Thursday, May 17, 2012

They Can't Pop the Corks Quite Yet

Can they really make a deal with just one out of four?

Remember those toothpaste and sugarless gum commercials from decades past when 4 out of 5 dentists were said to have all agreed on something or another?  My father-in-law was a dentist.  He liked to say that he was the 5th dentist.

SSPX Bishop Bernard Fellay must be feeling like one of those outliers today. 

It looks like there may be trouble in SSPX-land, eh? Despite all that confidence we've seen across the web in recent months, there appears to be some truth in the old saying that there's many a slip 'tween the cup and the lip. They can't uncork their bottles of champagne yet...

Despite the fact that Fellay is trying to reel them in, three out of the four SSPX bishops disagree with the whole process, and the CDF isnt happy about it. Nor should they be.

Benedict isn't forcing them to make a single concession, yet it's still not good enough for them to make a deal.
Today’s Vatican communiqué said the situations of the three other bishops “will have to be dealt with separately and singularly.”
Earlier this month, Bishops Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta and Richard Williamson sent a letter to Bishop Fellay warning that an agreement with the Vatican would see the Society “cease to oppose the universal apostasy of our time.”

They also argued that the Second Vatican Council “did not just include particular errors but represented a total perversion of the mind, a new philosophy founded on subjectivism.”

Pope Benedict XVI was dismissed by the three Pius X Society bishops as a “subjectivist.”
Benedict might take in Fellay and anyone who wants to come with him anyway, but what will be the effect of that? Another split, and the same problem will remain. Nothing much will have been solved.

So, no champagne quite yet, just Vichy Water for now. Those guys are used to that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Facebook IPO

Well, there's a certain amount of buzz going on regarding Facebook's big IPO week, and whether or not Mark Zuckerberg is showing the suits on the Street enough respect, turning up with a hoodie and a cocky attitude and all....  A lot of buzz, but maybe not as much as was expected.

I don't know, something about Facebook feels like a house of cards to me, like the Dutch Tulip Craze, when the price of tulips went through the roof in the 17th Century during a period of wild speculation, until somebody with sense stopped and said, "Hey, these are just a bunch of freaking tulips."

The habits of people under the age of 30 may be one thing, but the wise investor may ask him or herself just what people over the age of 30 find Facebook particularly useful for.  Personally, I've found it quite useful in discovering the differences I've developed in political and religious views from some friends that I haven't seen in decades, but I sense a lot of it has to do with the the beauty of FB stalking that allows a lot of people to say with grim satisfaction....

...which can only carry you for so far, but then again, I'm no investment genius.  Who am I to argue with 900 million people?

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Meaning of Mr. Hollande

As predicted by many, the Socialist Francois Hollande has defeated the sitting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In absurd fashion, the right-wing Drudge Report has tried to spin this event in its headlines as bad news for Obama because it's a case of an incumbent being unseated.

