Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Hallow’s Eve

... at Chez Alexandre has been relatively uneventful. After serving Mass in the late morning and early afternoon, and stopping by the Diner for the customary repast, there was quite a bit of writing to do.

And, of course, the kids were out for trick-or-treating this year. Not too many for awhile. I'm not even sure when it starts. I could look it up on the County website and it will probably say "Whenever." In fact, I ended up chasing two little kiddies and their mommies down the street. I can't even GIVE this stuff away. Then later in the evening, a whole group from the neighborhood to the south descended on us. Not such a great year for my usual generosity.

On the other hand, Sal was enjoying the Halloween festivities at the retirement facility where she works as a private home health aide contractor. She loves to hang out with the old folks who think she's their Guardian Angel, and most important, she's always ready to have her picture taken. She has had some measure of success in learning the advanced editing features of the built-in digital camera on her Droid. Seems she couldn't wait to share the results with me.

Okay, Your Highness, you've made your point.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Paradigms of Papists

One week before the passing of syndicated columnist Joseph Sobran, I went to visit him at the nursing home. He had just been moved to a new facility, and had just refused dialysis and signed a "do not resuscitate" order. Clearly this was a man who knew he was preparing to meet his Maker. And yet, there I found him, in good spirits, eating Afghani take-out food that had been brought by a friend.

I told him of how much my son appreciated his 2002 article entitled "The Reluctant Anarchist." I also told him of something I had read several years ago, how it was possible to cling to a position of social or political import, and be identified as either a "conservative" or a "liberal" at first, then later the opposite, and finally back to where one was identified at the offset, all in the space of a lifetime.

It was only later, of course, that I came across the exact quotation, after a long absence:

If you live long enough, you can start out your life as a liberal and wind up a right-wing reactionary without undergoing any fundamental change of views. That is what happened to H.L. Mencken, who was considered the guru of the freethinking "flaming youth" of the 1920s and early '30s--and later consigned to the fever swamps of "right-wing extremism" for his opposition to the war and his visceral hatred of Roosevelt. The same was true of Albert Jay Nock, and John T. Flynn: their views did not change so much as others' perception of them did. Opposition to war, imperialism, and the centralized state was "left" at the turn of the century and "right" by the 1930s. In the 1960s it was considered "radical"--that is, radical left--to oppose our policy of global intervention, whereas the noninterventionist of today is far more likely to be a conservative Republican or a member of the Reform Party than a liberal Democrat.

And yet, it was on the basis of what I shared that night, that he took my hand and told me: “I'm so glad you told me that.” I am certain I was not being patronized, his having undergone a similar transformation in his own convictions, which occurred at great professional and personal cost. It was in the Summer 2000 issue of a now-defunct journal of opinion entitled Whole Earth (formerly Whole Earth Review), that I discovered a series of essays that, were they to be studied closely, would radically alter my thinking to the core. I have put off the occasion of such study until this critical election year. We have not learned our lesson, as in 2010, the Catholic vote is determined to align itself on man's usual conservative/liberal terms, as though God must invariably be a Republican. Or most certainly a Democrat. Obviously nothing on His own terms, but the ones our political landscape sets for Him.

Is this really how we intend to impress Catholic values upon those in the public square?

Joe passed into eternity just thirty days ago today. As this day would be the occasion of a "Month's Mind" Requiem Mass to mourn his passing, I will pen my own Requiem for Joe here today, and dedicate what is to follow to his memory. May it do justice to the man and his legacy.

+ + +

We might ask ourselves, where do the terms “left” and “right” originate with respect to political thinking? Roger Eatwell, Professor of Comparative European Politics at the University of Bath, describes the situation in France in 1789, when, as the French Revolution was in its advent, “... a seating pattern emerged in the new National Assembly in which most of the nobility and clergy could be seen to take up positions on the right, whereas the Third Estate, which demanded a constitution and limitation of the King's power, occupied the left.” And so a paradigm of political orientation emerged, which is with us to the present day. Or is it? Jay Kinney remarks in his Whole Earth guest editorial:

[T]he right has been popularly associated with a conservative, cautionary stance, a certain defense of custom and tradition, and a resistance to idealistic innovation. Conversely, the left, broadly speaking, has been associated with the modern quest to change and improve things, to perfect the social order, and to stoke the coals of the mighty engine of "progress."

Counterposed in this way, the left and right sound more like personal dispositions than ideological camps ...

And yet, despite the appearance of being cast in stone, these "camps" have in fact been subject to significant shifts, not only during the last two centuries, but even within living memory.

By themselves, it could be said that neither conservative nor liberal policies have done justice to a Catholic view of the world. The Marxist and socialist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries fed liberals with new possibilities, and were quite fashionable in their youth, but matured into unmanageable bureaucracies, authoritarian leadership, and arbitrary distribution of wealth, to the point where all incentive at self-improvement was weaned out of the human spirit. Meanwhile, conservatives have aligned themselves with the captains of industry and unfettered free enterprise. While initiative may appear to be encouraged, such virtue is ultimately the realm of the powerful few, as corporations grow and merge to become monopolies or near-monopolies, with the ability to wield undue influence over the political process, often to the detriment of the common man.

From the time of Pope Leo's great social encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, to the warnings of Popes Pius XI and XII concerning the rise of both fascism and communism, and finally, to the admonishments of Pope John Paul II with respect to the consumerist excesses of capitalism, the Church has warned of potential errors of either way of thinking. Can either "conservative Catholics" or "liberal Catholics" in America, one to the exclusion of the other, really lay claim to a Catholic orthopraxis?

In this issue of Whole Earth, we discover not only the shifting sands of political orientation as they are aligned with the left versus the right, but the prospect of a universal paradigm, one that transcends the usual boundaries of left versus right.

Spiritual perspectives that view all people, regardless of their material or political status, as interrelated souls, are one example. Environmental concerns that see the preservation of the planet's biodiversity and ecological health as crucial to our survival are another. And political perspectives that champion ostensibly universal principles, such as freedom, peace, or human rights, are still another. Each of these meta-perspectives is represented in this issue.

We had asked ourselves about a convergence of views last Sunday.

Is it possible, then, that two political ideologues, ostensibly diametrically opposed, could be so diametrically opposed, and becoming ever more so, until they met elsewhere, at what was not a line of thought, but was instead a circle?

One way in which his has been attempted is in a political phenomenon known as the “Third Way” (, which claims to be a "progressive alternative to worn-out dogmas of traditional liberalism and conservatism." A review of positions, especially on certain social issues, betrays it as another middle-of-the-road ideology repackaged as something radical, except that there is little that is radical in being non-committal -- in other words, the middle. What is the "common ground," for example, on abortion? Do you believe that an unborn child is a human life, or not? "Yes, but" or "yes, except when" cannot forge common ground, for there is no ground underneath. It either is, or it is not.And if it truly is what some people reduce to the euphemism of "choice," then there is no middle ground there, either. Picking and choosing a "liberal" position here, and a "conservative" position there, and so on, is not a new paradigm either, not when you simply borrow from old ones to create a patchwork of deal-making. The result is like one definition of a camel; "a horse designed by a committee."

