Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

"Very fun." -- J. Bottum, Editor, FIRST THINGS

"Too modest" -- Elinor Dashwood

"Perhaps the wisest man on the Web" -- Henry Dieterich

"Hat tip: me (but really Cacciaguida)" -- Diana Feygin, Editor, THE YALE FREE PRESS

"You are my sire. You give me confidence to speak. You raise my heart so high that I am no more I." -- Dante

"Fabulous!"-- Warlock D.J. Prod of Didsbury

Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006
Je suis Celeste, Reine des Elephants: female elephants can recognize themselves in the mirror. A little heavy sodium should fix that. If not, Dapertutto may take an interest (see infra).

"Pursued by furies," eh? Jolly good yours aren't Councilman Lindorf, who always carries his resolutions, his liquor, and his women; Prof. Coppelius, whose magic glasses can make a plastic girl look alive or a bad check look good; Doctor Miracle, always on hand the day your loved one dies; or Captain Dapertutto, confidant of courtesans and a discriminating collector of the shadows and reflections of men.

The above are from Offenbach's THE TALES OF HOFFMANN. This article is informative, but I disagree that the formerly-traditional order of acts (Olympia-Giulietta-Antonia) is "absurd": a good performance of the Chère enfant trio -- Antonia, Dr. Miracle, and the supposed ghost of Antonia's mother, conjured by Dr. Miracle to inspire Antonia to sing herself to death -- is emotionally exhausing and leaves no room for anything except the Epilogue. (The Giulietta act could work in the #3 position -- if über-editor Michael Kaye ever makes up his mind which of several wildly contrasting "versions" of it is the "real" one.)

My favorite audio recording. Don't know the DVDs well enough to make a recommendation.

Andrea Rost as Antonia, Samuel Ramey as Dr. Miracle

ETA (which happen to be the historical Hoffmann's initials, as well as signifying "Edited to Add"): If you want to the sample the more "authentic" version edited by Prof. Kaye -- and it has its moments, I must say -- try this recording: Jeffrey Tate's meditative tempi aid in Offenbach's well-known desire to assert by means of this opera (and I paraphrase): "I know I'm a boulevardier who writes farceur operettas, but I really, really can put serious dark fantasy on the opera stage!"

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Exempt this

I've had a chance to look over the decision of the New York Court of Appeals (that state's highest court) upholding a state law that forces Catholic and other objecting social-service employers to include contraceptive coverage in their health plans if they offer prescription coverage at all.

As I suspected, the culprit is the statute, not the court. In the age of Lochner (which I taught this morning), laws telling private employers what they must include in their health coverage were just not done. Today, that sort of "social legislation" is done all the time. Some of our friends think "religious exemptions" are the ticket to preserving the Church's breathing room while the thicket of government activism chokes off the rest of civil society. That won't work, either theoretically or practically.

I do not know whether Catholic Charities of New York fought this bill itself when it was enacted in 2002, or whether they put all their eggs in the basket of a statutory religious exemption; I suspect the latter. In any event, the religious exemption they got was so narrow, Mother Teresa's order wouldn't qualify, as was pointed out at the time.

Perhaps the real motivation of those who opposed a broader exemption was precisely to undermine the faith of Catholics (and of conservative Baptists and orthodox Jews, who also objected). But courts should not look at hidden legislative motivation, and they only make a mess when they try. As far as a court can determine, this statute is simply social legislation that does not target religion but has an incidental effect on it.

Quite correctly, the New York court held that this is not the kind of law the U.S. Constitution's Free Exercise Clause prohibits. Also correctly, and very perceptively, it pointed out that other courts that have claimed to subject all infringements of religious freedom to a strict "compelling state interest" test have generally been lying. (My term, not the court's -- the court puts it in terms of "lip service.")

To religious social service providers who thought they could approve the endless expansion of social welfare legislation and ignore government's embrace of contraception, secure in a cocoon of judicially-administered exemptions -- welcome to earth.

