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

Friday, July 27, 2007
A New Yorker blogger laments the separation of "guns" and "brains" -- i.e. the military class and the intellectual class -- and is hopeful that the Iraq war is bringing them back together. Very interesting, esp. from The New Yorker. HT: Small Wars Journal.

Thursday, July 26, 2007
"Scott Thomas" exposed: Blackfive, here; Worldwide Standard, here; Bill Kristol's editorial, here.

No, despite credit from Eve, I actually didn't make up "Potterdämmerung," though I certainly should have.

I did, however, coin "The Apocalypse: When You Care Enough to Send the Very Beast," as Eve knows perfectly well!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007
This is too cool. I'm listening to a live broadcast of Bayreuth's new MEISTERSINGER while I work. We're in Act III, so tune in soon if you want to hear any of it. Klaus Vogt's Prize Song will probably rock. Will director (and composer's great-granddaughter) Katharina Wagner get booed at the end?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Mets pitcher hits home run, contributes to 8-4 victory of Pittsurgh Pirates. I love National League rules! Also, the Mets are in first place in their division by 3.5 games. Expect me to rev up on that front.

For the baseball-impaired, what makes this interesting is that pitchers are notoriously bad batters. I think it's just a function of the fact that pitching requires specialized training and practice that takes time away from perfecting one's hitting.

Anyway, in the 1970s, the decade of universal suckitude, the American League -- a low-rent outfit lifted into distinction only by the charming and inspiring Boston Red Sox (who, btw, are also in first place in their division) -- decided that pitchers would no longer bat for themselves: their place in the batting line-up would be taken by a "designated hitter."

The "dh rule" spread like cancer through the game: in the minor leagues, American League rules prevail whenever either of the teams has an American League affiliation. In interleague play in the majors, the rules depend on the league affiliation of the home team, which I guess is the best arrangement short of sending the dh rule into the dustbin of history.

During the year 2000 "subway series" between the Mets and the Yankees, the Yankees made sure aging pitching sensation and notorious mountain-troll Roger Clemens never pitched any of the games at Shea (the Mets' park), b/c if he did, he'd have to bat, and -- while I wouldn't want to imply that any Mets pitcher would ever throw at Clemens just b/c Clemens had thrown at Mike Piazza during one of the games at Yankee Stadium, still, Yankees manager Joe Torre clearly thought the better part of valor was to make sure that lumbering thug never had to face a Mets pitcher wielding a projectile travelling at 90 mph.

Anyway, John Maine rules.

Gordon Brown orders review of 24-hour drinking. Committee headed by Ratty already assembled. England expects that every man will do his duty.

Monday, July 23, 2007
Crisis to become website

Do you like the feel of magazines and journals? Do you sometimes read worthwhile things in them (especially the ones you've paid money for) that you would never had bothered with in a web-surfing session? Are "drop everything" headlines in a neat and accessible table of contents your guilty pleasure? Do you sigh for the glory days of "little magazines," when movements could get started by articles?

Well then you're pretty much frelled, because paper and print seem to be going the way of gas lighting. The latest casualty is Crisis, the magazine founded jointly by Ralph McInerny and Michael Novak in the early '80s as a lay reply to that era's constant stream, from the bishops' bureaucracies, of doctrinal barley-water and leftwing prophesizing. For a quarter century it has done a good job of combining Catholic orthodoxy with neo-conservative politics and cultural criticism.

Come September, Crisis will turn web-only. In strictly magazine terms, it is folding.

Editor Brian St.-Paul's announcement (couldn't find it online -- ironically) makes it sound like the new site will do more than the current combination of print and site. But even if that's true, it still won't arrive, all tactile and pictorial, in my mailbox. I guess being a blogger makes me a new-mediac, and I should be crowing. But I'm not.

P.S. Anything happen in the world in the last three days? Ah, I see you don't know either....

Friday, July 20, 2007
JKR says: In a very short time you will know EVERYTHING!

ME [Monty Python "pepperpot" voice]: Ooo! Woudn't like that -- take the mystery out o' life!

But Siriusly, folks. The final unfolding of a story-cycle that has classic potential should be thought of the way Dumbledore would have us think of death: to the well-organized mind, it is but the next great adventure.

First will come the "what the...s," then the "should haves." But soon the canon as it is will sink in, and that will open the door to endless repeat enjoyment and never-ending interpretation, just as people do with (to take two examples close to my heart and experience) Wagner's RING cycle and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Before the story is fully told, speculation inevitably takes center stage, and it's a lot of fun. But I hope and believe that the real Potterian fun is still well in the future.

Now, a 2-week hiatus on Potter posts (though of course I may post on other things). As that period begins, I'd just like to say a few words:
Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!
Thank you.

Meanwhile, in the heart of Westminster:

Eight Cabinet ministers: We took cannabis

Eight million Brits: We know.

Release time -- I keep reading that it's 00.01 a.m. BST (British Summer Time, their daylight-savings alternative to Greenwich Mean Time). Does that mean 00.01 a.m. everywhere, so that the Brits get the book(and start blogging its butt off, not that that need affect us) five hours before we do? Or is it coordinated, so that release in, say, New York, would be at 7 pm tonight?

Not that it matters too much, as two Amazon "owls" are going to deliver our copies tomorrow anyway; but I'd like to know what to expect if Cacciadelia and I drop into our local Barnes & Noble tonight (I in my Dumbledore cap, made for me by Elinor) to watch the Diagon Alley scene.

