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Sunday Night Journal, October 14, 2018

A few years ago I picked up two of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s spy novels from a giveaway table at the library. I've never been a big fan of Buckley's writing as such, but I like the genre, and was curious as to how Buckley handled it. Recently, having begun to look at the overflowing bookshelves in this house with an eye toward culling the stock, I put these two in "read it or get rid of it" status. I picked one of them, The Story of Henri Tod, to sample.

Henri Toddweiss and his beloved sister Clementa are the children of a wealthy German Jewish family. They are in their teens when the Nazi nightmare takes hold. When the Gestapo come for their parents the children are spirited away to live with and be protected by a farm family. (The background of this arrangement is not made clear but I think the family had no previous connection with them, but rather are members of a resistance group.) When he approaches draft age Henri is sent to school in England, and he and Clementa are separated for the first time in their lives, swearing that they will be re-united.

Before that can happen the Nazis learn that Clementa is Jewish. I will leave out the details of how this comes about because they are extremely important to the story. The couple who have been protecting them are shot on the spot, and Clementa is sent to Auschwitz. 

The above events are seen in retrospect; the novel takes place in 1961. In Berlin. In August. If you are a better student of history than I am, you will see that it probably involves the erection of the Berlin Wall, and you will be right. Henri Toddweiss is now Henri Tod--"Tod" means "death" in German. He is the head of an underground organization known simply as the Bruderschaft, the Brotherhood, fighting the Communists. Why is he fighting the erstwhile enemies of Nazism? He believes that

What Nazism and Communism had in common was that both systems sanctioned the killing and torturing of innocent people, and if one saw that, all else that was sayable about the nice ideological differences of the two systems was, well, trivial.

Which I pretty much agree with.

Berlin is full of uneasiness about what the Russians may do to get control of their problem, which consists mainly of the fact that people are leaving East Berlin for the West in droves. Buckley's spy protagonist, Blackford Oakes, enters this situation as an agent charged with figuring out what the Russians may actually do, so that the American government and its allies can decide what they will do in response. Oakes is put in touch with Tod. 

What happens from here also involves a resourceful young man who happens to be the nephew and secretary of Walter Ulbricht, the East German ruler, his girlfriend, and Hitler's private railroad car, which has been sitting unnoticed in a garage with hundreds of other similar ones. It also involves Clementa; here again I'll say no more, for fear of spoiling the story. And it involves John F. Kennedy, not just off-stage in his role as the American president but in chapters which give us Buckley's notions of what Kennedy might have been thinking. 

It's a heartbreaking story, but I don't think Buckley quite does it justice. He is competent, but not brilliant. His approach could be described as understated, but it could also be described as flat. Or, if that's not really fair, let's just say it's lighter than the story calls for. Still, I'm haunted by certain aspects of it. In John Le Carre's hands this basic story would have been devastating, perhaps one of the best of his novels--and I say that as one who thinks Le Carre one of the better novelists working in our time. 

I might add that the Americans don't come off very well in this. That's not surprising, I guess, given Buckley's strong anti-communism. I surmise from the story that he thought we should have made an effort to stop the closing of East Berlin. There's an amusing moment in the book where Oakes reads (and agrees with) an article on the subject--by William F. Buckley writing in National Review. I'd be surprised if that article isn't real. 

And I'll note in passing that the book contains a really cringe-making sex scene. It involves Oakes and a woman he meets on a train. The incident adds nothing to the book except to give Oakes a bit of James-Bond-ish glamour by making him irresistible to women. It needn't have been there at all, and it needn't have been described. It's not explicit, it's just...I'm having trouble thinking of a word to describe it, and the only one that comes to mind is "corny," in a romance-novel sort of way, male version. I don't think "corny" is used very much now. "Cheesy" is a more recent similar usage. 

I do plan to read the other Buckley novel I have, High Jinx. I doubt that I'll keep them, though. 

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Actually I lean toward the view that it's almost impossible to write effectively in any detail at all about sex. It usually just seems a little silly and somehow embarrassing, unless it's actually meant to be pornography, and in that case the effectiveness is a bad thing. I can't think offhand of any such effort that I thought worked well. Best to just close the bedroom door, making sure, if you think it necessary, that the reader knows it's happening, then leave it behind that door. 

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I mentioned the term "resistance" above in reference to resistance against the Nazis. It strikes me as ridiculous and a little disgusting that those who object vehemently to Donald Trump and all his works have described themselves as "The Resistance," as if marching, screaming at politicians, and griping on the Internet, all with complete impunity, were in any way comparable to risking torture and death. 

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I live on the Gulf Coast, 150 miles or so from where Hurricane Michael hit, but I can't tell you anything more about it than you can learn from the news. You probably know it was possibly the most devastating storm ever to hit the Florida panhandle. All we had here was a somewhat windy and cloudy day, not even any rain. I don't think I'd have known that a hurricane was anywhere near, though perhaps someone more weather-wise would have been suspicious of the wind and the rapid and steady movement of the high clouds. Hurricanes of course are a fact of life here. You just have to live with the risk, and sometimes your area is the one that's hit. This one was particularly disturbing, though, because we usually don't get bad ones past the end of September, and it strengthened so much so quickly. When it first developed in the Caribbean and seemed likely to come this way, everybody thought "Oh, even if it does hit here, it won't be that big a deal." And then just a couple of days later it was looking bad, then worse.

I have no big conclusion to draw from this, just a sense of awe. And, I admit, relief that it didn't come here. I always feel a little guilty about that. 

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When your mailbox comes loose from the post and you don't have time to fix it, you improvise.

Mailbox


Sunday Night Journal, October 7, 2018

So Kavanaugh has been confirmed. As I fully expected would be the case, the result is not peace but mutual declarations of war. There isn't going to be any post-game handshake and congratulation here. Rather, many or most on both sides are saying "Our enemies now stand revealed as the devils we always knew they were, and must be destroyed." Few seem to grasp or care about the possibility that playing with matches and gasoline could result in a fire.

Some Democrats have already announced that they will attempt to impeach Kavanaugh. I said last week, and have said before, that all political victories are Pyrrhic now, because they only serve to inflame the other side. That's certainly the case here. Chances look pretty good to me that we just passed the point of no return in this conflict, though what lies at the end of it is not clear. We may be seeing the unfolding of a great historical tragedy, the self-destruction of a great nation.

As is usually the case in war, neutrality becomes difficult and eventually impossible. I personally refused to take a side in the question of whether Kavanaugh was guilty of the charge made by Christine Ford, on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to support it. But I'm assured that failure to believe Ford wholeheartedly makes me something of a monster; anyone who doubts that what she says is true is a misogynist and an apologist for sexual assault and rape. This is pretty much self-evidently false (not to mention irrational) and it distresses me that anyone would think this of me. But I have to either accept that, or say that I believe what I don't believe, so there really isn't a choice.

In fact I'm more in doubt about Ford's accusation today than I was a week ago. I assumed at first that she was at least telling the truth as she saw it, but in light of various pieces of information that have come out since then (such as the report issued by the attorney who questioned Ford at the hearing) I'm not so sure that she isn't lying outright, though the truth is still unknown and will most likely remain so.  

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As far back as I can remember there was a copy of Nelson Algren's novel The Man With the Golden Arm on my parents' bookshelf. I don't think I ever attempted to read it but the title intrigued me. A few years ago...well, probably at least ten and maybe fifteen years ago, when they were moving into a smaller house, I brought the book home with me, and now at last have read it.

