Saturday, April 30, 2005

A Law School Journal Really Desperate for Filler

In retrospect, it is not surprising to discover a strong connection between Gilligan's Island and the law. After all, one would be hard pressed to find a group of characters more in need of a lawyer. The Howells' vast wealth, far-flung enterprises, and numerous charitable interests probably kept busy a small army of corporate, international, probate and tax lawyers. As a movie star, Ginger undoubtedly had her contracts negotiated by a sharp-eyed entertainment attorney. The Professor's numerous inventions must have led him more than once to the offices of a knowledgeable patent lawyer. As a professional mariner, the Skipper surely knew at least one able admiralty attorney.118 Gilligan's bungling probably caused him to be the target of numerous tort lawsuits and the steady client of a good defense firm. Indeed, only Mary Ann, as the girl next door, appears to have had no special need for a lawyer - a trait shared by many Americans.

"LEGAL TALES FROM GILLIGAN'S ISLAND," Robert M. Jarvis, Santa Clara Law Review

Indisputable Proof of the merit of Posner's criticisms of law journals.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Beauty will Save the World

THE BEATIFUL IS THE GOOD, an essay by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. via Basia Me, Catholica sum

An Award-winning Touchstone Review of David B. Hart's most recent book, Return to Beauty.

And I Was There...


The lecture room was indeed packed. Professor Reyes was a bit too enthusiastic about the righteousness of the crusades, even in the eyes of one such as myself. Curiously enough, he failed to mention the Battle of Manzikert, the 9/11 of the eleventh century. Still, he gave a good introduction to the material, along with the curious factoid that Martin Luther for a time believed that the Turks should not be fought because they were a punishment from God.

During the Q&A period, which was happily free of people who wanted to add an unscheduled lecture of their own, one middle-aged gentleman asked if a crusade could happen because of the current mistreatment of Christians in the Middle East. A nice sign that the Church Militant isn't dead yet. Many young people present, including all those beautiful young Catholic women I haven't had the pleasure of dating yet.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Ur-text of AmChurch Hipsta Sistas' Drive towards Habit Liberation

"If you're in old habits,
Set in your old ways,
Changes are a'comin',
"Cause these are changin' days!
And if your head in is the sand
while things are going on,
What you need, What you need,
What you a Change of Habit!"

-Elvis Presley, "Change of Habit"

There are narratives of liberation and then there are narratives of liberation that reek of the most insipid Whiggery imaginable. Elvis Presley's final film is certainly one of the latter. In 1969's "Change of Habit," Elvis plays a doctor at an inner-city medical clinic. Mary Tyler Moore plays the role of a nun who, with her two fellow sisters, is sent out from her convent "undercover," meaning in typical late '60s women's garb without a habit--hence the title. Bad Cliches I thought weren't even invented until the '70s ensue. Fortunately, has watched the movie and catalogued its hilarity-inducing craptitude in detail so that nobody else has to. Here are some of Jabootu critic Ken Begg's comments, which I'll intersperse with my own:

"The Women head over to their new apartment, swarmed by the local Hispanic teenage girls, who all look like refugees from West Side Story. They all have crushes (of course) on Doc Elvis and are checking out the "competition" (hey, another zany result of the "undercover nuns" plot line!). The Women, attired in ridiculously modest dresses, are immediately taken for hookers (!) by their uptight old Irish busybody neighbors. Just to make sure we understand that these are the kind of people who are "the problem," one of them shouts out that Irene "is as black as the Ace of Spades!" And yet, if these old biddies only knew that they were nuns, they would have treated Our Heroines with respect (hey, another zany result...oh, never mind). Wow, it really makes you think, doesn't it?
After presumably putting their rooms in order, the Women go to check in with Father Gibbons at the local church. Michele is dismayed to find the doors of the church are locked, as the film provides us with another example of how the Old Establishment "Order" is out of touch with The People (wow!).
Of course, Father Gibbons is an old fuddy-duddy, who locks the church at night due to somebody having stolen some church property. Unsurprisingly, he can't "relate" to The Women's with-it mission. Gibbons is portrayed as an absolute jerk, in inverse ratio to our almost comically perfect nuns, who are not only socially conscious, but wise, respectful, and presumably thrifty, clean and kind to small animals. Gibbons, threatened by the "new order," stalks off in distaste as our pious nuns pray (wow!)."


Barbara, back at the apartment, is in a jam. The Women's furniture has arrived, but was dumped out on the sidewalk in a huge heap. How is she to get the furniture inside? To excruciating "comedy" music, she begins to carry the furniture inside piece by piece. Then, just to prove that, no matter how bad it is, it can always get worse, the music segues into that awful "la-la-la-la" kind of stuff that plays over Danish '70s sex flicks late-night on Cinemax. This is because Barbara has noticed that the loafing men across the street jump to help a "foxy lady" when she drops her purse. To the surprise of no one, Barbara has a zany light bulb moment. In a comic "highlight," Barbara prances around, using her body to get the horny, mindless males to help her out, as the busybody neighbors look on. Hey, I think those old biddies are actually hypocrites. I mean, they act offended and all, but really they're eating it up. Wow, what a subtle piece of characterization!


