Friday, April 29, 2005

Not Exactly a Recommendation...

Last night I read Tony Hendra's book Father Joe, The Man Who Saved My Soul, which is a memoir of his relationship with the Benedictine monk who was Hendra's spiritual mentor. Hendra was hauled to Father Joe when, at age fourteen, he was caught at second base with a married woman. Father Joe's love and kindly guidance sparked a religious awakening in the boy, which soon manifested itself in a desire to become a monk--a desire that never wholly went away, even in the years when Hendra had abandoned his faith and was committing blasphemy in his comedy. (Hendra spent time as a comedian, has worked with a lot of funny people, edited National Lampoon, etc.) Father Joe eventually makes Hendra understand that his real vocation is being a husband and father, though. The journey from fourteen-year old near-adulterer to would-be monk to unhappy satirist to happy father is interesting enough to keep the reader turning the pages.

Even this reader who doesn't share Hendra's dislike of the military and finds his '60s-era politics laughable. (He attributes the fall of the Soviet Union to men of peace like John Paul II and Gorbachev and to the refusal of ordinary Europeans to listen to Reagan.)

I don't think it's a particularly deep book, though, and I was left with some questions about his return to the Church. What the book is is a pretty good account of the action of grace in its author's life. (And, in spite of a few instances of loose strands, Hendra can write well.) And, of course, of the humble, kindly man the book is named for. Don't we all wish we had a Father Joe in our life?

Two Movie Recommendations

I saw two good movies this week, one at the theatre and one on DVD.

Kung Fu Hustle. This is still at the theatre. One of the blurbs on the movie poster says it's like nothing you've ever seen before. I wouldn't say that. I think if you liked Shaolin Soccer, you'll like this. (Shaolin Soccer is the better movie. At least the original version was; I haven't seen the American version, which I've heard was noticeably inferior.) I'd pay more attention to the blurb that suggests Kung Fu Hustle is like a Jackie Chan movie with Buster Keaton and Monty Python. That's true enough, I guess.

There is one action in the movie--someone running away and hiding--that doesn't make sense when we find out something important about that character later. I could also have done without the faux-snot on the little boy at the end of the film. Small stuff. This is a funny movie with enjoyable fight scenes.

Secondhand Lions. This is out on DVD. A lot of people who wouldn't like Kung Fu Hustle might like this. It is a good, clean film, suitable for the whole family. Not only suitable, but recommended.

It is about a boy of about thirteen whose irresponsible mother dumps him on his eccentric great-uncles for the summer. It turns out to be a blessing. The uncles are delightful old men who, to throw some psycho-babble on it, become the first positive male role models this boy has ever had. Another way of saying it is that they help him start on the path to manhood. Along the way, they are pretty funny.

Uncle Pookie called this movie subversive. And it is. In the best way possible.

Quote of Today

It is from Jonah Goldberg's column (available at NRO):

'Even if the new Spartanism of Peter Singer constituted the better argument,
for example, I’d still rather live in a society of unsophisticated people who
dogmatically believe that leaving defective babies on a hillside is wrong than
in an "enlightened" society that constantly revisits the issue given "new

Quote of a Couple of Days Ago

I meant to post this a couple of days ago and didn't get around to it. Michelle Arnold posting at JimmyAkin.Org linked to this article
Which isn't a great piece but has a great reminder in it:

"American Catholics are the most spoiled Catholics on the planet. A Catholic in
Baghdad just hopes that his church won't be bombed this Sunday; Sudanese
Catholics hope that they can face another day without brutal, unspeakable
religious persecution. In many of the dioceses of the world, a roof on the
church or running water would be nice. And we, in all of our prosperity, want
more ease. We can go to church when we like, say what we like, do what we like.
We want, if it's even possible in this world, an easier life, a life less
uncomfortable... "

Catholics are persecuted by Communists in China, harassed by Buddhists in Sri Lanka, and discriminated against by Muslims in every Muslim country I know of. Kind of makes the inconvenience of going without meat on Fridays during Lent look like small potatoes, doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

People to Pray For

Kathryn Jean Lopez put this link in the Corner today:,0,4897151.story?coll=la-home-headlines
It is about people who work in the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit. This is not a job that most people would want to do, no matter how much they may hate child pornographers and molestors. Few people would want to look at the material these people have to look at daily, or hear the stories they have to hear, or interact with some of the perverts they must interact with. Few people want to think about this kind of evil, much less have to deal with it every day. One of the men called it "soul-destroying" work. Lopez, when she posted the link, suggested that some people who read it would want to pray for the protection of the souls of these investigators. She was right. I did.