Thursday, July 19, 2007
Reliques: The French translation of Deathly Hallows is Reliques de la Mort. At this online French dictionary, we find these definitions:
A. − RELIG. Ce qui reste, après sa mort, du corps d'un saint ou d'un martyr; objets ayant été à son usage, instruments de son supplice, considérés comme des objets sacrés et auxquels on rend un culte. B. − 1. BIOL. Espèce presque éteinte, d'origine très ancienne et qui ne se rencontre que dans une aire limitée`

A. That which remains, after his death, of the body of a saint or of a martyr; objects having been in his use, instruments of his suffering, considered as objects that are sacred and to which one renders veneration. B. Species almost extinct, of very ancient origin and which is found only in a limited area.
Obviously only the English is canonical, but the French translators seem, without known objection from JK, to be interpreters as well. From the beginning, they have renamed Snape "Rogue."

One more prediction -- and this is not from the spoilers that are rattling around. I'm avoiding those like the plague, and besides, I suspect that JKR and the publishers have done as I would have: upon determining that spoilers are out there, immediately seed the 'net with mulitple contrary "spoilers."

Anyway, here's my last (I think) prediction: Hagrid will die. That's not terribly controversial, but fwiw, I base it on the alchemical symmetry that John Granger writes about. If one takes as valid his description of the alchemical process as involving the "black work," the "white work," and the "red work," in that order, then look what we have: Sirius Black died in Book 5, Albus (= white) Dumbledore died in Book 6, so it makes sense that Rubeus (= ruby, ruddy, red) Hagrid would die in Book 7.

As to how these characters relate to those respective "works" of alchemy, or even what those "works" are, I must adopt (despite Mr. Granger's attempts to explain the latter) the catchword of the OotP movie: No idea.

Since I've already gone on record as expecting that Snape will die, there's the expected two deaths, right there. But no sooner do I type that than I remember how much exposure the Weasleys have: eleven of them, ten of them in the fight. (Elinor thinks Percy will come home; I don't, but I hope she's right. Remember when he was writing secretively in his room? Are we satisfied with the explanation that he was just writing to Penelope? Yeah, and Denethor was just paying bills.... Otoh, "the world is not divided into good people and Death Eaters," yes, yes, I know....)

Perhaps it's wise at this point to recall to what extent recklessness has been a mark of the Twins. Good hearts, of course, but lots of recklessness. (Anyone seen my Peruvian Darkness Powder?) They are at risk.

Kreacher feature: As the comments under my Regulus post show, the inclusion of Kreacher in the OotP movie was not just because the producers had too much money and needed to get rid of some. (In fact, they pleaded budget constraints in explaining why they decided not to include the Frank and Alice scene at St. Mungo's.) It was because Kreacher will be important in Book 7.

Will we, therefore, hear more about the wizards' treatment of non-human magical creatures? About SPEW?

We interrupt the Potter posts (which in any case will cease for two weeks after tomorrow) to bring the news about tenor Jerry Hadley. While it's extremely sad, I note that, by God's grace, he lived long enough to receive the last rites of the Church. "....mihi quoque spem dedisti."

Regulus Black -- innocent singing sensation? This idea isn't mine -- I got from an otherwise-loopy book edited by John Granger -- but I like it.

Assume, as everyone does, that R.A.B. is Regulus Black. The mysteries about him are why he turned against the Dark Lord, who helped him steal the locket (Kreacher?), and how and when he died. Well, first, it seems his turn away from Voldemort was more than just getting "in over his head." Sirius, whose opinion this is, is not known for charity towards members of his own family. Many of them deserve no better, but Regulus may be different.

And when Regulus died -- what if he didn't? What if, in fact, he's been living as Stubby Boardman, who used to front The Hobgoblins?

This, of course, was The Quibbler's theory about Sirius Black (back in GoF, chapter entitled "Luna Lovegood"), but its sole source was an evidently dotty lady, one Doris Purkiss. We assumed, didn't we, that Doris was imagining her "romantic candle-lit dinner" with Stubby, and that the whole business was just a throwaway to establish the loopiness of Luna's dad and his magazine.

But what if Doris's only mistake was as to which Black brother she was dining with? She thought it was Stubby Boardman; she concluded it was actually Sirius when she saw his picture in the paper; but if the brothers look at all alike (and brothers usually do: my sons have all been mistaken for each other, even the ones that I wouldn't have said look alike), then maybe Doris's dinner-partner was Regulus!

Ah -- I see Mugglenet is already on this.....

The suckingness of The New York Times reaches new depths. And yes -- this too is a Harry Potter post.

This is s-o-o-o-o-o New York Times. No doubt they would scorn a book warehouse thief who scanned text and posted it on the web, or a small-town weekly that snarfed a copy and reported spoilers. But we're the New York Times -- we're above fans' feelings and authors' and publishers' right, just as we're above national security....

Time to say it again. One can be a literate and informed citizen, politically and culturally, without ever touching The New York Times. You should try it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The Snape of Things to Come -- IV

From a JKR public q-&-a on August 15, 2004:
Q. Also, will we see more of Snape?

A. You always see a lot of Snape, because he is a gift of a character. I hesitate to say that I love him. [Audience member: I do!] You do? This is a very worrying thing. Are you thinking about Alan Rickman or about Snape? [Laughter.] Isn’t this life, though? I make this hero—Harry, obviously—and there he is on the screen, the perfect Harry, because Dan is very much as I imagine Harry, but who does every girl under the age of 15 fall in love with? Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. Girls, stop going for the bad guy. Go for a nice man in the first place. It took me 35 years to learn that, but I am giving you that nugget free, right now, at the beginning of your love lives.
Emphasis added.

Dumbledore's brother

So it's near-canonical, then, that Aberforth is the barkeep at the Hog's Head? Says so in HP Lexicon, with a cite to "Edinburgh Book Festival 2004," which I guess means a JK public appearance there. (Perhas this?)

