December 04, 2004

WooHoo! Birthday Surprises

Presents included the Spongebob Christmas movie AND

His Excellency Joseph Ellis. If it's as fine as Founding Brothers it will be a real pleasure.

Still waiting for Black Mischief

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 03, 2004

Center for Economic and Social Justice

So many groups have names that are so much alike, that I am left to wonder. I stumbled across this site, thanks to an e-mail I received and found some interesting information on it. I will explore further, but I welcome any input. Economic and Social justice are incredibly important to me, but given the experience of the Methodist Church, a large part of which became derailed with the Social Gospel movement of the 50s and 60s, I am wary. The two documents on the site that I saw do bear imprimaturs, but if anyone has anything to share about the group, I would love to hear it.

However, the following passage does give me a clue:

Let us start with a simple thesis. Political democracy cannot preserve the institutions of a free society unless everyone can participate on an equal basis. An economically free and classless society - another way of describing economic democracy - is therefore both a goal and a means for supporting political democracy.

Is an "economic democracy" an necessary concomittant of a political democracy? I don't think so. And while I do not necessarily reject the validity of an economic democracy, I find this kind of argument vaguely manipulative. But then I'm leaping to conclusions. And, I really wanted to get TSO's goat this morning. Now I'll be classed with the Marxists of the world (get a clue people--it hasn't worked on a large scale ANYWHERE where the government wasn't absolutely horrendously oppressive and rife with corruption). But, so be it. I like the idea of economic democracy to a greater or lesser extent. Particularly when I hear about the spectacular contributions so-and-so made to the economy, when those contributions were the results of the workers actually producing the product, not necessarily the CEO watching the bottom line. But now I know I'm entering really dicey territory both because (1) I don't really know what I'm talking about except anecdotally; and (2) this isn't a passion (see TSO's post of yesterday or this morning about that--wonderful work.)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:14 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Gaudy Night The Screen Adaptation

The dullness and sheer shrewish repulsiveness of the book is faithfully brought to the screen. So faithfully I was only able to endure the first episode before turning it off. Harriet Vane isn't as odious as those with whom she associates--but what a clutch of harpies.

Now, I know that this was Sayer's version of A Room of One's Own arguing for the possible academic integrity of women studying at a university. But it is an unfortunate venue populated with the Oscar Wilde version of a fox-hunt--"The unspeakable chasing the inedible."

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a fan of Gaudy Night as Tom noted, I constitute a very small (but vocal) minority of Sayers' fans. On the other hand, I am truly a Sayers' fan and only reluctantly a partisan of Lord Peter Wimsey, who I generally find as apalling as the characters in an Evelyn Waugh novel. (Can't wait to read Black Mischief.)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

An Apology and a Thank You

First an apology.

Work is intense. I don't know how often I will be able to post as I'm working 14-16 hour days of late and this will continue for some time. I grab a moment here or there when I probably shouldn't, but it won't be much. Thus, please excuse both the paucity of posting and an even-worse-than-usual proofreading and correction cycle.

Second, a thanks to all who participated in the disucssion generted by TSO's remarkable post. I love it, I would love for it to continue. Great stuff from great minds. I may not be a center of controversy myself, but I sure can identify what they look like.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 02, 2004

Follow-up to Vile Bodies

Terry Teachout has a review of the film version in this month's Crisis. While I'm not certain I agree with some of his statements about the book, I am more interested in seeing the film now.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 01, 2004

Two Varieties of Saints

Although he might all-unknowingly be playing his cards right into Nietzsche's hands, TSO has a very interesting post regarding Two Kinds of Saints. What is of interest here is the ring of something substantive just beneath the surface. I looked at the list he compiled and found myself squarely in the "Mercy" camp of things. With the exception of St. Francis, with whom I have enormous difficulty relating--the list TSO compiles accurately represents the Saints who are "accessible" to me. More revealilngly the saints on the "Justice" side of the scales are and always have been either inaccessible (St. Thomas Aquinas) or distasteful (St. Jerome).

