Friday, January 22, 2010

Keep Reading it Online, Please

. . . they'll go out of business.

Those were my Criminal Procedure professor's words about The New York Times. Sadly, the Times has finally realized that the internet has been beating it over the head with a hammer for a decade now and is shutting down free online access at the end of the year. So much for that route.

As fond as I am of print newspapers and print publications in general, I am sometimes surprised at how much I dislike the Times. That is, until I read pieces like this. They don't call it "Hell's Bible" for nothing.

The idea that this man writes a column under the heading "Culture" is simply risible. Granted, a lot of sex in movies is gratuitous and uncalled for regardless of who the actors or characters are. But to suggest that an otherwise worthwhile onscreen romance (not necessarily involving sex, since it was about the only thing not shown in some scene of Cleopatra) is depreciated because it involves or depicts marital acts is simply silly. Of course, a fellow of this sort is already living in his own world to a certain degree: I could have gone my whole life and not told you to whom Jennifer Connelly is married.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Interesting observation from Prof. Smith re: police cameras. They upset the balance of the criminal justice system by removing scarcity from the prosecution of traffic violations. Ordinarily the system is predicated on discretion on the part of the police based on scarce enforcement resources. Interesting.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier

The title is, of course, Bismark's famous dismissal of the Balkans. I have recently begun re-reading Robert Massie's seminal work Dreadnought. In the early chapters he runs through the important diplomatic events of the Victorian era by way of introducing the playing field on which Germans and British struggled for naval supremacy in the pre-Great War years. If you know the history of late-nineteenth-century Europe, you can skip the next three paragraphs.

A great deal of diplomatic and military fuss during these years, of course, focused on the Balkans. The story goes, more or less, as such: the Turks owned them, the Russians wanted them, the Austrians meddled with them, nobody got them. The Russians were motivated to interfere in the Balkans by twin concerns: pan-Slavism and opposition to the Turks. The Russians tried for centuries to exert enough pressure on the Turks so that the Porte would not be able to close the Bosporus and Dardanelles to Russia's Black Sea Fleet (the Baltic anchorages froze in the winter, and besides, battleships at Helsinki are not much use in protecting or menacing near east shipping).

Austria, on the other hand, had spent even more centuries wresting back north Balkan territory that the Turks had overrun in the 15th through early 17th centuries. The Balkans were her backyard, in which the Sick Man was enough of a trouble: other Great Powers surely couldn't be allowed to run free in it. Britain didn't particularly care whether the Balkans existed or not. She simply desperately wanted the straights closed to the Russian fleet, which could cut vital supply lines across the Mediterranean if loosed. The Prussians only cared about maintaining all the European spheres more or less in their present orbits, which happened to favor Germany.

So when in 1877 the Russians crushed the Ottomans in a war and extracted an independent (Russian-dominated) Bulgaria that filled most of the southern Balkans in the peace, the other powers were concerned. Ultimately Bismark hornswaggled the czar into renegotiating the peace at a Berlin conference that doled out diplomatic candy to other powers and forced Russia to surrender many of her gains. Nothing much changed from the European status quo antebellum except that now the Russians disliked Germany, of which they had been somewhat fond before. Eventually Wilhelm II sacks Bismark, the old diplomatic system falls apart, Russia and Austria dissolve, and millions of people die. Twice.

But suppose Bismark plays his cards differently. The British were incensed at the treaty, but were just beginning to reassert diplomatic influence in continental Europe and could have been fended off by diverse means. He could have let Russia keep most---perhaps not all---of the Big Bulgaria (it was a quite large state). He should have arranged a few guaranties for Turkey, so the Ottoman empire didn't implode (a constant fear and danger of the other powers). This effectively would have given Austria the short end of the stick.

The Austrians, however, never gained anything positive out of the Balkan influence they got from the Congress of Berlin: it was troublesome, expensive, and ultimately regicidal because, mirabili dictu, the Slavs didn't like being pushed around by Hapsburgs.. The principal problem that would face the Austro-Hungarian empire was not lack of diplomatic influence, it was internal tension between ethnic groups who could no longer be held together by the imperial crown. The Russians likely would have gained little in terms of actual power from increased Balkan influence. They would have had to oversee the internal squabbling there, and it would have done little to remedy the shortcomings in manufacturing and leadership that stymied the empire until its collapse. Even if the czar had been able to open the straights to steam for Suez, the Mediterranean Squadron could have blasted the Russians to the bottom of the Sea of Marmara as they attempted to force the Dardanelles (cf, Tsushima). Maybe the Russians should have been made to promise not to base warships in Bulgarian ports.

In the end, the European system was undone by Russian and Austrian perceptions of their own internal and diplomatic weakness (and Wilhem II's being a warmongering fool when he needed to be cool-headed). If Russia had been allowed to keep these victories, there would have been no lingering perception that she was being weakened by falling down on her obligations to fellow Slavs. If Austria had been kept out of new Balkan adventures, she could have been encouraged to focus on internal administrative improvements, perhaps the adoption of some form of federal system that would have both put minority nationalists more at ease and simultaneously allowed better functioning of government bodies. Her ties with Germany would provide her with diplomatic support and her absence from volatile meddling in the Balkans would remove sources of tension. As for Italy, well, nobody really cared what Italy thought: all Italy really wanted was Trieste, and she wasn't ever powerful enough to get that.