Political conservatives like to tell us they're in favor of free markets. How free is a market when a manufacturer of cheap goods, made for peanuts overseas, is large enough in size to dominate that market, and squeeze out the small manufacturer of a quality product? The same Popes who denounced socialist worker movements also called, in the case of Pope Leo, for a living wage. Do captains of industry who profess to be "good Catholics," and who win photo ops with bishops, truly believe this? Is this reflected in their labor practices, or their lobbying efforts in Washington? A few exert control over the many, and they call that "freedom"?

Political liberals tell us they're against large corporations and totalitarian governments oppressing the poor. Let them come to Arlington County, Virginia, where property taxes are skyrocketing, the entire Board of Supervisors belongs to the Democratic Party, and there are fewer places left for the poor to live, as low- to moderate-income housing continues to be torn down, even in a depressed economy, to make way for "luxury apartments." Is this the base of support for the supposed "party of compassion"? Show them a third and even fourth generation of people who remain dependent on government assistance, with little incentive for fathers to remain committed to their families, leaving children without the influence of a father.

We remember Dorothy Day as a woman who defied the usual political labels. It is commonly believed that she was a "leftist," in light of her earlier associations with socialist worker movements, but it was not for want of attempting otherwise. Attempts to established agrarian worker colonies failed miserably, no doubt because not all of her followers (some perhaps, but obviously not enough) went through the same spiritual journey as herself. This is seen today in the lack of unity of orthopraxis in many Catholic Worker houses today, some of whom barely warrant the label of "Catholic." Day was an advocate of traditional liturgical and devotional practices, and was an outspoken opponent of abortion. But her antiwar protests tended to overshadow this, hence the "leftist" associations.

In fact, as Bill Kauffman writes in his Whole Earth article entitled "The Way of Love: Dorothy Day and the American Right":

National Review, dreadnought of postwar American conservatism, occasionally aimed its scattershot at Day. Founder William F. Buckley, Jr. referred casually to "the grotesqueries that go into making up the Catholic Worker movement"; of Miss Day, he chided "the slovenly, reckless, intellectually chaotic, anti-Catholic doctrines of this goodhearted woman--who, did she have her way in shaping national policy, would test the promise of Christ Himself, that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against us."

The grotesqueries he does not bother to itemize; nor does Buckley explain just what was "anti-Catholic" about a woman who told a friend, "The hierarchy permits a priest to say Mass in our chapel. They have given us the most precious thing of all--the Blessed Sacrament. If the Chancery ordered me to stop publishing The Catholic Worker tomorrow, I would."

Besides, if she were a liberal, she would have been sympathetic with the New Deal, right? Well, she wasn't, as she could see early on that such entitlement programs could lead men away from self-reliance (and the freedom that accompanies it), and towards long-term dependency on the state.

Again, Kauffman writes:

On numberless occasions Dorothy Day called herself a Distributist. Thus her gripe with the New Deal: "Security for the worker, not ownership," was its false promise; she despaired in 1945 that "Catholics throughout the country are again accepting `the lesser of two evils'.... They fail to see the body of Catholic social teaching of such men as Fr. Vincent McNabb, G.K. Chesterton, Belloc, Eric Gill and other Distributists ... and lose all sight of The Little Way."

Dorothy Day kept to the little way, and that is why we honor her. She understood that if small is not always beautiful, at least it is always human.

Wouldn't that make her more "conservative" than Bill Buckley? Or are we so afraid to defy conventional thinking when shown the evidence to the contrary? But this challenges our sense of alignment, our very comfort zone. We are surprised at the prospect, even in light of the evidence, that the Catholic Worker movement of the 1930s would have the same objections to the New Deal as conservative bankers and corporate bosses of the same era. No, it was easier to dismiss Dorothy Day herself as a "communist," even though her view of the world was less authoritarian, less exploitative, than theirs.

Or is the evidence what drives our allegiances in the first place?

At least in the 1930s, there was a shift of paradigm in the making, if only in terms of America's involvement in the war. It was mostly political and social conservatives who pursued an isolationist policy, and mostly progressives and New Dealers who embraced aiding Great Britain, and later fighting alongside them. In the Cold War that followed, the shift had settled, and political thought was polarized once again. From then on, if you believed the use of the atomic bomb on innocent civilians was morally wrong, then you were a communist, therefore a leftist.

I am reminded of when I heard Joe Sobran speak nearly a decade ago. He said that “most people, when they hear an idea, do not ask themselves, ‘IIs this true, and should I believe it,’ but rather, ‘What kind of company will this put me in if I do believe it?’” He went on to assure his audience that this was what he wanted in life from the company he would keep. It mattered less to him that he would not be invited to certain parties of those who might agree with him on at least some things, or those with whom he shared some sort of cultural mind-set. It mattered more to him that others accepted him on his own terms, outside the box though they may be. At least they would be friends he could count on.

As Catholics, we are called to turn against the tide. We are not promised "unity" or "inclusiveness." We are promised the Cross. Why wouldn't this affect the way we want to see the world outside the church doorstep, unless our faith was only something to be contained therein? (It only makes sense for this to be easier when you are wealthy, than when you are not.)

As this nation goes to the polls, more than one-fifth of the American population -- those who identify themselves as "Catholic" -- may be divided once again, in the face of an opportunity to make history for the better. They will give up this opportunity, not because they do not want "liberty and justice for all," nor because they do not want a better world for their children. They will simply worry about what others may think of them -- people who won't even see the choice they make once they pull the curtain shut.

As civil rights organizer Julius Lester writes in his Whole Earth piece entitled "Beyond Ideology":

I am not radical or conservative because I do not see an essential difference between the two positions, despite appearances. Both are political worldviews that divide the world into an Us against a Them. Radicals and conservatives merely disagree on who is the Them.

These disunited voters, either group of which presume to claim "the Catholic vote," will prove once again that Joe Sobran's lament was well-founded. Once they embrace the Truth for themselves, and begin to think outside their respective little boxes, it will be a Truth that sets them free, and our friend Joe can rest a bit more easily.

If only we could do so on time for this election year.


Most readers have heard by now of the anonymous accuser, who claims to have had a one-night stand three years ago, with the Republican senatorial candidate from Delaware, Christine O'Donnell. We won't go into the details here, except to say that she has denied the allegations, and that even the National Organization for Women has gone on record to equate the publishing of the story to "sexual harassment."

Frankly, we don't have to publish Gawker's account of the supposed tête-à-tête. We've got something better, namely their defense for publishing it to begin with:

Much of the criticism leveled against us is based on the premise that we think hopping into bed, naked and drunk, with men or women whenever one wants is "slutty," and that therefore our publication of Anonymous' story was intended to diminish O'Donnell on those terms. Any reader of this site ought to rather quickly gather that we are in fact avid supporters of hopping into bed, naked and drunk, with men or women that one has just met.

Now, if we are to believe that this lady is every bit the floosey she is reported to be, we still have to wonder if Gawker is to be considered a viable source of opinion on the issues of the day. And if they are, that says a lot about us, don't you think?

