Sunday, May 29, 2005

Light seeks light!

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Benedict Pledges to Mend Orthodox Rift
(Netscape News with CNN, by Nicole Winfield, 05/29/05 08:24)

Benedict made the pledge in a city closely tied to the Orthodox church. Bari, on Italy's Adriatic coast, is considered a ``bridge'' between East and West and is home to the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra, a 4th-Century saint who is one of the most popular in both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. ...

-- St. Nicholas of Myra

Words aren't enough, he said, adding that ``concrete gestures'' were needed even from ordinary Catholics to reach out toward the Orthodox.

``I also ask all of you to decisively take the path of spiritual ecumenism, which in prayer will open the door to the Holy Spirit who alone can create unity,'' he said.

Benedict has said previously that reaching out to the Orthodox and other Christians would be a priority of his papacy, and his call to ordinary Catholics to take the charge as well built on that agenda. ...

In his greetings at the start of the Mass, Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari referred to the city's Orthodox ties, saying the arrival of St. Nicholas' bones in 1057 ``built a bridge between the East and West that neither time nor divisions have ever demolished.''

This charge is, of course, but the continuation of Pope John Paul II's own commitment to ecumenism. As he said in Orientale Lumen [1]:

Since, in fact, we believe that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ's Church, the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it and to encourage the process of unity in the best way possible for each.

Our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters are very conscious of being the living bearers of this tradition, together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must also be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church's catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world, expressed not by a single tradition, and still less by one community in opposition to the other; and that we too may be granted a full taste of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church which is preserved and grows in the life of the Churches of the East as in those of the West.

As I mentioned earlier, this apostolic letter was very encouraging and inspiring for me. I hope soon to share with you my experience today about fulfilling this eminently Catholic duty in my own small way. Can you say, "Orthodox field trip!"?

Dear Saints Cyril and Methodius, pray for us to the Lord, that we all may be brothers in the faith, East and West, just as you were!

"No, no, officer, it's really quite simple...

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one pusher on that apartment complex roof fired an empty liquor bottle through my window, while a second pusher on that verdant bluff just behind us fired a bag of drugs through my passenger window, which then bounced off my forehead, rolled over my shoulder and landed in my blazer pocket just as you found it."

Oliver Stone arrested on drink and drug charges
(DeHavilland, Entertainment News, 29/05/2005)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

More from Elliam

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"Faith means wanting God to do what He wants; holiness means wanting to do what God wants; love means doing what God does."

Monday, May 23, 2005

Awaaaaaay we go!

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Check out the brand new web page I made for my parish!

(True, the domain name -- -- hasn't yet been processed onto the Web, but this proxy page is good enough for the next day or two.)

Deep thoughts

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by Elliam Fakespeare (and friends)

+ George Lucas digitally cloned all those wookies in Episode III because more than six on the set would have sunk the budget on catering.

+ If the Hamburgler were shot while fleeing, it really would be ketchup blood on the wall. How economical.

+ Would a transsexual bully tease a transsexual sissy by saying it menstruates like a girl?

+ My uncle once told me if you play Bob Dylan backwards, it sounds like Bob Dylan.

+ You should set your watch ahead five minutes so you're not late for your funeral.

+ What does an illiterate mind reader see?

+ It's time for the world to play man-to-man time.

+ What's the opposite of "I know"?

+ If the best offense is a good defense, then a good surrender is a decent defense.

+ What's inside an empty bag?

+ My uncle, a cutting-edge Calvinist, was a sculptor at the School of Hard Knox.

+ Officer, there is, technically speaking, no such thing as a breakable speed limit.

+ If two heads are better than one, then four must be awfully heavy.

+ How do you best learn say the alphabet backwards? Turn around.

+ If what goes up must come down, why should I worry about my blood pressure?

+ These days, Who is benched for Who Cares and What is traded out for Whatever.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Read John Paul II's Orientale Lumen yesterday

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And it was stupendous.

_OL_ was a riveting, endearing look at the riches of the East by one of the greatest lights of the West. I approached the encyclical looking for nitty-gritty, brass-tack, practical dogmatic and ecclesiological insights. But, instead, I got a stirring expose of the heart of monasticism, the heart of Christianity, and, without doubt, the heart of our dear John Paul II.