It won the National Book Award for fiction in 1950, so I expected it to be at least pretty good. And it is--but not great. It's a novel of low life in Chicago just after the end of the Second World War. All the characters are poor, mostly first or second-generation immigrants from Poland, and live in a sort of shifting middle ground between the lower end of the working class and criminality. The protagonist, the man of the title, is Frankie Machine, and the "golden arm" refers to his skill as a card-dealer and gambler. But it takes on a different connotation as we learn that he's also a heroin addict, having picked up a morphine habit while recovering from wounds in the army. 

It's a story of more or less uninterrupted misery. Frankie's wife, Sophie, is in a wheel chair, as a result of a drunk-driving accident in which Frankie was at the wheel, and their relationship now consists mostly of mutual torment, of guilt and anger on Frankie's part, anger and despair on Sophie's. Most of the few bright spots involve memories of the past, of a brief youth when better things seemed possible. By this point in Frankie's life, though he's still pretty young, perhaps not out of his twenties, it's clear that the future offers nothing for him or for anybody around him. His doom, which involves his heroin habit and various crimes, is worked out in a narrative that often reveals, stylistically, the limits of dialect and slang in fiction.  A dialog between Frankie and the man who's come to get him and his friend Sparrow out of jail:

"I don't even ask how come you're in," Schwiefka complained. "I just come to spring you--what's the big squawk?"

"You know all right why we're in, that's the big squawk," Frankie let Schwiefka know. "Every time you duck Kvorka for his double sawzie he cruises down Division till he spots me or the punk 'n' pulls us in on general principles. This time he caught us together. The next time it happens you're payin' me off 'n' the punk too."

I think what's being said here is that Schwiefka failed to pay protection money to a cop named Kvorka. "Big squawk" and "double sawzie" probably sounded authentic and up-to-the-minute at the time, but nothing sounds as outdated as slang that failed to make it into the language permanently. (Why is "cool" still cool but "groovy" is not?) That kind of late '40s urban slang in particular is unavoidably associated with movies of the time which are often difficult for us to enjoy without irony. 

But there are lyrical passages, often despairing, that are very effective. A scene late one night in the bar where Frankie deals poker:

Thus in the narrowing hours of night the play became faster and steeper and an air of despair, like a sickroom odor where one lies who never can be well again, moved across the light green baize, touched each player ever so lightly and settled down in a tiny whiff of cigar smoke about the dealer's hands.

Now dealer and players alike united in an unspoken conspiracy to stave off morning forever. Each bet as if the loss of a hand meant death in prison or disease and when it was lost hurried the dealer on. "Cards, cards." For the cars kept the everlasting darkness off, the cards lent everlasting hope. The cards meant any man in the world might win back his long-lost life, gone somewhere far away.

I often thought of Allen Ginsberg's Howl while reading this book. It even includes the phrase "the Negro streets," which made me wonder if Ginsberg had borrowed it (Howl was published in 1956.) And also of some of Tom Waits's characters. I wonder if he's read it.

This adds up, I guess, to a recommendation, but not a very enthusiastic one. 

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 Nymph


Sunday Night Journal, September 30, 2018

I can't remember whether it was before or after the Ford accusations became public, but at some point a couple of weeks ago I said of the Kavanaugh hearings that their one absolutely certain effect would be a net increase in the amount of hate in this country. Rod Dreher put it a bit more strongly: "When this is over we will all hate each other even more." (At least that's what I think he said. I can't find that exact quote now.)

Well, those prophecies have certainly proved true. No matter what the result of this fiasco is, a huge number of people are going to be enraged and will stay that way. And it's not only those on the losing side: the winners will also feel that their fear and loathing of the others--the Other--will have been fully justified, and that the effort to crush them must not flag. As I said some time ago, all political victories are Pyrrhic now, because they serve to inflame the other side.

I cannot understand how people can fail to see where this is leading. Perhaps it won't be violence, but if it isn't it won't be for lack of hatred to fuel the flames. We are surely destroying the foundations of our system of law and government, which depend on some basic elemental presumptions, such as that we are fellow citizens of one country, and that we have something close to a shared understanding of its principles. We, at least those of us who are most politically engaged, don't seem to have those anymore. 

I have a constitutional reluctance to take a stand on questions of material fact where I have no direct knowledge and there's a lot of room for doubt. So I reserve judgment on whether Brett Kavanaugh is guilty of the assault with which he's been charged. But I loathe mob passions and mob behavior, always have done, and am very disturbed by the degree to which they are active now. There's a widespread willingness to say "We know he did it because people like him do things like that." And "people like him" refers to his class, sex, and race. Do people not see where that leads? 

Another direction in which this whole mess leads is to the diminishment of the Me Too movement. I've been very much in sympathy with its stated aims, if not its feminist ideological framework. But this dishonestly-handled business tends to discredit it. As Alexandra DeSanctis of National Review wrote:  

This debacle is teaching onlookers to take the stories of victims with a grain of salt. How can the average person be expected to care about seeking justice when so many in the public square seem to care more about advancing an agenda than about discerning who has actually been mistreated or abused?

The Me Too movement has gained immense influence over the last year precisely because it has encouraged us to acknowledge the reality of sexual abuse and follow the truth wherever it leads. Now, the question of whether the accusations against Kavanaugh are true has been subjugated to a political endgame. That promises to destroy the cultural power of the Me Too movement.

Surely no reasonable person can believe that Christine Ford's unprovable accusation, whether true or false, was not uncovered and deployed primarily as a weapon to block the confirmation of a justice who would (probably) tip the balance of the Supreme Court decisively rightward. And why? I think everyone knows, though Kavanaugh's opponents in the Senate don't want to say it, that this is above all about Roe v. Wade. I think everyone knows, even if they won't admit it even to themselves, that if Kavanaugh had the endorsement of Planned Parenthood we would never have heard of Christine Ford. A few centuries from now when reasonably dispassionate historians are writing about the dissolution of the United States, that arrogant and imprudent decision will be seen to have been a major factor. 

Oh, and by the way: completely lost in this war is the small number of principled conservatives who have serious reservations about Kavanaugh because they think he is far too indulgent of executive power. See this. Few care much about anything except the "social issues" which should not be settled in Washington in the first place.

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Switching topics rather abruptly: we watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri last night. For the first hour or so (of its nearly two) I was impatient with it. Well done, yes--extremely so, especially the acting. But I'm really pretty sick of the Small-Town White Hick stereotype in movies and TV. In the end, though, it won me over, partly by cleverly undermining the stereotypes. It's not an easy story to watch, its events being rooted in violence, hatred, and revenge. But those don't get quite the last word. 

In the comments where we were discussing this a week or two ago, several people mentioned being seriously put off by the language. I'm a little surprised at that, as it didn't seem any worse in that respect than the average movie. It was a bit shocking that the sheriff talked that way in front of his children. But other than that....

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Something I've been meaning to mention for several weeks: also in recent comments, there was a mention of Eric Clapton. I said I would have more to say about that later. Well, what I meant to say was that anyone who is interested in the sort of flash guitar (I don't know where I got that term but I guess it's reasonably clear) that Clapton represents really should check out Jeff Beck Live at Ronnie Scott's. It's available as an audio CD, but I really recommend that you watch it on DVD. There's more music on the DVD, and watching Beck and his three bandmates (bass, drums, keyboards) is terrific. Here's an example, in which you get to see bass prodigy Tal Wilkenfeld at work. She looks like she's about fourteen but actually she was twenty-one when this was recorded in 2008.