Or don't you?


We've been hearing a lot of how this election has been fraught with negative campaigning, of how, if you have a rally and thousands show up, a guy who wants to vote for you stomps on another guy's head, it's your fault. When that happens, a candidate needs to leave such tactics to the professionals -- like the SEIU, for instance.

So today, boys and girls, we're going to learn about civility, and the need for it to return to American politics. And our teacher is a guy with the nerve to use the chump being interviewed in the first video clip, for a spokesman during the last election, and then appoint him deputy press secretary.

The cure for us as a nation, is to return to the good manners of a bygone era, to the year 1800, when men were gentlemen, and women were barefoot and pregnant. Or something. Our case study will be the relationship between two men, our second and third Presidents, who were good friends for much of their lives, and who died on the same day, within hours of one another.

There's talk that the Democrats will do ANYTHING to win this year (as well as bringing international observers from, of all places, the Philippines, where they've had some experience with this sort of thing. Heh.) Fortunately, they won't be doing that at my precinct, as the Democrats have these bourgeois-class liberals in their pockets. Still, I'm curious as to how ordinary Americans, regardless of how they vote, would ever stand for this. We're not talking about the occasional voting machine on the fritz, or a hanging chad here and there. We're talking about an orchestrated effort to steal an election.

And if one side can do it ...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mary Katharine Ham: Political Ads About Scared (or Scary) Old People

So, the usual Moment of Whimsy isn't enough when Election Day approaches. We need an effective palate cleanser.

We hear a lot about how the President's agenda for a national recovery is similar to that of FDR. We hear it as if it's a good thing. But it depends on whom you ask. My parents grew up in the Depression. The way my dad remembers it, Herbert Hoover wanted to pass certain programs after the stock market crashed in '29, but he was a Republican, and a Democratic-controlled Congress wouldn't have it. So he failed. Then FDR came along, proposed many of the same things, got what he wanted, and thus became the national savior (and the originator of deficit spending). I didn't have to read some alleged conservative wingnut's retrospective from Regnery Publishing. I heard it as a boy from someone who was there. ("The New Deal didn't get us out of the Depression; it was the War.")

So, judge for yourself whether or not Grandma and Grandpa should be afraid. My folks aren't that worried. Probably because, while we thought they were being cheap when we were growing up, they were merely saving for the winter. There's a lesson there for us all, don't you think?

Or don't you?

FAMW: Baile de Manos

What if you couldn't dance anymore? What if your sweetheart couldn't either? You'd have to find an alternative. A similar problem, if a temporary one, confronted two Irish step-dance competitors -- big surprise, right? -- Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding, who needed to stay sharp on their routines, while waiting backstage for their turn in the championship. The result, set to a cover version of Ranato Carosone's "Tu Vuò Fa' L'Americano" (which translates roughly as "We No Speak Americano," or something), went viral just over a month ago. And for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy, we're showing it to you here in case you missed it. Their interview on ABC can be seen here.

Wow, yesterday we had hand-slapping with guitars, and now this.

What does my portrait say about me?

Beats the hell outa me. You're welcome to try. Go ahead, click on the image. You know you want to.

(H/T to Ricky Vines.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guitar Workshop: Percussive Guitar (Introduction)

Today, and for the next few weeks, we are going to explore a cutting-edge style of guitar playing together. In other words, I've never done this before either. To introduce this method, is the first YouTube video I ever saved among my favorites. Since this clip has clocked nearly 34 million viewers in nearly four years, I'm obviously not alone. This is a 2006 recording by Andy McKee of his composition "Drifting," featured on his CandyRat Records CD, "Art of Motion."

The second clip is a little easier to follow, an untitled piece by a guy identified as “redelectric181” on YouTube. The percussive style of guitar is characterized by rhythmic slapping of the guitar body or strings with either hand, hammering on of notes or barres, and open chording. Pretty slick, ain't it?

More of the details in the weeks to come. For more about McKee's music, go to, or to his MySpace page.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

“I’m not going to stand for any fraud ...”

... and yet, the Nevada secretary of state may decide to ignore the reports of it. The good news is, if you vote for Democrat Harry Reid, you can get a Starbucks card, a Happy Meal, a pack of cigarettes, ten dollars, or even (as after all, it IS Nevada) sexual favors. It's going to be tough choosing from such great prizes, but one choice is to file a complaint with the Nevada Secretary of State, and if the complaint doesn't get "backlogged" or "lost," justice can be assured.

(At least in West Virginia you could get a Mason jar of corn whiskey back in the day. I could sure drink to that, gang!)

Dennis Prager: “We Are Our Problem”

According to our speaker in this clip, Pogo was right.

Dennis Prager participated in a question-and-answer session recently at the University of Denver. (You might recognize one of the other panelists, but never mind her.) We have spoken before of the long-term consequences of continuing a Wilsonian foreign policy of preemptive military action. But there is also the reality, that there are things in this world that are worth fighting, and even dying for. Either way you look at it, the warning contained herein bears listening.

Also in this presentation, Prager makes reference to "The American Trinity." For an explanation of what he means, go to a five-minute video presentation to be found at On a related subject, there is a 37-minute address on what is referred to as "American Exceptionalism" at (near the bottom of the page).

If anyone knows how I can get the above URL to stop sending YouTube videos in my name (I don't have time to read a manual or scroll down a long page of FAQs that don't tell me anything but the obvious), I would be grateful, as would everyone who thinks they're getting these messages from me.

Five Second Theatre: The Day Before Yesterday When Everything Was OK and There Weren’t Any Zombies

Time once again for our regular midday Wednesday feature.

Since All Hallow's Eve is coming this weekend, it's not too early to start thinking about zombies. In the case of this story, these two guys need to get their heads out of the past and start thinking about their futures as human relations consultants for a zombie marketing firm.

Much Ado About Twitter

It was a blast rediscovering Shakespeare that night. This writer was not alone. Items posted here are promoted on Facebook and Twitter, which over the past year has increased the readership of mwbh by an estimated 20 to 25 percent. Among our followers was someone who decided to stay in character.

@manwithblackhat Is the world as it was, man? (Measure for Measure: ACT III, Scene II)
Tue 26 Oct 20:30

@thebardbot ney, not as it was, but 'tis as it is.
Tue 26 Oct 21:28

It seems I had piqued the interest of one identified as "Ye Shakespeare Bot" who claims to hail from Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom. The unknown writer carries on similar conversations with many others. Or, as he would put it: “Thou mayst send me tweets, and I will fly my fair reply to thee.” And he had more to say.

