The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

End of the Year...

And so we come again to another Anglocat Wrap-That-Year-Up post.

How to do it? In the past, I've done link-heavy roundups which were as exhaustive as they were exhausting. But this year, I really don't feel like it. How about a thematic approach?

1. Novelist:

Who ever would have me pegged for a novelist? And yet, Phineas at Bay is selling--slowly, but steadily, and with more opportunities coming in 2015. And the reviews--well, dig this:
In writing “Phineas at Bay”, John Wirenius has done the Trollope-loving world a great service. Phineas Finn was my first Trollope novel, at age 19 or 20, and ever since I think of him as the most charming character in English fiction. Now we have the chance to renew the acquaintance with Phineas later in life, and all of his world, in a novel Trollope himself would have thoroughly enjoyed: meaty, filled with humor, affection, drama, and above all, character – Trollope’s greatest genius and gift to the reading world. Read it at once, and, like all Trollope, again and again.
Randolph Williams, President, the American Trollope Society
I mean, what more could I ask?

I'll tell you a secret; when I was in college, I dreamed of writing fiction. Tried my hand at it, too--I wrote a not-bad story called "In Extremis" based on the queasy experience of seeing my beloved grandfather develop memory problems, and a pair of others, too--and dried up. I was too facile, had nothing really to say. And for nearly 30 years, all my writing was scholarly. Mostly constitutional law, some legal history and, more recently, law and religion. But to think that that long-held, and long-despaired of, dream could be made real? I never saw it coming.

2. Scholarly Writing

In 2014, I managed to break into the big leagues of American Anglican scholarship: The Anglican Theological Review published my article, Swallowing the Camel: Biblical Fidelity, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Love of Money in its Summer 2014 issue. The abstract:
As the Episcopal Church begins local discernment on the question of whether to bless same-sex relationships, evaluation of the theological strength of the arguments for and against is ongoing. I examine the case against same-sex blessings and marriage made by the Traditionalist component of a task force appointed by the House of Bishops in their report. That case’s weakness, in terms of the asserted scriptural authority and basis in philosophic reason set forth by the Traditionalists themselves, is contrasted with the much stronger case on both grounds in favor of the biblical prohibition of usury, given by the Traditionalist report as an example of a scriptural command that was appropriately discarded by the church. The Traditionalists demonstrate a much greater willingness to put aside scripture, reason, and tradition in the case of usury, which is endemic in the culture at large, while holding fast to the prohibition against same-sex marriage, which is much less strongly rooted in each category. This in turn suggests that defenders of this prohibition may be unwittingly defending obedience to scripture when it imposes a lesser challenge to the culture in which defenders are invested, and imposes costs which they only feel in the abstract.

3. The Diaconate

Only comes third because it's an ongoing journey--a continuing story--and not a new one. This is the third and final training, and, God willing, on May 16, 2015, I will be ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church. From Fall 2014 through that time, I am in my field placement at St. John's in the Village, which has received me kindly and with warmth, and has shown me a whole new way of doing liturgy.

4. Politics

I broke up with them. Life's too short, and there are things I'd rather be doing. Don't get me wrong, I stay informed, and on issues where I think I can do more than repeat already stated points of view, I pipe up. But I am striving mightily to shed the obsession. Wish me luck!

5. Sorrow and Joy

We lost a kitty this year, the redoubtable Elvis, our "Comfort Kitty." We miss him to this day.

Our remaining kitties give us much joy, and we are grateful for the animals who share our lives.

All of these and more have made up my year--I am purposefully focusing on the ones I've written up on the blog, but suffice it to say that 2014 has been a year of highs and lows, not all of which are suitable for the blog. A year of transition, too--but that's enough about that for now.

All the best for 2015, and thank you, one and all, for coming on the prowl this year. See you on the other side!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Ambiguous Legacy of Thomas Becket

On December 29, 1170, in the late afternoon (and thus after the main meal of the day but shortly before vespers), four knights entered Canterbury Cathedral. Impelled, as far as history knows, by the angry words of King Henry II, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest,” they had come to confront Archbishop Thomas Becket, and win King Henry’s favor by forcing the long-simmering dispute between Becket and his King to some final resolution. When the Archbishop refused their conflicting demands, and reacted with scorn to their insults, the knights withdrew, only to arm themselves and follow Becket into the Cathedral for vespers. As the traditional account has it:
The bell for vespers began to sound, and the archbishop, with his cross borne in front of him, made his way in as usual into the cathedral. Hardly had he reached the ascent to the choir than the noise of armed men and the shout of the knights announced that the pursuers were at hand. “Where is the archbishop, where is the traitor?” resounded through the hollow aisles, mingling strangely with the recitation of the psalms in the choir. Becket, hearing this, turned back a few steps, and calmly awaited their approach in the corner of the northern transept before the little altar of S Benedict. “Here,” he cried, “is the archbishop—no traitor, but a priest of God.” Awed by his demeanor, and perhaps by the sanctity of the place, no one dared strike. A parley began. They sought to lash their failing courage into action by words. A hasty and insulting epithet gave Fitz Urse the opportunity he wanted. A blow aimed at the archbishop’s head only knocked his skull-cap to the ground, but it was enough to loose the bandogs of hell. A stroke from Tracy cut off the tonsured back of [Becket’s] skull, another from Brito brought him to his knees. In a minute all was over. The archbishop lay prone in his blood before the altar step, his brains scattered savagely on the floor, while his murderers slunk back through the dark and silent aisles with the chill of remorse already at their hearts, like Othello from the couch of Desdemona.
In the more prosaic retelling of modern historians, the story is dramatic enough: Only one witness remained with Becket as the knights tried to forcibly remove him from the Cathedral. As that survivor recounted, Becket resisted. It “was in the ensuing melee that he [Becket] received a blow on the head. As the blood flowed the four knights fell upon him with their swords.” When the knights had finished their “butcher’s job” as W.L. Warren aptly calls it, Becket lay dead on the floor of the Cathedral.

The result of this brutal murder in the most hallowed space in the English Church was almost as dramatic as the deed itself. Becket’s courage in the face of death, as well as the personal asceticism he had adopted upon his appointment as Archbishop fused into an idealized vision of Becket as martyr and saint; as Warren phrases it:
The dramatic transition from magnificent courtier to clerical martyr, heightened and fixed in the mind by the discovery on the corpse of a lice-ridden hairshirt, established him as a copybook examplar of the drama of conversion. His courage and steadfastness unto death marked him out as a martyr in an age uncommonly short of martyrs, and swept him on a wave of popular acclaim to an unusually swift canonization in March 1173.

So strong was the feeling in favor of Thomas Becket that the King, though denying that he had sought Becket’s death, performed a dramatic penance at his tomb:
The king dismounted outside Canterbury and entered the city barefoot, in plain woolen garments. Prostrate and weeping before the tomb of the murdered archbishop, he received physical punishment from the monks and other clerics, then spent the night there in prayer and fasting. In the morning he heard mass and then went on his way to London.

The resulting cultus of St. Thomas has lived in literature, stage and film. Pilgrimages to Canterbury in honor of St. Thomas form the frame of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. But glossed over in most hagiography and popular depictions of the Becket story is the nature of the conflict between Becket and Henry—a conflict which prefigures the crisis in moral authority roiling the Roman Catholic Church at the present day. As Batrtlett summarizes in very capsule form, there were, essentially, three areas of dispute between Henry and Becket, “quarrels over the property of the church of Canterbury, the details of royal taxation and the extent that clerks could be treated differently from lay people in the law courts.” Bartlett’s correct but rather overly discreet phrasing may mislead the reader; what he, Warren and Wakeman accept as the most serious dispute between Becket and Henry II was Becket’s attempted creation of a parallel court system, in which individuals who had often only minimal connection to the Church could nonetheless claim exemption from the secular law, and be subject to the milder (and originally minimal) punishments applicable under canon law. Such individuals could be accused of crimes ranging from theft to rape and, frequently, even murder.

Becket’s cause, seeking to regularize a practice that had evolved during the weaker (and rather chaotic) reign of Henry’s predecessor King Stephen, was essentially successful, and canon law for many years ran along a parallel track to the secular law.
Becket’s view of ecclesiastical sovereignty prevailed in another way, too. From his time into the Twentieth Century, the relationship between Church and State changed from a united Christendom, to a divided and Reformed Christian Europe, to what many now call post-Christian Europe. Throughout that time, the Catholic Church defended its own separate canon law courts, and created an ideological-cum-theological justification for such courts being the principal, and, ideally the only, forum to take cognizance of criminal complaints against the clergy. In the sexual abuse scandals from the second half of the Twentieth Century into the present, defenders of the Church routinely take as a given the notion that such matters should be diverted to private adjudication in private, absent the secular authorities’ awareness of the underlying crime.

Throughout the succeeding centuries, even where such parallel courts were forced to give way to secular jurisdiction, the Roman Catholic Church continued to hold out ecclesiastical sovereignty as a model to be preserved, applied and, where limited, restored to the maximum extent possible. Only in the Twentieth Century did the Church grudgingly begin to come to terms with democratic theory; only in the years leading up to, and especially in the wake of, Vatican II did the Church begin to find some value in democratic society. That half-accomplished rapprochement did not extend to acceptance of secular government’s right to protect its citizenry against predation by clergy. Seeking to understand why this is the case, and the costs to the Church of this theological understanding, is critical in determining what steps secular government can take and ought to take, with respect to the crisis.