I do wish Beck had not worn that sleeveless shirt and given the audience so many glimpses of his armpits. And does anybody know who that woman in the audience at the very end is? She seems familiar. I did recognize several people in the audience, including Jimmy Page (not in this clip), and there were several others on whom the camera focused, leading me to believe that I was supposed to recognize them.

Rock fans (at least those of a certain age) have a tendency to argue about which of the three former Yardbirds guitarists--Clapton, Beck, and Page--is the greatest. Well, if that discussion is limited to the music of the '60s and '70s, it could go on forever. But if the question is who's the most interesting now--well, in my opinion it's clearly Beck. Clapton himself said once that "When he's on, there's nobody better." Agreed. 

This concert has a guest appearance by Clapton, by the way. Also Joss Stone and Imogen Heap. The DVD includes some interviews which I found quite interesting. One gives the impression that the old rivalries of the Yardbirds days still have a bit of life in them, at least in Beck's mind.

It looks like the entire concert is available on YouTube at the moment. Not an official page so it may not be there indefinitely.

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A building somewhere in Belfast. I just liked the image.

B&WBuilding-Belfast


Sunday Night Journal, September 23, 2018

I'm writing this post on Thursday afternoon and scheduling it to be posted on Monday, as I'm going to be out of town for the next few days, and am a bit compulsive about not missing a week. 

I say "writing" but actually I'm mostly transcribing, as I don't really have time to compose anything new. I read this passage from Caryl Houselander in Magnificat a week or so ago, and it really struck me, for reasons I'll state after the quote.

Most people who want to know God and who are outside the Church have just one thing that is precious to them, though to us with our clear-cut definitions, our discipline, and our sacraments, it may seem so vague that it is hard for us to realize how much it means to them. This is their personal approach to God. Very often it seems to be hardly that at all, so vague is it, so closely does it lean to sentimentality. It may be simply a memory of childhood, or a stirring of the spirit when a certain familiar hymn is heard; it may be just a fling of the heart to God, on seeing the first wild spray of blossom that proclaims the spring. But it is quite surely an indication of that individual's approach to God and of his approach to them, and it is as sweet to them as it would be to a blind man if, reaching out in darkness, he touched the garment hem of Christ.

Too often, through our own fault, we give people who are thus clinging to their own personal contact with God the idea that Catholicism would sweep it away. Quote wrongly, we give them the idea that we are not seeking any more, that we have a formula for everything, that we hold feeling in contempt, live only by acts of will, and that there is nothing that we cannot explain.

 Of course this is untrue. We too are always seeking for God, always reaching out by blind fingers to touch his garment, and we are blinded by the very light of the mysteries of our faith, which we can live by but cannot explain and can barely begin to understand.

To the enquirer, our hard, unanswerable arguments, dealt out blow by blow with our sledgehammer of zeal, are all too convincing--the the mind. But the heart rises up in revolt against "apologetics" which may convince against the will and sweep away that lovely touch in the darkness which is at the heart of their lives.

I've had the whole concept of dogma on my mind for a week or two, because I've been writing something about it: whether such a thing can be, how one would come to believe it. It--or to use a related and somewhat less forbidding word, doctrine--is obviously a crucially important part of Catholicism, and for that matter of any serious variety of Christianity. And yet even as I try to frame and express those ideas I'm always conscious that pure intellectual belief is insufficient--necessary but not sufficient, as they say. I think of doctrine as something like the skeleton of a body. It's necessary for shape, structure, and motion. Without it, the body would hardly exist. But the skeleton alone is scary.

I suppose most Catholics, at least those who move in consciously orthodox circles, have met people who fit the description in Houselander's second paragraph--"a formula for everything." Men are considerably more prone to that syndrome than women, especially young men. Defending the faith can become for them a sort of intellectual boxing match. It's not a bad thing in itself, in fact it's a good thing. But it can seem, and sometimes even be, a mistaken and futile attempt to lock up the truth rather than to set it free.

Things have changed a good bit since Houselander's time: I think fewer people are even able to hear arguments addressed to the intellect. How they feel is the only thing that matters. 

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Also, something I meant to mention last week: someone pointed out to me a very good discussion of Bergman at Commentary. "Oh Lord, Why Did You Forsake Ingmar Bergman?" Just one or two quick remarks: I was slightly surprised to read that Bergman is not held in the critical esteem that he once was. I shouldn't be surprised, of course, and of course my reaction is "well, so much for critical esteem." And I don't think the Lord did forsake him, exactly. Bergman's case is relevant to my preceding bit about doctrine, in fact: I never felt that he truly rejected God, but rather false and misleading conceptions of God which his harsh Lutheran upbringing gave him. This is more or less directly stated at the end of Through A Glass Darkly. I mean, look at the context of the title's scripture reference. I don't think it could be much more clear that he knew that "fling of the heart to God" (what a great description!). Too bad his mind didn't see the way.

Just a day or two ago I ran across something else on Bergman that looks interesting, "Remedial Bergman" by John Simon,  in The Weekly Standard. I haven't had a chance to read it yet but am posting it in case anyone else is interested.


Sunday Night Journal, September 16, 2018

Television is a drug, we've been told for decades. It really is. I don't like to think I'm hooked on it, and I can say in a certain sense that I "don't watch television." But that certain sense is what the phrase used to suggest (and I guess still does in many cases)--watching the stuff that's broadcast all day and night on various networks, the original big three and all the others that have proliferated. I never have watched much of that, not because of any virtue on my part but because I don't like it. And I've always found the commercials almost unendurable. 

But if by "watch television" you mean "watch moving pictures on a television screen," I can't deny that I'm hooked. For a long time it was only movies, which I felt entitled me to a certain self-respect--at least I wasn't watching "that network junk." But I can only say that now if I mean only CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox, because thanks to Netflix and other options a great deal of what I watch now was originally made for TV, either here or in the UK. 

My wife and I have gotten into the habit of watching an hour or an hour-and-a-half of some sort of crime drama almost every night. Most of the variations from this have been other made-for-TV productions like Victoria and The Crown. And the majority of them are British. (See this post from two years ago.) One wants to relax at the end of a working day (and yes, mine are still largely work of one kind or another though I am supposedly retired). But one does not want to be bored. And crime dramas provide a mixture of the stimulating, even frightening or disturbing, and the reassuring: for the most part, at least in the ones I watch, there is in the end something close to justice: the murderer is found out and apprehended. The links in the list below go to the Wikipedia pages for the shows, in case you want to find out a bit more about them. I only noticed a spoiler in one of them (noted below).

Midsomer Murders is the least demanding, and the best option for the end of a particularly stressful day. It falls pretty well within the definition of the "cozy" genre.  Predictable, likeable characters (I mean, not counting the killers, with which these little English villages seem to be crawling), and not too gruesome or psychologically creepy. There are a lot of episodes, but I am trying to ration our consumption of them because eventually we will get through them all. And I have to admit they get somewhat repetitive. How could they not?--it's been going since 1998.

