The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Prosecutor Recants: A Free Speech Conversion

This is good to see:
In 1964, Gerald Harris successfully prosecuted Jonas Mekas for showing a 43-minute film by Jack Smith called “Flaming Creatures,” which included nudity and sex acts. Fifty-one years later, after reading an article about Mr. Mekas in The New York Times, Mr. Harris reached out to the defendant to apologize.

Mr. Harris is now 79 and semiretired. Mr. Mekas is 92 and still going strong, making movies and running a film archive.

“I feel I owe you an apology,” Mr. Harris wrote in an email. “Although my appreciation of free expression and aversion to censorship developed more fully as I matured, I should have sooner acted more courageously.”

Mr. Mekas wrote back immediately.

“Your surprise generous apology accepted!” he wrote. “There should be more such examples.”

In his message, Mr. Harris wrote that a few months after prosecuting Mr. Mekas and two other defendants who were working at the New Bowery Theater, he asked to be relieved from prosecuting Lenny Bruce on similar charges because he found Mr. Bruce’s routines hilarious.


At trial, Mr. Harris effectively shut down testimony that “Flaming Creatures” had artistic validity meriting constitutional protection. Ms. Sontag, whose debut article in The Nation magazine was a glowing review of “Flaming Creatures,” was permitted to define underground film, but Mr. Harris objected to her testimony that the film was a work of art, and the three judges — including former Mayor Vincent R. Impelliteri — sustained his objection.


But things change. Mr. Harris, who went on to become a judge and the county attorney for Westchester, took up poetry. When he met Ms. Sontag at a poetry reading years later, he said, they had a laugh about his cross-examination.

Before they parted, “I said, I grew up to be the guy who refused to prosecute Lenny Bruce, and she said, ‘Good for you.’”

Mr. Mekas was sentenced to 60 days in the workhouse — a grim punishment for a survivor of a Nazi forced labor camp — but the sentence was suspended. He held no grudges.
I'm glad to see this story, both for the growth on the part of Mr. Harris, and for the generosity of spirit shown by Mr. Mekas. But there's another reason, too. When I was the lead counsel in Nitke v. Gonzales, decided 10 years ago, now, my concern was that the use of "local community standards" on the Internet could be use to hold artists and other speakers to the most restrictive community standard in the country--as, in fact, was the law under US v. Thomas, the leading case prior to our bringing the suit. In the current very free commons of the Internet today, it's easy to forget how concerned the Bush Administration was trying to revive obscenity law, prosecuting not just video or film, but the written word alone. (Because I've been exceptionally busy of late, I didn't see see that one of our original and stalwart witnesses in Nitke, Candida Royalle, passed away last month; I am extremely sorry to hear of it.)

I have to say, my only regret about the Nitke case is that we didn't win outright. Oh our three judge panel rejected the Thomas precedent, and we seemed to put that wrongful principle to bed, at least for now--but as a constitutional scholar and a lawyer, I am as sure that we had the right of the argument now as I was then.

And Mr. Mekas did well in accepting what he called the "surprise and generous apology"; indeed, there should be more examples, and I admire Mr. Harris for being one.

The law is a blunt instrument; it cannot distinguish between true and false ideas of the good. That's why we have a First Amendment.

Friday, October 30, 2015


Here is little Horatio, who has been with us for about a month now, taking on a fearsome adversary, the dreaded string bean.

Posted for your enjoyment because…well, because it just happened, and I missed National Cat Day, and tomorrow is Caturday, and, well, the last few posts have been pretty much serious/reflective, and a cute kitten taking on a string bean is a pretty good palate cleanser. Also, the little mouser keeps climbing my leg like its frakkin' Everest. Kittens are not as hard to train as puppies, but they have their moments….

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Guv'nor

I never knew my paternal grandfather, but I did know, into my 20s, my maternal grandfather. A tall, spare man, with an amazing gift for anecdote, a past that had led him into many different parts of the country, through many adventures, my grandfather was a profound influence on me.

As a boy, he met Theodore Roosevelt. A bricklayer for most of his working life, he had traveled the nation, working on the U.S. Supreme Court building, where he ran across Chief Justice Hughes inspecting the works. Down south, he experienced Louisiana under the Kingfish, which he described as living on a cliff edge--"you had to watch what you said, who you said it to," I can still hear him say. Still, he would remark, it was a bit much to hear on the radio that his own doctor had killed the man.

These fragments make him sound Zelig-like, but nothing could be further from the case. It's just that he had mastered the laws of the anecdote formulated by Mark Twain and perfected by David Niven. And the first rule, I learned from listening to my grandfather's stories, was this: Never make the story about your own virtues. The best stories are those where the narrator is the observer, or, better still, the butt. Let others tell the stories that show your virtues. A bemused air, and a touch of self-deprecation, go further than a heroic saga any day. No, really, watch:

No, far from Zelig. When my father put a pool table in the basis, he offered to play a game with my grandfather, who promptly ran the table. Pool had been a way of earning spare cash in the Great Depression, you see. He taught me how to play, though I was never anything like as good as he was. Still, I learned how to "play position"--that is, to think not just of the shot you're about to make, but of the one to follow, and, if you can, the one after that. It's not unlike chess that way--which my Dad taught me.

Speaking of my own parents, I should add that he was very close not just with my mother, his daughter, but with my father. I remember him once telling me not to ever take for granted the easy, warm relationship that I had with my own Dad--his own father, he said, had been distant and austere. he wanted to be sure that I knew how lucky I was in both my parents. And he cherished my mother, whose humor he drew out better than anyone. I might have taken my parents for granted if he hadn't pointed that out.

My sister and I called him "Pop-pop" when we were children, and, when I got older and awkward (and immersed in P.G. Wodehouse, I teasingly called him "the Guv'nor." He bore it stoically, laughing with me, because he loved me and my sister with a devotion that could put up with any level of silliness we might cause. When I was in college, I grew a mustache, which my mother didn't care for, and would occasionally urge me to shave. My grandfather said nothing, but grew one himself. My mother got the joke, if a touch ruefully. (After two decades with a beard, I'm back to the mustache. Frankly, I miss the beard.)

