Posted by: Paul | 04/11/2010

Dissent: A Double Standard

A family member recently asked me if I’d seen Theda Skocpol’s contribution to a debate round-up on the New York Times’ Web site titled “Stupak’s Abortion Deal and His Exit.” Nope. Despite hitting the Times’ site on a daily basis, I had missed it. Turns out Skocpol, a Harvard University professor, was claiming that the Tea Party movement is made up of a bunch of yahoos who want only “to destroy the law and the Obama presidency.”

Many others on the Left take this the argument and spice it up with charges of racism. In short, the New Official Line from the Left. (Which, history shows, is really just the Old Official Line.)

Funny. I seem to recall a lot of folks on the Left who didn’t like hearing their patriotism questioned when they protested the policies of the Bush administration. At that time, dissent was courageous and high-minded. Now, however, to dissent when President Obama and a Democratic Congress are in power means that one is either stupid or evil. Take your pick. (Sorry, no “third way” here. We left the DLC back in the ’90s with President Clinton.)

The arguments of those who dare to, yes “question authority” aren’t answered with civility. The people who express them are called names, in a craven attempt to silence them. They are smeared with the charges of racism. Once again, the thermonuclear charge is trotted out. And why not? It usually works like a charm.

Read More…

Posted by: Paul | 04/08/2010

Less is More

Fans of the classic TV show “M*A*S*H” know you don’t hear the show’s infamous laugh track whenever there’s an operating-room scene. Something else you don’t get? A lot of blood and guts.

That struck me recently as I watched the second-season episode “Dear Dad Three.” Hawkeye and Col. Blake have to remove an unexploded grenade from a wounded soldier. We see their worried faces filled with intense concentration. We see their arms tensed as they work. But that’s about it. No zoom shots of the wound, no spurting blood, etc. — the kind of thing we now routinely get in CSI-type forensics shows.

And you know what? You really don’t miss it. The emotion of the scene is intact, and that’s what matters. Indeed, the fact that television standards at the time M*A*S*H aired didn’t allow graphic violence actually made it necessary for directors and producers to be more inventive and more creative at telling the story. Graphic violence doesn’t merely repel — it becomes a visual crutch, a lazy way of conveying information.

I’m not saying there aren’t times and places when screen violence benefits from being a bit more “in your face.” But to have to greatest impact, graphic violence shouldn’t be the norm. More often than not, less is more.

Posted by: Paul | 04/04/2010

Happy Easter

“Grace be to you, and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present wicked world, according to the will of God and our Father, to whom is glory forever and ever. Amen.” — Galatians 1:3-5

Posted by: Paul | 04/02/2010

Making Good Friday Good

Good Friday — a good day, indeed, to say the rosary.

I would also recommend a terrific book I discovered a year or so ago, “The Sadness of Christ” by St. Thomas More. Written while he awaited execution in the Tower of London, it’s filled with his saintly reflections on Christ’s Agony in the Garden. Even if you’re familiar with the story of our Lord’s suffering, More may surprise you with his tremendous depth of understanding.

One small example: More quotes the Gospel verse, “Across the stream Cedron to the outlying estate named Gethsemane.” He notes that in Hebrew “Cedron” means “sadness” and “Gethsemane” means “most fertile valley.” By no accident does the Gospel note these names, the good saint says. These names are there to remind us:

“We must … cross over the valley and stream of Cedron, a valley of tears and a stream of sadness whose waves can wash away the blackness and filth of our sins. But if we get so weary of pain and grief that we perversely attempt to change this world, this place of labor and penance, into a joyful haven of rest, if we seek heaven on earth, we cut ourselves off forever from true happiness and will drown ourselves in penance when it is too late to do any good and in unbearable, unending tribulations as well.”

If More can pull that from a couple of place names, imagine what he’s able to draw from the Agony itself. Better yet, don’t imagine — get the book for yourself.

St. Thomas More, pray for us.

Posted by: Paul | 03/31/2010

No Comment

Ever click to read an article online and see the scroll icon on the right-hand side get tinier and tinier? Then, just when you think you’d better dodge this 5,000-word opus, you realize — what a relief! — that it’s not so long, after all. It’s a short piece with tons of comments attached.

