26 December 2013

Merry Christmas, I'm back sort of, and a few other things

Merry Christmas to all. We survived the ice storm intact and had a very merry one indeed.

Now here's a few quick hits of things I didn't blog about while I was taking a break.

Rob Ford. Again: didn't vote for him the first time, wouldn't vote for him the next time. Having said that, I was disturbed, again, by people wanting to run around the law to get his head. Around the beginning of Advent newspapers around here reported that police had been having an investigation into drug dealers and such and they believe Rob Ford had been mentioned in wiretaps. The newspapers ran a few quotes from the taps which ran along the lines of: 'He (police believe they are referring to Rob Ford) offered us five thousand and a car, but I want a hundred.' Other news outlets picked up the story but dropped the "police believe they are referring to Rob Ford" and reported the news as though it were an established fact that the people in the wiretaps were referring to Ford. Demands then followed that he be arrested, along with people wondering why he isn't already behind bars when the police have such 'evidence' on him. It was disturbing me to once again defend Ford and explain some things. I for one am glad I live in a place where there is still some rule of law-glad, where the cops can't just say: there's a couple of disreputable people talking about a third one, they don't mention him by name, but we're sure it's him, so give us a warrant. The other issue people had with Ford is that they believe he may be getting special treatment from the cops because he is mayor or wealthy. There may be something to that, but I don't find it as sinister as others. The reason why cops may give him special treatment isn't merely because he's rich, it's because as a rich man he can hire the finest criminal minds in the country- sorry, I mean lawyers- to defend him, and any hole in their case will be shredded. I can't blame them for that, but I would like to see everyone get the same consideration, and rather than heraing cries to drag Ford down to the lower levels of justice, I would prefer there more cries to raise everyone else up.


Evangelium Gaudium- yes, the economics suck. But is it Marxist? We have a problem with people thinking solely in terms of left and right. Right thinks anything slightly to the left of them is communism, left thinks anything to the right of them is unrestrained capitalism. But the Church is neither left nor right. Because these are the only categories we have today we have a blind spot in seeing what the Pope is trying to get at. It seems to me his economic model is that of a monastery, which is neither capitalist (although many monasteries became very wealthy in their time through hard work and a sound business model aka The Rule of St Benedict) nor communist(even though everyone lives and works together, owns nothing and gets what they need from the corporate whole.) Would that model work in society as a whole? Probably not, but compared to some other nutty ideas I've heard, this one is saner than most. So while I can't say I advocate the idea whole heartedly, I also can't say I'm shocked or dismayed that a Pope would think we would be better off living according to the Rule of St Benedict.

Incidentally, commentators on the Pope. Many of the traditionalists hate- and I believe that is the word- this Pope. One I read went to fair lengths to explain that they don't like what this Pope is doing because they respect the office of the Pope and believe the Pope is important and that his authority is important. It is because of that respect that they ignores this Pope, deplores what he is doing with his authority and refuses to listen to him. Out of respect for the office, you see, but not, and never, for that matter, the man sitting in it. It seems the only Pope they would like is one who either A. Does nothing with their respected authority; or B. asks the blogger for advice before making any decisions.

Also, there were the Pope's comments on traditionalists in the exhortation. I think that was, for lack of a better term, unfortunate. I believe he was speaking about the SSPX and other groups. Heck, even some of the traditionalists I know who have not gone out and formed their own separate club, like the one I paraphrased above, fall into the categories he mentions. So yes, I can see his point and even agree with what he said. But the problem is that there are bishops out there who can take the Pope's words and use them to try and shut down all traditionalists. And that would be wrong.


Mark Shea, this post. It brings back memories of High School. Public education's goal is to crank out a bunch of average people. If you are out of the average, either above, or below, or sideways from it, it doesn't have much for you. The teachers themselves reflected this. In my time, I had three really good and three bad teachers. The rest were varying degrees of meh. in general, the teachers I know do not impress me. When I taught Shakespeare at university I taught people who were to become teachers. They were, without exception, my worst students.


The advent recital was mixed bag of results. We had around 120 to 150 people, so the turnout was disappointing. The music was very good and the worst thing there, really, was me. The soloists, apart from me, were excellent, and the choirs were also very good. Father had a short address, where he spoke off the cuff. I would have preferred him to have had some prepared remarks, or even that he use the Anglican introduction to Lessons and Carols, as that was sort of what we were doing. I would suggest that to him, except it is not and never shall be my place to put words into Father's mouth, as much as there are times I would like to. After the recital, Father noted to my wife and I that the only people there were the parents of the children's choir, with a small number of parishioners. Furthermore, somehow, no one took up any collection, so the amount of money we raised was zero. I thought this would be the first and last recital we would give when my music director contacted me to tell me that while father was disappointed with the turn out, he was very pleased with the quality of the music and wants to do some more, perhaps one for Lent. Maybe next time we'll get a few more bums in the pews. Maybe this time we'll be able to organize a collection.


