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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Runaway President

By now, almost everyone has sniggered at the Runaway Bride who sheepishly returned to her worried fiancé and family, claiming at first she had been kidnapped by a Hispanic man and a black woman (ooh! good one. Very Susan Smith).

But this story is nothing compared to the one of the Runaway President!

Yes, it seems Severo Moto, the self-styled President-in-exile of Equatorial Guinea, turned up in Madrid on Saturday, a full week after his worried-sick relatives had reported him missing.

Incredibly, he was already married and thus couldn't use that or Hispanics as excuses, because well, almost everyone in Spain is a Hispanic. Except in Asturias, obviously.

Mr. Moto (no relation to Motorola's Mr. Moto or John P. Marquand's character), held reporters spellbound as he recounted a tale of international intrigue, mayhem and skullduggery, which admittedly, is a hard thing to do in the post-Patti Hearst era.

Not only wasn't he asked to take on the nom de guerre of Tanya, but these would-be hitmen of his from Croatia spared his life, Mr. Moto said, because "they didn't want to kill a fellow Catholic".

Awww. See, giving up your Sundays for catechism has its own rewards.

For those unaware, of whose ranks I counted myself until recently, Equatorial Guinea is an oil-rich country, and an ex-colony of Spain.

Current Equatorial Guinea President, Teodoro Obiang, is the person who Mr. Moto is insinuating ordered the hit, but he also allowed the mantle of suspicion to fall on the Spanish Government's slender shoulders by claiming they wanted to be rid of him too, possibly to gain control of these oil reserves.

How? Your guess is as good as mine, and mine is pretty bad.

Let's just say I doubt Mr. Moto is long for Spanish residency, since ex-King Leka of Albania was kicked out of Spain for similar nefarious activities back in the day.

Of course, his activities included allegations of gun-running and amassing a standing army on foreign soil, and clearly Mr. Moto and his kindly Croatian kidnappers are on another level of skullduggery altogether.

I just hope before the public decide to heap scorn and attack this poor man for "selfishness" and wasting tax-payer money in putting up Kinko's flyers and all the lost canine-hours in dogsniffing the Prado, that we remember, it's not easy to elude your captors to leave a quick message on the mobile:

"Hallo Moto?"

Friday, April 29, 2005

Today or Not Today

I am a sybarite.

I knew that the first night I had to spend in the dormers of my boarding school, scared, homesick, age 8.

When time came to turn off the lights, and slip between the covers (which always seemed damp, in childhood recollections), I recoiled not because of any humidity, but because I was unused to rough cotton under me...and longed not for the teddy I had left behind, but for my soft satiny sheets.

To assuage these earthy needs this week, I went to my preferred, local "Spa".

Now "spa" in the US is not like the spas our great-grandparents went to -- where moustachioed Swiss women in white, hosed your mud-packed body off.

No, it's basically a lady's hair salon with benefits.

These benefits may include colossally painful Brazilian bikini waxing, always tepid bubble tea, deep-tissue shiatsu massage, Vichy Rain Shower, and some torture known cryptically as "frosting".

Although I partook of the soothing Vichy Rain Shower (where you get to shower in a Tiki Hut contraption with the sound of parrots around you), I had nothing more daring than a mani/pedi.

But on the way out to the caisse, I saw rows and rows of narrow little perfume bottles, which I had always been curious about. I realised too late, this was the salon equivalent of supermarket's impulse-shopping candies and choccies placement.

Before I knew it, the Scary Spice-looking cashier asked if I had 10 minutes, since she could make a scent from these massed perfume essences, just for me. My own perfume! Like Christian Dior made "First Lady" for Imelda Marcos?? I couldn't resist!

"Now, I want you to close your eyes. Good. Now I'm going to turn on this Aveda CD and you will listen to it, relaxing your body with the rhythms of the Amazon rainforest." [more parrots]

"I will pass each of these essences under your nose, and still keeping your eyes closed, you will QUICKLY sniff them. Say, 'Today or Not Today', depending on your mood."

Tawny Lilac. "Not Today"
Minty Spearmint. "Today!"
Some hay-smelling thingie. "Not Today"
The smell of fresh Granny Smith apples. "Today"
Strawberries. "Not Today, giggle"
Tuberoses. "Never Today, cough"
Soft gardenias. "Hmm. No. Not Today"

On and on it went, until I had gotten to the last bottle, my nose alive with dozens and dozens of fragrances, some for whom I doubt even Grasse experts knew names.

Then, having been allowed to open my eyes at last (ooh, her hair makes her look like a...cockatoo), I was given another whiff of the bottles I had todayed on.

The final sampling produced .5 fl oz/15 ml of my very own "Aveda Personal Blend Pure-Fume Spirit".

It's wonderful!

Citrussy. Crisp. Delicate, yet with none of that Laura Ashley sappiness. Minty notes which glide along with me, and don't oppress lift inhabitants any more than they should have to.

I think I will call it, "Parrot".

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Student Room

Is there an American student gossip equivalent, I wonder?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Why are We Afraid of Benedict XVI?

(Welcome Tim Worstall & OC Chronicle blog readers. If you have seen other links to this blogpost, please let me know. I'll leave the post up until Friday)

(And a very belated welcome to the readers of the Anchoress, who featured on her blog, the blogpiece you will read below, on 2 August 2005)

If Pope John Paul II had lived exactly 2 years and 14 days more than what he did, we would never have heard of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's transformation into Pope Benedict XVI. He would've been disqualified to vote for the new Pope, and thereto, perhaps to be Pope due to being 80 years old.

A pretty sobering fact when put that way, isn't it? As I said earlier, timing is everything.

It struck me as I watched his recent Installation this Sunday as Pope, of which this is a blog recap, but not only of that majestic ceremony, but of the almost month-long treatment of the illness, death and funeral of the late Polish Pontiff, and thereto Conclave, Election, and Installation of the new German Pope.

As you have no doubt noted, this seminal event made a tremendous impact on my daily life, and though I am loath to leave it entirely, my personality, of which my blog is a reflection, is too eclectic to sustain one topic for too long. So it's time to move on.

But not before I conclude with a rather long, but I hope, guilessly transparent wrap-up.

BACKROUND

If you're like me, you wonder why certain things happen in life -- such as why we meet the people we do, of all the people, of all time that we could have met, millions and millions of years, billions and billions of people, and you got to sit next to stinky Sherman Kaplan in Brooklyn during all of 3rd grade.

This is mindboggling to me. God may not play dice, but grade schools certainly do.

A lot of people attribute these events to the mysterious and unknowable mind of God, whose ultimate plan for the history of the world will presumably not be revealed until the moment of the earth's extinction, and therefore ours. It's a heady thought, since it's a nirvana which may last a second only.

But quick as a flash this past Sunday, I felt for a brief moment that I had peeked into the mind of the Deity. Ah, vanity - thy name really is woman.

Let me walk you through it.

COVERAGE

I'm tired of moaning publicly of the treatment given this nascent Papacy by Mainstream Media. You can read what I have to say about that here, here and here. Such moaning hasn't been heard without Ron Jeremy being present, in years.

Since I've been quick to assign bias to MSM, let me also be brisk in heaping praise where it's due.

If you were privileged to watch the Installation on CBS, a network I usually dislike, you were lucky to witness Canadian journalist John Roberts (in sporting terms, the "play-by-play" guy), and guest analysts Fr. John Robichaud (the "colour" guy), Msgr. Robert Wister (the sideline "mic guy"), and CBS Rome/Vatican beat reporter, Allen Pizzey (the "suit").

Their coverage was exceptional. I cannot state that enough.

They were able to combine objectivity with deference, interest without fawning, secularism with religiosity, in a way I have rarely seen on American media.

But the highest praise must go to the lady translator, who seemlessly wove her voice with that of the Pope's during his dazzling Homily. What a voice. What delivery. What depth of feeling.

As her voice broke during one passage, I felt tears come to my eyes, so completely and startingly overwhelming me, that I had to catch myself, as one would during a weepy in the cinemas.

I haven't found out who that lady was yet, but I owe her the sense of closure I feel today about the whole event, since it was partly due to her mellifluous voice that I feel, "it's enough". It often happens that way, as tears can be cathartic like few things can.

AUDIENCE

I am an observer of the scene, and as such, I tend to focus on little things, on the inconsequential details of life. I am in love with descriptions, which simply add colour to the world around us, but they don't amount to a hill of beans otherwise.

For those of you who remember my "Christiane Amanpour was the only news network reporter wearing all-white on the day of the Pope's funeral; everyone else was in deepest black" observation, you'll instantly recognise what I mean by this above.

(As an aside, ole Christiane was one of the few wearing deep black for the Installation, as if she were in mourning. Odd that)

So in this vein, some of the details I observed were:


  • Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, born 1921, and thus only 1 year younger than the late Pope, represented the Queen at the ceremony. He looked, as ever, handsome, elegant, and quite uninterested in the goings-on.