I came upon a picture of my family today, I think around 1985, as I have my mustache (one sees Mom's point!) and my grandfather doesn't yet have his. There we are, with me looking vaguely narcoleptic:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Time Mirror

When I was in the discernment process, before I had been recommended by my parish to the Diocese, I attended--thanks to the urging of my mentor and good friend, the Deacon (I guess I have to say the senior deacon now) at St. Bartholomew's Church--a retreat. A friend of mine, in the discernment process for the priesthood, described the Fraction as the "moment when the one who is whole becomes broken, so that we who are broken can become whole." I mulled the throughout for a long time afterward. It was true, beautiful, moving and spiritually alive and resonant for me. It was also a thought that would never have passed through my own mind, though in hearing it, I saw its profundity. I told her then that I believed with all my heart that her call to the priesthood was genuine. (She has since been ordained a priest.)

And it made me wonder if my call was not to the priesthood, but to something else.

Some months later, I was delivering a committee report about improving our church communications. It was in the wake of the financial crash, and I advocated for getting some computers donated, training some of our neighbors who had been unemployed as a result of the crash, and having them digitize our archives for use online. We could, I argued, help the unemployed learn new skills, give them a resume line to keep them viable in the job market, and at the same time improve our website.

When I finished, a short break was called. My friend who had spoken so eloquently of the Fraction sought me out, looked me squarely in the eyes, and said to me: "You're a deacon." And in that moment, I knew she was right, whether I was ever ordained or not.


Another friend of mine, professionally accomplished, with a busy life, had a few months back been in touch with me about wanting to undergo Clinical Pastoral Education. I told her what I knew about it, put her in touch with some people I knew, and offered to do more if she needed. She reached out to me again the other day, and we spoke on the phone. She told me that she was in a program, described what she'd been doing,and told me she felt that she might be being called to the diaconate. we discussed the discernment process, the formation and training, field placement--everything. She then started musing on how she'd been doing volunteer work since she was a girl, but always practical, always helping people not within the four corners of the church, but outside in the world, and now felt the need to integrate that with her spiritual practice--that she felt called to more, and that's why CPE was so important, even though it didn't encompass all that she wanted to do. Again and again, she used the word serve to describe her call.

I can't adequately describe the frisson I felt at that moment--the physical sensation running from the crown of my head to the base of my spine--the sensation that always accompanies for me those "peak moments," as my old teacher, Fr. R.F. Smith at Fordham, used to call them--those moments when the world aligns, and I recognize what's been staring me in the face all along. I felt as if I were in an echo in time, but with the roles changed.

"You're a deacon," I heard myself say.

Of course, the Church will ultimately decide that, not me, but that she has the heart of a deacon, that she is called to servant ministry, whether ordained or lay, I have no doubt.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Down for the Count

When I was eleven, my grammar school had a book fair, and I bought a copy of Dracula, the original Bram Stoker novel. It was in December, I remember, and later that day, my sister and I found out that our beloved grandmother had died. I fled into the book, the stunning opening sequence of which--Jonathan Harker's trip to Transylvania, his meeting Count Dracula, his encounter with Dracula's wives--gave me a nightmare that kept me from reading any further for some time. (I strongly suspect, but don't know, that this nightmare was some part of my processing my sense of loss.) Two years later, I saw the Frank Langella version, and returned to Stoker's original.

I have visited Dracula recurrently ever since.

The book itself is brilliant, and no film adaptation has done it justice--Francis Ford Coppola's misleadingly namedBram Stoker's Dracula (1992) flirts with elements of the book, but overlays a romanticized version of Vlad the Impaler and a cheapening of the core group hunting him--Coppola deprives Jonathan Harker of his stature in the novel, and Anthony Hopkins's Van Helsing is, well...

Yeah. "She is the Devil's concubine" is probably the nadir of a great acting career.

Another not-so-much version at least had the benefit of introducing me to Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, and to classical music, so, that's another one I owe the Count.

In any event, every year around Halloween I read a supernaturally themed work--ranging from classics to modern genre fiction. I'm not a snob about it; Peter Straub's underrated, chilling Julia, Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot, even the deservedly despised Varney the Vampyre (James Malcolm Ryder or Thomas Preskett Prest, depending on whom you believe). My late, lamented professor and thesis adviser, Walter Kendrick boasted of being the only man to actually finish reading Varney, and, alas, he still holds the title.

Two years ago, I read Kim Newman's Anno Dracula, in which he felt free to hijack not only Stoker's plot and characters but those of other Victorian writers, and of other novels set in the era. (Yes, I was writing Phineas at Bay at the time, and Newman's borrowings, like Trollope's own, encouraged me to let rip and follow my own allusive turn of mind.) Newman knew enough to keep the Count offstage as much as possible, and his presence, almost never seen, but always looming over the scene, makes the book work--a trick he repeats in his Johnny Alucard, a seemingly disconnected series of stories that suddenly clicks into a coherent whole, with a brilliant twist.

This year I am re-reading one of the very few Dracula pastiches to restore the Count's mystery and ability to frighten, despite his cultural ubiquity. I refer to Elizabeth Kostova's 2005 debut novel The Historian, a subtle, slowly unravelling skein that I am enjoying on this go as much as I did when I first read it, ten years ago.

All because, in a time of terrible loss, a book gave a child a lesser fear to distract him from a very much greater one.

Thank you, Bram Stoker.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Conundrum

(Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

So, l have a problem, dear friends and readers. We have 4 wonderful kitties--albeit getting a little long in the tooth, all aged between 14 and 16, and a bit more fractious than they used to be--but then La C helped rescue our above-pictured friend. He's adorable, sweet-natured and highly adoptable. And, as La C (correctly) says, we don't keep the ones we can easily find good homes for.

However, he is a mouser, and of all our cats at Anglocat Central (I exempt Ninna in the Northern Annex) he is the only real one we have. Elspeth still has the ability, but her interest flickers. So my instinctive squee of "Kitten!" is not entirely impracticable.

Or, we can find him--and I know we will, a very good, loving, forever home. Or keep him.

A tough one, no?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Quoth the Raven...a Brief Blog on Borrowing

I've just re-read Simon Raven's last novel, entitled The Troubadour (1992), which ended the sequence of seven novels grouped under the general title The First Born in Egypt, generally considered lesser work but connected to and sometimes as vital as his justly praised and unjustly neglected Alms for Oblivion sequence.