Treat yourself, read it.

Nearly missed another week, I must confess

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I had my first confession today! And that means I could receive the Eucharist again after three weeks of unresolved penance!

But this morning it was a close call.

I only learned last week where and when confession is at my church -- "Oh, just approach Father before the Mass." Well, that sounds easy.

But then this morning, my Mass buddy, Chandler didn't wake up until almost 10:40. By the time he got up and met me at the usual rendezvous, it was almost 11 AM. I was irritated, but far more crushed. I was so sad at the thought of missing confession for another week that I didn't even have the psychic energy to work myself into a good forth of indignation.

At the church after 11 AM, I was desperate. Ignoring how I would delay the start of Mass, I grabbed Father John by the shoulder and asked him, "Can I make confession this morning, please?"

"Oh sure, go upstairs."

For me, just for me? Joy of joys!

I knelt at in the confessional for a few moments before Father arrived. He entered, donned his vestments (red for the fire of the Holy Spirit on this, Pentecost Sunday), and then sat in front of me with his face averted down and away. He started the liturgy of confession and then I explained, in as much detail as I felt necessary or intelligible, my sins. Then he counseled me. It was, I tell you, as the voice of God. I think, at some point I missed, Father John left and Jesus took his place in that chair. Then, a few moments later, Father and Jesus were sitting in the same chair, saying the say things. He, they, assigned me some penance, which -- having just completed it -- was *exactly* what I needed.

I stood and left the room literally a lighter, freer, happier man. I was so full of thanks. Cleansed of my sins before Mass and filled with God's own life during Mass! To meet Jesus first as my merciful judge and then to meet Him as my broken but glorified bread of life! Today was one of the dearest Masses, and one of the greatest Churhc services in general, that I've experienced. The Holy Spirit fell in a torrent of burning love and my sins fell away like charred vermin.

I mentioned my penance. I did my share tonight; you, for your part, have a look at Matthew 2 sometime. To follow the star of the Christ child out of our homeland, old Adam’s ghetto of Eden, means returning home, to our new home, the palace of new Adam, by a different path. Leaving the kingdom of darkness for the bright morning star Himself means returning to life -- now, new life, in Him -- by a different path, the path of repentance, holiness and love. Purity is not an ideal; it is not even a merely attainable reality; it is human destiny. Sin is a rejection not only of God but of our own true selves. After all, God is the very being and light by which and in which we become our true selves.

This morning, I must confess, I became a bit more myself.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Hooray for virtue!

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Those of you that don't know me, don't really know me. What with all this fides and cogitatio being tempered by and realized week by week in actio, I might just seem like I'm a real Christian hero. Strong of faith, strong of mind, yea, strong of will.

Well, blogs can be deceiving and many things are poorly titled. Truth is, I'm basically a moral coward. My convictions are strong and clear, make no mistake, but when it comes to me "getting in someone's face" about them, I wilt. Not always. But I'm sad to say generally I've a wilting, lilting will. How often do I actually object when someone tells an offensive joke? How often to I take issue with a basic moral or theological falsehood being spewed at the dinner table? How often does my will, illumined by faith and braced by reason, actually intervene to change -- to redeem and sanctify -- the world around me? Scandalously infrequent.

But there is hope.

Tonight at the gym, they played the usual barrage of heavy rap and techno. I'm all about fat beats and catchy refrains. I'm all about hip hop too (preferably old school, though). But I'm not all about musical porn. "Gimme dat ---!" And. So. Forth. The rub for me is that when the Taiwanese at my gym, who make up easily +90% of the membership population, hear ho-thug porn rap, they actually just hear fat beats and fast English. But I hear every nauseating phrase. I finally put my foot down after finishing a set of pull-ups punctuated by the fork word and its brain-numbing ilk[1]. I hurried down the escalators to the front desk and explained how I, we foreigners in fact, don’t really like to hear “this kind of music.” I then provided a few of the choicer words to show what I mean. They understood my problem as an English speaker and quickly changed the song.

Thumbs up: I actually willed my convictions into being – and charitably!

Thumbs down: I couched my complaint in the anonymity of “we foreigners”, thus deflecting some of my prudishness onto others.