  • The King and Queen of Spain have now taken the reins from the British Royal Couple as far as social cachet is concerned, and are the guests of honour which all eyes focus on in these events. The Queen was wearing her usual towering Peineta (ornamental comb) and Mantilla (lace veil), in radiant white, signifying the end of official mourning for John Paul II. They were the ones who everyone wanted to shake hands with and talk to. The Queen was also seen reading the translation of the Homily with avid interest, never once lifting up her head to gape around her, like the King did.

  • The Grand Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg were the other highest ranking members of a ruling family there, as Prince Albert II of Monaco's reign is too young for consideration, and the King of Sweden is Protestant. Maria Teresa, the Grand Duchess, was born in Cuba, and exiled as a child to Switzerland. She was also dressed in white, with a more discrete veil than Queen Sofia's, but well turned out in Oscar de la Renta nonetheless.

  • Fr. Georg Ratzinger was not seated with the governing VIPs, but rather in the first row of the Roman Catholic Church VIP section, slightly to the right of the grandstand. I don't know if you've noticed this, but every time I see him, he looks resentful to the point of jealousy of his brother, and when the new Pope got into his new, open-air PopeMobile at the end of the ceremony, he barely clapped at him going by. When asked what he would say to the Pope upon meeting him after the ceremony, he said, "For his direct telephone number". I think the Castel Gandolfo operators would put him through to be honest.

And finally, I've now seen the Pope several times. Enough to say how sweet, retiring, and shy he is -- and very genuine.

He laughs during his speeches, he shyly acknowledges cheers, looking a bit disconcerted at all the fuss about him, and he also uses his hands a lot, in that South German way which Italians will love, especially during his Homily. By the way, he has the hands of a banker: smooth, unlined, lily-white.

That enormous Papal Ring seemed to fall off his feminine tapered fingers.

The hands of a 78 year-old man?

Though I haven't been able to find the official invited guest list for the Installation, I note that at least Gerhard Schröder and wife could make it, and though, as I saw on MSNBC immediately after his PopeMobile ride, they were the first to greet him in the conga line of dignitaries, Schröder looked decidedly uncomfortable, and gave the Papst the merest of moments of his time. His wife was a little more enthusiastic, at least. Here's the full-funeral attendees list on Wikipedia.

THE HOMILY

Was a masterstroke.

Once again you got the sense that this Pontiff writes his own speeches, because it conveyed his particular personality without sounding forced: erudite, philosophical, a past master of Church customs and doctrines.

Once in a lifetime, you sit down to write everything which has been percolating inside you your whole life. You unite all that you have learned, and join that to all you believe in.

And when that happens, you get a genius of a written piece. This is what the Homily sounded like.

It's not easy to condense 35 minutes of a speech (of which there were over 30 pauses for applause, really quite extraordinary when you think of it), but here are some of the finest phrases I remember, with my comments in between them.

They are very much the Holy Father's Highlights.


"And now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can I do this? How will I be able to do it?"

He opened his speech in exactly the same tone with which he used during John Paul II's funeral homily -- in that coversational tone which strips away pretentious jargon, and reaches in deep inside you.

For anyone who has been a public speaker, you know this is a very difficult thing to do: to personalise yourself to your audience by lowering that unseen curtain which separates you from your listener.

He achieved this by a simple rhetorical device, as if speaking aloud more to himself, than to anyone specific. Magnificent.


"Yes, the Church is alive – this is the wonderful experience of these days. During those sad days of the Pope’s illness and death, it became wonderfully evident to us that the Church is alive. And the Church is young!"

He shouted "giovane!" and the rows and rows of youthful observers let out a huge cheer of surprise.

Yes, that is the one thing we all of us took away from this month-long Catholic orgy. The Church may have retreated in the 1960's-1970's, but here come the Millenial Generation, who grew up under John Paul's ministry.

The final chapter hasn't been written on the Catholic Church, yet. I suppose this is what so many who wish it had, resent.


"At this moment there is no need for me to present a programme of governance."

Another loud cheer from the crowd. Smart move. This is the part which the press is dying to hear, because then they can lynch him like they do politicians. They attack their specific "points of light".

So instead of dogma, he gave us divinity. How certain people must hate him for not falling into their traps so early.


"The first symbol is the Pallium, woven in pure wool, which will be placed on my shoulders. [..], may be considered an image of the yoke of Christ. [...] The symbolism of the Pallium is even more concrete: the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. [...] The human race – every one of us – is the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way."

His knowledge of Catholic traditions and customs is so deep, that he can synthesise them in simple visual language, ex-professor that he is.

But more than that, as you can see below, his vision of his faith is layered. Deeply layered. And he's not afraid of uncovering those layers, as he unveils them step-by-step to you.


"...so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love."

You could hear the audience gasp when he got to "desert of destroyed love". What a haunting vision that is. The kind of love that you feel when there's nothing left to be said anymore.


"The symbol of the lamb also has a deeper meaning. In the Ancient Near East, it was customary for kings to style themselves shepherds of their people. This was an image of their power, a cynical image: to them their subjects were like sheep, which the shepherd could dispose of as he wished."

A frisson from the King of Spain, I thought.


"When the shepherd of all humanity, the living God, himself became a lamb, he stood on the side of the lambs"

This is it, really. This is what Jesus represents. One of us. And like one us, he died powerless, just like we would in that situation.


"How often we wish that God would make show Himself stronger, that He would strike decisively, defeating evil and creating a better world."

How many of us didn't utter that during the awful Tsunamis this past Christmas? Or when we read of the Holocaust? Or when you see a child born blind? All of us have at one point questioned why does God allow that, and why doesn't he do something about it?


"All ideologies of power justify themselves in exactly this way, they justify the destruction of whatever would stand in the way of progress and the liberation of humanity. We suffer on account of God's patience."

Harsh.


"At this point, my mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in Saint Peter’s Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!” The Pope was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ might take away something of their power if they were to let him in, if they were to allow the faith to be free. Yes, he would certainly have taken something away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the freedom to do as they pleased."

As he said this passage, CBS split-screened the fabulously younger, vigourous John Paul II giving his Homily that October day, with his papers shaking as he shouted,

"NON AVIATE PAURA". DO NOT BE AFRAID.

John Paul II made people less afraid, and that's why they loved him, and some feared him so. They were so afraid of his strength to free people from their mental prisons, that they tried to kill him.


"The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by the impatience of man."

An anti-war crowd nod, but equally, it could signify our hastiness in all facets of life, before we know their consequences.


"God, Who became a lamb, tells us that the world is saved by the Crucified One, not by those who crucified Him."

And this is the most important of all the quotes, since it implicitly asks you:

Who do you want to be associated with? Those who believe in love, gentleness, abnegation, or those who believe in lies, power, and fear?


"We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God."

I'm sure the secularists of this world must be seething at this not-so-veiled anti-evolution, pro-life message.


"And the account of the 153 large fish ends with the joyful statement: 'although there were so many, the net was not torn' (Jn 21:11). Alas, beloved Lord, with sorrow we must now acknowledge that it has been torn! But no - we must not be sad!"

He acknowledges that the Church has its problems, and it has reached mass exodus in some areas. But nets can be mended.


"Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us?"

How haunting.

This is what all post-modern people, myself included, feel about rules and regulations: that it takes away your freedom by imposing limits to it. And we're just too used to having them.


"Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great."

I can't believe how honest he is. And how he answers his own question by giving us strength through our choice, if only we make it.

HESITATION

You know...after a month-long reassertion of what it means to be the Catholic Church, its mesmeric traditions, its grandiose liturgy, its vestments of Cardinals, its drama of ritual, its plethora of red sashes, curtains, balconies, litanies, gospels, cantors, on and on and on, in an assault of the ancient into the ultra-modern, I'm a bit scared.

Scared people will go to their Churches next Sunday, maybe some after a decades-long absence, recharged and perhaps a bit curious, wanting to prolong that feeling of purpose they felt after a month of in-your-face-Catholicism, and expect this:

The Majesty

And get this.

Hey, where are the Cardinals?

Unless the Vatican happens to be your parish, temper your expectations.

The litany may not be sung, especially not in Latin. The priest may not be kindly, and in fact, may be rather stern. Worse, he may be boring. And the vestments and rituals may conform more to practical local custom, than to the glorious pageantry we've just witnessed.

Each one of us must face the reality of our churches, but knowing that for 400 years, there is a St. Peter's which awaits us when we grow weary of the drabness.

FEARS

Why are we afraid of Benedict XVI, then?

Well to some he must be the worst incarnation of everything they thought they had defeated, or had been discredited in some way.

Tradition. Austerity. Self-control.

Where some offer judgementless self-help, he counters with intellectual spirituality.

Where some suggest primacy of the communal, he reminds us of the singular path to faith.

And where some want to have validated their philosophies, their achievements, their world views, he makes them realise they haven't achieved as much as they thought.

Worse than that, their prime of life is slipping away before they have had a real chance to change things. To reform, to reinvent, to make their own. It's clear to them, their window of opportunity is being shut. For the Me-Generation, he represents the ultimate They. The They long-since thought overcome.