Anyway, on to plot #847. Barbara is at the local grocery, the Ajax Market, and doesn't like the prices. She calls the owner a "walking social injustice," and the women in front of her moans about how the high prices keep her from saving money to buy her kids toys (!). Of course, the owner is a big, rude White Guy who's exploiting The People for his own Evil Personal Gain. Hey! Just like the mobster guy! He even tries to cheat the woman out of her change, but the ever alert Barbara catches him out. The woman profusely thanks her. Thank goodness for the good white people who keep the bad white people from stealing from the poor minority people, who are too oppressed to ask for change. Maybe now that woman can buy her kids some toys.

Barbara announces her plans to hold a block party in honor of some patron saint or another, with Irene against the idea. Oddly, she states they're "here to do a job, not to get involved," which seems to contradict everything we've seen up to now. And of course, if you don't "get involved," well, you might as well be some White Guy exploiting The People for his own Evil Personal Gain. Barbara retorts that "Happy people are closer to God," which, not to get into a big theological debate or anything, seems to run counter to much of the Bible.

Walking home that night, Irene sees yet another guy getting beat up by the Banker's men. Meanwhile, as they arrive home, Michele informs Barbara that she intends to go consult with Father Gibbons, due to her inappropriately tender feelings for the hunky Elvis. Barbara, aware of how, well, stodgy and uptight Father Gibbons is, warns that he'll "burn you at the stake." When Michele agrees that Gibbons isn't exactly "an apostle of the Ecumenical movement," Barbara quips "No, more the Inquisition." And who can argue with her? Gibbons is the kind of priest who thinks it's his job to tell everybody what's right and what's wrong! Oh, wait, that is a priest's job, isn't it. Still, Barbara is no doubt correct in comparing a strict priest who yells with an organized movement that used torture to force people to act correctly. Certainly the filmmakers agree with her.


Next we travel to the office of the local Bishop. Father Gibbons is attempting to have the Sisters kicked out of his parish, and generally just acting like a jerk in as broad a fashion as possible. The mod nuns respond that maybe he could try "bringing more people back into the church" with masses in Spanish, or a (ugh!) "folk mass". Actually, in the twenty-five plus years since this movie came out, it's been established that it's the local churches that have done the least to "update" themselves that have best maintained their parishioner base. Apparently, the concept that people attend church to come into contact with something Eternal, something that transcends the here and now, that doesn't change to stay "relevant," is beyond the way-hip Sister Michele, as she goes babbling on about "new methods, innovations," yakada, yakada, yakada.

The Bishop (who reminds me of Phil Hartman) allows the Sisters to proceed with their work, and to go ahead with the Festival, but orders them to resume their habits. Michele worries that there's so much they haven't accomplished "as women," but is overruled. Our Heroines are devastated, as wearing their habits will somehow compromise their grand scheme to save the world from hatred, bigotry and being overcharged for peanut butter. Still, to lighten the mood, we see the Bishop's secretary flash Barbara the peace symbol as they leave the office.

HAHAHAHAHAHA! "Peace, Sista!"

Sister Barbara, despite orders, goes to the evil grocer's establishment. There, in a gesture so ironic, yet so apt, she buys a mop handle from him that she proceeds to make into a sign protesting that his store is "unfair to consumers" (wow!). Then she sits on the floor and obstructs traffic.


At the apartment, Barbara, who has found politics more important than religion, has decided to leave the church and become an activist. Strangely, one of the reasons she gives Michele was their "victory" at the evil Ajax Market, although just what they accomplished was never explained.

Next, in a scene of incredible poor taste, we see that Julio is hiding in Michele's closet as she undresses for bed. Julio jumps out with a knife and attempts to rape Michele. She screams, and Elvis, who just happens to be walking down the street, runs in and (accompanied by "action" music) manages to subdue Julio, who runs off. The is really repellent and sleazy stuff, and exactly what point the filmmakers were trying to make is anyone's guess. Yuck!!

At the end, we're back in the convent, sometime after the above events. Michele herself is considering whether to leave the order to be with Elvis.

The movie's last bit has Irene taking Michele back to Father Gibbon's church. The newly cool cleric has now introduced mod innovations, like letting Doc Elvis lead the parishioners in a rockin' gospel tune (Right on!). We also get one last dig in on old fashioned, non-"relevant" religion. The old biddy ladies, in the pews, remark "give me the old days when you would go to mass and not think about a blessed thing." Ha Ha, that nailed 'em.


After dinner, our various hero(ine)s engage in a "serious" political discussion, making the modern viewer really, really, really glad the '70s are over with:
Barbara, to dinner guest Elvis: "Tell me. As a doctor do you diagnose what's happening today...the riots, the student unrest, as...not really the death throes of an old order, but the birth pangs of a new one?"
Doc E.: "I didn't know I was making a house call!"
Barbara, blathering on: "Well, I mean, don't we all, each in our own way, have to man the barricades..."

Tough Black Radical No. 1, to Irene: "There's no room down here for innocent bystanders. You're either part of the problem, or you're part of the solution."
Tough Black Radical No. 2: "We've got a feeling you're neither!"

Cheering on the with-it Michele, we cry "Tell it, Sister," which can be taken in many groovy contexts:
Mean old Father Gibbons: "Don't instruct me, Sister. I've preached more sermons then you'll ever hear!"
Michele: "Yes, I'm sure we can rely on you to tell is as it was, Father!"

