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.

E-mail me

Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Order of the Phoenix change of cast: As we might say in opera (e.g., when utility-baritone and announcement-maker Osie Hawkins would step before the curtain at showtime, and we'd all groan, b/c this means a change of cast): Mme. Helen McRory is indisposed. In tonight's performance of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the role of Bellatrix Lestrange will be played by Helena Bonham-Carter.

Yep, it's true. McRory is pregnant, and will be near term during the shooting of the Battle of the Ministry. Good on her for not doing what too many divas have done in order to keep a baby from interfering with an important gig. And good for Bonham-Carter, who was last heard flirting with Ralph Fiennes in Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Pope Benedict at Auschwitz -- Jewish reaction: You'll never believe this, but they disagree among themselves! Certain tropes are predictable; e.g., Abe Foxman going Christian-baiting, and others making clear that anything short of an assumption of direct responsibility for the Holocaust by the Church will forever be "not enough." (Review of European editorials here; Daily Telegraph, fairly sound, here.) Others, though, are more interesting, as in this story from Catholic News Service:
Meanwhile, the Jewish-born former archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, whose mother died at Auschwitz, described the visit as "one of the most important moments" of his life.

"As a priest, Christian, Jew and son who lost a mother, I think the pope's words were deep, truthful and sincere," Cardinal Lustiger told Polish TV. "They were exactly what should be said in this place, where we witnessed history being made today."

The cardinal's half-brother, Arno Lustiger, who lives in Germany and lost his father and brothers at the camp, told KAI: "As a Jewish nonbeliever, I value the Christian perspective which can find hope in the face of such evil. Frankly speaking, I haven't matured to this yet. I still feel a pain which simply cannot be forgotten."
* Text of the Holy Father's speech
* American Papist: The Great Poland Post of 2006
* Against the Grain: Pope Benedict, Auschwitz, and the Nature of Anti-Semitism
* John Allen's analysis. I know it's in the Reporter, but it's good anyway. Excerpt:

In a sense, Benedict's Auschwitz speech marks a turning point in post-Auschwitz Christian theology, which in the last 60 years has tended to take Christian guilt for complicity in the Holocaust as its point of departure.

Jurgen Moltmann, for example, famously argued for a theology of "divine vulnerability," in part because he felt earlier triumphal understandings of God did not adequately predispose Christians to solidarity with victims of the Nazis; Johann Baptist Metz urged a new spirit of discipleship, based on the observation that too many Christians failed to follow the example of Christ during the war.

Without denying that the Holocaust was often implemented by professed Christians, Benedict argued that at a deeper level, Christianity and Judaism both represented systems of thought that the Nazis instinctively understood must be destroyed, because without God and God's moral law there is no bulwark against totalitarianism, or against evil.

Benedict thus offered a new touchstone for Christian reflection on Auschwitz -- not guilt, but a profound sense of the starkness of the choice facing humanity: God or the abyss.

Hat-tip re John Allen: Catholic Friends of Israel.

Interestingly, the Holy Father's linkage between anti-Semitism and anti-Christianism is precisely what is most viciously held against him in this column, the thrust of which seems to be: either admit it was really the Church wot done it, or stay away and don't horn in on our copyright-protected suffering. Widespread adoption of this attitude would be a grave setback for Catholic-Jewish relations.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Zenit headline: "Corruption to Be Focus of Vatican Meeting." Ah, an oldie but a goodie! Deal me in, guys! (Cue "Alexander's Ragtime Band"!)

Dutch told to return land they won from the sea
...In the name of European Union environmental directives, their farm is earmarked for flooding - the first time in Holland's centuries-long battle against water that a substantial piece of land is to be deliberately returned to the sea....

Some 230 years after its flat pastures were wrested from the waters, the de Feijters' farm - their home for 33 years - is to be re-flooded to reverse the disappearance of Zeeland's mudflats and salt marshes.

For the family - raised in a province that owes its very existence to dyke systems dating from the Middle Ages - the plan is "un-Dutch". Breaching dykes is behaviour associated with invading armies, noted Mr de Feijter. Flooding a "polder", as land enclosed by a dyke is known, "has always been an act of war", he said....

The final decision must be ratified by parliament next year, but chances of a reprieve look slim. Dutch officials support the project, part of a scheme to re-flood 1,500 acres of land on the banks of the Western Schelde estuary. The re-flooding has been imposed by the EU Habitats directive, and the EU Birds directive....

