The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, September 30, 2012

365 Days, Already

Tomorrow is a year that La Caterina and I have been married.

I had hoped to dance to this with her at the wedding but rain took away our dance floor.

How very lucky I am, and how grateful I remain.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Day in the Diocese

Today was a wonderful day in the Diocese of New York--seven transitional deacons were ordained priests at the Cathedral, and one of them is a very good friend--a woman whose spiritual journey has intersected with mine, whose presentation of what the Eucharist meant to her has illuminated my own call.

The Cathedral puts on the dog a bit for ordination--the soloists were outstanding, the readings delivered by friends new and old, and the day filled with light, love and hope, ending with the strains of the Widor Toccata celebrating the beginning of the priestly ministry of the "Magnificent Seven" as the homilist and the Bishop called the seven ordinands--all women, as it happened.

A hopeful sign for the Church in itself, I think--in the years from the controversial, extra-canonical ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven to the joyous ordination of New York's Magnificent Seven, we have come a long way.

And miles to go before we sleep.

And miles to go before we sleep.

God bless the Church; there's life in the old girl yet!

(Widor himself is at the organ in the clip.)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Remembering Herbert Lom

I'm sorry to see that Herbert Lom has died, although of course 95 is an impressive age to reach. He is, of course, best known for his portrayal of Chief Inspector Dreyfus, the perpetually frustrated, and ultimately, insane boss:

Excellent though Lom was in this role, I've always liked him in Hopscotch, as the savvy Russian intelligence pro, Yaskov:

Lom was an underrated character actor, whose work ranged from first rate noir, to first rate schlock. The Guardian has a good roundup of his career in clips. He even turns up in a guilty pleasure from my youth, the 1979 Cybill Shepherd-Elliott Gould remake of The Lady Vanishes.

May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bare (But Not Ruined) Choirs

where late the sweet birds sang . . .

I took this photo of St. Cornelius Chapel on Governors Island. St. Cornelius, it turns out is a part of Trinity Church (Wall Street).

The church is imposing inside as well as out, with beautiful statined glass windows:

And the sanctuary boasts clean, spare lines, but offer a richness in simplicity:

Despite the tourists and art aficionados outside during my visit, St. Cornelius' Chapel provided me with a chance to step outside of time and the Twenty-first Century, and into Time Present and Time Past, which, at least in the Chapel,
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
Is it enough? Oh, yes.

Monday, September 24, 2012

One Cheer for Ann Romney

So, My Best Critic and I had a conversation about Friday's post, in which I compared Mitt Romney to Coriolanus, and included his wife Ann in the comparison, describing her as sounding like "a dowager giving instructions to the help." My good friend didn't object to the comparison regarding Mitt himself, and in fact found it interesting, but thought that I was unfair to Ann Romney. We listened to the audio together, and I stood by my assessment, while he thought it sounded like a woman defending the husband she loves in a time when he is (deservedly or not) undergoing rather brutal criticism. He asked how I would react if la Caterina would be subjected to such criticism.

Good question, right? Answer: quite possibly with a lot of anger, at best barely suppressed. And that's a near-best case scenario.

But let me pose the question that floated across my mind later: How would la Caterina react if I were under such withering fire. Answer: Even if I deserved the criticism, she'd be a Valkyrie.

So, let me eat a bit of crow here: I wasn't trying to be unfair to Ann Romney, but I concede I could very well have been. Let's make that probably was.

And, like Jonathan Darrow, I sometimes need to stop blazing arrogance in all directions, look in the mirror and say to myself "I CAN BE WRONG."

A salute, then, from my household to that of the Romney family:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Coriolanus and the Popular Touch

Ann Romney on her husband's Republican critics:
“Stop it! You want to try it? Get in the ring. This is hard and, you know, it’s an important thing that we’re doing right now and it’s an important election and it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country."
It's especially worth listening to for the firmness of Ann Romney's tone, the dismissiveness with which she responds to fellow Republicans. (Audio at the link, or here). She's like a dowager giving instructions to the help.