Marcella is another entry in what seems to be almost a sub-genre now: the detective with major personal problems. I watched this one alone...oops, I forgot to mention that I frequently watch half an hour of TV on my lunch break--and sometimes a whole hour, if what I'm watching lasts that long and I can't make myself stop in the middle. (But I don't have a problem, really. I can quite anytime I want to.) Anyway, I watched it alone because when my wife and I started watching it the opening promised to be so gruesome that she decided to bail out. Marcella Backland is a police detective in London, and her major personal problems (MPP) involve a collapsing marriage, the death of a child, and blackouts in which she does crazy things which she can't remember afterwards. I guess I'd give it a qualified recommendation. It's produced, directed, and written by Hans Rosenfeldt, who was the guiding hand of the original Swedish The Bridge. Despite that opening scene, it is not extremely gory. 

So, The Bridge: having had this strongly recommended so strongly by Rob G, I finally watched the first season of it a couple of months ago. It's very very good, though sometimes gruesome and disturbing. As you know if you've seen conversations about it here, the bridge in question is the one between Sweden and Denmark, and each country provides a detective. Both, not surprisingly, have MPPs. I haven't watched any of the subsequent seasons, because I can only get them from Amazon for $24 or so each.

The Tunnel is a sort of remake of The Bridge with the Channel Tunnel between England and France in the role of the bridge. The detectives are similar, including MPPs. I didn't like it as well as The Bridge, but it's good. It's also more disturbing. The third and final season was recently shown on PBS and...how to say this without giving away too much?...it does not have the sort of resolution one expects in a crime drama. In case you're on the fence about watching it. And NOTE: that Wikipedia entry does contain one major spoiler.

DCI Banks is based on what is apparently a very popular series of novels by Peter Robinson. I haven't read any of them so obviously have no idea how the show compares to them, but I like the show enough to be interested in the novels. Banks is, I suppose, a pretty basic police detective in the mold of, say, Inspector Morse: he's got his quirks and his problems and is on the prickly side, but not MPPs to the extent that some of the aforementioned have. Really, if I were to summarize this, it would sound an awful lot like any number of similar shows, but it's very well done, the stories are good (though not always entirely believable, which I guess is not unusual), and the recurring characters, starting with Banks, are sympathetic enough that you care about them.

Case Histories stars...Lucius Malfoy? Yes. I was not a big fan of the Harry Potter books or movies, but when I saw the lead character in this series it didn't take very long for me to go from "He looks familar, I've seen him in something else" to the scary image of Malfoy. I've never been one to be greatly fascinated by movie stars, but over the years I've become more and more impressed by the ability of actors to transform themselves convincingly into utterly different people. It may be hard to believe that Jason Isaacs could be both Lucius Malfoy and the kind, strong-but-sensitive Jackson Brodie, who, as Wikipedia says, "hides a deeply empathetic heart under his tough-guy exterior." This series lasted only two seasons, apparently, and I would have liked to see more. Brodie is, in his basic situation, the classic private eye: an ex-cop who lost his job for exposing corruption, trying to get by on whatever miscellaneous investigative problems happen to walk in his office door. The problems usually meet first Brodie's secretary, Deborah, who is herself a very engaging character, sharp-tongued and quick-witted. Icing on this cake is an intriguing and somewhat quirky sound track. Definitely recommended, along with Banks

The Doctor Blake Mysteries is an Australian series. It falls somewhere between Midsomer Murders and the others mentioned here on a scale that runs from cozy to disturbing. It's not exactly cozy, but on the other hand it's not terribly dark, either. Doctor Lucien Blake is a "police surgeon," which seems to be something like the forensic pathologist who is often a second-tier character in mysteries, in the town of Ballarat. In this case the pathologist is the one who actually figures out the crimes. The stories take place in the 1950s; Blake is a World War II veteran who has returned to Ballarat after certain traumas. He's a bachelor and lives with his housekeeper and a couple of lodgers. I'm not wildly enthusiastic about this show, but I do enjoy it. As with Midsomer, each episode is a self-contained story, but the main characters persist from one episode to the next, and you come to care about them and want to know what happens to them.

Ozark is the lone American entry in this list. I might describe it very broadly as an attempt to do something like what Breaking Bad did so very effectively. It involves a Chicago financial planner, Marty Byrde, whose business partner has been laundering money for a drug cartel, and stealing from them in the process. They figure this out, of course, and arrive to kill both men. Marty talks his way out of being murdered by promising great things in the money laundering line. This involves moving to the Ozarks, where he predictably gets into ever-deeper trouble, with his wife, Wendy, becoming a very capable co-conspirator, and his children being dragged in as well. There are some darkly funny bits where Marty and Wendy lecture the children on honesty and other virtues while lying constantly, deceiving and abusing people in various ways, and causing the deaths of several. There are two seasons, and I'm not quite done with the second. I don't know whether more are planned but I doubt that the story is going to be wrapped up very satisfactorily in the two remaining episodes. I'm not very enthusiastic about this one, but the story got its hooks into me. It's pretty dark and has some especially gruesome deaths. 

All these shows, including the later Midsomer episodes, are filmed in HD, and frequently provide some very beautiful imagery. Banks and Case Histories, set in Yorkshire and Scotland respectively, are especially good in this respect.

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I have managed to see a few movies in recent months. Just this past week I watched, for the first time, the classic Western High Noon. I admit that this was sort of a check-off item, as I've wanted to see all the acknowledged classics in this genre. And I've been a little saddened to find that they don't in general have the appeal that they did when I was a child. That wasn't much of a surprise, of course, but some of them have been worse than I expected. This is an exception. It's really pretty good. I guess everybody sort of knows the basic idea from various cultural references if not from seeing the film itself: lone lawman confronts outlaw(s) at high noon. Gary Cooper is the town marshal. The black-and-white cinematography is good and the story works pretty well.

Although I had not seen the film, I've heard the theme song, "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling," occasionally over the years, enough so that I recognize it. I knew that it was associated with the movie, and was always a bit puzzled by that: what does asking your darling not to forsake you have to do with standing up to outlaws? Well, I must never have listened past the first line or two of the song, because it was written for the movie and specifically refers to people and events in it. Marshal Kane has just married his sweetheart, Amy (Grace Kelly). She's a Quaker and a pacifist and intends to leave him if he insists on fighting the outlaws. 

Another movie: Europa, directed by Lars von Trier. It's the only thing I've seen by him, and I know he has a reputation for having done some fairly twisted stuff. I don't know about that, but this is an odd one. Not twisted, not offensive, but...odd. I got it from Netflix semi-inadvertently--for some reason I had it in my head that it was an older work by Godard or Truffaut or somebody of that sort. I have no idea why I thought that, but I had put it on my Netflix queue a long time ago, and it finally bubbled to the top. 

I can't say much more for it than "somewhat interesting." It's about crimes and conspiracies in Germany immediately after World War II, the work of unrepentant Nazis trying to keep their resistance alive, and it involves an American who is drawn into such a conspiracy. That might suggest an action-thriller sort of thing, but it isn't really that. It's shot mostly in a murky black-and-white that looks more like something from the '20s than the '40s, if a period-cinema atmosphere is what was intended. I guess that's appropriate in one way, as that was certainly a murky period of history. If someone wants to argue its merits, I'll listen, but I wasn't impressed.

*

Yes.

ZeroPointZero

 


Sunday Night Journal, September 9, 2018

In response to recommendations from Rob G and Janet, I recently read Julien Green's Each Man In His Darkness. Well, I guess it wasn't only in response to them. I've run across Green's name now and then over the years in discussions of modern Catholic novelists. It usually turns up toward the end, in an almost afterthought-ish sort of way: "Oh, and there's also Julien Green." I'd always think well I should check him out, too. And then I'd forget about him.