Phil Robertson. That was no interview, it was a hit piece. While he may have said the words, those words were then cherry picked, rearranged and put into a context that would maximise the negative impact. Take his comments on race. They were put into a gray sidebar, separate from the interview as a whole and therefore removed from any context except the words placed at the top of the box which stated that Phil remembers what it was like to grow up in Jim Crow South.

I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues

Mark Shea had a fairly typical reaction to these words:

MmmmmHm. You can almost hear the banjos and the singing happy black folks, thanking God for Massah’s kindness. If only them carpetbaggers and Jews hadn’t come down from the North with their newfangled ideas about civil rights and gotten them full of uppity ideas about entitlements. Everybody was Butterfly McQueen, Hattie McDaniels, Mr. Bojangles, Stepin Fetchit and Amos and Andy in those days

Is this fair? To be honest, that is not far off from my original reaction to these words, but now I'm not quite sure. There are some issues here that, I believe, skew this quotation, and I don't think it's an accident. What I wish to draw to your attention is, first and foremost, what is missing: any mention of Jim Crow. That is what the interviewer puts in, not Mr. Robertson. Secondly, the questions are missing. We do not know what it is Mr. Robertson is responding to. We can see that, whatever the question was, he felt so strongly about it he felt he had to negate it with emphasis: "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once." Answers are, to a large degree, determined by the question being asked. Mr Robertson was here asked one that raised strong emotions, but we have no idea what it was. Thirdly, the ellipses, those "..." that appear not once but twice in this one quotation. They are a signal that something has been removed. We see tham all the time in movie ads, where they quote some reviewer who didn't quite say what the movie people wanted them to say, so they break off a few pieces and turn it into the words they want. The first ellipsis cements the picture of blacks singing as they go to work across the fields, like a Hollywood fantasy of bygone years. But there was something between "We're going across the field" and "They're singing and happy." What was it? Did he say something, or was there a question from the interviewer that has been removed? One way or the other, that picture which we now deem to be racist, the one that Mark Shea reacts to so strongly, is at this point the creation of the interviewer. The second ellipsis seems to have been a removed question from the interviewer, for Mr Robertson says after the ellipsis: "Pre entitlement, pre welfare, you say: Were they happy?" Mr Robertson gives the answer, but, note here, not in the terms that seem to have been part of that missing question. He rejects those categories: "They were godly; they were happy."

The context into which these words were placed is a context that strives to say clearly that Mr. Robertson is a redneck hillbilly racist. The words could just as easily have been placed into another context. We could remember that Phil considers himself a preacher and believes that it is his job to spread the Word. With that in mind, instead of Phil Robertson Remembers Life in the Jim Crow South, imagine the caption had read "Phil Robertson remembers that, even in the worst of times, he who has the Lord Has Enough." The words he spoke fit both contexts, and, frankly, having read about this and having followed the show a bit, I believe the second is more accurate than the first. But whoever wrote this piece thought otherwise: A godly Phil Robertson did not suit his purposes, but a racist homophobic one did.


Lastly, will I continue blogging? I don't know. I gave it up for Advent in part to see if I would miss it. The answer to that was yes and no. This has been, in many ways, an isolating experience. I, like many others, have been told that if you write what is important to you, write what you care about, your audience will find you. Others who care about such things will find you. This has not happened, either because the saying is false, or because I have no audience, and I am alone. I have made this blog rambly, unfocused and random, much like myself. It is good in some ways to hammer out my ideas and see them in front of me, on a page or a screen, but, in the end, I am merely talking to myself.


Patience said...

I like reading your blog because you blog about Catholicism and other things but do so in a fairly moderate fashion. I also like reading about your family and comments from your wife (who is also a good blogger) Does it matter if the readership is small? Sometimes you could think of it as a place to vent or reflect and if you get readers then that's a bonus. I link my live journal (which I post in somewhat infrequently); to Facebook. I guess also if you're on other people's blog roll; that's another source of readers.
Glad you survived the ice storm; we didn't even lose power in Long Branch but I was kept busy anyway dealing with older dd who had her wisdom teeth out during Christmas break!

Bear said...

My first reaction to your comment was: "You live in Long Branch? I grew up in Lakeview!" Except few people today realize the land to the east of Port Credit was originally called Lakeview, and fewer know it now that the generating plant is gone.

I think what you like about this blog may be one of the primary reasons why I get so few hits: not many people out there want to read the words of a moderate. They would rather read the words of some immoderates, someone who can give voice and a focus to their rage and disontent. So it is that rage, rashness, stupidity and thoughtlessness are rewarded much more than calm, consideration, thoughtfulness, moderation and temperence. So it has always been. So shall it always be.

Does it matter if the readership is small? I have often thought no, it does not matter. But by the same time, I cannot pretend that it is not disheartening to write twenty straight posts and not get a single comment, or to spend weeks and months of research to write a series of posts that was viewed- I cannot even say read- in the end by about thirty people, or that my average post over the last year was read by an average of less than twenty people. Or, perhaps most bitter of all, when I post a request for prayers for one of the few people I called a friend was dying, and then post that he has died, and there was not a single response. Not one. These are all things that make me wonder why I ever started doing this in the first place, and why I do it still.

Is my small readership worth it? You tell me.