To readers who think the court's deference to the legislature here was too flaccid: a few weeks ago, when the same court unexpectedly yet firmly upheld New York's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages, deference to legislative judgment was again the keynote. You need a consistent approach to how and when courts should defer to legislatures. "They should defer when I like the law and not when I don't" is lame.

What can Catholic Social Services of New York do now? Options: 1. Offer medical benefits without prescription coverage. Not attractive to prospective employees, but then, who ever went into social services for the money? 2. Fight back in the legislature until the statute is repealed, or at least until the statutory religious exemption is expanded. 3. Disband Catholic social services as an organized entity in New York. The religious Wyatt's Torch. "I'm leaving it just the way I found it."

And of all the branches of Eastern Orthodoxy to which Dreher's search for an annoyance-free Sunday morning could have taken him -- the Russian? Among which priests does he find the moral purity he's been seeking -- the ones that work(ed) with the KGB, or the ones that worked with the Okhrana? (I'm sure his own priest is pure as the driven snow, as are yours and mine, but this is supposed to be about institutional integrity, right?)

Monday, October 23, 2006
Rod "Crunchy Con" Dreher has become Russian Orthodox. He gave us a chance, but we're just not up to his standards, which apparently include moral perfection in the hierarchy, and laypeople's right to "look forward" to Sunday liturgy. (Re the latter: for one whose bestselling book is in part a critique of American materialism, he sure has a comfort-seeking approach to life in the Church.)

Anyway, canonist Ed Peters, as is his wont, brings some clarity:
1. By all accounts Dreher has committed a formal act of schism; according to 1983 CIC 1364, he is liable to latae sententiae excommunication....

2. ...the "sincerity" of a parental decision to deprive a Catholic child of his or her religious heritage does not rehabilitate that decision. 1983 CIC 1366 authorizes "a censure or other just penalty" against parents who "hand over their children to be... educated in a non-Catholic religion."

3. Apparently most Orthodox Churches receive Roman Catholics into their communion by the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation or chrismation. The Catholic Church, in contrast, presumes the validity of Orthodox chrismation and does not re-confirm those coming into full communion with us (instead, Orthodox converts to Catholicism make a profession of faith). Assuming the 40-year-old Dreher was already confirmed in the Catholic Church, if he underwent this Orthodox rite (I cannot verify either point in his case), his "second" confirmation would be invalid and objectively sacrilegious as an attempt to re-confer a seal sacrament (1983 CIC 845, 1379).

Saturday, October 21, 2006
The Book of Ball, 2006:10-19
Cardinal LaRussa said, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen the ninth inning: two runs to lighten the gentiles.

But Willie the son of Randolph sent two men and said to them: "Go and view the land from the bases." So they entered first and second bases and lodged there.

And The Lord said to the Cardinal, "Behold, my servant Paul LoDuca walketh in the ways of righteousness. By first base I shall give him rest. In green fields shall he await Beltran." And the Lord saw that it was very good.

But behold, Beltran striketh to three. Four shall he not strike to, for, behold, the Cardinals dance with timbrel and harp while yet the plate umpire doth point.

And so the Cardinals were delivered from the Mets and over to the Tigers in that day.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Well that's that for baseball '06.

Wasn't the young pitcher's fault. Both teams played very well, and if Endy Chavez's record-book-making robbery of Rollen's home-run meant that the Mets "deserved" to win in some karmic sense, well, coming back from that setback merits admiration too.

I doubt I'll have anything to say about the World Series. I don't even know if I'll be "for" either side. Sorry but I ain't comin' outta no tree for Tommy LaSorda nor nobody. I don't "live for this" -- I live for the Mets winning, and for lots and lots of things completely outside of baseball.

Just wait til next year!

Thursday, October 19, 2006
Perez seems to have his stuff: struck out his first two batters, and, except for a bizarre and ulimately trivial error by Delgado, had a perfect inning.

Elinor is sequestered from the television, as she is a gazetted "whammy."

The Mets in NLCS Game 7

Well. After we split the first two games in New York, I said well: assuming pessimistically (as one does with the Mets) that we only take one of the three games in St. Louis, I still fancy our chances of winning the last two in New York, thereby winning the Championship and going on to the World Series. Nothing about the starting line-ups: just my sense of the Shea Stadium dynamic.