Ah, online comments. What a testament to vigorous debate! What a marvelous example of democracy’s “public square” in action!

What a monumental waste of bandwidth.

Yes, occasionally you’ll run across a pithy comment or a worthwhile observation. But it’s like panning for gold — a lot of work for (usually) little reward. You have to run through a pile of junk to get to the good stuff. Comments run the gamut from the banal to the obscene. Conversations quickly descend into foul-mouthed fights over the most trivial nonsense imaginable.

It doesn’t even have to involve a controversial topic. Someone will post a video, say, for some harmless pop song. It may even be a tune about peace and love, for that matter. Folks jump on to say how great and wonderful it is (the banal). Then someone makes a comment about the singer’s discography. Another person notices that he made a mistake. (Maybe he got the date something came out wrong.) Before long, they’re crabbing at each other, and it escalates from there. After all, if someone disagrees with you, he’s obviously [blank]ing [blank], right?

No wonder some people “disable” comments from certain articles and videos. The alternative is to referee a spit-ball match among emotional infants.

Best-case scenario: The comment section is basically an “amen” chorus — nicer, to be sure, but still a waste of time.

Maybe there are some sites where thoughtful comments and civility are the norm and not the exception. But I’ve yet to find them.

Save the space. Can the comments.

UPDATE: Apparently I’m not alone in this view. The New York Times has posted an article titled “News Sites Rethink Anonymous Online Comments.” As Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts notes, anonymity helps make comment streams “havens for a level of crudity, bigotry, meanness and plain nastiness that shocks the tattered remnants of our propriety.”

Amen. Makes me want to post a supportive comment.

Posted by: Paul | 03/28/2010

Battling the Big “Hurt”

Funny. I’m not hearing much criticism any more about “The Hurt Locker.” Maybe there’s something to the rumor that the anti-talk was largely a “whispering campaign” by one or more of its competitors for Best Picture.

We kept hearing about veterans who called it inaccurate. C’mon. We’re not talking about a documentary here. I enjoyed the film, but I knew full well that it was a dramatization that featured fictional characters. Think about your favorite sports film. It may be based on a real-life case, but I’ll bet you know full well they made certain changes necessary to make it work as a two-hour drama. That probably doesn’t make you enjoy it any less.

Taking liberties in a fact-based drama is nothing new. And I don’t just mean when it comes to the small details. Consider the apology scene in “Patton.” After the controverial soldier-slapping incident, the general stands up in front of his entire command to apologize. What actually happened is something quite different.

Accuracy aside, the one thing I never got was the charge about “The Hurt Locker” being anti-American. Glenn Beck, for example, called it an “anti‑U.S. troops movie.”

If anything, “The Hurt Locker” is a pro-U.S. troops movie. It takes an apolitical stance on the Iraq war. For a Hollywood production, that alone is amazing. The troops shown are very human, very likeable. You see them going to great lengths to keep innocent bystanders safe. And the film sheds light on the unbelievably hard work they do as they handle the incredibly dangerous job of defusing bombs. (Really puts our own problems in perspective.) No one who sees this can walk away without renewed respect for our troops.

Sure, the lead character is reckless. He’s a daredevil that probably would be reprimanded, not rewarded. And yes, certain details of military protocol weren’t observed. But primarily in ways that heightened the drama — not in ways designed to discredit our troops.

And ask yourself: If James “King of the World” Cameron had gotten the Oscar for “Avatar,” you think he would have said anything nice about the troops from the podium, as Kathryn Bigelow did?

Posted by: Paul | 03/26/2010

“A Mysterious Tree”

Only a week to go until Good Friday. As usual, I wish I had done more to mark the season of Lent.

I did, however, recently finish re-reading “The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ” by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. It’s quite a book. It certainly takes one a step beyond, “He suffered, died and was buried.” A step-by-step detailing of our Lord’s suffering, to be sure, it’s also a treasure trove of insights into what that suffering means and how we can grow spiritually by meditating upon it.

