Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ONE HUNDRED TWENTY SIXTH

From today's moral theology class:

"Loving Henry VIII would be like loving an ulcerated whale."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

ONE HUNDRED TWENTY FIFTH

A.  "We come now to questions which demand a somewhat more fundamental reflection.  I perceive a first problem, which is moving increasingly into the foreground of the debates, reflected in the remark that the Study Guild makes its own "all those declarations of the Magisterium issued under the prerogative of infallibility, which belongs to the Church as Christ's gift", whereas in all other judgments, the decision would depend on the weight of argument.  Initially, this sounds very illuminating, but on closer examination it proves to be quite problematical, since it means for all intents and purposes that doctrinal decisions can exist—if at all—solely in situations where the Church may lay claim to infallibility;  outside of this sphere, only argument would hold weight.  The result is that there could be no certainty shared by the whole community of the Church.  It seems to me that we have before us a typically Western restriction and legalistic reduction of the notion of faith which radicalizes certain one-sided developments which began to make their appearance around the High Middle Ages.  A parallel may render the issue clearer:  from about the thirteenth century on, interest in the conditions necessary for validity begins to push every other consideration to the margin of sacramental theology.  Increasingly, everything ceases to matter except the alternative between valid and invalid.  Those elements which do not affect validity appear to be ultimately trivial and interchangeable.  Thus in the case of the Eucharist, for example,this is expressed in an ever-stronger fixation on the words of consecration; that which is actually constitutive for validity becomes more and more strictly limited.  Meanwhile, the eye for the living structure of the Church's liturgy is progressively lost.  Everything other than the words of consecration appears to be mere ceremony, which happens to have evolved into its present form but in principle might just as easily have been omitted.  [...]  A good part of the liturgical crisis of the Reformation was due to these constrictive tendencies, which are also the key to understanding the liturgical crisis of the present.  If today the entire liturgy has become the playground of private "creativity", which can romp at will just as long as the words of consecration are kept in place, at work is the same reduction of vision whose origin lies in an erroneous development typical of the West but quite unthinkable in the Eastern Church."
  —  Joseph Ratzinger, "The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian"
in The Nature and Mission of Theology, pp. 111-112.

B.  In the rest of the essay quoted above, Ratzinger goes on to give a parallel account of the history of infallibility.  The whole essay is worth reading, as is Donum Veritatis, the Instruction by the Holy Office on the role of the theologian.

 C.  I'm serious about the hyphens.  Someone please tell me the rule.

ONE HUNDRED TWENTY FOURTH

A.  The homily at mass this morning was mostly about exorcism.

B.  BXVI is sort of awesome.

Monday, August 29, 2011

ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-THIRD

A.  Placement of hypens in these titles is open to revision.  If you have some sort of authoritative advice on the matter, please let me know.

B.  I've been reading Wippel's The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas and I find the author's writing a little too slow.  Plus he's inherited the anti-essentialist paranoia of Gilson and company.  If all goes well, look forward to a defense in later posts of the Thomistic axiom (which Gilson and the "existential Thomist" tradition reject) that being is the first thing known by the intellect.

C.  This is all rather obscure.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-SECOND


Some criticisms of historical-critical scholarship by Joseph Ratzinger, from his 1988 address on "Foundations and Approaches of Biblical Exegesis."  Quoted from Lienhard, S.J., "Pope Benedict XVI: Theologian of the Bible."
  1. The first problem is the priority of proclamation over event. These critics assume that the events narrated in the gospels (for example) had their origin in preaching, and that the narrative of the event developed later, out of the proclamation. The word creates the scenario, so that the event is secondary, a mythological development.
  2. The second problem is the axiom of discontinuity that these critics invoke. What follows from the axiom of discontinuity is the affirmation of pairs of concepts, one of which names something original and authentic, the other something later and unauthentic. Thus, critics stress the discontinuity between the pre-Resurrection tradition and the post-Resurrection tradition, between the earthly Jesus and the primitive Church, and between the Old Testament and the New Testament. For example, "word" is original, "cult" is later, then "Jewish" is pitted against "Hellenistic," prophetic versus legal, gospel versus law. Anything apocalyptic, sacramental or mystical had to be excluded from authentic Christianity. What is one left with? As far as Jesus is concerned, "a strictly eschatological prophet, who actually proclaimed nothing of substance at all. In terms of the Church, one is left with radical Protestantism, a human community without cult, without sacraments, without ethics.
  3. The third problem is the axiom that "only simple things are original, and what is complex is necessarily late."  Phrased in another way, historical critics have followed an evolutionary model.  In evolution, life begins with simple forms and gradually evolves into more complex ones; it is never the other way around.  Applied to the New Testament, the evolutionary model must mean, for example, that Jesus was initially perceived as an ordinary, if gifted, human being, and that perception of him as divine, and preexistent, must be a later development.  But history does not operate the way evolution does; one cannot say a priori that the Prologue to the Gospel according to St. John, or the breathtaking hymn in the epistel to the Philippians, must be later because of their so-called high Christology. History often works by the principle of epigones: after the towering genius and the world-changing insight come the second-rate imitators and the pedestrian ideas. The First Epistle of Clement is not more profound than the Epistle to the Romans, and pope Gregory the Great is nor more insightful than St. Augustine of Hippo.

ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-FIRST

"Do these words [i.e., the words of the creation account in Genesis] then [in light of science and modernity, etc.] count for anything? [...] Or have they perhaps, along with the entire Word of God and the whole biblical tradition, come out of the reveries of the infant age of human history, for which we occasionally experience homesickness but wo which we can nevertheless not return, inasmuch as we cannot live on nostalgia?  One answer was already worked out some time ago, as the scientific view of the world was gradually crystallizing; many of you probably came across it in your religious instruction.  It says that the Bible is not a natural science textbook, nor does it intend to be such.  It is a religious book, and consequently one cannot obtain information about the natural sciences from it.  One cannot get from it a scientific explanation of how the world arose; one can only glean religious experience from it.  Anything else is an image and a way of describing things whose aim is to make profound realities graspable to human beings.  [...This view has merits,] but it is not enough.  For when we are told that we have to distinguish between the images themselves and what those images mean, then we can ask in turn: Why wasn't that said earlier?  Evidently it must have been taught differently at one time or else Galileo would never have been put on trial.  And so the suspicion grows that ultimately  perhaps this way of viewing things is only a trick of the church and of theologians who have run out of solutions but do not want to admit it, and now they are looking for something to hide behind.  And on the whole the impression is given that the history of Christianity in the last four hundred years has been a constant rearguard action as the assertions of the faith and of theology have been dismantled piece by piece."

—  Joseph Ratzinger, In the Beginning

Friday, August 26, 2011

ONE-HUNDRED TWENTIETH

http://books.google.com/books?id=htd2iSvgM-8C&lpg=PP1&dq=the%20feminist%20question&pg=PA3#v=onepage&q&f=false

Begin reading at "After the level of those..."  and continue to "...science or the philosophy of religion."
Sorry, I'm just too lazy to retype this one.  It's good though.

ONE-HUNDRED NINETEENTH

"Divine things themselves are both complete natures in themselves and the principles for other beings.  Therefore they can be studied by two sciences.  One the one hand, they can be studied insofar as they are the common principles for all beings.  But if such first principles are most intelligible in themselves, they are not most knowable to us.  We can arrive at knowledge of them through the light of natural reason only by reasoning from effect to cause, as the philosophers have done.  (Here Thomas finds support in the well-known text from Romans 1:20, 'The invisible things of God are seen, being understood from the things which are made.')  Therefore divine things are not studied by the philosophers except insofar as they are the principles of all other things.  That is to say, they are considered in that discipline which treats those things which are common to all beings, and which has as its subject being as being (ens inquantum est ens).  This science, remarks Aquinas, is referred to by the philosophers as divine science." 