I think there's at least an interesting argument to be made, then, that if the Congress of Berlin had ended more favorably to Russia, the turmoil that led to the Great War might not have occurred, and old Andrew Cusack wouldn't have to be so sadly nostalgic.

Request from Fr. Z for old Mass/new Mass thoughts

Fr. Zuhlsdorf has posted a call for submissions of short pieces from young Catholics on the new and old Mass. I sent in a bit that hasn't yet been posted in the comboxes (although a good number have):

Age: 25, married w/o children; raised in an orthodox N.O. family, attended 1st TLM two years ago when offered on law school campus following S.P.; attended TLM most of the time since

What drove me to go to my first TLM, and then to return despite the confusion of the new experience, was the sense that there was something important there (beyond the Obvious Thing present at any Mass): that there was value in praying the way that saints, popes, and my ancestors had all prayed. I read my law school assignments and saw how twentieth-century jurists had thrown centuries of logical, accepted legal doctrines out the window on the basis of emotion, poor reasoning, and chronological snobbery; the result is a sickening mess. I haven’t been able to resist seeing the same forces in the jettisoning of the old rites. Maybe that makes me a grumpy reactionary. But I have “positive” motivations as well: I enjoy having the entire ordo in front of me; I enjoy the untruncated invocations, the scripture interwoven in the rites, the knowledge that I’m not going to be distracted by father’s use of New, Improved, Unapproved Mass RubricsTM, and—frankly—I enjoy Latin. But I also recognize that these things, these ancient rites, would be invaluable even if I didn’t enjoy them, because they are what we as Catholics do, or at least what we have always done. I simply don’t see any way in which it is possible for us to make reasoned decisions about what we as Catholics ought to be doing in our homes, in church, or with our families if we act as if history began in 1970.

I might also add a follow up to the last line, which I omitted from what I sent Fr. Z because of length concerns. I believe my parents did a finer job than most of raising my siblings and I to be decent folks and loyal Catholics. We all have a decent amount of what John Sonnen periodically calls "team pride." But my father, who is primarily responsible for that sort of thing, had advantages in that task that many of his contemporaries, and indeed I would say almost all of my contemporaries, do not. He pulled from a substantial reservoir of pre-concilar piety, discipline, and memory in raising us in the Church. Outside this campus, you might have to travel several states to find another person my age who was taught double-genuflection by his parents and remembers it. If there is one thing in his life my father holds a grudge about, it's the sister who told him he wasn't allowed to kneel after Holy Communion any more in grade school. He once explicated in very clear terms why the abolition of the Index was a terrible idea. And my father isn't what anyone would call a traditionalist: he doesn't regard it as his place to have any sort of opinion or input about the Church's liturgy, aesthetics, or positive law, and he likes his prayers in English.

But the memories of the things he was taught, the things most people were taught a generation ago, allowed him to pass on a rather sizable chunk of Catholic culture and practice that is in many ways simply vestigial in a a purely N.O. world. Catholics of my age, without the same memories, have to find some way to access that same reservoir of knowledge if we are to have any hope of preserving any part of our cultural patrimony. Most of that knowledge will be found in the Missa Antiqua.

Were there things that needed reforming? Of course. The Church has needed reform in every age, because the perfect nature granted Her by Her Founder can only be preserved imperfectly by Her earthly stewards. New saints would be nice. I like the cycles for ordinary time (but their use for important feasts is destabilizing, I feel: the pattern of the liturgical year's accentuated points should be memorable and universal, not shifting). It probably would have been appropriate to shift the readings to the ambo. And this is just me, but I would really enjoy it if the itte, missa est came after the last gospel. If the priest says "it's over," it should actually be over. But ye gods and little fishies, the N.O. is a horse of a different color.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Today we continued our intermittent tour of South Bend parishes with a trip to Our Lady of Hungary. A mid-twentieth century structure housing a conveniently timed Mass, I thought it could be counted on to have some interesting art-deco and probably a few impressive examples of the melded Old and New World artistic piety that are seen in other Midwest churches built by a particular immigrant group. And the priest couldn't possibly be worse than Fr. Pelagian Orangevestments at St. Adalbert.

It was like the Battle of Mohacs. Vomitous murals, blaspheming Our Lady, the Sacred Heart, and various saints and angels by their sheer repulsiveness, covered the entire (liturgical) eastern wall of the church. One panel alone stood out as bearable by comparison, but it could only be described charitably as "odd." Then there was the cantor. She sang every verse of "Lord of the Dance" and that infernal river song from The Searchers. Twice. I have no memory of what the poor missionary priest from Nigeria or wherever said during his homily, only the memory of wanting so desperately to climb to the choir loft, grasp hold of the caterwauling ninny, and explain to her that she was the reason there were never more than fourteen people in the church at once.