@manwithblackhat Sparkles this stone as it was wont, or is't not Too dull for your good wearing? (Cymbeline: ACT II, SCENE IV)
Tue 26 Oct 21:30

@thebardbot well, my birthstone is the blue zircon, and if it's not too dull, i'll wear it. i also fancy an occasional garnet or gold topaz.
Tue 26 Oct 21:56

@manwithblackhat if industriously I play'd the fool, it was my negligence, Not weighing well the end; (The Winter's Tale: ACT I, SCENE II)
Tue 26 Oct 22:00

@thebardbot if by that you mean, don't start something you can't finish, yeah, that shakespeare guy had a keen grasp of human nature, eh?
Tue 26 Oct 22:12

@manwithblackhat But if you do, you'll make me wish a sin, That I had been forsworn. (The Merchant of Venice: ACT III, SCENE II)
Tue 26 Oct 22:15

@thebardbot well, that would depend on the thing being started, would it not? can a good thing remain unfinished?
Tue 26 Oct 22:42

@manwithblackhat if you would not, it were a good sign that I should quickly have a new father. (Macbeth: ACT IV, SCENE II)
Tue 26 Oct 22:45

@thebardbot really? i didn't even know we were related.
Tue 26 Oct 22:46

Of course, "all good things must come to an end" (English proverb attributed to Chaucer in 1374), and so I did.

@thebardbot good-night, sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. (hamlet, act v, scene ii).
Tue 26 Oct 22:52

@thebardbot parting is such sweet sorrow ... (romeo and juliet, act ii, scene ii) ... but it's never stopped me before. adieu. adieu.
Tue 26 Oct 22:56

Yes, I got a little inventive at the end, with a little something I coined myself some years ago. But our correspondent was not to be outdone.

@manwithblackhat Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say good night till it be morrow. (Romeo And Juliet: ACT II, Scene II)
Tue 26 Oct 23:00

@manwithblackhat Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! (Hamlet: ACT V, Scene II)
Tue 26 Oct 23:00

@manwithblackhat And whether we shall meet again I know not. (Julius Caesar: ACT V, SCENE I)
Tue 26 Oct 23:00

(Hey, didn't he already cross the Rubicon by that point?)

And so we bid goodnight "till it be morrow." And since yesterday's tomorrow is today, here we are again.

UPDATE: I had this one coming ...

@manwithblackhat You had much ado to make his anchor hold; (The Winter's Tale: ACT I, SCENE II)
Wed 27 Oct 09:00

... didn't I?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

First Time @mwbh: An “Uncaption” Contest

Matthew Archbold of Creative Minority Report seems to think this picture of Vice President Joe Biden needs some sort of witty, imaginative caption.

Do you?

“The Chicago Way” Revisited

We have more information about mishandling of mail-in ballots from, of all places (gasp!!), Chicago. The ABC affiliate in that fair city brings an investigative report. Would it surprise anyone if there's now a price on that reporter's head? You know what Sean Connery told Kevin Costner in that scene from The Untouchables, right? More on this story can be found here.

Yeah, we'll be following this one closely alright. Stay tuned ...

Voter Fraud! Who Knew?

Oh, boy, it's Megyn Kelly, and my favorite Filipina/Jersey Girl, Michelle Malkin. A double feature of the Truth.

Now, boys and girls, remember. The truth or falsehood of the story does not depend on who tells it. It stands on its own. And if you think this is payback for the 2000 Presidential ballots in Florida, and Gore v Bush, you have a poor command of history, not to mention how the law works.

That, and you're an idiot.

Shakespeare Is As Shakespeare Was

Ever listen to old English Christmas carols, where words like "mystery" are pronounced "eye" at the end instead of "eee" so that they rhyme better in the verse? Happens to me all the time.

It can happen to you, too, if you're anywhere between Kansas City and Topeka in the month of November. The theater department at the University of Kansas is doing a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But it will not be unique by dressing up Elizabethan characters in 1940s period costumes, oh no, that has already been done, my friend. They are pronouncing the lines the way they would have been heard in the playwright's day -- in other words, in "Elizabethan English."

Meier said audiences will hear word play and rhymes that "haven't worked for several hundred years (love/prove, eyes/qualities, etc.) magically restored, as Bottom, Puck and company wind the language clock back to 1595."

"The audience will hear rough and surprisingly vernacular diction, they will hear echoes of Irish, New England and Cockney that survive to this day as 'dialect fossils.' And they will be delighted by how very understandable the language is, despite the intervening centuries."

Sirs John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier will surely be turning in their graves over this one. More about this production, the first of its kind since we stopped talking that way, at and

Go Jayhawks!

The Quest for Maps

Years ago, my family never took a trip out of state without one of those AAA "triptiks." The custom-designed segmented directions not only got you where you needed to go, but told you what hazards to avoid (road construction, bridges out, et cetera). Now we have MapQuest to tell us where an address is, and how to get from one to the other. I've used them myself to find a new destination. Most of the time they do the job.

Now there's a new and improved MapQuest, and this video tells you all about it. Notice how the new layout minimizes scrolling at the offset, for the emerging trend towards widescreen monitors. Thankfully, my Droid smartphone has an Google app called simply “Maps”. I can actually track my GPS location while I'm driving, as well as guidance from Point A to Point B at the same time. I may never get lost again.

One question, though. Will the new MapQuest show me where the Pennsylvania Turnpike continues to be in a constant state of repair?

Modesty Revisited

Yesterday's Cautionary Tale entitled “The Naked Truth” was about Christian modesty. It drew this response from "Mercury":

Now that I have discovered this whole issue on the ultratrad side of the spectrum, I see "immodesty" everywhere. Before I knew that people cared, I would have never been bothered by say, a woman in a one-piece bathing suit, or a tank-top and jogging shorts, or a ballet outfit, or, God forbid, pants.

So now all these things that were once neutral in my sight and mind are suddenly "sexualized" because I am constantly wondering "well, is that really modest enough ...

I also received this from a priest of my acquaintance, which serves as an effective response:

Even those who vigorously oppose relativISM have become accustomed appropriately to relativize certain propositions, such as when a hemline is "modest" or not. I know a family in which even the WOMEN will not join a gym, because of the clothing of OTHER women. Ultimately, if one is chaste, one will not be much concerned with what other people wear. Many people think that the virtue of chastity is that virtue which enables us to obsess about, and criticize, what other people are wearing and how much skin they are showing.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Cautionary Tales: The Naked Truth

What is modesty? The saints, the fathers, the doctors of the Church, all wrote at length on it. It has long been a greater issue with women's apparel than with men's, as it is believed that men are more susceptible to improper sexual thoughts. So the question might be posed: what rules does a woman follow to be modest by Christian standards?

One day, someone asked the Pope -- Pius XI, who ruled from 1929 to 1939 -- and on January 12, 1930, in a very explicit instruction issued to the bishops of the world, he told them.

We recall that a dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knee. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper. Let parents keep their daughters away from public gymnastic games and contests; but, if their daughters are compelled to attend such exhibitions, let them see to it that they are fully and modestly dressed. Let them never permit their daughters to don immodest garb.

The directive of Pius XI was reiterated by his successor, Pius XII, in 1956, speaking through his Cardinal Vicar, when he said: "There always exists an absolute norm to be preserved."

More recently, in a Notification on June 12, 1960, Guiseppe Cardinal Siri expressed concern over the wearing of men's clothing by women, specifically trousers. He was especially disapproving of trousers that were form-fitting on women.