One salient factor in this continued existence of a parallel jurisdiction, not recognized by the secular government as having cognizance of criminal misconduct, is the tradition of ecclesiastical sovereignty championed by Becket, and justified in the Nineteenth Century by Cardinal John Henry Newman. Becket’s struggle for, and Newman’s defense of ecclesiastical sovereignty echo not just the tactics but the very language employed by the Church’s defenders in the sexual abuse scandal. The newly beatified convert from Anglicanism and the murdered Archbishop have never been more relevant.

More here.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Christmas Greeting

I have spent my first Christmas away from my home parish, among the good people of St. John's in the Village. They have welcomed me as their "seminarian" (Not technically; as a candidate for the vocational diaconate, I don't get to go to seminary. Pity. On the other hand, I do love my other job, and the diaconate, which is my calling, does not pay. Literally.) St John's is a little like a modern version of the parish Trollope's Mr. Harding goes to at the end of The Warden

Now, I love the liturgy at St John's--high church, but unfussy, Incense on every Sunday. Did I mention very Sunday? Good, yeah?

And I--I myself--have served as thurifer. A great experience. But, I'll confess that I am only competent as thurifer; for Christmas Eve, we had an outstanding thurifer (and good friend) who did triumphant figure eights even in the small space of St John's. As crucifer, I followed in his wake, and tried to not get lost. (SPOILER: I managed not to.)

In the wise and touching homily of our retiring rector, in the warmth of the reception after the service, and in the beauty of liturgy, I marked the Christmas with joy. And in the morning, I served in a simple, sweet service before proceeding to Christmas with la Caterina with my family.

The season has begun, but is not yet over--for those who celebrate it, may it be joyful!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Power of the Original

Stop a mo; before I go on, let's acknowledge the quirky brilliance of Keith Moon, making the drums sing at Woodstock, especially from 7:05 on, where he does things I can't even fathom with them; as Robert Traver once wrote, listen to that ma-a-an...

Right, back to business.

That clip above is the portion of Tommy at Woodstock that my old friends Athos and Porthos (at that time new friends) played for me when I was just on the verge of leaving my teens to demonstrate the prowess of the Who. (Athos later gave me a copy of Scoop and sealed the deal; Porthos turned me on to Who's Next and sealed the seal of the deal.

Now, here's the revised version for The Who's Tommy:

Now, this isn't bad as such--Michael Cerveris is quite good,and the notion of using what is in fact the best curtain call music ever written as a curtain call is clever. The onstage action (not available with these performers, alas) depicts Tommy slowly forgiving each of his family members and ends in reconciliation. Not bad.

But the lyrics have the raw, politically incorrect edges sanded off. The orchestration is good, but lacks the sheer verve of the Who--the slower-than-remembered hieratic tempo is just about right; Townshend's music is absolutely being respected--and yet--the force is abated. It's a little too clean. The piano is duplicating some of Moon's flourishes--but that's what made them extraordinary--Moon played the drums like they were a piano. Two drummers and a piano are needed to keep up with Keith Moon.

The adaptation has its pleasures, and I enjoyed it in 1993. But the 1969 original is like nothing on earth.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Annunciation Or, How Do You Solve a problem Like Maria?

(A Sermon on Luke 1:26-38, 4 Advent, Dec. 20, 2014)

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let’s hear it in the King James:

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

Have you ever been to a Novena? No?

It’s a Roman Catholic thing, and even though I was raised Catholic, I only ever went to one—long after I became an Episcopalian.

The Novena I went to was called a Perpetual Novena in Honor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. It’s a series of prayers, some of which are repeated, to the Virgin Mary, who is addressed as “Queen of Angels and of men.” Mary is asked to “not despise our petitions, but in [her] clemency” to “hear and answer” the prayers.

It is very Catholic, and savors of an entirely different world than the world of Rite II Anglicanism. It can feel like a voyage back in time, back to the Middle Ages.

And yet it’s very modern, too. Pope John Paul II, as well as Mother Theresa, could refer to Mary as “co-Redemptrix” with Christ. And some Anglo-Catholic devotional books include the traditional Marian devotions, before we Anglicans get up on our high horses about the Catholics.

What is this phenomenon of Mary, and why on earth do so many Christians feel called upon to have such powerful reverence for Jesus’s mother?

After all, Mary only appears a handful of times in scripture. Here, at the Annunciation, in her visit to her elderly cousin Elizabeth, at Christmas, and finding the young Jesus in the Temple when they feared he was lost. All of these appearances are in Luke’s Gospel, some recur in the synoptic gospels. Mary also appears briefly in Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s sequel, as one of those in the upper room praising God after the apostles return from the Ascension. Oh, and she appears twice in the Fourth Gospel, traditionally attributed to Jesus’s disciple, John, the son of Zebedee. She appears at the foot of the cross, and she pesters Jesus into starting his ministry ahead of time.

Really; according to John, Mary basically drafts her son into performing his first miracle. He is not, shall we say, thrilled. Here he is, attending a wedding, enjoying himself with his disciples. For once he’s enjoying a nice slice of normality—he’s a guest; his friends are there, his mother—he’s relaxing.

And then along comes Mom: “They have no wine,” she says in full-on Mom-voice. She doesn’t have to add the unspoken: Fix it. He knows. Oh, how he knows.

So his reply isn’t exactly getting put on a Hallmark card any day soon: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.”

In one of my own really very annoying teen phases, I once tried using that response to my own mother, when she wanted me to do something for her. Let’s just say it didn’t work any better for me than it did for Jesus.

Mary ignores her son—which was more polite than my mother’s reaction, by the way—and tells the servants “Do whatever he tells you to.”

And so the wedding feast at Cana gets the best wine last, and Jesus’s career as a miracle worker gets a premature start.

And that is, pretty much, it for Mary’s appearances in the scriptures. And yet—co-Redemptrix. Queen of Heaven. Of Angels and of men.

What in Mary’s scriptural appearances could explain the level of devotion she inspires? How, if you’ll forgive me, do we solve a problem like Maria?

I think that a part of the answer is that Mary isn’t the Son of God; she isn’t a hero, she isn’t a prophet, or a sage.

She’s a woman who says yes to God.

She’s a woman, first of all—a young woman, in a time and culture that did not rank women highly. She is not yet married but engaged to be—emerging from the protection of her father, but not yet under that of her husband, in the eyes of society.

She is vulnerable, and what is asked of her is no little thing—she’s asked to be the mother of the Son of God, and in a pretty hard to understand way—the power of the Highest shall overshadow her, and that’s pretty much all she is told.

And to be a mother under these circumstances—as Matthew’s Gospel tells us, Joseph decides to not disgrace her, even before his own angelic visitor tells him to go through the wedding—but Mary had no way of knowing this. She’s agreeing, as far as she knows, to potential disgrace, probable exile from her family and home, and possibly even death.

All of which is to say that Mary’s saying “yes” to God is a bigger deal than we might take it to be nowadays. It’s an act of absolute trust, a leap of faith over a chasm that could, if anything goes wrong, be quite fatal to her.

Imagine if she had said no. What then?

But Mary says simply: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” There’s a courage, a serenity, in her words that we can’t help but envy little bit as we admire it.

But envy is the wrong word, isn’t it? We want to be like her, I think. We see in Mary a model for Christian discipleship, for how we could, if our faith was like hers, respond to God’s call.

After all, we are not living in a time and place as unforgiving as she did. And we are not being asked to risk as much as she did. Finally, we aren’t being asked to lose as much as she lost.

If this poor Jewish girl in an occupied country could love so much, and risk so much, perhaps we can love a little bit more than we do.

As we move into the final days of Advent, we look back on that confident, serene love, that willingness to answer the call without counting the cost. The initial “yes” that was the necessary first step.

The problem, my sisters and my brothers, is not Maria; it’s that we see a problem. In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ricki-Ticky-Tickle, Darling

(A Soliloquy for Lady Molly, with apologies to Anthony Powell)

Poor Jeavons! He never did understand, poor lamb, but just accepted the little fellow in his kindly, somnambulistic way.

Ricki just didn’t like Jeavons hanging around me, back then, you see. Didn’t understood what I saw in him, I suppose. That hardly made Ricki unique, of course. Jeavons was, shall we say, not out of the top drawer. He’d had style once, though. And dash—my old friend Mildred Blaides could tell you something about that, if she thought hard about it, and could see the man in front of her. Yes, Jeavons made sense back then. And he still does, damn it! I’m fond of him, and he’s … restful.

But Ricki tried to make trouble when we were first married. No man would do for me but Ruddy, as far as Ricki was concerned. Oh, the time he gave Jeavons, and me come to that. Because, after all, Ruddy had meant a great deal to me, and I was sorry I had to break it off—but there are limits, you know.

