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Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

#Notourcrimes

That’s the hashtag that feminist activists use to point out the times when a crime – usually violent, often sexual – is described in the news (or even by law enforcement) as having been committed by a “woman,” who is actually a man.

It happens…a lot. I blogged about it here (it’s a catch-all post, scroll down to the bottom)

This is, of course, important. Accuracy in reporting crime, both in the media and in official records, matters. To accede to the wishes of a male to be called a female, and to shriek about misgendering when perhaps it’s good for the public to know that a dude in a wig is out there threatening women and children, is just one more reason why “trans” shouldn’t be treated as an actual thing.

Here’s an example. It’s kind of interesting and convoluted.

A 26-year-old woman who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in Palmdale

Does that make your radar quiver? It should. Yes, women commit crimes. Women commit sexual crimes. Women commit sexual crimes against children.

But do women sexually assault children in Denny’s restrooms?

Not exactly the profile of a female criminal.

The LATimes has an article about a case involving one “Hannah Tubbs.” The issue at the heart of the article is not about sexuality, but about juvenile defendants. The LA DA has said that he will not be prosecuting juveniles at all – another issue, and this case is a complicated part of that puzzle. For the crime of sexual assault was committed in 2014, when Tubbs was a juvenile (either almost 17 or 18 – new stories differ on this) , but the crime was not tracked to him until 2019, when he was implicated in a number of other crimes.

The whole situation is, as I said, centered on the treatment of juveniles – and then, since he’s not a juvenile any more – the convolutions of bureaucracy and stubborn ideology. Here’s a useful Twitter thread summarizing the issue.

But that’s not my point.

The LATimes characterizes Tubbs as “Hannah” and uses female pronouns to refer to him directly, and [inserts] female pronouns in the speech of others when they are obviously referring to Tubbs as male.

A 26-year-old woman who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in Palmdale might be sentenced to a short stay in juvenile hall or granted probation at a court hearing this month, sparking another round of outrage over Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s all-or-nothing criminal justice reform platform.

….Tubbs, who is transgender and identifies as female, was 17 years old when prosecutors alleged she sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl in the restroom of a Denny’s restaurant in Palmdale in 2014. She has pleaded guilty to the charge, but sentencing has been repeatedly delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no “she” assaulting a ten-year old in a Denny’s in Palmdale.

Other news outlets – such as (no surprise) Fox, refer to Tubbs as James and male throughout.

The Glinner Update has some other related stories today, including that of a Kansas sex offender who’s making news campaigning for self-id in prisons.

While on bail, Pina began identifying as trans and adopted the name Rayne Aloysius Constantine Rose Bennett. Following his conviction, he was placed in a male prison. He immediately sought out a mental health professional to diagnose him with gender dysphoria, no doubt hoping for a transfer to a women’s prison, but his claim of being transgender was rejected and he remained in the male estate…

Articles from KCUR, the Kansas branch of National Public Radio, CJ Online and The Leavenworth Times all used Pina to shill for a policy which would allow males to be accommodated in female prisons. They positively gush over him and, despite his not having a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, refer to him with female pronouns…

….Another salient fact omitted by all of these pieces is that Pina was convicted for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl. Funny that.

Let’s make it simple: Sociopathic abusers and criminals will do anything to get access to victims, and are also narcissistic crybabies by definition. “Not really trans!” you cry in defense. Okay, then, with self-id, how does society tell the difference?

….

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After Life (3)

Season 3 of Ricky Gervais’ super-popular After Life dropped last week, so I watched it and..

Well, let’s just say that when I read my critiques of seasons 1 and 2...it’s pretty amazing how the plot beats of the show haven’t changed one bit, and, less amazing, how then my take on the show hasn’t changed either.

After watching season 3 I am amazed at how lazy it is. Seriously – it’s the same plot, set in the same fantasy world, just with different adjacent weirdos.

Well, one thing has changed. This season is…terrible. The worst of the three, by far.

Tony (Gervais’ character) behaves as if he hadn’t had any of the insights he supposedly gained in seasons 1 and 2. He’s right back to square one, being obnoxious, watching the videos, taking walks with the dog, and nodding at his widow friend’s insights.

Until, then, he sees some light and decides to embrace life (a little) and stop being such a jerk (kind of) and we have another Hallmark-movie ending that has online commenters sobbing about the buckets of tears they’d shed.

I swear, it’s almost as if season 3 of After Life is big joke Gervais is playing on his fans, testing them to see how gullible they’ll be. Or he’s lazy. Or the circularity is a reflection of the defensively atheist worldview that just can’t go anywhere, that can’t really progress.

As in the previous seasons, a dash of truth and insight is mixed in with gallons of off-the-charts crudity, grossness and caricature.

Gervais does toy a little bit more with religious belief and spirituality here, and what I’ll say is that the engagement in this season is a little more thoughtful and less reflexively dismissive. It actually provides the most affecting moment of the season, I think.