There's a lovely little moment after the death of Captain Detterling, the caddish and yet somehow impressive cricketer, soldier and pretender to the marquisate, rejoicing in the absurd title Captain the Most Honourable Marquess Canteloupe of the Aestuary of the Severn, when one of his fellow former members of the regiment tells his wife that he has decided not to attend Canteloupe's funeral:
"But surely he counted as a friend? The girls wrote to me that you seemed very pleased to see him at that cricket match at the school the other day."

"So I was. I like being reminded of the past. And Canteloupe never fails to arouse in me a kind of pleasurable astonishment, that creatures such as him are still permitted to exist. But I am not and never have been his intimate, and truth to tell I have always disapproved of him. What was it that Trollope said of the old Duke of Omnium--the one played by Ronald Culver in that admirable dramatization by Simon Raven? 'No man should dare to live idly as His Grace had lived--something like that. Whether as Detterling or as Canteloupe, this man has lived idly. I doubt if he ever performed a single useful act.
It's a good joke, and a nice bit of metafiction, making Simon Raven a character in a Simon Raven novel. (It's also as close as Detterling gets to an epitaph, although his death scene is rather mythic in nature.) But my own borrowings in Phineas at Bay go well beyond the world of Trollope--there are real historical personages hob-nobbing with their own fictional analogues, or the characters they created, in the case of Bernard Shaw. There are characters from good novels now obscure and from literary curiosae (which may have more meaning than they seem to at present). And there are several doffings of the hat to Raven, and through the actors who enacted his adaptation, to Doctor Who. A plethora of references flew through my mind and into the book as I wrote--and I left most of them in place. And most of them unflagged. (Though I did do an essay on sources.)

It's been suggested to me that an annotated Phineas at Bay might be desirable--to explain some of the topical references I didn't address in the essay, and to reveal the "Easter Eggs" as I called my little tributes. But I don't know. I'm rather pleased at how many have gone uncommented on--that suggests that they didn't feel out of place, or squeezed in.

Still, since I'm working on a follow up, the question seems relevant--to annotate or not to annotate?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Doubt that, Douthat

Really, this blog is not going to degenerate into one focused on a branch of the Church to which I no longer belong, but our friend Ross Douthat does keep making it hard to quit him:
It’s a very specific debate about whether conversion and repentance are necessary, not for community, but for communion: The reception of the eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, during the central act of Catholic worship, the sacrifice of the mass. And by claiming — or at least very strongly implying —that Jesus’s meals with sinners are the template for how the church should think about communion, Father Martin is effectively rejecting the entire sweep of our church’s tradition on this question.

This tradition is rooted in the gospels themselves, where the Last Supper is emphatically not a feeding of the five thousand moment or a meal with a tax collector: Those encounters are arguably prefigurations of the Last Supper, but the actual eucharist itself is instituted in an intimate encounter between Jesus and his closest followers, held in a private upstairs room far from the crowds and hangers-on.

The tradition is also rooted in the New Testament more broadly, and particularly in Saint Paul’s admonition that “a man must examine himself first, and then eat of that bread and drink of that cup; he is eating and drinking damnation to himself if he eats and drinks unworthily.” (Which doesn’t sound like a “community first, conversion second” admonition to me.)

And then it’s rooted in the ancient, millennia-spanning practice of the church itself, in which the idea that communion follows conversion is part of the chain of experience that binds the earliest Christians to their medieval and modern Catholic heirs.

So treating the eucharist as a form of outreach instead would represent a revolution, not a mere pastoral tweak, in the way the church thinks about that sacrament (and not only that one). That’s because there’s no clear way to confine Father Martin’s logic to the narrow cases at issue in this debate. If community precedes conversion in the reception of communion, why should only remarried Catholics (or gay Catholics, or polygamous Catholics) have the benefits of being welcomed at the altar? The same welcoming logic would surely apply to any unshriven sinner in need of conversion. And not just any sinner who happened to be baptized Catholic: If the template is Jesus’s meals with the unconverted, then it would apply to any human being, period, since who wouldn’t Jesus have dined with? Why should Protestants not be welcomed to communion? Why shouldn’t Jews? (We know Jesus liked to dine with Jews!) Why shouldn’t Muslims and Mormons, agnostics and atheists? If the eucharist is basically a form of food-based Christian fellowship, a means to outreach and welcome and hospitality rather than a sacred mystery for believers to approach with reverence and not a little fear, then forget the divorced and remarried; barring anyone from receiving makes no sense at all.

And indeed there are many Christian churches that take exactly this attitude toward communion. But they are also, not coincidentally, generally churches that don’t have Catholicism’s view of transsubstantiation, confession, or the sacramental economy writ large. They are always Protestant, frequently liberal, and emphatically not the Roman Catholic Church in which both myself and Father Martin were confirmed.
Long quote; sorry. But I don't want to be accused of taking him out of context.

A few points:

1. To Douthat's purity principle, pointing at the Last Supper, might I point out that one Judas Iscariot was present; indeed, he was singled out for special attention:
Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake.
He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.
So, clearly, only the pure in heart and converted should be allowed at our commemoration of the Last Supper. Don't get me wrong; I respect the right of the Roman Catholic Church to make whatever rules it holds to be required by God and the service of God. But this line of argumentation is distinctly poor--

2. But that's hardly surprising; Douthat argues like a high school debater. "[E]mphatically not the Roman Catholic Church in which both myself and Father Martin were confirmed," Ross? You were born in late 1979 and converted (and I'll assume confirmed) at 17. By my poor math, that means you've been a Catholic for about as long as South Park has been on the air. Your adherence to Roman Catholicism has just about tied the original run of Cats

See, sometimes change is better.

Kidding aside, My point is that this is a juvenile argument--you don't get to pull that O tempera, o mores routine based on an 18 year run.