To respond to the above, one would be curious as to what that "absolute norm" would be, especially since no basis in Objective Truth is cited in the above application of the norms, and the ability to incite the senses is often conditioned by the culture in which one is raised. There was a time in Europe when a woman showing her bare ankle was considered scandalous, a factor unmentioned in the papal decrees. (So, at some point, bare ankles became acceptable, right?) What's more, a man who was raised in the South Sea Islands, or in some parts of Africa, may not be given to impure thoughts when seeing bare-breasted women, especially if he has seen them all his life. Further, to bar women from wearing pants assumes that pants, by their essential nature, are inherently male garb. Given the whole of history (and we're dealing with millennia here, and all parts of the world), this is a relatively new concept, especially in the West.

Perhaps modesty is like its nemesis, pornography; we know it when we see it. Modesty may also be conditioned by time or place. A sleeveless evening gown which may be very becoming, and nothing more, may be just distracting enough when worn in Church. And so the woman might veil her hair -- her "crowning glory," as my mother used to say -- because one honors the mystique of that which is veiled, much as the priest veiled the ciborium before returning it to the tabernacle after Communion. We don't worry much about veiling our women in this part of the world, do we, fellas?

It is also helpful to hear from young men and women themselves, those who are learning to come to grips with the discovery, the mystery that is human sexuality. Amanda of would remind us that these are not theological truths, so much as a guide for us, a reminder that what is being covered is reserved for a higher purpose, and that the mind should consider such outfitting accordingly.


(Video courtesy of Gloria.TV. Photos courtesy of Skirt/pullover ensemble by Clare R. All photos used without permission or shame.)

POSTSCRIPT: Personally, I can always count on Wikipedia to do justice to the topic.

Indie Game: The Movie (Part Deux)

No doubt you remember the first segment of Paul Alexander's interview with the makers of Indie Game: The Movie. Well, our Roving Reporter and Creature Of The Night gives us the low-down on what's next.

In part two, James and I talked a bit more candidly via Google Chat about triple-A games, documentary films, and the world of competetive air guitar ... a larger part of the film is aimed at what indie games can kind of represent - which an evolving direction of video games. Games used for purposes other than entertainment, games used for personal expression, games used to evoke emotion ...

Coming back to air guitar ...

Notice how they manage to slip air guitar into the conversation. Genius, I tell you. Pure genius.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

“Turn and face the strange ...”

In the days ahead, readers of mwbh may notice a gradual shift in editorial slant.

In May of 2007, I published a manifesto of sorts entitled “Red Eye for the Straight Guy (or, I just figured out why I’m a conservative!).” And while I harbor no shame for my convictions, lately I have wondered about the company it keeps. It began when I read a piece written by the late Joe Sobran entitled “The Reluctant Anarchist” which was republished in March of 2009 at

Chesterton, himself a “Little Englander” and opponent of empire, explained what was wrong with Kipling’s view: “He admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reason. He admires England because she is strong, not because she is English.” Which implies there would be nothing to love her for if she were weak.

Of course Chesterton was right. You love your country as you love your mother — simply because it is yours, not because of its superiority to others, particularly superiority of power.

+ + +

Everything had to have its own nature and limitations, including the state; the idea of a state continually growing, knowing no boundaries, forever increasing its claims on the citizen, offended and frightened me. It could only end in tyranny.

+ + +

What if the Federal Government grossly violated the Constitution? Could states withdraw from the Union? Lincoln said no. The Union was “indissoluble” unless all the states agreed to dissolve it. As a practical matter, the Civil War settled that. The United States, plural, were really a single enormous state, as witness the new habit of speaking of “it” rather than “them.”

So the people are bound to obey the government even when the rulers betray their oath to uphold the Constitution. The door to escape is barred. Lincoln in effect claimed that it is not our rights but the state that is “unalienable.”

+ + +

In short, the U.S. Constitution is a dead letter. It was mortally wounded in 1865. The corpse can’t be revived. This remained hard for me to admit, and even now it pains me to say it.

I am not sure I could take the last comment that far. (For that matter, there was a time when neither could he.) And yet, I was impressed with the idea that a man could stay on a straight line in his evolution of thought, only to result in a paradigm shift of unexpected (and not entirely inexplicable) magnitude. This impressed me so much, I sent a copy to my son Paul, who after reading it, called it “the most awesome thing I've ever read on the subject.” Here it was, the work of a longtime contributor to Bill Buckley's National Review, resonating with a not-so-reluctant anarchist.

Is it possible, then, that two political ideologues, ostensibly diametrically opposed, could be so diametrically opposed, and becoming ever more so, until they met elsewhere, at what was not a line of thought, but was instead a circle?

We have heard much of so-called "tea party activists." They say they want smaller government, more local control of what government we have, lower taxes, and less interference in their lives. We read of well-established politicians who are quick to get on board, but who cannot think of a single major entitlement program they would cut or eliminate. Instead, they take the safe route, and speak of tighter controls, major reform. Just get them elected first, then we will see what is actually done.

Their adversaries gave similar assurances about "Obamacare." Just let us pass the bill, they would say, then we will actually read what it says. For both sides, the consequences matter less, than being there to take the credit, or pass the blame, whenever it happens.

It is here, where Catholics wishing to inculcate our values in the public square, begin to mobilize behind one alliance or another. Opponents of misuse of funds in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will cite the use of such funds for "liberal causes." They do not use the word in the sense of moral error, but of political error. Those who are identified with the banner of "liberal," are associated with the call for a more holistic approach to the Gospel of Life, including an end to preemptive military action, and ... oh, maybe an end to abortion, maybe not. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. After all, abortion is just one of many issues.

But really, how much of the rhetoric is even about the issues?

Ask someone about the Tea Party movement. Oh, they're all racists, they hate people who don't agree with them, they engage in the politics of fear. You would think that those who expound this drivel spent hours interviewing people who showed up on the Mall, as opposed to simply antagonizing them.

Do you want to know the real meaning of fear in the public arena? Imagine living in Salem, Massachusetts in the early colonial days. A young woman walk down the street, minding her own business, and some old matron confronts her, pointing and shouting "WITCH!" How much do you suppose the facts matter at that point? So it is with most of the talking heads on television, all shouting labels at others, letting the hysteria lead where it may, and making a good living fanning the flames of ignorance.

And so, we are left on Election Day with deciding the lesser of two evils. I could be on the phone with a Catholic spokeswoman for Amalgamated Right to Life, Incorporated, who is telling me that I am endangering my soul for voting for a morally acceptable third party candidate, and not voting for the Republican candidate. After all, he's only lukewarm on abortion, while his Democratic opponent embraces it outright. And didn't Monsigeur Megaphone say as much on CNN the other night?

I will say here and now what I have said for years: The prolife movement has been the lapdog of the Republican Party, and conservatives in general, ever since the Supreme Court ruling that was Roe v Wade. For that matter, most Catholics have been as much for one political party or the other. Some of us held our noses as we voted for John McCain, not for what he was, but for what he wasn't. He wasn't a man who would legalize abortion in a heartbeat, right up to the last second in the womb. A man who couldn't run a campaign for County Dog Catcher was our Last Great Hope. Have we become that desperate?