A Neville theory

I was reading somewhere a speculation that the reason Neville has a bad memory is that someone benevolently did a memory charm on him so he wouldn't remember the torture of his parents.

After all, Harry can remember, under Dementor influence, some details of the murder of his parents; Neville is the same age as Harry, and we know that attack by Bellatrix et al. on Frank and Alice happened after Voldemort's disappearance. We have not been told whether Neville was present, but if he saw any of it, it would be a scarring memory.

But the speculator left it at that, and didn't go on to ask who did that memory charm. Well, whom do we know who had access to Neville, has his best interests at heart, and flunked her charms O.W.L.?

Yes -- Gran!! A wonderful lady -- though even the best are not above a just rebuke, and McGonagall has Gran's number on the question of letting Neville be the fine young man he is rather than holding him up exclusively to the model of Frank. I hope, and half-expect, that Gran will play a significant role in the last book.

The Snape of Things to Come -- III

Continuing the comment dialogue from the first such post:

Whatever it is that drives the Girls-for-Snape phenomenon (and you should have seen some of the slogans that were available on ladies' undergarments at CafePress until quite recently), I, as a non-girl, see the Snape mystique (apart from its purely esthetic aspects) as that of someone who has made a right pig's ear of his life but who nonetheless displays courage and cunning in working against the bad guys.

Not for him the celebrity status of Harry (mixed blessing though that is), nor the multiple high offices of Dumbledore (though these come and go), nor the Order of Merlin (see PoA). To be saving the world from Voldemort while being hated by most of it is his more-or-less chosen destiny.

Assuming he really is anti-Voldy, I still can't see him being happy even if the good guys win absolutely. That's why a heroic death, perhaps with its heroism not known until long after, is his most appropriate end.

Does he have baggage we haven't learned about yet? To introduce a whole new exculpating back-story in the last book would be cheating; but a marker was laid down in OotP about his parents, and more was added about his mother in HBP. Frankly, the "abused as a child" thing has been done to death; it's now a cheap cliche used to explain characters who might otherwise be interesting or mysterious. (Cf. just about any review of the more recent "Hannibal" books.) So I hope we don't get merely more of Tobias Snape harassing Eileen and young Severus.

Still, mothers are an important theme in the cycle: Lily's death protected Harry, and continues to do so; Narcissa actually loves Draco -- who else possibly could? -- and this may yet save him, the git; Merope's bad decisions influenced Voldemort; Sirius's rebellion against his mother, though understandable, seems to have sealed his fate as a wanderer; and Molly is the ideal Everymom. As I say, I don't want to hear too much more about Tobias Snape, but we could hear more about Eileen Prince.

Toad-time for Toby?

EDITED TO ADD: Or -- "Toad-time for Toby and Severus...."

Elinor sent me this link: looks like 10-year-old Ginny has magicked her doll to look like Harry....

(N.B. The YouTube just below this post is about Evanna Lynch.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Near the bottom of the lefthand margin I've posted links to what are generally considered the world's top three HP fansites: Mugglenet, The Leaky Cauldron, and The Snitch. Leaky has a search-engine called -- wait for it -- "Ask Peeves."

The Snape of Things to Come -- II

Dumbledore is dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. (To paraphrase the novel in which, arguably, a dementor was first seen.)

That doesn't mean he won't be a presence, perhaps an active one, in the last book. Dead former Headmasters like Phineas and Everard play important roles from time to time (and btw, I wish the OotP movie had kept in Phineas's speech reaming out Harry...!), and, given all the organizations in which Dumbledore held high office, there are probably enough portraits of him to keep him pretty busy. But still alive? No.

But there is just enough ambiguity about what happened on the Astronomy Tower to merit some questioning.

The following items are, I take it, canonical:

* Throughout this scene, Dumbledore has Harry in the full-body bind, so that he can't move.
* This spell continues in effect until someone removes it.
* The death of a spell-caster removes all spells he has cast (with obvious exceptions for chronic charms like the ones Mrs. Black used to keep her portrait on the wall).
* The Avada Kedavra curse works instantaneously (just ask, if you can, Lily, James, Bertha, Frank, and Cedric).

With all this as background, many have raised a rather interesting question: why does Harry get released from petrificus totalus, not when the lethal green light hits Dumbledore, but when Dumdledore hits the ground?

Many have asked how we can have any hope for Snape if Snape killed Dumbledore. Still others, more willing to follow a moral conundrum whither it leads, have asked how we can maintain our regard for Dumbledore if he asked Snape to kill him: this would make Dumbledore a suicide, and would also implicate him in destroying part of Snape's soul, since it's a given of the HP world that this is what murder does to the murderer. Many say this is the reason Dumbledore was anxious not to let Draco kill him: not that Dumbledore feared death, but that he wanted to maintain Draco's saveability. But at the expense of further damaging Snape's? (Is this was Snape meant when, in the argument with Dumbledore that Hagrid overheard, he said D was "presuming too much"?)

But all agree, as well, that there's a lot of hidden dialogue going on between Dumbledore and Snape during this scene, through legilimency, and through the voluntary relaxing of occlumency. Dumbledore's ambiguous "Please" is the only part of this dialogue that rises to the audible level.

There has also -- please don't forget -- been a lot of discussion of non-verbal spells throughout HBP.

So with all that as background, here's my question: Did Snape really cast Avada Kedavra at Dumbledore? We know he said it, but, between two great wizards who are experts at legilimency, occlumency, and non-verbal spells, is it possible that Snape pronounced Avada Kedavra but actually did something different? And that this is hinted at by the the very clear delay in Harry's release from petrificus totalus?

Well, different -- like what? Not petrificus totalus, b/c that stiffens the body, whereas we're told that Dumbledore went over the parapet "like a rag-doll." But maybe a stunning spell of some kind.