MESSAGE

It's difficult for me to write what I did above. I'm not religious. I don't know much more than the catechism I was taught for my First Communion and Confirmation. And I am not an historical apologist for the Church.

Even worse than all this is the evangelical zeal I feel is at the root of all Christianity, which needs to proselytise to gain converts. In fact, it's a prerequisite to be and stay a Christian.

I am simply too modern, and too set in my ways, to want to make others adhere to new ways.

I feel the imposition that they feel when people are preached at, and it bothers me. I could never, in this case, be a Born Again Christian, even if I had a religious transformation.

In short, preaching makes me shy, embarrassed, awkward.

But once in a blue moon, as I have done this past April, I am alive to the possibilities of my faith.

The kind of renewed interest you have when you meet an old friend after a long absence, and discover something new, perhaps a hitherto unknown area of interest which you can share now.

This is how Pope Benedict XVI makes me feel.

Some people would have been comforted with any choice the 115 Cardinals had made. Perhaps I would too, but since it belongs to those 'what-ifs' of history, I will never know for sure until the Pope dies.

What I myself needed was to understand my faith, a faith I am not alienated from like so many others are. But like many more others are, it has just been put in the backburner of my existence.

When you are a child, you put away childish things, goes the Scripture verse, and in a sense, I put my Catholicism in that cabinet of discarded toys.

As I grow older, fast approaching my 30th year on earth, I feel a need to make sense of life before it gets away from me.

So when I was a child, I loved John Paul II because of his reassuring friendly presence, like that cabinet of loved childhood wonders.

But now that I am an adult, I need something a little different -- something which explains to me what I thought I knew, but in reality, I didn't know anything about.

I don't know why Benedict XVI was chosen to be Pope. I can't scan the mind of God.

But in one instant I realise what those Cardinals understood in one day, that he was good for me, for others, for my Church, the perfect choice to succeed the late Pope, simply because he takes us into another path than our first teacher took us to, and yet, it's not that different a change, since it builds on what you already know, the product of its own journey.

What one gave was to shake away the half-sleep of childhood, by telling you not to be afraid of what will come, even though change is scary.

The other seems to take that faith, that strength already welled up inside you, and demystifies it so you can understand it for yourself.

What follows, none of us can predict, but at least you know, the choice has been yours for all the right reasons. After all...

First comes faith, then comes belief.

BLOGS ABOUT THE POPE

The Pope Blog
Benedict XVI Blog
Pope Benedict 16 Blog
E-Pope Benedict Blog
Pontifex Blog in German
Papst Benedikt in German (Belgium)
Papal Blog Spoof: Ask the Pope
Hardball Vatican Blogcast
Windows Media "Habemus Papam!"
George Weigel's Newsweek Article

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Have I Got News For You

Ahhh. How I miss the comedic stylings of Have I Got News for You, the satyrical news quiz show, and in this 2 minute Quicktime segment, they take the mickey out of Pope Benedict XVI.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who would love to have that t-shirt! Although I'm fairly certain I'm the only one crazy enough to wear it.

In Sizes Schism, Counter-Reformation, and Inquisition

Monday, April 25, 2005

EWTN Tonight and The End of Pope-Blogging

Two points of interest for you.

The Pope today met and reached out to religious leaders from around the world earlier (seen hugging mullahs and the scruffy Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who has a very disturbing resemblence to Abbie Hoffman. Disturbing to Abbie, that is, not to Dr. Williams). He said our world religions should unite more to combat hatred and violence. Doesn't sound like that doctrinaire ogre-monster painted by the press to me.

He then later met with German Catholics at a special huge meeting at the Vatican, and revealed he had prayed not to be chosen as Pope! He also apologised for arriving late, saying to astonished audience giggles, that 23 years living in Rome might've rubbed off. Honest, warm and funny. Gotta love it.

And finally, those of you with access to the Alabama-based Catholic Channel, EWTN, and like to hear the Pope speak more English set your TiVos for

11 PM EDT Monday 25 April 2005

Or online from their Live TV site, as detailed below.

EWTN (Real Audio, Lo-Speed)
EWTN (WMP, Lo-Speed)

The Holy Father Benedict XVI will be on for a whole hour, speaking about the finer points of the faith, as he's interviewed by EWTN anchor, Raymond Arroyo, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger.

And in passing, tonight I will work on my huge Pope-Blogging Wrap Up post. Business as usual for my quirky, multi-topic blog afterwards!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Live TV Links of the Papal Installation

Some online links of the Installation Mass of Benedict XVI. H/T Renato.

Corriere Della Sera (WMP, Hi-Speed)
Corriere Della Sera (WMP, Lo-Speed)
RAI UNO (WMP, Hi-Speed)
RAI UNO (WMP, Lo-Speed)

The Mass is ended. And The Pope will go amongst the faithful in his revamped PopeMobile.

God bless him in his Pontificate. I shall update the blog with my impressions later.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Pope is a Cat Lover

Oh no, well it had to happen eventually: our first disagreement. Benedict XVI is a cat-lover.

And being a Leo, I hate cats.

According to his look-a-like gossipy brother, Georg, the new Pope is "giddy" about cats, and strays flock to him like some demented Pied Piper of Felines.

Of course, you may recall that the late Pontiff, John Paul II, was also concerned about the plight of the Roman homeless cats, (which to anyone who has visited Rome around the Colisseum can attest is a big problem), so maybe there's something to this cat-thingie after all.

Although I do hope the Reverend Cardinals choose a dog-lover next time. We're due.

First Papal Audience with Journalists

I knew there was a reason I stayed up so late.

I just caught, when turning from C-SPAN'S British Elections coverage (which I will be blogging about later this week), to Fox News there was to my utter surprise, LIVE coverage of the new Pope Benedict XVI giving his first audience to the media.

My first instinct was to turn to the other cable news networks to see if they were carrying the audience as well.

They were not.

CNN were doing some Kirstie Alley "People in the News" re-run, whilst MSNBC had on David Letterman in their soporific Headliners & Legends series. Apparently, the new Pope isn't a headliner, or a legend...yet.

But I ask you, would it have killed them to have covered this momentous first touch with THEMSELVES, the media after all, by the freshly-minted Pope?

I mean, I understand if it were a weekly audience, which is old hat. But it's at 5 AM in the morning; it's a new Pope; it's him reaching out to the Fourth Estate; and it's not like Kirstie Alley is _breaking news_ or anything. Unless Jenny Craig just dumped her contract. (Oh hush)

I mean, come on, it's so palpable the disregard CNN and MSNBC have for Papa Ratzi, that they don't even bother to hide it.

As if we needed another omen for things to come...I know I shouldn't care anymore, but it grates. It really does.

THE AUDIENCE

The audience itself started by the Pope entering a room packed with journalists (some who had been encouraged to bring their families, including kids!), with not a seat to be seen empty in a huge arena-like communications centre of the Vatican.

The Pope was seated on a spankingly scrubbed, white, high-backed throne on an immense Aubusson rug, with a slew of red sashed Cardinals seated neatly to his left, and flanked by a motionless Swiss guard, and two Cardinals to each side of him.

I don't recall how previous audiences were with the late John Paul II, but one gets the sense this Pope demands clean, simple visual lines, and has that much-vaunted German sense of order.

On the other hand, with his gold-rimmed reading glasses perched askew on his nose, it gave you the sense he didn't go out and buy a new pair of Armani specs to dazzle his largely Italian audience, who love to cut "la bella figura". These were the old pair he must use every day.

THE SPEECH(ES)

I use the plural since he spoke in


  • Italian
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Then back to Italian

Not missing a beat, I tell you.

He didn't pause once in any of the languages (with one or two phonetic lapses, but that's all), and has a very gemütlich Bavarian sing-songy cadence to his speech. I love it already.

For some reason, though it is entirely imaginable that he would have, I didn't expect him to speak in English at this audience. So when he launched with the briefest of pauses to look up at the audience, from Italian to English, I had to catch my breath.

"Wow! This is the first time I hear the new Pope speak English!"

I'm sure that was the case with millions too. I wonder what was their immediate reaction?

He started by thanking the gathered press for their unflagging efforts these past two weeks since the death of his "unforgettable predecessor".



Thanks to all of you, these historically important ecclesiastical events have had world-wide coverage.

I know how hard you have worked, far away from your homes and families, for long hours and in sometimes difficult conditions. I am aware of the skill and dedication with w
hich you have accomplished your demanding task. In my own name, and especially on behalf of Catholics living far from Rome, who were able to participate in these stirring moments for our faith, as they were taking place, I thank you for all you have done.

The possibilities opened up for us by modern means by social communications are indeed marvellous, and extraordinary.

The
Second Vatican Council spoke of the great potential of the media. In fact, the Council fathers devoted their first document to this theme, and said that the media are a group (quote), 'by their nature are capable of reaching and influencing not only individuals, but whole masses of people, indeed the whole of humanity'.