Tony has (of course) watched a video of a family gathering scene. His late father was there, as was his late wife. God and the afterlife comes up. Lisa, Tony’s wife, defends a belief in both. She’s vague and isn’t sure of what she believes, but she makes clear that it doesn’t make sense to believe in nothing.

As Tony reflects on this in one of the graveside conversations with the widow, he admits that he’s sorry he was so aggressive in his disbelief:

I wish I hadn’t teased her about there not being an afterlife now because, uh, I think she wanted to believe, deep down, in, like, Heaven and angels and stuff. I hope she wasn’t… I hope she wasn’t scared.

Gervais’ delivery of these lines is beautiful.

And frankly, one of the things that makes the moment so affecting isn’t just Tony’s admission of another point of view, but the fact that really, for the first time in the whole series, the character focuses ON HIS CANCER-STRICKEN WIFE’S SUFFERING.

I commented on this in relation to the first series. Of course, the series is all about Tony – I mean, it has to be – but a major limit on our sympathy is that, indeed, it’s all about him. I guess we see from the videos how wonderful Lisa was, but the fact that his grief never takes into account her suffering and what her absence from the planet might mean for anyone other than Tony moping in his house with his wine and his dog makes After Life less the “humanist masterpiece” it’s hailed as and more of another solipsistic whine.

I’ll also stand by this:

But in the end After Life falls way short because, ironically, the atheist worldview that critiques Christianity for being all simplistic-pie-in-the-sky-easy-answers offers…easy answers. Why? Because mystery and meaning essentially have no place. Tony learns to live better and move on because he finally listens to the people who are constantly telling him he’s good and funny and “lovely.” And his dog needs him. That’s really….it.

For season 3, substitute, “people who are constantly telling him that he should, indeed cash the life insurance check because angels do exist, and they are people who help others.”

Three more points:

I think Gervais is at his strongest when he’s acting in serious moments. He can actually do it, and it works. When the camera focuses on him as he’s listening to another person in pain, the compassion in his face seems very real. But then he starts cackling and shrieking c*** again and he’s lost me.

The ending of this series has supposedly got the world in tears, but it’s A-1 manipulative and simplistic and faux Fellini-life-is-a-carnival strained through Hallmark and Capra.

We’ve got the metaphor that Tony says his father shared with him about life as a carnival ride – and then – there we are at the carnival! Wow! Funny how that works! With all the previously miserable people gathered, playing their parts. Tony scatters more fairy dust of good will (he’s distributed funds earlier), playing mostly matchmaker, either directly or inadvertently. And then he strolls off into the field with the dog.

(I did like the final, final scene – some have wondered if it’s an implication of suicide, but Gervais has definitely declared it is not. Rather, it’s a nice visual expression of “Life happens. We’re a part of it for a while. Then we’re not. And life keeps happening.”)

Besides the simplistic nature of it, one aspect of the final segment disturbed and borderline angered me. This series is peppered with odd characters. A few are decent, some are hapless misfits, others are problematic. All of the latter are men, and they’re mostly gross. I mean, just gross. In this last segment, in which all are presumed to live happily ever after (because Tony was a part of their lives, a la It’s a Wonderful Life), everyone gets paired off, including some decent women with these gross men. It doesn’t come off as inclusive or accepting. It comes off as misogynist and disturbing.

Well, at least Kath found a friend, and a decent one – a dog. Her quavering Can I keep him? is heartbreaking, especially after the brutal dating experiences Gervais has humiliated the character with in this series.

Finally, a reflection on this and the Sex in the City reboot. Death is at the heart of both. As you may or may not know, in the first episode of And Just Like That, Carrie’s husband, “Big,” dies of a heart attack. And so what follows is Carrie navigating widowhood and all that brings.

Of course, neither Carrie or Tony in After Life have children. There’s no reason these characters should, but at the same time the absence of children or even much extended family shades how the programs then, present life after loss.

For honestly, when there are children, your grief cannot be just about you. You’re forced to think of others, you can’t just live in a sad bubble, you have to consider a bigger picture:

Back to the bigger truth – it’s what I found over and over again. In the face of loss, I had to ask a question, and the question centered around my kids. How do I want them to live? They lost their dad at a young age. Devastating. Life-changing. Potentially disastrous. How do I want them to live with that? If I choose to live my life defined by loss and who’s not there any more, that’s one thing – bad enough – but to raise kids to be centered on the hole, the shadow, the absence – instead of on the joy that life promises – well, that’s just cruel and even a little sick, isn’t it?

And what follows from that?

If I want this for my kids – why not want it for myself as well? If it’s good enough for them – to move on and embrace reality, which includes joy as well as pain – it’s good enough for me, too. Live the way you hope those you love will live.

So there’s the truth bombs of After Life: Death rips your world apart, and healing happens when you recognize that you’re not the center of the world.

Life goes on is one way to say it – but in a bigger, more generous sense: Life goes on, and life is full of hurting people – and despite your pain and loss – or maybe even because of it – you can do something to help.