It is true I have spoken with other foreigners, and it is true they have agreed the music can be too much sometimes. But does that matter? It may strengthen my case in a legal sense, but, from a moral standpoint, the case stands on the testimony of one: my conscience informed by faith. I could, and perhaps should, have insisted the music be changed for my sake alone. I didn’t do that. Remember? I’m a coward.

But there is hope.

[1] To be clear, while the primary reason I struggle to have a clean mouth is because the Scriptures flatly command it (cf. ), there two other reasons perhaps more accessible for the non-Christian. First, cussing makes you dumb. Or, if it doesn't positively make you dumb, it allows you to idle in verbal and conversational neutral. Meanwhile, we can hope, the rest of the people around you are driving ahead, thinking more quietly of something intelligent to say without any effing crutches, or other mindless shite like that. Cussing is the verbal equivalent of slapping a person you disagree with, only the person cussing slaps is the idea trying to be expressed. Given the choice to say something is "absolutely delicious" or "damn effing good", I know my lazier side will always opt for the latter.

As for the counter-argument that, sometimes, in certain situations, with certain special people, let's be honest, you can only say exactly what you want to say with a nice, old, raw cuss word. Obviously there *is* another way to say what you want without cussing, otherwise we'd have no idea what you meant by cussing. If we know how to use cuss words properly, we must by definition properly know how to avoid using.

Presumably, though, cussing allows us to say things more therapeutically, or more authentically, by allowing us to get tings off our chest in a way normal speech doesn't. You can walk (and talk) fifty feet to the gate, or you can just jump the fence (in one throaty bark) -- which is more tempting? Cuss words are the words which the healthy primal scream is meant to crystallize into -- or vice versa. But imagine how strange it would be for someone just to *do* what cussing supposedly does for us: shouting, barking, roaring. "I am so -- rwarrrgh! -- upset with him! Does that -- nreeeengh! -- have any -- aghooooo! -- idea how hard I worked on this -- aaaaaghhh!" So much for gift of language.

Now, to be fair, this counter-claim does have a lot of visceral appeal to it. As much visceral draw as punching someone to quiet them. Something just feels right about spitting out some poetic vitriol; just like it sometimes just feels dealing out some bare-knuckled justice.

Instead of trying to articulate a calm, comprehensive reply to a dilemma, the cusser simply lurches into a knee-jerk response about "all this crazy shite." Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying cussing actually prevents you from saying things articulately or convincingly. I've heard some awe-inspiring, limpid, unambiguous litanies of filth in my time. But it always takes more effort on my part to take some seriously who can't even bother to complete a sentence without a flurry of cuss words patching their thought together, like scotch tape used to tie your shoes in a rush. Cussing is the Velcro of the verbal world; and no one ever taught children rhymes about velcroing their shoes; and certainly no one sees the elegance of a bow in the fluffy laziness of Velcro.

A second, more important reason I try to avoid cussing is because I understand the mouth and the soul live on a two-way street. If I habitually say “idiot” to my brother, he will, quite dynamically and quite quickly, become an idiot to me. If I and my neighbor greet each other every morning with a cheery (but not saccharine) salute, we will almost certainly feel a closer connection at the heart level. At home, as far as I have seen, we rarely talk to our family and friends just to get or give information. Rather, talking in and of itself, forms bonds. Or destroys them. Who of us doesn’t know how words – even a single word – can poison the heart? And who wouldn’t admit the obvious, that the heart spills out the mouth? Cussing allows me to auto-pilot on to rash, harsh reactions, and thus allows my heart to disengage or, worse, harden and sharpen. Cussing is, ultimately, the weaker way; it is inevitably the shallower, colder way too.

Saw Kingdom of Heaven last night

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Let's move on, shall we?

[In all fairness, read Steve Greydanus's review for a fuller, more balanced assessment. You can also have a look at Wikipedia's parsing of the film's historical claims.]

Friday, May 13, 2005

Hitting home

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I'm almost certain none of you have heard about the hiking casualties in Taiwan last night. Even if you had, I doubt it would mean anything more to you than a headline among headlines. But, as a Taiwan resident, this incident hits much closer to my home -- and this blog is your doorway into that home.

Heavy "plum rains" cause casualties [2005-05-13 / Taiwan News, Staff Reporter / By Shih Hsiu-chuan]

Torrential downpours brought by seasonal "plum rain" weather fronts yesterday caused at least four casualties and disrupted railways services in northern and central Taiwan.

