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

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

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

"Too modest" -- Elinor Dashwood

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007
St. John Capistrano -- no, nothing about the monastery in California, or Bugs Bunny singing the song about the swallows -- I mean the real St. John Capistrano, Franciscan and Crusader: it's his feast-day today!

The things you don't learn until you get yourself a 1962 Missal! I couldn't find anything about St. John Capistrano in the new Missal. Now why do you suppose that is?

The Washington Times is reporting:
House Democrats are set tomorrow to bring in private sector lawyers -- at a cost of up to $225,000 over the next nine months -- to help committee staff investigate the Bush administration....

The contract specifies that Irvin B. Nathan, a partner at Arnold & Porter, will be "principally responsible" for the contract.

The contract also specifies that two Deloitte & Touche employees -- Michael Zeldin, a former independent special prosecutor in the early 1990s, and David K. Gilles, a former Treasury Department official -- will become part of the House investigation....

"It doesn't take a quarter-million dollars and an army of lawyers to conclude that U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, unless you're a Democrat with a political dog-and-pony show to produce," said Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.....

Monday, March 26, 2007
At Mass this morning, I saw the surest sign of a young family having been through there the previous day: a Cheerio under a pew!

Sunday, March 25, 2007
"E Galeotto dice: 'Dama,
abbiatene pietà.'
'Ne avrò,' dice ella, 'tal pietà,
Come vorrete; ma non richiede
Di niente . . .' "

-- Lancelot du Lac, as quoted in D'Annunzio/Zandonai, FRANCESCA DA RIMINI

Friday, March 23, 2007
Further Hermionews: Warner Bros. announces it has signed all three for the last two. The money quote:
Emma Watson stated, I could never let Hermione goshe is my hero! I love her too much and love what playing her has meant to me. I am excited and honoured to be finishing what I started and playing her in all seven of the films.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Other birthdays and interesting anniversaries for March 21:

* Bach! (1685-1750)
* Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), composer of BORIS GODUNOV
* Gustav Neidlinger, bass-baritone (1910-1991) -- Greatest.
Alberich. Ever.

* Two anniversaries for the great American Verdi baritone (and former machinist) Cornell MacNeil. On this day in 1954 (I think it was) he made his New York City Opera debut as Germont in TRAVIATA, and on the same day in 1959 he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Rigoletto, replacing Robert Merrill.

Boston Globe: Kan. senator seeking conservative mantle

Monday, March 19, 2007
BBC News: Emma Watson is NOT quitting the Harry Potter movies, despite rumors. (She might, however, consider quitting make-up, if that's the best she can do with it.)

To the same effect (and with a better picture) is this item on Entertainment Weekly's blog.

St. Joseph

Saturday, March 17, 2007
As the only non-Irish member of my immediate family, I tried to get some of us together tonight to go the Irishest pub we could find, swill Guinness, and get teary about the Croppy Boy -- but no takers. So I'll just do some work, and get a little closer to finishing Ulysses.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I've got to stop mixing work and Hanssenology. Last night I dreamed that a colleague obtained the state bar exam questions in advance and mailed them to the Russians.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Sacramentum Caritatis

Sunday, March 11, 2007


But first -- Conversation chez many places:

SOME DUDE: Have you seen Breach?

CACCIAGUIDA: No, but I knew Bob Hanssen.

Making people's jaws drop like Marley's gets old after a while, so I went to see the picture. It's excellent. Chris Cooper's resemblance to Bob is not particularly close, but it's a superb performance. (If you are among those who find the grin in the real Hanssen's picture to be something out of the ordinary in the s___-eating department, the scene in the movie where he has to submit to a session with a Bureau photographer may give an insight.)

"You always remember where you were when you heard about...." Yes, the Kennedy assassination, 9/11.... For me, add Hanssen's arrest to that list. I was glancing at my Wall Street Journal on the morning of Monday, Feb. 19, 2001, on the way into may office. What made my heart hit my loafers was the double s in the name. That's an uncommon spelling: most Hansens use only one. I stood there like a moron for about a minute counting and recounting those s's, and then I tore open the paper, hoping against hope that I wouldn't find there the one name that would confirm that this was that Robert Hanssen -- the name Bonnie, his adoring and betrayed wife. And of course I found it.

But enough about me, let's talk about my views on the movie.

"Nothing happened to me, Eric. I happened."