So in a way, the childlessness of the grieving in both these shows functions, inadvertently, as a limitation to exploring a truly holistic humanist vision, as it becomes a metaphor of the modern, atomized vision of the self. We’re not obligated to figure this thing out for anyone else except ourselves.

Once again, my main takeaway is related to what After Life reveals about the limitations of Gervais’ worldview. “Humanism” can only go so far without real connection grounded in transcendent, objective truth about who we are and most importantly – who we all are, together.

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January 17 – St. Anthony of the Desert, or St. Anthony of Egypt, the father of Christian monasticism. 

Around the year 270, two great burdens came upon Anthony simultaneously: the deaths of both his parents, and his inheritance of their possessions and property. These simultaneous occurrences prompted Anthony to reevaluate his entire life in light of the principles of the Gospel– which proposed both the redemptive possibilities of his personal loss, and the spiritual danger of his financial gains.
 
Attending church one day, he heard –as if for the first time– Jesus’ exhortation to another rich young man in the Biblical narrative: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Anthony told his disciples in later years, that it was as though Christ has spoken those words to him directly.

setting aside a portion to provide for his sister. Although organized monasticism did not yet exist, it was not unknown for Christians to abstain from marriage, divest themselves of possessions to some extent, and live a life focused on prayer and fasting. Anthony’s sister would eventually join a group of consecrated virgins.
 
Anthony himself, however, sought a more comprehensive vision of Christian asceticism. He found it among the hermits of the Egyptian desert, individuals who chose to withdraw physically and culturally from the surrounding society in order to devote themselves more fully to God. But these individuals’ radical way of life had not yet become an organized movement.

St. Athanasius’ Life of St. Anthony

As an extra, I found this piece on St. Anthony and reading – he was illiterate, almost, you might say, by choice – quite thought provoking. 

St. Athanasius reports that “Antony was also extremely wise.”  St. Anthony was visited by many Greek philosophers seeking him out in the desert to ridicule him. When they came to mock him on the account that he had not learned his letters, he asked them:

“‘Which is first- mind or letters? And which is the cause of which- the mind of the letters, or the letters of the mind?’ After their reply that the mind is first and an inventor of the letters, Anthony said, ‘Now you see that in the person whose mind is sound there is no need for letters.’”

These and many others departed in amazement that an untrained man living in the wilderness could possess such understanding. He was “gracious and civil, and his speech was seasoned with divine salt, so that no one resented him.”

St. Anthony draws our attention away from the current obsession with material literacy and towards the true nature of literacy that sees that the real ends are the sane mind and sound heart. Though reading is of real instrumental value, the act of reading is a means to an end, not the end itself. The ends remain the proper consumption of spiritual food and hearing words is closer to the source than reading words. In spiritual reading, the written word is accompanied by extra but similar work to hearing the spoken word: the words have to be translated into a form that is audible and intelligible to the human heart.

In Mathew 4:4, when the Devil tempts Christ to turn stones into bread, our Lord responds by declaring that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  Just like we need bread for material existence, the words that proceed from the mouth of God are spiritual food, exponentially more important than bodily food and the objective of spiritual reading is to feed our souls by the bread that “proceeds from the mouth of God.” Spiritual reading is feeding our souls. St. Anthony didn’t abandon the feast of spiritual reading; he attuned his ear to revelation, his soul to the Holy Spirit, and his heart to the will of the Father so effectively that the written word was an unnecessary mediation. We will benefit far more from an attuned ear and willing heart than a sharp eye and keen mind.

Food for thought in the Information Age.  I often consider how in the present glut, I know a lot more than I might have in a previous era, but I am certainly no wiser.

St. Anthony in the wilderness- except that the pot of gold originally in the painting has, for some reason, been scraped out of the painting. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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From The Loyola Kids Book of Bibles Stories. 

Link does not go to Amazon, but to the Loyola site. Of course, the book is available through Amazon, but my preference is that if you purchase it – and I hope you do! – you will do so through Loyola or a Catholic bookstore, either online or brick-and-mortar.

Remember, the stories are arranged in this book according to when a child would most like to hear them during the liturgical year.

So…here we are in Ordinary Time!

I am doing a bit more over at Instagram. No, not posting little micro-blogs, but trying to learn more about Reels and other elements. I want to figure this out now so I can do what I want to do more easily and quickly when the time comes that I hit the road again and do more traveling. So you can go there for a post related to this one – it’s all super simple at this point.

Carl Olson:

The Church sees the miracle at Cana as a “confirmation of the goodness of marriage” (CCC 1613). But there is also a connection to baptism, for the jars used in the miracle were for ceremonial washings, for ritual purification from defilement. In the waters of baptism, we are cleansed by God’s grace and transformed by his power. Through baptism we become members of the Church, the bride of Christ, and are invited to partake of the blood of the bridegroom (CCC 1335).

“Now we all partake at the banquet in the church,” wrote the sixth-century saint, Romanus Melodus, “For Christ’s blood is changed into wine/And we drink it with holy joy/Praising the great bridegroom.”