I can't believe an Elvis movie actually rips off the end of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, where the novice(or was it postulant?) Isabella must choose whether to marry the aristocrat or stay a nun! Shakespeare doesn't answer the question either, but at least he has the decency to make Isabella a woman who hasn't made her final vows.

This movie should be classified as Traditionalist Top Secret. It must never be shown to any liturgist, the St. Louis Jesuits, or the Oregon Catholic Press hymnal compilers. Keep it away from whoever distributes songs for LifeTeen, too. It'll only give them ideas with which to persecute those who have more than miniscule capacities for liturgical and aesthetic judgement.

The Elvis Movie Database claims "The film was originally to have been directed by Evangelist Billy Graham but for some reason he pulled out of the picture." That has to be a joke masquerading as a fact, since it was in fact directed by a different William Graham. "Billy Graham to Direct Elvis in Nun Picture" is a headline right out of satire.

One of the writers of the film, Richard Morris, actually has minor musicals to his credit, having written both The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Thoroughly Modern Millie. The rest have been completely lost to the River Lethe of forgetability that is pop culture.

Despite its sixties mentality, the film does have one scene that provokes nostalgia as well as cringes: Elvis, mistaking the three nuns for wealthy suburban women who came to him for abortions, "informs them he won't do anything for them that he'd wouldn't do for his regular, poor clients, and instead offers nutritional advice." A sign of Innocence, or the semblance thereof, lost.

Call to Action has a survey on what the next pope should do. Muhaha!

Linky. Here's my comments:

Regarding only American concerns, I hope Papa Benedetto gets rid of the sodomites and fourth-rate heretics who infest Catholic chanceries, seminaries, and universities, not to mention the Jesuit Order.

Moving to restore the beauty of the Roman liturgy would no doubt help in the conversion of America and the world. As Keats says, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

I also hope he and the bishops can help turn around the effects of pornocratic capitalism, including consumerism in general and consumerism in religious matters, in particular. He shall certainly have to fight the love of death which manifests itself in the practice of exterminating the unwanted unborn.

Bioethics will also be a key issue, since it signals the revival of the eugenics movement.

Viva il Papa!

I fancy sending their headquarters things from the Ratzinger Fan Club store.

Regretfully, I am providing my actual e-mail, which might get me on all sorts of mailing lists I don't want to be on, like those clerical pronography lists I'm told exist among the pelvic dissenters. A small price for a bit of fun, and hopefully I'll get an angry letter from some minor CTA functionary denouncing my closed-mindedness that I can use to augment the Critique-O-Matic's advanced heuristics.

via the cant-ridden Catholics Against the Pope blog.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Neil Postman: Informing Ourselves to Death

via Zorak

I've been meaning to read some Postman for a while. I wonder what the techno-triumphalists at Wired magazine think of him? I've seen lots of techies deride Cliff Stoll for his Silicon Snake Oil essays, but maybe Postman is too academic for them.

Postman's remarks on believing just about anything if it is told by some learned person lead me to wonder whether he was playing a subtle joke by misattributing the date of Creation worked out by the Anglican Bishop Ussher to the medievals.

I see secret writing everywhere. Leo Strauss has ruined me!!!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Gimme that Old-time Humanism

In my mind, humanism has never had the pejorative connotations which it has among certain religious folk. For one, my first exposure to the word came in my teen years while reading the introduction to St. Thomas More's Utopia which no doubt described More as the quintessential humanist. For another, my parents and both my paternal grandparents were all beneficiaries of a Jesuit education, where humanistic concerns walked hand-in-hand with theological devotion. As one of the Church Fathers said, "The glory of God is a man fully alive," and it is one my greatest regrets that such a truly inspirational vision is severely weakened even on Jesuit university campuses.

It was just as saddening for me to discover that the connotations of the word "humanism" had taken on the trappings of explicitly secular humanism. There are various versions of "Humanist Manifestos" written over the course of the last century and signed by many rapidly forgotten people and many people rapidly being forgotten, including the quickly-fading star of John Dewey. I have not even glanced at one this millennium, which may say just as much about my irrelevance as that of the would-be humanists. However, I worry I may have found a far worse alternative to merely secular humanism.

Robinson Jeffers, one of the founders of Earth Day, holds the regrettable claim to be a promulgator of the ersatz philosophy that he names "Inhumanism." Of course, he tries to counter the term's obvious connection with inhumanity, but inhumanity itself appears to be the logical outcome of his reasoning. Jeffers declares that his goal is
" present a certain philosophical attitude, which might be called Inhumanism, a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence. It seems time that our race began to think as an adult does, rather than like an egocentric baby or insane person. This manner of thought and feeling is neither misanthropic nor pessimist, though two or three people have said so and may again. It involves no falsehoods, and is a means of maintaining sanity in slippery times; it has objective truth and human value. It offers a reasonable detachment as a rule of conduct, instead of love, hate, and envy. It neutralizes fanaticism and wild hopes; but it provides magnificence for the religious instinct, and satisfies our need to admire greatness and rejoice in beauty."