Up to press time last night, rescuers were still searching for four people who were struck by a landslide in Nantou Country while mountain climbing in a group of 37 people from the SRAM Taiwan company, based in Taichung.

According to television reports, three of the climbers were buried under the landslide, while a fourth person was struck by a falling rock and fell off the mountain in Nantou County into a valley below. A fifth person was reportedly still trapped in the mountain by the landslide, but the other 32 members of the group had been rescued and moved to safe locations.

The Central Weather Bureau said that yesterday an estimated 200 millimeters of rain fell in some areas of Taiwan, such as Miaoli and Hsinchu counties, in a period of two to three hours, while other areas like Yangmingshan and Taipei County experienced rainfall of up to 100 millimeters.

SRAM is a biking and outdoor supply company. My friend Terri teaches English to the workers there and she and my roommate Josh often join them for their outings (road biking, mountain biking, hiking, etc.).

They were among the 37 hikers trapped in this incident.

In fact, Terri was one of the three that slid down the mountain to a muddy burial. Josh found his way down to them and unearthed them. Terri hurt her knee and head while Josh's hands were injured from all the climbing and digging he did. Two of Terri's students were buried to death a few feet away while Josh dug her out.

The SRAM team took off very early Friday morning for the hike, but I only heard about their trouble that evening. I headed to some friends' house and as we realized how perilous the situation was -- "Ha, they’re stuck in the rain! ... Oh, wait, three people slid down the mountain...?" -- we prayed *like mad*. In a mudslide, and even in ringside seats to it, like I had, there are no illusions. At all times, we are in no other hands than God's but when the thunder claps and the earth crumbles beneath us and our strength deserts us, all we can do is offer ourselves to Him in that naked, intrusive, humbling truth.

I and my mission teammates had a distressingly (and yet also comfortingly) live feed through Vincent, a Taiwanese SRAM employee and a member of Banner Church, via Stephen and Linda, both Taiwanese staff workers at Banner. Vincent was stuck on the trail but managed to send out cell phone updates every hour or so. I don't know either of the dead or missing person, but I pray God has mercy on their souls as well. The good news is Josh and Terri have made it back to Taichung and have been discharged from the hospital. Lost gear, head stitches, scars, bruises, aches, nightmares, deep sighs, dry throats, tears.

Pray, with us, for us.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Awww, how adorable!

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FCA's inching toward it's one year birthday!

By the way, from time to time, and usually more from time than to time, I get comments (via email or Haloscan) that people really do enjoy FCA. Alas, as awkward as it may be for me, the blogmaster, to admit this, I find this hard to believe. My incredulity is more of a reflex of my writer's insecurity than a real denial this could be true. To imagine my sporadic, scattershot reportage and my theological navel-gazing could actually amuse or edify someone -- incredible!

I'm hardly tugging for sympathy or cheer-me-up comments here, I'm just voicing my genuine perplexity: do you or does anyone you know actually enjoy FCA? And if so, have you or anyone you know sought proper help? (In the interest of keeping messy gushing and well-tempered flattery out of the public eye, you could just as favorably email me -- at fidescogitactio at gmail dot com -- if you have something to say.)

Quite a lot of the time I write for my own personal sake (i.e., to hone my writing skills, to keep in touch (sort of) with family and friends, to document various thoughts for later consideration, etc.). Nevertheless, knowing readers benefit from my quixotic fides, cogitactio and actio would help me as I process various decisions and priorities.

Okay, back to snoozing.

My Jedi nerve endings are tingling, but not with surprise

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'Star Wars' dark side too dark for kids? [Marin Independent Journal - Marin, Thursday, May 05, 2005 - 5:04:26 AM PST]

George Lucas' new "Star Wars" movie has its share of critics - and they're not just movie reviewers.

Some parents are balking at scenes that are too violent.

"We're getting a lot of flak from parents, a lot of people saying how can you do this? My children love these movies. Why can you not let them go see it?" the Marin County film mogul said. "But I have to tell a story. I'm not making these, oddly enough, to be giant, successful blockbusters. I'm making them because I'm telling a story, and I have to tell the story I intended."