First water, then wine; first baptism, then Eucharist. By these sacraments, perceptible signs, we are changed, cleansed, fed—and wed.

From Daniel Mitsui. Gorgeous.

The background screens depict the Six Ages of the World, and the Creation and Fall of Adam and Eve. The jars represent the Six Days of Creation.

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Over the past week, the trans issue has finally found space in more mainstream media outlets in a slightly more balanced way than we’ve seen.

More questions being asked, but still, not quite the correct, fundamental question that’s in that bulls-eye.

Three examples:

The NYTimes ran a piece on questions about treating children and young people with puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgery.

Note that while the article was nervously open to questions, the comments from readers are strongly anti-intervention.

The three top-rated reader comments give me hope:

As a parent of a “trans” teen, I ask you: In what other medical area would it be possible for the patient (an adolescent, no less!!) to not only self-diagnose but also prescribe treatment, including drugs and surgery that are potentially irreversible and for which the long-term effects have not been studied? The social media-fueled trans contagion among adolescents, particularly girls – further exacerbated by activists (no matter how well-intentioned their support for trans people) – has gotten out of control. Especially among the white upper-middle class youth and their enabling schools, psychologists and psychiatrists. True gender dysphoria is one thing. This craze is another thing entirely. YES, teens need to be screened thoroughly, if not to say aggressively, NOT just affirmed.

If you can’t, as a doctor, answer how many children will later want to detransition (“it’s thought to be rare” is shoddy data), and there is no formal system for tracking this data, you’re running an uncontrolled experiment.

Simply stated, it should be against the law to let any person under 18 years of age have gender reassignment treatments of any kind. As a gay boy, most of my friends in school were “sissies” or “tom boys” and were very seriously into hacking the opposite gender, as expressed by all sorts of behavior that in this climate would likely be called “gender fluidity.” Not a single one if asked today would say they wanted a sex change. It’s bizarre and unthinkable to take developing adolescent minds and imaginations so seriously as to prescribe such treatments.

And believe me, if you keep going on that list – the comments rated by readers – they are overwhelmingly gender-critical.

Lesson: Don’t be gaslit into thinking that you’re alone or part of a bigoted minority if you share this skepticism.

Secondly, Andrew Sullivan – who has been questioning the trans train for a bit, slightly – wrote a piece.

And then Megan McArdle had an opinion piece in the Washington Post on how it’s time “we” start talking about “trans” athletes.

Note to McArdle: Some of “us” have been talking about it for a while.

(Note to new readers. I don’t use “preferred pronouns.” Here’s why. I don’t use “trans” as a noun or even an adjective. Here’s why. Men and women experience mental illness, dysphoria or are fetishists. That makes them men or women experiencing dysphoria or engaging in a fetish. It doesn’t make them the opposite sex. Just as a 70-pound person suffering from anorexia is not “obese” and shouldn’t be described as such.)

First, on Sullivan.

The guy is desperately trying to have it both ways. He wants to affirm “trans rights” but also sees that to deny the biological reality of sex is insane and, as he puts it, a “cultural revolution.”

What the trans movement is now doing, after this comprehensive victory, is not about rights at all. It is about cultural revolution. It’s a much broader movement to dismantle the sex binary, to see biology as a function of power and not science, and thereby to deconstruct the family and even a fixed category such as homosexuality. You can support trans rights and oppose all of this. But they want you to believe you can’t. That’s the bait-and-switch. Don’t take it.

You can support trans rights and oppose all of this.

Really?

How?

The “rights” to do what?

The problem is that aside from the knotty question of Lia Thomas, Sullivan is just not getting into the weeds of where his “trans rights” will take us – and the impact, primarily, on women – and, I might say, vulnerable women.

He might hope for a middle ground, but to tell the truth, there isn’t one. There just isn’t.

Once you have admitted “trans” as a category of being and identity, there’s no defense. It’s done. For “trans” is a state of mind and can be applied anywhere by anyone. “Trans” as understood in this moment by activists, has nothing to do with the body. If a genitally intact man wants to declare himself a woman, the rest of society – including prisons, domestic violence shelters and changing rooms – must bow.

And in this context, when I say there’s no defense, what I mostly mean is that vulnerable women have no defense.  

Sullivan needs to pay attention to the question of prisons. This might clarify things.

 Violent men were secreted into a women’s prison in Illinois over recent months without public notice while and after a District Court decided state prisons should not automatically house inmates on the basis of genitalia or physique. One of the men had to be put in isolation after an investigation determined he raped several of the women after stopping his hormone use.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) worked closely with the men to help them get the transfers, filing a class action lawsuit on their behalf. Although the men’s birth names remain their legal names, the ACLU had the men use feminine, false names on all court filings. This had the effect of keeping the violent and sexually predatory criminal backgrounds of the men seeking transfers from becoming easily discoverable to the public.  

Also, buried in the Biden justice reform:

In short, under this executive order, the federal government will house criminals based on subjective, self-declared “gender identity” rather than biological sex.