Oh, a girl likes a bit of poetry, and a bit of romancing, but enough is as good as a feast, my dear, and Ruddy could, if he got started, bore for England. And India, too, come to that. Still I remember his bristly little moustache and—oh, yes, he had his talents, did my Ruddy.

But too clingy, too needy, too clever by half. He didn’t blub when I gave him his notice, though. Left Ricki behind, and went out again to the Punjab. But I had Ricki to remember him by. Oh, the pranks he would play on Jeavons! Tripping him, pouncing on him in bed, gnawing his ankles—

They do that, you know. Gnaw things, I mean. All very well if he’s in a book, slaying King Cobras—Nag and Nagina, was it? Splendid creature in the subcontinent. But in London? Nothing worse than waking up with a bit of a head early some morning, but unable to lie abed because you can hear it—no matter how you try to not hear it!—again and again:

Rick-tick-TICK TICK!

Well, my dear, you try sleeping through that, if you can.

I ask you.

Ruddy claimed he was the original, the one in the story. That clever Nick Jenkins laughed at that, saying it couldn’t be. That the story had come out in 1894, and that Ricki couldn’t have lived thirty years later.

So Ruddy was a bit naughty, and lied to me, I suppose.

I wouldn’t have paid to have him stuffed if I knew that, of course—Ricki, I mean, not Ruddy. Ruddy wasn’t stuffed. Although he could be very formal.

Still, he could do such lovely things with his moustache—

I’m not sorry I had Ricki stuffed, anyway. He was a sweet little fellow and became much nicer as he got older. Jeavons cried like a child when he died.

That’s why I keep him, I think.

Jeavons, not Ricki, I mean.

I keep Ricki because he was sweet and cute, when he wasn’t biting Jeavons, at least, and Ruddy was a famous man, who fell for me when I was a pretty young thing, and he gave me the very animal he’d made a hero in one of his books. Let’s see Mr. Nicholas Jenkins top that!

But neither of them could top my Jeavons. It takes a special man to weep for a little animal who ate his carpet slippers, and bit his ankles, and was given to his wife by a famous man who was her—friend, long before he came on the scene.

And Jeavons learns, you know. His moustache has made splendid progress in our years together, you know. He’s not quite in Ruddy’s class but—oh, Alymer! How nice of you to drop by! Have you met General Conyers, Isobel?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rhapsody on a Windy Night

It's mid-December, already, and the year is hastening toward oblivion so quickly that I can hardly catch my breath. I sat down to do a piece of writing that very much needed to be done tonight, and, while I got to a good point with it, it is not done.

I was felled, you see, by a bout of nostalgia.

I write to music, and I had a playlist that skipped randomly about tonight. A few songs came up that took me back to the mid-1980s and caught me short.

I don't know about you, but as I go on toward the end of my forties (seriously--that was bloody quick; Basil had a point), I am in a good place; I don't hanker for the past (though I wouldn't mind having my old waistline). But music can catapult me back in time, and into an old frame of mind, and I become two people--the Anglocat of the present, with half my mind and heart, and the much younger version.

And in that doubled perception, part of me feels every emotion as it was at the time, and the rest of me watches, bemused.

It's music that does it to me, generally. In this case, it was an old favorite from my youth, played by the aging piano man himself:

Now, honestly, I fell in love with the song as a teen, long before I had any relationship even remotely resembling one to which it could be applied. (It's the lyrics, the rippling notes of the piano, the rueful, loving tone of the song that got me).

And it still can.

So I embarked on a series of old favorites, each speaking to a different moment in time for me--the old songs that I listened obsessively to, again and again. (This is possibly my most irritating tic, that I will, in this frame of mind, play a song up to a dozen times, like I'm scratching a mosquito bite until it bleeds, and stops itching.)

It's an emotional catharsis, of a kind, and leaves me purged of the delusion that my youth is something to hanker after. That's the argumentum excrementum taurorem. I have never been in a better place than I am now. It's just that I sometimes need to pay a debt to the past, in order to appreciate where I am now. And the old songs are my way of doing that.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Writer on Filming

Here is John le Carré (David Cornwell) discussing the filming of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979), and praising to the skies the genius of Alec Guiness. It's a great interview, and Cornwell is in full raconteur mode, as well as displaying characteristic insight on the actor's art, what he calls "the controlled schizophrenia of the actor."

He also does a fine impression of Guiness, by the bye.

Here's le Carré on the subject of his breakout book:
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was the work of a wayward imagination brought to the end of its tether by political disgust and personal confusion. Fifty years on, I don't associate the book with anything that ever happened to me, save for one wordless encounter at London airport when a worn-out, middle-aged military kind of man in a stained raincoat slammed a handful of mixed foreign change on to the bar and in gritty Irish accents ordered himself as much Scotch as it would buy. In that moment, Alec Leamas was born. Or so my memory, not always a reliable informant, tells me.

Today I think of the novel as a not-very-well-disguised internal explosion after which my life would never be the same. It was not the first such explosion, or the last. And yes, yes, by the time I wrote it, I had been caught up in secret work off and on for a decade; a decade the more formative because I had the inherited guilt of being too young to fight in the second world war and – more importantly – of being the son of a war-profiteer, another secret I felt I had to keep to myself until he died.

But I was never a mastermind, or a mini-mind, and long before I even entered the secret world, I had an instinct towards fiction that made me a dubious fact-gatherer. I was never at personal risk in my secret work; I was frequently bored stiff by it. Had things been otherwise, my employers would not have allowed me to publish my novel, even if later they kicked themselves for doing so: but that was because they decided it was being taken too seriously by too many people; and because any suggestion that the British Secret Service would betray its own was deemed derogatory to its ethical principles, bad for recruitment, and accordingly Bad for Britain, a charge to which there is no effective answer.
A fascinating, and perceptive man.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wintry Mix

I admit it, I've always loved snow, and winter. It's the reason I'll never move to Florida of my own free will, or any such place. There's something in my soul that responds to the innocence and the darkness both of winter.

The innocence: playing in the snow, my father building a snow dinosaur one year (a proper Tyrannosaurus Rex, thankee, and not a Spielbergian T-Rex) or a bear, based which direction his imagination took that year. Hot cocoa after shoveling, snow forts. The simple, stately beauty of a quotidian world transfigured into something quite--other. And the quiet! The silence as untrodden, fresh snow laps the pathways that once were clear.

And the experience: cold, dark falling early, the frisson of the world transformed into a place where the Norse sagas could take place, where magic seemed real and not always benign. The world evoked by Ghost Story or Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket. Of Lewis's White Witch, come to that.

Winter is come again, and as I walked through snow today, I felt all the child's enthusiasm for it again. I hope I never lose that.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Shining City on a Hill

"All I want you to do is imagine if you were witnessing this scene in a movie. The interrogators would be Nazis, wouldn’t they? And now they are us."--Andrew Sullivan

If you can read the Senate Committee Study of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program without feeling sick, simply sick--well, you've a damned sight stronger stomach than I have, that's all. And I don't think it's anything to take pride in.

The report has provoked a predictable, and well-earned firestorm from Andrew Sullivan (whose persistence and righteous anger on this issue more than make up for his blind spots, occasional self-righteousness, and seeming inability to take a nap). His live-blog is worth a visit, though your skin will crawl as you read the iniquities perpetrated in our names. And if it doesn't--well, as Aaron Sorkin once wrote, then, God, I don't even want to know you.

From The Times:
he long-delayed report, which took five years to produce and is based on more than six million internal agency documents, is a sweeping indictment of the C.I.A.'s operation and oversight of a program carried out by agency officials and contractors in secret prisons around the world in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It also provides a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects.

Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the C.I.A.'s medical staff, some C.I.A. prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.'s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.” C.I.A. medical staff members described the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a “series of near drownings.”

The report also suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The committee obtained a photograph of a waterboard surrounded by buckets of water at the prison in Afghanistan commonly known as the Salt Pit — a facility where the C.I.A. had claimed that waterboarding was never used. One clandestine officer described the prison as a “dungeon,” and another said that some prisoners there “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

Many of the most extreme interrogation methods — including waterboarding — were authorized by Justice Department lawyers during the Bush administration. But the report also found evidence that a number of detainees had been subjected to other, unapproved methods while in C.I.A. custody.

The torture of prisoners at times was so extreme that some C.I.A. personnel tried to put a halt to the techniques, but were told by senior agency officials to continue the interrogation sessions.

The Senate report quotes a series of August 2002 cables from a C.I.A. facility in Thailand, where the agency’s first prisoner was held. Within days of the Justice Department’s approval to begin waterboarding the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, the sessions became so extreme that some C.I.A. officers were “to the point of tears and choking up,” and several said they would elect to be transferred out of the facility if the brutal interrogations continued.

During one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” The interrogations lasted for weeks, and some C.I.A. officers began sending messages to the agency’s headquarters in Virginia questioning the utility — and the legality — of what they were doing. But such questions were rejected.
Not to mention the breaking of Abu Zubaydah to the point that he would assume the position to be water boarded when his interrogators snapped their fingers, the threatening of one detainee that his mother would be brought in and raped in front of him--and oh, many, many more horrors.