Which brings me to a point about both Mitt and Ann Romney; they're aristocrats. That doesn't always translate to what has been called, to my mind quite fairly, Romney's "disdain for workers." Think Theodore Roosevelt, who enjoyed the company of ranch hands, his "Rough Riders," and newspapermen, and supported workers' rights as President and in the Progressive Party platform.
But the Romneys, ironically less genuinely aristocratic in terms of their background than TR (or FDR for that matter), have attitudes more like members of the ancien regime than even Winston Churchill would allow himself. (And Churchill had a strong ethic of noblesse oblige that blunted his aristocratic sensibilities.)

The unease and artificiality that mars so many of Romney's public performances (though not, interestingly, the fundraiser speech that has caused Romney so much trouble this past week) may be a product of this aristocratic expectation of deference--Mitt Romney is trying to play the part of a tribune of the people, but it's simulated; Ann is not even trying. They seem as if their first instincts are those of Coriolanus, in Act III, sc. 2, where he needs to obtain votes to be confirmed as consul:
Menenius Agrippa. O sir, you are not right: have you not known
The worthiest men have done't?
Coriolanus. What must I say? 1475
'I Pray, sir'—Plague upon't! I cannot bring
My tongue to such a pace:—'Look, sir, my wounds!
I got them in my country's service, when
Some certain of your brethren roar'd and ran
From the noise of our own drums.' 1480
Menenius Agrippa. O me, the gods!
You must not speak of that: you must desire them
To think upon you.
Coriolanus. Think upon me! hang 'em!
I would they would forget me, like the virtues 1485
Which our divines lose by 'em.
Menenius Agrippa. You'll mar all:
I'll leave you: pray you, speak to 'em, I pray you,
In wholesome manner.

Coriolanus. Bid them wash their faces
And keep their teeth clean.
[Re-enter two of the Citizens]
So, here comes a brace.
[Re-enter a third Citizen] 1495
You know the cause, air, of my standing here.
Third Citizen. We do, sir; tell us what hath brought you to't.
Coriolanus. Mine own desert.
Second Citizen. Your own desert!
Coriolanus. Ay, but not mine own desire. 1500
Third Citizen. How not your own desire?
Coriolanus. No, sir,'twas never my desire yet to trouble the
poor with begging.
Third Citizen. You must think, if we give you any thing, we hope to
gain by you. 1505
Coriolanus. Well then, I pray, your price o' the consulship?

First Citizen. The price is to ask it kindly.
Coriolanus. Kindly! Sir, I pray, let me ha't: I have wounds to
show you, which shall be yours in private. Your
good voice, sir; what say you? 1510
Second Citizen. You shall ha' it, worthy sir..
Coriolanus. A match, sir. There's in all two worthy voices
begged. I have your alms: adieu.
Third Citizen. But this is something odd.
Second Citizen. An 'twere to give again,—but 'tis no matter.

Alas, Coriolanus is a tragedy; it doesn't end well.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Moment of Nostalgia

Ah, a quick visit to the Bartlet Administration:

Seriously, this show got me through the horrors of the Bush Era. I'll wallow in some gentle nostalgia with the cast when I can.

This little ad is a mix of public service ad (there's a shorter version limited to the PSA) and endorsement of Bridget Mary McCormack, sister to West Wing Alumna (wait for it....) Mary McCormack. (Two sisters sharing a name? Irish-American family naming can be weird, take note.)

The little touches make it for me--Will doing Toby's old schtick with the handball (which he had started to do in the series by the end), Josh reading "the message boards" for flattery about himself--don't do it man! Remember the "Lemon-Lyman" fiasco:

And Martin Sheen asking if there's an Apocalypse now? Priceless.

Good luck Bridget Mary McCormack!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Foxy Grandpa

In the short story "Welcome to the Monkeyhouse," Kurt Vonnegut envisions a world in which senility, death and (mostly) aging have been cured--leaving a huge population explosion, which society tries to deal with by staffing "Suicide Parlors" with beautiful "hostesses" who try to cajole the elderly into ending it all. A particularly troublesome type of customer for the hostesses is the "foxy grandpa":
A foxy grandpa was any kind of old man, cute and senile, who quibbled, and joked, and reminisced for hours before he let a Hostess put him to sleep.
So does anybody remember the days when Antonin Scalia was an ornament of the Supreme Court? No, probably not; Bush v. Gore was a dozen years ago, and Scalia's days as a supporter of free speech for thought he hated are a quarter century ago. We mostly know Scalia nowadays as the guy who is willing to scrag the Supremacy Clause and whine about reading the statute at issue before him.