Sunday, May 28, 2006
Our anniversary! You might say we held our reception on the O.C.

Saturday, May 27, 2006
This is so-o-o-o-o-o not good.

For readers who may wonder, Jonathan Lee's unit is not involved.

The Commandant, who visited western Iraq last month for a photo op with JL (that's just my interpretation, of course, but Gen. Hagee was there, and a photo was taken with him, the Sergeant Major, JL and lots of other young Marines), is back there again to deliver shape-up talks for the benefit of those not being court-martialled. The Corps offers a text of the Commandant's message here. Imo, he makes a strong rhetorical move when he connects fidelity to jus in bello with the words "to keep our honor clean" in the Marine Hymn. Excerpts:
Recent serious allegations concerning actions of Marines in combat have caused me concern. They should cause you to be concerned as well. To ensure we continue to live up to General Lejeune’s description of a Marine as someone who demonstrates “all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue,” I would like to review the importance of our core values....

We have all been educated in the Law of Armed Conflict. We continue to reinforce that training, even when deployed to combat zones. We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force. We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful. We follow the laws and regulations, Geneva Convention and Rules of Engagement. This is the American way of war. We must regulate force and violence, we only damage property that must be damaged, and we protect the non-combatants we find on the battlefield.

When engaged in combat, particularly in the kind of counterinsurgency operations we’re involved in now, we have to be doubly on guard. Many of our Marines have been involved in life or death combat or have witnessed the loss of their fellow Marines, and the effects of these events can be numbing. There is the risk of becoming indifferent to the loss of a human life, as well as bringing dishonor upon ourselves. Leaders of all grades need to reinforce continually that Marines care for one another and do what is right.

....The words of that Hymn mean something special to me. Especially, “Keep our Honor Clean”. I know that means something to all of you as well. As Marines we have an obligation to past Marines, fellow Marines, future Marines and ourselves to do our very best to live up to these words.

Friday, May 26, 2006

MÉLISANDE: Qui êtes-vous?

GOLAUD: Je suis le prince Golaud, le petit fils d'Arkel, le vieux roi d'Allemonde.

MÉLISANDE: Oh! vous avez déjà les cheveux gris!

GOLAUD: Oui; quelques-uns, ici, près des tempes.

MÉLISANDE: Et la barbe aussi. Pourquoi me regardez-vous ainsi?

GOLAUD: Je regarde vos yeux. Vous ne fermez jamais les yeux?

MÉLISANDE: Si, si je les ferme la nuit…

-- Debussy/Maeterlinck, PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE, Act I

I love the Symbolists!


"Bless us O Lord and -- hey, it's
that frickin' photographer again...."

Thursday, May 25, 2006
Feast of the Ascension. Moving it to Sunday, as have some but not all dioceses in the U.S., is so lame. It's the Church ratifying its own, and Christ's, marginal status in people's lives. It's still a nice homiletic trope to say we should be Christians all seven days, but the hierarchy shows by its actions that it doesn't really believe this, or doesn't think we do and despairs of teaching us. Another nice grouse on this topic here.

Chez nous, the Feast was celebrated today, not only at the indult chapel, but also at our plain-vanilla Novus-Ordo parish, even though ours is one of the dioceses that's lame on this issue.

On the feast itself: Scott Hahn says on some tape or other that Ascension is a seriously underestimated feast. Among the ancient Jews, the rising of the smoke of Temple sacrifices, though in itself a natural phenomenon, was taken to symbolize Gods's acceptance of those sacrifices. (Again with the symbols! You'll read more about it with the Schama stuff, plus, I think I'm discovering that some of my favorite operas have links to the Symbolist movement).

Anyway, with the Ascension, God signifies His acceptance of the sacrifice that was accomplished 42 days earlier. (Easter plus two, you know?) Except that, since the Ascension is a supernatural phenomenon, it not only symbolizes that acceptance -- it is that acceptance!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution -- I

This is the most famous study of the French Revolution to come out in the post-War era, maybe in all the 20th century. I don't have a cite for that proposition, but if anyone thinks any French Revolution book of the modern era has had more influence, I'd like to hear about it.

Citizens makes it impossible to cling to Jeffersonian romances about the French Revolution. Not that I ever did that (not after reading A Tale of Two Cities in sixth grade, at any rate), but some do. In fact, as five seconds'-worth of Googling shows, the people who want to do for the Terror what David Irving does for the Holocaust are making themselves heard.