No, that line based on Silence of the Lambs is not in Breach. But the narratology that the line represents -- the refusal to write off all evil conduct as the result of trauma or bad upbringing -- is very much in evidence in Breach. Sure, there's a reference to Hanssen's dad being "demanding," but there's so much else in the mix; pride, above all.

My greatest apprehension was that the movie would try to answser the "why" question, which, I can assure you, no one can answer except those who can't say, and for all I know even they may be left guessing. The movie leaves Hanssen's inner psyche a mystery. At one point near the end we see him in the confessional, in anguish, but we can't hear what he's saying, partly because it's part of an awesome montage that cuts between the confessional and the Bureau's preparations for arresting Hanssen on his last drop.

The movie's only speculative tendency -- and it strikes me as a reasonable one, not to mention dramatically effective -- is that Hanssen may have been anticipating, even desiring, a spectacular crashing end to his traitorous endeavors. He talks early on about "it" all being over soon: does he mean his tenure at the FBI (he's nearing retirment age, after all), or does he have a darker meaning? When the heavily armed agents pours out of the minivan after Hanssen's last drop, shouting "FBI! Freeze!", he seems to be expecting it, and calmly repeats with his hands up, "Guns will not be necessary. Guns will not be necessary."

Is the movie anti-Catholic? I think I'm as sensitive to anti-Catholicism as most, and more than many, and I did not think it was. Hanssen's faith, and the concomitant impulse it gives him to be apostolic towards friends and acquaintances, is so real that Eric O'Neill can use it at one point as a way to buy time while agents search Hanssen's car. (Complicated to describe, but it's the scene on the GW Parkway approaching the Arlington Mem. Bridge.)

That, plus the very end -- Hanssen's only moment of pellucid honesty -- makes clear that his faith is real, and Eric's response suggests that his own may be rekindlable.

I suppose some viewers come out saying gosh how hypocritical those Catholics are: here this Hanssen guy reproves O'Neill near the beginning of the picture for scoping a chick in the elevator, then, near the end, he invites him around the desk to glance at some porn Hanssen is watching on his laptop. But, quite apart from the fact that Hanssen is clearly "cracking" near the end, the point of this disjunction is plainly that Hanssen experiences deep spiritual turmoil -- as we all do.

The world is not in fact divided between the pure and the impure (or take any other matched set of a virtue and its corresponding vice): it's made up of impure people who acknowledge the obligations of purity and try to meet them, and impure people who don't.

I suppose it's also made up of prideful people who betray their country and its agents to a deadly enemy, and prideful people whose pride finds less dire outlets. But -- and I suppose this takes us as close as we can get to a "lesson" from the Hanssen business -- even someone who knows perfectly well that he should exercise custody of sight when a gorgeous number enters an elevator may find himself losing that custody in ways that would surprise his friends. And even someone who knows that monumental and lethal treason is just not the thing may find himself, ultimately, in a prison jumpsuit soliciting the prayers of the man who caught him dropping off vital information for his Russian handlers.

Let's not underestimate the mystery of iniquity, or overrate our assumed immunity. "Are your doors lock'd?"

Back to the movie. Of course even scrupulous research cannot render filmmakers error-free on the subject of the non-happy-clappy piety practised in the Hanssen home (as in mine). When the Hanssens come over uninvited bringing dinner to Eric and his young wife, they say grace over the dinner -- and they hold hands. 'Nuh uh. *Buzzer.* *Gong.* Wouldn't happen. Director Billy Ray's point may have been that Hanssen was creepily glad to get a moment's kino with the beautiful young Mrs. O'Neill. But still -- wouldn't happen.

I have one serious criticism to make: the "resolution" scenes establish that the O'Neills' endangered marriage is back on track, which is great; but we get no further references of any kind to Bonnie. Those in charge of Bob's punishment never breathed a word against Bonnie's conduct. Moreover, I know at one remove that this has been for her a cross that the rest of us cannot imagine. She did not know about the continuing espionage, and she didn't know about those tapes: try to imagine a personal betrayal of that nature and magnitude....

Anyway. Good movie about an important page in American history, and a good probe of the depths to which pride can lead us, unless our pride is so immense that we think it can't, in which case it's even more likely that it will....