Since it clearly makes no difference to Dumbledore, who is dead regardless of the precise methodology of killing, does it make any difference to Snape? Is he less damaged for having pitched on old man off a high parapet rather than killing him directly? I suggest it does: had Dumbledore not already been weakened by the dead hand and the green potion (about which I'll post later), there are ways he could have survived or evaded a push off the parapet.

The difference is enough, at least, to put Snape in the position of a firing-squad member who may, just may, be the one whose gun was loaded with a blank. (That was a very civilized old custom.)

Another way to view it would be to borrow terms from the Common Law and say that, as Dumbledore arranged matters, Snape became guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not murder. The soul-damage to the perpetrator is far less -- but perhaps not nill: perhaps that's what Dumbledore was "presuming too much" about, according to Snape. Or perhaps D was "presuming too much" about whether S could carry out this caper at all.

I wouldn't set too much store by the "revulsion and hatred" on Snape's face as he raised his wand on the Astronomy Tower. First of all, the world's best occlumens is not going to give us a reliable read-out of his emotions on his face. Besides, Harry was "repulsed by what he was doing" when, on D's orders, he kept giving D the green potion at the Cave. The things people have to do can make them look "repulsed" or "revulsed" for any number of reasons.

Go ahead, laugh. But can you explain the gap between Snape's AK curse and Harry's release from the body-bind? I don't think it's just a mistake on JKR's part, like Harry's failure to see the thestrals at the end of GoF: the whole scene is too specifically described for that. So go ahead: you try it.

Models for Umbridge? A Daily Telegraph columnist, interviewing Imelda "Umbridge" Staunton says:
Staunton's performance, in which, tight-mouthed, apple-cheeked and clad in pink, she smiles sweetly as she makes dull ministerial announcements, or burns detention lines into the hands of miscreant pupils, reminded me of nothing so much as a certain vintage of female Blairite politicians - Hazel Blears, Margaret Hodge et al - whose dedication to the righteousness of their leader's cause has etched a permanent smug grin upon their faces.

Staunton is from good Old Labour stock (she went on the anti-war demonstration); did this new breed of Labour enforcer influence her performance?

And Staunton partially concedes:

'Well, she's written that, and the whole thing about the children not being allowed to use spells - just read about them - the whole bloody health-and-safety aspect of our world today, which is so terrible for children, you know, "Don't touch it, don't move it, don't have any experience because I'm telling you what to think." It's just yuck.'
Emphasis added. Good for you, Ms. Staunton.

Monday, July 16, 2007
The Snape of Things to Come -- I

The question is not, is Snape good or bad. In certain obvious ways he's quite bad (or, as some people see it: "b-a-a-a-a-a-d," knamean?). The question is, is he ultimately a devoted servant of Lord Voldemort, or is he fundamentally opposed to him, and therefore, ultimately allied with the Order?

Prediction: Snape is anti-Voldemort and on the same side as the Order.

To say that he's working with the Order might place too much strain on the words "working with." Given the reactions of other Order members at the end of HBP (and rejecting silly theories that have almost everybody polyjuiced into everybody else in that book), his immediate reappearance at Headquarters might be distinctly awkward. In fact, expect an early Spinner's End-type chapter, in which Snape is once again hanging out with Death Eaters. When he took his "flight" at the end of HBP, he sure wasn't headed for Miami Beach. (If you like, check out this story by The Guardian, reporting on, inter alia, the supposed first two or three grafs of DH as captured by the camera last October in the filming of a documentary on JKR.)

I'll go further: Snape's ultimate allegiance will probably not become clear until far into the book, perhaps after his death. And yes, I predict he will die, and that his death will have the effect of saving Harry from something: perhaps from death itself, perhaps from some moral collapse -- the way he saved him from performing Unforgivable Curses near the end of HBP.

Why do I think this? Mainly because an ultimately-bad Snape would be, in retrospect, a very boring character. He swans around in a black suit and cape, he's mean to students, he's unfair in class, he has a yen for the Dark Arts, he has a confirmed Death Eater past -- and guess what, he's bad! Whod'a thunk it? Gimme a break.

Besides that, his multiple interventions to protect Harry are not explicable if he's on Voldemort's side -- and don't give me what he told Bellatrix. I may be a classroom lawyer rather than the courtroom kind, but I can still tell a hole-filled story when I see one, and Snape fobbed Bellatrix off with one at Spinner's End. He left much unexplained, moved at his own pace, not Bellatrix's, from point to point, and throughout, he ruthlessly manipulated Bellatrix's tremendous vulnerability -- her deteriorating status with Voldemort, and her awareness of it -- to psych her out. He dribbled her around the court and slam-dunked her. Nice work.

The Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa? That leads us to What Happened On The Astronomy Tower, which is another post. (No no: Dumbledore IS DEAD. Hold your hippogryphs, I'll get there.)

Then there's Dumbledore's trust -- but since Dumbledore has admitted he makes mistakes, and given the perfection of occlumency/legilimency in the Dumbledore/Snape/Voldy triad, I think JK has put this factor into equipoise. For me the tie-breaker is that if you can't rely on Dumbledore, you can't rely on anybody, and in that case -- well, with apologies to Dostoevsky, if Dumbledore isn't reliable, everything is permitted.

Another reason for my view is that Snape's moral compass is warped but not upside-down. He has allowed the emotional scars of childhood and youth to warp him far beyond what is normal, to the point where he is -- as Elinor points out -- afflicted with a kind of emotional autism: wrap your black cloak around yourself, cherish your grievances, and view the entire world through their prism. That's not good, but it does not enfeoff you to the Dark Lord forever. Something earned him Dumbledore's trust, and something causes him to look out for Harry even while hating him.