Two Book Recommendations

In a recent library trip, I chanced upon a couple of books I wouldn't have thought from the titles I would be interested in, but which I got because of the blurbs on the back. Both turned out to be excellent.

7 Tools to Beat Addiction by Stanton Peele. I got this book because there's a blurb on the back saying it provides an alternative to twelve-step programs and the disease model of addiction. I've long been ambivalent toward twelve-step programs; although they help some people and although I think the step about "making a searching and fearless moral inventory of your life" is a great idea for everyone, I am not entirely comfortable with the idea of people who already live in a victimhood culture being urged to admit they are powerless over certain substances or behaviors, I once read a former AA member saying there is a strong anti-intellectualism in AA, and I don't think judges in the US should ever order anyone to join twelve-step programs because of the religious basis, vague though it may be. See Penn & Teller's Bullshit episode that deals with twelve-step programs for more information and opinion; my opinions do not always match theirs, but they give some food for thought. 7 Tools to Beat Addiction discusses problems with twelve-step and conventional treatment programs and also gives reasons why it is neither accurate nor helpful to think of addiction in terms of disease.

Because there is so much talk about addiction in our society and because some of your tax dollars may be going to questionable anti-addiction programs, you don't actually have to have an addiction to find Peele's book interesting reading. The introduction and first several chapters I found fascinating, completely aside from any practical use they might offer. But I think people with addictions and, to a lesser extent, people whose loved ones have addictions, can benefit from this book's discussions of what kind of treatment is really effective and what isn't and how best to think about your addiction and yourself. There is a lot of common-sense (when you think about it) stuff here, that you aren't going to hear in AA or a high school drug prevention program or an article in a woman's magazine.

The other book is Life at the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple. I knew Dalrymple sometimes writes for NRO, but I'd never much noticed him. Still, the blurbs were good--I was especially intrigued by Peggy Noonan saying he's "the best doctor-writer since William Carlos Williams"--so I decided to give it a try. I was well rewarded.

Mr. Dalrymple has a good, clear prose style, which is something to celebrate in and of itself, but his insight is the real treasure here. The book is subtitled "The Worldview That Makes the Underclass" and is a collection of essays on that theme. Dalrymple, who is a British psychiatrist who works in a slum hospital and a prison (he also spent some years working as a doctor in Africa), paints vivid and disturbing pictures of underclass life in England and offers great insight into the causes of these problems. (In the interest of keeping this short, I'll just say that Mr. Dalrymple, like our new Holy Father, is no fan of relativism.) The American reader can not help drawing parallels between the situation described in this book and conditions in the US. People willing to risk discomfort may ask themselves if their lives, though they are not in the underclass themselves, may have started to mirror some of the attitudes or behaviors Dalrymple writes about. Forget food for thought--there's a feast here.

Monday, April 25, 2005

It's a Good Thing

There are many things I am dissatisfied with in my current town-of-residence, but I am lucky in one thing: the local Catholic church has a priest who makes confession frequently available. Judging from the complaints I've read online, this is unusual. In many Catholic churches around America, confessions are only scheduled twenty to thirty minutes, once a week. Many priests never preach about the need for confession. I've even heard people say they've known priests to be dismissive of the need for confession. What a shame that many people have little access to one of the greatest gifts the Church offers! Or worse, that they are being deluded into thinking they don't need this particular gift.

In my local church, the priest makes confession available before and after every weekend mass; time is limited before mass, for obvious reasons, but he will stay as long as there are people in line after mass. He also has confession available for First Friday masses and the usual "by appointment", and of course there are penance services in Advent and Lent. Most remarkably, this priest mentions confession from the pulpit. I appreciate this. I still occasionally miss the church I attended in my last town, but even if there were nothing else to recommend this church (there are), the local priest's commitment to making confession readily available makes the church in this town one of the few things here I am satisfied with.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Habemus Papam!

Although I will confess that I was kind of hoping for Cardinal Arinze (partly for good reasons--he is orthodox and seems to be a good man with a delightful sense of humor--and partly for bad--the unworthy thought of what fun it would be to see certain Americans squirm, reluctant to criticize his orthodoxy for fear of seeming racist), I am pleased with the choice of Ratzinger. I also like our new Holy Father's choice of name. God bless Pope Benedict XVI!