We could go on and on – and I have, obviously.

But the question stands, and while Sullivan is getting closer, he’s not yet wrestling with the heart of it: Is “trans” an actual, singular “identity?” If so, how is it determined?

Talk about that. And then get to the “Rights” part.

Now to McArdle, who presents some vague thoughts on the challenge Lia Thomas and others present to women’s sports.

She says:

If cases like Thomas are few, it’s relatively easy to make inclusion paramount.

Why?

Poor thing. For God’s sake don’t exclude him. Paramount!

Every Lia Thomas replaces an actual female who has worked very hard to succeed in her sport, usually since childhood. Every Lia Thomas takes a place on a team away from one of those females. Every record-setting Lia Thomas claims a record that should belong to a female. Every Lia Thomas on scholarship takes a scholarship away from a female.

And…paramount?

Women being “kind” and accommodating men’s feelings is paramount?

Well, historically, that’s true, I suppose.

The highest-rated comment on this piece, gives hope though:

I am perfectly willing to accept Ms Thomas choice to identify and live as the female gender but that choice cannot impinge on and eradicate the entire concept of women’s sports which is in fact based not on gender differences but on chromosomal based sexual characteristics between males and females which produce radically different aptitudes for almost all physical activities. Those sexual differences remain and should obviously disqualify an XY Ms Thomas from competing in the women’s leagues.

Back to McArdle:

So if we keep finding ourselves in these situations, we’ll need to settle whether we still think it’s important for cisgender women to have a place where at least a few of us can experience the thrill of victory. Maybe that isn’t an important social goal. Or maybe it is, but just not as important a goal as trans inclusion. Either way, that question will have to be asked and answered — out loud, where everyone can hear it.

What does this even mean.

The “social goal” of women’s sports is not giving the gals a chance to “experience the thrill of victory.”

Is that the “social goal” of men’s sports? No. The “social goal” of men’s sports is complex and about being able to use bodies in active, usually competitive ways that prompt us to push limits, develop strength, dexterity and intelligence. This “social goal” also involves others, in teams, competition or community support and identity.

**Not a sociologist of sport. Just spitballing here.

Let’s allow a woman from the team to speak for herself:

“It just seems like if you say anything, everyone is just going to attack you and call you transphobic, and it’s not even true,” she said. “We just want to have what we were promised by joining the swim team, which is fair competition and equal opportunities. It’s been really frustrating because we all agree, and I have yet to meet anyone or talk to anyone who thinks what is going on is OK. But yet somehow, these are the rules and allowed.”

There are a few sports where that can happen in mixed-sex contexts. But in most, because of the physical differences between male and female, especially after puberty, females need their own single-sex athletic space in order to achieve those “social goals” without being beaten down by male strength. And, frankly, having to accommodate narcissistic male egos who, like Thomas can actually brag about being the “Jackie Robinson” of his era.

Gross.

Here’s a very good response from a coach and kinesiologist:

Self-identity is not of primary concern in sports. What we care about is the fundamental biological blueprint that predestines an athlete to be either male or female from conception onward. The distinction between male versus female biological design is categorical; in the same way that, say, a NASCAR vehicle is distinct from an F1 car in auto racing.

Different design. Different category. Different races.

So again, it all comes down to the real question “we” need to talk about – McArdle takes trans as an identity for granted.

Should she? Should “we?”

Why should Lia Thomas be considered a woman for sports or any other purpose? Because he wants us to? Why is the definition of “woman” now about …. men’s feelings?

Why?

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Today’s Gospel from Mass:

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days,
it became known that he was at home.
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door,
and he preached the word to them.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.

One of the many takeaways from this event is the necessity of friends and companions on this journey.

Who can we help bring into Jesus’ presence today? What roofs need to be broken, what mats could be lowered?

Are we in need of assistance, ourselves? Of course we are. Always.

The first page of my retelling from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

You can get a closer look at book via the embed below.

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Random reads

“You’d have to be a demented human being to look at a tiny baby and say, ‘You shouldn’t be alive, there’s too many of you,’ ”

Well, yes.

I agree 100%.

Wait – you’re talking about deer? Okay then. Them, too, I guess.

(For all I know the speaker would say the same about human beings. I’m just pointing out that it’s doubtful you’d find a sympathetically-presented quote like that about human beings, especially the preborn in the New Yorker)

Some random notes from recent magazine reads. Then I’m really and truly getting going with the real work of the day.


From the same issue, “The Great Organic Food Fraud” points out the ease of manipulating idealistic regulation and public goodwill.


A review of a new book on the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone. The review is less than 100% enthusiastic, but the point I found most thought-provoking was that the early efforts to decode the hieroglyphics stalled because of the assumption that the symbols must have esoteric, mystical meanings. Too complex for their own good, it seems. Also: assumptions should always be open for questioning. Knowledge and understanding doesn’t advance otherwise.


Moving on to the New York Review of Books.