Well, it turns out he's really very good. As a brief much-too-neat but not-entirely-useless one-sentence description, I'd say he's a sort of combination of Greene and Waugh. More Greene, I guess. And not the humorous Waugh but the Waugh of Brideshead Revisited. What this book has in common with Brideshead is mainly the conflict between faith and desire, which of course is equally important in some of Greene's work. It's been a long time since I read The Heart of the Matter, and its plot doesn't bear much resemblance to that of Each Man, but shares with it, at least with what I recall, a grim sense of movement toward tragedy. And the protagonist is somewhat Greene-ian in that he is a Catholic haunted by a faith he'd rather ignore.

I couldn't figure out at first when or where the book is set. If this is stated in the narrative I missed it (which is certainly possible). Green was born in 1900 of American (and Southern) parents in Paris, and he wrote mostly in French. I assumed in the opening pages that the book was set in England (because the family names are Anglo), and in perhaps the 1920s or even earlier, as the protagonist, Wilfred Ingram, is met at a railway station by a horse and wagon. It soon became clear that that was not the case. The book was published in 1960, and I think its setting is meant to be contemporary and American. It may be New York--some large American city, at any rate. 

Wilfred is in his mid-20s, single, and one of a few Catholics in an old and largely Protestant family. He works in a clothing store and spends his nights in what the novel describes, with a word which must have already been somewhat quaint in the 1950s, as "dissipation." That is, he goes out in search of women to have sex with, and he always finds one.

(In passing: perhaps I'm naive, but I'm a little doubtful that even an attractive and charming young man would, in the 1950s, have so reliably and so often found a willing woman, and never the same one twice, as Wilfrid does. Green was gay, and I suspect Wilfred's sex life resembles that of a good-looking young gay man in the metropolis more than that of a straight one.)

In the midst of this he attempts to squelch his Catholic conscience without abandoning the faith altogether. This struggle comes to a head when he finds himself in the grip of an obsessive passion for a married woman. The outcome of that struggle is strongly affected by his relationships with two homosexual characters, who can almost be said to represent the good and evil angels contending for his soul. That's an oversimplification, as the evil one is also Catholic, mostly fallen-away, and is bent on challenging Wilfred's faith to the maximum. And as things turn out...well, I don't want to give away too much. The other homosexual character is Wilfred's cousin Angus, who is in love with Wilfred, and who is, now that I think of it, the most Waugh-ian element in the novel: a well-off, jaded young gay man of no faith, but deep longing underneath a surface cynicism, and an essentially noble and generous character. There is also a decadent old uncle who puts one in mind of Lord Marchmain. 

In short: a novel very much worth reading and placing alongside those of  some of the other names I've mentioned. I'd like to read more Green. He wrote a lot, including nineteen (!) volumes of journals and a four-volume autobiography. Goodness.... Here is his Wikipedia entry.

WARNING: what seems to be the only edition in English of Each Man has an introduction by Giovanni Lucera which gives away the major events of the plot, including the climax. And this is a big deal because the plot is not predictable. So don't read the introduction first. Fortunately it's always my practice, when a novel includes an introduction or preface, to skip it and read it only after the novel itself.

*

Another recommendation from Rob G: he sent me the link to this piece in First Things by David Bentley Hart in which Hart recommends the English composer George Butterworth. In the past I would have filed this away mentally and maybe followed up on it sometime, or maybe not. But having access to a streaming service--Tidal in my case--which gives me access to some huge portion of all currently available recorded music allowed me to hear some of Butterworth's music right away. I looked for the orchestral pieces, because I have to admit, with some embarrassment, that the art song is not my favorite form of music. 

Well, I found them, and they are exquisite. And I found them on this recording: 

ButterworthParryBridge

which, according to the review at Arkiv Music, is "very special." I'm always telling my friends who are connoisseurs of classical music that I'm not very sensitive to nuances of performance. But this one really grabbed me. It was the second one I listened to (I don't remember which was first), and it's the one I saved and listened to repeatedly. 

And by the way I liked the work by Frank Bridge, a four-movement suite for strings, as much as the Butterworth. The one by Parry, a suite of dances in the baroque tradition, hasn't made much of an impression on me.

Here's one of the Butterworth pieces, not from the just-mentioned recording, but with pretty pictures.

And here's one of the songs, a link sent to me by another friend, who is probably going to roll her eyes when I tell her that although I love the song (and of course the Houman poem), I sort of wish the singer didn't do that crescendo in the middle. I guess maybe that was the composer's direction. Yes, I am complaining about the singing of one of the world's great baritones, Bryn Terfel. I'm sorry. I really am. 

*

I've just acquired two more entries for my list of common phrases heard but not read, and rendered innocently according to the hearer's knowledge, or guess:

for all intents and purposes -> for all intensive purposes

of utmost importance -> of upmost importance

*

I've sometimes thought of starting a collection of Links On Which I Did Not Click. " Like this one: "Is Your Pre-Workout Under-dosed?" I have no idea what that means. 

*

Less-Than-A-Hurricane Gordon did me a favor. If you read last week's post, you remember I had been trying to direct the creek that flows into the bay away from a course where it was causing erosion. The creek wanders around all the time, depending on wind and water. I had dug an outlet for it straight out into the bay, but the water level in the bay was fairly high and my ditch was filled in overnight. 

NewCreekThe storm dumped somewhere between 7 and 9 inches of rain in 18 hours or so. The resulting flood of runoff down the creek washed a path straight out into the bay, as I had wanted to do. That's the stream you see in the middle of this picture, taken a day or two after the storm, when the very high water had mostly receded, and from more or less the same place as the picture last week of another one of my attempts. Moreover, it shoved a great pile of sand up on the beach and more or less replaced what had been eroded by the creek. I am very pleased by this development.


Sunday Night Journal, September 2, 2018

I finally decided to pay a little attention to the Jordan Peterson phenomenon, which I have pretty much been ignoring. I first heard of him by way of this post by Neo-neocon, in which she discusses the video in which Peterson is interviewed by an apparently well-known British journalist named Cathy Newman. I soon realized that Peterson's work in general, and his persona, and this video in particular were becoming famous. And I thought Neo's analysis of the interview was fascinating, as she notes the ways in which Peterson uses (so she says) the techniques of a psychotherapist (which he is) to deal with Newman's hostility and her attempts to paint him as a Bad Person. Newman is fond of the low "So you're saying..." gambit, widely favored in political arguments.

"I think nations have the right to control their borders."

"So you're saying immigrants have no rights."

Both sides do it of course.

"I think we have an obligation to take care of immigrants."

"So you're saying we should let the whole world move in and go on welfare."

I thought it was a good thing that someone successfully countered the bullying of a TV journalist, especially someone asserting reason and fact in the face of ideological-emotional aggression. But I did not actually watch the video. (I don't usually watch news-related videos, or for that matter listen to podcasts. I'm not sure exactly why but it often has to do with impatience--just give me a transcript and let me read it, which will take a lot less time than listening to you say it all.)

I didn't, however, intend to investigate Peterson any further. If a writer of self-help books is writing sane advice in defiance of popular cant, good for him, but a book called 12 Rules For Life is on the face of it not my cup of tea.

