems. 

But I don't like seeing any group of people unfairly demonized, and I object strongly to the bigotry which liberals have exhibited toward the Tea Party. It seems to have been triggered by some kind of reflex, first in advance of evidence and then in spite of it. I know a few people who jumped right on it, and my respect for them was permanently damaged by the spectacle of their eagerness to join in the bigotry. The first rallies had hardly made it into the news before liberals in and out of the media rushed to label the group "racist." The most egregious instance of alleged racism, when a group of black congressmen were said to have been abused, seems to have been at least greatly exaggerated, if not entirely invented, as significant bounties offered for proof had no takers.

For those who don't want to bother reading Cooke's piece, I'll reproduce this paragraph, as it gets at the way liberalism betrays its own core principles with this sort of thing. Cooke singles out three categories of people responsible for the organized slur:  first, "almost everybody at MSNBC, the Democratic National Committee, the Obama administration, and the parade of political operatives who work around the clock to make politics intolerable for everyone." (I love that last item.) Second are "genuinely dangerous Americans who do not grasp the nature, legitimacy, and vital role of vehement political opposition in a free republic." And:

The third group is perhaps the most interesting, for it is full of people who have become precisely what they fear. When the history of this period in American life comes to be written, historians will almost certainly come to see the hysteria prompted by the rise of the Tea Party as akin to the “Red Scare” of the 1950s — except, that is, that there were actual Communist traitors in America. The New York Times’s Ross Douthat has observed that the more genuinely vexed among the movement’s detractors believe the group to be “an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.” Douthat correctly explains that “the historical term for this kind of anxiety is ‘Brown Scare’ — an inordinate fear of a vast far-right conspiracy, which resembles the anti-Communist panics of our past.”

The Ross Douthat piece that Cooke links to is worth reading, too.

Mutant Surf

Weekend Music

I'm not sure exactly when it started, but when I noticed it sometime in the mid-1990s or so there was a surf guitar revival going on. It started out as a straightforward imitation of the old stuff, with a bit of irony thrown in, as in that clip by The Metalunas that I posted two weeks ago and that got me off on this kick.  Some people took in in different and sometimes pretty strange directions. In addition to the association with surfing, that reverb-heavy single-note guitar style also became associated with spy movies, presumably because of the original James Bond theme (Dr. No in 1962).

Jonny and the Shamen were a local group who put out at least one album sometime in the mid-1990s or so. I saw them at a local music festival. They seem to have had the espionage vibe in mind with this one. Now that I think about it, there was also the Peter Gunn theme.


Of the two major state universities in Alabama, Auburn is the one originally oriented toward the trades, the one that in many states is called A&M, for Agricultural and Mechanical. It has a better engineering school than its rival, the University of Alabama, and in general is more highly regarded in technical fields. So it's sort of fitting that Man or Astro-Man? originated there. They developed an elaborate sci-fi persona in which they steadfastly insisted that they were extraterrestrials named Star Crunch, Birdstuff, and Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard. I don't know enough about them to know how they explained their use of those rather earthbound names. But their music is a lot of fun.



And then there are The Mermen. I think they started out as a revival band, but they soon turned into something else. You can still hear Dick Dale in the first one, might want to stand back a little for these.



I haven't heard the whole album, A Glorious Lethal Euphoria, from which these two selections are taken for a good many years now, but I've often counted it among my favorite pop albums. I'll have to listen to it again and see if I still like it as much.