Lucas's narrative integrity aside, there is the story and then there is the telling of the story. There is the orator and there is the audience. There is the overall strategy and there is the set of concrete tactics. There is the ultimate goal and there is the accommodation to various hurdles along the way. There is Crime and Punishment and then there is the Kids' Reader Edition of it.

Thus, there is the story of Star Wars Episode 1 and then there is the camel-thing ripping a huge fart during the pod racer sequence. In Episode 1 there was also the fact that Anakin was a little boy, thus helping young children identify with him. (And, where there are eager children there are sure to be compliant parents' hustling lockstep to buy tickets at the nearest theater!) And, finally, regrettably, in Episode 1 let's not forget the jittery heap of playful racism and freakish kiddie-eye-candy that was Jar Jar Binks.

In Episode 2 we see a lot of the clownish enchantment replaced by the angst-ridden, light-sabering, rebellion-fomenting, and, ahem, Padme-lusting of a now-adolescent Anakin. Interesting. As the audience ages, so too do the themes and the mise en scene. Interesting indeed.

And now, as the primal Episode 1 viewers have aged yet more, we see Episode 3 raising the stakes and keeping enough of the parental lockstep up to speed.

Got virtual sin?

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Get Virtual Confession!


"We need more of this in the scientific community...."

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Bow and curtsy to, ahem, Craig's Cranny

(Craig's my good buddy from my high school rowing glory days, so I can safely refer you to his online cranny. So much cozier than the crag he used to blog from. And forget about that crevice!)

Nazism's relative relativism

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Jonah Goldberg has some breif but interesting comments at the National Review about the place of relativism in Nazism and fascism generally.

Of course the notion that morality is contingent on context is central to Nazi philosophy. Johann Gottfried Herder, the intellectual father of Volkish nationalism (but a decent guy), argued that morality is geopgraphically [sic] and ethnically specific. ...

But relativism doesn't solely mean the individual defines his own truths. It also means that individuals and groups can disregard external notions of authority and universality -- moral or legal -- to further their own conceptions of good and evil. This is what Julien Benda was referring to in his Treason of The Clerks when he complained that for the first time in memory, philosophers had sided with Socrates' killers.

The Communists believed that killing inconvenient peoples for the good of the party was entirely justified.

The All-knowing Papal Critique-O-Matic!

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I haven't tried too many refreshes so far, but this is good fun... and unfortunately only a little more extreme than reality.

Google Print

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I wonder if this could become a sort of Wikipedia-style, Everyman's library. It'd be nifty to be able to store all my books (including my scribblings!) online. Of course, it'd be niftier to see all of Ralph Ellison's library online.

Bow and curtsy to Res Publica

Latinus resurrexit?

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Latin makes Vatican City comeback (BBC NEWS Europe -- 2005/04/22 21:33:34 GMT)

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

The latest from... das Neueste von...

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my other blog, "Mit dem Herz atmen" [Breathe with your heart], henceforth abbreviated MHA.

Mit dem Herz atmen? Wieso denn?

I may get around to translating this into English for FCA, just as I may get around to translating my latest post about "The Downfall" into German for MHA.

If it walks like duck, talks like a duck...

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and has human neural cells, it's still a duck.

My old roomie (props) sent me news of some human-animal neural splicing techniques on the rise. I have neither the time nor the acumen to say much about this "development", other than, first, it really is just a development. Any sense that it is a radical, ethical, genetic, totally innovative move is over-the-top. It's pretty much the next step in a long line of genetic splicing.[1]

The more immediate goal of this technology is for human organ harvesting, such as when a sheep can donate a human liver or a pig, a human heart.

A longer-term goal is, as stem cell scientist Irving Weissman says, to “provide unparalleled insight into how the human brain develops and how degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s progress.”

Second, I think it's hasty to say this is a Frankenstein project that threatens the very foundations of human identity. The MSNBC article says:

But the biological co-mingling of animal and human is now evolving into even more exotic and unsettling mixes of species, evoking the Greek myth of the monstrous chimera, which was part lion, part goat and part serpent.

In the past two years, scientists have created pigs with human blood, fused rabbit eggs with human DNA and injected human stem cells to make paralyzed mice walk.