— John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

ONE-HUNDRED EIGHTEENTH

"On this second [mistaken definition of theology], the task of theology is said to be the transcribing in a more intelligible, or rationally acceptable, form whatever the divinely guided voice of Church authority may determine.  Certainly theologians have a duty to defend the defined teaching of Holy Church and to cooperate with the pope and bishops in clarifying or refining such teaching as may have an inadequately articulated form.  But such duties, on this view, circumscribe the task of theology itself:  they constitute the very borders of its home ground.  Here the idea is that the starting poin of all theology is the pronouncements of pope and bishops in both their extraordinary and ordinary magisterium, theology's job being to prove authorized ecclesiastical pronouncements by a regressive method which seeks arguments in the sources, Scripture and Tradition, as well as in reason, for their truth.  The suport given by Pope Pius XII to this picture of theology in his encyclical Humani Generis of 1956 was righly criticized by Fr. (now Cardinal [now Pope]) Joseph Ratzinger in his essay on the Second Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution on revelation, Dei Verbum.  Theology is something wider than the direct assistance the theoogian can afford the magisterium.  The bishops, and especially the pope, are the guardians of the fides quae, doctrine, the objective content of the Christian creed.  But the fides quae itself is the heritage of every believer who, on the basis of theological wonder, explores the riches of this shared faith by putting ever-new questions to it and about it.  There is no reason to think that episcopate and papacy have every though of all these questions, much less of the answers to them.  The role of Church authority is to say when a given theology has detached itself from the fides quae.  Let us also note here that the fides quae does not come to us simply from learning what the ecumenical councils or the popes when teaching ex cathedra have defined, nor by listening to what the bishops and pope are teaching today.  It also comes to us, and in more ample fashion, from Scripture, and from Tradition—of which the past teachings of Church authority are only one element, one set of 'monuments.'  From this point of view, we might even say that theology does not so much echo the presen-day teaching of bishops and pope as make it possible—by providing the Church's pastors with an informed and circumstantial grasp of what the sources of revelation contain."

— Aidan Nichols, "The Task of Theology" in The Shape of Catholic Theology

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

ONE-HUNDRED SEVENTEENTH

Richard Rorty on his childhood.  Were I an atheist, psychologically worse off, and more intelligent than I am, I would probably talk like this.

ONE-HUNDRED SIXTEENTH

"The Scriptures then being acknowledged to be so full and so perfect, how can we excuse ourselves of negligence, if we do not study them, of curiosity, if we be not content with them? Men talk much of ειρησίωνη, how many sweet and goodly things it had hanging on it; of the Philosopher's stone, that it turned copper into gold; of Cornu-copia, that it had all things necessary for food in it, of Panaces the herb, that it was good for diseases, of Catholicon the drug, that it is instead of all purges; of Vulcan's armor, that it was an armor of proof against all thrusts, and all blows, etc. Well, that which they falsely or vainly attributed to these things for bodily god, we may justly and with full measure ascribe unto the Scripture, for spiritual. It is not only an armor, but also a whole armory of weapons, both offensive and defensive; whereby we may save ourselves and put the enemy to flight. It is not an herb, but a tree, or rather a whole paradise of trees of life, which bring forth fruit every month, and the fruit thereof is for meat, and the leaves for medicine. It is not a pot of Manna, or a cruse of oil, which were for memory only, or for a meal's meat or two, but as it were a shower of heavenly bread sufficient for a whole host, be it never so great; and as it were a whole cellar full of oil vessels; whereby all our necessities may be provided for, and our debts discharged. In a word, it is a Panary of wholesome food, against renowned traditions; a Physician's shop (Saint Basil called it) of preservatives against poisoned heresies; a Pandect of profitable laws, against rebellious spirits; a treasury of most costly jewels, against beggarly rudiments; finally a fountain of most pure water springing up unto everlasting life. And what marvel? The original thereof being from heaven, not from earth; the author being God, not man; the inditer, the holy spirit, not the wit of the Apostles or Prophets; the Penmen such as were sanctified from the womb, and endued with a principal portion of God's spirit; the matter, verity, piety, purity, uprightness; the form, God's word, God's testimony, God's oracles, the word of truth, the word of salvation, etc.; the effects, light of understanding, stableness of persuasion, repentance from dead works, newness of life, holiness, peace, joy in the holy Ghost; lastly, the end and reward of the study thereof, fellowship with the Saints, participation of the heavenly nature, fruition of an inheritance im- mortal, undefiled, and that never shall fade away: Happy is the man that delighted in the Scripture, and thrice happy that meditateth in it day and night."  

—  Preface to the 1611 King James Bible.

ONE-HUNDRED FIFTEENTH

Two reasons you should listen to Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann.

ONE-HUNDRED FOURTEENTH

A.  Peppermint improves life very much.  Feeling stressed?  Take a whiff or drink some peppermint tea (i.e., hot peppermint leaf infusion).  Want to make chocolate taste better?  Or milk?  Add some peppermint. Trouble sleeping?  More peppermint.  Headache?  Fill a jar with 1/3 lavender and 2/3 peppermint and breathe deeply.

B.  The gifts others give us, insofar as they are perfect gifts (i.e. given and received well), attain a significance beyond the everyday.  But what does it mean to give and receive a gift well?

C.  Sleep.

Monday, August 22, 2011

ONE-HUNDRED THIRTEENTH

A few fantastic voices:

  1. James Earl Jones
  2. Orson Welles
  3. John Huston (see below, or watch The Hobbit)
  4. David McCullough
  5. Anthony Hopkins
  6. Robert Creeley

ONE-HUNDRED TWELFTH

A.  You probably don't know who John Huston is.  We'll get back to him.

B.  Chinatown is a brilliant movie.  Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson are both at their best, as they play a private eye and widow trying to get to the bottom of a mystery.  The dialogue is as sharp and sweet, the plot as engagingly unpredictable as any I can think of, and on the whole the film has most of the wit and power of a classical Greek tragedy.  (5)

C.  When I first saw Chinatown I was taken by the voice of Faye Dunaway's father.  I knew that voice, and struggled to figure out how.  I couldn't remember seeing the actor before.  So I looked him up on IMDB and found that he was the voice of Gandalf in the old cartoon film versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King.  When I was small, The Hobbit was my favorite movie.  My mom used to rent children's movies from the Christian bookstore near our house, and I would ask for The Hobbit over and over again.  My love of the story prompted me to read the book when I was in 2nd grade, and shortly thereafter to start reading The Lord of the Rings, which I had reread about 6 times by the 8th grade.  Anyway, I knew that voice very well.  Even to this day, I find I can do a decent imitation of it.  Of course Gandalf was played by John Huston.  He has the most excellent voice.  Here's a random sample.  (Keep listening and you'll find out that he's a cannibal.)

D.  However, it turns out that John Huston wasn't just a minor actor who starred in Roman Polanski's best film.  He was actually a major screenwriter and director in his own right.  His best works (of which I've seen none) mark out one of many big holes in my knowledge of American cinema.  They are:
  1. The Maltese Falcon
  2. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  3. The Asphalt Jungle
  4. The African Queen
  5. Moulin Rouge (the original)
  6. The Misfits
E.  In addition to all of the above, John was the father of Angelica Huston, one of those rare actresses one can't help but enjoy watching on screen.  (I won't pretend to have seen most of her films.  I did like her in The Royal Tenenbaums [4] and Crimes and Misdemeanors [4], though.)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

ELEVENTY-FIRST

ONE-HUNDRED TENTH

Earlier this evening I made a simple Gruyere quiche.  It was delicious.  You, too, can make such a quiche.  (I used Julia Child's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  My paraphrase of the recipe follows.  It serves six and can be refrigerated.)