Did I mention that out of 119 detainees, “at least 26 were wrongfully held.” That's over 20%.

All this was perpetrated in our names.

Perpetrated by our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters.

Oh, and all those attacks it prevented? Yeah, not so much. Sorry folks; all a lie; even the CIA can't dispute it. Like the lie that we don't torture. We do.

Perpetrated, it is true, by a Republican administration, and ceased by his Democratic successor--but while Bush and Cheney bear the brunt of the blame (apparently Cheney more than Bush--the report suggest that Bush was misled for some time about the extent of torture), our current president, for whom I voted twice, is not entirely blameless, either. Barack Obama discouraged the release of the report, and tried to delay it; he gave shelter to the guilty. The audacity of hope did not dare to confront this violation of every American ideal. And yet, compromised and tainted though he is in this area, Barack Obama is guilty of basically irresolution, trying to hide the Nation's shame, and retrospective complicity in a crime the enormity of which he did not wish to face.

Perhaps because he feared that we would embrace the torturers, fawning on them, and lick the blood from their gloves:

(Begin at 3:01)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Writing a Sequel: What It's Like

Over at the Trollope and his Contemporaries reading group, I was asked about my writing process--particularly in terms of characterization. I thought that it was an interesting question, and one worth addressing here, as well.

The precipitating factor was, when my wife and I watched Simon Raven's 1974 adaptation The Pallisers together, we talked about our shared affection for the novels, and I got to complaining about how Phineas Finn seems shorn of his fire in The Prime Minister and The Duke's Children. I suggested that AT wasn't done with him--that the failure of the Prime Minister to sell at his usual level had discouraged and maybe diverted him. She urged me to write it up. I wrote the first three chapters--and dried up. Then my computer crashed. Six years later I found the manuscript, and typed it into my new computer. When I finished retying chapter 3, I knew what should happen in chapter 4.

From the moment I started the book, the ending--I mean the last two lines of dialogue and their context--were known to me. That Emilius and Lizzie would return was, too, and that Lord Chiltern's and Violet's son would fall for Phineas's niece--all this I had from the start. The character of Savrola Vavasour was a later idea, but he fit--his historical antecedent had a mother who was of a higher American social class than Winifred Hurtle, but the idea of putting her in play was irresitible. And George Vavasor was not a bad analog to the historical father.

By and large, the characters ran the show. The book just poured out of me, although I had to do some research, looking up geographic details, reading about mining, and 19th Century criminal procedure in Britain. But the interactions were pretty spontaneous; most of the characters came enough alive at least in my own mind that I felt I knew who they were and what they were about--how they would and wouldn't speak.

In the writing, the identities of characters would resolve--the magistrate became John Toogood after I wrote the opening part of his courtroom scene.

Keeping track of the primary characters was reasonably easy; keeping track of where they lived was not. I had to do a chart with all the locations of the various homes of the London-based residences. The cameos were trickier yet. Somewhere along the line, I decided to have cameos, not just from Trollope, but from other writers in the same era. Some were fleeting appearances (blink, and you miss Zuleika Dobson or Paul Montague. Some will be of considerable importance. I think of them as my "Easter eggs." The more important ones appear in more than one scene; they were brought in to fit the story, but to enrich Trollope Country by visiting--to make my fictional universe a broader place, with its ethos from Trollope, but with some (hopefully successful) visitors interpolating themselves. I liked the idea of bringing not just these other characters but their implications and milieu adding weight to their interactions with the Trollope characters.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Working Up the Nerve

This is the key moment, I think, in Peter Capaldi's first season as the Doctor. Notice how vulnerable he is, eve after the TARDIS traps the "Boneless." He starts off slowly, wistfully, thinking of how it could have been, and then, as he shrugs his jacket angrily into place:
I don't suppose it really matters now. You are monsters. That is the role you seem determined to play. So it seems I must play mine.

(The Doctor steps out of the Tardis. Clara, Risby and Fenton come down the ladder.)

DOCTOR: The man that stops the monsters. I'm sending you back to your own dimension. Who knows? Some of you may even survive the trip. And, if you do, remember this. You are not welcome here. This plane is protected. I am the Doctor.

(He turns, and Clara throws him the sonic screwdriver.)
DOCTOR: And I name you The Boneless.
The last line is a bit duff, but Capaldi sells it. More to the point, he has to work himself up to a classic Tennant or Smith style epic speech of epic-ness. This Doctor doesn't live there as easily as did his predecessors.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Preacher Sermon

One of the tricky things about being both an aspirant to ordination and writing fiction in the tradition of Anthony Trollope is Trollope's writing on the clergy--it is often a little close to the bone:
There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilised and free countries than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling audiences to sit silent, and be tormented. No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes, truisms, and untruisms, and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege, the same respectful demeanour as though words of impassioned eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips. Let a professor of law or physic find his place in a lecture-room, and there pour forth jejune words and useless empty phrases, and he will pour them forth to empty benches. Let a barrister attempt to talk without talking well, and he will talk but seldom. A judge's charge need be listened to per force by none but the jury, prisoner, and gaoler. A member of Parliament can be coughed down or counted out. Town-councillors can be tabooed. But no one can rid himself of the preaching clergyman. He is the bore of the age, the old man whom we Sindbads cannot shake off, the nightmare that disturbs our Sunday's rest, the incubus that overloads our religion and makes God's service distasteful. We are not forced into church! No: but we desire more than that. We desire not to be forced to stay away. We desire, nay, we are resolute, to enjoy the comfort of public worship; but we desire also that we may do so without an amount of tedium which ordinary human nature cannot endure with patience; that we may be able to leave the house of God without that anxious longing for escape, which is the common consequence of common sermons.

With what complacency will a young parson deduce false conclusions from misunderstood texts, and then threaten us with all the penalties of Hades if we neglect to comply with the injunctions he has given us! Yes, my too self-confident juvenile friend, I do believe in those mysteries, which are so common in your mouth; I do believe in the unadulterated word which you hold there in your hand; but you must pardon me if, in some things, I doubt your interpretation. The bible is good, the prayer-book is good, nay, you yourself would be acceptable, if you would read to me some portion of those time-honoured discourses which our great divines have elaborated in the full maturity of their powers. But you must excuse me, my insufficient young lecturer, if I yawn over your imperfect sentences, your repeated phrases, your false pathos, your drawlings and denouncings, your humming and hawing, your oh-ing and ah-ing, your black gloves and your white handkerchief. To me, it all means nothing; and hours are too precious to be so wasted—if one could only avoid it.
Right, see the problem? Having internalized Trollope's critique, what can one do? You can avoid that trap, but then there's the Reno Sweeney problem if you overbalance the other way:

Frankly, I can't get away with that dress, anyway...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Phineas Redux Redux--a Re-reading

Phineas Redux long been my favorite of Trollope's Palliser or Parliamentary novels, and, after mining it for my own purposes (my sequel Phineas at Bay carries on the story that reaches its conclusion here), it was nice to go back to this great novel with no agenda.

A couple of thoughts in lieu of a more detailed review:

1. Interestingly, after heightening Madame Max's age in Phineas Finn (PF), Trollope lowers it again here--he makes her younger, describes her in more attractive terms, and generally recasts her as a heroine, without depriving her of her more interesting character aspects. Barbara Murray, who played her in the 1974 adaptation nails the character. It's a magnificent performance.

2. Lizzie Eustace comes off as almost benign in this book--until she realizes that Emilius (whom she has been denouncing in stereotypical terms) has surely murdered Bonteen:
She knew the man who claimed her as his wife, and did not think that Phineas Finn was guilty of the murder. Her Emilius,—her Yosef Mealyus, as she had delighted to call him, since she had separated herself from him,—was, as she thought, the very man to commit a murder. He was by no means degraded in her opinion by the feeling. To commit great crimes is the line of life that comes naturally to some men, and was, as she thought, a line less objectionable than that which confines itself to small crimes. She almost felt that the audacity of her husband in doing such a deed redeemed her from some of the ignominy to which she had subjected herself by her marriage with a runaway who had another wife living. There was a dash of adventure about it which was almost gratifying.
'Myes. So much for benignity.

3. The semi-tamed Lord Chiltern: The development of the relationship between Lord and Lady Chiltern is subtle, but quite effective. His temper is still there, but channeled into his work as Master of the Hunt, and upbraiding the occasional twit (Gerard Maule, I'm looking at you…) They're a happy couple, but recognizably the same people in PF.

4. Chaffanbrass: In the best of his appearances, Chaffanbrass is sly, funny, knowledgeable, and yet touched by Phineas's sincerity. He's a proto-Rumpole in many ways, though Mortimer said he drew Rumpole from life.

5. Phineas himself--in this novel, our friend has all the naiveté pummeled out of him. His learning curve is steep, and he's much less whiny than in the first book (or perhaps it's that his complaints are better founded). He is also far more committed to doing the right thing in this volume, though still desirous of office. Desperation becomes him; this is where he becomes a man, and, unlike John Eames, a man who is not violent, who can stop flitting. (I think that rejecting John Eames shows sense on Lily's part; all through his appearances he wants it both ways and is quite cruel to the women lower than he is in the social scale.) Phineas was unintentionally unthinkingly cruel in PF; here, he tries mightily to avoid that sin, and atone for it.