Aha! That’s where I read the article on Lawrence. This one. It’s a review of an interesting-sounding book in which a feminist author seeks to rescue Lawrence from his misogynistic image. I’m thinking she’s not successful, but yes, this is where I learned of Sea and Sardinia.


And finally, in the category of: Why do they keep only making superhero movies, comic-book based movies and strained rom-coms when there are so many great stories out there?

Just two examples:

First, the story of Nancy Cunard, the shipping heiress (yes, that Cunard) who became a powerful patron of the work of Black writers and other artists. Sure, there’s a theme of white savior-hood running through this – which would be part of the point of exploring it – and it’s not all clean and neat with easy lessons, but it sure is fascinating. Racial issues and tensions in the context of 1920’s Paris, London and New York City, Harlem Renaissance, popular fascination with African art…

Or, that time British officers worked out a plan to break out of a Turkish prison camp using an Ouija Board.

I’m linking this to the NYTimes instead of the NYRB since online, the latter is subscriber-only access.

Sidelined for the balance of the war, the prisoners of Yozgad turned their energies to killing time. Much of the pleasure of “The Confidence Men” comes from the bewildering pluck of these young men of the empire. Shell and starve them within an inch of their lives, force-march the survivors across Asia Minor and before you can sing “Rule, Britannia!” they have organized a debate society and started dress rehearsals for some light comic opera (title: “The Fair Maiden of Yozgad”). Of course, somewhere outside the frame of Fox’s tale, there are an awful lot of enlisted men from both armies detained in far less humane conditions. Unlike the chaps at Yozgad, they were probably not procuring local greyhounds for the P.O.W. hunt club.

On a lark, Jones made a Ouija board from polished iron and an inverted jar. The hardships of war and a wave of magical new technologies (the phonograph, radio, flight) had renewed public interest in telepathy and the paranormal. It was a “liminal era,” Fox writes, “poised at the nexus of the scientific and the spiritual.” Jones, who studied psychology at university and possessed an astounding visual memory, discovered that he could bamboozle his fellow officers, even blindfolded under close scrutiny. He found a perfect accomplice in C. W. Hill, a pilot of the Royal Flying Corps who had been raised on a Queensland ranch. Hill had been captured after his biplane was shot down in Egypt. Like Jones, he had a knack for secret codes and a willingness to risk his life for freedom. He also happened to be an accomplished stage conjurer.

Jones and Hill gradually ensorcelled the camp’s harsh Turkish commandant, placing him and two underlings under trembling obedience to a powerful ghost named “the Spook.” Speaking through the two prisoners and their Ouija board, the Spook promised to lead the men to a hoard of buried Armenian gold. (The recent genocide had resulted in a lot of buried wealth.) Jones and Hill planned for the Spook to guide the treasure hunters to the Mediterranean coast, where they could make their escape and possibly even turn over their captors to Allied forces in Cyprus. As it happened, things took a darker turn.

I mean….you’d watch that, wouldn’t you??

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Angel Face Macbeth

A few movie notes before I get going with the real work of the day.

  1. I started watching The Tender Bar and turned it off after fifteen minutes. Sorry if you loved it. It struck me as broad and cliched.
  2. So it was time to head to the Criterion Channel and check out Angel Face, a 1953 noir noted in a recent New Yorker.

Here’s the thing I appreciate this genre and this era: the movies are short. As in usually 90 minutes or less. They don’t demand much of your time, they don’t drag, there’s usually a jaw-dropping moment or two, and then you’re done.

So even if Angel Face wasn’t a masterpiece, it wasn’t following a completely predictable trajectory and had enough odd or unexpected moments to make it worth my time.

Synopsis:

Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) is a regular guy with a steady girl and a dream of owning his own garage when he crosses paths with Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons, in one her most unforgettable roles). She wants him. Or does she want a fall guy to blame when Diane’s stepmother plunges off a high cliff and leaves her fortune to Diane? Alibis, betrayals, courtroom thrills, and the fire of a femme fatale too dangerous to trust and too alluring to resist make ANGEL FACE a stone-cold noir classic.

I mean, I wouldn’t call it a classic, but there you go.

So yes, Simmons is sly as her psychopathic nature is slowly revealed. Mitchum is cool – too cool for my taste, and there’s really no chemistry between him and Simmons, honestly. Herbert Marshall is his usual likeable self as Diane’s father. Most likeable and natural of all are Mona Freeman as Frank’s girlfriend, Mary, and Kenneth Tobey as Frank’s co-worker and eventual romantic rival, Bill.

The movie moves a bit too quickly, though. Perhaps all it needed was a bit of cutting in the first third so the middle – arrest and courtroom scenes – didn’t seem quite so rushed.

Anyway, here’s the notable scenes and aspects:

First off, there are two car crashes that are, frankly shocking. They’re both somewhat surprising as they happen, but more than that, the brutality is heart-stopping, even if you know the figures flailing away in the tumbling cars are dummies.