But this may just be the moment when Scalia crosses the line into Foxy Grandpa-dom:

Did you follow this? It's not a "politicized" Court; it's just that the Democratic-appointed justices follow their party's shoddy principles, why we Republicans nobly stick to the text.

Got it.

(Fun fact about the silent, nodding figure on the panel with Scalia, his co-author Bryan Garner, himself the author of a reasonably good manual of legal style called by him The Redbook in a doomed effort to displace the ubiquitous Bluebook? If you take all three of his seminars or book him to speak at your law firm, you can win a Bryan Garner bobble head! Why you would want one, of course, is a question for you and the therapist of your choice. Still Scalia takes his everywhere, even TV appearances...)

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Glimpse Behind the Facade

Well, David Corn seems to have found a scoop:
Mother Jones has obtained video of Romney at this intimate fundraiser—where he candidly discussed his campaign strategy and foreign policy ideas in stark terms he does not use in public—and has confirmed its authenticity. To protect the confidential source who provided the video, we have blurred some of the image, and we will not identify the date or location of the event, which occurred after Romney had clinched the Republican presidential nomination. Here is Romney expressing his disdain for Americans who back the president:

Here's Romney claiming that the campaign trail is not a place to discuss, y'know, policy:

And, just to round the display out, here's Romney expressing his confidence that the mere fact of his election--as opposed to the incumbent--will itself bring a great surge of prosperity:

What a vain, self-important arrogant man lurks below that bland facade! And how complex it is to be a Democrat--at once an elitist cultural snob and a self-perceived victim!

The irony, of course, is that, at the federal level, if anyone is the scrounging off the other party, it's Republicans scrounging off the Democrats.

Funny that I was thinking of Kurt Vonnegut yesterday; what he asked about Nixon may well one day be asked about Romney: "How did we elect a man who dislikes us so much?"

Sunday, September 16, 2012

So It Goes...

This summer was a bit of a Kurt Vonnegut retrospective for me. Now, prior to this summer, I hadn't read Vonnegut in just about 30 years, so I wondered what I would think of his books at what is, after all, a very different place in my life than where the 15-16 year old who first read them was.

To answer this, I read five of Vonnegut's novels: Player Piano; The Sirens of Titan; Mother Night; Cat's Cradle; Slaughterhouse Five; and Breakfast of Champions. That's most of Vonnegut's output from 1952 and 1973 (I skipped the short stories and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, not because I wasn't willing to try them again,but because my Dell paperbacks had fallen apart years ago, and replacing them with a new paperback seems, well, wrong.)

Anyway, here is my take: what was different in reading the books now from reading them ten is Vonnegut's profound bleakness weighed on me far more than it did then His wit, wordplay, the irony and gusts of humor did not disguise the fact that these books are truly the work of man weighed down by a terrible sadness. I haven't read Charles Shield's biography of Vonnegut, but I can't say that the disclosure of his lifelong battle with depression is surprising after reading his fiction with a more experienced eye.

Yet, the tension between Vonnegut's bleak world-view and his humor made the books richer for me, even though they weren't as purely pleasurable as when I was younger, and more apt to see cynicism as an authorial pose, a jaunty, "hey-this'll-kill-ya" affectation than the real thing. It was, for Kurt Vonnegut, the real thing.

But like Mark Twain before him, Vonnegut's own life force (to use Shaw's term) holds it in balance, at least in his writing. I met Vonnegut once, quite briefly. I had had an unpleasant day at the commercial litigation firm I was working at (this was roughly 1996-7), and I stormed out to take a walk. I stopped after a few blocks, outside the office of Delacorte Press, Vonnegut's publishers, and sat down in a chair in the little public area outside the building.

In the chair next perpendicular to me? Kurt Vonnegut. Himself. Not a picture.

Struck numb, I stammered, "It's, er, Mr. Vonnegut, isn't it?"

He smiled, and said yes. We shook hands, I introduced myself. But here's the thing; Vonnegut wasn't interested in my praise for his writing (though e was kind and polite). But he took control of the conversation, asking me questions about my life, why I'd become a lawyer, what I wanted from it. He soaked in information like a sponge. And then, when he was done, and we'd talked about my ambition to write a book, he told me the kind of book on law he'd always wanted to read, but never could bring himself to do the research to write.