There is an honest effort by organizations such as, to mobilize faithful Catholics beyond partisan restrictions. But a comprehensive effort of this order will require a massive paradigm shift. At the end of the day, given the choice, I am likely to be more comfortable in the company of conservatives than of liberals. Perhaps it is like comfort food; it is what you grew up with, and you feel at home. I am never faced, for example, with meeting a "married" gay couple, and having to guess which is the husband, and which is the wife. Apparently there is some sort of convention, but it eludes me. But even to wonder leads some to conclude that I "hate" gay people, when in fact to ask such a question does not even imply disagreement, merely inquiry.

Come this Saturday, the groundwork for such a manifesto will appear on this page. It is the result of years of reading and reflection, and the recent discovery of written work that has received little attention since it was written a decade ago.

Until then ...

Friday, October 22, 2010

FAMW: Who Was That Unmasked Man?

When I was about twelve years old, I went with my Scout Troop to the Ohio State Fair. I could walk around and visit the exhibits wearing my uniform, and nobody picked on me. What a time!

Closer to the present, we have some local news coverage of this year's South Carolina State Fair, where a surprise guest attempts to make an appearance. In a related story, the latest Winthrop poll shows incumbent Jim DeMint (R-SC) trouncing Democratic challenger Alvin Greene in their Senate race, by 58 to 11 percent, among likely voters. Click on the image and find out why, courtesy of this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Andrew Klavan Explains It All (Left to Right) For You

The latest from Pajamas Media:

Mainstream media "centrists," who are far to the left of most Americans, are concerned the "right wing" Tea Party, which occupies the center of American opinion, will displace "centrist" Democrats who are far, far left. Got it? Now tell your friends.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I couldn't think of a clever title, so I just came right out and said it.

When you're over fifty, there are certain preventive-maintenance procedures which your doctor recommends. I'm only running about five years late with this one, but after hearing all the stories, I ran out of excuses.

According to Wikipedia, a colonoscopy is:

... the endoscopic examination of the colon and the distal part of the small bowel with a CCD camera or a fiber optic camera on a flexible tube passed through the anus. It may provide a visual diagnosis (e.g. ulceration, polyps) and grants the opportunity for biopsy or removal of suspected lesions.

Now, if that doesn't satisfy you, the U S National Institutes of Health released NIH Publication Number 10–4331, which gives you the lowdown. Click here.

My procedure is tomorrow. If you don't have anything better to pray for ...

Guitar Workshop: Meeting Mister Guitar

Y'all remember last week's lesson with the song "Freight Train," right? Hold that thought.

When I was a sophomore in high school (1970-71), I took intermediate guitar lessons for a time, at what was then the "Milford Music Shop" or something like that. The owner was a man named Gordon Larkin, a man who, in his younger days, listened to every Chet Atkins record he could find, and learned every move he made. Unfortunately, he claimed not to have the patience for beginners. Fortunately, his wife laid claim to a bit more patience, and it was from her that I learned not only the rudiments of playing up the neck, but the style of guitar-playing that has typified most of my repertoire to this day.

Our first video clip is from an episode of The Johnny Cash Show that originally aired on April 29, 1970. In this classic performance, Chet plays a medley of signature tunes: Back Home in Indiana, Country Gentleman, Mister Sandman, Wildwood Flower, and, of course, Freight Train. You'll notice how the alternating-thumb style is employed throughout, with a few fancy breaks interspersed. Atkins was not only a guitarist, but a music producer, and a savvy businessman. His roots in the mountains of Tennessee were humble enough: “We were so poor and everybody around us was so poor that it was the forties before anyone even knew there had been a depression.” Yet he went on, with partner Owen Bradley, to transform the country music industry, from purveyors of an exclusively "cowboy" or "hillbilly" style, to that of the smoother "Nashville sound" that appealed to adult pop audiences as well. While this process opened an exclusively American sound to the world, it remains an issue that divides country music historians up to the present day.

Our second clip is a lesson for intermediate players. It comes with tablature and shows you how to play a simple fingerstyle and walking bass line rhythm made famous by guys like Atkins, as well as Merle Travis. (More on Mr Travis later.) You can see how the instructor uses a C7 chord to play D7. This is a great beginning for learning to play up the neck. Notice also how the player builds his progressions on the way up. There is a relationship between the chord in place, and the melody notes associated with that chord, wherever it is positioned. To download the tablature for this lesson, go to

Our final clip is a 1996 appearance by Chet Atkins on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Being an extremely shy sort of man, which was often mistaken for aloofness, Atkins nonetheless had a great sense of humor, as he shows with song "I Still Write Your Name In The Snow." It did require him to sing, which was palatable enough on his recordings, if in small doses.

More about the life and times of the man known as "Mister Guitar" and/or "The Country Gentleman" can be found at As for you, dear Mrs Gordon Larkin, wherever you are, thank you for the memories.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Return to Springfield

We didn't have much of our own to contribute to the Homer Simpson story earlier today. But somehow we caught the attention of Brittany McIntyre of, who was kind enough to bring this video to our attention. is “a multi-source online video news site that monitors, analyzes and presents the world’s news coverage.” We here at mwbh welcome anyone who endeavors to do that in an enlightened and balanced manner, and from what we can tell, this site holds great promise.

That said, it should be observed that L’Osservatore Romano enjoys a certain amount of journalistic independence from the Holy See. They have been a little reckless on more than one occasion in recent years, and efforts at clarification from on high must occasionally be brought to bear. This story has given rise, not only to how religion is portrayed in the popular culture, but to how religion is reported. At a time when the journalistic establishment is often challenged in reporting on religious issues, in a manner that does justice to the subject, we want to recommend two sources to those who seek recourse to the real deal. This is not only for internet-based journalists, but for you as well, dear reader.

Thomas Peters of American Papist offers insights into the American political scene, as the setting for the spreading of the Catholic message in the public square, with a special emphasis on pro-life issues. His blog is also affiliated with, which has been effective in going beyond partisan political lines to educate its Catholic readers, and the general public as well.

Father John Zuhlsdorf of What Does The Prayer Really Say? (WDTPRS) is an astute observer of the inner workings of the Church, having worked in the Vatican himself. When not picking apart the official texts used in Catholic worship, so as to enlighten the reader on the meaning therein, he fields many questions about Catholic teaching and practice, as well as how things work (and don't always work) in the halls of the Roman Curia. The UK's Catholic Herald had good reason to name Father Z as "the world's most powerful Catholic blogger."

By the way, I've been known to hit the bulls-eye with this particular target on more than one occasion, if I do say so myself (and hey, I think I just did). So, bless your heart, Brittany, and thanks for stopping by. Anything we can do to help, just stay tuned, and stay in touch.

Remembering Anita on the Hill

Nineteen years ago, Clarence Thomas became an Associate Justice of the United States Surpreme Court. It was not without a challenge, as a woman who once worked for him came forward, to claim that Thomas had sexually harassed her while under his employ. He denied the charges, but for weeks the nation was fixed upon a man whose reputation was in the dock, and the woman from obscurity who dared to accuse him. And now, nineteen years later, the wife of the Justice is found to have left a phone message for the woman, asking that she apologize for the incident, on the premise that in doing so, the wife was offering “an olive branch.”