"Oh you're gonna pull a Snape-loved-Lily on us." Maybe, maybe not. I am convinced that what is truly "worst" about Snape's Worst Memory is not that he was humiliated by James -- that must have happened dozens of times (and btw, I'm still waiting for someone other than Harry to attest for me that James was not, in fact, a "swine"). No, what made that Snape's Worst Memory is that he viciously spurned Lily's help -- the only time in the entire cycle that he speaks ill of Lily.

In the Flight of the Prince, Snape once again roars about "your filthy father" (who was pure-blood, btw), but breathes no word against (Muggle-born) Lily. Harry later tells his friends: "And he didn't think my mother was worth a damn, either, because she was Muggle-born. 'Mudblood,' he called her." But in so saying, Harry can only be referring back to what he saw in the pensieve. If he's talking about his just-concluded confrontation with Snape, then he's simply wrong; perhaps mis-remembering out of emotion. At all post-adolescent points at which we see him, Snape never disses Lily.

Does that mean he loved her, maybe still does? Perhaps, but that's not necessary to explain the facts. Maybe she mommied him at school, the way Hermione does to Neville. Neville's not in love with Hermione, but I bet he'd be forever ready to beat up anybody who insulted her (that first-year misunderstanding involving petrificus totalus notwithstanding).

Some have speculated that Snape made an Unbreakable Vow with Lily, witnessed by Dumbledore, and that this may be the "ironclad reason" (McGonagall's words) that Dumbledore trusted Snape. It would explain a lot: I consider it a possibility, and not one that requires the "Snape Loved Lily" theory. Of course, there would then be great potential for a clash between the Unbreakable Vow with Lily and the one with Narcissa. Which means Snape will die. QED.

Washington Post book review editor Ron Charles is incensed that Potter fans don't move on to Jonathan Strange (as to which I have no opinion yet) and to Pullman's His Dark Materials series. Why, the latter "explores philosophical themes (including a scathing assault on organized religion)"!

WHOA! A scathing assault on organized religion! How, um, novel! What besides obstinate illiteracy could possibly keep people from going for that?

And this in an essay in which he calls Potter "derivative." I'll retire to Bedlam.

(Mr. Charles's critique of the public's retreat from fiction-reading for pleasure is unexceptionable as far as it goes, but it's been said a million times, and is therefore, to put it mildly, derivative.)

Retraction of a criticism of the OotP movie: Actually the script does have Luna referring to her dad. It was one of several lines that I find I missed the first time.

"They're called thestrals...."

You miss a lot less when you're in the second row of an IMAX theater. The entire Battle of the Ministry sequence -- from Luna's "We fly" to Dumbledore leaning over Harry after he's thrown off Voldemort -- is in 3D. You feel you can scratch the undersides of the shelves in the Hall of Prophecies, and the Dumbledore-Voldemort duel looks like it's on a stage instead of a screen.

Saturday, July 14, 2007
Please tell me we still execute soldiers for things like this....

Friday, July 13, 2007
Long overdue (by about two years) link: What Does That Prayer Really Say? -- the blog of Father John Zuhlsdorf


Movie: Order of the Phoenix

This movie is an impressive work of compression: it tells a long story in a short time without feeling rushed. This is in contrast with the Goblet of Fire movie, where, following a brilliant opening scene, one had the sense of being yanked by the collar from incident to incident. (Quick! 600 pages to go and we're already ten minutes in!) Also, in GoF, the decision to play to the groundlings by lavishing time on the Triwizard events came at the expense of plot and character elements.

You may have heard by now that OotP is the longest of the novels and the shortest of the movies. Director David Yates achieves this largely through good use of montages. Some of these are hat-tips to the noir cliche of the spinning newspaper that freezes on a headline. Here it's the Daily Prophet; instead of spinning, we pass and penetrate from one front page to another; and instead of fonts of the 1940s, we see those of the 1890s, complete with elaborately seraphed capitals and pointing-finger icons, in keeping with the notion (adopted in all the Potter movies) that the wizarding world is about a century behind muggles in technology. (And btw, Yates did not omit Arthur Weasley's fumbling fascination as Harry guides him through the LondonTube.)

An example of well-done compression: Molly has not put a sealing charm on the kitchen door at Grimmauld Place, so much of the later dialogue over how much to tell Harry (including "He's not James, Sirus" -- "You're not his mother" -- "I'm as good as!") is transferred to a brief eavesdropping scene -- cut short when Crookshanks eats the Extendable Ear.

Another example of effective compression: Harry's dream about the snake attacking Arthur; cut directly to Ron and McGonagall supporting Harry's weight in a hallway sprint; cut directly to Dumbledore questioning Harry about the dream; then Dumbledore calls in Snape and orders the occumency lessons to begin immediately. The gain is that we understand right away the importance of those lessons, and that they really are Dumbledore's idea, not some nefarious notion of Snape's. (The loss is the omission of the Snape-Sirius confrontation at Grimmauld Place.)

Arthur's encounter with the snake is included, b/c it's essential to the mystery of the Harry-Voldemort mental connection. The St. Mungo's scenes are omitted. The loss here is that we don't meet Neville's wonderful "Gran," nor (directly) Frank and Alice. Perhaps that scene was unfilmable, though I doubt it. Anyway, Yates makes up for this with a moving scene in which Neville, alone with Harry, looks at his parents in the photo of the old Order (which, if I'm not mistaken, is spellotaped to the Mirror of Erised, so who knows what Neville is seeing), and confides the story to him.