One passage in particular also strikes me — Emmerich’s account of our Lord’s descent into Hell. It concludes thus:

Our Lord, by descending into Hell, planted (if I may thus express myself), in the spiritual garden of the Church, a mysterious tree, the fruits of which — namely, his merits — are destined for the constant relief of the poor souls in Purgatory. The Church militant must cultivate the tree, and gather its fruits, in order to present them to that suffering portion of the Church which can do nothing for itself. Thus it is with all the merits of Christ; we must labour with him if we wish to obtain our share of them; we must gain our bread by the sweat of our brow. Everything which our Lord has done for us in time must produce fruit for eternity; but we must gather these fruits in time, without which we cannot possess them in eternity.

The Church is the most prudent and thoughtful of mothers; the ecclesiastical year is an immense and magnificent garden, in which all those fruits for eternity are gathered  together, that we may make use of them in  time. Each year contains sufficient to supply the wants of all; but woe be to that careless or dishonest gardener who allows any of the fruit committed to his care to perish; if he fails to turn to a proper account those graces which would restore health to the sick, strength to the weak, or furnish food to the hungry! When the Day of Judgment arrives, the Master of the garden will demand a strict account, not only of every tree, but also of all the fruit produced in the garden.

A sobering perspective, to say the least. But also greatly consoling.

Posted by: Paul | 03/25/2010

The Pivotal Moment

March 25 marks the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary — and it can be described, without exaggeration, as the pivotal moment in human history.

The first Eve said “no” to God’s will — and mankind’s enslavement to sin began, with all its attendant misery. Mary, the second Eve (preserved by God from the moment of her conception from Original Sin), said “yes,” making our salvation possible. History truly is cleaved in two at this point.

I love the fact that the Annunciation so often falls right in the middle of Lent. Amid so much concentration (and properly so) on our Lord’s sufferings on our behalf, the Annunciation offers a ray of hope. A respite. A reminder that better things await those who follow in our Lord’s footsteps.

Our Lady is the premier example in this regard. On the one hand, she is not overly credulous when Gabriel makes his announcement. “How can this be if I know not man?” she asks. But neither is she overly skeptical. Once she receives her answer, she answers simply with the words we’re all expected to use when God asks something of us, whether easy or hard: “Let it be done unto me, according to thy word.”

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Amen.

Posted by: Paul | 01/25/2010

A Change of View

Has Conan O’Brien fallen victim to a generational shift in viewing habits? That’s what a writer in The New York Times contends.

Strong support from younger fans helped boost the ratings for his final “Tonight Show” appearance. Ah, but where were they before now? According to the Times writer, “If even a small fraction of the additional younger viewers who flocked to Mr. O’Brien’s show last week had turned up regularly in his earlier ratings results, he would almost surely still be hosting ‘The Tonight Show.’”

Who’s the culprit? The usual suspects — distractions like video games and the fact that DVR playback is higher during the late-night hours. But the one that caught my eye was “the fact that Mr. O’Brien’s young fans did not really have to watch television to see him. His shows were made available later on Web sites like Hulu. And his best comedy bits would frequently be posted on other sites — and passed around by fans — shortly after they appeared.”

Exactly. As someone who wasted far too much time not only watching but TAPING hours of David Letterman’s monologues, comedy bits and stupid pet tricks, I can assure you: No way, if I were still interested in these shows, would I be staying up all hours to catch them. Everything’s right there on the Web the next day! Why bother to stay up? (Sorry, advertisers.)

To think: I could have gone through college well-rested. Well … okay, let’s not get carried away. There were, as we’ve mentioned, other distractions. But I could have spent less on No-Doz and coffee, right?

Posted by: Paul | 01/03/2010

Man (Still) at Work

No, the planned Jan. 1 renovation of my little blog didn’t occur. Unfortunately, I can’t chalk this one up to simple procrastination; on Dec. 28, my father, Joseph Gallagher, died.

To say he was a great man and a tremendous influence doesn’t even scratch the surface. He made an indelible impression on many lives — most of all on me and my brother — and he left us all with many heartfelt and joyous memories. I’ll have more to say about him after the funeral on Monday, but I wanted to take a moment to note his passing — and to thank God for bringing him into our lives.

“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of the all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.”

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