Uh, sure. Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor wonders if Anita Hill truly owes Virginia Thomas an apology.

Ms. Thomas’s very overt advocacy on behalf of conservative and tea party organizations and causes – including harsh criticism of President Obama and Democratic lawmakers – has prompted questions about whether this is unseemly for the spouse of a US Supreme Court justice. For someone in her unique position, where is the line between free speech and association and the need to avoid the appearance of politics in the federal judiciary?

But before we go on, let's talk about me.

In 1991, I was going through a divorce, so I had a lot on my plate at the time. I managed to find enough parties every other weekend (when I didn't have Paul) to distract me from reality. At some point, someone would mention the Clarence Thomas hearings, and the Anita Hill testimony. But the conversation quickly took on a life of its own, as some woman would invariably start talking about her own experience being propositioned by some man for whom she worked. I would hear one story after another as the months, and the hearings, went on. And the opinion polls had a tale of their own. In the beginning, most people believed Judge Thomas. By the time it was over, more and more people started to believe Ms Hill. Was it really just the testimony that persuaded them?

Indeed, people have their own view, not only of the opposing stories, but of how the press handled it. Dahlia Lithwick of Slate is quick to label Mrs Thomas' overture as inappropriate, if not bizarre, and maintains that Judge Thomas has carried his bitterness too far, and for too long, especially since he emerged victorious. On the other hand, the otherwise socially enlightened press was quick to mock Thomas' stories of racial bigotry at his expense while growing up. Had he been an ideological liberal, it is certain that pundits like Lithwick would have made him a cause célèbre, even to this day. And the present trend towards activist wives of men in high office knows no political bounds. (Isn't that right, Hillary?)

But the real story here, is not the "he said, she said" that we would associate with this episode. It is, rather, how a nation's perception of sexual tensions in the workplace was changed forever. The Gospel tells us “You have heard that it was said, you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28).

Nearly two decades after the national conversation, the days of Don Draper as the Don Juan in the flannel suit are long past, in a society that needs all the redemption it can get.


(From today's segment of Gloria.TV News.)

The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, is evidently determined to shed its reputation as a solid and sensible paper - the website Catholic Culture has declared. The paper has praised the American animated television series The Simpsons as among the few TV programs for children in which Christian faith, religion, and questions about God are recurrent themes. The secular media treated the L’Osservatore Romano article with humor and sarcasm. A typical piece in the Daily Telegraph carried the subhead: He is an idle pea-brained glutton with a permanent craving for doughnuts and Duff beer, but Homer Simpson has been declared a true Catholic by the Vatican's official newspaper.


Five Second Theatre: Quiet House

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature.

Much of what we see on video is an illusion. This is part of the appeal of the medium. A couple of guys can work out of their garage and do broadcast or internet quality work. But it can be unsettling for some. Saying "Shhhhhhh" only makes it worse. Or better, depending on your perspective. Or something.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Another Interregnum

As readers may know, I'm a career civil servant -- a graphic designer, by profession -- with the Federal Government in Washington DC. As we approach the end of this calendar year, we reach the midterm of a Presidential term. This is usually the setting for a minor shakeup in the political leadership of the administration, and by extension, the political leadership of the various Federal departments and agencies.

Recently we learned that White House Chief of Staff Raum Emmanuel resigned, to consider a run for Mayor of his beloved Chicago ("... and there was much rejoicing.") As he and certain other key players move on, positions open up, and the process works its way down the food chain. My communications director was no exception, as he/she accepted a position which would represent a step up for him/her. As a career move, it's a no-brainer, and I'm happy for him/her, obviously. But in an administration that was a little late completing the transition process to begin with, this episode represents another "hurry up and wait" period for certain internal decisions which I anticipated possibly working in my favor. The deputy director, who is a career executive and non-political, will likely act with prudence regarding any significant decisions while acting in their stead. I have no effective argument against such a modus operandi, and yet ...

Oh, well, I'm gainfully employed, I will concede, at a time when so many others are not. I never lose sight of that. It's just that I'm the sort of person who cannot accept being average at anything. In effect, they're telling me not to care too much about doing a great job at this point. Or are they?

And so it goes.

Is lIterature dead ... or UNdead?

From our bulging “It’s come to this!” files comes this report from our Philippines correspondent (okay, a Facebook friend, whatever!) Francis Bonganay of San Juan del Monte:

This is a real sign spotted at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. And the question of the hour is this: should we all be excited that kids are at least reading something, or disappointed THERE'S A 'TEEN PARANORMAL ROMANCE' GENRE? Option two, obviously. I swear, I'm so disgusted right now I could burn down Amazon. "Stop being stupid -- Amazon isn't even a real store." Oh yeah? Well you're not even a real person, so there. Don't believe me? Pinch your non-dominant arm as hard as you can. Haha, that's what you get!


Monday, October 18, 2010

Cautionary Tales: Endangered Works of Mercy

It is safe to say that women's religious orders built the Catholic educational system in the United States. It is also safe to say that, not only did they build the Catholic health care system in this country, but the entire health care system in the USA owes itself to the pioneering work of the good sisters. Through the decimation of these orders in recent years, and various takeovers by health care conglomerates, the integrity of that system, including its ability to provide effective medical care to the disadvantaged, has been seriously impaired.

And it is about to be sold out indefinitely, by the very caretakers of its legacy. According to Thomas Peters of American Papist:

Three Scranton-area Catholic Hospitals are shutting down because of Obamacare regulations that are set to go into effect soon. The CEO of the hospitals, Kevin Cook, is on record saying Obamacare is “absolutely” responsible for their painful decision to shut down ... Sr. Carol Keehan – the nun and President of the Catholic Health Association, who famously received a “thank you pen” from President Obama for her work in turning Catholic congressman to give up their opposition to Obamacare, has been trying to bully Kevin Cook into changing his story about why his hospitals are closing, because she knows what a political powder keg the headline “Catholic hospitals closing because of Obamacare” will be in this critical election season.

Now, thirty pieces of silver would have been worth something, but a pen??? has produced a radio ad to air in the Scranton market. Catholics and others can learn the truth. Congressmen Paul Kanjorski and Chris Carney both voted for the health care reform bill, and both are facing tough challenges from pro-life alternatives this November.

The face of Catholic health care will change dramatically in the next few years. It will live on in both the care for children saved from abortion, and the support of their mothers as they get on with their lives. It will continue in the work of the Missionaries of Charity, who run facilities for victims of AIDS, including children born with the HIV-AIDS virus. So much damage has been done, as the trust of the faithful has been misplaced. The prominence of the Church in the medical apostolate will take decades to rebuild.

And perhaps, Deo volente, another Mother Teresa.

Indie Game: The Movie

Indie Game: The Movie goes beyond the fast-growing and ever-evolving industry of video game entertainment, to focus on the world of the independent game developer, the human side of the creative process, and the theory behind their craft, as well as the symbiosis between creator and creation.