The placement of Pascal is an interesting dilemma, for while he was an acute Mathematician, his Pensées seem to fall more directly into the "Mercy literature" than into the more apologetic literature of the many others on the Justice side of the camp. However, that is something worthy of closer inspection and more thought.

At any rate, give yourself a treat and go and see what TSO has thought out. Then e-mail him your thoughts on the matter. This is one of those cases in which I wish he had comments--I would love to see the discussion that would evolve around this very interesting speculation.

And in this line, truer words were never spoken (regardless of my statements above about affinities):

"What of those who have a foot in both camps, who have both right-brain and left-brain tendencies? I think it makes for some unpredictability and a lot of fence-sitting. Steven Riddle maybe? "

Fence-sitting R US! And I sure hope that there is some measure of unpredicatablility--otherwise I might get bored. (TSO, didn't even read that lilne until my third time through!)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:57 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Not a Stalwart Chestertonian

No, I'm not. I like some things, find many things rather poorly written, and find the poetry often all-but-unreadable (there are notable exceptions--sections of The White Horse and Lepanto). But as many are perfectly will to tell you there are some wonderful treasures. In the e-books I posted a link to the other day I found this delightful excerpt of an essay:

from "A Defense of Penny Dreadfuls" in The Defendant
G.K. Chesterton

One of the strangest examples of the degree to which ordinary life is undervalued is the example of popular literature, the vast mass of which we contentedly describe as vulgar. The boy's novelette may be ignorant in a literary sense, which is only like saying that a modern novel is ignorant in the chemical sense, or the economic sense, or the astronomical sense; but it is not vulgar intrinsically--it is the actual centre of a million flaming imaginations.

In former centuries the educated class ignored the ruck of vulgar literature. They ignored, and therefore did not, properly speaking, despise it. Simple ignorance and indifference does not inflate the character with pride. A man does not walk down the street giving a haughty twirl to his moustaches at the thought of his superiority to some variety of deep-sea fishes. The old scholars left the whole
under-world of popular compositions in a similar darkness.

To-day, however, we have reversed this principle. We do despise vulgar compositions, and we do not ignore them. We are in some danger of becoming petty in our study of pettiness; there is a terrible Circean law in the background that if the soul stoops too ostentatiously to examine anything it never gets up again.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Henry James E-Texts

A more or less recently acquired literary taste, Henry James rewards the careful reader with delights beyond number. His books are not light, nor are they immediately accessible by all. However, every single book or story I have read by him has been worth the effort in far greater measure than might be said for more recent literary figures.

So, I was delighted to find at one of the best of Henry James e-text sites (that of Adrian Dover) the following three works:

The Private Life-- a collection of Short Stories, not featuring his best know work, but still, some fine stories.
The Princess Casamassisma which Dover notes is unique amongst Henry James's work in that it features a character from a previous, much earlier work (Roberick Hudson) as the title character.
Tales of Three Cities--once again, short stories, and not his more famous work, but then, perhaps more of his work should be justly applauded. His stories are small gems, intricate and elaborate works that reward rereading in nearly every case.

Anyway, I hope I've intrigued you by my own interest. If you have not yet read or started to read Henry James, set aside a block of time and take up his famous "Christmas Story" The Turn of the Screw. Or look into another, more social realist work such as The Golden Bowl. But be warned--you must be willing to spend time to really enjoy Henry James. If you're looking for a quick read, you'd do better to look up Bret Harte or Mark Twain.

And just for the record, I will note that one of the finalists for the Naitonal Book Award was an Irish Author's novel based on Henry James's life--titled The Master --I haven't read it yet, but I am looking forward to it.

Just located at another site:

The Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales --an early collection of short stories which includes both "A Romance of Certain Old Clothes" and "The Madonna of the Future." Henry James's early works are much more accessible and straight forward than some of the more mature work.