6. Adelaide and Maule. Boring. Maurice Maule, a little less so. What Dolly Longestaffe could become if he doesn't develop.

7. Phineas & Madame Max: Brilliantly realized throughout. From her caring for the Duke to her business, Madame Max sticks to her decisions. She is also quite credibly unwilling to show her hand a second time to Phineas. But that composed mask comes off in front of Lady Glen (ok, the Duchess). But--and here's what makes her Madame Max--after the outbreak of fear and the tears, she does what she always has--apply that cool, razor sharp mind to the problem, and take action. No useless wailing for Marie--she uses her intellect, cash, and charm to do what she can do.

And Phineas? Unintimidated by her brains, her wealth, her self-sufficiency. This is one of his nicest traits-lots of men in the situation would like the lolly, but find Marie dangerous. Phineas recognizes his luck and their compatibility, and doesn't cavil at their unconventional union--she still runs her business interests, has her own relationships with the Pallisers (much closer than his). Each has a separate sphere of autonomy (his is Parliament) and yet they are fiercely supportive and protective of each other. (In The Duke's Children, she hides the Duke's insult to her she because she knows quite clearly that Phineas will resent it, and damage his own political career, testament to their mutual protectiveness.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

In Memoriam, P.D. James

I was sorry to hear this morning of the death of the great crime novelist, P.D. James. I have long enjoyed her wonderfully complex characters, their ethically fraught interactions, and the slow, leisurely eliciting of the nature of her people. A James character, even the obligatory victim, is not a cipher. She spends time with them, and we get to know them. As the New York Times obituary phrases it:
Many critics and many of her peers have said that by virtue of the complexity of her plots, the psychological density of her characters and the moral context in which she viewed criminal violence, Ms. James even surpassed her classic models and elevated the literary status of the modern detective novel. She is often cited, in particular, for the cerebral depth and emotional sensibilities of Adam Dalgliesh, the introspective Scotland Yard detective and published poet who functions as the hero of virtually all of her novels.

Her intention with Dalgliesh, she told the British critic and writer Julian Symons in 1986, was to create a detective “quite unlike the Lord Peter Wimsey kind of gentlemanly amateur” popularized by Dorothy L. Sayers. Ms. James envisioned a realistic cop as her protagonist, a dedicated and skilled professional, and yet “something more than just a policeman, you see, a complex and sensitive human being,” she said.
James's work always struck me as Trollopian in this way, and indeed she paid handsome tribute to Anthony Trollope in a a 1994 interview with the Paris Review:


….I read Dickens and recognized his genius, but he is not my favorite. I find many of his female characters unsuccessful—wonderful caricatures, wicked, odd, grotesque, evil, but not true. There isn’t the subtlety of characterization you get, say, in Trollope, whose understanding and description of women is astonishing. Jane Austen never described two men talking together if a woman was not present—she would have thought that was outside her experience. In Trollope, by contrast, you get continual conversations between women—for example Alice Vavasor and Lady Glencora Palliser in Can You Forgive Her?—without a man there, and he gets it absolutely right. This plain, grumpy looking man had obviously an astonishing knowledge of women’s psychology.


Trollope has become a hero of the feminists, especially his The Way We Live Now in which he proclaims women’s rights before anyone else did.


I tend not to think of books in terms of contemporary issues and passions; it diminishes them. But that particular book is a kind of contemporary novel. The main character was a sort of Robert Maxwell, a monster. Trollope describes women’s lives at a time when marriage was the only possibility for personal fulfillment.
Apart from my enjoyment of her books (and by the way, although dwarfed in public perception by the Dalgliesh novels, her Cordelia Grey books are quite good as well), I owe her a personal debt. James's last novel, Death Comes to Pemberley (2011), was a Jane Austen pastiche, continuing Austen's Pride and Prejudice. When it came out, I had already written the first three chapters of my Trollope pastiche, Phineas at Bay. But James's publication of Death Comes to Pemberley was a real shot in the arm for my morale when I returned to the book in 2013. After all, if P.D. James could write a Victorian pastiche, who was to say the thing was not worth doing?

The best of James's work will, I think, live. I'm grateful for the pleasure she gave me as a reader, and the example she set me as a writer--reaffirming the Trollopian rule that the writer must give every character her due.

And my complete set of her work in hardback is on my shelves, where it will remain. I'll want to visit Adam, Cordelia, Piers, Kate, and the vivid characters she created again, and more than once.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Treat for Thanksgiving

I'd often heard that Leo McKern had made his theatrical bones in Ibsen--Peer Gynt, of which it has been reported that "[i]n his own estimation the greatest event of his theatrical life was playing Peer Gynt at the Old Vic in 1962-63."

Well, I have never seen any record of that performance, though I have seen many of McKern's other performances--his superb turn in Ryan's Daughter, in which he plays the quintessential Robert Bolt figure, the traitor with a conscience, or his angry, dying engineer in Travelling North, and of course his ticket to immortality, Rumpole of the Bailey, which I have loved for 30 years now.

But not Ibsen. Missed that boat, alas.

Well, not completely, it turns out, thanks to BBC 2's Theatre Night. Not Peer Gynt--but The Master Builder from 1988, co-starring another favorite of mine, Miranda Richardson.

So here it is, Leo McKern interpreting the work of the playwright whose work he loved:


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

December with Phineas Finn & Co.

Over at the Trollope 19th Century Studies Group, we are reading my own book, Phineas at Bay. The schedule is not too tight, and, thanks to Ellen Moody's kindness in letting me set it, it breaks down into a rather nice episodic structure. We are beginning November 30, and continuing straight through. Not too late to join if you have a mind.

Anyway, here is the schedule:

Week 1: Prologue--Chapter 10 (Facilis descensus Averno);

Week 2: Chapter 11 (Sir William McScuttle)-Chapter 18 (Matching Priory);

Week 3: Chapter 19 (Phineas for the Defence)-Chapter 27 (A Drink From the Soup-plate of Honour);

Week 4: Prologue-Chapter 10 (Nunc Dimittis);

Week 5: Chapter 11 (Barchester Towers)-Chapter 20 (In the Midst of Death, We Are in Life);

Week 6: Chapter 21 (Ill Met By Moonlight) to Chapter 27 (The Turn of the Wheel).

"For Those Who Enjoy Peering Behind the Curtain " is just what it says, and so should be optional.

Come on the prowl with us!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ferguson Tonight.

"I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong--

CLAYTON, Mo., — A St. Louis County grand jury has brought no criminal charges against Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, more than three months ago in nearby Ferguson.

At a news conference, the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, said that members of the grand jury deliberated for more than two days before finding that no probable cause existed to file charges against Officer Wilson.

Over 25 days, the grand jury heard more than 70 hours of testimony from 60 witnesses, including three medical examiners, Mr. McCulloch said.
We'll say all the old things tonight, and tomorrow, and thereafter. Or we won't. We'll stay silent, perhaps, and wait for the divide to paper over again. And then we'll pretend it's all right.

"And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying--"

And so it goes:
The killing on a residential street in Ferguson set off civil unrest — and a national debate — fueled by protesters’ outrage over what they called a pattern of police brutality against young black men.

The St. Louis area has been steeped in anxiety as it has waited for a decision by the grand jury, which was made up of nine whites and three blacks and had been meeting on the case since Aug. 20. Around the region, law enforcement authorities were on alert Monday, and the Missouri National Guard stood by as word of the decision began leaking out; political leaders, including Gov. Jay Nixon, held last-minute meetings with community members; and residents, including parents of schoolchildren, braced for what might come next.
As a lawyer, I'm supposed to be all reassuring now, I guess. The system has worked. Better that 99 guilty men go free than one innocent man go to jail. We weren't there. You know the drill.

Some days those slipshod certainties seem like verities. Some days less so.

It's not that I don't believe in the ideals our system is based on. I devoted three years of my life to it. And winning the ones you shouldn't win was always hard, though not as hard as losing the ones you should have won. And, sometimes, knowing the difference was hardest of all.

This case doesn't feel like it goes in that last category. But it wasn't my case…

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest.

In the wake of an effective suspension of the First Amendment in Ferguson, one which targeted the media as well as the protesters, what trust can the community there have in the outcome?

How do you bind up a community when there is no confidence in the civil institutions that are created do the binding?

How do you restore a life snuffed out for no good reason?

How do the parents live with their loss?

As to the rest of us, well, as Robert Bolt once wrote: "I’m breathing…are you breathing too? It’s nice, isn’t it? It isn’t difficult to keep alive, friends. Just don’t make trouble. Or if you must make trouble, make the sort of trouble that’s expected."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

King Jesus: A Sermon Preached for Christ the King, 2014

[Another in the series of occasional sermons preached by me as a part of my training for ordination to the Diaconate; using the readings for November 23, 2014]

So, Christ the King. Not an easy thing to take on board in an Episcopal Church in 2014, right?