I won't spend much time picking apart the blatant contradictions of this selection, such as whether a philosophy that emphasizes "not-man" really cares all that much about having human value. But I do think it provides some insight into another, more infamous teacher of philosophy, namely Princeton's Peter Singer. His favored term of disapprobation, the hideous neologism "speciesist", no doubt helps his ideas enjoy greater currency than if he had followed the lead of certain fundamentalists and bioethicists who use the word "humanism" as a pejorative. By the force of linguistic analogy, It helps conflate opponents of animal rights with racists and sexists who deny the equality of their equals.

But I think critical interviewers, who are usually inclined to ask about his views on infanticide and bestiality, have not pressed him with a fundamental question: if it is bigoted to treat animals differently than humans, why ought we not simply treat humans as we generally treat animals today? One can even write a short, tasteless joke based on this rarely-seen reversal:

A deer hunter was confronted in the forest by a lover of animals who berated his hobby, declaring "Animals are no different than people!"
The hunter replied: "Wow, you're right! I see the error of my ways now."
So then the hunter shot the animal-lover, gutted him, fried up his liver for dinner, and mounted his head in the living room.

One of course hopes that such a mockery of ethical reasoning is confined to jokes and satire, but alas that hope is a vain one. I am told that some of the Southern apologists for slavery justified their institutional brutality by reasoning that certain types of men were not fit to rule themselves, and thus were better off being ruled by their masters. When their opponents pointed out that incompetent self-rule was by no means limited to African slaves, the apologists granted that point. But then they simply followed their reasoning to its conclusion and suggested that poor white laborers should also be enslaved.

Such an error suggests that the reductio ad absurdum is an even weaker argument than the appeal to authority, especially when humanity is rhetorically reduced to universal insignificance.

He wishes himself to be loved more than the truth...

He, therefore, who sets himself to act evilly and yet wishes
others to be silent, is a witness against himself, for he wishes
himself to be loved more than the truth, which he does not wish to
be defended against himself. There is, of course, no man who so
lives as not sometimes to sin, but he wishes truth to be loved
more than himself, who wills to be spared by no one against the
truth. Wherefore, Peter willingly accepted the rebuke of Paul;
David willingly hearkened to the reproof of a subject. For good
rulers who pay no regard to self-love, , take as a homage to their
humility the free and sincere words of subjects. But in this
regard the office of ruling must be tempered with such great art
of moderation, that the minds of subjects, when demonstrating
themselves capable of taking right views in some matters, are
given freedom of expression, but freedom that does not issue into
pride, otherwise, when liberty of speech is granted too
generously, the humility of their own lives will be lost.
-St. Gregory The Great, Pastoral Care

In Christianity truth is not a philosophical concept nor is it a
theory, a teaching, or a system, but rather, it is the living
theanthropic hypostasis - the historical Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Before Christ men could only conjecture about the Truth since they
did not possess it. With Christ as the incarnate divine Logos the
eternally complete divine Truth enters into the world. For this
reason the Gospel says: "Truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
St. Justin Popovich(Orthodox)

I have recently noticed the terrible fact that, in its rejection of the old legal theory that "error has no rights," modern political philosophy has concluded that Christ, who is Truth, has no rights. He is a dead man to the laws, and it only lacks explicitly official status because no man has yet to press for the rights of Truth in a court of law. Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we are a profane people.

"The knowledge of the Cross is concealed in the sufferings of the

"The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he
who praises Christ amid the congregation of men."
-St. Isaac the Syrian

"But Adam did not wish to say, "I sinned," but said rather the
contrary of this and placed the blame for the transgression upon
God Who created everything "very good," saying to Him, "The woman
whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I
ate." And after him she also placed the blame upon the serpent,
and they did not wish at all to repent and, falling down before
the Lord God, beg forgiveness of Him."
St. Symeon the New Theologian

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Introducing the Papal Critique-O-Matic 3000(tm)!

I hesitate to reveal a work in progress, but having been sickened by the know-it-all punditry, I've written a web-page that automatically composes short papal critiques that are just as factual and seventy-thousand nine hundred and two times more insightful than the religiously illiterate op-eds to which readers have been subject, especially since the conclave began. Behold, the Papal Critique-O-Matic!

Here is a sample of its superlative composition and analytical skills:

With the recent election of Pope Benedict XVI, formerly known as the kindly, shy Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the question foremost in the minds of the faithful is: in which direction will he lead the Catholic Church?
The libertine writer Dan Brown made an incoherent attack upon the Catholic Church's ignorance of the lame ideas of 1970s hipsters.

(insert some quote from Andrew 'Randy Andy' Sullivan)

One of the most pressing problems of world religions today is whether Catholicism can change to meet the demands of the Jesus Seminar, or fade into further irrelevancy. Only psychic stock-picking chickens will be able to judge if this papacy is a success.

I believe the Papal Critique-O-Matic is destined for greatness. As the supercomputer Deep Blue destroyed the lucrative and sybaritic careers of chess grandmasters across the globe, so too will my invention render redundant those unqualified journalists who pontificate on maters ecclesial and opinionators whose knowledge of Catholicism begins with "The Exorcist" and ends with "Dogma." The function of internet comment trolls, the very creations of Satan, King of the Losers Himself, will also be rendered obsolete, and we readers shall save so much time, server cycles, and bandwith that could be spent on better things, like reading and discussing articles and arguments by people who have some idea of what they are talking about.