You will need:
  • An 8- or 9-inch spring-form pan (you can find these anywhere that sells cooking supplies, maybe even your grocery store.  I bought mine for $15 at the local hardware store.)
  • 2-4 oz Gruyere cheese (The cheese by itself costs almost as much as the other ingredients combined, but it's worth it.)
  • 2 cups of flour (All purpose is good, but bread flour works fine. Certainly no flour with any rising agents pre-added.)
  • 2 sticks of chilled butter (or at least 1.5 sticks... the last half stick is just to have around for greasing pans.  Stick the butter and shortening in the freezer before you start getting other stuff out.  The colder it is, the better.  If your butter gets too soft while you're working the dough, its a huge pain.)
  • 1/4 cup of chilled shortening (i.e., 4 Tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup of iced water (no more, and don't have ice cubes in it when you use it)
  • 2 cups of whole milk or half&half
  • 3 eggs
  • salt
  • a little nutmeg
  • a little ground pepper
  • a little sugar
  • a rolling pin (which can be made in a tight spot from an old broomstick...  not that I've done this.)

PART ONE:  MAKING THE PIE CRUST

1.  Mix 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon sugar in a bowl.  Take your 1.5 sticks of butter and cut them into thin slices.  Be quick and don't overhandle the butter or it will get warm and soft.  Add the butter to your flour mixture, with the 4 Tablespoons of shortening.

2.  With the tips of your fingers, quickly toss the bits of butter and shortening around so they're all coated, and start pinching them apart until they're all divided into little oatmeal sized bits.  Now, add the iced water (no ice cubes!) to the bowl, and with one hand mix it together into a ball quickly.  While you're doing this, keep the fingers pressed together.  It makes it easier.  you may need to press and pick up the dry bits in the bowl to get them worked into the wet mass, but eventually everything should be incorporated just fine.  If it's sticky, flour the outside of the ball.

3.  This part is a little harder.  Dust a clean surface lightly with a little flour.  Take the dough a little bit at a time and with the heel of your hand  push it down away from the ball down onto the surface, to make a smear.  As in this video, except your dough won't be as crumbly as his.  Once you've done this for all the dough (be quick! that butter's getting soft and melty!), gather all the dough back into a ball and knead it once or twice so it's fairly smooth.  Then dust with flour, wrap it in wax paper or plastic wrap, and put it in your freezer.  It should stay there for an hour at least, or several weeks if you want to make the crust dough long in advance.

4.  After the allotted time, remove the dough from the freezer, put it on a floured surface, and bang it with your rolling pin just until it becomes a kind of disk.  Flour the top of the dough, and start rolling it out into a circle about 2 inches bigger than your springform pan on all sides (i.e. with a diameter 4 inches bigger).  You do this by rolling it out a little in one direction, then rotating the dough a quarter turn, rolling it again (always pushing away, always gently, but working quickly), etc. until it's the right size.  It should be 1/8 inch thick.  If the dough gets sticky, flour it again.  If the rolling produces an uneven shape, cut off a piece where it's too big, rub a little cold water onto the edge of the place where it's too small, and press the two together.  This'll take some finagling.  The rolling pin helps, just be careful.  Work quickly and don't over-handle the dough.  Don't be paranoid, though.

5.  Preheat your oven to 400°F.  Butter the inside of your spring-form pan (this probably isn't necessary, given the insane amoung of butter in the crust, but Ms. Child says to do it).  When you're ready, roll the dough onto the rolling pin (her dough is bigger than yours should be), so you can lift it off your surface and drape it into your pan.  Gently fit the dough into the spring-form pan, press it down to the bottom and onto the sides, and smooth it out.  You want it to come up to the top of the pan, and can even make a little lip over the edge if you have extra dough.  If you want to do froofy stuff with a fork or whatever, do it.  What you must do, however, is use the fork to stab  the bottom of the crust a ton of times, and pray that this keeps it from rising.

6.  Take some aluminum foil and line the inside of the dough with it, so you can pour rice or dry beans inside.   Fill it up.  Stick the whole thing in the oven for 8-9 minutes until the dough is totally set (you'll see a lot of fizzy foamy action with the butter around the edge and definitely be able to see that the crust is cooking).  Take it out, remove the rice/beans and the foil, return it to the oven for 3 minutes, or until the crust is just showing the signs of browning (you don't want it brown, you want to catch it just when it's turning).  If your crust starts ballooning in the middle, take it out briefly, and use a sharp knife to poke a small hole that will allow it to deflate.  Then return it to oven until it just starts to hint at browning (as indicated above).  Take it out, and change oven temp to 375°F.



PART TWO:  THE FILLING

Beat 3 eggs in a large bowl.  Mix in the 2 cups of milk or cream.  Then mix in your 2-4 oz of coarsely grated Gruyere (this should be up to 1 cup grated.  be generous!).  Add 1/2 tsp salt, a pinch of pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg.  (Nutmeg, incidentally, is what makes alfredo sauce good.  Not that that's relevant.)  Stir it all quite well until it's mixed up.  Then pour it into your crust.  Take half a tablespoon of butter, chop it up into tiny pieces and sprinkle them on top of the filling.  Then put it in the oven for 25-30 minutes on the middle rack.  Watch it at the beginning and if you see the top browning too soon, just lay a slightly crinkled piece of foil over the top, so the thing can still breathe but is shielded from the upper heating element in your oven.  Once it has totally set (after about 25-minutes) remove the foil.  You'll know the quiche is done when it has puffed up on top and browned, and a knife stuck through the center comes out clean.  Put the quiche on a cooling rack and remove the cylindrical portion of the pan.  Allow it to cool for 10 minutes or so before cutting into it (mostly because you'll burn yourself).  It can be served immediately, or refrigerated.  Enjoy!

ONE-HUNDRED NINTH

A few easy meals for hungry people who have no cooking skills:

1.  Stir fry  —  Heat a skillet, add a little bit of vegetable oil (no more than 2 Tablespoons), add some chopped onion, sauté (that means stir it around every couple of seconds while it cooks in the oil over medium-high heat).  Once the onion is starting to brown a little tiny bit, or has become translucent, you want to add some julienned carrots (they can be thinly sliced instead of julienned, but they should be thin enough that they'll be able to cook fast, and small enough to pick up with a fork and stick in your mouth), broccoli (cut up the green leafy part into little 1-inch pieces [called florets]), and whatever else (sliced).   Keep the heat high and keep stirring, constantly.  Fragile stuff (e.g. peapods, sprouts) and things that are best only slightly cooked (e.g. radishes) should be reserved for the end.  Once everything's almost done, add your stir-fry sauce, stir it up and get everything out of the pan ASAP before it overcooks.  Best served over some white rice.  The easiest way to make rice is in a 2:1 water:rice ratio.  Bring water and rice to a boil, stir once or twice, put lid on, and reduce heat to low for about 10 minutes or until the water's all gone.  Oh, and if you want to add mushrooms to your stir fry, I find it best to sauté them first, take them off heat, and then add them to the stir fry just before your sauce.  Normal white button mushrooms take about 6 minutes to cook.  You'll know they're done after they've given off all their liquid and the liquid has boiled off, so they're starting to brown.

2.  Some embellishments for jarred pasta sauce  —  sauté half a diced onion in olive oil until the onion is starting to turn brown and it's very soft (don't burn it!).  Then add one or two cloves of garlic (peeled and pressed or minced), stir around for 30-60 seconds, then add a little bit of wine to the pan (1/4 to 1/2 cup), let it boil a little bit, then add your sauce.  To the sauce you might then add a little extra olive oil, or some tomato paste, or some sautéed mushrooms (see above), or even a bit of ground beef that's been cooked in a skillet.  Simmer the sauce until it's not soupy (adding tomato paste thickens it a little).  Then serve over a bed of pasta, with grated fresh Parmesan on top.