The scene I’ll remember just as much, though, is quite different. It’s a wedding. Not a wedding of love at all, but of legal contrivance. It takes place in a medical facility in a woman’s jail, and after the quick vows, the nurses and patients start to warble O Promise Me – it’s an ironic and oddly moving little scene.

Speaking of music, that plays a large role in this film, not just for the soundtrack, but for the fact that Simmons’ character plays the piano. As we move through the film, she plays the same minor-inflected, melancholy tune throughout – mostly as she’s plotting – and it’s woven into the soundtrack. I do think this musical aspect adds an evocative layer to the film.

There’s some psychological subtlety in Angel Face. We’ve got Simmons’ relationship with her father, which is very close and affectionate (her mother died in an air-raid during the war in London). Then we’ve got her own reaction after her actions begin to bear fruit – with unexpected consequences. If you want a good spoiler-full discussion, go here.

An irritating thing, though – the digital transfer on the Criterion Channel was terrible – heavily pixilated or whatever. To make sure it wasn’t a general problem, I started 8 1/2 and watched it for a few minutes – crystal clear. So that’s unfortunate.

And then, The Tragedy of Macbeth. It’s playing, thank goodness at our local independent film venue (because it will be streaming on Apple TV, and we don’t have that). We managed to see it before College Guy headed back. It’s very good. I don’t have an argument with any individual bit of it – casting, staging, editing choices. Most notable, I think, is Kathryn Hunter as the Witches – who ends up stealing the movie. She’s just remarkable.

Again: I thoroughly enjoyed Macbeth, but at the same time it made me want to see a more naturalistic take on the play, one in which we could see a bit more struggle. Of course it’s all there in the words, but I’m not just reading it. I’m watching it. As good as this Macbeth is, it has a very predetermined air about it, perhaps because of the artificiality of the environment, as striking as it is.

So I went looking – of course, I’ve seen and enjoyed the Patrick Stewart version. But even that is highly affected in setting.

It was late (last night), so Orson Welles’ 1948 version was as far as I got and….wow. I liked it. Yes, there’s artificiality about it as well. The sets are a bit more natural-looking, but it’s still obviously a set. And I don’t think I’m a fan of using the Scottish brogue. But in Welles’ and Jeanette Nolan’s performances, there’s a slow burn of decision-making and tension that I just didn’t get from the Coen version. I only watched the first fifteen minutes, but we’ll watch more. The editing and re-arranging of scenes was also quite interesting and, I think, didn’t hurt the play at all.

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As I said in the previous post, I, very predictably, was prompted to make Liturgical Connections by something Lawrence wrote in Sea and Sardinia.

He’s returned to Sicily, and there in Palermo, stops by a puppet show. Large, traditional Sicilian puppets.

Here’s the observation that caught my eye:

However, this fray is over—Merlin comes to advise for the next move. And are we ready? We are ready. Andiamo! Again the word is yelled out, and they set off. At first one is all engaged watching the figures: their brilliance, their blank, martial stare, their sudden, angular, gestures. There is something extremely suggestive in them. How much better they fit the old legend-tales than living people would do. Nay, if we are going to have human beings on the stage, they should be masked and disguised. For in fact drama is enacted by symbolic creatures formed out of human consciousness: puppets if you like: but not human individuals. Our stage is all wrong, so boring in its personality.

Ah, perhaps you can see where I’m going with this.

Maybe here?

How many times have we seen this, in liturgies and in general church life, when leaders, both lay and clerical, have centered their efforts, words and plans on particular agendas and causes, while in front of them sits a congregation gathered with their broken hearts, fears about life and death and all of it, addictions, disappointments, temptations, frightening diagnoses and exhaustion – wondering why they can’t just pray?

To me, it’s an interesting extension of the post-Enlightenment centering of human experience in the cosmos. In a Catholic context, it took different forms, as theological and spiritual thinkers cycled through various angles and anthropologies over the past two centuries, all of which prioritized human experiences of the present moment as the portal to truth and authenticity.

The trouble is – well, one of the troubles – is that given the opportunity, human beings, especially human beings given positions of power and leadership, and encouraged to let the Spirit speak through the present moment and the uniqueness of their own experience, will do just that – imposing their own understanding of the needs of the present moment on the community as normative and fundamental, using the call to inculturate as an invitation to construct a narrative that serves their own purposes and concretize an agenda when all we really came for was the Creed.

Facing us, speaking our language, trusted by us as the arbiters of the moment in which the Spirit is surely moving – yes, the Egoist, given the chance, will certainly and dutifully embrace the moment and center personal experience as way to authenticity and truth – theirs.

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“Comes over one an absolute necessity to move.”

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I spent a few hours reading Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence.

There’s a “copy” on Gutenburg here which reproduces the illustrations from the original edition, and they are marvelous. I’d pay good money for those, I’ll tell you what.