The Snape's Worst Memory scene is way too short, esp. after all the hype about the teen actors brought in to play the young James, Snape, etc. (Is there a "director's cut" waiting here?) Alan Rickman fans will not find themselves shortchanged: his bellow of "Your father was a swine!" is worth the price of admission. But shouldn't we have been enabled to come to that conclusion ourselves?

Speaking of Rickman, the "He's got Padfoot" scene is executed perfectly.

Speaking of the screenplay -- and this is the first Potter movie not scripted by Stephen Kloves, though I understand Kloves is returning for the last two -- it uses an unusually high number of lines directly from the book, which to me is a virtue. I was especially glad to hear:

RON: Thanks, Hermione! If I'm ever rude to you again --
HERMIONE: I'll know you're back to normal.

Hermione in this picture is still sometimes given to frowny-facing, as the plot requires, but she gets in more smiles than in GoF, and even some giggles. And she still calls her redheaded swain "Ronald" whenever he's being bad.

Where writer Michael Goldenburg does introduce new dialogue, it's good. For example, in the Hall of Prophecies:

BELLATRIX: He knows how to play, itty bitty baby Potter.
NEVILLE: Bellatrix Lestrange!
BELLATRIX: Neville Longbottom, is it? How's Mum and Dad?
NEVILLE: Better, now they're about to be avenged!
LUCIUS MALFOY: Now let's everybody just calm down, shall we?

And this -- Snape to Harry, alone, in their first occlumency scene:

SNAPE: In the past it was often the Dark Lord's pleasure to invade the minds of his victims, creating visions designed to torture them into madness, extracting the last exquisite ounce of agony; only when he had them begging for death would he finally [*patented Rickmanian pause here*] kill them.

This movie also uses silence well. More than once, evident progress in the Harry-Cho relationship is followed by a wordless view of unsmiling Ginny. But the best such moments are the sequence of them in the "detention with Dolores" scene. The fact that this is not detention but torture unfolds amid killer silences. And Imelda Staunton deserves all the rave reviews she's getting.

I liked Michael Gambon much better here than in PoA or GoF, in part because OotP requires a more active, crisper Dumbledore than Richard Harris would have been. But I still want to know: after Harris's passing, why not Paul Scofield?

This is the last Potter movie in which Gary Oldham will have a major part (we assume -- "No spell can awaken the dead, Harry" -- no, but flashbacks can do wonders!), and I'd say he gets compensated for the shafting he took in the GoF movie. Included in his many good lines is the one, straight from the book, about how "the world is not divided into good people and Deatheaters." This is said, of course, re Umbridge, but I think it will become important re Snape.

Of Evanna Lynch's Luna, there cannot be enough said in praise. She is pretty, gentle, melodious of speech, precociously wise, secure, understanding, and joyful. Though it's regrettable that the Harry-Nick dialogue about death is missing, the closing scenes are nonetheless buoyed by a perfect rendition of the Harry-Luna dialogue, as she posts notices asking for the return of her stuff. Notice how she takes his hand in this scene: it's altogether boy-girl, but without (I thought) the least inference that she's trying to horn in on Cho or Ginny or whomever. (Minor criticism of the movie here: there was no reference to the source of Luna's great personal security amid the teasing she takes for being "loony" -- i.e., her good relationship with her dad.)

So which is the best Potter movie? I'd say it's now a tie between OotP and PoA; I still think Alfonso Cuaron (PoA) was the best director the franchise has had. GoF goes to the bottom, though it has many fine moments. The colorful, playland quality of the first two was appropriate for them, but the later books are -- all together now -- "darker." In fact, Yates uses the contrast to illustrate the overthrow of the Umbridge regime: the colorful world of the first two movies returns momentarily as the wall-lamps are re-lit. This is also, I think, the first movie in the series to make extensive use of footage from several of the earlier ones, including the very first (we briefly see eleven-year-old Harry in that red cable-knit sweater we all remember from Philosopher's Stone).

Whether the OotP movie will make any sense to you if you haven't read the books, I don't know. I saw the first three movies before I had read any of the books. The first two were candy; I was OK with PoA until the Shrieking Shack scene; after that I couldn't have told you what was going on even over a veritaserum martini. As it happens, most people have read the books, and box-office take of OotP reflects this.

Thursday, July 12, 2007
This blog is going to get a bit Harry-Potter-heavy over the next nine days. (Click here for a Catholic Potterphile bloggeuse who is organizing a novena for Deathly Hallows. HT: Curt Jester.) However, Potter commentary will cease for at least two weeks after July 20, so, in case it matters to you, do not fear spoilers if you check in here during that time. Even after that two-week interval I'll post "spoilers ahead" notices. (Now there's a "DH rule" I can like!)

In about three hours I'm going to see the movie of Order of the Phoenix. (Bella and I are also going to see it on Sunday in Imax 3D.) (That's the Bella who is also Cacciadelia, not the Bella who, according to Helena Bonham-Carter, who says she was told it by Rowling, will be a major character in Deathly Hallows.)

For now, I'll just direct you to the Amazon cite for Nicholas Hooper's music for OotP, which provides the inquirer with several audio clips. Though at first listen it doesn't seem he's equalled either the swoon-tunes of John Williams in the first three movies, or the Holst and Elgar pastiches of Patrick Doyle in Goblet of Fire, nonetheless he's got spooky-fateful down pat; also, he's cooked up an Umbridge theme that's just perfect: a march that manages to be simultaneoulsy swaggering and prissy. Sort of a girly-poo version of the Star Wars Imperial March.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007
New CDF document kicks what needs kicking. Maybe the Holy See is finally mastering the p.r. technique of just keeping it coming: don't wait for the MSM to stop whining before you hit 'em again. Hey, orc-breath -- attacking Summorum Pontificum as an implicit call for conversion? Hold still and we'll give you an explicit one three days later!