EDITED TO ADD: Amy Welborn has an excellent review here, with a kind link back to me. Several of her commenters add well-considered points of praise for the film. E.g., one does indeed get a chuckle out of Billy Ray's notion that all Catholic churches are either creeky High Gothic or gleaming Roman Baroque. I could go for that, but I could also settle for the actual chapel of the Catholic Information Center in DC: modern, but with significant Roman Baroque influence, and creek-free.

Also, an excellent review here:
It's to [director Billy] Ray's massive credit that he can turn a true-life arrest, in which the ending was widely reported, into a picture of staggering suspense. The anxiety is found in the little moments: will Eric be able to stall Robert long enough for information to be harvested? Does Robert understand the extent of the deception to catch him? Ray ("Shattered Glass") maintains the film's simmer even through the most obvious ploys at keeping the audience at the edge of their seats. Heavens, this is a film about two guys in suits talking for 110 minutes. How could there be such tension? "Breach" is something of a cinematic miracle in the way it uses silence as a deadly weapon.

Saturday, March 10, 2007
The Manolo, he says the man who understands the fashion for the man, he should "ban the bling" -- with one exception, with is the links of the cuff.

Thursday, March 08, 2007
To the visitor who got here via the search term "Knights of Columbus 'fourth degree' nudity": The answer is no, not at all. Nope. Sorry. That much I can reveal, pard. the expr.

For the several visitors who've gotten here looking for Babar, here you go:

Babar rules!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007
A group of German bishops sparked controversy yesterday when they compared Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with the Nazis' maltreatment of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.

It's that wall, which the Telegraph (!) tells us, as an almanac fact, is "illegally built." It has also made downtown Jerusalem once again safe from suicide bombers, and defense of populace is any state's highest obligation, whatever some tuppny-haypny international lawyer may say.

Why will bishops go around thinking anybody needs or wants their advice on politics, as distinct from faith and morals? Frankly I'd have to go back to Cardinal Spellman to find a statement on an international issue by a high-ranking Catholic hierarch that isn't either trivially true (poverty is bad, peace is good, etc.), or else cringe-making, like this one.

And if they insist on talking about things they don't understand, they should at least have a clue about the ideological and rhetorical environment in which they say it. The "Israel = Nazi" meme is the standard screen behind which some people -- not all who have criticisms to make of Israeli policy, which should be as freely debatable as the policy of any nation, but some of them -- hide their neo-Nazism.

I note that Cardinal Meisner (a) has visited the wall, and (b) grew up in communist East Germany. I do not concede that these facts give him expertise on Israel's legitimate security needs, or on present-day rhetorical politics. On the contrary, they deprive him of potential excuses.

This is not just about Israel: it's also about potential conversions. We will never know how many of these are deterred every time Church spokesmen reinforce, in the eyes of Jews, the myth that the Church hates them, or (like it makes a big difference) considers their security a low-ranking priority.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Hillary wants "partnership with gays if elected." So much less pressure that way, plus, the apartment always looks nice. (Google asked me: "Did you mean "wants partnership with guys"? No, thanks, just search for what I asked for.)

Could the politics of this have anything to do with Obama cleaning her clock among black voters?

Monday, March 05, 2007
From an interview with Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship:
The churches have become empty, liturgical free-wheeling has become the order of the day, and the true meaning and significance of that which is celebrated has been obscured.

One has to, then, begin wondering if the reform process had in fact been handled correctly. Thus, we need to take a good look at what had happened, pray and reflect about its causes and with the help of the Lord move on to make the necessary corrections.
[T]here is this rising call for a restoration of the Tridentine Mass. And even certain leading figures of the elite have made public appeals for this Mass in some newspapers recently.

The Holy Father will, I am sure, take note of this and decide what is best for the Church.
[W]e should remember that the Tridentine Mass is not something that belongs to the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre only. It is part of our own heritage as members of the Catholic Church.

One cool thing about having an archbishop from Sri Lanka work on these issues is that he is not burdened, as Europeans and Americans are to one extent or another, by philosophies of the Enlightenment and the 19th century. The blame-line leading from bad liturgy back to those philosophies is traced in this book that I'm currently reading.

Sunday, March 04, 2007
A Washington Post book review makes it official: America needs more Biblical Literacy.

Friday, March 02, 2007
So Prince Charles wants to ban the Big Mac.

I know -- let's replace it with the Big Chuck: all 2-bit patsy, got divorce, let us sneeze tickle bunions on a sissy-tweed bum.