The Critique-O-Matic requires a browser that supports Javascript. Hit refresh to see a new, entirely and completely original papal critique of the highest quality. Though I doubt it will be necessary, please make any suggestions for improvement, such as additional sentences and/or lists of adjectives, names, and opinions which will further refine the already advanced heuristics of my program. View the page source to see the current arrays of critique content options

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Historical Ratzinger-Newman connection

Catholic Hierarchy Site shows that Cardinal Fransoni, who ordained John Henry Newman a Catholic priest, is in the episcopal lineage of Pope Benedict XVI. Looks like I beat Narwen in discovering this.

Only one tragedy...

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the more misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age ... and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. ... What they set themselves to achieve - often not recognizing fully what they were doing - was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. ... This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers, they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are not waiting for Godot, but for another - and doubtless very different - St. Benedict.

-Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

It would surely be premature to canonize a man who hasn't been pope for a day. But it does bring to mind that saying of Charles Peguy: "life holds only one tragedy, ultimately: not to have been a saint." May Benedict XVI avoid this one tragedy.

A former classmate quoted on the new pope

"The cardinals elected a good and holy man who was close to Pope John Paul II," said Mark Wunsch, 27, a religious philosophy student from Denver. "He'll be a wonderful and good leader in preaching the truth and love." -German Cardinal Becomes Pope Benedict XVI

I had a couple of classes with this guy during my stint at Regis. He was a seminarian at the time, but I heard he left the seminary soon afterward. Guess he's in Rome now. Lucky duck.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Augustine on Interpretation

"There is something to be gained from the obscurity of the inspired discourses of Scripture. The differing interpretations produce many truths and bring them to the light of knowledge; and the meaning of an obscure passage may be established either by the plain evidence of the facts, or by other passages of less difficulty. Sometimes the variety of suggestions leads to the discovery of the meaning of the writer; sometimes this meaning remains obscure, but the discussion of the difficulties is the occasion for the statement of some other truths."
-City of God, XI.19

A handy counter to certain irrationalist literary critics. It has great bearing on scientific inquiry, as well.

Elite Hacker totally wipes out localhost IP

Funny story on the misuse of computer hacking tools.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Jesuits Discover Most Overrated Poet Of 2004

Pay Him $1000 For Publishing Rights

I was surprised to discover that America magazine has a $1000 annual prize for poetry. But I was extremely surprised at how laughably bad I found the 2004 winner. I had thought that the decline of the Jesuit order was only obvious in its public dissent and its inability to generate interested novices, but this poem indicates that the rot is much deeper; even the Jesuits' academic excellence, which some contemporary Jesuit universities seem to treat as the only virtue, is endangered.

For now, the bad poem is located at this website but I reproduce it below:

The Mouse and the Human

By Tryfon Tolides

The mouse doesn't really bother anyone. It doesn't
go around holding up banks or shooting people
in the face or locking them up in dank jail cells
and sticking electric prods to their genitals. It doesn't
build jet fighters and bomb our cities in the name
of peace in the middle of the night while we are sleeping.
It doesn't plant toy mines to blow our children's arms off.
All the mouse wants is to share with us some shelter,
food, even the warmth of its nervous body. Yet we plug up
the cupboards so it can't eat, and we chase it around
the living room with a broom and remove all the chairs
till it has nowhere to hide; then we club it to death
as it squeals. Or we set up traps with something it likes
to lure it into strangulation and burst its eyes out
of its head. And against what? A few light scratchings
heard in the ceiling once in a while keeping us company
at night? Two or three crumbs of bread taken from
the kitchen floor? And after the mouse, there are the ants
to be poisoned, the bees to be gassed and burned.
Later, the dandelions to be choked by spraying. And after
that, after that, there must be something after that.

I think the last line is the best line in the poem, both in the mean sense that one is joyful it is finished, but also because it evokes a movement towards uncertainty that otherwise is not present in this moralizing mess of "prose-poetry." But of course the poem fails miserably there, too, since it doesn't take enough space to explore the uncertainty. This takes the saying "poetry does nothing" far too literally, since there is really no movement in it. It's just a simplified version of the old Sesame Street "one of these things is not like the other" game, which, needless to say, wasn't all that complex to begin with.

I passed this on to a doctoral student in English lit, and she wrote the following reply, off-the-cuff:

...this poem makes me want to cry. Or laugh. Or
beat my head against the wall. Hey, if I organize the lines properly,
that would count as poetry, wouldn't it?
"Poem on the poem that won the contest sponsored by America"

This stupid mouse poem, so naive
and unlyrical:
Moves me to despair
agony and self-torment. Only now do I understand
why hermits whipped themselves with thorns:
They had seen the future of poetry
and they saw that it was bad.

Note my 'clever' disregard for punctuation, capitalization, and
sentence structure. That's how you can tell it's a poem.

I've long wondered whether Maritain rightly defended the aesthete's saying ars gratia artis(art for art's sake) in Art and Scholasticism, but this poem makes me even more sympathetic to Maritain's analysis. I don't even know if this is blank verse. Some critic once said that writing blank verse was like playing tennis without a net. This "award-winning poet" isn't even playing with a stringed racket. One wonders if it is a joke, since the would-be poet's name looks like it could be a Hellenic pseudonym. A google search proves otherwise, alas. America indicates it received over 1,300 submission for its poetry contest, which suggest the following:

1) The poetry editor is incompetent.
2) The poetry editor is corrupt, granting the award out of personal or ideological favoritism.
3) The poetry contest itself is just an economic attempt to expand America's reader base by purchasing cultural cachet.
4) Any "poets" who read America are so bad that we need a superlative form of the superlative "most talentless."