3.  Potato-leek soup — take 3 medium sized leeks, cut off the roots (but not the white part!) and the dark green parts of the leaves.  Wash thoroughly.  Then slice the light green leafy part and the white bottom of the leek very thinly.  It should make between 3 & 4 cups of sliced leek.  Put it in a pot.  Next, take 2-3 medium-to-large sized yukon gold potatoes (i.e. a little more than 1 lb), peel them, slice thinly and dice them (the dice should be about 1/8-1/4 inch).  There should be again 3-4 cups of potato here.  Add them all to the pot.  Now put 8 cups of cold water in the pot, along with 1 Tablespoon of table salt.  Bring it all to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Partially cover it and let it cook for 40-50 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Then, using a rubber spatula, force the soup through the strainer, including the solid bits.  If there's stuff that just won't go through, discard it (these would be tough stringy bits of leek, which no one wants to eat anyway).  Stir up your soup, taste it, add a bit of salt if necessary.  The soup can be refrigerated this way and kept for a few days.  Just before serving, however, you should bring the soup back to a simmer and stir in 1 tablespoon of heavy (i.e., whipping) cream or half as much butter, per cup of soup.  Then serve.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

ONE-HUNDRED EIGHTH

"Most significantly, however, the relative rarity of pipe-smoking in America is a telling sign of its current intellectual crisis. If the pipe epitomizes the intellectual way of life, then is it any surprise that it cannot be found where schools substitute politically correct ideology for real philosophy, or where the intelligentsia, instead of engaging in serious thought, pander to the latest activist fads? Is it any surprise that America's most famous pipe-smoker in the last thirty years has been Hugh Hefner, pajama prophet of the trite philosophy of hedonism? No, the age of the pipe-smoker is as far from us as the day when philosophers will be kings and kings will philosophize, a sad reality to which the thick blue haze of non-pipe smoke is only too ready to attest."
—  Michael P. Foley, "Tobacco and the Soul" (First Things, April 1997)

ONE-HUNDRED SEVENTH

"To be a theologian, one must share the common fides quae, the faith of the people of God.  A theologian is not an ecclesiastical Übermensch, but is equally bound, with all Christians, by the Church's rule of faith.  He (or she) is dependent on the Church, not necessarily financially or even sociologically, but always epistemologically.  A theologian may be so gifted a writer that he can support himself without the Church's monetary aid.  He may interest so many people beyond the Church's membership that his lectures and books find an adequate audience outside the household of faith.  Yet there are aspects of his understanding which are only available to the individual because the Church's tradition makes them so.  Any scholar can study the texts of the New Testament considered simply as intriguing religious writings from the ancient Near East.  But to grasp the meaning which the Christian religion has found in these texts, it is necessary to be in touch with the fides quae, the faith of the Church." 
—  Aidan Nichols, O.P., The Shape of Catholic Theology

ONE-HUNDRED SIXTH


Friday, August 19, 2011

ONE-HUNDRED FIFTH


ONE-HUNDRED FOURTH

A.  Francis Ford Coppola's film career seems to have collapsed after Apocalypse Now (5).

B.  Pocket watches are cool:  for example, this one.

C.  This is the 105th blog post, since I have accidentally made two 103rd posts, and intentionally did not include the manifesto below in my numbering.  If you're wondering why I don't just fix it, just read Beyond Good and Evil.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

ONE-HUNDRED THIRD

RENTON
(voice-over)

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family, Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers.

Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends.

Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life.

But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you've got heroin?


[from Trainspotting, screenplay by John Hodge.]

ONE-HUNDRED THIRD

When I was very young, I forgot in the Trophonean cave how to laugh; when I became an adult, when I opened my eyes and saw actuality, then I started to laugh and have never stopped laughing since that time.  I saw that the meaning of life was to make a living, its goal was to become a lawyer, that the rich delight of love was to acquire a well-to-do girl, that the blessedness of friendship was to help each other out in financial difficulties, that wisdom was whatever the majority assumed it to be, that enthusiasm was to give a speech, that courage was to risk being fined ten dollars, that cordiality was to say "May it do you good" after a meal, that piety was to go to communion once a year.  This I saw, and I laughed.

ONE-HUNDRED SECOND

An old flyer for my high school's Philosophy Club, courtesy of Sir Francis Bacon. 

ONE-HUNDRED FIRST

Sufyan, kindly fellow that he was, went over to where Chamcha sat clutching at his horns, patted him on the shoulder, and tried to bring what good cheer he could.  "Question of mutability of the essence of the self," he began, awkwardly, "has long been subject of profound debate.  For example, great Lucretius tells us, in De Rerum Natura, this following thing: quodcumque suis mutatum finibus exit, continuo hoc mors est illius quod fuit ante. Which being translated, forgive my clumsiness, is 'whatever by its changing goes out of its frontiers,' - that is, bursts its banks, - or, maybe, breaks out of its limitations, - so to speak disregards its own rules, but that is too free, I am thinking... 'that thing', at any rate, Lucretius holds, 'by doing so brings immediate death to its old self.'  However," up went the ex-schoolmaster's finger, "poet Ovid, in the Metamorphoses, takes diametrically opposed view.  He avers thus: 'As yielding wax' — heated, you see, possibly for the sealing of documents or such, — 'is stamped with new designs And changes shape and seems not still the same, Yet is indeed the same, even so our souls,' — you hear, good sir? Our spirits! Our immortal essences! — 'Are still the same forever, but adopt in their migrations ever-varying forms.' "
— Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

ONE-HUNDREDTH

"And now, what of Christianity!  Christianity teaches that this individual human being—and thus every single individual human being, no matter whether man, woman, servant girl, cabinet minister, merchant barber, student, or whatever—this individual human being exists before God, this individual human being who perhaps would be proud of having spoken with the king once in his life, this human being who does not have the slightest illusion of being on intimate terms with this one or that one, this human being exists before God, may speak with God any time he wants to, assured of being heard by him—in short, this person is invited to live on the most intimate terms with God!  Furthermore, for this person's sake, also for this very person's sake, God comes into the world, allows himself to be born, to suffer, to die, and this suffering God—he almost implores and beseeches this person to accept the help that is offered to him!  Truly if there is anything to lose one's mind over, this is it!  Everyone lacking the humble courage to dare to believe this is offended.  But why is he offended?  Because it is too high for him, because his mind cannot grasp it, because he cannot attain bold confidence in the face of it and therefore must get rid of it, pass it off as bagatelle, nonsense, and folly, for it seems as if it would choke him."  —  Anti-Climacus, The Sickness Unto Death

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

NINETY-NINTH

                         MICKEY (V.O.) 
            Millions of books written on every
            conceivable subject by all these
            great minds, and, and in the end,
            none of 'em knows anything more
            about the big questions of life
            than I do.  Ss--I read Socrates.
            You know, n-n-n--, this guy used to
            kn-knock off little Greek boys.
            What the hell's he got to teach me?
            And, and Nietzsche with his, with
            his Theory of Eternal Recurrence.
            He said that the life we live,
            we're gonna live over and over
            again the exact same way for
            eternity.  Great.  That means I,
            uh, I'll have to sit through the
            Ice Capades again.  Tch.  It's not
            worth it.

The movie next cuts to a sunny day in Central Park.  A male
jogger, seen through some tree branches, runs by.  The
camera moves past him, revealing a pondering Mickey walking
by the reservoir.  He continues to talk over the screen.


                         MICKEY (V.O.)
            And, and Freud, another great
            pessimist.  Jeez, I was in analysis
            for years.  Nothing happened.  My
            poor analyst got so frustrated.
            The guy finally put in a salad bar.

Several joggers pass Mickey; he continues to ruminate.

                         MICKEY (V.O.)
            Oh!  Look at all these people
            jogging...trying to stave off the
            inevitable decay of the body.  Boy
                   (smacking his lips)
            it's so sad what people go through
            with their-their stationary bike
            and their exercise and their...
                   (glancing at a fat
                   woman jogger in a red
                   sweatsuit who runs by)

            ...Oh!  Look at this one!  Poor
            thing.  My God, she has to tote all
            that fat around.  Maybe the poets
            are right.  Maybe love is the only
            answer.