Ever since of December the 4th, 1963, when the decree
Inter Mirifica was promulgated, humanity has been witnessing an extraordinary media revolution, affecting every aspect of human life.


He paused for the briefest of seconds, before launching into French. By the way, each of the messages in each language was tailored to its direct audience -- they differed here and there, as in Italian he thanked Msgr. John Patrick Foley, President of the Pontificate Media Association, who opened the proceedings with a few kind words (we didn't hear it, since coverage began when the Pope was already speaking).

Since I am used to my mother's German pronunciation and rhythms of English words, I was able to understand every word he said, no problem, and I have transcribed his whole speech in English by pausing and starting my DVD-R recording. I'm sure it won't hit the news wires for at least a few minutes, so you have a head start should you be reading this.

Because his speaking pace was brisk, in fact, all 5 formal speeches took a maximum of 10 minutes, and the whole event 15, he sometimes misspoke a word or two in English such as "capable" (short a instead of long), but no matter. His nerves may have failed him, but the purpose of his speech was immense.

And what a message!

In such short paragraphs he was able to impart a strong impression, because his content was rock-solidly clear.

They say he is one of the Roman Catholic Church's greatest theologians of the 20th century, and one can sense that rapier academic mind at work to convey nuances in 3 short paragraphs.

First, he thanked the media for their sacrifices during the Death, Funeral, Conclave coverage.

Second, he mentioned their skill in their metier, which is not an insignificant part of a smooth world-wide operation, which I myself acknolwedge freely (even if it pains me to find them so biased in their coverage). To think he is thanking these people, almost all of whom as a block have been negative to the point of viciousness to him -- well it makes me realise what forgiveness, or not even that, but just not "sweating the small stuff", really means. Bravo Benedict.

Third, a word of solicitude to the millions and millions of pilgrims to the Vatican these past weeks.

Fourth, the very real impact of world news coverage.

Fifth, and perhaps most revealingly, he noted that the Second Vatican Council (of which he was considered one of the mavericks of progress, let us remember) had made great emphasis of the role media could play in transmitting to millions of Catholics world wide. This happened almost 42 years ago, which is not an eyeblink. This is his way of saying, what I am doing (giving you your dues as reporters), is nothing new. What the previous Pope did, is a continuation of something we in the Vatican have long since acknowledged and favoured -- that through you, we can reach people who are once and future Catholics. In turn, you cover the Papacy, and its trappings and get eyeballs looking at you, precisely because we are so numerous as a religion.

In other words, he is emphasising the SYMBIOTIC nature of the Roman Catholic Church, and its adherents, through journalism. In the modern world, one cannot function fully without the other.

And as he well-stated, this is a revolutionary concept in the history of humanity -- the logical conclusion of the Gutenberg movable-type printing press.

Not exactly the antediluvian, doctrinally aloof reactionary we have been led to expect, ain't he?

Immediately upon finishing his English version, you felt a frisson from the massed audience, and when he finished the French translation of the same speech later, the audience broke out into unrestrained applause.

It was marvellous to see that, and as Fox News commentator Father John Zuhlsdorf said, the atmosphere when he stopped and left the room was electric. You'd think a rock star had finished his set and left to frenzied appreciation and excitement.

Never mind Elvis...

"Benedict XVI has left the building".

Friday, April 22, 2005

Timing is Everything

I'm too cynical, I think.

I've spent about half-an-hour trying to convince my mother that the final Conclave ballotting was actually timed perfectly to coincide with the full attention of the world.

The smoke started around 1 PM EDT, which was early supper time at 6 PM GMT, 7 PM CET, just late enough for the West Coast to be getting their refill of morning coffee at 10 AM, and only 1 AM in many parts of Asia. Pfff, even 8 year-olds are up at 1 AM these days.

I bet you anything that ballotting was over in the 3rd round, but they waited until the 4th for the optimal time to announce it.

And yes, I am fully aware I am assigning a Machiavellic intent to my Church's Papal announcement.

But...do you remember that scene in Mel Gibson's otherwise forgettable Braveheart, where Edward I sends his daughter-in-law Isabelle to intercede for him, in a bid to avert war? And when she returns, she says she failed -- prompting the wily King to say, yes but in the two weeks you have been gone, it allowed us to prepare better for war.

Well, I love that.

If the Church was savvy enough to use the media at just the right time, when they were assured all eyes would be on them, more power to them.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Two Ingredients to Being a Successful Pope

One of the judgements on the character of John Paul II was that he transformed the Papacy from a static, distant, entrenched Luddite office, to a visible, media accessible and technologically savvy one.

Did you know John Paul II once made it known that he websurfed over to the Liverpool FC site one evening?

The next day, when the story broke, a banner appeared on the site: a cheery, tongue-in-cheek greeting in bold gold-on-red background, "Welcome Your Holiness John Paul II!!".

And when the Vatican website launched (on Christmas Day 1995, almost a decade ago...that almost beats eBay!), he made sure his email was accessible to all in the very front page.

His spirit must be happy today, as the Vatican announced the new Papal email for Benedict XVI. In fact not one but 6 official emails.

Deutsch: benediktxvi@vatican.va
English: benedictxvi@vatican.va
Português: bentoxvi@vatican.va
Español: benedictoxvi@vatican.va
Français: benoitxvi@vatican.va
Italiano: benedettoxvi@vatican.va

Drop him a line! Go on, you know you want to.

And we owe this prompt, felicitous coupling of the traditional to the modern to John Paul II's character entirely.

See, John Paul II "got" it.

He understood life and people very well. He realised that to be Pope, in a changing moral clime and with incessant media coverage, well-timed appearances from an avuncular old man made a tremendous visual impact, even if you never got to see him in the flesh.

Maybe two things helped him, but I'm not so sure some people fully understand their impact.

Almost everyone mentioned that he was an ex-actor, and used his acting skills to good usage as Pope. I see what people mean, but to me that always seemed a somewhat backhanded compliment too.

When you act, you're not being yourself. You are projecting something fake. An emotion. A gesture. A smile. When you act, you are trying to skillfully embody an alternate reality, and the best actors do so with such panache that you tip your hat to them.

After all, suspension of disbelief is a very difficult thing to make others do.

And the point with this sweet old Polish man who reigned as Pope for 26 years was making was that he was never acting. He was real. Whatever timing and technique he gained from his University acting days were secondary to the power of his genuineness.

(To anyone who has seen footage of the present Prince of Wales clowning around with his bagpipes in a school review in his Cambridge days, knows not all college acting leaves its mark. He could sure use a little Stanislawsky if you ask me)

The other point is that he had time.

Time blunts the brusqueness of youth. Time allows a person to grow into his or her role. Time takes away youth, and leaves a fragile body, but lovable because we are aware it's imperfect, just like all of us. It's hard to hate a suffering aged body, just as it's impossible not to love the one of an innocent baby.

But even so, Pope John Paul I reigned a mere 33-days, and the few moments the crowds saw of him, they took to their hearts forever calling him "The Smiling Pope". He was very loved for a man the world barely knew.

It seems people prefer a real man to a fake actor. And should he be blessed with time to make his personality resonate, hard edges may yet become soft ones.

How much time will this 78-year old Pope Benedict XVI have? That is the question we all of us wonder about, but none of us know.

Most people comment that he looks enormously spry. He's healthy, to the best of our knowledge. His mind is as trademarked sharp as ever.

Though the press and world media have been brutal to him, should he live 10 years, and I predict he could quite easily reach that or more, we may yet look back at this post and realise...

Time has been kind to Benedict XVI. It allowed him to be more of himself. And people loved him more for it.

Blogger.com en panne

So much for the "Maintenance from 4-4:30 PM PST". It lasted until a moment ago, 10:30 PM EDT.

Oh, and if you see some Audioblogger.com links of a sudden, don't giggle. It's not my blog post of the day.

A friend of mine (British), has a chum (also British), who wanted me to translate this into English and as part of the translation service, I offered a .wav effort too.

O homem não pode destruir
o que o homem não criou

When I said it means, "Man cannot destroy, what Man didn't create", I got a response back he wanted to put that in Portuguese, under a tattoo pic of Jesus (!).

Gosh, things have certainly changed in ole Blighty.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

France 2 and Benoît XVI

I didn't followup my Portuguese-language post about GLOBO'S coverage of the Pope's ascension yesterday night, because it was excessively negative even for the journalistic standards I am used to in Europe and in the US.

They even had a little smirking commentary piece by journalist/film director, Arnaldo Jabor, who quoted the late odious Edward Said, saying how divided religion makes Europe (just as politics make the Arab world divided), and how much it would be to "reform" it out of our lives. Jabor said we are living in "reactionary times not just conservative ones", and that a conservative Pope will add to that not lessen it. What a tragedy, he said.

Now why should I be surprised, since Jabor came out with a piece after the previous Pontiff's death, called I didn't like John Paul II. Talking about the world-wide emotional outpour of love towards the Pope, which he didn't share, he exclaimed, "Como eu estou sozinho!", or, "Gosh, I'm so alone feeling this way!". Whatever Arnaldinho. If old Roberto Marinho were still alive, you'd be f*dido.

