Friday, July 27, 2012

Insanely bad

Well, we're 18 minutes into the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics and it's just hallucinatorily bad.

Started with a twee unspoiled rural England - couldn't help but think that it would have been better to just show the opening scenes of 'The Fellowship of the Ring' on a big screen. The Shire was just Tolkien's idealized rural England, anyway.

Then some guy in a 19th century frockcoat top hat recited lines from 'The Tempest' (Caliban's lines, I noticed), and the whole thing went south from there.

Primitive drums accompanied grimy, oppressed workers raising sooty smokestacks to the sky - again I thought of the movies that do this better. Disney's chimneysweeps in 'Mary Poppins' were more believable and would have been more fun to watch.

Some suffragettes suddenly popped up, everything was being supervised by black-suited, Sir Topham Hatts, something about WWI meandered through, followed by a bunch of guys in garish clown-costume uniforms.

Then it all ended in everyone wailing wordlessly while walloping their drums, and the Olympic logo has now appeared. I think that's it.

4:25PM - Awww, the dear Queen. What a shame the whole thing couldn't have been clean and classy like this segment. Who's this Mr. Bourne who's dragging her away from the Palace to drop her into the Olympic midden?

4:29 - Oh, sorry, I get it now. It's not Bourne, It's Bond...James Bond. Hmph
She looks suitably stern.

4:31 - Military bringing in the flag. Hope the sexually confused artistes in charge don't manage to screw this up.

4:33 - Ugh, another babyvoice choir, this time signing 'God Save The Queen'. Now more kiddies doing some Charleston dancing. The opening kids' choirs were fine (two hymns at the opening, which was nice), but enough with the juvenile antics. The Olympics aren't about 8-year olds. So far the only adult involvement in this farrago has been to soil England's pristine landscape with smoke-belching industrial monstrosities. Enough!

4:45 - So far, it's all been Kiddieland. Maybe the sports stuff will start soon.

4:46 - What the hell? "As a tribute to the British Film Industry"? I see an Oscars ceremony has just broken out in London. "Chariots of Fire" theme COULD have been a tribute to past British Olympians, but I guess that would have been too obvious and too old.

Ah, well, Mr. Bean's funny, at least that was 5 minutes I enjoyed.

4:57 - I'm lost. This is supposed to be "The Family"? Now we're into The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. This isn't ABOUT anything - it's just stream of consciousness flashbacks.

5:10 - Is that it? I missed the crowd of dancers tumbling through the pub doors and vomiting in the street. This is like 3 really bad Super Bowl halftime shows stitched together.

5:22 - Ugh. "Abide With Me" sung with some jangly interpretive dancers gyrating and gesticulating around in a orange glare. To commemorate the family and friends who can't be here - but nobody mention the murdered Israeli Olympians, no, no. To me it sounded like Britain itself, whimpering for painkillers as it sinks into the grave. I've never seen an Olympic opening as worthless as this.

Now the athletes are marching in. Finally, I think the "artistic" segment is over. Surely they can't mess this up. All that's left is the lighting of the torch.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Damnatio memoriae

Penn State University has bowed to public outrage over the role of former sports hero Joe Paterno, who stealthily permitted his assistant, Jerry Sandusky, to subject young boys to homosexual rape rather than risk the public image of his football program:

A statue honouring Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno has been torn down as the university bows to massive public outcry.
Penn State ordered the removal of the statue of Hall of Fame coach early on Sunday morning.
Workers lifted the statue off its base and used a forklift to move it into Beaver Stadium early Sunday as the 100 to 150 students watching chanted, 'We are Penn State.'

Well, better you than me.

This is an interesting example of damnatio memoriae - the obliteration of a famous person from history. The Romans did this, but not often - it was reserved for those who'd committed outrageous crimes against the community. It was done to 3 Emperors who'd been especially bad. This would have been a very big deal for pagans - they didn't have the same idea of an afterlife that we Christians do. For them, immortality was living on in the memory of those who came after. They knew how hard this is - most people survive in memory for a generation or two and then are forgotten. To be remembered for one's good deeds hundreds of years after one's death, and not just by your family - that was fama, as good as it gets for humans.