Particularly worrisome to some scientists are the nightmare scenarios that could arise from the mixing of brain cells: What if a human mind somehow got trapped inside a sheep’s head?

Putting human brain cells in an animal is NOT equivalent to implanting a human mind. Human neural complexity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for true human consciousness. As I say, I make no claims to theological, medical or ethical expertise here, but this classical distinction -- between mind and brain -- seems pretty elementary. I am very interested in some competent Catholic, or generally Christian, discussion of this technology. Any leads?

Can you hear me now? Can you hear now?[2]

A third point I'll mention is that, if you're interested, a great fictional (well, apparently now semi-fictional!) look at this biomedical turned is Margaret Atwood's _Oryx and Crake_. Heck, I enjoyed the book so much I even blogged a review (and then essay) about it on this here blog some months ago. Have a gander... or a goose, or a humanzee or a liger, what do I care?

[1] Beck predicted this all in “Loser”: “A slab of turkey-neck and it’s hangin’ from a pigeon wing...” [props to Paul]

[2] [more props to Paul]

Monday, May 2, 2005

No greater love or no greater love?

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"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
-- John 15:13


Decisions, decisions.

So much for fair weather

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Why blog in German here when I can just blog in German? ;)

Yeah, we', dat's jus' ohwful

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Trap-laying, limb-ripping, prisoner-devouring ants!

In my pants!

Saw "The Downfall" last night

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And boy was it memorable. The war scenes were hardly as gruesome as the Gibson- or Spielberg-style bloodbath I was anticipating. But they didn't need to be. Violence, along with a silver streak of mercy (okay, also along with Tom Hanks), was the centerpiece of _Saving Private Ryan_. By contrast, the centerpiece of _The Downfall_ (_Der Untergang_) was sheer human perversity and the surrealistic death rattle of a fascist cult of personality. I wish I could say I didn*t find it boring at times, but, well, I did. (What can be done -- I*m an American?) Any boredom I felt, however, had nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the film. Quite the opposite. First of all, the acting was superb. I could almost smell Hitler as I watched Bruno Ganz portray him.

Second, my boredom was more a result of the fatigued melancholy the movie emits. Hitler's end was so banal and so vulgar that I actually lost, not so much cinematic or intellectual interest, as empathic or emotional stamina. I knew where Hitler was headed and I could barely stand to watch his lurch into the grave by way of multiple grave sins. The feel of the bunker was remarkably oppressive, and sometimes felt as stifling as a real wartime bunker. Outside Berlin was being bombed. Inside, Hitler was unraveling into a mound of hysterical Führer-dust. The bunker's obsession with suicide -- as well as its ultimate gruesome fulfillment -- gnawed at me like a hungry wolf. Hence, my boredom was more moral exhaustion and cinematic acedia than real disapproval of the movie.

_Der Untergang_ was the first film since 1955 to feature Hitler as a lead character. It was, perhaps needless to say, a controversial film in Europe. Critics claim it not only humanizes Hitler too charitably, but also that it ameliorates the badness that is and was National Socialism (e.g., by calling it a "downfall" instead of a "liberation" or a "victory"; by seeming to highlight and mourn the German protagonists as the film closed out). More importantly, the film saves any mention of the Jewish Holocaust for a few comments at the very end.

With all due respect, I find these critiques a bit desperate. First of all, the director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, does not lay all the blame on the Führer. Rather, he explicitly has the gargoyle Joseph Goebbels (played by the way-too-creepy-for-my-taste Ulrich Matthes) say the German people did not blindly follow the Führer this far, and, as such, their demise in the attack on Berlin is the fitting fruit of their devotion to the Führer. "Ich habe ja niemand gezwungen, mein Mitarbeiter zu sein, so, wie wir auch das deutsche Volk nicht gezwungen haben. Es hat uns ja selbst beauftragt. ... Jetzt wird Ihnen das Hälschen durchgeschnitten." ["I did not force anyone to work with me, just as we did not force the German people. They authorized us all on their own. ... Now their throats are being slashed.”]