3. He's also stone-cold ignorant about the liberal churches who do allow communion to all or to all the baptized: "there are many Christian churches that take exactly this attitude toward communion. But they are also, not coincidentally, generally churches that don’t have Catholicism’s view of transsubstantiation, confession, or the sacramental economy writ large. They are always Protestant, frequently liberal," and, as we covered earlier, not the Church he was confirmed in back in that distant era when Bill Clinton was serving his second term. Which doesn't explain his complete unfamiliarity with Anglo-Catholicism, in either its English or American forms. Short version: From its conservative, indeed reactionary, origins with John Henry Newman and the Tractarians, it had a second wave, the so-called "Second Oxford Movement", led by Charles Gore and the "Holy Party." Both variants flourish to this day, disagreeing quite often--though not always--on questions such as women's ordination and same sex marriage, while sharing a firm conviction to what Gore described as "sacramental religion." [A first rate book on the English context is N.P. Williams's Northern Catholicism (1933), and, for the American context, George DeMille's The Catholic Movement in the Episcopal Church (1941).] So, yes, many liberal protestants believe in Real Presence in the Eucharist, some in Transubstantiation, quite a few in confession, and plenty in the Atonement. (I mean, there's a whole chapter on the Atonement in Lux Mundi (1889), the founding text of liberal Anglo-Catholicism.It's by Arthur Lyttleton, and quite good.)

Oh--and that we share so precious a sacrament so widely is not because we do not value it, but because, in the words of a wise priest I know, it isn't ours to keep, but to give away. It's a vision captured in that most wonderful of hymns--which we sang at my ordination, "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy." We really believe these words:

Sunday, October 18, 2015

More Catholic Than the Pope

Ah, Ross Douthat, you never disappoint:
THE Vatican always seems to have the secrets and intrigues of a Renaissance court — which, in a way, is what it still remains. The ostentatious humility of Pope Francis, his scoldings of high-ranking prelates, have changed this not at all; if anything, the pontiff’s ambitions have encouraged plotters and counterplotters to work with greater vigor.

And right now the chief plotter is the pope himself.

Francis’s purpose is simple: He favors the proposal, put forward by the church’s liberal cardinals, that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion without having their first marriage declared null.


And yet his plan is not necessarily succeeding. There reportedly still isn’t anything like a majority for the proposal within the synod, which is probably why the organizers hedged their bets for a while about whether there would even be a final document. And the conservatives — African, Polish, American, Australian — have been less surprised than last fall, and quicker to draw public lines and try to box the pontiff in with private appeals.

The entire situation abounds with ironies. Aging progressives are seizing a moment they thought had slipped away, trying to outmaneuver younger conservatives who recently thought they owned the Catholic future. The African bishops are defending the faith of the European past against Germans and Italians weary of their own patrimony. A Jesuit pope is effectively at war with his own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the erstwhile Inquisition — a situation that would make 16th century heads spin.

For a Catholic journalist, for any journalist, it’s a fascinating story, and speaking strictly as a journalist, I have no idea how it will end.

Speaking as a Catholic, I expect the plot to ultimately fail; where the pope and the historic faith seem to be in tension, my bet is on the faith.
Where do I begin?

Well, let's start here: Douthat, who was born in 1979, is not yet 36 (he will be in late November), converted to Catholicism at 17, i.e., in late 1996 or in 1997, and holds holds a BA from Harvard (admittedly magna cum laude). Now, I was a cradle Catholic, and was educated the Marianists at Chaminade High School and I hold a BA earned studying with the Jesuits at Fordham College, summa cum laude, in honoris causa. I was a Roman Catholic for nearly 30 years, so, with all respect to Douthat, I lived the life of an American Catholic far longer than he did, in a way he simply did not, and was educated in that tradition with a depth that he has not yet had a chance to be steeped in. I was a Roman Catholic, in other words, longer than he has lived since attaining the age of reason.

And I wouldn't have the arrogance to tell the Pope that I know what is "the faith" better than he did, let alone accuse him of "plotting" against it.

That was true when the pope was John Paul II, who, in closing many of the the windows opened by Vatican II (with the assistance of his successor, the future Benedict XVI), essentially made it impossible to remain a Roman Catholic without being substantially in dissent from the narrowed scope of freedom of conscience (as I saw and see it) under his Papacy. Unable to agree to the "musts" the Roman Catholic Church asked of me, I left, consistent with the future pope Benedict's depiction of those could not assent to the Church's requirements. Soon thereafterI discovered that I was better suited in the messier, but more small "c" catholic approach of Anglicanism--where self-perceived Protestants and catholics, liberals and conservatives, can gather around the Lord's Table together. It's not that I don't value my Roman Catholic upbringing and education--I do, very much, it made me who I am today. But the man that upbringing and education made is an Anglican, with a loving fondness for the Church that nurtured him--I am an Anglo-Cathoolic, because I keep the best of what I was given by the Church of my youth.

And I had and have too much respect to remain a member of that Church without accepting the discipline it demands as a precondition of membership.

We'll see what the Synod produces, and what Pope Francis does or does not do in the fulness of time. And maybe Francis will surprise us all and be a "bad" pope. I'd be surprised, frankly--I think, as I recently wrote, that political and theological liberals have to realize that Francis
was never our guy. And he's not the political conservative's guy, either. He's a good man, walking the Way by the light he has, one within the strictures and structures of the Roman Catholic Church. He's trying to do it in an irenic and community building way, one that damps down conflicts, and allows conversations to happen. And when that happens, the Holy Spirit has room to do wonderful things we can't predict

As to Douthat--he's a full of the convert's zeal, but, alas, without much humility to temper it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Mostly He Told The Truth": The Mystery of Mark Twain's Lioness Part 2

Well, this post has been a long time coming. Part 1 sketched out the dispute, and noted that there have been three versions of the story of Isobel Lyon and Mark Twain: Lyons's version, ably laid out by Laura Skandera-Trombley in Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years (2010) (as I'm giving Trombley something of a hard time on this, it's a pleasure to be able to unstintingly praise her Mark Twain in the COmpany of Women); Jean Clemens's version, told equally well in Karen Lystra's Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain's Final Years (2006). Lystra has two advantages over Trombley: she delves more into the financial records, and is not saddled with a primary source (Lyon) whose credibility she defends even while acknowledging that she rewrote her own diary to make herself look better.

As of my last writing, I had not read the Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript ("A-L Ms"), in which the great wordsmith's own account is finally published. Now--well, it's complicated. You can dismiss Hamlin Hill's blanket rejection of the A-L Ms and of Clemens's acuity when he write it. The heart-wrenching essay, "The Death of Jean" he wrote after the A-L Ms had already made me skeptical of Hill's view. The A-L Ms itself is far more complex than Hill is willing to allow. Boxed as she is into her role as Lyon's champion, Trombley must likewise reject it; she does so, but also rejects Twain's political musings of the same era, which shaped my own political outlook and are some if the best parts of the Autobiography. Lystra is closer, I think, focusing on Twain's profound guilt for his daughter Jean's incarceration in medical treatment facilities, and banished from her family. (Clara, more fortunately, was sent to Europe to spend money.)