(Please understand that I mean "orc-breath" in the nicest possible way!)

A national airline for the Holy See...


"Ultramontane" was never like

* three cabins: first, business, and preferential option
* all seats in first class are The Comfy Chair
* unjust stewardesses
* MP6 on every longhaul flight; MBJ23 in first class
* airport lounge for our Golden Chalice members
* currency exchange: pray for the conversion of your money
* free headset and rosary
* your captain: Pontius Pilot (kidding!)
* connect to the "Passetto" at Fiumicino for quick ground transport into Vatican City
* direct flights from Boston and San Francisco
* first Catholic plane at Heathrow since Reformation
* service to China expected soon
* confessors available to help with your "baggage"
* emergency procedures include absolution
* Keep in mind that the nearest holy water font may be behind you.
* planes by Boeing; nobis quoque pick up Airibus
* Swiss Guards on every flight, halberds at the ready (we've never seen a hijacker who wanted to be the beheadee rather than the beheader)
* the one true airline!

Call Bonnie Voluntatis or Jenny Torre at EtCumSpirit 220.

Monday, July 09, 2007
Parade Magazine Interview with Emma Watson
Recently, Watson watched as her co-stars made great efforts to break out of their roles. Most famously, Radcliffe appeared nude in a London stage version of Equus. (Take that, Harry Potter!) Though Watson would like to try different parts, for now it is not her highest priority.
A good editor would have caught that.

Anti-immigration activists attempt to disrupt First Communion, call for taxing Catholic Church as "political organization" -- hard to tell them from the pro-aborts and the gays these days.

This news story from the North Country Times is reproduced for us on the webpage of an anti-illegal immigration organization, Americans for Legal Immigration:
For the last three weeks, members of the San Diego Minutemen have staged vociferous Saturday protests against an informal labor center run by the church. The protests have involved shouting through a bullhorn, displaying an effigy of a priest wearing a devil's mask and waving picket signs against illegal immigration. One of the protests took place last month as children left the church after celebrating their First Communion, a traditional Roman Catholic ceremony, said Claudia Smith, an immigrant rights advocate who was at the church during the protests.
(Notice that First Communion has to be defined, like we were talking about a Druidic tree ceremony.)

Another (perhaps less objective) source has more details:

Fallbrook [the neighborhood where St. Peter's is located] has a long tradition of hate group activity including the Ku Klux Klan and its former leader, Tom Metzger, who changed its name to the White Aryan Brotherhood in the 1980s. But this is the first time vigilantes have targeted a mostly Latino church, insulted the clergy and attemptedm to disrupt religious services.

St. Peter’s provides a location where Latino day laborers can safely congregate while looking for work.

Minutemen leader Jeff Schwilk has called it an “illegal hiring hall” and wants it shut down. In a recent email to his followers, Schwilk wrote that Father Kaicher told him that the church has always been a sanctuary. “The arrogance of the Catholic Church apparently has no bounds,” Schwilk added.

Yeah, that's what Henry II told Becket.
Witnesses at a July 16 protest say that parishioners were enraged when the Minutemen taunted children entering the church to make their First Communion. “They shouted at the kids that their parents were illegal and were going to be deported,” said Diane Brand, a volunteer with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF).
St. Peter's is not the parish I'd join if I lived in San Diego. It's very peace'n'justicey, and if you subject yourself to Fr. "Bud"'s PowerPoint presentation on Catholic social teaching, you'll notice more misstatements, omissions, and selective quotations than -- well, I want to say, than there are illegal immigrants in San Diego. Anyway, a lot. (Power corrupts; PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.) But that's got to be let pass for the moment: we're looking here at Klan-type anti-Catholic activity reminiscent of the school fights of the '20s.

The "right wing" Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has issued a statement "joining the issue on the side of the church."

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Villaraigosa and Salinas: bang the dumb slowly

So, what's the public moral lesson being taught by MSM reporting on the story about the mayor of L.A. (married, but not for much longer) and the salsalicious anchorchick of L.A.'s prime Spanish-language news program? That adultery is bad, or that the only peccadillo here is some presumed conflict of interest on the part of the lover/journalist (who, in addition to anchoring, also covered the mayor -- no really, that's how they put it -- as a reporter)?

That the answer is the latter need not be merely asserted; the AP proves it, with this quote in the linked article:
"It's one thing for your marriage to fall apart. It's another to be dating* the anchor of the biggest Spanish news channel who had covered City Hall. It doesn't look right," said Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
There you have it, straight from the UCLA poli sci department. Powerful men: just check her for std's and your own presence on her reportorial beat. Clean on both counts -- good to go.
The 54-year-old mayor has gone underground since Tuesday, when he confirmed he was seeing anchorwoman Mirthala Salinas, 35.
Well, congratulations to the AP for eschewing that really really old one about "going under cover...."

*Btw, can we start taking this word back? Christian teens and other cultural resistance leaders who hold hands at the movies and part for the night with a goodnight kiss are dating. Does the English language, in both its polite and obscene sectors, really lack enough words for what the the mayor and the newsanchor were doing? -- OIC, the middle-aged and the nearly-so insist on using the vaguer and chaste-sounding word because it makes them seem or feel younger: it's precisely the associations with youth and (relative) innocence that they want to dirty up for their own cosmetic purposes. What does it matter to them that young people who are trying to live "the pledge" are forced to invoke all sorts of awkward qualifiers when describing their relationships, lest they give scandal?

Friday, July 06, 2007
Summorum Pontificum

SperoForum (a good site that I mean to link) says: Vatican to publish Latin Mass document Saturday. Its title: "Summorum Pontificum." Here is a remarkably low-error-content report in The Washington Post.