So it was with trepidation that I tuned into France 2's nightly news broadcast, expecting the worst. As often happens when one does, I came out surprised and favourably so.

Yes, if I had a dollar/pound for every mention of "the Conservative Cardinal Ratzinger", I'd be atop Fortune 500 today, but fortunately, France 2 had more factual coverage than news analysis, as often happens with the Iraq or America coverage.

David Pujadas, the main presenter (anchor) of France 2's 8 PM newscast, always looks as if he has a naughty secret he's dying to impart but won't, so I am used to his Mona Lisa smile when talking about contentious issues. Today, he didn't restrain his amused glances when speaking to three guests, three French Cardinals in fact, who though under the vow of Secrecy about the Conclave, were surprisingly (to my mind) revealing.



  • Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, ex-Metropolitan of the See of Paris, present-day priest at the Church of Saints Marcellino and Pietro in Rome.

The Cardinal said that the voting was very precise, and it was obvious from the first ballot who the runaway leader was.



  • Paul Cardinal Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council of Culture.

Said the problem with the smoke, which befuddled more than one viewer as to shade, had to do with the chimney not having been swept (!).



  • Philippe Cardinal Barbarin, Cardinal of Lyon.

Who speaks a mile a minute, and though perhaps lacks the gravitas expected of his Office, seems a very congenial man. He frankly admitted to being awed by the Conclave, and said the "Guatemalan Cardinal" (Rodolfo Quezada Toruño), who he was next to throughout the proceedings, was restlessly excited, and wouldn't stop "gossiping", saying what an amazing event they were privy to in the Sistine Chapel.

I have to admit, I LOL'ed when I heard that.

See, now why don't we get this type of coverage; human, approachable, readily understood by anyone without the judgementalism we get on US news media?

Cardinal Barbarin also confirmed what the talking heads on almost all news media speculated, namely, about the Papal Regnal name Cardinal Ratzinger took for himself, Benedict.

The pundits got it bang on when they suggested this was to honour Benedict XV (who most news outlets honed in his anti-WWI stance, an obvious reference to the Iraq Liberation), a man who sought to unify the Church. The Cardinal also said that the new Pope, when addressing his electors, said St. Benedict is the patron saint of Europe, and so it's an honour with a dual reference.

Then coverage turned to the Cardinals cornered in their cars by Italian journalists, asking them for any insider info, but these Italians and French Cardinals were wily, and didn't offer much. The most one said was, in response to the anti-conservative hysteria, that we must remember the old Pope's injuction, "Do not be afraid". "Do not be afraid!", first-gear cranking, speeding off.

And speaking about cars, with typical French esprit, the voice-over redacteur mentioned how the new Pope entered his Papal limousine with trepidation, though he shouldn't have, because it was a German car. *camera shot of a black Mercedes-Benz*

I also admit to laughing there too.

(It was like on Cavuto on Fox who had a journalist who said the food provided at the Vatican was typical Italian fare, except during lunch time the day of the election, when they were given frankfurters, and he knew then, "something was up". Heh)

France 2 said he was going in his limo because he wantd to visit his old Rome digs, in the Piazza Città Leonina, where he lived so many years, often to be seen walking on foot to his office in the Vatican. The crowds waiting for a wave, were not disapointed and he paused and made that now-trademark "old boxer" gesture with his two fists together held aloft. Maybe the crowds were gloryhunting, but man, you could feel a lot of love pouring out from the screen, for him already.

Going amongst the people in his first day as Pope was not only a wonderful gesture, but a very savvy one. As a friend told me, the more I find out, the more I am impressed by this man.

Finally, the coverage turned to the small village of Marktl ("little Market", a very gemütlich name in a typical Austro-Bavaro way), a humble Bavarian border town with Austria. There we got to see the local village church, already reverently putting up the photo of their favourite son, the new Pope Benedict XVI.

One elderly man said the new Pope, whilst still Cardinal, had visited them only recently, and he had blessed his granddaughter "quite tenderly". Even his fiercest critics universally have said what a kindly, even sweet man he is, and not the Torquemada-like ogre the intelligentsia would have us believe.

(And here I am reminded of what the news and academic powers-that-be did to George W. Bush the moment he ran for office. They did the same thing to Ronald Reagan when he won the White House. Likewise, the doomsday crowd are coming out in force for Benedict XVI, the EXACT way they did for John Paul II. "He's too conservative! It will lead to the destruction of the world! God help us all!". And what happened? The Fall of Communism. The Fall of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. One of the most beloved, and respected Popes of all time. Some people just never learn)

This seems to echo the positive coverage in Germany yesterday, as even very progressive papers mentioned more with pride than distaste, the election of the first German Pope in almost a thousand years, since St. Leo IX, who was actually born in modern-day France, in Colmar, Alsace. Oh those Alsatians! The ping-pong of the West, were it not for Poland.

Here is an excellent German News media review site, which gathered the leading headlines of German dailies today. Note, sadly, the negative articles are starting already in Germany, but at least the first spate were not.

German Media react to Benedict XVI

Since I have access to a slew of foreign channels on my digital cable system, and futhermore, as you know, I am a polyglot, I will be keeping close tabs on all media regarding the new and (for most) hopeful reign of Benedict XVI.

Just as soon as the Installation Mass is over on Sunday, it'll be quirky business as usual on my blog. Until then, it's mostly "All Papa Ratzi, All the Time".

Well it beats a week of blogging about snooker.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

O Papa Bento e a Xuxa

Gente, que coisa bacana. Estava vendo no GLOBO, o show do Jô Soares que tinha a Xuxa hoje. Está um pouco mais velha, um tal gorducha na cara talves, mais ainda muito bonita. Gostei, Xuxa, viu.

No entretanto, quando mostrarão os comerciais, vi que o GLOBO vai ter uma especial sobre o novo Papa -- Bento como "Benedict" é em Portugues. Que genial.

Mais se podem acreditar, o novo Papa, nacido na Alemanha como ja todos estão sabendo, tem FAMILIA la no Brasil! E ainda mais, o GLOBO falará com eles esta noite!

Será que a Xuxa é parente do Papa Bento? Axé!

Underwhelming

I don't know what I expected, and possibly the reaction is in some way related to the brevity of the Conclave (a mere two days), but I find the MSM reaction of today's events distinctly underwhelming.

Now listen -- we don't have to have 24/7 coverage on all channels to say the coverage has been comprehensive.

But the reaction to "Papa Ratzi" via CNN, and other channels of their ilk, has been critical to the point of being disheartening. I have the vague suspicion their worst fears were realised, and their tone is accutely bitter.

In fact, today's coverage with a few exceptions, has had a very 3 November feel to it.

"Oh no, not again!"

Hmm. Well part of this MSM reaction is no doubt exhaustion, fatigue, even the onset of ennui (since nothing is less proactive in our very active modern world, than watching someone else do something we have no part in).

But a lot of it has to do with disappointment.

Disappointment at the outcome. An older Pope. European, white, conservative. Not Latin American, mixed, and dynamic. Not black. Not indigenous. Not Asian. No, just an elderly man, who used clear and strong language reaffirming the status-quo, every chance he got.

Disappointment that the process was not more long-drawn out, and therefore, a heightened suspense won't be maintained, with eyeballs glued to their coverage.

Disappointment that the people interviewed in many countries seemed positive rather than negative towards the new Pope. Almost universally, reactions on the street were good. And when you don't think the outcome is good, you have to scramble to offer critiques, you yourself. I guess they think of themselves as the conscience of the silent or disaffected.

But one wonders, would they have been so enthusiastic in their defence of a Pope many didn't want? Because that's the flip side, which never seems to come to pass despite shouts of 'objectivity'.

And that's just on the English-language channels.

The moment they could, Telemundo/Univision and the rest, turned away from the most exciting story of the year, and put on their novelas for us to enjoy.

I dare not think of the plaster-coverage if, instead of Papa Ratzi, it had been Papa Maradiaga, even Hummes, waving from the balcony.

My dears.

"La Mujer en el Espejo" would've been dumped faster than Polish flags by Vatican street vendors.

UPDATE: Here is a link to a similar blog post by The Anchoress. Thanks to JSU for the H/T.

No Honeymoon For Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

Amazing, I cannot believe this is happening.

What a message to send the world. After we just buried one of the beloved, and doctrinally-clear Popes of all time, comes his dear friend, and associate, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

A TRADITIONALIST!

Brilliant.

How certain quarters will hate this. How happy I am today.

Habemus Papam!!

WOW! I woke up after manning the graveyard shift, and immediately turned on telly.

HABEMUS PAPAM!

And it's Ratzinger!! A German, my mother is in floods of tears.

Dear God, and I called both things on the Papal Blog -- that it would be tops, a 3 day vote, and that my favourite Papal Regnal name he would choose, would be Benedict!

I should bet more often. HURRAH!