As far as idolizing or softening Hitler goes, I agree with the following:

Befürworter des Projekts loben die Authentizität des Films, der viele historisch verbürgte Zitate enthält. Man könne den Aufstieg der Nationalsozialisten und die Faszination, die von Hitler ausging, erst dann richtig verstehen, wenn man sich mit dem Menschen Hitler beschäftige und ihn nicht als mythologisches Wesen (Teufel) oder Unmensch betrachte. Die Untaten Hitlers verlören ihre Schrecken nicht, würden im Gegenteil erst gerade dadurch als Menschenwerk erschreckend. Um zu verhindern, dass der Diktator als Identifikationsfigur erscheine, wurde die Erzählperspektive der Sekretärin Traudl Junge gewählt.

[Supporters of the project praise the authenticity of the film, insofar as it contains a number of real historical quotes. By occupying itself with the human person of Hitler, as opposed to treating him as a mythological being (devil) or a non-human, the viewer can for once properly understand the rise of National Socialism und the fascination that Hitler generated. Hitler's crimes would not lose their horrific nature but would, by contrast, be terrifying precisely in virtue of being the work of a human. In order to curb any impression that the dictator was a figure meant for identification, the film used perspective of his secretary, Traudl Junge.]

This film does not glorify Hitler. (Unless showing the tears of cracking and megalomaniacal dictator equate to fawning adoration.) If anything, the film trivializes Hitler as but one member in a long line of blustery rabble rousers that ultimately collapses into neurotic cowardice and ignominy. Hitler may have been a "historical figure," but that doesn't remove the fact that he drove himself and his own country to a pathetic and literally pitiful demise. The piteousness of "the downfall" as a moral reality is crucial for appreciating _Der Untergang_ as a film. If Hirschbiegel did "humanize" Hitler, he was only doing so for the best reasons. First, like it or not, Hitler was a human. Second, if Hitler is beyond or beneath pitying *as a human*, then he is also beyond or above reproaching as a grave sinner. Pity is as human a response as indignation. To demoralize Hitler as inhuman and unpitiable is to amoralize him -- and thus exonerate him. Hirschbiegel's controversial "allzu menschliche"[1] portrayal of Hitler is, in fact, a direct hit against revisionist moral relativism which might want to absolve Hitler on account of "historical situatedness."[2] This connection between humanness, pity and immorality is a key theme in the film, and I would be delighted to discover Hirschbiegel intentionally portrayed so closely together.

_Der Untergang_ is worth seeing if for nothing other than having seen an "important film." I intend to see it again this Tuesday. (Free German lesson!)

[1] This is an allusion to one of Nietzsche's tracts works, titled "Menschlich, allzu menschlich" ("Human, all too human"). Hitler's devotion to Nietzschean, and, lest we forget, Darwinian stoicism is elegantly depicted in this film. Never forget.

[2] The same goes for any defenses of the moral dangers of Darwinism. Merely insisting, as a reviewer does in the link just above (in note [1]), that Darwin never meant to say the "fittest" were in some way "better" ignores the fundamental problem. We can and should applaud Darwin insofar as he did not (well, not ultimately) want to use his findings in defense of racial elitism. Alas, once the applause dies down, the problem remains that by dissolving all essential differences in a tempestuous acid bath of random gradual differentiation, Darwin leaves us no ground for saying the extermination of one subset of the collective bio-system (let’s call them "Jews" for taxonomical ease, mh?) is immoral or anything more than reflexively unappetizing. One amoral action against an amoral cluster of beings by another amoral section of the amoral genetic matrix is not a crime -- it's evolution.

Thus, while trying to understand Hitler's concrete historical situation, and his own human motives, is good, it doesn't allow us to absolve him for his heinous crimes, particularly since the standards of his own situated moral climate would condemn him probably even more strongly than today. In the same way, "defending" Darwinism against the prima facie valid charge that it leads to biological savagery on the grounds that Darwinism actually undercuts the very basis for savage elitism (i.e., absolute levels, metaphysical essences, a chain of being, etc.), only brings us back to the more fundamental charge that Darwinism undercuts the very basis for moral strictures against any savagery.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Feed your soul

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St Mark Greek Orthodox parish in Boca Raton in Florida

A fair-weather resolution

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For the sake of my own amusement and edification, I have decided to begin posting bilingually, in English and in German, er, I mean, auf Englisch und auf Deutsch. It's good practice for me, and I'd like at least to attempt drawing in some German readers. (Plus, I know at least one Orthodox reader who enjoys German.)

Los geht's!