In all honesty, I think my juvenalia was better written than this poem. Lots of it was on "poetic" things, too, like sleep, aging, and death. Considering the competition, perhaps I should shake the dust from my quill. Auberon Waugh, I believe, established the bad sex writing contest. Perhaps a bad poetry contest would do wonders towards the improvement of modern poetics.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, pray for us!


Not that it is terribly difficult to do, but I have found a mouse poem that easily bests Tryfon's attempt.

by Rose Fyleman

I think mice are rather nice;
Their tails are long, their faces small;
They haven't any chins at all.
Their ears are pink, their teeth are white,
They run about the house at night;
They nibble things they shouldn't touch,
and, no one seems to like them much,
but, I think mice are rather nice.

All it needs is another stanza beginning "I think war is quite a bore," and it'll even capture the award-winning poet's botched efforts at contrasting the differences between mice and men.

I should mention that I heard the better poem while enjoying the commercial-free radio provided by my ISP. What station? The children's channel, of course.

Addendum #2:
This is actually the second piece of evidence in a month that America is intellectually sub-par. One of their columnists copied part of his speech from the Rainbow Sash Coalition, without attribution.

Addendum #3:
William Luse is having a poetry contest inspired by our hapless prize-winner: make a better mouse poem!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

“I have yet to meet a poetry-lover who was not an introvert, or an introvert who was not unhappy in adolescence. At school, particularly, maybe, if, as in my own case, it is a boarding school, he sees the extrovert successful, happy, and good and himself unpopular or neglected; and what is hardest to bear is not unpopularity, but the consciousness that it is deserved, that he is grubby and inferior and frightened and dull. Knowing no other kind of society than the contingent, he imagines that this arrangement is part of the eternal scheme of things, that he is doomed to a life of failure and envy. It is not till he grows up, till years later he runs across the heroes of his school days and finds them grown commonplace and sterile, that he realizes that the introvert is the lucky one, the best adapted to an industrial civilization, the collective values of which are so infantile that he alone can grow, who has educated his phantasies and learned how to draw upon the resources of his inner life. At the time however his adolescence is unpleasant enough. Unable to imagine a society in which he would feel at home, and warned by some mysterious instinct from running back for consolation to the gracious or terrifying figures of childhood, he turns away from the human to the non-human: homesick he will seek, not his mother, but mountains or autumn woods, friendless he will mutely observe the least shy of the wild animals, and the growing life within him will express itself in a devotion to music and thoughts upon mutability and death. Art for him will be something infinitely precious, pessimistic, and hostile to life. If it speaks of love, it must be love frustrated, for all success seems to him noisy and vulgar; if it moralizes, it must counsel a stoic resignation, for the world he knows is well content with itself and will not change.”
-W.H. Auden, “A Literary Transference” (Southern Review, Summer 1940)

ViaTerry Teachout

In addition to reading more in general, and reading poetry more specifically, I definitely need to read more Auden. I think I've only read his poem in memory of Yeats. "Time that is intolerant/Of the brave and innocent/And indifferent in a week/To a beautiful physique/Worships language, and forgives/Every one by whom it lives." I quite enjoy the poetry of Joseph Brodsky, a devotee of both Auden and the ideas expressed in the eulogy to Yeats. Certainly language is mediated through history, but the best of it has a way of escaping all-aging, all-devouring time. Cf. Shakespeare's Sonnet 17 and, of course, the prologue to the Gospel of John.

I do question that part about introversion making one "hostile to life." Perhaps Auden's full essay would expand on that idea.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

In Defense of Manly Men Songs

Via Relapsed Catholic, a Washington Post article that states men don't like Church because "'s church culture favors, even expects, participation in intimate, nurturing behavior such as singing, hand-holding, sitting in circles and sharing feelings."

I have no idea why singing is classified as an intimate and nurturing behavior, but I deeply regret that singing has become associated almost entirely with the feminine or effeminate. Look at the classic movie "How Green Was My Valley." It depicts all these very masculine Welshmen singing on their way home from the coal mines, and in church, and in the bathtub. Needless to say, their songs sound great.

Part of the problem, I think, is that contemporary songs seem to be written for either women or high-voiced men. One of the male song leaders at my parish has a particularly nasal, airy, and, yes, effeminate voice. As a baritone who poorly sings along with the classically-trained male vocalists in his music collection, I simply can't bring myself to follow this man's lead unless a very good song comes up in which his amplified, though still puny voice is sure to be drowned out.

The only deep-voiced men in popular music I can recall are Elvis and Johnny Cash. The man who plays Jean Valjean in the musical Les Miserables sings so high it makes me wonder if he is a castrato, and truth be told I wonder the same thing about U2's Bono. Sadly, the ubiquity of boy bands and other metrosexual vocalists sets the tone for peoples' musical expectations, since the church has well nigh abdicated her role as the mother of culture. So I relish the deep-voiced cantores of opera, such as Don Giovanni, Leporello, and la statua gentilissima, not to mention Fidelio's Florestan and Rocco, and hope for a revival. The next time I am in a drinking establishment, perhaps I will try to revive the tradition of drinking songs. After all, I lost my self-consciousness months ago, and I ought to capitalize on my loss.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Sins Voluntary and Involuntary?