Take this classic Jamesian set-up for a story, from "Madonna of the Future" as an example of his fine art:

WE had been talking about the masters who had
achieved but a single masterpiece, -- the art-
ists and poets who but once in their lives had known
the divine afflatus, and touched the high level of the
best. Our host had been showing us a charming little
cabinet picture by a painter whose name we had never
heard, and who, after this one spasmodic bid for fame,
had apparently relapsed into fatal mediocrity. There
was some discussion as to the frequency of this phe-
nomenon; during which, I observed, H -- sat silent,
finishing his cigar with a meditative air, and looking
at the picture, which was being handed round the table.
"I don't know how common a case it is," he said at
last, "but I 've seen it. I 've known a poor fellow who
painted his one masterpiece, and" -- he added with a
smile -- "he did n't even paint that. He made his bid
for fame, and missed it." We all knew H -- for a
clever man who had seen much of men and manners,
and had a great stock of reminiscences. Some one im-
mediately questioned him further, and while I was en-
grossed with the raptures of my neighbor over the little
picture, he was induced to tell his tale.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Celtic Riddle--Lyn Hamilton

Lyn Hamilton has produced a series of mysteries that have the subtitle "An Archaeological Mystery." While this might not be technically correct for the present book (it is more like an Ethnographical mystery or a Cultural Anthropological Mystery), I am certain that the subtitle attracts more than its share of people interested in the subject.

In the present case, Our Heroine, Lara McClintoch journeys to Ireland with her friend and employee Alex to hear the reading of a will in which Alex is left a small cottage on the Irish coast by someone he met once, a long time ago. As part of the will, the Decedent set up a treasure hunt for an enormously valuable relic. The purpose of the hunt was to get his dysfunctional family to work together. The result is a triple murder.

Now, an inveterate reader of mysteries will know "whodunit" before the heroine. I know I did. There's just something a little coy in the writing that, if you have learned to pick up on it, triggers a kind of intuition. That is certainly true here. The mystery is not tightly constructed (oh, how I miss the golden age)--largely because much too much attention is lavished on the truly interesting treasure hunt.

I'm a sucker for treasure hunt books. It's why, much to everyone's chagrin, I liked both Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code and it explains a certain amount of my myopia concerning them. I could care less about the trappings, its the fun of moving from one clue to the next (regardless of how hare-brained they might be.) In this case you haven't much opportunity to move from one to the next unless you are intimately familiar with Ireland, here legends, and her history. Nevertheless, the author deftly guides you past the clue and even at one point gives you a map to help you to try to decipher the location of the treasure. In the course of all this, she makes one enormous gaffe (having the sun rise in Ireland in the northeast) and may make others.

But somehow, all of that does not matter. The heroine is fun, interesting, and not a know-it-all. The novel is interspersed with tales from The Book of Invasions told, more or less accurately (from my recollection--it's been a while). We encounter all the major figures of Irish Mythology--Nuada, Lugh, Fionn. Cuchulain, Maeve, Almu, the Morrigan, etc. All of this with official eccentric Irish Orthography.

The book is fun, light, entertaining, and informative. There are some serious faults, but not something that most people will mind (I'm a stickler for "fairness" and for Golden Age plotting a clue-laying). And for the price of admission you get a fairly good story and a nice does of Irish Mythology.


Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 29, 2004


Books from Gutenberg--Chesterton--scroll to November 29

* The Crimes of England
* The Barbarism of Berlin
* The Appetite of Tyranny, Including Letters to an Old Garibaldian
* The Wild Knight, and Other Poems
* The Defendant (second edition, 1902)
* Twelve Types
* Robert Browning
* The New Jerusalem
* Varied Types

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Quiz Result with a Zinger

You scored as Catholic. Welcome to the One, Holy, CATHOLIC, and Apostolic Church! You my Friend are a Catholic. You have a strong sense of something outside of yourself and feel drawn to answer profound questions to satisfy your desires. You recognize that truth isn't self-centered or about inventing something new, but rather following the road map of your heart to a bigger picture. You are probably baptized.













created with

And now the zinger--an old complaint, but one I never tire of repeating. Why the heck is there "Catholic" as some sort of distinct entity from Christian. It is this mindset/divide that really defines Catholic identity in the minds of many. My wife had a very dear friend of long duration with whom she had spoken for a great many years. When my wife announced that she was becoming Catholic, the friend's response was, "Well you won't be Christian any more and I don't assoicate with non-christians." (She was following a supposedly Biblical injunction to this effect. However, I wonder how well she functioned as an evangelist if this was truly what she practiced.)