Holocaust/Terror analogies are not the least bit inapt. As will become clear, the Terror was the first-ever exercise in industrial-scale human killing, and the use of chemical killing agents, though not feasible at the time, was discussed.

One of the silliest criticisms of Citizens is that the Bastille doesn't fall until page 300-whatever. Well, genius-man, that's because Schama has a few things to say about the political and economic culture out of which the Revolution arose, without which, he suggests, we will misunderstand the Revolution.

Schama is very interested in the role of symbols in politics and history. (That doesn't make him a "symbologist," any more than the subject of the book makes him a French Revolutiologist. Academic micro-titling is a pastime of those who try to write learnedly of what they know nothing about. This concludes today's excursus on Dan Brownology.)

In pursuit of that scholarly agenda, Citizens actually opens in 1830, after the Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire were both long gone, and the Restoration was petering out. The reason for starting here is that the Restoration, or at least its Bourbon phase, ended swiftly and relatively peacefully, largely because of symbols.

When Louis XVIII was set up on the restored throne in 1815, he dispensed with traditional French royal ceremony. But after his death in 1824, his brother and successor, Charles X, took the opposite tack: coronation at Rheims Cathedral, and anointment with the "the Sainte Ampoule, an oil which according to universal belief had been miraculously brought from heaven by an angel, or a dove, for the baptism of Clovis."

From here, I'll let Schama take up the tale of the deposing of Charles X in 1830, with the starring role it gives to symbols and the memories they evoke. The emphasis added is mine, as are additions in square brackets.
There was much to provoke popular anger in 1830. A trade depression with its automatic high bread prices and unemployment had caused groups of angry artisans to assemble in the faubourg Saint-Antoine to listen to journalists and orators denounce the government. But what triggered their emotions and fired their determination was the exposure of revolutionary mementos like holy relics: the tricolor that was flown again from Notre Dame; bodies bayoneted by royal troops, paraded in their bloodied winding sheets through the streets as an incitement to revolt.... The "Marseillaise" sounded again, the red hats of liberty (no more anachronistic in 1830 than in 1789 [being supposedly based on hats worn by manumitted slaves in ancient Rome]), were thrust onto unwigged heads and rust ten-pound cannon were again hauled over the cobbles. A Duc d'Orléans once more plotted (this time successfully) to be the beneficiary of the demise of a Bourbon king. Even Maréchal Marmont, charged with the defense of Paris, seemed imprisoned in this historical reverie. On seeing the allegiance of the military disintegrate he could find nothing better to say to his king than to repeat, verbatim, the words of the Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt to Louis XVI on July 15, 1789: "Sire, this is not a riot, it is a revolution." But while Louis had completely failed to grasp the significance of transformed political vocabulary, Charles X knew precisely what these words pretended. He had read the script. He had read the histories. Even his fate was preordained to repeat not Louis' but his own conduct in 1789, for he had been quick to depart then, and he was even quicker now.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Subject line in my in-box: "Briefs in NY marriage case."

Well, as the Judge in TRIAL BY JURY says, "Put your briefs upon the shelf...."

Coming soon:

* Counterrevolutionary-conspiratorial quotes from Simon Schama's Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

* Barbarian-invasiolicious posts on Montemezzi's L'AMORE DEI TRE RE (The Love of Three Kings)

Despite official denials, Saudi textbooks continue to teach students, e.g., "As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus" (eighth grade) and "The clash between this [Muslim] community (umma) and the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills" (ninth).

Madeleine Albright, meanwhile, is very worried about how some people mix faith and politics: "The absolute truth is what makes Bush so worrying to some of us."

Sunday, May 21, 2006
Greg serves Trid.

Saturday, May 20, 2006
Not even Canadians like DVC! Rick Groen, of the Toronto Globe and Mail, starts out:
Before I dismiss the movie as middling-awful, forgive me — first, just one more word about the book. Clearly, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is guaranteed to deeply offend anyone who has a strong belief in the sanctity of (a) Jesus Christ, or (b) good literature. Just as certainly, given those sales figures measurable in the multimillions, there are more than a few of us who fall into neither devout category, and who have thrilled to the experience of reading a novel that's all about a futile search for the holy grail of a well-written sentence.
His conclusion about the movie?
When we aren't snoozing, we're snickering.

Front page of Pursuits section in today's WSJ (subscr. req'd.): Rapping with the Oldies. Oh no: hip-replacement-hop!

Friday, May 19, 2006
More DVC yuks from The Curt Jester. Don't miss the comments.