In Principio Erat Verbum was kind enough to have an open thread on the Eastern liturgical aspects of the papal funeral that Western Catholics generally don't know much about. I was puzzled about the prayer to forgive JPII's sins "Voluntary and Involuntary," so he pointed me to this article which explains a bit of the logic behind it. The writer, an Orthodox Christian, strikes me as entirely too dismissive of Western theology, but it is a start.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

More from the Desert Fathers

"One day some old men came to see Abba Antony. In the midst of them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a text from the Scriptures and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave his opinion as he was able. But to each one the old man said, 'You have not understood it.' Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, 'How would you explain this saying?' And he replied, 'I do not know.' Then Abba Antony said, 'Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: 'I do not know.'''
Saying of St Antony the Great

One I had heard before, but forgotten:

Abba Antony said: A time is coming when people will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’

The Vitae Patrum is on-line

The Soviet Ozymandias

Via, a gallery of architect's proposals for Soviet buildings. I particularly like the Palace of Soviets proposal. Dedicated "to the imminent triumph of Communism," the proposal features a titanic building topped by a colossus of Lenin. "The chosen location was the site of the demolished Church of Christ the Saviour."

Speaking of commie atheism, Relapsed Catholic links to a an article on Soviet propaganda which discusses the forgotten Father Edmund Walsh, S.J., who brought so much of Sovietism to public attention.

The author, Mark Gauvreau Judge, notes that museums tend to be allergic to these kinds of exhibits. Really, a simple internet site would be more effective, reaching more people for less money. Some website would hold a photoshop contest based on the works, and the tasteless would sell them as posters, coffee mugs, mousepads, and so forth, since commie kitsch is hip in the eyes of some. I think Judge might not be pleased with all the consequences of studying Soviet propaganda; I remember one World War II poster depicting Uncle Joe Stalin and Uncle Sam in a handshake, captioned: "Democratic Brothers in Arms." It was the confrontation with Nazism that made many Americans soft on communism.

How Classics Majors Entertain Themselves in their Irrelevance

A guy I know once said that some charismatics were speaking in tongues, believing they were praising the Lord. Somebody was there who actually understood the language they were speaking, and informed them they were actually cursing Him.

The inference was that some demons were having a little fun with the pious, but such are the perils of the monoglot using another language that one finds less blasphemous and more humorous misuses of a foreign tongue all the time.

One such instance took place during a Microsoft advertisement campaign. An adman had the bright idea of using a selection from Mozart's Requiem Mass to play in the background. They chose these lines:

Confutatis maledictis
Flammis acribus addictis...

"When the cursed have been confounded
And given over to the bitter flames.."

Which played as the ad campaign's slogan "Where do you want to go today?" appeared.

There is another funny misuse of music in the introduction to the radio show of Sean ("Every day is a blustery one!") Hannity, which I hesitate to reveal because it's been running for the last three years without change and I still get a kick out of it when I happen across it. The announcer says something like

"From Coast to Coast
And into your living room
Sean Hannity is on the air!"

As the last lines of "O Fortuna" from Orff's Carmina Burana plays in the background.

"quod per sortem
sternit fortem
mecum omnes plangite!"

Which translate to something like

"Because through fate
Fortuna scatters the brave
Everyone weep with me!"

I especially like how the line "Everyone weep with me" coincides with the English of the announcer saying "Sean Hannity is on the air!"

Setting the World Ablaze Begins with Oneself

No, I am not talking about self-immolation. "Romulus," a true Catholic gentleman, has reminded me of the Apothegmata Patrum, the sayings of the Desert Fathers, with a brief, wonderful selection:

Abba Lot came to visit Abba Joseph and said: "Abba, when I am able, I recite a short office, I fast a little, I pray, I meditate, I stay recollected. As far as I can I try to keep my thought pure. What else should I do?"

Then Abba Joseph got up. He stretched out his hands to heaven and his fingers became like burning lamps.

He said to Abba Lot: "If you will, become all fire."

Come to think of it, the epiphany of the burning bush which Moses witnessed is a perfect image of grace at work: just as the bush was burning but not consumed, so too does grace transform and transfigure our nature.

And this is certain, since obedience is a holocaust in which the whole man without the slightest reserve is offered in the fire of charity to his Creator and Lord through the hands of His ministers.

-St. Ignatius Loyola, Letter "On Perfect Obedience" Rome, March 26, 1553

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Local Jesuit on the Pope

The pope, of happy memory, was in Denver in 1993 and visited the local Catholic university, Regis. The Jesuit President of Regis reflects on meeting JPII

Father Sheeran relates a nice story of a younger Chelsea Clinton enthusiastic about meeting the pope. It also contains this very interesting paragraph:

John Paul shook hands with everyone in the crowd and seemed to draw strength out of the encounters as he stood taller and walked with more confidence. A few minutes later, he greeted the President and they went into a private dining room for an hour’s conversation. Officially, it was protocol: The American head of state welcoming Vatican City’s head of state. But both men wanted a quiet place to get to know each other. Their hour of conversation reportedly involved practical issues like how the pope could encourage the Catholic Croats to seek peace with the Orthodox Serbs and how U.S. humanitarian relief to Muslim countries might be made more acceptable by placing Vatican seals on the boxes.