Maybe I'll write it in his memory. Bearing in mind, if I do, some helpful advice.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bounding Along...

I've long enjoyed Peter Bowles's acting, from his smooth-on-the surface Richard DeVere in To the Manor Born:

to his conflicted, ambitious, hapless Guthrie Featherstone in Rumpole of the Bailey.

But in a less known (and, frankly, lesser quality) series called The Bounder, we see Bowles as a bit of a rogue--charming, witty, but naughty:

Now, what I like about his performance is that it demonstrates a pet theory of mine--that Peter Bowles would have made a superb Galahad Threepwood, from the novels of P.G. Wodehouse.

Instead, we got Richard Briers--not bad, mind you--in this production of "Heavy Weather" (alas, Briers does not appear in the clip, but Peter O'Toole makes a surprisingly on point Lord Emsworth):

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Temporary Accountability

The conviction of Bishop Robert W. Finn of a misdemeanor for failure to report suspected child abuse would normally be an encouraging sign that civil law will no longer blink at clerical crimes. As the Times notes, after all, Finn has become "the first American bishop in the decades-long sexual abuse scandal to be convicted of shielding a pedophile priest." However, the circumstances, and especially the disposition, raise some concern:
In a hastily announced bench trial that lasted a little over an hour, a judge found the bishop, Robert W. Finn, guilty on one misdemeanor charge and not guilty on a second charge, for failing to report a priest who had taken hundreds of pornographic pictures of young girls. The counts each carried a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, but Bishop Finn was sentenced to two years of court-supervised probation.

It was an abrupt ending to a case that has consumed the church in Kansas City and threatened to turn into a sensational, first-ever trial of a sitting prelate. The case had been scheduled for a jury trial later this month, but on Wednesday the prosecution said it would be decided in one afternoon by Judge John M. Torrence in Jackson County Circuit Court.

The bishop is required as part of his sentence to start a training program for diocesan employees in detecting early signs of child abuse, and in what constitutes child pornography and obscenity. He must also create a fund of $10,000 to pay for victims’ counseling.
Although the Times reports that the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests ("SNAP") "said in a statement that the sentence was too lenient. 'Only jail time would have made a real difference here,'” the sting in the tail is revealed in the fact that the bishop's probation is itself suspended, which "means that if Finn finishes the probation without incident and completes nine steps as part of his sentence, the bishop’s criminal record will be expunged."

As Herbert Packer explained over 40 years ago, there are two different sets of values served by the criminal law: (1) the utilitarian--those values geared toward preventing further crimes by the same offender or by others (incapacitation and isolation, deterrence, whether offender-specific or general); and (2) the moral (retribution). Packer notes that each of these values provides a part of "an integrated theory of punishment," one which allows for individualized treatment of offenders, "within limits, limits having to do both with the need for deterrence and with judgments about comparative morality, as well with the relative difficulties of predicting future behavior."

The Limits of the Criminal Sanction (1969) at 140 (emphasis added).

The point applicable here is, to my thinking, that the expungement of Bishop Finn's crime renders his conviction ultimately an effective nullity and thus renders the judgment of the morality of his behavior equivocal at best.

Moreover, as the stipulated facts as reported by the Times in a follow up piece published today makes clear, Bishop Finn's behavior was willful and quite deliberate:
Bishop Finn and Monsignor Murphy learned about some of Father Ratigan’s violations of his restrictions. “I will have to tell him,” Bishop Finn wrote in an e-mail to the psychiatrist, “that he must not attend these children’s gatherings, even if there are parents present. I had been very clear about this with him already.”

The testimony filed in court on Thursday says that because the bishop trusted Father Ratigan to respect the restrictions, he was never monitored and the community was never informed.

On May 11, 2011, while Bishop Finn was out of town, Monsignor Murphy again contacted Captain Smith at the Police Department and told him that the diocese had indeed found not one, but hundreds of photographs of little girls. A week later, Father Ratigan was arrested for possession of child pornography. He was convicted in August and is awaiting sentencing.

Bishop Finn and the diocese were indicted by a grand jury in October 2011. Monsignor Murphy was given immunity for cooperating with the prosecution. He testified that he turned Father Ratigan in because he had grown concerned that he was truly a pedophile. The monsignor said that when the bishop learned he had turned in Father Ratigan, “It seemed he was angry.”