NINETY-EIGHTH

A.  Some facts:
  1. Anxiety manifests itself physically in different ways.  Some people clench their jaws (leading to tooth pain), others get sharp pains in the chest, others have back issues which only strike at times of great stress.
  2. Whole milk is the best milk.
  3. Flannel sheets are the best sheets.
  4. We love the good things we perceive.
B.  Some useful items it is good to have ready at hand:
  1. Duct tape
  2. Pocket knife
  3. Clock
  4. Flashlight
  5. Matches or tinderbox
  6. Pin

Monday, August 15, 2011

NINETY-SEVENTH

A historian once speculated on what would happen if a time-traveler from 1945 arrived back in Europe just before the First World War, and told an intelligent and well-informed contemporary that within thirty years a European nation would make a systematic attempt to kill all the Jews of Europe and exterminate nearly six million in the process.  If the time-traveler invited the contemporary to guess which nation it would be, the chances were that he would have pointed to France, where the Dreyfus affair had recently led to a massive outbreak of virulent antisemitism.  Or it might be Russia, where the Tsarist 'Black Hundreds' had been massacring large numbers of Jews in the wake of the failed revolution of 1905.  That Germany, with its highly acculturated Jewish community and its comparative lack of overt or violent political antisemitism, would be the nation to launch this exterminatory campaign would hardly have occurred to him.
— Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p.31

NINETY-SIXTH

It is a great moral failure to go through life treating other people as mere tools or obstacles to advancing our own individual well-being.  To care for a person and treat them well merely because it is agreeable to us or otherwise personally expedient — then shunning them them once the acquaintance is inexpedient or interferes with our plans — reflects not only a lack of genuine empathy but a fundamental failure to exercise charity.  Even further, it demonstrates a basic incapacity for the love of friendship, which is the unqualified will for another's good.  How awful such a life would be.  How lonely to move about in life with nothing better than a mass of superficial acquaintances one has never been around long enough or cared about deeply enough to end up rejecting.

NINETY-FIFTH

McDONOUGH
 I'm telling you -- they want Howard to go on yelling bullshit. They want Howard to go on spontaneously letting out his anger, a latter-day prophet, denouncing the hypocrisies of our times --

 HOWARD
 Hey, that sounds pretty good --

 MAX
 Who's this they?

 McDONOUGH
 Hackett. Chaney was there, the Legal Affairs guy, and that girl from Programming.

 MAX
 Christenson? What's she got to do with it?

 GIANINI (in b.g.)
 You're kidding, aren't you, Bob?

 McDONOUGH
 I'm not kidding. I told them: "We're running a news department down there, not a circus. And Howard Beale isn't a bearded lady. And if you think I'll go along with this bastardization of the news, you can have my resignation along with Max Schumacher's right now. And I think I'm speaking for Howard Beale and everybody else down there in News.

 HOWARD
 Hold it, McDonough, that's my job you're turning down. I'll go nuts without some kind of work. What's wrong with being an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times? What do you think, Max?

 MAX
 Do you want to be an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times?

 HOWARD
 Yeah, I think I'd like to be an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times.

 MAX
 Then grab it.

NINETY-FOURTH

"…Bismarck inaugurated what liberals dubbed the 'struggle for culture', a series of laws and police measures which aimed to bring the Catholic Church under the control of the Prussian state.  The Catholic clergy refused to co-operate with laws requiring them to undergo training at state institutions and submit clerical appointments to state approval.  Before long, those who contravened the new laws were being hounded by the police, arrested and sent to gaol.  By the mid-1870s, 989 parishes were without incumbents, 225 priests were in gaol, all Catholic religious orders apart from those involved in nursing had been suppressed, two archbishops and three bishops had been removed from office and the Bishop of Trier had died shortly after his release from nine months in prison.  What was even more disturbing was that this massive assault on the civil liberties of some 40 per cent of the population of the Reich was cheered on by Germany's liberals, who regarded Catholicism as so serious a threat to civilization that it justified extreme measures such as these."  —  Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p.13

Sunday, August 14, 2011

NINETY-THIRD

A.  Concerning American Anglophilia, what can one say?  It's a remarkably silly phenomenon to behold.  It seems to consist of a misplaced desire for culture, bourgeois nostalgia for aristocratic manners, and a tendency toward unjustified snobbery.  

B.  For every natural k, a planar 3-regular graph can be drawn with 2k vertices.

C.  Dear proponents of "localism",  Do you know your neighbors?  I didn't think so.

NINETY-SECOND

A.  "—Then we must supervise such stories and those who tell them, and ask them not to disparage the life in Hades in this unconditional way, but rather to praise it, since what they now say is neither true nor beneficial to future warriors.
—We must.
—Then we'll expunge all that sort of disparagement, beginning with the following lines: 'I would rather labor on earth as a serf to another, to a landless man, with little to live on, than be king over all the dead.' "  —  Plato, Republic III, 386c.

B.  "And if there had been any honors, praises, or prizes among them for the one who was sharpest at identifying the shadows as they passed by and who best remembered which usually came earlier, which later, and which simultaneously, and who could thus best divine the future, do you think that our man would desire these rewards or envy those among the prisoners who were honored and held power?  Instead wouldn't he feel, with Homer, that he'd much prefer to 'labor on earth as a serf to another, to a landless man, with little to live on,' and go through any sufferings, rather than share their opinions and live as they do?"  —  Plato, Republic VII, 516c-d.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A MANIFESTO CONCERNING CONSERVATISM

A.  I am disinclined to trust conservatives.  The very notion of conservatism is vague and frequently self-contradictory.  Most of the traditionalist conservatives I know decry the collapse of morals and speak sentimentally of "localism", agrarianism and the rosy past, while in fact embracing nine-tenths of the produce of modern culture.  The most socially conservative political organization at Yale University is populated by fans of South Park, and tends at its social gatherings to dance drunkenly to songs like "Hold it Against Me", by Britney Spears.  (This from a group which criticizes the "frattiness" of its main opponent on the right.)

B.  So, what exactly do conservatives want?  Fiscally they want less government intervention.  Socially they want an end to abortion and the restoration of anti-sodomy laws.  Culturally, conservatives tend to sympathize with the Great Books-ism of Adler and company, if they aren't simple anti-intellectuals.  They also tend to be nostalgic for the 1950s, which many traditionalists mistake for "pre-modernity".  One great curiosity of American conservatism is its continued love of the military. This is probably a relic of the Cold War, but two decades later it mysteriously lingers.  Conservatives are theists, nominally Christian, but usually don't talk about faith matters except in private, though they vehemently defend the right to speak about religion in the public sphere.  Lately, conservatives tend to be xenophobic and anti-Islamic, though the smarter right wing groups recognize that moderate Islam is a natural political ally. 

C.  Curiously, Christian conservatives rarely seem to appreciate the broader implications of their own religious views.  This becomes especially clear when asked about things like the meaning of life and the structure of morality.  The average conservative will tend to tell you that man's ultimate end is to have a family and treat people well, or to be materially prosperous.  Religion seems most of the time to be a vestigial feature of the conservative mindset: a piece of kitsch used to decorate one's life "the way they used to".  When asked about morality, most conservatives mumble a Kantian catchphrase they heard somewhere about "not hurting other people". 

D.  Conservatives have been a dying breed for a very long time.  Main-line conservatism today would seem very liberal to main-line conservatives of the early 20th century, and the same is true of the latter with respect to conservatives from the time of the French Revolution.  What this tells us is that the universal slogans of conservatism about restoring the old mores and cultural standards, returning to the golden age of the rosy past, etc., have repeatedly failed to win the hearts and minds of young people.  Conservative leaders and educators have failed to take advantage of the mass-propaganda tools of public education, and have been intellectually too dull to fight against prevailing liberal political structures and rhetorical formulae (e.g. within the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence), or to even see the basic opposition between classical liberalism and the maintenance of traditional social structures.

E.  But mostly, conservatism in America has failed for want of a coherent grand ideology.  Conservatives take a piecemeal approach to intellectual problems, accepting the prevailing (often tacitly liberal) orthodoxy without question except on certain fringe topics which touch on clear moral/political precepts.  No one can easily give an adequate definition of conservatism, while liberalism has a clear set of goals:

  1. the creation of a secular society (based on a combination of kantian and utilitarian thinking) in which the bounds of individual moral action are determined exclusively by the state,
  2. the universal acceptance of a secular scientific orthodoxy, which celebrates nominal difference while fiercely attacking substantial disagreement,
  3. the enablement of all citizens to pursue whatever variety of pleasure they like, within the bounds of the law.