Summary:

Sea and Sardinia is a travel book by the English writer D. H. Lawrence. It describes a brief excursion undertaken in January 1921 by Lawrence and his wife Frieda, a. k. a. Queen Bee, from Taormina in Sicily to the interior of Sardinia. They visited Cagliari, Mandas, Sorgono, and Nuoro. His visit to Nuoro was a kind of homage to Grazia Deledda but involved no personal encounter. Despite the brevity of his visit, Lawrence distils an essence of the island and its people that is still recognisable today. Extracts were originally printed in The Dial during October and November 1921 and the book was first published in New York, USA in 1921 by Thomas Seltzer, with illustrations by Jan Juta.

“Brief” is right – I could go back and count, but it seems to me they spent about four days – most of them in transit, either by boat, train or bus.

If you want a wonderfully-written take on the book, go to this NYTimes piece by Richard Cohen, in which he describes his and his wife’s attempt to retrace the Lawrence’s steps.

After a few days, there being “little to see” in Cagliari, the Lawrences moved north to Mandas on the interior railway, the Trenino Verde, a toylike affair that “pelts up hill and down dale … like a panting, small dog.” Alas, that train no longer operates in the off-season, so we rented a car, a betrayal of Lawrentian values — namely hunger, bad light, and sharing space with people who annoy you.

As I said, most of the Lawrence’s time on this trip is spent traveling. And yes, annoyed. They spend all day on a train or a bus, arrive at nightfall to a new place that seems, from afar, to be enticing and picturesque, but which they (at least DHL) find to be dreary with only horrendous food on the offer. (I was entertained by the fact that Lawrence describes each dreadful meal in detail, but the one good meal he has, he doesn’t tell us about, except to say it was excellent. It seems to me there’s a personality trait embedded there.)

Get up the next morning, find the next train.

So in that sense, it’s an odd travel book.  But because it’s Lawrence, it’s also quite fine. No, he won’t be telling me about the history and specifics of various sites, but he will have keenly observed every person on the train or in the dim dining room, and he scorns seeing the sites anyway. He is riding about, experiencing things, watching people, absorbing the landscape, and in the context of the crowded bus or raucous Epiphany celebration, working out other ideas, mostly here, about England, masculinity and modernity.

A hundred years ago, Lawrence was ill at ease with the homogenization of modernity. What he would say about the contemporary homogeneity-masquerading-as-diversity of the present day, I couldn’t imagine. And yes, it’s romanticized, even as he comes up against the harshness of life in Sardinia and Sicily. But I’ll end this post with a few relevant quotes and follow it up with a post bouncing something Lawrence says up against (surprise) liturgy.

The khaki to which he refers is the military issue from World War I that, of course, still formed a foundation of the now-civilian wardrobe.

Sometimes, in the distance one sees a black-and-white peasant riding lonely across a more open place, a tiny vivid figure. I like so much the proud instinct which makes a living creature distinguish itself from its background. I hate the rabbity khaki protection-colouration. A black-and-white peasant on his pony, only a dot in the distance beyond the foliage, still flashes and dominates the landscape. Ha-ha! proud mankind! There you ride! But alas, most of the men are still khaki-muffled, rabbit-indistinguishable, ignominious. The Italians look curiously rabbity in the grey-green uniform: just as our sand-colored khaki men look doggy. They seem to scuffle rather abased, ignominious on the earth. Give us back the scarlet and gold, and devil take the hindmost.


They talk and are very lively. And they have mediaeval faces, rusé, never really abandoning their defences for a moment, as a badger or a pole-cat never abandons its defences. There is none of the brotherliness and civilised simplicity. Each man knows he must guard himself and his own: each man knows the devil is behind the next bush. They have never known the post-Renaissance Jesus. Which is rather an eye-opener.

Not that they are suspicious or uneasy. On the contrary, noisy, assertive, vigorous presences. But with none of that implicit belief that everybody will be and ought to be good to them, which is the mark of our era. They don’t expect people to be good to them: they don’t want it. They remind me of half-wild dogs that will love and obey, but which won’t be handled. They won’t have their heads touched. And they won’t be fondled. One can almost hear the half-savage growl.


For myself, I am glad. I am glad that the era of love and oneness is over: hateful homogeneous world-oneness. I am glad that Russia flies back into savage Russianism, Scythism, savagely self-pivoting. I am glad that America is doing the same. I shall be glad when men hate their common, world-alike clothes, when they tear them up and clothe themselves fiercely for distinction, savage distinction, savage distinction against the rest of the creeping world: when America kicks the billy-cock and the collar-and-tie into limbo, and takes to her own national costume: when men fiercely react against looking all alike and being all alike, and betake themselves into vivid clan or nation-distinctions.

The era of love and oneness is over. The era of world-alike should be at an end. The other tide has set in. Men will set their bonnets at one another now, and fight themselves into separation and sharp distinction. The day of peace and oneness is over, the day of the great fight into multifariousness is at hand. Hasten the day, and save us from proletarian homogeneity and khaki all-alikeness.


I love my indomitable coarse men from mountain Sardinia, for their stocking-caps and their splendid, animal-bright stupidity. If only the last wave of all-alikeness won’t wash those superb crests, those caps, away.

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