The A-L Ms is a strange document, and reflects its author's ambivalence toward sexuality in women--he could idealize "My Platonic Sweetheart" while writing admiringly of women's greater sexual prowess than men's in pieces posthumously published in Mark Twain in Eruption(1940). And his complex attitude towards women can be seen in his half-admiring, half-contemptuous dissection of Mary Baker Eddy. Max Geismar's observation that Twain seems a little fascinated, even a tad drawn to Eddy, rings true, even as he denounces her.

So too in the A-L Ms, Twain veers from contemptuous to admiring of Lyon. He acknowledges the pleasure he took in her company, he acknowledges her attractiveness to him. In a particularly memorable passage, he berates Ashcroft for marrying her without love, as a convenience. He in one breath accuses her of complicity in this loveless marriage, and in the next reproaches him for his coldness, her for her self-deception.

Trombley in her book, and in an interview reprinted on her Amazon page says that "The two were emotionally intimate confidants. Isabel was charged with handling every aspect of Mark Twain’s life. Isabel decided who was allowed to see Twain, what he would eat, what he would wear, etc. Twain was utterly dependent upon her--physically, intellectually and emotionally." He admits as much in the A-L Ms. Explicitly.

The A-L Ms is interesting because of how Twain must dance around the story. He revs himself up to the great admissions, but then backs off to the subsidiary issues--how Lyon used far more of his money for her clothing needs than the admittedly low salary he paid her, instances of her obtaining control over his life, and those of his household staff. And then starts revving himself up to a big disclosure--that he valued her so much that he slighted his own children. He says it again and again, but struggles with it, and dances away from it. Vituperation, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was a way he could work of his less-acceptable emotions, like guilt or shame. And he was famous for it--there are cruel passages and even scurrilities in his notebooks about others who he felt had wronged him--Elisha Bliss, who published him, James Paige, to name but two. He was a good hater, and gets off some cruel lines about isabel Lyon. And yet has a tenderness toward her in other passages.

Reading between the lines, I think it's clear that he loved Lyon in a way, not necessarily a consciously romantic way, a way that he felt that he couldn't acknowledge without betraying his life-long love for his wife, Olivia Langdon Clemens ("Livy" to the family.) He couldn't move on, and she seems to have desired marriage to him. She was, in effect, urging him to move on and he punished her for that.

That Ashcroft used her--that seems to be a unanimous opinion; nobody gives him a good press--was her second misfortune.

Lyon appears to have appropriated, with Clemens's tacit consent, some money, and some more without it. If she though that he was going to marry her, as she seems to have for some time, she might have viewed it as doing nothing wrong.

We'll never know, of course. It might have been all very different. yet Lyon was loyal to him after his death, never speaking harshly of him.

For what it's worth Lyon denied that use was in love with Clemens or he with her to Hal Holbrook--yet she still smoked, 48 years after his death, the pipe he gave her, and, as Holbrook writes, and Trombley notes, Lyon spoke warmly of him, and helped him more than anybody else to gain a sense of her. As Trombley quotes Holbrook, Lyon insisted that the reformer employer be remembered "as a very serious-minded man. A man who felt deeply about the world around him and the people in it, an extremely sensitive man, and that his sense of humor came from this well of seriousness." (Trombley, 261)

As Plautus wrote, "Love is very fruitful, both of honey and gall."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

MTD and the Theological Context of Prayer Book Revision: A Response

Derek Olsen has a post in which he uses a term, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism ("MTD") that has become quite a favorite in the "traditionalist" Christian blogosphere, and so has connotations that he may not intend. It's used in his setting of a context in which Prayer Book revision in the Episcopal Church will take place. To set the stage a little:
There are some these days (I think of Elaine Pagels and others) who underscore the diversity of early Christianity to remind us that the stream of apostolic Christianity that became orthodox Christianity and that grounded the Undivided Church was one among many in order to suggest that some of the others are perfectly valid ways of being Christian and that orthodoxy became orthodox because the mean patriarchal Fathers constructed it that way so they could oppress everybody else. I don’t agree with that perspective, and that’s not why I’m bringing up the diversities of Christianities in the past. My point is simply that claiming Christianity does not automatically ensure orthodoxy.

In fact, I’d argue that orthodox Christianity is once again a minority among Americans generally and even among Americans who claim Christianity. The majority faith is Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Again, the major tenets of MTD are:

1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. he central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Furthermore, I think that some of the classic Christian heresies are currently functioning in such a way to blur the edges from Christian orthodoxy into MTD.
OK, let's stop there a moment. Leaving aside Olsen's views on Pagels and Ehrman, which I find unduly dismissive, I generally see MTD used by traditionalists as a way of characterizing (actually caricaturing) the Christianity of those they define as liberals. Including, sometimes, real liberals, like yours truly, who in fact does not hold such a belief. I'm a creedal Christian; that informs my liberal views, not contradicts them. So, generally, I've seen MTD come up as a pejorative for the view held by the (non-present) Other, to facilitate their dismissal. That said, it originated in empirical research into teenagers' beliefs, so there is a core reality behind the term.

Moving on with Olsen: "Again, we need to recall why heresy is an issue. I think sometimes there’s a sense that there’s a “patriarchal dogmtic thought police” who wants to make sure that you’re under their thumb and you’re only thinking what they want you to think. Throw that notion out—it’s ridiculous."

No. Witch hunts were real; so too was the patriarchal, anti-woman screed by John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558), and so too have been many claims of heresy used to deny women's right to political, social, legal, let alone religious equality. The ordination of women remains a bone of controversy to this day, as witness the disruption--by a priest no less--of the first female bishop of the Church of England, earlier this year. Alister McGrath, no liberal, has noted that ""the extension of the category of heresy was an important instrument of social control."