And don't miss this review; the writer's own non-Catholicism makes it all the more potent. One of his conclusions is "Ron Howard has to take the blame" -- a perfect fit with The Curt Jester's theory! (*Ominous chord*). The reviewer, Kevin O'Reilly (all right, ex-Catholic, rather than non-Catholic -- and ripe for a return, I'll warrant) also writes:
Does the film's self-importance stem from its religious theme, from the controversial plot points that have upset the Catholic Church? I'm not surprised they're upset. The film accuses their entire religion of being based on a lie. Imagine if someone wrote a best-selling novel calling Islam a lie - the consequences don't bear thinking about. Still, the fact that the Vatican's gotten hot under its white collar shouldn't necessarily lend dignity to The Da Vinci Code's hodgepodge of theological revisionism and conspiracy theories.

Dan Brown makes some valid criticisms of Catholicism but the big secret he reveals, the lie at the heart of the religion is ludicrous: it's wishful thinking on behalf of those who find the Catholic Church's values offensive to their own. Has the Vatican put its own spin on Christianity? Probably. Would the Jesus described in the Gospels be angry at the way many of his followers have turned out just like the Pharisees who crucified him? Probably. Was Christ's real message a load of fuzzy, politically correct New Age guff? Probably not.

....And what of Opus Dei, the real-life Catholic association the film portrays as a band of fanatics prepared to kill to preserve the big secret? (There's a major unintentional laugh when we see cardinals playing pool in their robes in what I assume is the Opus Dei clubhouse!)
You mean, in full robes just like "Cardinal Fang" and the rest of the "Spanish Inquisition" in Monty Python? That's what Dan Brown and Ron Howard think a day in the life of a cardinal is? Do they miss a bus and mutter "Oh bugger" too?
Opus Dei has received a lot of publicity in the wake of the book's success. There was talk about Labour minister Ruth Kelly being a member and thus, some presumed, a religious fanatic. I doubt its members are more sinister than any other Catholics but then I doubt the Freemasons are anything more than a bunch of bored middle-aged men who want to get away from their wives in the evenings. I bet members of these groups get a kick out of crackpots thinking they're up to no good.
Ya think? >;)

Fr. Maciel: Vatican action in the case of Legionaries of Christ/Regnum Christi founder Fr. Marcial Maciel has now happened, and it doesn't look good for the accused. Read the link. Now, my $0.02:

1. I am not in the Legionaries or Regnum Christi. I know two RC members, one well, one slightly. The first is definitely, and the other is as far as I know, a solid apostolic Catholic, an excellent professional in his/her field, and quite a normal person. I don't know any LC priests, but I know sound Catholics of good judgment who do, and who admire them.

The LCs rescued the National Catholic Register (not Reporter!!) from its yellow days as "The Intifada Update" and "The Medjugorje Messenger" -- my own spleenful but accurate nicknames for it in its pre-LC days -- and turned it into a serious weekly paper.

The only thing I personally know to the LCs' discredit has to do with their recruiting; like yellowjackets at a picnic, you know; or the mosquitoes at Camp Lejeune. "Don't make eye-contact" -- that's the advice I've heard given to students at sound-and-orthodox Catholic colleges re passing the LC table at vocations fairs. But this, by itself, is more an annoying tick than a grave corporate vice.

2. Any kind of Schadenfreude over the Maciel news -- such as is demonstrated by the statements from "Regain" spokesmen in the linked article, imo -- is inappropriate. The second spokesman's Jacobinic appetite for "the maximum penalty" is unbecoming to anyone concerned with the good of the Church.

To be very frank, I have known "anti-cultists" in the Church who are more cultlike in their obsessions than the "cults" they spend so much of their time accusing. I predict a round of "ah-ha"-ing from them over the Maciel news that will reflect an agenda beyond the vindication of Maciel's victims. Based on this, I suspect that they regularly google the blogosphere to find target-related posts to comment on; they should be showing up here any minute now (talk about yellowjackets at a picnic).

3. It is now nearly impossible to maintain that Fr. Maciel is innocent; apparently even LC does not claim that he is: it only repeats his denials.

4. The CDF's calling of Fr. Maciel to "a life reserved to prayer and penance, renouncing any public ministry" suggests that the offenses were grave and on-going and perhaps not even today fully repented-of. The part about abuse of confession is particularly grave. For Dante, that's an 8th-circle offense (fraud). (Sodomy is 6th-circle, a sin not of incontinence but of violence; illicit straight sex is 2nd-circle.)