Second Ballot and Timetable Conjecturing

Black smoke was seen at 5:52 AM EDT, shortly before midday CET.

And when I say "black smoke", I am using the word charitably, because for a brief moment (but not forgetting that JP II ordered bells to toll alongside the white smoke), I thought we had Habemus Papam. Whatever chemicals the attendants used yesterday to make that smoke charcoal black, needs replenishing, because that was too close for comfort for us all.

Right, none of us is privy to the balloting in the Sistine Chapel, but we can more or less now gauge the Cardinals' timetable, to give us an idea of what will happen, as the week unfolds.

1- The Cardinals, being cloistered within Vatican grounds in the Santa Martha Annex, must be awoken at 7 AM or so. They probably sleep at 11 PM, having been given at least 2 hours of personal down time to meditate, etc.

2- They probably are given 2 hours for their ablutions, and breakfast, followed by Matins, or morning Mass (let us not forget that a typical prelate spends almost 5-7 hours in active prayer per day, as regulated by the Offices).

3- They are then transported to the Sistine Chapel around 9 AM, and shut in there to deliberate for 3 hours, give or take. Most people can't do more than a few hours at a time of acute argumentation, canvassing, and then voting, so that time frame seems logical to me.

4- If no 2/3's majority is decided, the 115 Cardinals must then break for lunch, Vespers, and back to the grind at 3 PM.

5- This must be followed by at least 4 hours of more intense debate, possibly with camps being formed around the room, self-proclaimed emissaries scurrying back-and-forth, with notes, and requests for elucidation of positions, etc. Each total ballot has two separate votes, so as of now, we're at 3.

6- A vote around 8 PM as Monday's was, and a break for dinner. Then more prayers and to bed, as mentioned above, in Point 1.

7- As the narrowing down process gets more heated, I daresay, the pace will be quicker.

What I find a bit dodgy, and wish the tradition hadn't changed, is this annex business. I understand why the late Holy Father changed the rule (for solicitude of their needs), but I still don't like it.

Does anyone else agree, or am I just being paranoid that they are not cloistered as was the custom for hundreds of years?

That's the whole point of a Conclave (cum clave, "we have shut you in with a key, buh-bye"), to my mind.

Goodness knows what I think will happen. Maybe they will catch a brief glimpse of a telly screen as they are being shuttled around, and be unduly influenced by it or something...

Either way, I just wish their sleeping arrangements were static, but it's easy for me to say that, in the comfort of my 700-count Pratesi sheets.

Monday, April 18, 2005

First Ballot

Black smoke at 2 PM EDT. For a live shot of the Sistine Chimney cam, c/p this .ram link.

The Pope Blog - Conclave Edition

MSM Coverage of the Pre-Conclave Mass

Let's get one thing clear before I start covering the Papal Conclave on the blog, all this week.

I am a traditionalist. I am hierarchical. I respect history. I like my Church.

And like millions of people, I'm also not particularly religious. But I am comfortable with religion, and find those who wish not only for a separation of Church and State, but for a separation of Church and Society, very silly people. These two weeks must've been a nightmare for them. Heh.

The one good thing about bloggers is that we do not have hidden agendas like Mainstream Media are frequently accused of having. As my reader, there is no need for you to parse my words, or read between the lines, trying to ascertain just which way I "tilt".

I have said dozens of times I loathe politics, and especially talking about politics, but even the most casual observer of my writings cannot fail to have noticed before, what I have just typed up top, since their essence permeates every part of me.

So I'm up at the wee hours of this early Monday, agog, excited, marvelling at the process to elect a Pope, as the Mass Before Conclave sends us off to s/elect the 263rd Pope of the 265th Pontifcate. The discrepancy is due to one Pope having been elected 3 times, which his High School Yearbook entry actually predicted: "Most Likely to be Papabile". Those damn Debate Club Presidents.

As such, I turned on and recorded via my increasingly precious DVD-R, all the 3 US cable news networks' coverage of the Mass, officiated yet again by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, the influential Dean of the College of Cardinals.

Because he has been such a visible, even charismatic presence these past 2 weeks, several Italian dailies have been putting forth his name as a favourite to be Pope. In fact, the right-of-centre Roman daily, Il Tempo's post-John Paul II funeral headline had his photo and Angelo Cardinal Sodano's facing each other, picking them as frontrunners.

But you know, people are wily, and sometimes even want to jinx events, as anyone who has ever heard Pele's weirdo World Cup winner predictions can testify. He never ever picks Brazil, because obviously, that's who he wants to win. I'm still trying to figure out his WC 1994 Spain prediction though. I mean, really -- even for him.

And then there are people who actually take the opposite track, and just go against a person they dislike hammer-and-tongs. That's why all this week story after story has been making the newswires about Ratzinger's "Nazi" past.

I'm not even going to go into the veracity of this abominable slur. You can read the anti-Ratzinger articles here, and especially here.

That's the Sunday Times article which baldly states that if Ratzinger (the "Panzer cardinal") had REALLY really wanted to, he would've nein'ed his way out of the Hitler Jugend. And serving in the war, despite deserting in 1944? Pfff, Ratzinger obviously didn't heed Mrs. Reagan's injunction to 'just say no'.

(My mother's family are German/Austrian. My great-uncle was almost incarcerated for not giving the Hitlergru -- the Heil Hitler gesture -- to his tutor at school. He was 17. Only his family's high-born connexions prevented the severest consequences, not just for him, but for the WHOLE clan. But hey, Cardinal Ratzinger is a conservative, so for certain people, that means he's fair game. I guarantee you that no one will speculate if Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino of Cuba was ever a Pionero or not)

But no matter, we have the Jerusalem Post coming to Ratzinger's rescue with this stirring leader (op-ed piece), defending charges from the Sunday Times article that he is a "theological anti-Semite". Oh please, don't even start.

Unfortunately for Cardinal Ratzinger, he'd better be prepared to face the collective cold-shoulder of the progressive press in the few hours before he enters the Sistine Chapel -- for in his sermon in Italian during the Pre-Conclave Mass, he made sure his fellow cardinals understood that they should not be tempted to heed the calls of passing ideologies. He further intoned,


We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.


You are privy to my position on relativism vis-à-vis Political Correctness already, so you know this is manna from heaven for me. I literally jumped in my chair when I heard him say that, aghast at this man's singular courage to say this in front of millions of people. He reminded me of the late John Paul II so much at that moment, when the he went to Nicaragua, and shook his finger at the Liberation theology priests, telling them figuratively and literally, don't you do this to our Church.

Movements, politics, even Popes come and go. The Roman Catholic Church remains.

The television presenters said this inference was aimed directly at the 115 eligible Cardinals (2 too ill to attend), for them to digest it well, but though I'm sure that is true too, Cardinal Ratzinger also meant it for US, the viewers. Have no doubt of that, since for the past 2 weeks, he has been in charge of many Vatican meetings and has had ample opportunity to meet with his fellow Cardinals. They know. No. That specific line was for us, Catholics world-wide.

It was such a powerful statement that Christiane Amanpour went back to it time and again, making sure her panelists took the time to critique it, even speaking over and drowning out the Mass, and at one point, the translator had to speak over her comments on Ratzinger's bombshell homily.

Having just mentioned Amanpour, this is as good a time as any for a recap as to how I perceived the cable news coverage of the Mass, real-time.

CNN - Is there a more insidious journalist on television than Christiane Amanpour? "A deeply divided Catholic Church", "Can the Catholic Church afford to ignore North American and European securalism for much longer?". Oh right, I forgot Peter Jennings with his sniping little asides and moues at those he doesn't like. Mrs. Jamie Rubin was partnered by two lay commentators, one of whom was John L. Allen, Jr the author of Conclave (a book I read last year). I only mention this because CNN is the only TV news entity who didn't think having a Catholic priest on the panel was important, or at least, needed. MSNBC actually had 3. Fox News had 2. CNN, a great big goose egg. No big deal, you say? Okay sure. No doubt next time CNN has another Terri Schiavo incident, they won't trot out the medical doctors right and left, because, you know, what do insiders who actually live the life, not just write about it, know? And for those who say there is no bias, let me let you in a on a secret. MSM have a little quirk when they want to slant something to their viewpoint, but want to be perceived as impartial nonetheless. They start out by the usual journalist practise of point-counterpoint, supporting quotes for each. That's fine and dandy. But the real kicker is the very last sentence, paragraph, or thought which ends a piece. MSM realise that a reader pays attention to the first bit, and the last bit, and it's the last part that they want to make sure sinks in. This is why you astute observers of President Clinton and Senator Bob Dole's little viewpoint end-segment on CBS' "60 Minutes" noticed that President Clinton ALWAYS got the last, more pithier word. And this isn't just a bitter remark about the elite media. Fox News, WSJ, the Telegraph do that too. Armed with this knowledge, take a look at this CNN article about the Pre-Conclave Mass and see if you can spot the slap at the end. That's nothing. Amanpour spent two hours saying the same thing, as she always does. We're on to ya, Christiane. Oh and your buddy Wolf too.