This isn't a major point in Olsen's analysis, so why am I harping on it? Because I think he underestimates the extent to which the abuse of the term "heresy" by religious authorities as a means of maintaining dominance has engendered distrust and skepticism of orthodoxy as a concept. I won't "fisk" the whole essay; I actually think that much of it is quite good, and explores some ways that modern attitudes toward religion can echo ancient heresies. But in doing so, I think that Olsen makes it all rather too easy on orthodoxy. Let me give you a particularly egregious example:
Neo-Marcionism: Marcion was a gnostic who taught that the Creator spoken of in the Old Testament as the God of Israel was a lesser being who imprisoned souls and soul-stuff within material reality. Jesus came to save us from creation and material reality, and taught us of his Father who was all love who was different from the lesser, evil, Creator active in the OT. The modern form is the general rather nebulous notion that the God of the Old Testament is the mean god who does mean things; the God of Jesus is the good god who loves you and thinks you’re great. Whereas the first two heresies are presently taught by thinkers who write books that are discussed in Adult Forums and such, this one tends to be more cultural than presented as an actual argument. This heresy helps bring Christianity into conformity with MTD by denying the continuity between God the Creator and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who was intimately related with human life in its particularity (pt 1, 4), and downplaying the notion that God has some very clear and specific commandments on the ordering of human life an[d] relationships (pt 2).
Oh, as usual, dear. Writing off the "general rather nebulous notion that the God of the Old Testament is the mean god who does mean things" as just a way of bringing Christianity into conformity with MTD, and brushing off God's "very clear and specific commandments on the ordering of human life an[d] relationships" enables us to elide some pretty tough stuff in the OT, doesn't it? Read C.S. Lewis on the "imprecatory psalms":
In some of the Psalms the spirit of hatred which strikes us in the face is like the heat from a furnace mouth. In others the same spirit ceases to be frightful only be becoming (to a modern mind) almost comic in its naivety... One way of dealing with these terrible or (dare we say?) contemptible Psalms is simply to leave them alone. But unfortunately the bad parts will not "come away clean"; they may, as we have noticed, be intertwined with the most exquisite things...At the outset I felt sure, and I feel sure still, that we must not either try to explain them away or to yield for one moment to the idea that, because it comes in the Bible, all this vindictive hatred must somehow be good and pious. We must face both facts squarely. The hatred is there - festering, gloating, undisguised-and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves.
Need an example?--Psalm 137:9 leaps to mind, or the genocidal passages theologians struggle with.

Look, I'm not advocating for Marcion. But let's not pretend that shying away from these passages as expressing the true essence of God is somehow not a moral reaction to some dubious texts. As that defender of orthodoxy Charles Gore pointed out, the Hebrew Scriptures are a melange of folklore, history, imaginative history, drama, and storytelling. Pretending that the more *ahem* sanguinary, or dubious passages are consonant with the teachings of Christ, and are as much of God, is asking the understandably skeptical reader to ignore her own reaction. Gore went so far as to argue that only with the prophets do we begin to see the lineaments of God's self-revelation. That's not Marcionism; it's acknowledging that there are many strands in the Bible, and not all of them are equally moral.

If you want to win people away from MTD, it seems to me critical to offer them a nuanced view of the Bible, one that acknowledges, as did Lewis and Gore, that not everything in it is of God; you have to get past the pain of a people oppressed, or, in earlier sections, the evolving understanding of a people only discovering monotheism, and defining themselves as against their neighbors. Christians haven't always gotten it right throughout history--why should we be surprised that the history in the Hebrew Scriptures records a tale that is not always edifying?

But to ignore the difficulty, and blame it on MTD, seems to be asking for a principled moral rejection from the uncommitted. We can do better. And we'd better.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A (Belatedly Found) Nice Word

This is quite lovely to see:
It is customary to look backward on the year just gone at this time before looking forward tomorrow to the year to come. In the case of Trollope there is so much to look forward to next year in his Bicentenary Year that there is a risk that 2014 will be overlooked as a mere prelude to the Big Thing. But that would be to overlook what a great year 2014 has been for Trollopians.


We have also seen the publication of a new novel, continuing the (mis-)adventures of Phineas Finn, Trollope’s Irish-born politician who featured as a central character in Trollope’s political novels. The novel, Phineas at Bay, by John Wirenius, takes up the eponymous hero’s story some years after the events described by Trollope in Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux and features the next generation heavily. Not a new Trollope, but perhaps the next best thing.
Many thanks to Deborah Teramis Christian, who pointed out this entry to me--and has identified the Jupiter as the blog of Steven Amarnick, who led the team that unearthed the unexpurgated The Duke's Children, which received a well-deserved rave from Charles McGrath in today's Times.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The New Normal, and New Direction: "There's a Crack in Everything. That's How the Light Gets In."

Quite the day, today has been. The NYT reports that, as President Obama flew down to Roseburg, Oregon, to be present for the families of the victims of last week's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College (details here) two more such shootings--one at Texas Southern University and one at Northern Arizona University took place, leading to the death of two students and the wounding of four. These shootings are not classic mass shootings like last week's, the Times reports, as they "appeared to stem from ordinary disputes and altercations that quickly turned violent."


I'm sure the bereaved, the wounded and their families appreciate that distinction.

A third incident, in Louisville, Kentucky was reported, but no injuries were reported, and, in fact, no affirmative proof that any shots were fired has been found as of this writing.

It's routine now. The new normal.

President Obama was met with a mixed reaction:
Many of the signs proclaimed, “Welcome Obama,” but others were more pointed, and referred to his desire for more gun control. “Gun-free Zones Are for Sitting Ducks,” said one. Another: “Nothing Trumps Our Liberty.” And one said simply, “Obama is Wrong.”


Just hours after the shooting in Roseburg, Mr. Obama quickly set grief aside. “This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America,” he said in an unusually abrupt and often angry speech.

But that message was not well received among many here, where last week’s rampage has actually tightened the embrace of guns.

Some prominent residents, including the publisher of a local weekly newspaper, said Mr. Obama was not welcome. The language got so angry that on Tuesday, the mayor and other city officials put out a statement saying they welcomed Mr. Obama and “will extend him every courtesy.”
We are, there is no doubt in my mind, in a very bad way as a society. Whatever one may think of an appropriate governmental response to the problem, this should not be routine. And yet by this reckoning, we have had 298 this year--not counting the two today. So, 300, then. Today, October 9, is the 282nd day of the year.

That's routine, by any definition. The new normal, as I said above.

Our politics and our culture are simply unable to address this productively. To steal a line from Bruno Gianelli, "No more. I really don't care who's right, who's wrong. We're both right. We're both wrong." We need a cultural tectonic shift, and we need to change as a people. We need to say, simply, "no more." Whether through law, through peer pressure, through social pressure,through an embrace of a genuine ethic of life--we need as a society to be opposed to this slaughter.