5. The sentiment attributed to Maciel by the CDF -- that this finding and the penalty are "a new cross that God, the father of mercy, has allowed him to suffer and that will obtain many graces for the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement"-- is exactly the right way for LC/RC and Fr. Maciel to view this development. To the extent it reflects Maciel's real views right now, it does more than his denials to rehabilitate him.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls (ah yes, I met him once -- it was in 1985, at the Extraordinary Synod: he was being so pestered by a gaggle of Italian pressies that he was downright relieved that someone just wanted to meet him) says in the linked article: "independently of the person of the founder, the well-deserving apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the association Regnum Christi is recognized with gratitude." Roma locuta est.

Hmm, you can take the New Yorker out of New York, but -- well, it's remarkable, really:

Dixie Royal
You are 84% true Southern!

You are pure belle or gentleman! You know your Jones Soda, Nehi and RC
colas, your Moon Pies and sweet potato pie; you'd absolutely die
without air conditioners in the summer, and you've seen Steel Magnolias
and Fried Green Tomatoes (or read the book!). Your grandmother lives in
an antebellum home and has a cook who makes the best fried chicken and
asparagus casserole and summer squash and everything else in the world.
And you know the taste of honeysuckle and the feel of grass between
your toes.
You are blessed.

My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 35% on Southerliness
Link: The Southern-ness Test written by gwennykate on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Latest on The Da Vinci Code: the critics have had a look, and --

It sucks!!

I think I Cannes, I think I Cannes -- oops, I Cannes't!
Guess what -- quite apart from concerns arising out of its characterization of the Catholic Church as an ancient criminal fraud and of Opus Dei as a murder cult, it turns out the film version is actually, objectively, bad. Poor. Mediocre. Inferior. A bomb. They'll stay away in droves.

AP: Cannes critics find 'Da Vinci Code' not worth cracking

VOA: Cannes Film Festival Critics Pan 'The Da Vinci Code'

Economic Times (India): Critics crucify 'Da Vinci Code'

Sydney Morning Herald: The sound of no hands clapping

Reuters: The Da Vinci Code secret is out: critics hate it (France): Da Vinci Code fails to impress Cannes critics

N.Y. Daily News: 'Da Vinci' Disaster

CNN: 'Da Vinci Code' meets with catcalls

Christian Broacasting Network News reports:
"Nothing really works. It's not suspenseful. It's not romantic. It's certainly not fun. It seems like you're in there forever," Stephen Schaefer of the Boston Herald told Reuters.

One reviewer from the Times of India told Agence France Press, "At the high point, there was laughter among the journalists. Not loud laughs, but a snicker, and I think that says it all."

And Variety said, "Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman have conspired to drain any sense of fun out of the melodrama."
And from Catholic News Service:
'Da Vinci Code' draws laughs from journalists at press screening

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

CANNES, France (CNS) -- Toward the end of the movie "The Da Vinci Code," the main character, Robert Langdon, tells his sleuthing partner, Sophie Neveu: "You are the last living descendent of Jesus Christ."

That line, meant to be the dramatic apex of the film, drew laughs from many of the approximately 900 journalists who viewed the film's first press screening May 16 at the Cannes Film Festival.

The derisive laughter, along with widely critical comments from reporters afterward, summed up the Cannes press reaction to the much-heralded launch of the movie. When the credits ran, silence and a few whistles drove home the response.

Related: Fr. John Wauck has a blog called The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Jaroslav Pelikan, RIP. A great scholar and a kind man. He encouraged me in my graduate work, and fought the good fight over Augustine (he was pro) against department colleague John Boswell. I hear that, when he finally traded in his Czech-Lutheranism for a "higher" model, Prof. Pelikan went East rather than West. Too bad -- but better to go East Pelikan-style than West Boswell style. (Fwiw, I studied from both these men -- and learned from both -- but not at the same time.)

Wuerl to replace McCarrick. So the Washington question becomes the Pittsburgh question.

Quick pull of the file on Wuerl: He is co-author of one of the only sound catechisms to be published between 1965 and 1992 (the other being, of coures, Fr. Hardon's). Wuerl spent many years in Rome, and was trusted by JPII to the point that in 1985 the late Holy Father sent Wuerl to Seattle as auxiliary bishop to Bp. Raymond Hunthausen. This failed to produce changes in Hunthausen's bizarre administration, and Wuerl was moved to Pittsburgh. There he has consistently pleased what you might call your level-headed sound-and-orthodox folks, while disappointing rightwing fire-eaters. Anyone got any more S2 on him, please send it in.