I mean, we don’t do kings anymore. We’re Americans. New Yorkers don’t believe in monarchs, other than maybe the odd royal wedding, which we enjoy as an anachronism all the more because it’s over in England . You know, where it belongs.

But a king over us? We fought a revolution against a pretty mild and inoffensive king in 1776, and that’s certainly not how Jesus comes across in today’s Gospel is it? Separating the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the unrighteous. Welcoming the righteous to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. And the unrighteous? They get tossed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Not to mention the poor old goats.

But don’t worry—it gets worse:

The feast day of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, in an encyclical that explained just how bad separation of Church and State is. As he put it:
The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. …the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and …placed …on the same level with them… then …tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers.
Pius hoped that the Feast Day of Christ the King would serve as a reminder that everyone, individuals AND rulers and princes -are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ.

Recalling -
the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for his kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles.

For Pius, the State should obey the Church, and enforce its doctrines.

As I said, gets worse before it gets better.

So what does Christ the King mean to us? How do we grapple with this difficult gospel?

I think we should start by understanding that the gap between our world and that of the pre-Enlightenment world gets in our way. From before the time of Christ to the Age of Elizabeth I, the natural order of things was seen as having a moral dimension.

That’s why, in Shakespeare’s plays, if a great injustice is done—say Macbeth kills the King, and seizes his throne, or Lear is dispossessed by his daughters—nature protests. There are storms, and strange phenomena. All creation was seen as being intimately connected, by relationships, from God down to the smallest, least important insect. All were linked in a Great Chain of Being, in which everybody had a place, everyone was valued in their place, and surrounded by love, whatever his or her rank.

Didn’t work out that way in practice, of course. But the ideal was that a king ruled not just for his own glory and power, but as a deputy for God. A King was meant to protect, to create peace and security, and a civil framework in which all could flourish. A king was meant to defend his people, at the cost of his own life if necessary.

We think of kingship as inherently unjust, and we’re not wrong. It placed the subjects at the mercy of the king, and all too often, the king had no mercy. But the thing to take away from the ideal of kingship is that when we celebrate Christ the King, we are declaring our faith that our Creator has designed us each to take a unique role in relationship not just with each other, but with the world, and with God.

And what is that relationship to God? Through Ezekiel today, we are told of a God who says “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” We are told that God will feed them with justice.

And in Matthew’s Gospel today, we are told to do the same. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Give a cup of cold water to those who are thirsty. Visit the sick and the prisoners. Do this in Jesus’ name, because what we do –or what we fail to do—for others we do for Jesus.

A few years ago, the deacon at my home parish bullied me into going on a three day retreat called Cursillo. It’s very happy clappy—singing hymns I’ve never heard of, total strangers sharing their experiences of God, and all the stuff that can make you feel very nervous as an Episcopalian. I earned my membership in the frozen chosen. On the second day of the retreat, a blizzard of mail came in for us all, quite a lot from prisons. Men’s prisons and women’s prisons. Large hand-drawn cards on posterboard and torn out pages from spiral notebooks. All signed by people in prison praying for us that weekend, hoping that we would have what they had already experienced, a knowledge that God loved each and every one of them, and that they had work to do. That work was sharing that knowledge, and their joy with us.

They were in prison, and wanted to set us free.

All because some other people—people I don’t know—took seriously Jesus’s commandment to love him enough to visit a prisoner for his sake. Someone took the words of today’s Gospel to heart.

Taking that leap of faith—[pause] no; that leap of love—is what Christ asks us to do. To see ourselves in relationship to each other, through him. That’s the kingdom. And the king? Christ the King served whoever came to him in need, and that’s what he urges us to do. In a world where all too many so-called leaders demand to be catered to, imagine that. A king who serves.

So for me that’s what makes Christ the King a day worth celebrating. A king who asks us to serve. To serve the vulnerable, not him. To do what he did, and through us today still does: Take care of those in need. Bring the cup of cold water, if that’s all we can do. Learn that having been fed ourselves, it’s our turn to feed others.

In the name of God, Father Son, and Holy Spirit.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Once is Happenstance: Precedent and Impeachable Offenses

Goldfinger said:"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action." Unlike Auric's rather sensible maxim, which tries to draw the correct lesson from experience, without assuming either too much or too little, Peter Schuck's op ed in today's New York Times falls into a kind of error that my fellow lawyers often do: the assumption that because an act has a precedent, it is therefore presumptively proper:
By constitutional design, impeachment for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” is a political accusation and initiates a political remedy, not a legal one. It is pretty much up to Congress to define and apply “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and no court would second-guess it. The next Congress could find that the president had violated his oath to “faithfully execute” the laws by refusing to enforce important provisions of the Affordable Care Act, No Child Left Behind and, now, the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The president surely has some power to withhold prosecution, but granting legal status and work permits to millions of people most likely exceeds his discretion. No judge can decide the precise scope of his discretion because no one, including Congress, has legal standing to challenge his order in court.

Of course, many lawyers at the Justice Department and elsewhere disagree, noting that prosecutorial discretion is pervasive, that there isn’t enough money to prosecute all violators, that the president will continue to prosecute criminals and illegal border crossers, and that earlier presidents have done the same thing. These are serious arguments.
Why, yes, they are. Unlike the claim that, in the infamous words of Gerald Ford, that "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history." In Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton describes the Framers' idea of an impeachable offense:
The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.
Now, if you read this passage and come away thinking that the President merely serves at the pleasure of Congress--yer doin' it wrong.

Although it's an example of special pleading, and therefore deserves to be taken with some skepticism, the 1998 memorandum submitted on behalf of President Clinton on the Standards for Impeachment does a nice job rounding up the original understanding of impeachment, consistent with Federalist No 65:
The English precedents illustrate that impeachment was understood to apply only to fundamental offenses against the system of government. In English practice, the term "high crimes and misdemeanors" had been applied to offenses, the common elements of which were their severity and the fact that the wrongdoing was directed against the state.10 The English cases included misappropriation of public funds, interfering in elections, accepting bribes, and various forms of corruption. Ibid. These offenses all affected the discharge of public duties by public officials. In short, under the English practice, "the critical element of injury in an impeachable offense was injury to the state."

The notion that "injury to the state" was the distinctive mark of the impeachable offense was also shared by the Staff of the Impeachment Inquiry when it researched the issue in connection with the investigation of President Nixon in 1974. In early English impeachments, the Staff concluded, "the thrust of the charge was damage to the state. . . . Characteristically, impeachment was used in individual cases to reach offenses, as perceived by Parliament, against the system of government."

The constitutional and ratification debates confirm that impeachment was limited to only the gravest political wrongs. The Framers plainly intended the impeachment standard to be a high one. They rejected a proposal that the President be impeachable for "maladministration," for, as James Madison pointed out, such a standard would "be equivalent to a tenure during the pleasure of the Senate." The Framers plainly did not intend to permit Congress to debilitate the executive by authorizing impeachment for something short of the most serious harm to the state. In George Mason's apt language, impeachment was thought necessary to remedy "great and dangerous offenses" not covered by "Treason" or "Bribery" such as "[a]ttempts to subvert the Constitution."

That is why, at the time of the ratification debates, Alexander Hamilton described impeachment as a "method of NATIONAL INQUEST into the conduct of public men." No act touches more fundamental questions of constitutional government than does the process of Presidential impeachment. No act more directly affects the public interest. No act presents the potential for greater injustice -- injustice both to the Chief Executive and to the people who elected him -- and the Framers were fully aware of this.

The specific harms the Framers sought to redress by impeachment are far more serious than those presented here. During the ratification debates, a number of the Framers addressed the Constitution's impeachment provisions. The following is a list of wrongs they believed the impeachment power was intended to address:

*receipt of emoluments from a foreign power in violation of Article I, section 9;
*using the pardon power to pardon the President's own crimes or crimes he advised;
*summoning the representatives of only a few states to ratify a treaty;
*concealing information from or giving false information to the Senate so as to cause it to take measures they otherwise would not have taken injurious to the country;
*general failure to perform the duties of the Executive.
The history on which they relied, the arguments they made in Convention, the specific ills they regarded as redressable -- all these establish that the Framers believed that impeachment must be reserved for only the most serious forms of wrongdoing. They believed, in short, that impeachment "reached offenses against the government, and especially abuses of constitutional duties."21 Fidelity to that understanding requires the Committee to formulate an appropriately high standard to guide its decision whether to launch an inquiry with such potentially grave national consequences.
Professor Schuck continues:
in 1868 President Andrew Johnson was impeached by a deeply partisan, Radical Republican-dominated House. Johnson — a conservative Democrat who rose from the vice presidency when Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was assassinated — was impeached mainly for firing a cabinet member (which he almost certainly had the legal right to do), but also for obstructing policies that Congress enacted. (Impeachment proceedings against Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton involved criminal conduct more egregious than Mr. Obama’s policy unilateralism.)
OK, first of all, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson is hardly looked on as a high point in the functioning of our Nation. Moreover, to blithely equate the impeachment of Bill Clinton for "providing perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury regarding the Paula Jones case and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky" and the investigation of Nixon's abuse of office to spy on his political opponents hardly (he resigned rather than have an impeachment vote go forward) is absurd. By the Federalist and Framer's definition of an impeachable offense, Clinton did not fall within the class of impeachable offenses; Nixon clearly did.