MSNBC - Had on the always professional Chris Jansing, who I actually spoke to a few times when she was down here during the Elian crisis. As mentioned, she was surrounded by a gaggle of priests, handome priests at that, mama mia, *wolf whistle!* Okay, I'd better stop that line of thought before I have to traipse to the Confessional again. MSNBC, who now sport the Fox New-like slogan "fair, balanced, and ACCURATE" (ooh, they're accurate! So who do think is INACCURATE, hmm, hmm?), having re-invented themselves from the days when they used to be called Mess-NBC, and are now a cross between the secular CNN, and the more orthodox Fox News -- were the most silent during the Mass of the three news networks. They didn't "opine" overmuch, letting the viewer take in the ceremony, and they certainly didn't take a commercial break like CNN did a few times. Have to please those advertisers, dontchaknow. The problem is of course, that their coverage, whilst ACCURATE, was also bland. They're the tapioca pudding of the Big 3. You can take it or leave it without it much affecting your taste buds.

FOX NEWS - In which case, Fox News are definitely the Chili-Con-Carne of the Big 3. They either fill you right up, or give you massive heartburn. I'll say this for Chris Wallace though, who anchored the graveyard shift during the Mass: he makes Ted Kopple's mop look absolutely dishevelled. I haven't seen such careful combing since ABC'S Sam Donaldson and his toupée retired. And as you would expect from such a picky brusher, his commentaries were factual, to the point, and always sought out from his panel guests, the most minute detail of what we were seeing. And the graphics on Fox! Man, Pixar had better watch out. I felt like I was IN the Vatican! Right there, sleeping next to Moses and his horns. All kidding aside, Fox News may have something against Royalty, but they surely are the most comfortable-with-the-Catholic-Church entity on US television. They didn't get to the Ratzinger homily until the very end, and then it was only to mention loosely how powerful a statement it was, and how it was bound to make an impression on its listeners. The translator (that Slavic-sounding lady again) didn't have to interrupt them once. When that white smoke juts out of its chimney, I'm tripping over myself to turn on to Fox. Judy Woodruff can make squinty eyes all she wants. I'm not budging.

So there we are. A peak at what you sleepy heads missed from 4 AM-6AM EDT. Just stick with me, kids. You won't miss a trick!

More anon.

Urbi et Orbi

*bounce bounce*

The Conclave commences!

Somehow, I will try to contain my excitement as the day's events unfold. But I warn you, if I see white smoke, the last person to Live Blog is a rotten egg.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Seinfelding British Television

So I watched Murder at the Vicarage tonight as mentioned, and when over, left it very downhearted.

I find repellant this trend on British telly to be "modern" in acting, to attack weighty topics, rather than the traditionally detailed, gloriously dated and marvellously silly performances we all remember as one of the wonders of modern TV.

Let me give you an example.

During the Golden Age of British television (the 1970's, a full 20 years after the US Golden Age of the 1950's), there was a distinct STYLE and essence to British comedies, dramas, detective shows, and soap operas. Even sport programming had a special tone, feel and look to it.

You saw Dad's Army, you knew it was inimitable. You watched Brideshead Revisited *, you left away breathless with awe. You giggled at the Carry On series, even though it was so hammy it hurt.

This era of classically trained actors whose personal mannerisms and inflections added to productions lasted, IMHO, until Coupling came along in 2000.

And basically Coupling is a lame British attempt at Seinfelding sitcoms.

You know what I mean -- the rattatat of cutesy patter instead of suggestive repartée or pretensionless piss-taking, the keynote of all great British television series.

Broad comedy is now replaced by attempts at long drawn-out life observations. Crime drama is replaced by societal monologues. Detective shows are full of sleuths searching for their inner child. Veiled sensuality or the wink-nudge-nudge of sexually infused camp (a mainstay of British culture) is gone, replaced by serious sex talk.

Ick!

This is basically what they have done to Miss Marple, starring my delectable but horribly aged Geraldine McEwan (poor thing, she was recently widowed).

The new Miss Marple

The one thing I note hasn't changed, and has not been Americanised, is that American penchant to have every actor look as if they are suspended before reaching the age of 40.

This gives American television and cinema today a preternatural youthfulness that simply doesn't lend itself to period pieces, and this is why Americans rarely do period pieces successfully anymore -- and I fear this might be the case for England, if these other trends continue.

As Gloria Swanson observed in Norma Desmondish pomposity, "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!".

Where oh where have the Lionel Barrymores and Marie Dresslers gone...I'd give anything to see a curmudgeon rasp out a line, insted of another monologue about Steve's dating woes.

* Brideshead Revisited Re-visited

Just in case you hadn't heard, they are re-doing Brideshead Revisited as a feature film.

So far, Jennifer Connelly has signed up as Julia Flyte, and Paul Bettany is reprising the key Charles Ryder-Jeremy Irons role.

Who, you say?

You know, he's the chap who played the surgeon in Master and Commander. Very blond fella, much more suited to the Sebastian Flyte role, but hey, I suppose Jude Law is earmarked for that as soon as he stops being the object of Chris Rock's wrath.

I don't know what to think about this remake, but primarily my first reaction on hearing they were re-doing Brideshead, echoed the first IMDB message board post called, "What's the point?".

Saturday, April 16, 2005

In praise of Geraldine McEwan

Quick, what is the first real television series you remember?

For me, a child who wasn't allowed more than an hour per day of telly, it was Mapp & Lucia, which I believe was shown on Channel 4. Sketchy childhood memory, since it was only recently that I bought the DVD set of the series, therefore not having seen it for exactly 20 years.

Though I now realise it was very camp, I was more in love with the staging and quality of production since, to me, they highlight one of the two finest classical and comedic actresss of our times: Prunella Scales, who needs no introduction thanks to Fawlty Towers, and my favourite actress, Geraldine McEwan.

As I remember her best

Just as with Susie Gharib, it is personally astonishing to me that more people are not aware of Geraldine McEwan.

If you ask the average man or woman on the street to name you the Top 10 Best British actresses living today, they will start off by naming Judi Dench -- which is fine, since she is without doubt the finest living actress today with the possible exception of two, Gena Rowlands and Fernanda Montenegro.

But then they will hem-and-haw for the next 9, even in the UK.

Almost no one will answer, "Geraldine McEwan", past veteran of stage and screen, of the large and small varieties. And I bet you dollars to donuts most people reading this blog piece haven't a clue who she is either.

Sigh.

Well today is your lucky day! Or rather tomorrow, Sunday night is your lucky day, if you live in the US.

On the usual Mystery Theatre slot on your local PBS station (usually at 9 PM EDT), they will showcase the first episode of the new Miss Marples series:

Murder at the Vicarage

Yes, it does come to pass that when a venerable British actress reaches a certain age, she too will try her hand as Miss Marple, as Margaret Rutherford, Angela Landsbury and Joan Hickson all found out.

And because she's treading on hallowed ground as Agatha Christie's beloved "insider looking out" village detective, some of the UK reviews have tended to harp on her much commented-on voice mannerisms, rather than appreciating the range it takes to go from frustrated lonely spinster in Mulberry, a dementedly prudish mother of a Sapphist child in Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, to the vicious Mother Superior in The Magdalene Sisters.

It's not easy being popular when you're so hateful on screen, I suppose.

Especially when you are such a lovely lady in real life, who sweetly sent not one but two signed photographs of yourself to a 10-year old little girl once, who was happy to spend her only hour of TV admiring your talents.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Death of Political Correctness

On 31 March of 2005, the EU Parliament pushed forward legislation to ban all references which might be construed as racist or sexist.

Not bad, right? Something any civilised human being in the 21st Century realises is a good thing, myself included.

But wait. It's never that straightforward in life. Alas...

You see, one country which is affected is Scotland, where many place names are deemed by these Belgian-based bureautrats to be sexist and/or racist.

Traditional, beloved and hitherto innocuous place names like:

  • Motherwell -- sexist
  • Blackburn -- racist
  • Helensburgh -- sexist
  • Fort William -- sexist
  • Campbeltown - sexist
  • Lewis -- sexist
  • Peterhead -- sexist, possibly pro-penis
  • Fraserburgh -- whatever
And instead of the usual British reaction of "you must be joking, sod off", Edinburgh City Council for one have promised to attack the problem and change the names to conform with the EU strictures.

Already suggestions for changing Motherwell to Parentwell have been received. *

No, I'm not kidding. But my good baby Zeus, how I wish I were. And don't you laugh. Your country is next, my friend.

Teresopolis, San Francisco, even Paris. Sexist, pro-religious, pro-Western mythology all.

But why are we so surprised?

We shouldn't be. This is the logical conclusion to the Politically Correct movement now in play in the West for the past 35 years.

How I loathe racism, intolerance, and insensitivity -- because their existence has made Political Correctness take root in this world. Instead of common sense and the natural evolution of society, we now get gag orders, government-led speech directives, and worst of all, double-standards galore.