Monday, May 15, 2006
"I would ask Ron Howard to keep calm and express himself with respect."

Da Vinci Code director Ron Howard seems to be responding on two levels to a request from Opus Dei for a disclaimer in the movie. The two levels can be categorized, for ease of reference, as good and bad.

At first, he took the defensible, if superficial, position that of course everyone knows it's all fiction, so who needs a disclaimer. One problem with this position is that it is not the one author Dan Brown takes: he makes every attempt, short of actual scholarship, to convince readers that he did a lot of "research" and that his novel is the straight scoop. Nor would it be considered a sufficient answer if the targeted group were [insert here any number of obvious examples]. (It took six years for United 93 to be made, and that's not fiction.)

But then Howard seemed to sour the rhetoric, starting to throw around the term "fascist" to describe people who raised objections to being slimed by his movie, or to Church officials who suggest that a movie that characterizes the Church as a bimillennial murder plot might not belong at the top of Catholics' viewing plans in the coming weeks.

So an official Opus Dei spokesman in Italy has issued this statement (hat-tip: Zenit):
On Thursday the Italian press published interviews with Ron Howard, director of "The Da Vinci Code" film. In statements attributed to him, Howard said that "to deny the right to see the film is a fascist act," and also "to tell someone not to go see the film is an act of militancy and militancy generates hatred and violence." The Opus Dei is mentioned several times in these interviews. The phrases seem to refer to recent statements by Church authorities.

I would ask Ron Howard to keep calm and express himself with respect.

It is not wise to lose sight of the reality of the situation: This film is offensive to Christians. Howard represents the aggressor, and Catholics are victims of an offense. The one offended cannot have his last right taken away, which is to express his point of view. It is not the statements of ecclesiastics or the respectful request of Opus Dei -- to include a notice at the beginning of the film that it is a work of fiction -- which generates violence. It is rather the odious, false and unjust portrayals that fuel hatred.

In his statements, Howard also repeats that it is simply a film, an invented story, and that it must not be taken too seriously. But it is not possible to deny the importance of the movies and literature. Fiction influences our way of seeing the world, especially among young people. It is not right not to take it seriously. Artistic creativity certainly needs a climate of freedom, but freedom cannot be separated from responsibility.

Imagine a film that says that Sony was behind the attacks on the Twin Towers, which it promoted because it wanted to destabilize the United States. Or a novel that reveals that Sony paid the gunman who shot the Pope in St. Peter's Square in 1981, because it was opposed to the Holy Father's moral leadership. They are only invented stories. I imagine that Sony, a respectable and serious company, would not be happy to see itself portrayed in this way on the screens, and that it would not be satisfied with an answer such as "Don't worry, it's only fiction, it mustn't be taken too seriously, freedom of expression is sacred."

In any case, those who have taken part in the film's project have no reason to be concerned. Christians will not react with hatred and violence, but with respect and charity, without insults or threats. They can continue to calculate tranquilly the money they will make on the film, because the freedom of financial profit seems to be in fact the only sacred freedom, the only one exempt from all responsibility. They will probably make a lot of money, but they are paying a high price by deteriorating their prestige and reputation.

I hope the controversy of these months will not be sterile but serve to reflect on the relative character of financial profit when high values are involved; on the importance of fiction; on responsibility, which always supports and protects freedom.

Friday, May 12, 2006
Conversation chez Cacciaguida: clipper flipper

ELINOR (giving haircut to Greg): *Bzz bzz bzz bzz*

GREG: *outta here*

ELINOR: Honey, do you want a haircut?


ELINOR: ? -- ?

CACCIAGUIDA: If you're wondering if I'm seeing another barber --

ELINOR: *laugh*

CACCIAGUIDA: Yes. I went to Phil's when I was in New Haven.

ELINOR (nostalgically): Phil's....

CACCIAGUIDA: There was an old guy there who says he remembers me.

ELINOR: You haven't changed much, so he probably did.

Sometimes, headlines and ledes on a given day, if properly matched, editorialize each other away:

Bush asked to explain phone data collection
Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike are demanding answers from the Bush administration about a report that the National Security Agency has collected records of millions of domestic phone calls, even as President George W. Bush assured Americans that their privacy is "fiercely protected."