So to be deliberately forgotten, erased from memory, was more than death. It was tantamount to Hell, reduced to nothingness.

Of course the Communists of the USSR did something similar, but typically, it's twisted and perverted. Their project of reinventing humanity extended to recreating our minds and memories. They figured that if they could successfully "erase" an inconvenient person, they could create a world where it was impossible for anyone to even think about them. It's the same philosophy behind politically correct language codes: systematically choke off the words for an undesirable thing, and then the mind will not be able to think it anymore. Nonexistence through brainwashing.

The old Roman way was healthier, as it was a response to a general need to expel a tainted member of society, as a way of healing and strengthening the offended community. This healthier reaction still occasionally persists.

We had a case of it just over a year ago here in Canada. Colonel Russell Williams, a high-ranking military commander, was found guilty of several perverted sex crimes, including two murders. After he was tried and sent to prison, a odd article appeared in the news:
In an act freighted with symbolism, the Canadian Forces has burned convicted serial killer Russell Williams’ military kit — all his ceremonial and fighting uniforms, as well as shirts, headdress, boots, gloves, rucksacks, and other items of military apparel.

The kit was committed to the flames of a roaring furnace at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, which Mr. Williams once commanded, in the early hours of Thursday morning. The bonfire was witnessed by the four military officials who, one day earlier, spent 90 minutes reclaiming the uniforms from the former air force colonel’s cottage in Tweed, Ont.

Canadian Forces spokesperson Cmdr. Hubert Genest said in an interview that the idea to burn the uniforms had emerged “from the bottom up and been endorsed by the chain of command.”

“We did what we felt was necessary,” said Cmdr. Genest. “It feels right.”

It's interesting this was not a normal procedure. The military is not an organization noted for its spontaneity. Usually there are rules for things, and those rules are scrupulously followed. But in this case, a groundswell of feeling from within led to this novel ceremony, and even the people who did it had to admit that they couldn't really explain it.
Military historians called the burning of his kit unprecedented. “I’ve never heard anything like that,” said Jack Granatstein, director general of the Canadian War Museum. “I guess it’s embarrassment as much as erase the shame and stigma” of Mr. Williams’ association with the Forces. “It’s an exorcism. We are exorcising the memory of Russell Williams.”

“I have absolutely no idea where that idea might have come from,” said Terry Copp, director of the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies. “It’s unprecedented. I know deserters were executed during the First World War, but they’d have been given proper burial.”

It's damnatio memoriae - a person so unfit to be among us that even his name is an intolerable pollution. Let him be forgotten.

Since I started writing this this morning, the NCAA handed down its punishment for the PSU football program. The damnatio memoriae continues:
College sports' governing body today fined Pennsylvania State University $60 million and vacated more than a decade of its football team's wins for its handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

It's that line about obliterating the record of history that I find interesting. In effect, the treasure that Paterno and the other PSU officials corrupted themselves for, the shining name and record of the Penn State football team, has been erased. All those wins and records - now they never happened.

People who ask "But what good will it do?" won't be satisfied by the answer. It doesn't undo the abuse to the boys or repay money gained through fraud. It's operating on a more primitive level - it has to be done, because not doing it is intolerable. It's an exorcism, and such things just don't measure out in dollars and cents.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Massacre at the movies

A shooter opened fire at an early showing of "Dark Knight Rises" in Colorado. Fourteen killed so far, many, many wounded. Just terrible.

So far I've heard the shooter is 24, armed with several guns and wearing body armour, and he also used gas to attack the people in the theater.

Much speculation - it's the start of Ramadan, but my gut feeling is that this isn't Muslim related.

This movie has attracted a fair bit of controversy. Negative reviewers were getting so many threatening and violent emails RottenTomatoes actually closed comments for it, something they've hardly ever done.