Then I saw a piece by Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic  called "Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson." Caitlin Flanagan is usually interesting; she is one of those people who are more or less on the progressive side but don't wear ideological blinders, so I thought I would read the piece. But I had not gotten around to it when I came across a rather fevered attack on Peterson by a liberal Catholic on Facebook (friend of a friend kind of thing). He may be a theologian. At any rate he's pretty knowledgeable on the subject, and went into a vigorous attack on Peterson's ideas as being incompatible with various Catholic beliefs as articulated by various theologians. I thought this was odd: why get upset about a non-Catholic psychologist's deviations from Catholic teaching? I'm not perturbed by Oprah's heterodoxy.

That caused me to go and read Flanagan's piece. Now I understand. I'll let her say it:

The left has an obvious and pressing need to unperson [Peterson]; what he and the other members of the so-called “intellectual dark web” are offering is kryptonite to identity politics. There is an eagerness to attach reputation-destroying ideas to him, such as that he is a supporter of something called “enforced monogamy”.... 

There are plenty of reasons for individual readers to dislike Jordan Peterson. He’s a Jungian and that isn’t your cup of tea; he is, by his own admission, a very serious person and you think he should lighten up now and then; you find him boring; you’re not interested in either identity politics or in the arguments against it. There are many legitimate reasons to disagree with him on a number of subjects, and many people of good will do. But there is no coherent reason for the left’s obliterating and irrational hatred of Jordan Peterson. What, then, accounts for it?

It is because the left, while it currently seems ascendant in our houses of culture and art, has in fact entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable. The left is afraid not of Peterson, but of the ideas he promotes, which are completely inconsistent with identity politics of any kind. When the poetry editors of The Nation virtuously publish an amateurish but super-woke poem, only to discover that the poem stumbled across several trip wires of political correctness; when these editors (one of them a full professor in the Harvard English department) then jointly write a letter oozing bathos and career anxiety and begging forgiveness from their critics; when the poet himself publishes a statement of his own—a missive falling somewhere between an apology, a Hail Mary pass, and a suicide note; and when all of this is accepted in the houses of the holy as one of the regrettable but minor incidents that take place along the path toward greater justice, something is dying.

 *
Another LP from the closet: The Grateful Dead, Live/Dead. This is a live double LP that came out in 1969. I liked it at the time but as far as I can remember had not heard it since sometime around the middle of the '70s, so I wasn't sure whether I still would.
 
I do. In fact I love it. The first two sides are classics of the jam-rock genre, and among the first instances of it on record (maybe the first?). They include only three songs, "Dark Star," "St. Stephen," and "The Eleven." The first occupies a whole side, and seems to be regarded as the quintessential jam vehicle of the quintessential jam band. I was surprised to learn that it was initially a straightforward under-three-minute song, and was in fact issued as a single. Shockingly, it did not make a mark on the Top 40. But it's on YouTube. 

There is a joyous quality about those first two sides. The other two are good, but to my taste not as. "Turn On Your Love Light," which people of a certain age may remember hearing in Bobby "Blue" Bland's hit version on the radio ca. 1960, occupies all of side 3. Side 4 begins with "Death Don't Have No Mercy," a sort of gospel blues with typically stark lyrics:
Death don't have no mercy in this land
Come to your house, he don't stay long
You look in the bed, see your mama is gone
Jerry Garcia was not the greatest guitarist in the world, but he was very good, and often a very emotionally effective one. Same for his singing. In particular he's not a great blues/gospel sort of singer. Still, both guitar and voice work really well in this song. And in the whole album: his voice has a warm fuzzy-hippie quality about it that fits perfectly with the band's sound and general vibe. And vibe is a big part of the appeal of the album.
 
The sound quality is excellent, but the mix seems unbalanced. It often seems to be all guitar, bass, and voice. I can hardly hear one of the two drummers most of the time, though maybe that's because he isn't doing much most of the time. To tell you the truth, I've never quite gotten the point of having two drummers. I just get confused if I try to listen closely to them. But I'm not a musician, and especially not a drummer. I've only in recent years come to appreciate drummers.
 
*

Say what you will about summer in the South, it does frequently make available the experience of being soaked to the skin by heavy rain but not getting chilled. I had that experience yesterday. There's a creek that empties out into the bay near my house, and it wanders around depending on the prevailing winds and tides. I won't bore you with the details, but its course for most of this summer has been causing some extremely unwelcome beach erosion. So I've been trying to change its course by digging an alternative channel in the sand. I was doing that yesterday when this storm came up.

BayStormI just went on digging for an hour or so in the pouring rain, which was actually preferable to sun under those circumstances. Sand is heavy, and wet sand even heavier.

My channel was working when I left, but filled in again overnight, which I pretty much expected, because the tide was going to be pretty high. I had to try, though. Here is an instance from earlier in the summer where I succeeded. This is the day after the dig--the new channel is fairly well established.

HydroEngineering2

Three or four days later:
HydroEngineering
The creek is still more or less in this position, though a bit further to the north (right). Better than it was, but I want it to be another fifty feet or so south.


Sunday Night Journal, August 26, 2018

I had intended to write about something else today, a couple of somethings else, actually, but was occupied with other things well into the evening, and in any case I would have a very hard time focusing on anything but the letter released yesterday by Archbishop Vigano. Surely you've heard the story. If not, here is what I think is the first report. One of the first, anyway. Naturally the factions went to war immediately, either believing Vigano's assertions and supporting him, or disbelieving them and attacking him. I don't think you need for me to cover the arguments and the evidence and the parties involved. I'm not a journalist, and there are plenty of them, professional and amateur, doing that job, and you can find their work online in an instant. So I thought I would just state my personal reaction.

Then I wrote a thousand words of personal reaction. Then I threw them away. So these two paragraphs are all there's going to be for a Sunday Night Journal this week. I'll say this much: I think Vigano is most likely telling the truth, so at first I was excited to think that rumored facts were finally going to be dragged into the light of day. But the most likely outcome is no real "outcome" at all. Just the further escalation of the factional war and the further deterioration and demoralization of much of the Church. 


Sunday Night Journal, August 19, 2018

I feel obliged to say something about the latest eruption of sex-related scandals in the Church. I'm not sure exactly why I feel obliged. This blog is not primarily about religious matters, and a great deal happens in that realm that I don't feel any need to comment on. But as it is written by a Catholic and looks at things through explicitly Catholic eyes, it seems to me that not to say something on this extremely important subject would look like evasion. 

I've started to write about it once or twice before but came to a quick halt because any expression of outrage and anger that I might come up with is inadequate to the worst of the crimes. I doubt that I need to describe those here, and I certainly don't want to. They are the sort of thing that leave one physically ill and thinking "How is it possible that a human being could do this?" They are not "failings" or "mistakes." They are monstrous evils. Moreover, I don't think I have anything to say about any of it, either in the way of expressed outrage or of opinions about the causes and cures of the problems, that hasn't been said by someone else, usually many somebodies. 

So I'm going to quote a lot of those others. But first I think it's important, really important, to note that the measures that have been taken since 2002 have certainly reduced the number of crimes against minors, especially children. The whole climate has changed, and situations that were once accepted as good and normal (and usually were) but were exploited by child molesters are in general no longer permitted. I mean situations where a priest is alone with a child for any length of time. Neither parents nor priests in their right minds would allow it now. 