Why don't I blog politics anymore? Because, ultimately, our national politics aren't working. I was never about the horse race. There are some first rate political bloggers on the web, and heaven knows I was never one of them. I'm not missed in that capacity. And so more and more, I find myself turning in other directions. Looking to what I can do, as a friend, a brother, an uncle, a colleague, a writer, and, I think most productively in some ways, as a deacon.

Because if there's one thing that seems clear to me, it's that the work of building up is face-to-face, retail, not wholesale, meeting people where they are, and not where I'd like them to be. And that means accepting and being accepted flaws and all. We're all broken, more or less, all in need of forgiveness. And any of us is capable of choosing today to build up rather than break down, to extend the hand of love, rather than the fist.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Who Shall I Say is Calling?

I love this Leonard Cohen song--a mix of cheeky irreverence and the deepest roots of Cohen's faith. And we are all wondering who is calling at times, I think--opportunities that present themselves can be a purely fortuitous, or can change a life by the saying the word "yes."

I'm reading, as you may know, the Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript, Mark Twain's great, angry confession of sin against his daughters, and scathing indictment of Isabel Lyon (who sometimes emerges from the torrent of invective with a glimpse of what led him to care for her in the first place. It's not the ravings of a senile old man as Hamlin Hill intimated, it's not reliable history any more than Isabel's altered diaries are--Clemens's sense of betrayal and his own lacerating feeling of loss make his mood swing from judicious to rage-filled, to hurt far too quickly for it to be that.

It is, though, what Clemens wanted his Autobiography to be: naked to life.

What does this have to do with calling, or Cohen for that matter?

Clemens saw his creation of "Mark Twain" as a calling, I think--a burden attires, but a vocation to go deeper and deeper into what he found to be true, and to express it, despite the conventions of his age, his own inhibitions, the dictates of good taste. he longed, this teller of tall tales and yarns, to speak truth. That was, in the end, his final calling. To speak truth as he saw it.

He succeeded. he failed. He failed better.

And, I think, that is how I feel about my callings, professional and vocational. I'll let out a little secret, here: I recently found myself in a sudden, chaotic, and daunting situation where I had to perform as a deacon on no notice, with no aid but the crucifix I wear around my neck, hanging under my dress shirt. I did the best I could, whatever that was. Can't tell, really; you don't always get feedback in ordained ministry. Sometimes you just plunge in, hoping to God (literally, not profanely) that your instincts are right. And leave it up to God.

No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

And--here's the part Beckett wouldn't sign on to--leave the rest to God.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Stuff Happens"

In the wake of Thursday's mass shooting in Oregon, President Obama expressed (above) his frustration at how mass shootings have become "routine" in America. He decried the political kabuki theater (my words, not his) that surrounds them and the resultant political inaction.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush had his own response: "Stuff happens."

The President responded:

Now, it would be easy here to portray Bush's response as uniquely callous or uncaring, but I don't actually think that's fair. I think he's reflecting the political consensus of his own party, and, alas, of a good chunk of mine. And, to the extent that we keep voting them in after Sandy Hook, he is reflecting the consensus of the American people: Ultimately, we don't care. Not, at any rate, enough to do anything.

It's a hard one to take, isn't it?

But with some exceptions--my own home state of New York for one--by and large, it's been business as usual, and, nationally, mass shootings every few weeks.

For those who say that no action can be effective,the Australian experience begs to differ.

For those who say the Second Amendment prevents action, let me point out that in District of Columbia v Heller, the very decision finding that the Amendment created an individual right to own weapons, the Court left a panoply of options on the legislative table:
Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons.” [citations omitted]
It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment ’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.
So, no, the Congress and the state legislatures are not helpless here.

As I said above, the situation has gotten worse, not better since Sandy Hook. Because in the wake of that massacre, Open Carry activists have taken to trying to force their way into every kind of public space, with the express purpose "[t]o educate and desensitize the public and members of the law enforcement community about the legality of the open carry of a handgun in public" and "[t]o demonstrate to the public at large that gun owners are one of the most lawful segments of society and they have nothing to fear from the lawful carry of a firearm." The NRA, of all entities, briefly pushed back against open carry extremists, only to back down--can't be outflanked, after all.

Are the open carry activists right? As I pointed out in 2012 (citing Ezra Klein and Mother Jones),in mass shootings from 1982-2012, "[o]f the 139 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally." In fact, as the NYT reports, "Oregon is one of seven states with provisions, either from state legislation or court rulings, that allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The other states are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Utah and Wisconsin."

As Kurt Vonnegut might say, "So it goes."

For those who decry legislation on principle, file--legislation isn't the only vehicle; social mores, among the gun-owning community could help; to again quote myself:
Gun owners, you want to sever that link between your hobby and death. Step up. Draw lines of what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Don't be afraid of bucking the NRA, and keep guns out of places where they don't belong--schools, churches, etc. Shame people who think it's ok to bring guns where they don't belong, and those among you who feel that the omnipresence of guns is the only way to be sure your rights won't be taken away.

As to those who say guns don't kill people, people kill people? Cut it out. Do you have any idea how inane that is? Guns make the difference between working hard to kill one person, or two, and being able to, without discernible skill, talent, or physical or mental stamina, indiscriminately slaughter. It's the difference between retail and wholesale murder, and if you don't know the difference--why, I just don't want to know you.
Hasn't happened.

So blaming Jeb Bush might feel good. But he's not the problem. We are, my fellow citizens. As Walt Kelly we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"The friend inside the enemy, the enemy inside the friend"--Thoughts on The Witch's Familiar

Well, the second part of the story that began with The Magician's Apprentice did not disappoint. On the whole, I thought it was a superb episode, following up neatly from the first part. Dismissing (albeit with an imaginatively set explanation) the "extermination" of Missy and Clara at the end of Part 1, the story moves briskly on from there, with Missy taking the role of the Doctor for much of the episode, and Clara functioning as her familiar.

These two episodes are as Doctor-ish as we've ever seen the Master, and it works beautifully; while Missy admits her old friend thinks faster than she does ("What a swot!"), she handles matters cleverly, scrupulously keeping Clara alive, though playing with her throughout. (Note that she throws Clara down the shaft after Clara's thrown the stone.) And the Missy-Clara team are critical to the plot's resolution. By secreting Clara within a Dalek casing, Missy is able to regain entry to the Dalek citadel and--

--well, wait. While the Mistress and her companion are working their way to rescue the captive Doctor, the Doctor and Davros are having another conversation, like last week's the most philosophical they've had since Genesis of the Daleks in 1974. From the transcript:
The Doctor is apparently gazing at his reflection in a wall screen.)
DAVROS: Make your confession, Doctor. Why did you really leave Gallifrey?
DOCTOR: How long has it been, you and I?
DAVROS: Long enough. Galaxies have burned.
DOCTOR: And now you ask me a personal question?
DAVROS: You have slaughtered billions of my children, as I have slaughtered billions of your race. We have exhausted the conventional means of communication.
(The Doctor removes his sunglasses.)
DOCTOR: My people are alive. They didn't die. I brought them back. I found a way.
DAVROS: Is this true?
DOCTOR: Gallifrey is back in the sky. I don't know where, I may never know. But Gallifrey is back and it is safe from both of us.
DAVROS: Doctor, my most sincere congratulations.
DOCTOR: I'm sorry?
DAVROS: This is wonderful news. Beyond all hope. I congratulate you.
DOCTOR: Why are you saying that?
DAVROS: A man should have a race, a people, an allegiance. A man should belong, Doctor. Believe me, please. I am happy for you. So happy.
DOCTOR: I don't, I don't understand this. Why are you
(The Doctor is speechless.)
DAVROS: Come closer again. Let me see your face.
DOCTOR: You've seen it often enough.
DAVROS: Let me see it again with my own eyes.
(The blue light in his forehead goes out. The Doctor leans forward as Davros opens his rheumy eyes.)
DAVROS: Closer, please.
(Their eyes meet.)
DAVROS: If you have redeemed the Time Lords from the fire, do not lose them again. Take the darkest path into the deepest hell, but protect your own as I have sought to protect mine. Did I do right, Doctor? Tell me.
(Davros puts his hand on the Doctor's.)
DAVROS: Was I right? I need to know before the end. Am I a good man?
DOCTOR: You really are dying, aren't you?
DAVROS: Look at me. Did you doubt it?
DAVROS: Then we have established one thing only.
DAVROS: You are not a good doctor.
(They both chuckle, then Davros struggles to breathe.)
I've seen several people compare this moment to the end of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, and fair enough. But Capaldi and Bleach absolutely sell this exchange. This grace period (if it is one) comes between Davros's two efforts to get the Doctor to touch the cables (i.e., Colony Sarff), first by an open invitation, second by eliciting the Doctor's compassion. But, interestingly, this doesn't negate the exchange. Davros has earlier warned the Doctor about his compassion:
DAVROS: Why do you hesitate? No one would know. Clara Oswald is dead. Is this the conscience of the Doctor, or his shame? The shame that brought you here.
DOCTOR: There's no such thing as the Doctor. I'm just a bloke in a box, telling stories. And I didn't come here because I'm ashamed. A bit of shame never hurt anyone. I came because you're sick and you asked. And because sometimes, on a good day, if I try very hard, I'm not some old Time Lord who ran away. I'm the Doctor.
DAVROS: Compassion then.
DOCTOR: Always.
DAVROS: It grows strong and fierce in you, like a cancer.
DOCTOR: I hope so.
DAVROS: It will kill you in the end.
DOCTOR: I wouldn't die of anything else.
DAVROS: You may rely on it.
Davros then works the Doctor's compassion--the Doctor helps him to see a last sunrise, pointedly remarking "I'm not helping you. I'm helping a little boy I abandoned on a battlefield. I think I owe him a sunrise." And he is caught, regeneration energy streaming out of him, Davros becoming healed, the Daleks changing. Now, I am quite prepared to believe that the Doctor knew about the sewers (after all, Missy did), and anticipated the results. But here's the thing--he has no escape plan this time. Hence Missy's comment about the Doctor without hope--he left his confession behind because he didn't expect to survive, but felt an obligation to respond to Davros's call--"because you were sick and you asked." But he has no way out; the regeneration energy is being torn out of him, and the revived mutants in the sewer are not getting to him anytime soon. So the Doctor is really for it here--

Until the primary Doctor-figure of this episode, the Mistress, comes bursting through the door, Dalek gun in hand, destroying the machinery (and, seemingly Colony Sarff in the process), and saving the Doctor's life. In 1983's The Five Doctors, the Master said, musingly, that "a cosmos without The Doctor scarcely bears thinking about." Here, she makes good on that thought. In her own, sociopathic, amusing way, Missy has saved the Doctor and the day.

That's why I'm not sure how I feel about the ending, possibly the one major flaw in this episode. Missy's effort to get the Doctor to kill Clara, and his grating out warnings to her to "run" are in character for both of them, but somehow cheapen this story. Not because Missy has "turned guid." No, because it feels a little petty for her to try to off a companion--the "puppy" as she cuttingly described Clara last week--after demonstrating her friendship for the Doctor in stunningly dramatic terms. As before in The Five Doctors, Missy came--not even a little unwillingly this time--and this time actually succeeds in saving the Doctor. Her low-grade (though quite cruel) treachery for a little laugh, and his stranding her on Skaro, feel a bit forced. Missy's jealousy of Clara (if that's what motivated the trick at the end) seems out of place (the Delgado Master had rather a fondness for Jo Grant), and the Doctor, who has been slighting Missy throughout (notice how he only demands the production of one of his two friends from the Daleks--Clara), is pretty ungrateful to the old friend-turned-enemy who's just saved his bacon. It's a sour note, though believably played by both actors, not quite redeemed by our last sight of Missy, surrounded by Daleks, musing "ou know what? I've just had a very clever idea."

Yes, she'll be fine. Of course she will be. And she even got to poke Davros in the eye (well, she did say last week that she'd "scratch his eye out"). But this once, just this one, Missy is owed more by the Doctor and by the story. Because by her actions prior to her last minute semi-betrayal, she's proven the truth of her words, the real explanation of why she put Clara and the Doctor together: "In a way, this is why I gave her to you in the first place. To make you see. The friend inside the enemy, the enemy inside the friend."

A great episode nonetheless.