Well, we did win only one of three in St. Louis. Going into last night, the only appropriate attitude was:

Doomed! Doomed, I tell you!

Never an inappropriate pre-game show with the Mets. But, guess what -- we won last night.

Tonight the pitching matchup is more lopsided in St. Louis's favor; we've been fighting the whole postseason with neither Pedro nor El Duque. But in our last six games started by Oliver Perez, the kid who will start tonight against the fearsome Jeff Suppan, we're 4-2. Look, maybe a nice respectable first-place finish in the NL East is all we'll have to take home from 2006. But well: let's see if the Shea atmosphere, Jose Reyes with his upbeat Ricky-Ricardo-ing, and the Carloses witht their bats, can make it exciting.

ESPN: Mets heavily favored tonight by America, minus Missouri and a few surrounding marches.

Monday, October 16, 2006
Thanks for all the comments on opera video vs. opera audio. Keep them coming: the issue is not closed. I do, however, discern a pattern: newbies tend to be pro-video, fans tend to be either pro-audio or to have ornery and inconsistent views. I.e., fans act like fans! But if the newbies prefer video, that's signficant.

Anyway, besides wanting those comments to pile up, another reason I haven't posted in a while is that most of us chez 'Guida, self included, have been sick as parrots. Greg has pneumonia; he's recovering at home on a course of antibiotics. Most of the rest of us have some kind of sub-pneumonial bronchitis. Besides cough, one of the symptoms is mental disorientation. Today I left my car on all day at school, and last week I drove a mile past an intended turn. Lord knows what I've been saying in class. I shouldn't be going in, but I cancelled class last Thursday and Friday, and there's only so far I can let things fall behind.

The galloping dumbs that I've been having are not attributable to the prescription cough syrup my doc gave me. It's good stuff -- extremely rich in controlled substances -- but I don't use it before driving or teaching.

And the Mets. Oi, the Mets...! Thank God for another rain delay tonight: gives me a break, and lets Glavine get a normal spell of rest between starts....

Btw, be sure some day to listen to BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE while on fancy cough syrup. The Fifth Door was never like this!

Monday, October 09, 2006
Opera at home: video or audio? Vote now!

Based on this post from Eve, I see have a big opera post coming up. But, I'd like to ask readers a preliminary question. This question is for opera fans and opera newbies alike.

The question is: which is better -- opera on DVD, or on audio only?

When I was starting, nobody except the highest-ranking TV and movie professionals had home video equipment, so audio (LPs and reel-to-reel tape) was it. That, and going to "the House," meaning the Met (though the New York City Opera could also be "the House" if it was clear from context which "House" was meant). But today it seems most natural to start with DVDs, which are becoming more numerous. And many of them are superb.

But since the arguments are closer than you might think, let me make the case for each side:

* Of course a video medium is better. Opera is the combination of music, drama, and stagecraft: nothing else comprehends all three. That's where opera makes its "value added" contribution in comparison to the printed word, the spoken theatre, concerts (classical or rock), ballet, etc. etc. When you can't get to "the House," DVD (or VHS) is the closest substitute.

Also, it duplicates very nearly the experience of serious opera-goers in the age of the "canonical" opera composers: from Handel through Puccini, no one got to listen to the entire opera before going to see it in the House (except for professionals who could get hold of a piano-score and sight-read the whole thing). Even by the time of the death of Richard Strauss, complete opera recordings were rare -- b/c you needed a U-Haul to lug all those 78s. (Plus, changing discs every five minutes in an opera that lasts two or more hours really sucked.)

Verdi's and Wagner's first audiences got the "audio" and "video" together, so it's those who grew up in the LP/CD-but-pre-VHS/DVD age who are the anomolies.

But on the other hand:

* An audio-only medium is better. One, it lets the music (orchestral and vocal both) make its impact first; this enhances the later DVD or "House" experience. Two, in our age, self-indulgent auteur stage directors are running wild throughout opera, gleefully imposing themselves and their nutter "interpretations" on the composer, the librettist, and the audience. Opera on audio-only CDs cuts these pompous twits out, and lets you be the stage director.