Paul Alexander is a student of interactive media and game development at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is also a community writer for Recently, Paul had the opportunity to sit down with filmmaker James Swirksy of Winnepeg, Manitoba-based Blinkworks Media, to talk about the film he (Swirksy) produced and directed with Lisanne Pajot. The first part of that interview can be found here.

The movie is scheduled to open in theaters in 2011.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

To Our New Arrivals

We ran a bit late with the Guitar Workshop this week, but it appears now in its appropriate time slot. If you don't want to be bothered with scrolling down, not to worry. Click here.

We've also had a noticeable upsurge in our readership here at man with black hat, so it seemed appropriate to welcome those of you who joined us in the last few weeks. I returned to Chez Alexandre (that's what I call my house) a week ago night, after eight days at the old stomping ground which is my home city of Cincinnati.

The following is our semi-regular schedule.

Monday: Cautionary Tales: The exploration of an issue of social and/or political import, the approach to which may serve as a warning, including insights for a solution.

Tuesday: Plug This!: An introduction to a lesser-known author in the Catholic blogosphere, an up-and-comer worthy of attention.

Wednesday: Five Second Theatre: Self-explanatory, and subject to revision -- in this case, after we run out of ideas of a five-second duration.

Thursday: Guitar Workshop: A tutorial for a particular aspect of guitar playing. This can be a beginner's lesson, something for the intermediate or advanced player, or simply an brief survey of a particular style or genre.

Friday: Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy (FAMW): Something to take the edge off the end of the workweek.

Now, these things don't happen every week, but they happen more often than not, usually at midday or mid-afternoon. Along with them are special features and commentary, or whatever is biting this writer in the hind-quarters on any particular day, usually viewed through a Catholic lens (which is simply the most convenient lens for this writer, as it is the one that most defines this writer).

Since we've gone to some lengths to identify this as a "Catholic blog," and in the interest of full disclosure, we should highlight a few things that set us apart from the more "famous" weblogs of similar ilk:

*    No, there is no dramatic conversion story about being an international playboy or a high priest of Satan for twenty or thirty years before embracing the True Faith, never mind a book to parlay for the foreseeable future telling that story in excruciating detail. (I've always been a Catholic. Pretty boring, really.)

*    No, this isn't an afterthought to an already-flourishing book-and-lecture tour.

*    No, my publisher isn't making me do this (inasmuch as I don't have a publisher). And finally ...

*    No, I'm not a priest.

This endeavor is just what the tagline says it is. And on that (hopefully) promising note, stay tuned, and stay in touch.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Things I Hate About The Bars In DC

My friend "E.W." is a fellow Knight of the Altar. Those of us who serve for the Traditional Mass in this fair city have formed a fraternity of sorts. And when it came to his twenty-fifth birthday, I wasn't about to miss it. Besides, I don't get to take Sal out on the town as much as she deserves. And while I salute my friend with the very best birthday wishes, there are some things neither Sal nor I deserve.

Back home in Cincinnati -- at least this was so for the places I frequented -- the corner bars were quaint places where people came to drink and be merry in the company of their fellows. The places had a character, a history, a unique clientele that could be found nowhere else. It's a different story in DC, though. What they call "pubs" are sort of a joke, and it's more or less the same joke on every other corner. I fail to see why a place that only holds about a hundred people needs to turn the hip-hop music up unbearably high, especially when no one is dancing. Do they really think "Billy Bob's Bar & Grille" is going to be the scene of a Saturday Night Disco Swing Party? I should think not. Then there's always the three or four sporting events on three or four different big-@$$ screen monitors. I'm okay with that, but they should look into the wondrous invention that is CLOSED CAPTIONING.

People don't really socialize in most of the bars here; they "schmooze." I'm not much of a schmoozer. Neither is Sal. The guys were okay, but none of the gals came over to talk to Sal, which is their loss. Those twenty-something chickadees should look half as good as her when they push fifty.

At the end of the day, my host is a gentleman, and he apologized to Sal for the loud music. The manager apologized for the chicken tenders taking over twenty minutes to prepare, even as she was begging me to deliver her from the madness. At least he discounted the order as he was wrapping it up to go. I should mention that there is one exception to the rule in these parts. It's a roadhouse out in Hyattsville, Maryland, quite possibly the last of its kind. Of course, when the new owners took over, they said that the tradition of zydeco bands having dances there would continue. And it did, for awhile. But it's been more than awhile since the last one.

My son is a bartender. Maybe HE'S got an explanation. There could be a sequel in the works.

UPDATE: According to our resident expert on the subject: “Many studies have been done on the correlation between loud music and bar sales. But it's probably a combination of the two. There's plenty of bars that have what you crave in DC. You just have to know where to look.” Well, there was this place called Bohemian Gardens on U Street, and I did take her there for a jazz performance. Yeah, that was a nice place. Hmmm ...


Last night, five people were arrested and charged in connection with the death of a man outside a Washington DC nightclub. What has been described as “a case study in social media and accuracy” is the evolution of that story, as told through a medium that did not exist until three years ago. gives the rundown in a piece entitled “Death outside DC9 begins an evolving storyline.“ Further developments can be followed directly via Twitter search. Click here.

FAMW: The Pope and Michelangelo

From the cast of Monty Python's Flying Circus, comes this performance before a live audience, of the Pope discussing the painter's rendition of The Last Supper. It seems that His Holiness is not impressed by Michelangelo's presumption of artistic license. He doesn't know much about art, but he knows what he likes. So it goes for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Guitar Workshop: Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten

Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten (1895-1987) grew up poor in rural North Carolina, and spent most of her life in obscurity as a housemaid, only to be "discovered" by her employer, a folklorist and ethnomusicologist by the name of Charles Seeger. It was his son, folk singer/instrumentalist Mike Seeger, who first recorded the song she wrote as a little girl. “Freight Train” was later recorded by many other artists, including Peter, Paul, and Mary. Yours truly recalls seeing this number in the Peter Paul and Mary Songbook, with the name "Milton Okum" (their producer) as the author. The story goes that Libba actually confronted the trio at an airport during the height of their fame, and accused them of stealing her song. One would imagine that these Champions of the Downtrodden eventually worked things out with her.

The first video clip is an early television appearance with Mike's half-brother, Pete Seeger. Notice that she plays left-handed. What is less noticeable, is that she does not reverse her strings, making her one of a mere handful of notable left-handed players who do not, which gave birth to her own unique style of playing, playing the bass line with her fingers and the melody with her thumb, as opposed to the other way around. In this second clip, the instructor provides four versions of the song, starting with the simplest. This is one of the most popular songs for the beginning fingerstylist. Eventually, the student gets to jazz things up a bit. The prospect of making a tune into one's own is possible even for the novice player.

Of course, we save the best for last. In the third clip, the instructor shows you some Chet Atkins-style moves. Notice the use of barre chords for the G, C, and E7 respectively. Pay special attention to the F chord with the walking bass. In our next installment of Guitar Workshop, we'll explore the style of "Mister Guitar" a bit further. Meanwhile, for more on the life and legacy of Elizabeth Cotten, there is this piece by L L Demerle entitled "Remembering Elizabeth Cotten" (including a brief mention of how credit of the song actually did make its way back to her).