And the buzz is that the movie is "overtly conservative", though I'd take that with a grain of salt. I don't think ANY movies are really conservative anymore - Hollywood just doesn't do that. But I've noticed that people can latch onto some particular angle or character which strikes them as conservative and they let that colour their view of the whole piece. It only works when "conservative" is a NEGATIVE thing - a real conservative demands a lot more than one lone sympathetic figure to say that a movie is "conservative".

But I remember reading IMDb commenters on the sci-fi series "V" a few years ago, who insisted that the whole show was conservative and pro-Bush, and the entire thing was a veiled support for the Iraq war! In fact, they had one sympathetic character - a Catholic priest who was also a Gulf War veteran - but nothing else that could remotely be seen as conservative. But to them, every scene, every line was viewed through a tinted lens because of the presence of this one character, even if he wasn't even present.

Anyway, since the buzz is that this movie is anti-OWS, my first thought was that it was an OWS supporter "teaching society a lesson" for its insolence. They've caught the guy, so it shouldn't be long before we find out the truth.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Miserable heat

It's been so miserably hot here for over a week, and today we're under a tornado watch. That's pretty rare for Ottawa, but so far all the rain seems to be to the south of us.

It's so desperately dry brush and grass fires have started popping up in and around the city. I keep the birdbath out front filled, and this is the first time I have ever observed insects coming to drink from it!

Tomatoes are my great comfort

Of all the things I grow in the garden, tomatoes are the most exhilarating.

I gloat over every single tomato plant, and they set my imagination soaring.

Just think of how many seeds are in one single tomato. I don't suppose anyone ever counts them, but there must be 50 at least in a good-sized tomato. You know tomatoes are sort of star-shaped inside, like apples, and each "rib" contains...oh, what? Ten seeds? More? Well, I look at a tomato plant, and think, "All this came from ONE SEED." And there were 50 more in that one tomato! I could fill my entire garden with plants grown from the seeds that come out of one tomato. Then each plant produces such a large number of tomatoes, especially if it's an indeterminate plant, which keeps growing like a vine until killed by the frost. Why, with the seeds of just ONE TOMATO, I could produce enough tomatoes to supply the entire city block I live on.

It's the sheer fecundity of it that's dizzying. It makes me think of God every time: the incredible vitality and life packed into the tiniest collection of matter. It makes you wonder how we can ever be lacking anything - how can there be hunger or deprivation, when everything is so full of life? There must be some serious mismanagement on the part of humans, when nature seems to be so designed for overabundance.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How can you say that nothing's changed when everything's different?

Lawrence Auster last week posted a short entry on his blog about the Fourth of July, and I've been trying ever since then to properly verbalize why I feel, like him, that somehow nothing will ever be the same again. I'm not an American, but I've always felt like an honorary American, as if I could be unofficially adopted into that country through enthusiasm for her ideals and history. A little like the Biblical idea of being "grafted onto" the original tree - not one of the Chosen People, but allowed in because what's inside is more important than the merely physical.

Since the betrayal of the USSC and particularly the despicable John Roberts, I haven't been able to shake the feeling that everything's different now. I vaguely remember some long-ago debate here in Canada over changing and overturning traditions. The liberal, as usual, pooh-poohed his conservative opponent as some sort of unbalanced hysteric. This change - in divorce law, or abortion law, or mandatory French labelling, or whatever - wasn't anything to be alarmed about! Why, we've been doing such-and-such for years anyway - nothing's changed. The conservative finally replied, "How can you say that nothing's changed when everything's different?"

And that's the truth of it: everything IS different, even though lots of people, including lots of conservatives, are insisting that this is just a little tactical manoeuvre to one side or another. I guess you could call them "Normalists". No matter what happens, everything is still normal. On the Right, this has given rise to the cry to donate money to Mitt Romney. If June 28 is a normal act, then it can be countered by normal methods, and the typical normal method is to jog down the old, familiar road of elections. The usual pattern of behaviour is one side gets a point, then the other side gets a point, and it all works out.