After Father Ratigan was arrested, Bishop Finn met with his priests. Asked why Father Ratigan was not removed earlier, the bishop replied, according to the testimony, that he had wanted “to save Father Ratigan’s priesthood” and that he had understood that Father Ratigan’s problem was “only pornography.”
The fact that repeated violations on the part of Father Ratigan did not trigger any inquiry, but that the bishop continued to rely on him to self-police, and the remarkable underplaying of the conduct at issue by the bishop himself is remarkable for its complete lack of awareness of the crisis that has repeatedly roiled the Roman Catholic Church, in the 80s, the 90s, and which had flared into prominence again in the very time period (2010-2011) in which Bishop Finn was so uninterested in protecting children against Father Ratigan. Bishop Finn's emphasis on "savi[ing] Father Ratigans priesthood" is all too reminiscent of Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, as Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, praising French Bishop Pierre Pican, after the latter's conviction for shielding a pedophile priest, writing ""I congratulate you on not having spoken out to civil authorities against a priest. . . . You have done well and I am delighted to have an associate in the episcopate who... preferred prison to speaking out against a son-priest." Indeed, as the date of the link (April 16, 2010) shows, Bishop Finn's statement to his clergy came over a year after the reportage of the Cardinal's statement. While Bishop Finn's offense is a misdemeanor, it was part and parcel of the closed ranks that has all too often typified clerical reaction to the crisis.

Despite this, I have no serious qualm with Bishop Finn not being incarcerated--he is, I am sure extremely unlikely to offend again, or to pose a danger to the community, (although SNAP has a reasonable argument that a custodial sentence would have served the purpose of general deterrence better). But the moral significance of his lapse makes, in my opinion, expungement inappropriate. The moral nature and the real life consequences of Bishop Finn's act is too severe to allow the judgment of the community on his behavior be so evanescent that it evaporates after a five year period.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

I've been watching the Democratic National Convention, and I have to say the energy is so different in Charlotte than it was at the GOP Convention in Tampa. Where the first night in Tampa had Ann Romney striving to prove that her husband was more than an automaton (and, to be fair, she was perfectly adequate), in Charlotte, Michelle Obama dazzled, filling the same role, but then going beyond, linking the private Obama to his policies and his performance. And, in fact, creating a viral internet sensation in China (!)

Chris Christie's keynote was a long, loving tribute. . . to Chris Christie. Christie "waited until he was about 16 minutes in until he finally said the R word — Romney — leading to TV images where the GOP candidate and his wife looked less than thrilled."

Bill Clinton's keynote? Oh, my:

A full throated, folksy, fact-laden, defense of Barack Obama as a man, as a President, but, most of all, a defense of his achievements and policies.

Clinton showed grace toward Republicans--he got the Democratic National Convention to applaud George W. Bush, for heaven's sake! (Which is more than the RNC did for their last president)--and Romney personally. Which made his indictment of the GOP and Romney on policy grounds all the more devastating.

Paul Ryan gave us a master class in mendacity. Joe Biden--who, I admit, sometimes reminds me of Storage Wars' Barry (I say this with love--I have a helluva lot of respect and affection for the man la Caterina and I call "Joey the B")--did something nobody at the RNC did--he spoke for American soldiers. But he did more than that, he laid out in passionate, emotive terms, the Administration's achievements as a reflection of the President's character. And, my God, Biden has, after all his years in DC, not lost touch with middle class voters.

And, where the odd at the RNC was brought by "old man yells at cloud, er, chair," the Dems' closest thing to oddity was what I can only describe as the weird charisma of Jennifer Granholm.

I succumbed, I admit it.

To the main event: Mitt Romney was passable. Overshadowed by Eastwood's strange interlude, Romney gave a rather drab speech, which pictured Republicans as having yearned for the President's success, a vision of an alternative universe that I can't even picture. If only we lived in that world. More to the point, no policy specifics, no clarity, just "trust me."

As for the president, what can I say. Sober, careful start, a little deft humor, and a build to a clarion call for engaged citizenship. Keynote: "A freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense."


We are in a fight.

Abigail Bartlet might say, "Game on, boyfriend."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Starting September with a Song

..from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, to be precise.

New album is great fun. Check it out at their website.