And may I humbly suggest a motto for this papacy: "The Cafeteria Is Closed."
Okay, so it's not wholly original. I got the idea from Touchstone's blog, here:
They quote Maureen Down, “For American Catholics—especially women and Democratic pro-choice Catholic pols—the cafeteria is officially closed.” Yeah, if only! The blogger suggests the Ratzinger Fan Club adopt "The Cafeteria Is Closed" as its new slogan, but I think it's too good a line to limit it. I'm envisioning tee-shirts and bumperstickers: "ATTENTION CATHOLICS: THE CAFETERIA IS CLOSED". Maybe I'm being silly, maybe not, but I say we should never underestimate the power of a catchphrase (or tee-shirt) to change attitudes. Wasn't that the message of Forrest Gump? Okay, maybe that message was "never underestimate the power of one person to affect things", but my point, such as it is, stands.

Not that the new pope needs my help to come up with a motto or a message for his papacy. The quotes I've seen from the homily he preached right before the conclave began are awesome and I think their message of opposition to relativism, combined with the calls to peace with other Christians that he supposedly talked about at his first homily as pope, make a great message. Heck, the first part alone makes a great message. Not that this papacy or any other needs a motto or any message other than the Gospel; I'm just glad to hear any world figure denouncing relativism. Long Live BXVI.

Veteran Spits On Jane Fonda

A Vietnam veteran has been arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for spitting a wad of tobacco juice on Jane Fonda. While I am not entirely without sympathy for the sentiments behind his action, spitting on people is uncouth and disgusting, spitting on people you disagree with is a poor substitute for rational discourse, and for a man to spit on a woman he disagrees with is--dare I say it?--appallingly unchivalrous.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Gunning For Hanoi Jane

Michelle Malkin has a new column up, pointing out that Jane Fonda's "apology" isn't quite an apology--it's more of a cynical publicity move than anything else. Malkin is preaching to the choir here.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Keep The Political Terms In Politics

When the Holy Father died, I knew that I would soon grow really sick of hearing one particular little verbal quirk. It's only been three days and I'm getting there already. The verbal annoyance in question is referring to Catholics as liberal or conservative. Whatever any individual Catholic's politics may be (and I hope we all remember to keep the Gospel in mind as we form our political opinions), on his religion the Catholic is not liberal or conservative--he is orthodox or he is not.

A Good Long Post

Stanley Kurtz at NRO's The Corner often writes on gay "marriage" and is always intelligent and well-informed on the subject. Today he links to someone else who writes intelligently on the subject: Jane Galt, who calls her post "A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other". Intriguing title, no? Her post is well worth the time spent reading it--and I'd say that even if she hadn't mentioned Chesterton.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


K-Lo at The Corner has been posting comments and links to articles about the Holy Father's passing. The Anchoress also has a lot of good stuff.

Unfortunately a lot of stuff out there to be linked to has idiotic and/or insulting bits in it.

The Annual Silliness

I've never been a fan of Daylight Savings Time--not to the point that, like one elderly relative-by-marriage, I refuse to set my clock ahead and do the arithmetic in my head whenever I'm supposed to be somewhere at a particular DST time, but I'll sometimes offer some mild criticism when the topic comes up. Deciding that every summer we're going to change our clocks and call 1:30 2:30 and then call our renaming of the hours "daylight saving" has always seemed silly, if not faintly arrogant, to me. And certainly pointless. The day is still the same number of hours it would have without our change; summer days are longer because of perfectly natural occurrences that go on no matter what number is showing on our clocks. And I never bought the notion (which I was told as a child) that DST was done for the benefit of farmers. Why would farmers care what time it is? They are going to get up whenever they have to to get their work done. I always figured it was really done for the benefit of suburb-dwellers who work in cities (and, let's be honest, congressmen) who wanted a little extra time by the pool when they get home on weekdays.

Imagine my pleasure Friday when I saw John J. Miller's NRO article on DST. In addition to pointing out the general nonsensical nature of the whole thing and providing some history (it's educational; I never knew we'd had DST before the 60s, for instance), he says that farmers were actually opposed to it. I knew I was right! In your face, purveyors of unthought-out answers to children!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Friday, April 01, 2005

Exhibit #4332...

...showing why it's better to have children the natural way (or adopt): Doctor puts another couple's embryo in a woman. When he finally fesses up, she sues for malpractice and is awarded $1,000,000. The couple sues for custody of their genetic child. The doctor has his license suspended. And a small child is caught in the middle of all of it. Yeah, it's great what reproductive technology can do for us.

Here's the article:

What I'm Doing Instead of Going to Bed

Reading comics and otherwise wasting time. I notice Pearls Before Swine and Get Fuzzy are running the same basic strip today. April Fools' Day gag, I guess; it's not as good as the year a lot of cartoonists swapped strips. And speaking of comics, I have a lot of sympathy with Monty today.