And best of all, Whispers in the Loggia, which got an early shifty at the text, reproduces much of its content, with thoughtful commentary, here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Hugues Cuenod: 105 and totally alive!

I post this because opera fans of any given age cohort inevitably go through a period when the singers who were in their primes when said fans were just starting out, start dying off at an alarming pace due simply to age.

This week the clog-popping has been simply outrageous. I blogged the other day about Beverly Sills; today comes word that we've lost Régine Crespin.

Crespin achieved greatness in two roles in Wagner's DIE WALKÜRE (Sieglinde, which she recorded for Solti, and Brünnhilde, which she recorded for Karajan), and also in two roles in Poulenc's DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES: Mme. Lidoine, the New Prioress (a role she "created," i.e. was the first ever to sing, and which she also recorded), and later, Mme. de Croissy, the Old Prioress, a role I saw her in at the Met (likewise Sieglinde, Tosca, others).

Régine Crespin

Having been an opera fan for a long time, my asteroid belt of operatic mortality will probably be thicker than most peoples'. (Heck, I still miss poets I knew in Florence in the 13th century!) Consequently this blog risks making opera look like a graveyard. That's why I started this post with character tenor Hugues Cuenod: not dead! Ah yes, I met him at Glyndebourne in 1973, during a rehearsal of Strauss's CAPRICCIO....

CACCIAGUIDA: Je vous connais depuis votre Hoffmann!

Monsieur CUENOD: Alors ça fait longtemps!

Live forever.

* Blackstone to acquire Hilton.

* Blackstone to acquire U.S. Debt an issue. Bush, Pelosi in talks to assure independence; board proposed to insulate constitutional institutions from new owners. Unclear how Voting Rights Act will apply to preferred Blackstone shareholders: issue could go to Supreme Court as soon as new owners select Justices. Unnamed Blackstone source: "We might just level Iraq and reopen it as the Desert Hilton resort -- you know, a theme park with a Kismet flavor...." Meanwhile, new British Prime Minister proposes devolution of power from "executive" to Blackstone; EU may force private-equity giant to sell off portions of Al Qaeda to eliminate conflict of bombing interests....

Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Just wondering... the American War of Independence would fit in with what passes for "Just War" standards in Catholic anti-war circles these days. Did the Brits fire the first shots at Lexington & Concord? If not -- war of choice! war of choice! aukkkk! aukkkkk! Even if they did, did we have to be so ideological and unilateralist about the independence thing? And what about likelihood of success? Virtually nil, from the point of view of 1775. Clearly an unjust war, blameable on those neoconservatives in the Continental Congress....

Happy Fourth, and a health to -- lets's see -- Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Pope Urban II (an underrated contributor to just war theory), Pope St. Pius V (patron saint of being fed up with what the monarch of England is up to)....

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Beverly Sills, 1929-2007

I'm linking this obit from the L.A. Times because it's good and also because, as it happens, we were living in the L.A. area during the time that Beverly's career reached its zenith:
L.A. saw her in the '60s and '70s, when she sang at the Hollywood Bowl and with City Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
My father -- a free-lance opera critic in addition to his day job -- had discovered Beverly long before she was a star, and she never forgot. Though she was an A-lister by the time of those L.A. visits, she always made time to chill with us. If it was summertime, Muffy would be with her:
The couple [Sills and husband Peter Greenough, a jolly Boston Brahmin] had two children: a daughter, Meredith ("Muffy"), who was born deaf in 1959, and Peter Jr. ("Bucky"), born in 1961, who has autism.
Bucky had more than autism: "profound retardation" was the term used in those less sensitive times. One didn't see him. Muffy, on the other hand, was a gregarious, happily chattering pre-teen in those days (when I was a taciturn, misanthropic pre-teen, though Muffy got around my defenses, which in any case are never high when opera people are around), the only problem being the effort it took, at first, to understand her speech patterns: deaf people have difficulty in pronunciation, because they can't hear what the words are supposed to sound like.

"Muffy" may be the archetypal nickname for Boston-Brahmin girls, but the sad fact is, it may also have been the way she pronounced "Meredith" at some point. I didn't know it was a nickname until one fine L.A. day, Muffy and my sisters and I were looking at a copy of Opera News and she pointed to a reference to bass-baritone Morley Meredith. With her finger on his surname, she managed to convey "My name!"
To tend to her children, Sills began to curtail her professional activities. With her husband's encouragement, however, she returned to the stage in the mid-'60s....
and her international career followed. Obviously, I admire opera stars who put family first. The Greenoughs lived just ten blocks from the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, where the New York City Opera rehearses and performs, so the "commute" left Beverly plenty of family time.

Beverly retired from singing while she still had voice left, but she kept on with opera-managing and opera-fundraising almost up to her last illness. Peter Greenough died a couple of years ago. Muffy was at her mother's side all this week. Muffy, e-mail me if I can help....

Monday, July 02, 2007
McCain's campaign seems to be in a death-spiral.

As readers know, I like Brownback. But the best that can be said of Brownback as a presidential candidate this time around is that so far, he is nearly sweeping his immediate circle of friends, and has a solid lead within his own campaign staff. He may do well in the Iowa straw poll on August 11 (not to be confused with the Iowa Caucuses on January 14), in part because most of the others are skipping it, and in part because of his farm-state roots. And if he does well in the straw poll, he could parlay that into an "exceeds expectations" in the caucuses.

But if not? ... Fred?

Sunday, July 01, 2007
And the sudden war in London opens a front in Scotland. Even The Guardian agrees. Just as a new British PM who happens to be Scottish takes office, and -- perhaps incidentally, perhaps not -- just as Scotland hopes for a new wave of tourism....