What is needed is a basic understanding of the truth which will stand up to the precepts and rhetorical mainstays of liberalism, many of which have almost entered into the collective common sense.  This conservatives decidedly lack.

F.  Orthodox Catholicism can supply such a grand ideology.

G.  My opinion is that conservatism should be laid to rest, and people with decent moral standards and a desire for truth should (1) abandon their nostalgia for the past (2) reject secularized political rhetoric, (3) start challenging the secular/liberal underpinnings of the American political system, (4) accept Catholic orthodoxy, and (5) start preaching the Gospel.

H.  Fr. Romanus Cessario says that "chastity begets preaching".  Don't forget that, gentlemen.  I like the line, and, whether or not it's true, it is certainly true in general that the best proponents of an idea are people who actually live it out.

I.  This has been my first actual manifesto.  I hope it was sufficiently grouchy.  I tried to avoid impassioned rhetoric, parodies of Marx and Marinetti.  Perhaps that would have made it more entertaining.  Anyway, comments are appreciated.

J.  I should mention, as an afterthought, that I'm an enthusiastic founding member of the group mentioned in (A).

NINETIETH

A little more than a week ago I had the idea of acquiring a cookbook.  After some research I settled on Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, et al.  While the book itself is fantastic and packed to the brim with delicious-sounding and extremely simple recipes (buttered calf brains!  aspics galore!), I can't help but feel a little queasy, knowing that this book inspired the film Julie/Julia (2).  I have yet to try anything from it.  My first attempt will be a simple potato leek soup.  Tonight, probably.

Friday, August 12, 2011

EIGHTY-NINTH

A.  Dear Reader,

You will note first of all the peculiar title of this entry.  What does it mean that this is the "Eighty-ninth and First" post?  But, to risk being tedious—a risk that all speech requires us to take—I will respond with another question.  What does it mean that this blog is a collection of "paraphasic manifestos"?  I suspect a few of you have not read closely enough and assumed the blog was "periphrastic" or some such.  It may be the case, but I normally hope to be brief and cover diverse random subjects of interest.  Paraphasic— what does it mean?  Paraphasia is a speech disorder which prevents a person from expressing thoughts in a coherent way.  It is paraphasia because the individual can still speak (unlike the true aphasic), but things tend to come out awry.  One might imagine the drunkard tripping delightfully over his tongue as he attempts, in defiance of his own state, to demonstrate unusual eloquence.  That, ω Ανδρες Αθηναιοι, is the grand idea.  And it's not really an idea in the first place.  The whole point of the title is to excuse the malformed contents of the blog for being semi-idiotic, poorly edited and generally worthless.

B.  Allow me to introduce myself, gentlemen.  I am a recent graduate of Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in the non-subject of Humanities.  I have strange taste in music and, for my age, a pretty decent knowledge of modern philosophy.  Personal history: I had a love affair with Plato starting at age 15 (yes, fellows, I was one of his παιδων, though as with Alcibiades nothing sexual happened), then got hooked on Kant starting on my 17th birthday.  About a year later, Bertrand Russell taught me two things: first, that I hate him.  Second, that Kant's system has a faulty foundation.  Third (oops, make that three things), that enlightenment rationalism is itself unsound.  Then I studied under Dostoevsky for a few months, only to be delivered (appropriately) into the hands of the melancholy Dane (no, not Hamlet).  My faith in Kierkegaard was strengthened during college by further reading of Dostoevsky and — really let's move on, this is incredibly tedious.

C.  So, you had a question right at the beginning.  What was it now?  Yes, the Eighty-ninth and First.  Whatever could that mean?  Well we can interpret it in several ways.  First of all, this post functions in a way much more approrpiately than the actual first post, as an introduction to the blog as a whole.  To complete the introduction, let me list a few further facts:  (1)  As stated in the "Notes" section at the bottom of each page, the parenthetical numbers following movie titles or descriptions are ratings on a 1-5 scale.  (2)  I rather like movies, and I have a dearth of original thoughts (originality, after all, is not only overrated but in itself tends to be a kind of corruption), so some of the posts here will be movie reviews, a few of them will be independent observations on "the current state of things", but the brunt of the postings will be (and have been) worthy selections of books that I have read or am currently working on.

D.  In the wretched Philosopher X in 90 Minutes series written by Paul Strahern, I once read that Hegel habitually copied significant quotations and passages into his journals, creating a kind of easy reference manual of worthwhile material he had already encountered.  I haven't the patience to do such things, but this blog is the closest I'll get.  Just think, a meteor could smash through the ceiling and kill you in 5... 4... 3... 2... 1...

E.  I suppose not, though.  Readiness for death is something people often forget.  Just like I've forgotten the purpose of this post.  But here it is.  There are supposed to be paraphasic manifestos on this blog, and — while I have expressed my opinion here and there on trivial matters — a manifesto is decidedly lacking.  And so, this post is meant to be the first.

F.  But of course it isnt.  And that's why the title isn't actually "Eighty-ninth and First" but merely "Eighty-ninth".

Thursday, August 11, 2011

EIGHTY-EIGHTH

A.  Tod, wo ist dein Sieg?

B.  The descent beckons, as the ascent beckoned.

EIGHTY-SEVENTH

And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

EIGHTY-SIXTH

Some inspirational movies about education:
  1. Stand and Deliver  —  A new math teacher at a poor public high school in LA encourages his AP Calculus class to study hard and score well on the exam.  It's an enjoyable film.  In reality the evidence suggests that the kids did cheat, but we can pretend otherwise so as to get a nice feeling from watching it. (3)
  2. October Sky  —  Several teenage boys from rural West Virginia experiment with rocket design, inspired by the launch of Sputnik.  The story is as much about the (real, human, colorful) people as it is about the rocket boys' goal of getting scholarships out of their small coal town.  Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Homer Hickham, Jr., the leader of the group.  (5)
  3. Finding Forrester — Smart black teen from the bronx is given a full ride to a NY prep school after his test scores reveal him to be very intelligent.  He plays basketball at the new school while clashing with an unpleasant english teacher.  Meanwhile he meets a reclusive writer (who, we can only assume, is supposed to be J.D. Salinger), and becomes his protege.  Jamal inspires everyone and overcomes every obstacle (apparently without any effort), becoming both the all-star athlete and the literary genius, but undergoes no personal development at all, except apparently in learning to use a typewriter.  Sean Connery is great as Salinger—that is, Forrester—, and we all enjoy fantasizing about being the main character and getting to have all these talents and experiences, but the movie is fundamentally ridiculous.  (2)
  4. The Emperor's Club  —  Kevin Kline stars in this rip-off of Dead Poets Society.  He teaches history at an elite New England prep school.  The plot is too tedious to merit a summary. (1)
  5. Goodbye, Mr. Chips  —  Classic with Robert Donat as the stiff classics teacher at an old English boarding school.  Mr. Chips sticks to the old traditions against all the innovators and troublemakers.  And, in the end, he triumphs. (4)
  6. Goodbye, Mr. Chips  —  Musical re-make with Peter O'Toole in Donat's role.  O'Toole is brilliant and if this weren't a musical, it would be just as good as the original. (4)
  7. Dead Poets Society  —  Robin Williams plays the antithesis of Mr. Chips, has his students mutilate their textbooks and do ridiculous free-spirited exercises, and tells them to call him "O Captain my captain".  He is shown here as a true educator among narrow, mean-spirited pedants with too many rules and too few thoughts.  The film concludes with the main character shooting himself in the head.  Really an abomination, both in the hackneyed plot, the absolutely awful ideology behind it, and the melodramatic earnestness with which all these petty prep school difficulties are treated.  (1)
  8. Mona Lisa Smile  —  Julia Roberts plays the female version of Robin Williams' character, a teacher at Wellesley who does her best to inspire freethinking and liberalism in her stiff, sometimes bitter, type-A students (many of whom want merely to be [gasp] housewives!).  Etc. (2)
  9. Mr. Holland's Opus  —  Richard Dreyfus lands a job at a public high school teaching music classes and constantly putting off work on his own musical compositions.  He gets absorbed in his work, and over the years invests a lot of personal energy in the students who are interested in going further with his subject.  It has a moving but slightly corny conclusion. (3)
  10. To Sir, With Love  —  Sidney Poitier plays a self-made man who takes a teaching job in London's East End with kids determined not to be taught.  After a few failed attempts he ditches the curriculum and teaches them etiquette and life-lessons instead.  This movie is half-brilliant in its recognition that some bureaucrat's idea of what standard education should include is frequently inadequate to match the real needs of students.  Some of what Poitier's character says is objectionable but on the whole it's a success. (3)
  11. Music of the Heart  —  Meryl Streep plays a Mr. Holland-type character.  Basically the same plot. (3)
  12. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit  —  Whoopie Goldberg is asked to return to the convent in order to help a dying Catholic high school.  Fun, harmless, pretty good.  (3)
  13. Good Will Hunting  —  Thoroughly enjoyable movie about a self-taught math genius with emotional problems living in Boston.  Matt Damon's first big role has him in therapy with Robin Williams, trying to deal with childhood trauma.  Both actors do fine work.  Damon and Afleck's script is excellent. (5)
  14. The King's Speech — Wonderful.  See it.  (5)
  15. Whale Rider  —  Young Kiwi girl teaches her grandfather the real meaning of tradition. (4)

