Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Papal Visit Report-o-matic

Reprising an old idea, I have written an automated story generator for papal visit coverage.

A sample of its talents:
Washington, DC -- With his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington on Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI began his first papal visit to the United States.

During his visit Pope Benedict, formerly known as the legalistic authoritarian oppressor of saintly dissenters Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, will visit the White House, address the United Nations, and celebrate two outdoor Masses in Washington and New York, respectively.

In the United States the Pope will find that questions about the future of the Catholic Church can be asked, and answered, by anyone.

Can the Pope shepherd his divided flock?

Will he make the Catholic Church relevant to Renaissance Faire carnies?

And, most important of all, will the Pope convert to Episcopalianism?

On Tuesday evening, the Opus Dei handpuppet Oprah Winfrey made an incoherent attack upon the Catholic Church's approval of self-trepanation and illiteracy.

"The Pope should listen to influential people like me when it comes to these issues," Oprah Winfrey said.

( Insert some quote from Chicken Soup for the Easily-Satisfied Soul )

When Pope Benedict boards his plane and leaves New York City on Sunday evening, it is certain his visit will have had a lasting effect. But on whom?

What can I say? I am easily amused. Go ahead, create your own.

More substantive blogging should resume in the next few weeks.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Another fall of man: Alypius and the gladiators

A tragedy of pride and bloodlust from Book VI of Augustine's Confessions:
[Alypius] had gone on to Rome before me to study law--which was the worldly way which his parents were forever urging him to pursue--and there he was carried away again with an incredible passion for the gladiatorial shows. For, although he had been utterly opposed to such spectacles and detested them, one day he met by chance a company of his acquaintances and fellow students returning from dinner; and, with a friendly violence, they drew him, resisting and objecting vehemently, into the amphitheater, on a day of those cruel and murderous shows. He protested to them:

“Though you drag my body to that place and set me down there, you cannot force me to give my mind or lend my eyes to these shows. Thus I will be absent while present, and so overcome both you and them.”

When they heard this, they dragged him on in, probably interested to see whether he could do as he said. When they got to the arena, and had taken what seats they could get, the whole place became a tumult of inhuman frenzy.

But Alypius kept his eyes closed and forbade his mind to roam abroad after such wickedness. Would that he had shut his ears also! For when one of the combatants fell in the fight, a mighty cry from the whole audience stirred him so strongly that, overcome by curiosity and still prepared (as he thought) to despise and rise superior to it no matter what it was, he opened his eyes and was struck with a deeper wound in his soul than the victim whom he desired to see had been in his body.

Thus he fell more miserably than the one whose fall had raised that mighty clamor which had entered through his ears and unlocked his eyes to make way for the wounding and beating down of his soul, which was more audacious than truly valiant--also it was weaker because it presumed on its own strength when it ought to have depended on Thee.

For, as soon as he saw the blood, he drank in with it a savage temper, and he did not turn away, but fixed his eyes on the bloody pastime, unwittingly drinking in the madness--delighted with the wicked contest and drunk with blood lust. He was now no longer the same man who came in, but was one of the mob he came into, a true companion of those who had brought him thither.

Why need I say more? He looked, he shouted, he was excited, and he took away with him the madness that would stimulate him to come again: not only with those who first enticed him, but even without them; indeed, dragging in others besides.

And yet from all this, with a most powerful and most merciful hand, Thou didst pluck him and taught him not to rest his confidence in himself but in Thee--but not till long after.

Recall this passage the next time you see Ridley Scott's Gladiator. The movie feints towards concern about the mob's lust for blood, only to forget its scruples in an exaltation of violent hunger.

The story of Alypius, or for that matter St. Almachius, would make a greater movie.