Except in this case, I don't think this is a normal situation. I think 6/28 marked an existential change in the nature of the United States. It's like a person walking through a radioactive field, where most of the radiation passes harmlessly through his body, until finally one cell is struck and split, producing the undetectable change that will eventually completely alter the nature of the body and cause its death. Maybe "tipping point" is a better descriptor, that moment when things going over the edge can't be pulled back. But I like the other because it better reflects my feeling that everything looks the same, only it's entirely different.

My grief over this can't be understood if you don't know how fervently I've loved the United States. I remember reading an essay on Solzhenitsyn back in the '70s where he described how he and other Soviet dissidents worshipped the West. It was like that: sure, my own country could continue to sink under socialist lies and delusion, but...there's always America! Even if I couldn't actually move there, it was as if I could be a refugee in my own mind, and escape there in spirit. As long as America was there, I knew could never be homeless.

America has been compared to ancient Rome, and whether the originators of those comparisons meant it that way or not, I've always regarded that as the highest of compliments. I've never agreed with some Christians who insist that Rome was the worst tyranny, the most barbaric savage paganism that could be imagined. I think they do it to darken the backdrop to put a brighter illumination on the coming of Christ into the world. But I've never believed that. I think Rome was as great a force for good in the ancient world as America has been in the modern - a bringer of law, order and sanity to a world of backward savagery. Considering the other cultures on offer at the time, Rome was a miracle of human accomplishment.

But what happened to it is what is happening to America now. G.K. Chesterton could have been writing about America today when he described Rome at the time of Christ:
It is essential to recognise that the Roman Empire was recognised as the highest achievement of the human race; and also as the broadest. A dreadful secret seemed to be written as in obscure hieroglyphics across those mighty works of marble and stone, those colossal amphitheatres and aqueducts. Man could do no more.

For it was not the message blazed on the Babylonian wall, that one king was found wanting or his one kingdom given to a stranger. It was no such good news as the news of invasion and conquest. There was nothing left that could conquer Rome; but there was also nothing left that could improve it. It was the strongest thing that was growing weak. It was the best thing that was going to the bad. It is necessary to insist again and again that many civilisations had met in one civilisation of the Mediterranean sea; that it was already universal with a stale and sterile universality. The peoples had pooled their resources and still there was not enough. The empires had gone into partnership and they were still bankrupt. No philosopher who was really philosophical could think anything except that, in that central sea, the wave of the world had risen to its highest, seeming to touch the stars. But the wave was already stooping; for it was only the wave of the world.

(The Everlasting Man)

This is why I take no comfort from people on conservative blogs like the Belmont Club asserting that there's nothing to fear, America has the biggest army, the fanciest weaspons, the best soldiers, etc. Because as Chesterton says, "there's nothing left that can conquer" America, and no outside enemy to fear. So there's just the prospect of a never-ending zombie existence, always sliding down, without even the chance of an outside enemy to shock people into turning back to God, the source of their former strength. America as a perpetual motion machine, forever grinding along meaninglessly.
It was something in the sense of impotence and despair with which men shook their fists vainly at the stars, as they saw all the best work of humanity sinking slowly and helplessly into a swamp. They could easily believe that even creation itself was not a creation but a perpetual fall, when they saw that the weightiest and worthiest of all human creations was falling by its own weight.
"Man can do no more", and man is determined to look no further than the length of his own arm. There will be no appeal to God, in fact, He is being busily pried up and discarded wherever He's found. Yes, yes, it was "the Constitution" that was the big fence that had to be holed and knocked down, but the Constitution only was strong because it came out of a Christian philosophy. Once the philosophy was hollowed out, we can see that the Constitution was no defence at all. So now instead of God's beloved sons and daughters living out the lives He gave them in the best way possible, America is a land of government-owned livestock, who will be disposed of as the master pleases, for reasons either good and logical (the best case) or demented and malicious (the more likely case).
The life of the great civilisation went on with dreary industry and even with dreary festivity. It was the end of the world, and the worst of it was that it need never end.
That's the term that came to mind the most over this past Fourth of July: dreary. "Another dreary American holiday". I'll say it again when Thanksgiving comes in November. Like a Disneyland castle, a shallow spectacle with nothing but cardboard and electric wires holding it up. The end of the world.