Now, I do not believe Obama has fallen within that ambit, but that's not my actual point. (Actually, Schuck's piece bodes well for a certain bet I made). The point is that a definition such as that employed by Schuck denudes the constitutional provision of all meaning, and embraces Ford's cynical position, one that would entail that the President serves at the will of Congress. That isn't law, let alone constitutional law. And it shouldn't be encouraged. We have seen, with over a century between them, two manifestly improper uses of the impeachment clause. A third could routinize it, and that could lead nowhere good.

Friday, November 21, 2014

65,000 Words

That's how much Anthony Trollope was required to cut from the Duke's Children:
It is a remarkable fact that one of the best-known novels by one of the greatest 19th-century English novelists has never been published in the form its author intended. Anthony Trollope wrote The Duke’s Children as a four-volume work but then reduced it to three, necessitating the loss of almost a quarter of his original text. The precise reason is lost to posterity but is likely to have been a demand from his publishers on the grounds of economy; it would not have come from Trollope himself, who had earlier written in his Autobiography: ‘I am at a loss to know how such a task could be performed. I could burn the MS., no doubt, and write another book on the same story; but how two words out of every six are to be withdrawn from a written novel, I cannot conceive.’

Yet this is precisely what he was obliged to do, and 65,000 words ended up on the cutting-room floor. As he wrote to John Blackwood not long after making the revisions: ‘I am bound to say that I have never found myself able to effect changes in the plot of a story. Small as the links are, one little thing hangs on another to such an extent that any change sets the whole narrative wrong. There are so many infinitesimal allusions to what is past, that the whole should be rewritten or it will be faulty.’ It was meticulous, exacting and soul-destroying work.
That's over a quarter of the book missing. But here's another fact: It's also a hair beneath the recommended low end of length for a modern novel, with 115 as the high end and 90,000 as "the sweet spot."

Now, Phineas at Bay clocks in at 171,461 (including the Postscript and Table of Contents, so a bit less, really). That's still well under either of the two Phineas novels by Trollope.

The factor that tipped me in favor of self-publishing was just that--a length such as that recommended by agents would not have allowed for a Trollopian feel. You need details for that, what the Folio Society calls "the massive accumulation of details." There has to be a feeling of capaciousness, of breadth. Self-publishing meant I could avoid the dilemma that Trollope himself had to face.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Phineas at Bay Meets the Experts

There is a reading group, Trollope and His Contemporaries, hosted by Ellen Moody, whose blog is a daily read for me, and who wrote Trollope on the Net, a truly innovative work.

I have been a member of the group since the summer, and will be in an unusual role when we turn to its next book, my own Phineas at Bay. Having read both Uncle Silas and Phineas Finn with these folks, let me tell you: They know their 19th Century literature, and especially their Trollope. (Seriously,the level of the commentary and the reactions is extremely high.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Trollop's "Butchered" Book Returns to Life

This is something to look forward to, all right:
He's one of the best-loved novelists of the 19th Century, whose work has been read and studied by academics and an army of fans, including Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.
But remarkably, none of them has been getting the full story of Anthony Trollope's work – until now. A novel 'butchered' at the time of its original publication has been restored after 135 years, and is being hailed as virtually a whole new book.
When The Duke's Children was submitted for publication in 1879, Trollope was forced to hack away more than 65,000 words – a quarter of the original text. But now the sixth and final instalment in his series of novels about the Palliser family is to be published as he intended.
Last night Lord Fellowes said: 'I couldn't be more pleased. The truncated version is an ineffective conclusion to the Palliser novels but this is tremendous and does justice to the series which came before.'
Now, I'll disagree with Julian Fellowes calling the present text of The Duke's Children "ineffective," but I will agree that it is something of an anti-climax. Certainly the descending action of the book, which focuses more on the next generation with the Duke acting as a foil to his children, loses some of the impetus that the preceding novels had created. Also, losing Lady Glen (oh, all right, the Duchess) in the first chapter, while a truly gutsy move, also deprives the move of Trollope's most reliable source of action and warmth in the series. Lady Glen is missed sorely. As Ellen Moody has pointed out, Simon Raven's adaptation of the novels puts off Lady Glen's death, and extends her role fairly dramatically.

But the novel has its glories. The Duke's jealousy and his anger at Glencora's championing of Frank Tregear's courtship of Lady Mary (which he sees as a repudiation of their forced marriage) is excellently portrayed, and his injustice to Marie Finn (the former Madame Max) is even more so. We see Plantagenet's shadow side here, and Marie stands up to him with vigor. He is entirely in the wrong, and, ultimately, his own decency forces him, most reluctantly, to admit it.

It is in this novel that we get a glimpse into the Duke's feelings for Phineas Finn, in his answer to a question posed by his son over dinner at the Beargarden:
"To tell the truth it's a matter I don't care much about. They've got into some mess as to the number of Judges and what they ought to do. Finn was saying that they had so arranged that there was one Judge who never could possibly do anything."

"If Mr. Finn said so it would probably be so, with some little allowance for Irish exaggeration. He is a clever man, with less of his country's hyperbole than others;—but still not without his share."

"You know him well, I suppose."

"Yes;—as one man does know another in the political world."

"But he is a friend of yours? I don't mean an 'honourable friend,' which is great bosh; but you know him at home."

"Oh yes;—certainly. He has been staying with me at Matching. In public life such intimacies come from politics."

"You don't care very much about him then."

The Duke paused a moment before he answered. "Yes I do;—and in what I said just now perhaps I wronged him. I have been under obligations to Mr. Finn,—in a matter as to which he behaved very well. I have found him to be a gentleman. If you come across him in the House I would wish you to be courteous to him. I have not seen him since we came from abroad. I have been able to see nobody. But if ever again I should entertain my friends at my table, Mr. Finn would be one who would always be welcome there." This he said with a sadly serious air as though wishing that his words should be noted. At the present moment he was remembering that he owed recompense to Mrs. Finn, and was making an effort to pay the debt.
In Raven's screenplay, they have become closer than this; however, for Palliser, this is not nothing. It is the primary basis, in fact, from which I projected the relationship between the Duke and Phineas in Phineas at Bay.

An expanded text will certain;y be richer with those character moments that make Trollope unique among his contemporaries. I'll be buying mine as soon as it's available, with thanks to The Trollope Society for keeping on it!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Colors of Autumn

I am currently embracing the season of Autumn--always my favorite, in fact--and the pleasures it brings. I've been traveling more than usual, due to new job, and have enjoyed driving through country roads, past incredible vistas with a peculiar, transfiguring autumn sunlight that has an almost supernatural effect on the objects it strikes, just so. There aren't words adequate to describe the quality of the light--pearlescent, weak and yet astonishingly clear--these words come close to capturing it, but, no; they're inadequate.

Maybe this will help: a world normally seen in the hues of oil paints becomes, for a little under an hour, the work of a preternaturally skilled watercolorist.

Some people don't like the fall, with its intimations that winter is near, and the end of the year, an allegorical stand-in for death, will fast be upon us. It stirs my soul--from memories of the new school year, to the scent of burning leaves.

And the "autumnal" feel in novels has always appealed to me, too. Dumas's Inseparables are never more real to me than when divided by time, other alliances and loyalties, and yet still insistently loyal to each other in the long novel The Vicomte de Bragelonne (often published as three separate volumes, the first under the original title, the second as Louise de la Valiere, and the third as The Man in the Iron Mask).

My own first novel, Phineas at Bay, which takes its main characters from Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels, is not particularly autumnal--it's a story of several characters each finding the way home to his or her own best, truest self. The main characters are in middle age, but each has been balked in some way, and is laboring to get through a personal Sargasso Sea. Ultimately, Phineas at Bay is the conclusion to the season of summer, albeit a delayed summer for some of my characters.

Its sequel, which I have just started, is a very different work. It's a story, with roots in real history, of a very talented criminal, of a young barrister's learning his trade, and of the beginning of a life's work. For Phineas Finn, it will be a story of loss, and of consolation.

For the older characters--Trollope's own, mostly, but a few others--autumn has arrived. What to make of that late, last flush of supernal beauty, is the question before them. Because, after all, for everyone, ultimately, winter must follow.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Say Something Nice": Two Cheers for "Dark Water" and "Death in Heaven"

Death in Heaven, last week's finale for series 8 of Doctor Who, is as divisive among fans of the show as was Dark Water, the episode leading into the finale. (My views on Dark Water are here.)

It's not surprising; Death in Heaven is quick-moving, nuanced in its characterizations, and convoluted in its plot. Depending on your metric, it can fairly be viewed as a mixed-up mess or as a brilliant success.