They could have been stopped
Three of the four suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London last July were known in some form to MI5 but the security service had failed to follow up the leads in what Opposition MPs yesterday called a failure of intelligence.
"Connect the dots." Remember? I guess most of us do. Good to see most of us aren't Heathers frantic that George Bush will find out what we told Lynnette about Amber and Kyle.

Thursday, May 11, 2006
Greg turns sixteen.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006
More on LOHENGRIN at the Met

Composite of stills from the Robert Wilson production, taken ca. 1998

Upper left: King Henry (Eric Halfvarson) presides over engagement of Lohengrin (Ben Heppner) and Elsa (Deborah Voigt)

Upper right: finale of Act II -- Ortrud (Deborah Polaski) pulls a red curtain of doubt over the faith-based proceedings

Lower left: Lohengrin and Elsa

Lower right: Act I -- arrival of Lohengrin in swan-drawn boat


OK, why do I like this production, given that I tend to be a production traditionalist (e.g. I love the Met's current RING, which is a defiant throwback to 19th century romantic stage realism?)

One reason is that LOHENGRIN has a dream-like quality that traditional productions sometimes work against.

Another is that LOHENGRIN is highly ritualized: much of the action takes place in public ceremonies in the presence of a king (viz., King Henry "the Fowler," ca. A.D. 900). It's always a challenge to keep the chorus busy; its role is always in danger of slipping into Gibert & Sullivan mode, echoing the words of one principal and exhorting another to respond. (I was once in the chorus in G&S's RUDDIGORE, and when I think back to singing "Ah base one!" at Robin, it's difficult not to think of the LOHENGRIN chorus giving Telramund what-for in Act II. And Act I is always in danger of degenerating quickly, after the ethereal prelude, into "If you want to know who we are/We are nobles of Brabant....")

Now, the nobles of Brabant in Wilson's production are costumed rather traditionally (helmets, spears), but they are almost entirely immobile. Because of this, their few movements are vested with significance. E.g., their nervous shifting of spears in Act I when Telramund tells them and the King: "...and so I took a nobler wife -- Ortrud, daughter of the princes of Frisia." The Christian nobles of Brabant know what that means: Frisia is still largely pagan, due to the efforts of Ortrud's ancestor Radbod.

Besides the spare, light-driven sets (described by various critics as "minimalist" and "expressionist"), the other main feature of Wilson's production is the rigid, stylized movement of the main characters. Actually, their poses are similar to what one sees in medieval illuminations, or in pre-Raphaelite paintings based thereon. So that's the combination: arch-modern sets, neo-medieval movements.

It totally works; what else can I say.

Now, about our tenor's debut: at the May 3 performance, the title role was taken not by Ben Heppner, but by a young man new to the Met named (to give him his preferred professional name) Klaus Florian Vogt.

The voice is truly remarkable. With any Wagnerian tenor, the first thing you notice is where he fits on the continuum from baritonal-tenor (like Lauritz Melchior) to the lighter sound a pure tenor (the latter is rare in Wagner, but examples might be Wolfgang Windgassen or Set Svanholm). It's always a question of how much baritonal quality will be mixed into the tenor sound, like -- oh, I don't know, like pure absinthe mixed into the sweetened water.

Well, Vogt has the most lyrical, pure-tenor sound I've ever heard in Wagner. "No baritonale at all!" one of my companions remarked after Act I. Yet he, like all of us, was impressed. You see, it's not that light-colored voices like his are unknown in opera: it's just that they stick to lighter repertory, not Wagner. Their home is the bel canto period, especially comic roles like Count Almaviva in Rossini's BARBER OF SEVILLE.

What Vogt offers is that light sound accompanied by Wagnerian volume. Imagine a tenore leggero like Cesare Valletti or Tito Schipa, and then imagine that the voice has the power to cut effortlessly through the forces of a Wagnerian chorus, orchestra, and rival principals, on the scale the Met is accustomed to deploying.

He was a huge hit. When he floated that soft phrase "von Himmel eine Taube" in In Fernem Land, the already profound audience silence became noticeably deeper. At curtain calls, the yells for Vogt outdid even those for the well-received ladies (Margaret Jane Wray, whose Ortrud I commented on earlier, and Karita Mattila, repeating her stellar Elsa).