Monday, August 8, 2011

EIGHTY-FIFTH

A great many false ideas have been spread about the nature of boredom. It is generally believed that by filling time with things new and interesting, we can make it "pass," by which we mean "shorten" it; monotony and emptiness, however, are said to weight down and hinder its passage. This is not true under all conditions. Emptiness and monotony may stretch a moment or even an hour and make it "boring," but they can likewise abbreviate and dissolve large, indeed the largest units of time, until they seem nothing at all. Conversely, rich and interesting events are capable of filling time, until hours, even days, are shortened and speed past on wings; whereas on a larger scale, interest lends the passage of time breadth, solidity, and weight, so that years rich in events pass much more slowly than do paltry, bare, featherweight years that are blown before the wind and are gone. What people call boredom is actually an abnormal compression of time caused by monotony — uninterrupted uniformity can shrink large spaces of time until the heart falters, terrified to death. When one day is like every other, then all days are like one, and perfect homogeneity would make the longest life seem very short, as if it had flown by in a twinkling. Habit arises when our sense of time falls asleep, or at least, grows dull; and if the years of youth are experienced slowly, while the later years of life hurtle past at an ever-increasing speed, it must be habit that causes it. We know full well that the insertion of new habits or the changing of old ones is the only way to preserve life, to renew our sense of time, to rejuvenate, intensify, and retard our experience of time — and thereby renew our sense of life itself. That is the reason for every change of scenery and air, for a trip to the shore: the experience of a variety of refreshing episodes. The first few days in a new place have a youthful swing to them, a kind of sturdy, long stride — that lasts for about six to eight days. Then, to the extent that we "settle in," the gradual shortening becomes noticeable. Whoever clings to life, or better, wants to cling to life, may realize to his horror that the days have begun to grow light again and are scurrying past; and the last week — of, let us say, four — is uncanny in its fleeting transience. To be sure, this refreshment of our sense of time extends beyond the interlude; its effect is noticeable again when we return to our daily routine. The first few days at home after a change of scene are likewise experienced in a new, broad, more youthful fashion — but only a very few, for we are quicker to grow accustomed to the old rules than to their abrogation. And if our sense of time has grown weary with age or was never at all that strongly developed — a sign of an inborn lack of vitality — it very soon falls asleep again, and within twenty-four hours it is as if we were never gone and our journey were merely last night's dream.

—  Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

EIGHTY-FOURTH

Worth remembering: no poetry I know of explores despair and depression as fully and accurately as the psalms. If, in a fit of self-pity, you ever want a lament that captures the general wretchedness of your life, you'll be pleased to read psalms 41, 69, 88, and 22. 88 is the most negative of these, but the others have a little more color to them. And of course, there are more than these.

EIGHTY-THIRD

A. Some random soundtrack pieces I remembered tonight:
0 1 2 3   4 5 6    7
 
B. Some day I'll have to talk about Lost in Translation (5). Some day.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

EIGHTY-SECOND

A. Quick survey of Martin Scorsese:
  1. Mr. Scorsese is a very well-known director, of the sort who can attract audiences merely with his name. He has also, like others of his kind (Stephen Spielberg and James Cameron come to mind) spent his career making hollywood blockbusters.
  2. Before the reviews, I will confess to never having seen several of Mr. Scorsese's most celebrated pictures. I have not seen Raging Bull, nor Goodfellas, nor The Departed, nor Gangs of New York.
  3. Some films:
    1. The Aviator: Lenny D. plays a thoroughly crazed Howard Hughes: doing stupid stuff, appearing before congress, crashing airplanes and spending what feels like half an hour of the movie alone in a private theater urinating into jars. I tend to like drawn out biopics (or "bio-epics" as I call them... e.g. Gandhi [5], Lawrence of Arabia [5], The Last Emperor [5]), but this one was infuriatingly boring. Alan Alda co-stars as the annoying character he usually plays. The only redeeming thing about this movie was Cate Blanchett, who does a fine rendition of Katharine Hepburn. (2)
    2. Taxi Driver: I was hoping for this to be something interesting, and at the beginning it really looked like it was going to be. Robert DeNiro plays a quirky night-shift cab driver in New York. He sees things about people and could make an interesting social commentator, but is distracted by Cybill Shepherd, a campaign manager for some senator. He becomes fixated on her, takes her to an adult theater on a date, and is dumped. Then he buys a bunch of guns and tries to become a would-be assassin ("You talkin' to me?") and attends several political rallies. The last plot arc involves Jodie Foster, a 12-year-old prostitute. DeNiro decides to save her from her pimp, and goes on a shooting rampage. He ends up in the hospital being thanked by her parents. The whole thing has a very disconnected, implausible and displeasing feel to it. We like DeNiro at first, and then he goes crazy. Meanwhile, the film goes nowhere, says nothing, does nothing. It just festers, much like the New York nightlife it portrays. (2)
    3. Shutter Island: I have already reviewed this one with the other SHs. DiCaprio's accent is bad. The backstory is intentionally confusing in a dissatisfying way. The one really awesome thing about this movie is that Max von Sydow plays the ex-Nazi psychiatrist. The disconnect between the old man we see on screen here and the young Swede of The Seventh Seal (4) is similar to the disconnect between Christopher Plummer's early and late career (cf. The Sound of Music [4] and A Beautiful Mind [4]) or the same with Angela Lansbury (cf. Gaslight [4] and Bedknobs and Broomsticks [3]). No one likes pointless ambiguity, but Scorsese gets away with it because it masquerades as profundity. Still, not altogether unenjoyable. (3)
  4. So I ask, what's that great about Martin Scorsese? What am I missing?
B. Regarding posts 80 & 81, a few points:
  1. The quotations at the beginning are taken from "Symphony No. 2" by Daniil Kharms.
  2. Clarice Sunrise does not exist, though of course Mr. Aronofsky (creator of the visual feast The Fountain [3] as well as the mind-bender Pi [3]) does, as does I [heart] Huckabees (2).
  3. More reflections based on Mr. Kharms' work may be presented at a later date.

EIGHTY-FIRST

"I have just fallen off of my chair."  We recall the Laputans in Gulliver’s Travels.  What is it about their inflated bladders that wakes them from the sleep of contemplation?  This motif recurs in one of the hipster generation’s earliest philosophical expressions, the film “I [heart] Huckabees,” and again in Darren Aronofksy’s post-modern “Clarice Sunrise”.  But where Aronofsky turns the bladder into a token of pain (replicating by means of a disconnected outward sign the hidden interior mortification of the monastic hairshirt), in “Huckabees” it is an exercise in nihilism.  The moment of contact is the moment of self-forgetting, a chance to lose all interest and focus, to deprive one’s thoughts of any intentionality, and hence (if we accept the hackneyed converse of the Cartesian argument) to cease to exist.  Falling off one’s chair is the greatest liberation.