Nevertheless: what the McCarrick and Pennsylvania disclosures have done is to reveal that a culture of sexual, mainly homosexual, corruption, exists at the highest levels of the Church in this country, and possibly in Rome, where reports of McCarrick's sexual misconduct were ignored as he was being made a cardinal. The thing that comes up over and over again in relation toMcCarrick is that "everybody knew." That is, "everybody" knew he carried on a homosexual life which involved preying on seminarians. And they kept it secret, and did nothing to stop it. Rod Dreher has described (repeatedly) being told this in 2002 when he was a reporter investigating the abuse crisis: over and over again people in a position to know told him that "everybody knew," but no one would go on the record. 

Well, you can read all about that elsewhere, and probably have if you're interested. The result, for me and for many, many other lay Catholics, is that the American bishops as a body, meaning principally the USCCB, have no credibility at all. Individual bishops may, and do, have it. But the body as a whole: no. No one can be very confident that its official statements are entirely honest.

People will always commit sexual sins, and some of those people will be clergy. That has to be accepted as a sad fact of life. But what can't be accepted is the presence of a circle of men, quite a large circle, and much of it highly placed, who are committed to serious sin as a way of life, in direct and violent contradiction of their vows and of basic Catholic moral teaching. What we hear over and over and over from most of the hierarchy evades this fact. And the clear inference, supported by evidence (e.g. McCarrick), is that at least some of them are part of it, and even more of them know about it, but for whatever reason don't or can't do anything about it.

At least one bishop, Morlino, of Madison, Wisconsin, is willing to speak plainly:

It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord. 

You can read more of his statement here. It is harsh, and I'm sure he will be charged with "homophobia" (a word I don't consider to be of much use) and of scapegoating homosexuals. But the majority of the abuse cases have been male-on-male, and involved adolescents, not pre-pubescent children. And anyway the situation would not be fundamentally different if heterosexual activity were at the center of the "subculture," if that's the right word.

As you may know, Rod Dreher has been writing frequently about all this for some time. As you also know if you read him, his work reporting on the scandals in 2002 played the major role in driving him away from Rome and to Orthodoxy. His blog draws a lot of comments from smart readers with a wide range of views. By way of illustrating what some lay people are feeling and thinking, here's a selection of comments from two posts, this one and this one. (The posts themselves are worth reading though far from pleasant. If you only want to read one, make it the second, "Traitors In Their Midst.") I don't necessarily agree with everything in every one of these, certainly not with those who have left the Church. But I understand and to a great extent share their feelings. And I'm seeing this sort of thing everywhere I look on the Internet, particularly on Facebook, from faithful Catholics. Many of the laity are very, very angry. (I just copied and pasted these--typos and other errors are left as they were.)

The laity need to bulldog this until 100% of the network priests and bishops are laicized. Laicized. Every one of them.

Mandatory clerical Celibacy was required by the Gregorian reforms to solve problems in the medieval church; now it is clearly creating more problems than it solves. It has got to go.

---

In the case of the present crisis, more pain is in prospect. Many will lose their faith. The process of decline, already well advanced in places like Europe and elsewhere, will accelerate. A considerable portion of the hierarchy will defect, and in fact has already defected, to the Enemy. There is no way to put a happy face on any of this or dress it up as anything other than the disaster it is.

In short, this catastrophe has considerably longer to run. The Church that rises from the ashes will be smaller in numbers and weaker in the eyes of the world. But She will be purified by fire and suffering. And She will again be the light that Jesus called Her to be.

---

The worst thing is to feel suspicious of every cleric I encounter. [my emphasis]

---

I do have concerns that clericalism has in fact colored doctrine both intentionally and unintentionally to protect and promote the self-interests of the clergy. Is that not exactly what they have been doing regarding the sex abuse crisis, so why not many other doctrinal issues as well?

It’s past RICO time. These men are utterly and irredeemably corrupt. Nothing but force is going to protect kids.

---

I am at the point where you were; staying Catholic but not trusting the clergy. But that begs the question, who should you trust?

No one.

You can’t trust the Orthodox priest, the Protestant pastor or anyone, except hopefully your spouse. I’ll stay with the RCC, but always a bit suspicious of those in authority, never ever letting my kids around anyone, as all parents should do the world over and throughout time.

----

A big part of this horror is the realization that if it wasn’t for the courage of the victims of the Catholic clergy who came forward, the empathy and hard work of the journalists who listed to them, and the law enforcement agencies who put the law into motion, this evil would remain hidden;

Because of this, the bishops, with a few exceptions, have lost trust and credibility in any objective sense. They are a hindrance to authentic healing, and if they have any shred of honor left in them, should leave.

---

This numbness of faith I’m feeling is something new for me – I was too young to appreciate what was happening in 2002. It’s as if my limbs are being severed one by one as I watch from a distance, and eventually I’m going to have to return to my body and live in this new reality. I love the Church and weep over her. The only thing that consoles me is the understanding that this is in reality a great mercy. Two months ago nothing was different. The only thing that’s changed is a little bit of light has shined on the ugly darkness. Now there’s a chance for change that didn’t exists before.

---

I cannot be Catholic any long because I don’t see how I can ever trust a cleric again. I have girls that are teenagers and at least in theory they wouldn’t be targets but nevertheless I would never leave them in the company of any cleric, ever. You can’t live a faith like that.
Unlike you I don’t see another form of Christianity as an answer. I’m just done.

---

I work for a catholic organization in a chancery building and have for the past 11 years. I am beside myself with anger and disappointment (too weak a word, really). We were all led to believe things were different this time, that all the rot was in the past. Now I feel duped, and worse I feel like my work helped a system that gave cover to awful men and their crimes. I feel a fool for having taken Catholicism seriously when it’s clear so many priests and bishops never did. [my emphasis.] I guess I shouldn’t be entirely surprised, there were indications all along that many did not take the call to holiness seriously especially in sexual matters. Look at the way they were ignored or dismissed from the pulpit and in the confessional. I’m trying hard not to fall into despair but it is very, very difficult when I read about all those children abused and discarded, the ongoing McCarrick slime, and the good men scandalized and chased out of seminaries. The crocodile tears of a predator was worth more to these bishops than the innocence, souls, and physical protection of children and vulnerable people. I’m like a man in a bombed out building, looking around in bewilderment and wondering if there’s any good left that’s worth salvaging.

---

I live in the Archdiocese of Newark and have had my heart broken by our diocese and my parish over this summer. But what living in this tension with my former friend and what has gone on in my diocese is doing for me is helping me to realize that the Lord will use those broken clerics to consecrate the Eucharist and baptize my babies and absolve my sins. And I am now more aware that I am “a sheep among wolves;” very crafty wolves that sometimes dress in shepherd’s clothes.

Ultimately, I love Jesus and His Church too much to take the steps you and your wife took. I am not bashing you. But my faith isn’t any longer an intellectual exercise, it’s a love between me and my Redeemer.

I’m really angry, though. I’m planning to protest the USCCB meeting in Baltimore in November and we’re not giving ++Tobin another cent until he starts acting like a pastor and less like a CEO.

---

[This is one commenter replying to another.] "What I’m noticing is that the secular media is repeating the same story from 2002..labeling it a pedophila crisis. Understand: every instance of gruesomeness detailed in the Pennsylvania testimony is diabolical.
But no one is speaking about the demographics of the victims..in which 81% are adolescent or adult males."

This. If anything is ever gong to change, and children are truly going to be protected, we have to destroy the clerical lavender mafia root and branch, along with the hierarchs who protect them. Not just in the U.S., but globally. And most of all in Rome.