Contrary to what Drudge might think, it's clearly a case of people in Europe becoming fed up with IMF-mandated austerity, but what is the broader picture? It looks like it may be the beginning of the end for austerity, and possibly the end of the Eurozone itself, if France breaks with Germany in the current strategy for dealing with the debt crisis so far. Does it also mean a resurgence of the left in Europe? Maybe not. The French Socialists are known for being pragmatists rather than ideologues. Things might not change that much. Should the Socialists in France take heart at the results, or was it more a case of the French people being fed up with Sarkozy's arrogance and buffoonery? The strong showing of the the far-right, anti-immigration National Front Party of Marine Le Pen in the first round has caused more than a little bit of disquiet.
I was reading an article in Slate the other morning, which seemed to indicate that despite the Socialist victory, the real story of these results is the resurgence of extreme right-wing parties, not only in France, but throughout all of Europe. The thesis of Yascha Mounk’s article seems to be that instead of strangling them in their cribs like they should have, center-right parties in Europe formed coalitions with extreme rightist parties over the years in order to win elections against the left, but have now lost the ability to control them.
The true winner of this election isn’t France’s left; it’s Europe’s far right…The reason is simple. In this election, France’s establishment has embraced Islamophobic ideas to an unprecedented degree.
Right-wing populism, once a fringe phenomenon, has been conquering the bastions of Europe’s political mainstream with frightening speed.. It’s difficult to know whether Europe’s populists are approaching the zenith of their power or will continue their steady rise. But one thing is certain: At no point in Europe’s postwar history has the far right’s influence been as pervasive as it is now….  
All of this matters beyond France because, historically, what happens in Paris often portends what will happen elsewhere on the continent. It’s not just that most Europeans think of the French Revolution as the cradle of modern democracy… Up until now, populists have celebrated their biggest successes in countries like the Netherlands, Italy, and Poland. But France isn’t as small as the Netherlands, as politically dysfunctional as Italy, or as new to democracy as Poland. The sad spectacle of the last several weeks is the culmination of a wider European trend of accommodating the far right—and it may suggest it’s about to get much worse...
Like in France, established political parties across the continent at first vowed to shun surging populist leaders like Jörg Haider of Austria or Geert Wilders of the Netherlands. A cordon sanitaire was to unite all democrats in their fight against the far right threat. But unity did not last long. As populist parties in these countries gained in strength, traditional coalition governments, especially those formed by center-right parties, lost their majorities. Center-right leaders realized that to gain or preserve power they would have to cooperate with the populists. As a result, in one country after another, center-right parties that had once vowed to fight the far right have come to rely on them to prop themselves up.
Is there something to this? I've been reading a book that suggests that there is less here to worry about than meets the eye, but on the other hand, the book is a few years old now. It's called Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French. In explaining the strength of extreme parties in the first round of French presidential elections in 2002, when Le Pen’s father made it into the second round of voting, it says....
In the French system, the main danger comes from the potential of electors to express too large a variety of points of view; This is exactly what produced the upset of the 2002 presidential elections (When Le Pen’s National Front advanced to the 2nd round). The left spread its vote across too many parties, which allowed the extreme right candidate to push the left out of the second round…. Like all European extreme right politicians, Le Pen’s platform was strongly anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, and law and order. Naturally, all of France and the entire world decried Le Pen’s first round victory, Jacques Chirac, who had come first, called the French to rally behind him and on May 1, one million people gathered in Paris to protest the extreme right.
The aftermath was interesting. Le Pen was completely isolated and hardly made any progress. On the second round, he garnered 19 percent of the vote, which was barely the sum of the total extreme right vote in the first round.
Who’s right? Have things changed significantly in the last ten years?

This has been parallel-posted on Wordpress at The Doge.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

A Belated Word on the HHS Mandate

Truth is, if Ted Kennedy and Joe Moakley had still been alive, it wouldn’t have happened.

In the rather long hiatus I’ve taken on this blog, I’ve missed a lot of noteworthy events, both in Church matters and political matters. There’s a lot I could have said about the presidential campaign, the brief Santorum phenomenon, Paul Ryan and the bishops, and so forth... There’s a lot I could have weighed in on, but for the most part it’d be pretty stale if I said anything now.

An exception would be the HHS mandate. Any Catholic-oriented blog has to say something in regard to that. To sum up in one sentence, I felt pretty much the way Mark Shields, Michael Sean Winters, and E.J. Dionne felt about it at the time. There was a brief window of time when our views could have been considered sympathetically by others, before the bishops overreached a bit, and before we got “help” we certainly didn’t need from blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and John Boehner.

As I’m getting older, I can feel the culture shifting under my feet. It’s a fascinating thing to watch it unfold, and in some ways humbling. Things that would have been considered off-limits just a couple of decades ago are considered fair game today. What was once obvious and unassailable is now up for question and debate. With the introduction of the internet, these cultural memes that cause shifts in public attitudes have picked up a new acceleration.

When I was younger, I thought that most people could intuitively grasp what was right from wrong and wanted to live peaceably. I’m now coming to the conclusion that this was a mistaken assumption. I’m now coming to believe that people are more interested in winning, and that no idea has permanence on the basis of being self-evident. Ideas need to be fought for continually in the so-called marketplace of ideas. Nothing can be taken for granted. An idea, no matter how true or good it might appear to be as an axiom, will fade from the culture if it isn’t fought for. On the other hand, any idea, no matter how poorly reasoned or harmful, can catch on if it is insisted upon with enough patience and diligence.

Regarding the HHS matter, it was a disappointment to me. All I’ll say about it is this….

The people who first landed at Plymouth Plantation were the most anti-Catholic in the history of the planet. Their descendants who drafted the Constitution were pretty much of the same mindset, but I'll say this much for them - they stayed true to their constitutional ideals. Even though they despised us and were suspicious of us they allowed us to build our churches, schools, universities and hospitals, and they allowed us to run our institutions without interference from the government.