EIGHTIETH

"The hell with him."  If only it were so easy to cast off the undesirables of life, to simply delete them and say, finally, once and for all, “I am finished with you.  Henceforth you are no more to me.”  But even in the cases when we are able henceforth to cast off the despised troublemaker, the past remains.  The annihilation of another would, ideally, enable us to move freely about in the spaces he might have occupied, creating a history in which he never was, who is not and never again will be.  But we lack such power.  The theologians tell us that even the omnipotent cannot make the past not to have been.  Instead, in order to cast away another, we must pull in the bounds of the world, treading carefully along narrower passageways, meticulously avoiding memories and attachments, connections and concepts that would bring us face to face with the forgotten other.  The hell with him, we say, but really we have divided the world between us two, and introduced in the process a host of anxieties about the placement and maintenance of invisible and illogical boundaries.  Claustrophobia begins to take hold of us, complemented by an inescapable sadness at the vistas of thought and possibility which have been sacrificed in this mutual damnation of the two foes.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

SEVENTY-NINTH

A.  Shatov is a wonderful character.  I love him dearly.

B.  Make your bagels with malt syrup.  They'll be better.

C.  With the people who matter most to us, it always seems imperative to take a stand against bad habits and corruption generally.  Why should this be the case? 

D.  Christ suffered for our sins.

E.  Conservatism will never be significant in America so long as the internet exists and people are wealthy enough to use it from their homes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

SEVENTY-EIGHTH

A. Topkapi — Old heist film that is probably most enjoyable to people using hallucinogens. It opens with a pointlessly psychedelic monologue and has weird kinky undertones, though nothing sexual happens. This is the source not only for the classic Tom Cruise almost-hitting-the-floor stunt in Mission: Impossible (3), but also several of the plot details of Ocean's 11 (3).* It reminds one as well of How to Steal a Million (3) with Audrey Hepburn. On the whole, not a terrible movie, but not that great. I prefer Ocean's 11, which is basically the same movie but with much better characters. However, the woman who plays the ringleader has a fantastic accent and personality. The end didn't have the semi-clever twist I expected. Instead there was no twist at all. (3)

B. Arthur — Rich guy who never grew up wanders around drunk, being told he's cute a lot by prostitutes and Liza Minelli. They decide to get married at the end, but it's unclear how this is going to improve anyone's lot in life, though the tone of the film makes us think that everyone's problems have been solved. The best part of the movie is John Gielgud's bitter sarcasm, as Arthur's butler. Also features Jerry's dad from Seinfeld, playing Liza's father. (2)

C. Some Russian novel endings (spoilers, obviously):
  1. Anna jumps under a train.
  2. Pierre marries Natasha.
  3. Smerdyakov did it, though Ivan feels guilty.
  4. Raskolnikov turns himself in.
  5. Shatov is murdered; Kirilov, Stavrogin and the other major characters commit suicide or get caught, but Pyotr Stepanovich gets away.
  6. Nerzhin gets sent back to hard labor, without his boots if I remember correctly.

[* I realized later that this is not actually true.  The original Ocean's 11 was made a few years earlier.  I had forgotten that the Clooney version (which I have seen) was a remake.]

    SEVENTY-SEVENTH

    A. A (rare) commenter asked for an opinion on this post on a blog I had honestly never read before. The post contains a critique of a kind of argument against sodomy not uncommon in conservative circles, embedded in a sarcastic argument against procreation. So here we go...

    B. The argument goes like this: X causes discomfort or involves violence (taken broadly), therefore God doesn't will X, therefore X is morally offensive.

    C. Obviously this kind of reasoning doesn't hold. It doesn't hold for arguments against sodomy and it certainly doesn't hold for arguments against procreation. Life is difficult and more often than not the better path, the more virtuous path, will demand a degree of suffering and violence (again, in a broad sense). It is painful for me to get up at 5am. It is painful for me to study hard and think through things diligently. It is painful to raise children and care for them and educate them properly. In all of these things there is some concomitant good which justifies our action. In child rearing, the good is that of our progeny, which (because we love them) pleases us. In more day to day virtues (waking early, working diligently, etc.), the good is whatever end we're striving for. Etc. Now, because the development of virtue involves a kind of suffering, the lower pleasures are frequently obstacles to virtue. Some days I sleep in; some days I browse the internet for hours or just eat and watch movies. The pleasures involved in these activities appeal to the untrained (unvirtuous) mind as a surer good than the higher goods which can only be obtained through virtue (and the suffering involved in forgoing lower pleasures). But it is necessary to act against our lower appetites if we are ever to do anything of worth whatsoever. Likewise, the craftsman must be prepared to endure a certain measure of failure and pain when he is developing his art. Anyone who has ever built anything or even cooked anything knows how true this is.

    D. Aside from that, one problem I see with the usual "evident telos" approach to arguing against sodomy is that many parts of the body have multiple "evident tele". Mouths are for eating and drinking, breathing, speaking, gum chewing, and sometimes kissing. With such a diverse set of ends, the mouth seems to function as merely a tool in service of whatever we're trying to do. Why shouldn't genital organs work the same way? I've thought some about this problem, and I think the answer isn't likely to come by way of arguing specifically about unnatural sexual acts, but by way of a broader consideration of human nature, the relationship between body and soul, divine providence as evident through reason, and the structure (which would, presumably, reveal itself to be a pathology) of unnatural sexual desire. Obviously, George, Finnis, Boyle and company have ready answers to these problems, but I haven't read them and am inclined to distrust them.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    SEVENTY-SIXTH

    A. "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

    B. The Usual Suspects (3) is a good heist thriller with Kevin Spacey in the lead. One can't help but know instinctively that Spacey's character (apparently domestic, lame, and unintelligent) is the most dangerous of the lineup of criminals in the first scene. On the whole, the final twist is clever and the plot keeps you going, but a number of movies in the same genre do what this one did better. We might recommend The City of God (4) for it's skillful storytelling (though it's not a heist film), or Ocean's Eleven (3) for it's clean upbeat tone, or Matchstick Men (3) for it's clever final twist.

    SEVENTY-FIFTH

    Ammon came to Poemen, and said to him, 'If I go to my neighbour's cell, or if he comes to mine, we are both afraid of telling each other silly tales which may harm our monastic purpose.'  The hermit said to him, 'You are right.  Young men need to be on their guard.'  Ammon asked him, 'What about old men?' Poemen said to him, 'Old men who make progress and are stable, do not find frovolous words in their mouths and so they do not say them.'

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    SEVENTY-FOURTH

    A. I attended Borders' wake today and got 20% off a copy of Richard Evans' The Coming of the Third Reich, which I have now begun to read. For the record I have not yet finished The Third Reich at War, but I like Evans' style, so I figured I'd start over from the beginning.

    B. Meanwhile, neither have I finished Book Two of Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles. The intricacies of body-soul unity are rather taxing. I would skip to the morals in Book Three, but I couldn't help but feel guilty about what I missed.

    C. This phenomenon, described in B, is to blame for a good many wasted weeks of my life.

    D. This is, to remind us all, actually the 73rd entry on this blog, as there was never a 50th. Supposedly every positive integer can be written as the sum of 73 or fewer sixth powers.

    E. "Subjecting his flesh to his spirit and his sensitivity to reason, he became one and the same spirit with God [I Cor. 6:17], and completely devoted his attention to seeking Him through the excess of his mind [Ps. 30:23]. Moreover, in the eagerness of his companions, he never departed from love for his neighbor. When he destroyed the pleasures of the flesh and illuminated the stony minds of the impious, the whole sect of the heretics trembled and the whole Church of the faithful rejoiced."