A couple of points:

US aid to Muslims via the Catholic Vatican might be more acceptable than directly from the US herself? Either this was a castle in the sky suggestion, or things are quite different in the Muslim world than one's first impressions suggest.

Wouldn't this raise all sorts of constitutional church-state issues?

And I wonder who first suggested it: Clinton or John Paul?

Hurray for the Governor! Viva Chaput!

Lost in the coverage of John Paul II's passing is Colorado Governor Owen's veto of a mandatory "emergency contraception" bill which would have required all hospitals to give out information about sometimes abortifacient medication to women who have been raped.

Just as the pro-lifers have used the hard case of partial-birth abortion to attempt to shift the debate, so too are other political groups using rape victims to justify their compulsion of conscience. See this Denver Post column, "Owens' veto, Chaput's voice" by Jim Spencer. Spencer actually argues that one wrong against one innocent justifies another wrong against another innocent. He even says right out that the governor and bishop-not the rapists-are responsible for their victims becoming pregnant.

If they end up pregnant by their rapists because the hospitals that treated them refused to make them aware of emergency contraception, they can thank their governor.

And the archbishop of Denver.

I used to think that I could write a newspaper column. Now I realize that not only would my natural prolixity in writing be a barrier, but I also do not have the discipline to continuously throw out complex thinking in favor of scoring rhetorical points. I can only manage it on occasion.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Petrine Connection

I just realized that Raphael's Aristotle looks a lot like depictions of Saint Peter. Maybe I could base a poorly written best-selling novel on this.

Monday, April 04, 2005

A Papal Technocracy?

On Kevin Knight's, there is a list of past popes. One of the google ads currently links to a Foreign Policy article called "Job Description for the Next Pope" by a Professor Appelby of Notre Dame. It's an odd piece, repeatedly claiming that the next pope needs to pay more attention to political, economic, and scientific leaders. Now elites have their place in the world, and I'm not one to deny their need for religious conversion and ministry. But this author's insistence on the importance of technocrats in papal policy strikes me as very odd. Really, technocrats get enough attention in the press and corporate worlds; it may be a good mission for a religious order, but the papacy has a larger body of people to whom he must minister.

As I remember, the Jesuits used to have a special ministry for the elite, but their decline and their order's insistence on getting back to what St. Ignatius Loyola originally intended has seriously dampened their effectiveness. I have some impression that Opus Dei is trying to fill the Jesuits' niche, but that is perhaps because of Rev. McCloskey's many high-profile converts.

It finally hit me.

I've become terribly facetious lately. To my shame, the first thought I had on hearing of the pope's death was not "may he rest in peace," but "The sedevacantists are right for once, like that stopped clock that's right twice a day." But I made it to mass Sunday, and his name's absence during the part of the post-consecration liturgy where it is normally mentioned hit my heart. The words "Let us grow in love with John Paul our pope" have been in every single mass I have ever heard. Indeed, the pope has been in office longer than I've been a Christian; I was less than one month in my mother's womb when he was installed.

The gloomy elderly deacon, who I wasn't entirely sure would outlive the pope, gave a nice sermon on how, unlike our recent papa, he would never meet a president. But he went on to give a very nice particularist reflection on how we could get to know and love those around us.

I was sick of the news coverage even before he died, yet today I tried to catch a glimpse of the pope's body lying in state for the view of curial workers.(I have heard his corpse will be opened for general viewing soon.) But the news would only briefly show his body, then cut to some expert who didn't know what he was talking about; frankly, I would rather watch the corpse in silence. It strikes me that Reagan's body was not shown on television. Indeed, despite its love for showing fake corpses on crime shows and medical dramas, I am struck by how little we see a good memento mori on television. Perhaps we'll see the occasional anonymous body of a third worlder who has been struck down by war or natural disaster, but the sight of a famous old man's recently living body makes the producers cut to other, more "appealing" images.

The upcoming conclave engenders no small amount of trepidation in me. I tried to acclimate myself to the idea of a papal interregnum a few years back by reading Ralph McInerny's bad novel _The Red Hat_, which kills off several popes in quick succession. My attempt didn't work, since all of McInerny's popes were pretty solid men. My worry is that the widespread flakery that has so infested the Jesuits, various priests, and sometimes a few bishops has infected even the cardinals, and we'll end up with a really crummy pope, which might have meant very little in the pre-media, pre-internet age, but now could do a great deal of damage. So I have simply added prayers for another good pope to my infrequent petitions, remembing some of the first words of John Paul II's papacy: "Be Not Afraid."

John Paul II, rest in peace, pray for us.

Death Be Not Proud

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
-John Donne

A fitting reminder of the Resurrection following the passing of Mrs. Schiavo and John Paul II.

Not that I'm in imminent danger of death, but I've fancied having this read at my wake. I do worry that the second-to-last line adumbrates the Protestant doctrine of soul-sleep, though I can interpret it so as to mean that simply our body is asleep.