Although I've heard many theories as to how it came about, the Politically Correct movement is an offshoot of the Lévi-Strauss school of cultural relativism.

Cultural relativism allows values from all peoples to be treated in their own context, not as we perceive them in our own cultures. In other words, it removes all value judgement.

In the post-Vietnam era, when the world underwent a monumental shift in societal attitudes, similar to the post-WWI decade, cultural relativism became applicable to one's own society as well. Since self-restraint was out, something else had to take its place, and when the personal breaks down, the official will always take over lest chaos ensues.

In its purest form, political correctness is simply respect. Which is fine.

Then it became respect for "the other". Still, okay.

With special sensitivity for the "oppressed". Right, starting to worry me.

And the "non-dominant". Hold it.

Finally, before we knew it, it transformed itelf into a minefield of do's and don'ts of speech.

Men are out, women in. White is out, colour is in. Judeo-Christianity is out, religion is definitely out, atheism/agnosticism/other religions are in. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

We in academia especially can't breathe for the -isms which guide our life. Agism, sexism, racism. You name it, there's an -ism for it.

You can't say fat, you must say overweight. You can't say short, you have to say vertically-challenged. One of my professors, a rabid feminist, insists on spelling female, femayle. God help the student who forgets that in his or her patient evaluation.

Me, I'm just waiting. Waiting for this movement to implode. Waiting for people to come to their senses and say, we understand sensitivity but changing the Isle of Man to the Isle of Human Beings is just nutty.

It well may be I have to wait for my parents' generation to die before we see that happen. And that's not a prospect I relish.

I end with a sentence likely to give the politically correct a myocardial infarction:

Please, may God in His wisdom change the hearts and minds of Man.

*UPDATE: A reader states that she read it was an early April Fool's article. Thank heavens for that! Now maybe I can forward this to my "femayle" professor.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Quick, to the Snopes Cave, Batman!

As I keep telling people, conspiracy theories are the graveyard of the intellect -- where all facts go to die.

So you may think that conspiracy theory debunkers are high on my list of Faves, and you would be right.

For a decade now, Barbara and David Mikkelson have been those dastardly fiction fighters, seeking out truth and justice wherever they are found online -- being the husband and wife team who run the exceptional Snopes site, where many an urban legend goes to die.

Now I know what you're thinking:

"Hey, what's wrong with believing in the Tooth Fairy?"

-or-

"I like the Easter Bunny and no high-falutin' urban myth debunkers will tell me different!"

-or even-

"People who go around investigating the veracity of The Mouse Skeleton in the Coke Bottle story have got a screw loose"

Yeah, like Albert Schweitzer saving lepers in Africa was so sane.

Don't pay attention to the nay-sayers, David and Babs! We, your adoring and non-donating readers, all love you. Although I still believe in Santy Claus.

So as I traipsed along to Snopes today, what should I find but a wonderful story that seemed to have escaped our attention in November 2004. I can't imagine what was happening then to have caused this oversight, can you?

As everyone knows, Elizabeth II is Colonel-in-Chief of many many regiments, not to mention Head of the British Armed Forces.

In this capacity, one she is rumoured to enjoy a lot, she frequently visits regiments and poses for the requisite snap to commemorate the event -- that much-loved British tradition of the "group photograph".

The regiment in question is the 1st Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, which is actually from Canada, being called "Princess Louise's Own" after Queen Victoria's 4th daughter, who was married to the Duke of Argyll, then Governor-General of Canada.

Down plopped HM the Queen, seated, as is the custom, next to the two ranking officers between her, including the CO, a very young 38-year-old Colonel, Simon West. He, like his brother officers, was resplendent in his tam o' shanter, dirk and kilts.

But hang on a mo' -- look at that sly grin on his face. He looks very pleased with himself, even for a man seated next to a woman with a crown in her handbag. Could something be awry?

Who let the dawgs out?

It turned out, this was the airbrushed photo, since the original showed that another beloved tradition was also being upheld. Scots don't wear underpants under their kilts. Shhh! Pass it on.

Modesty dictates I not post pr0n on my site, but you can check the original HERE.

And of course, Colonel West apologised profusely for his lapse, and said no way in a million months of Sundays did he intend to cause the Queen any disrespect, mmm-kay.

But I'm not so sure.

His handsome rakish smile reminds me of another photo, also showcasing a military man meeting a famous lady.

Keep Your Friends Close and Your...

How goes the saying, Lieutenant? "Cross your heart, and hope to die". Yikes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Announcing

I am going to take a mini-sabbatical from my medical career effective immediately.

They say when one door closes, two open, but in my case, it's merely ajar. I'll be back tomorrow as per usual.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Online Hunting

As I was driving yesterday, I happened to tune into NPR'S All Things Considered programme.

I listen to NPR the same way I still read the NYT online -- because at the end of the day, their cultural notes programming is second-to-none in their respective media.

Now, I'm used to NPR being very eclectic in their choices of stories, always skewed to their particular world vision, but none more so than highlighting a quadraplegic who wanted to go hunting...but since he can't do so physically, he was going online instead.

Yes, in case you haven't heard, there are now online sites where you can pay to hunt, and more importantly, to shoot animals in controlled situations.

With a mouse, you click when you want a shot fired, and the person holding the shotgun on the other "side", receives a signal to fire at that precise time. Until then, you use your monitor to stalk the animal, and as in real-life hunting, you are not assured you will have any prey that day. Like all hunters, you have to wait and see.

I cannot IMAGINE the amount of controversy this online gaming will garner. Already there are initiatives in place state-by-state to outlaw the practise, and indeed, in some States it is already illegal.

But the issue is more complex than a cut-and-dried PETA'ish knee-jerk reaction.

How do you say to people like Dale Hagberg, that quadraplegic, that the activity he used to love, and which he thought he could never again participate in, that it's yet again been taken away from him? In fact, his mother said as much, when she conjectured if people knew quads like her son, they wouldn't be so dismissive of the idea, at least out-of-hand.

When I was a little girl, coming as I do from a countryside family in Oxfordshire, I was taught to handle a pair of Purdey's like some kids are taught to ride bicycles. I'm not a crack shot, but I can hold my own. I'm certainly not scared of blood, and have a philosophical/practical attitude to hunting. In the back of my mind, should ever the occasion arise to have to kill for sustenance, I know I could.

Nevertheless, this online gaming doesn't appeal, possibly because it's not a particular hobby of mine -- unlike tennis.

(So when will online tennis be available? With a mouse click handling a return of serve or a smash -- that's what I'd like to know. Sign me up!)

The correct question then is not to ask why hunting, and but why not, so far, other sports?

Presumably this includes:

1) Price of activity -- where hunting sites can definitely charge more than other gaming sites, simply because of the decreased time and places it's legal to do so. The internet is driven by either porn or gambling, which are credit card activities, and online hunting is a logical extension.

2) Availability -- to use my tennis analogy again, if The Tennis Channel is still not available on cable, how can we expect them to be on the ball (pun intended) with online practise sites?

3) Mindset or Cultural attitudes -- a certain gaming generation that has grown up more readily able to point-and-shoot. Also, huntin' and shootin' in the UK, for example, is traditionally an upper-class activity, in a country which romanticises the country. In the US, it thought to be a rural and blue-collar activity, in a country which romanticises the city. Unlike the UK, there is not a class impasse where one section feels alienated from the other because of possible rejection of "getting above one's station". This, as much as anti-cruelty to animals, was the driving force behind the ban on foxhunting. In the US, the leveller is money, and if you have it, even on credit, you're in.

4) Communal activity -- the lone hunter is not as prevalent as group hunters, as any shooting party can tell you, albeit stalking usually is. It seems to me that this is the one sport where you can marry older and younger generations in one mouse, and neither will feel out of their elements.

5) Male-centric activity -- it could well be an activity where fathers and sons will especially feel happy to have now. To take that away will seem as yet another intrusion or even obliteration of what Western society does not feel comfortable with anymore: male predominance in any aspect of life. *

*Bill Maher, in his Victory HBO show, acts as if he is the only person who says the truth, especially about modern American society being more "feminised" -- this I find yet another symptom of his decreasing powers of perspicacity. People, men and women both, have been observing this trend ever since the 1980s, when the politically correct movement gained ground.

6) Psychological Remove of the Internet -- to people who are Luddites, or just uncomfortable with the internet in general (which includes even those who use it frequently), this must be the ultimate Yahtzee! topic. Combining lack of gun control with teenagers, males, possibly a primarily white-only activity, killing on command via a denatured monitor in front of them.

7) Consequences -- If Fritz Lang were alive, he would have portrayed teen robots with guns, being made to kill on command with emotional detachment by a merciless and money-driven society. The exploited becoming exploiters is the worst nightmare which certain people fetishise beyond belief. Online hunting might be a clarion call for these people.

Therefore, given these points above, I cannot WAIT for the arguments to start, Michael Moore documentaries to film, and ad-hoc protest marches to convene. You watch them fall neatly into place, just as I have delineated them above.

I can read NPR like a book.


 




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