Also, opera on DVD requires two levels of directing: the guy who directs the production being taped, and the guy who directs the taping (e.g., where is the camera going to focus at which moments, etc. etc.) It's interesting that opera on television got nowhere until a genius at this secondary directing emerged: Brian Large, who began in the mid-70s and is still active. He has set the bar high enough so that he has some good successors. But if you get hold of a pre-Large opera DVD, you take your chances. If it was made for TV, it was probably well-directed. But if it was a stage production captured on kinescope, chances are the crew just pointed the camera at the stage and pressed "on" when the conductor emerged.

So, if you care to, please do two things in the comboxes: identify yourself as "fan" or "newbie," then vote "video" or "audio." I'm especially interested in which is better for newbies, but I value opinions from both fans and newbies on that question. Thank you.


Happy Anniversary, Zorak and the Old Oligarch!

Saturday, October 07, 2006
Feast of Lepanto

Friday, October 06, 2006
Just found an interesting bio of Christopher Lee. For instance, I did not know -- did you? -- that he:

* is descended on his mother's side from a nearly 2000-year-old Italian noble family, and Charlemagne was like a second cousin or something (now that I think of it, I think I did meet his great great...great great grandmother at a party in Florence in 1152 or so....)?

* has a near-operatic voice, was encouraged in this by legendary tenor Jussi Bjoerling (who was extremely generous, and also, almost certainly sozzled at the time), and succeeded in an audition at the Swedish Opera, but lacked the money to train?

* once quaffed a few with Tolkien at the Bird & Baby, and was the only person involved with the LOTR movies who had met the author?

* was in the running to replace Harris as Dumbledore? Now, choosing Gambon over Lee was clearly the work of dark wizards, am I right? Am I right?

Now here's a Pope who knows the deep meaning of "Oi gevalt!"

Mets win game two of the Division Series. As the games move to L.A. and the Dodgers face elimination in this best-of-five series, the Traitors-to-Brooklyn* have to be considered favorites to win game three tomorrow. However, I fancy my team's chances of moving on to the Championship Series. Then the World Series. Then -- I dunno, November maybe.

*The Los Angeles Dodgers are not the Brooklyn Dodgers: the New York Mets are the Brooklyn Dodgers!!

Thursday, October 05, 2006
Mets take Game One of the Division Series, thanks in part to some bonehead baserunning by the Dodgers.

Tu n'y dépendrais de personne;
point d'officier à qui tu doives obéir,
et point de retraite qui sonne
pour dire à l'amoureux qu'il est temps de partir!*
Le ciel ouvert, la vie errante,
pour pays tout l'univers, et pour loi ta volonté!
Et surtout la chose enivrante:
la liberté! la liberté!


Or, as the Supreme Court would put the same sentiment:
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

*Yes, I too had trouble with the scansion of that line. Try eliding "pour" and "dire" into one syllable; then treat "l'amou" as if it were a complete word, and start the next musical phrase (after the octave jump) with "reux." Works that way.

Singes soi-rendants mange-fromages

That's my attempt to translate "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" into French. Can any of you do better? (The idea came to me when I was wondering what to say if I visit my local Alliance Francaise: Bonjour, messieurs les....)

Sunday, October 01, 2006
Added, under "Crusaders' Corner": Xavier's multi-lingual blog, Buscaraons (which is "Let us search" in, I'm guessing, Catalan?).

"Sterilize bad parents." Here's another guy who needs his political career terminated ASAP. For the benefit of Google and Technorati and the pro-life oppo researchers who will use them, that would be Larry Shirley, of the Charleston SC City Council.

The questions is, is Mr. Shirley just an isolated git, or is there a movement here that we should be aware of?

Nice tourist-dependent destinations they've got down there in Charleston. 'Be a shame if other local politicians were to fail to express disgust over Shirley's remarks right away.

(And don't try "Shirley you jest," 'cause it's been done.)