Somehow, in the media and in the public mind, this campaign turned into a fight about contraception, as if someone’s primary goal was to restrict women's access to it... Up until the point of the Obama administration's decision, the culture war issues were pretty much out of the picture. There had been issues percolating about the ongoing wars in the Middle East and the Justice Department’s continuing infringements upon our personal liberties, but for the most part the focus was mainly on one thing and one thing only - the economy.

Even some Catholic progressives were upset about the HHS mandate.

Obviously, there are many Catholics who dissent from the stance their bishops take on contraception. Obviously, many of the Catholic laity are also furious with their bishops over the sex abuse scandal and want to see both priests and bishops alike prosecuted under the civil law. That, however, is an internal matter for us Catholics to deal with. Even Catholic liberals can resent a government taking a cynical look at polling data and thinking they can drive a wedge between us and our weakened bishops. Our universities and hospitals serve non-Catholics and they employ non-Catholics. If you are a non-Catholic working for a Catholic institution, I’m sorry, but you pretty much know the deal going in. We weren't the ones who forced a change to a peaceful status quo.

The late Ted Kennedy and Joe Moakley were both Democrats, and both were Catholics representatives from Massachusetts. They haven’t been gone from the scene very long. One was Pro-Choice, and one was Pro-Life. However, if either of them had still been alive and been in Congress, I’d venture to guess that Sebelius’ decision never would have come down the way it did. To me, that is a testimony to how much things have changed in recent years, and how much the polarization in American politics continues.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A Missed Opportunity

The Best Scene in The Passion of the Christ

A few months ago I caught an episode or two of Person of Interest, the CBS series starring Jim Caviezel. It's not something I'd watch all the time but I think he does a pretty good job in it. He's a solid actor.

I was glad to see this, because in the wake of the 2004 Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ, I was wondering if he was going to be caught in that Jesus part forever, as well as the culture-war imbroglio that followed it. Gibson warned him that it might harm his career, and last year Caviezel seemed to agree that this was in fact the case. I went to a Boston Catholic Men's conference in 2005, and he was a guest speaker, parlaying off his role in the film. His talk went over well with the audience, but I recall being struck by two things. Not only was he as devout and strident as his director Mel was at the time, but he seemed just as angry as well. I'm wondering how he feels now... I hope he's more at peace with it all.

During the Lenten season, I was looking at clips from some of the old Jesus films, the passion and crucifixion scenes in particular. I was amazed to see a stencil-colored one dating back all the way to 1903... but it made me remember how disappointed I was in Gibson's film when it came out. I had really looked forward to seeing it. I'd heard some of the criticism before I saw it, and I wanted the critics to be proved wrong. Unfortunately, I found it to be dark and demonic, and not in a constructive way. Gibson was approaching the height of what seemed to be some kind of self-loathing blood fetish in those years. In retrospect I found it no surprise that it was more popular with evangelicals of a fundamentalist stripe than it was with Catholics. In a sense, they were snookered into watching a movie version of the Stations of the Cross. For their part, Catholics were snookered into watching an extremely gory endorsement of penal substitutionary atonement.

In any case, one bright spot was the fine performance of Caviezel in the Jesus role, particularly in the flashback episodes. The flashback scenes were the best scenes in the film, particularly this one, and the one with Jesus and his mother at home. The flashbacks were welcome breathers from the almost non-stop brutality and gore throughout the rest of the film, and I couldn't help thinking what a lost opportunity this was; what a waste of an insightful and nuanced performance by Caviezel.

Credit needs to be given to Gibson for the idea of using Aramaic in the movie. That was a masterstroke. A brilliant idea. He cast it well too. If only he had done a more traditional Jesus movie, one that traced the whole arc of Christ's ministry, like King of Kings, or The Greatest Story Ever Told. If he had, it would have been The Greatest Jesus Film Ever Made.

This scene, in which Jesus teaches the crowd to "love your enemies" is the best half-minute of the film in my humble opinion, but it almost wasn't in there at all. It was done after everything else had been shot. Gibson was so piqued by the criticism he was receiving from Jewish and liberal scholars, based only on what they'd heard about the script, he included it as both a riposte and a spiritual reminder to himself. Very nicely done by Caviezel here. He'd done his research on semitic idioms, gestures, and mannerisms as well. In fact, as someone who's done a bit of acting himself, I'd venture to guess that he'd studied some videos of a sheikh or imam or two...

This post is parallel-posted on Wordpress at The Doge.