Is he the perfect Lohengrin? I don't know: certain moments in the role need a little more steel in the voice, such as was/is provided by other light-voiced Lohengrins, such as Sandor Konya, or Peter Seiffert (whom I'm listening to right now). But Vogt is certainly impressive. He'd be ideal in other lyrical Wagner roles: Erik, Walther, Parsifal, and either Loge or Froh. All of these he's already done, according to his program bio. This also says he has done Siegmund in DIE WALKÜRE: I dunno, I think his voice is too light for that heavy and low-ranging part.

Honorable mention goes as well to Greer Grimsley, our Telramund. He's a Heldenbariton with a dark, barbarian sound that almost out-bassed our King Henry, Rene Pape, who sounds great but is rapidly evolving toward the bass-baritone realm.

Klaus Vogt: light, not "lite"!

(Many thanks to GGB for his company and the tickets, and for the new friends he introduced me to!)

Leno says: "Some are calling Monday’s march a national coming out day for Latinos. They’re equating being Latino to being gay. Hey, I think it’s a bit easier to tell your parents you’re Latino!"

Monday, May 08, 2006
And moreover Jesus had not spoken to his disciples of the whole extent of the places of the great invisible one and the three triple powers and the 24 invisible ones (or 45 on Tuesdays) and all their places and their aeons and all their ranks, how they extend far into the suburbs—these which are the emanations of the great invisible one—
Great parody of Gnostic "gospel" find, by Touchstone's Christopher Bailey. Hat-tip: Kross & Sweord.

Now this is interesting. Turns out that in the world of campus sex, the law of supply and demand works in unexpected ways.

Donec volant porci

In a page-one story in THE WANDERER for May 4, that "universal indult" document is described as "allegedly in the works."

Three weeks ago, you'll recall, all over St. Blog's' this document was "imminent." Holy Thursday, definitely. Or if not, then Easter. Or, anniversary of the pontificate (April 19) at the latest. Only Fr. Zuhlsdorf counseled moderation and an analytic approach.

Now it's "allegedly in the works." Three weeks from now it will be a "long-term possibility." I'll go out on a limb here: it won't happen in my lifetime. (I'm 48.)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Blue ether, white light, and characters
afflicted with ritual failure to communicate:
Robert Wilson's production of
Wagner's LOHENGRIN at the Met

More about the production later. (N.B. I love it!) Also, more later about our debut-boy, Klaus Vogt as Lohengrin. (N.B. He rocks!)

For now I just want to say that Ortrud -- the pagan revanchist in the midst of Carolingian Europe -- has got to be the greatest villainess in opera; competition only from, who? The Nurse in FRAU, maybe.... And Margaret Wray nailed it 99%. It would be churlish to remark that Nell Rankin and Mignon Dunn, mezzo-sopranos both, always tossed off even the highest notes of this role with apparent ease, whereas soprano Wray was a tiny bit strained in the stratosphere. Didn't matter: in the rest of her range, Wray came up aces.

The Ortrud of the 1950s: Astrid Varnay

Ortrud on her mind:
Margaret Jane Wray (to give her her professional handle)

ORTRUD (alone, in Act II):
Ye gods profaned! Help me now in my revenge!
Punish the ignominy that you have suffered here!
Strengthen me in the service of your holy cause!
Destroy the vile delusions of the apostate!
Woden! I call on you, O god of strength!
Freyja! Hear me, O exalted one!
Bless my deceit and hypocrisy,
that I may be successful in my revenge!

Later, playing mindgames with Elsa, whose (Christian) knight has come to save her on condition that she not ask his name:

Back, Elsa! No longer will I suffer
to follow you like a maid!
You shall give me precedence everywhere,
you shall humbly bow down before me!

In God's name! What is this that I see?
What sudden change has come over you?

Just because I forgot my worth for one single hour,
do you think that I must only crawl before you?
I dare now to revenge my suffering,
I mean to redeem what is due to me!

Woe, did I let myself be led astray by your hypocrisy,
you who stole to me moaning in the night?
How can you arrogantly claim precedence over me,
you, spouse of a man condemned by God?

(feigning an expression
of deep pain):
False judgement may have banished my husband,
but his name was honoured throughout the land;
he was called the One of highest virtue,
his brave sword was known and feared.
But your husband, pray, who here knows him?
You yourself are unable to utter his name!

What does she say? Ha, what does she proclaim?
She blasphemes! Silence her tongue!

Can you utter it, can you tell us
whether he is of worthy and noble descent?
Or whence the waters brought him to you,
when he shall leave you again, and whither he shall go?
No, you cannot!
For to do so would cause him great anguish -
thus did the guileful knight
forbid the question!