Career plans

A rare Conservative Episcopalian spotted in the wild. Note the beautifully camouflaged plumage!
Christ isn't an elected position.

Posted by: goddessoftheclassroom

Are you sure about that? Cause I was thinking of running.

Posted by: Katharine Jefferts Schori at July 10, 2012 07:56 PM (6TB1Z)

Hat tip: Ace of Spades (Oh, and yes, I know it's joke.)

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Haven't learned a thing

I thought I'd posted about this story last year when it first broke, but looking over my list, it appears I didn't. I can't find the original story on the Ottawa Citizen archives, just this .pdf version. To recap briefly, here in Ottawa there is a Catholic parish called the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. Like a lot of downtown parishes, it went through a decline during the 80s and 90s and lost a lot of people. But a new priest, Father Joe LeClair, took over in the late 90s and turned it around. Very charismatic, likable guy - there was an admiring profile of him in the paper back in 2004, and he sounded like a happy-clappy kind of guy, not too deep in his theology, but I know a lot of people like that sort of enthusiastic atmosphere. Doesn't appeal to me, but that's just my taste - I like a lot more gravity and ceremony.

Anyway, it turned out he had a gambling problem, and the Citizen scooped the story with a big frontpage exposé. They've been following it ever since.

The first result of the story was that the bishop, now aware of the problem, ordered an outside audit of the parish's finances. Like a lot of parishes, the finances were handled by parish volunteers, and it turned out there was very little control or oversight of how money was accessed. Fr. LeClair's salary was only $24,000 per year (I was shocked by how little it was) and he'd been spending almost half a million dollars over the previous two years. He maintained he hadn't taken any money from the church, but some explanation had to be found for this huge discrepancy.

After the auditors finished their investigation, a few months later, the diocese turned the matter over to the police. The reaction of the parishioners is what shocked me.

There was a strong push to sweep the whole matter under the carpet and anger at the diocese for involving outsiders.
Speaker after speaker criticized both the Citizen for its coverage of the case and the diocese for its decision to refer the matter to the Ottawa police for investigation.

One parishioner accused the diocese of failing to show LeClair the kind of compassion offered Nova Scotia Bishop Raymond Lahey, who was allowed to stay at a Catholic residence in Ottawa while he awaited trial on charges of importing child pornography.
Lahey might have been given a place to stay (and a location where the police would know where to find him) but he wasn't spared police investigation of his own wrongdoing, so I'm not sure what comparison the person thought he was making.
Others said LeClair had been "thrown under the bus" by the diocese despite revitalizing Blessed Sacrament and giving so thoroughly of himself as pastor.

Many wanted the matter resolved within the church family, rather than through the involvement of police.

I'm simply stunned to hear this sort of talk from ANY Catholic, after everything we've gone through in the past 10 years. Wasn't this the identical reasoning behind all the homosexual molestation coverups over the last decades? "We don't want to air our dirty linen in public, this is a church matter, it doesn't concern the police. We can handle it on our own."
LeClair suffered from a gambling addiction, an illness, and deserved to be embraced rather than "crucified," one said.
Yeah, that too, the "We mustn't be judgmental, we're all sinners and we have to help him" line which sent predators bouncing from treatment center to parishes all over the country.

The diocese deserves credit for thinking clearly on the matter:
But Msgr. Beach said the investigation is now in the hands of the Ottawa police, "who will take the investigation to its logical conclusion. … We are not going to withdraw the complaint."