Anyway, for future quizmasters--Catholic is Christian, definitively Christian, one of two "Churches" that has the right and obligation to define the meaning of Christian. We do not sit outside of tradition, we are the tradition which gives meaning at all to the word Christian.

Diatribe over, but sure to rise to the surface again given the next quiz to separate the groups without appropriate modifiers, i.e. "Other" Christians.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:45 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

From Ronald Knox--Sermon on Advent

They only knew that, some time, the stock of David would burgeon anew; some time, a key would be found to fit the door of their prison house; some time, the light that only showed now, like a will-o'-the-wisp on the horizon would broaden out, at last, into the perfect day.

This attitude of expectation is one which the Church wants to encourage in us, her children permanently. She sees it as an essential part of our Christian drill. . . So she encourages us, during Advent, to take the shepherd-folk for our guides, and imagine ourselves travelling with them at dead of night, straining our eyes towards that chink of light which streams out, we know, from the cave at Bethlehem.

I found the excerpt in In Conversation with God for the Advent Season.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Vile Bodies--Evelyn Waugh

It is said by some that Evelyn Waugh writes some of the most biting satarical novels of the twentieth century. This description strikes me an inaccurate in one respect and that is the question as to whether Mr. Waugh's work could properly be characterized as "novels."

Take this book for example. While I enjoyed it tremendously, I would ve very hard-pressed to give you any notion whatsoever as to what it was actually "about" in terms of story. It is about the glittery, flittery, flilghty, uncertain, undependable between-the-wars generation of youth and their vapid, aimless lives. It takes into its broad sweep everything from politics to religion to the upper class of Great Britain of the time. And yet, to say that there is a story would be an exaggeration.

Vile Bodies is a follow-up to Decline and Fall, Waugh's first novel. It contains some of the same characters continuing their odd trajectories through life. For example, we meet once again the white-slaver Lady M. who hosts a party at which a well-known evangelical minister presents her choir. We meet Peter Pastmaster--hero of the first novel and fall-guy. But this novel centers around two new people, Adam and Nina, penniless, profligate, promiscuous, and desiring marriage.

Vile Bodies has the same abrupt happenings and mordant wit as when a young lady who plays no considerable role in the novel dies in accident resulting from swinging on the chandelier. And the fate of Ms. Runcible is also mordantly recounted.

I find moments in each of Waugh's novel amusing--not uproarious, not hilarious--merely amusing. But his writing is so darned good and his observations of the people around him so acute that each novel is a gem. And more than this, his unflinching gaze into the mirror is admirable. When Waugh satirizes, no one is spared, including Waugh himself.

Vile Bodies has been made into a movie recently. In an interview with the director of the film (Jeeves--Stephen Frey) the "auteur" revealed that he played this straight, that these are admirable people going about finding meaning in life. This suggests to me that Mr. Frey completely missed the point of Mr. Waugh's novel.

An even higher recommendation is that the epigraph is, I believe from Phillippians 2:11:

"Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. "

Nowhere does Waugh suggest this transformation in the book. Moreover, the last chapter of the book is a complete change of scenery--a complete divergence from what has come before.

Perhaps my confusion regarding this work is that I don't really "get" satire. I don't understand its purpose, and too often if seems petty, mean-spirited, and hardly what one might expect from a gifted Christian writer (although I grant that this novel is from the "pre-Chrisitan" or at least pre-Catholic-Christian phase of Waugh's career).

Despite my lack of assurance with the text, I did enjoy the work and I do recommend it highly to those interested in Waugh and in why Waugh has the high reputation he does. (An easier and much more mordant beginning can be found in the uproarious The Loved One.)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

From an E-mail Correspondent

I received a very nice e-mail from the webmaster of this pro-life site. Be warned, the material is graphic, but it appears to have a wealth of quotes, information, and stories about abortion and people who have had abortions. It may be a good source of information when you are seeking to find something that would sway the wavering pro-choice advocate.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack