Ha Jolly Ha

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Business World

At the CR site, a posts raise questions about the dignity and purpose of work.

Meanwhile, Bill Powell tries to keep a sense of humor about the business world.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Festive Photos

Here are some great photos of a Marian procession in the Netherlands.

Hat tip to The Norumbega Monitor.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bella the Movie

At the end of April, I attended a pre-screening of the movie Bella, an overtly pro-life movie, made with an impossibly low budget and filmed in a ridiculous 23 (or was it 22?) days. And it might just do some good. In fact, it's already won the Toronto Film Festival and, since his involvement with the film, the star has already saved two babies from state-approved murder (one was baptized and has since gone to meet Our Lord).

Also present at the screening were the film producer, Leo Severino(a darn witty speaker) and the aforementioned star, Eduardo Verstegui , who was every bit as good-looking as one might expect. More importantly, however, they were pious and orthodox Catholics, with radical trust in Divine Providence and their favorite patron, Our Lady of Guadalupe. They want the film to succeed, but they don't care for success at the price of purity or truth. They believe that Our Lady is blessing their work and I think they might be right.

Filmed in New York City, the events of one day comprise the main storyline. After a tragic incident in his past, a famous Mexican soccer player, Jos, struggles as a cook in his brother's restaurant. When his brother unwittingly fires a pregnant employee, Nina, Jos spends the day with her, rescuing her from despair and demonstrating the dignity of human life by his disinterested assistance and care. A few light-hearted scenes of Mexican family life punctuate the drama. One powerful scene actually takes place in an abortion clinic and is filmed with such subtle artistry that one hopes even the frosty hearts of liberal, feminist viewers must recognize abortion for what it truly is: a violence against women, as well as innocent life. It also impressed me that the film cast a critical gaze upon the selfishness of modern business practices. If we want to restore a regard for human life, we must raze all the skulking haunts of that individualism which is at the heart of the Culture of Death.

After such a glowing recommendation, a few caveats are in order. Despite a very worthy message, I thought a few aspects of the film weakened it's overall effectiveness. At the beginning of the movie, it was unclear whether or not Jos had romantic feelings toward Nina. Eventually, it becomes evident that his solicitude is purely fraternal, and that seems fitting. However, her attitude toward their relationship remains more ambiguous. For that reason, in a few scenes, their interaction struck me as inappropriate or incongruous with their relationship as revealed in the end of the film. After he spends the day counseling her, securing her a new job and welcoming her into his family life, they lie on the beach stargazing together. At one point, he falls asleep and she draws up against him. The film implies they spend the night there on the beach. In the first place, a woman in her position is very vulnerable emotionally, so a truly noble man, not interested in a romantic relationship with her, would offer more guarded attentions. Furthermore, whether Jos' interest was romantic or not, common decency and concern for Nina's character should have prevented him from staying out all night with a young lady, particularly one whose unwedded pregnancy already fell as a shadow upon her purity.

That said, and a few other nit-picky criticisms aside(like the revealing shirt Nina wears for the latter portion of the film), if it ever reaches the public, Bella has great potential for opening minds and changing hearts. The producer and star impressed me very much with their Catholic perspective and their spiritual focus. I attribute any deficiencies in the film to the time limitations their budget imposed and to unformed sensibilities(Eduardo is a recent convert, famous in Mexico as a former soap opera star and popular "boy band" performer).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More on the Bee Crisis

What a tangled web we weave with our precious technology. I wonder how long it will take before the electromagnetic signals cause obvious symptoms in humans as well.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Farmer and Saint

This prayer is from the National Catholic Rural Life Conference:

O GOD, Who taught Adam the simple art of tilling the soil, and who through Jesus Christ, the true vine, revealed yourself the husbandman of our souls, Deign, we pray, through the merits of blessed Isidore, to instill into our hearts a horror of sin and a love of prayer, so that, working the soil in the sweat of our brow, We may enjoy eternal happiness in heaven, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read about Sts. Isidore and Maria here, here and here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

John Senior: Should We Moderate Our Praise?

In a recent discussion amongst the Restorationists, John Senior was mentioned several times with great admiration, even alongside names like Plato and Newman. These references recalled to me the impressions I formed last fall, when I first read The Restoration of Christian Culture. While it contained many ideas worthy of praise, some of his recommendations struck me as recklessly unqualified. Undoubtedly, his strength lay in storytelling - when he described his visit to Fontgombault, my heart throbbed with the beauty of it. I also agree heartily with his claims that children benefit from reading good books, that singing around a piano is infinitely better than watching a movie and that devotion to Our Lady inspired the cathedrals of medieval Europe. Indeed, John Senior offers many timely insights and is certainly worth reading. However, if we truly desire a restoration of Christian culture, we must take care, not only to captivate the heart and imagination, but to engage reason with clear and prudent distinctions.

Three bothersome passages:
1) In criticizing technology, he goes so far as to disparage the simplest of mechanisms, the abacus. While I appreciate his purpose, such extreme rhetoric discredits the entire argument. To my mind, technology signifies tools which increase the potential fruit of human activity. This increased potential fruit implies more than mere increased productivity. With the proper saws, a carpenter can fashion furniture decorative as well as functional. Those saws increase the potential beauty of his work, without necessarily increasing its quantitative fruit. From this it seems that we ought to judge the worth of technology by two standards: whether it increases fruitfulness; and whether the increased fruitfulness is achieved at the expense of a more important good. I cannot imagine that the abacus fails in either way.

2) I was also disappointed with his attitude toward adolescence. He warns against sheltering children excessively, claiming that the experiential knowledge of good and evil gained through moral failure must naturally precede spiritual maturity. This sounds dangerously like the deception at the heart of the Fall - that one must experience evil in order to understand it, that we cannot be "wise as serpents and simple as doves."(Matthew 10:16)

3)Finally, he mentions The Three Musketeers as a timeless novel every child should read. In the first place, Dumas was paid by the word and wrote tremendous volumes, which makes the literary value of his work very dubious. However, the impurity of the heroes in the aforementioned tale is even more troubling. Art ought to improve our likes and dislikes by revealing the desirability of goodness
and the baseness of evil. At times, this may require the depiction of sin, but good art always puts sin in the proper context.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Another Little Black Book

Not a missal this time. I am now the proud owner of a traditional Benedictine breviary, the Monastic Diurnal published by St. Michael's Abbey Press. Those folks have a shop with other nifty books, cds, cards, statues, and things.

Aside from the obvious value of the work of God("Ergo nihil operi Dei praeponatur."
- Rule of Benedict XLIII.3), I pray the Office in pursuit of a long-time goal: committing Scripture, prayers and hymns to memory. I once heard a story about men, imprisoned in a concentration camp, who entertained each other and preserved sanity by reciting passages from Scripture. In the event of a persecution, what fortifies martyrs and discomfits enemies of the Faith more than the Veni Creator or Te Deum? If I found myself in similar circumstances, at this point, I could contribute little. To that end, I hope to learn a few psalms in Latin.

Omnes sancti martyres, orate pro nobis!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What Restoration Looks Like

This makes me happy.

The Catholic Restorationists

Steve Skojec has called for a crusade of words and prayers, a group devoted to the restoration of Catholic Faith and culture. Check it out: The Catholic Restorationists

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Industrialism: Overturning the Natural Order

For several weeks now, I have been reading Flee to the Fields, the Founding Papers of the Catholic Land Movement. The book opens with an outline of principles, first in the bold and emphatic "Introduction" - which claims, among other things, that industrialism undermines family life and is, thus, incompatible with Catholic culture - and then in a stirring "Preface" by Belloc. Both excite the reader's interest and provide some preparation for the organization and purpose of the essays which follow, but they make sweeping generalizations likely to ring true with the believer, but to engender scornful skepticism from the uninitiated. "Chapter One" follows, with a short summary of the Movement's historical background, but it is "Chapter Two:The Rise and Fall of Industrialism" which first offers substantial, historical economic data. For a convinced Distributist of many years, long persuaded of the evils of the Industrial Revolution, considering the grim details of that bleak narrative demands discipline and perseverance.

However, I am fighting my usual distaste and attending with some interest to the concrete details of wages, supply, transportation, etc found in "Chapter Two." The chapter recounts the origins of industrialism in England, and the great changes it wrought upon the economic and social structure there. From its beginnings, industry was tied to a materialistic emphasis upon non-essential, or luxury, goods. Before the cotton industry developed, England obtained many luxury goods(spices, precious metals, etc.) through piracy. When that practice lost respectability, they imported the goods through merchant trade. Lacking a natural resource of commensurate value, they soon realized that England's natural resources - which were agricultural(food and wool) and would always be seasonally dependent - had limited production and trade potential. I do not believe the value of cotton was higher than that of food or wool, at least in the long run, but as a manufacturing product, it allowed merchants to rapidly produce great quantities of goods, unhampered by the inflexible limitations of seasonal crops.

Those who denigrate the agrarian cause always inquire: "Why did people flock to the city, if they enjoyed such a wonderful life in the country?" The answer has never been terribly clear to me - I imagined the lure of riches was at the heart of it. However, Herbert Shove's essay reveals that the first manufacturing enterprises created economic pressure which quickly caused landowners to raise their rent prices, driving tenant farmers into the city. Industrialism was already undermining the foundations of rural life - the odds were already set against the farmer.

From the historical narrative of the Industrial Revolution in England, Shove draws a general conclusion about industrialism itself. He claims that it always overturns the natural order of economics by withdrawing economic priority from more essential goods(necessities of food, clothing, shelter) and bestowing it upon less essential goods. With remarkable accuracy, he notes that, at the beginning, advertisement is employed to convince consumers of the essentialness of non-essential goods; but, eventually, society is restructured so that those goods actually become essential(e.g., cars). As the degeneration of society continues, the triviality of the manufactured goods increases. History reveals the indubitable truth of his prediction - manufacture began with cotton, but it now provides us with gadgets and gizmos of every shape, size and color. Aside from the greediness and disorder at the root of the industrial program, Shove also points out devastating long-term consequences for the environment: Less essential goods are proportionally less organic(from living or, at least, natural material), therefore their production is less limited AND the product less biodegradable. Steve Skojec's recent link about bees gives Shove's warning pressing relevance.