On the negative side, once again, my friend Nick Kaufmann:
Look, I’m not going to mince words here. Doctor Who‘s eighth season finale,”Death in Heaven,” was crap. Although I suppose it could have been a passable, rousing adventure if it weren’t for the fact that nothing in it made any sense. If you thought the science in “In the Forest of the Night” was absurd even for Doctor Who, wait until you get a load of this episode!***

Missy employs something called Cyberpollen (magic rain!) that transforms every dead body on Earth into Cybermen — but only dead bodies. It works so perfectly that it begs the question why it wasn’t intended to transform all the living beings instead. But no, that will require a second pollination performed by the dead-body Cybermen! Why have this two-tier plan? Why not just turn every living human on Earth into a Cyberman with the first rain? Why even bother with transforming the dead first? On top of that, there didn’t seem to be any limit on how long someone could be dead before their body is transformed into a Cyberman. Did you die in the 1700s? Are you just dust and bone shards now? Doesn’t matter. Now you’re a full-bodied Cyberman! On the other hand, are you a healthy, living human being with all your limbs intact? Then sorry, we don’t want you. Just the dead , thanks. Again, why? There isn’t a reason beyond the fact that the plot demands a two-tier plan so the Doctor can stop it.
Also, Jill Pantozzi over at The Mary Sue:
There were a few episodes this season I greatly enjoyed but the overall theme dragged me down to point where I’m considering not watching the show anymore because it’s not bringing me any joy. Clara was going to murder someone but didn’t have to because the Doctor was going to in her place, neither a fantastic scenario. And the Doctor feels he won because he didn’t give into the temptation to basically rule the galaxy but it doesn’t feel like a win when everything else is so awful.


Perhaps you felt differently about the episode but after what was a very compelling first half for me, the second part fell apart completely and left me longing for fun adventures through time and space again.
On the brilliant success side of the ledger, Philip Sandifer:
It works. There are plot holes. I identified several in the immediate aftermath. On a second pass, all of them have, at the very least, a line of dialogue. Yes, Missy’s entire reason for bringing the Doctor and Clara together and intervening in their timestreams to keep them together was that Clara would eventually lead the Doctor to try to rescue a loved one out of heaven. It’s a scheme by the Master, what did you expect, sanity? The Doctor probably could have commanded the army to self-destruct, but he recognized that Danny was the right person to do it. They’re not always satisfying payoffs, though for the most part, they’re as satisfying as they need to be for the amount the show built them up - if fans inflated the minor mysteries further, that’s their problem.

And when anything falters, it’s willing to get through on sheer bravado. Moffat returned to the two-parter on the back of Sherlock, and built one with a corker of a cliffhanger. He actually rejects his own usual advice of having to pick up the cliffhanger in a different place, instead just weighting the two halves, so Clara drops out earliest in Dark Water and then gets the cold open in Death in Heaven. Then he uses UNIT to change the pace a second time, and he’s off to the races with something that feels very different without any gimmicks, or, at least, without any of the gimmicks his detractors accuse him of relying on. It keeps moving at a thrilling speed. There’s no flab to this story - just a solid knowledge of what the major scenes actually are and a willingness to linger on them and trim the connective tissue.

It’s phenomenally good, and a worthy capstone to a season that has been a genuinely incredible piece of television. And it’s been a barnstorming success in practice. There are detractors, but most reviews have been positive, ratings have been high. AIs have been a smidgen weak, perhaps, but that’s maybe OK for a show that’s taking this many risks. Maybe the best television doesn’t get a 91 point AI.
(Paul Cornell raved, too.)

So, what gives, and where do I stand?

Well, look. I find myself very forgiving of bad science in Doctor Who, always have been. That's because I have never seen Doctor Who as science fiction, but as science fantasy--I think that Sandifer's great contribution to critical reading of Doctor Who is his insight that, thanks to David Whitaker's seminal contribution to the program, Doctor Who is rooted in alchemical thinking. So, science? Not so much--quasi-science, with alchemical roots, that begins in the Hartnell era and continues into the present. And in terms of that logic, Death in Heaven works.

A few specific points:

1. "Doctor Idiot": The Doctor's self-discovery

When the Doctor realizes he is not a good man, a bad man, a hero or an officer, he realizes that he is "an idiot with a box nd a screwdriver. Just passing through, helping out, learning." He is, in other words (Robertson Davies's words, for choice, the Fool:
The Fool; the cheerful rogue on a journey, with a rip in his pants, and a little dog that nipped at his exposed rump, urging him onward and sometimes nudging him in directions he had never intended to take. The Fool, who had no number but the potent zero which, when it was added to any other number, multiplied its significance by ten. . . He had been inclined to see his own myth as that of a servant, a drudge, not without value, but never an initiator or an important figure in anyone’s life but his own. If he had been asked to choose a card in the Tarot that would signify himself, he would probably have named the Knave of Clubs, Le Valet de Baton, the faithful, loyal servitor. Was not that the character he had played all his life? . . . Oh, the Knave of Clubs to the life! But now Mamusia had declared as true what he had for some time felt in his bones. He was something better. He was the Fool. Not the servitor, napkin in hand, at the behest of his betters, but the footloose traveller, urged onward by something outside the confines of intellect and caution.
And that's not a bad description of the core meaning of the Doctor as he has been presented in the series, from the beginning on. Finding himself, alchemically speaking, spiritually speaking, is a key step on his trip back to Gallifrey. It's not an express trip, for those who thought that this would be the reason arc; he has to get acquainted with himself first.

2. The Mistress's Plan: Why the Dead, and Not the Living, too?

Missy's two step plan makes perfect sense when you look at it in terms of her purpose: she wants to force the Doctor to accept her gift and exercise power. She hangs the threatened cyber-conversion of all the living as a sword over the Doctor's head to make him do so. She says this explicitly:
DOCTOR: Nobody can have that power.
MISSY: You will, because you don't have a choice. The only way you can stop these clouds from opening up and killing all your little pets down here. Conquer the universe, Mister President. Show a bad girl how it's done.
(Missy drops a deep curtsy. The Doctor rips the bracelet off.)
DOCTOR: Why are you doing this?
MISSY: I need you to know we're not so different. I need my friend back. Every battle, every war, every invasion. From now on, you decide the outcome. What's the matter, Mister President? Don't you trust yourself?
(My emphasis.) The whole plan is structured not to defeat the Doctor, but to corrupt him--to make him see the Mistress as his peer, his friend, again. The dead are used because the living are hostages, spared only if the Doctor takes the bait, and actively participates in effectuating Missy's plan.

3. Why Clara?

Missy's putting Clara and the Doctor together likewise works; as we have seen this whole season, Clara has learned exactly the wrong lessons from the Doctor. Her "control freak" aspect, always present, has come increasingly to the fore, as she has come to enjoy power and its exercise. She has become, as the episode makes clear, "an incredible liar." She has become, while not evil, someone who the Mistress (as the Doctor said about her name, a regeneration or two back, "You chose it. Psychiatrist's field day.") understands enough to manipulate. Clara is enough like Missy that Missy can predict how she'll behave. And (the inference seems clear), either she brings about Danny's death, or is aware of it as a fixed point from her scanning of Clara and the Doctor's timeline.

4. Give Me Something to Sing About: What About "The End of Time"?

Back in June, I wrote:
the Doctor has seen his own darkness, and, in revulsion at his own arrogance, is prepared to die to stop the corrupted Time Lords under Rassilon destroying, well, everything. The Master makes the same choice, first telling the Doctor to "get out of the way," mirroring the Doctor's own prior warning to him.

It is hard to imagine a story that brings back the Master without undermining that ending, and though I have always enjoyed the character, I would hate for that to happen. Unless the integrity of the character development can be respected, and a new kind of story told, I'd prefer Moffatt leave the Master in peace.
So, the inevitable question--did the Moff pull it off?

Well, he has found something different, and something that I, personally, find compelling--the Doctor's oldest friend trying to regain her former role in his life, trying to bridge the gap between them, but in a psychotic way that shows that she is still deeply, profoundly damaged. This isn't Eric Roberts's seemingly motiveless malevolence, or even Ainley's game-playing aesthete. The character now is a logical extension of the best of Ainley's Master, and, especially, of Simm's portrayal--less walking wounded, more polished, but still--insane, even against her own best interests. And despite that, and even with the Doctor poised to kill her, there was a kind of meeting of the minds in this story that we haven't seen before--this touch-averse Doctor cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her, thanking her for what he learned through his ordeal. Look at how Micelle Gomez plays that scene again--how gentle her expression is at that moment. And again, when the Doctor chooses to kill his old friend rather than to let Clara do so:
DOCTOR: No. No, don't you dare. I won't let you.
CLARA: Old friend, is she? If you have ever let this creature live, everything that happened today, is on you. All of it, on you. And you're not going to let her live again.
DOCTOR: Clara, all I'm doing is not letting you kill her. I never said I was letting her live.
CLARA: Really?
DOCTOR: If that's the only thing that will stop you, yes.
(Clara hands over the thingy.)
MISSY: Seriously. Oh, Doctor. To save her soul? But who, my dear, will save yours? Say something nice. Please?
DOCTOR: You win.
MISSY: I know.
(The Doctor prepares to vaporise Missy, but another energy bolt gets there first. It was a Cyberman with a dark chest disc. It points to something lying amongst the gravestones.)
The Doctor-Missy dynamic is in a very different place from where it has previously been. Moffatt has found a new story to tell.