Every other issue is secondary to this one.

---

The institutional Latin church needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt — not destroyed, but gutted and rebuilt. Unless it is totally gutted, the rot will remain. All of the hierarchs need to go, much of the priesthood needs to go, and a good chunk of laity needs to go, and from the remains a new Latin church can be built on firmer foundations which are more moral and more accountable and transparent. That kind of reform, which is needed, will prove to be impossible unless the entire current regime is liquidated.

---

When men made the temple into a trading house, Jesus flipped the tables and drove them out with a whip. These men have made the Bride into a brothel and their crimes demand action swifter and more severe than committees and letters and Very Serious Discussions.

Drag them bodily from the altars. Tear the vestments from their bodies and cast them from the sanctuary. Hand them over to the police.

Mercy does not mean withholding consequences, forgiveness does not mean returning to the status quo, and frankly, a jail cell is a better place for repentance than a rectory.

As for me, there's no chance at all that I will leave the Church. My commitment is irrevocable. There's no chance at all that I will repudiate the Faith. My commitment is irrevocable. But one effect of this for me has been to increase the frequency and volume of those little questions that are always with me, that in one way or other come down to this one: what if none of this stuff is true? If your physics teacher is a criminal, it doesn't mean that the acceleration of earth's gravity is no longer 32 feet per second per second (I can't believe I remember that). And it can be verified by experiment. But the whole foundation of Christian faith is the testimony of others, nothing that one can verify independently for oneself. If the custodians of the testimony are discovered to be repeating a story that they themselves do not believe, it disturbs one's confidence in their teaching in a way that the physics teacher's sins do not. 

Over and over I find myself asking: do these men even believe in God?

One last note in what is already far too long a post: I think the Church should consider ordaining married men. I know this would have many problems of its own--everyone who grows up Protestant knows the term "PK." And even aside from theological and pastoral problems the practical obstacles are immense and could not be overcome quickly. Maybe it's not a good idea. But it's certain that for the priesthood to be seen as heavily composed of gay men who may or may not be celibate is a catastrophe. You could not come up with a better way to drive normal men, husbands and fathers, from the Church. 

*

Because of the grim subject matter I wasn't going to include a picture this week as I usually do. But having written the above, I feel a need to see and think about some healthy green living thing. This is another picture from my Ireland trip. It's a small tree that seemed to be of the fir family. I have no idea what it's called. But that yellow at the tips of the foliage is not a trick of the light--the color actually varies that much.

GreenGrowingThing


Sunday Night Journal, August 12, 2018

Some years ago, probably quite a few though I'm not sure, I read a review of one of Joan Didion's books which said something to the effect that the chief or most engaging characteristic of her work is her sensibility. I may have that wrong, but whether or not it's what the reviewer said, it seems apt to me, based on the fairly small amount of her work I've read: the novel Play It As It Lays, the essay collections The White Album and Slouching Toward Bethlehem. I just finished the last of these, and that notion occurred to me several times during the reading. 

What is that sensibility? Sensitive, intelligent, unillusioned, depressed, neurotic, nostalgic, fatalistic, romantic, cynical, disappointed--the last three are essentially aspects of one thing. All three of these books were written in the 1960s, and it's pretty clear that she was pretty unhappy at the time. I don't know whether things got better for her or not.

I've had Slouching on my shelf for some time, and had read a couple of the essays in it. I picked it up again because the title essay is her report on the Haight-Ashbury hippie culture in 1967, when it came to the attention of the whole nation as "the Summer of Love." I find Didion's perspective on "The Sixties," by which I mean the whole phenomenon which has been so heavily mythologized since it actually occurred, essential. The prevailing myth, subscribed to by most of the social-political left (which means that it's the dominant one in the media, the entertainment industry, and the academy, and therefore dominant in general) is that it was a time of awakening and liberation, and that the summer of 1967 was one of its high (ha ha) points, the moment when a counter-cultural impulse which included political, social, and philosophical revolutions came to flower. The countervailing myth, subscribed to by most of the social-political right, is that it was a time of disintegration and collapse. 

Didion stands somewhat apart from those categories and those views. I take her to be more or less a liberal, but she is, as I said earlier, unillusioned, and she reports what she sees without, as far as I can tell, any ideological filter. She is, in a sense, conservative, in that she seems to suffer from a sort of civilizational vertigo, and to want to hold on to whatever stability she can find. Accordingly, she tends to focus on the crazy aspects of the hippie subculture, which were undeniably there and significant, whether you think it was on the whole a good or a bad thing. I'd say this essay, like its companion, the title essay of The White Album, is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what was going on then. Or wants to understand what it was actually like. Didion's view is not the whole story, but it is a true and important part of the story.

We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum.

She herself seems to be caught out in that vacuum, as the essay "On Morality" shows.

Apart from all that, she is a terrific writer, in both style and substance, and I think anyone who appreciates good prose and deep intelligence would value this book. Not all the essays are of equal quality and significance, but all are at least interesting.

I'm going to quote from one of them, "I Can't Get That Monster Out of My Mind," about the movie industry, because I think it's so striking a picture of the mentality that apparently set in there in the early 1960s, when the decline of "the studio system"--the nature of which has never been clear to me--gave directors new freedom. And is still prominent.

One problem is that American directors, with a handful of exceptions, are not much interested in style; they are at heart didactic. Ask what they plan to do with their absolute freedom, with their chance to make a personal statement, and they will pick an "issue," a "problem." The "issues" they pick are generally no longer real issues, if indeed they ever were--but I think it a mistake to attribute this to any calculated venality, to any conscious playing it safe.... Call it instead--this apparent calcuation about what "issues" are now safe--an absence of imagination, a sloppiness of mind in some ways encouraged by a comfortable feedback from the audience, from the bulk of reviewers, and from some people who ought to know better. Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg, made in 1961, was an intrepid indictment not of authoritarianism in the abstract, not of the trials themselves, not of the various moral and legal issues involved, but of Nazi war atrocities, about which there would have seemed already to be some consensus.... Later, Kramer and Abby Mann collaborated on Ship of Fools, into which they injected "a little more compassion and humor" and in which they advanced the action from 1931 to 1933--the better to register another defiant protest against the National Socialist Party.

She makes a number of judgments about directors which I don't necessarily share, including a negative one about Bergman,  a terrible failing in my eyes. But: "they are at heart didactic." That's still a justifiable complaint. And aren't they self-righteous and self-important about it?

The above is quite inadequate as a review of the book, by the way. I've focused only on a couple of things that happen to especially interest me. There is much more to say of both book and author as seen therein. I might add that her use of Yeats's poem "The Second Coming" in her title and as epigraph were probably not at the time the somewhat tired devices they've since become, when even politicians quote the poem--or at least the one sentence, "The center cannot hold." 

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This porch ceiling has been painted a color known around here as "haint blue." I only learned of this recently. Has anyone else heard of it? Here's an explanation.

HaintBlueMost people would just call it sky blue, I guess. 

There is a brewery called Haint Blue in Mobile. I'd like to support them but there is a brewery right here in my town so I usually buy theirs. Haint Blue has an odd beer called Marianne, which is spiced with saffron. You can read about it here. Rather in the "hmm...interesting" than "mmm...wonderful" category to me.

May all these little breweries thrive for generation unto generation. The success of the craft beer movement is a great compensation for living with the craziness of our time.