The matter was referred to the police, Beach said, because the diocese did not have the expertise or investigative power to address questions raised by the church's review of Blessed Sacrament's finances.

Just last week, this story returned to the headlines when the Ottawa police laid charges against Leclair for fraud and misappropriation of funds. (Money laundering too, though that's not explained.) This involves a lot of money, almost a quarter of a million dollars. No way could a local parish with nothing but the efforts of its parishioners handle such a matter. After nearly a year, it's to be hoped that sore feelings have died down a bit, and people realize that this couldn't be hushed up. But it's worth noting that in this case it was the LAITY that wanted to evade the hard admissions, not the hierarchy.

Monday, July 02, 2012

He sold you out...for sweeties

I'm too disgusted with the execrable Chief Judas of the Supreme Court, John Roberts to say much. It's all been said on other people's blogs, and I'm finally calming down and able to sleep better, so it's probably just as well to leave it alone. It's not my country, after all, and if America is determined to commit suicide there's really not anything I can do about it.

But I think that all the conservatives desperately looking for silver linings are in shock and denial. This is the same reaction we see from leftists after a shocking loss at the polls - it's all a big misunderstanding, ANYTHING could have happened except what DID happen: our side lost.

Nor do I think much of the "It's not the Supreme Court's job to save us from the consequence of electing garbage to govern us," argument, which is a very convenient one for someone who wants to convince himself his cowardice is really a very special form of heroism. It's like a doctor turning away a patient with high blood pressure, and saying, with delighted integrity: "You brought this on by your stressful lifestyle and unwise diet. It's not my job to rescue you by giving you medicine when if you'd done the right thing you wouldn't have this problem. Now go and save yourself by living a healthy life!" Though come to think of it, that may be a response more and more Americans will become familiar with in the years to come.

I don't believe the excuses made for Roberts, that he was somehow threatened into caving. I've seen how people behave when they've been intimidated into doing something: I remember how the President of Pakistan looked and spoke when he addressed his nation after 9/11, when George Bush had made it plain that there was a very strong and believable "OR ELSE" attached to his demand for Pakistan's cooperation. Roberts instead is cracking jokes about fleeing to an impregnable fortress on Malta as he scurries out of town following his treachery. He sees himself as some sort of daring rogue, a naughty bad boy, a "maverick", to use a term never far removed from conservative betrayers.

I believe John Nolte accurately evaluated the motives of this vain little tart of a man in this article:

Like Jim Jeffords, David Frum, Joe Scarborough, Meghan McCain, and now John Roberts, Parker gave in to the media's siren song, which goes a little something like this:
They're wrong about us. We don't hate you, we don't hate conservatives. No one's asking you to stop being conservative. We would never ask that. All we're asking for is this one thing. And it's only a little thing, a small thing, a baby step. What harm can it do -- this small thing? Who can it hurt? And look at what you get in return. We'll love you. We'll adore. We'll give you affection, acceptance, and stamp your courage into the history books. It's warm here and there are cookies and before you decide, I want you to sit back, close your eyes, and just imagine what it's going to feel like to see your name heralded all across the media, academia and beyond…if you'll just do this one little thing.

Of course, that "one little thing" is always everything, isn't it? Jeffords tipped the balance in the Senate and overnight Roberts evaporated the most potent criticism of Obama, his incompetence. To this day, Scarborough, Frum, Meggie Mac, and Parker continue to reaffirm the most damaging media-created narratives about conservatives: Palin is dumb, Fox News is extreme, Republicans have sold out to the extreme Right, and of course racism, homophobia, and blah blah blah.

Over the last few months, Obama's Media Palace Guards weren't bullying or beating up on Justice Roberts. What they were doing was offering him a deal that he grabbed with both hands. And what you saw and will continue to see is the media fulfilling its end of the deal.

And somewhere out there is another narcissist among us watching how a such "small" betrayal can pay off in such a big way, and swaying back and forth to the sound of the siren's song.