Saturday, March 07, 2015

Radio Greats: Stranger in Town (The Family Theater)

Many of the great programs of the Golden Age of Radio have their distinctive characteristics, but The Family Theater is unique even among the most unique. Broadcast on the Mutual Broadcasting System, it had no commercial sponsor at all, and yet it ran for ten years and managed to pull in some of the best actors and actresses of the day. The writing is also excellent -- they do a brilliant mix of serious and funny.

It was also an explicitly religious program. While there were lots of religious programs on radio, some of which were significant -- one of them, Unshackled!, is the only Golden Age program still running -- none of them had the significance of The Family Theater, which was the religious program almost everyone would have at least known about. Part of the reason is in the name: it was a program designed for the family to gather around to hear, and it did very well at providing material for that demographic. And its influence was considerable. It was, for instance, The Family Theater that popularized the saying, "The family that prays together, stays together."

The Family Theater was the brainchild of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., commonly known as The Rosary Priest because of his Rosary Crusades designed to promote praying the Rosary. Fr. Peyton had quite a knack for media; he is easily one of the most significant figures in mass media in the mid-twentieth century.

There are lots of excellent of episodes of The Family Theater -- they did such a wide range stories, everything from The Little Prince to serial dramas to humorous little stand-alones to historicals to Moby Dick that you can find good versions of almost any kind of story you might like. It would be hard to choose a best one. The one I've selected out for this post is the one I've heard most recently. It is a quirky little stand-alone, an idea piece; it builds slowly but cleverly to a double punchline, one serious and one joking. There's not much action, but the interaction between the main characters, Danny (played by Raymond Burr, best known for his television role as Perry Mason) and Eve (played by Virginia Gregg, one of the greatest radio actresses of all time), is charming and interesting -- you never know the next direction it will go. The host is Eleanor Powell, who had been an extremely popular actress in the 1930s.

You can listen to "Stranger in Town" at My Old Radio.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XVI

There is no need for us to roam about heaven and earth in quest of God, or to send forth our minds into diverse places in search of Him. Therefore, purify your soul, O man, and drive away from you all cares which concern things outside your nature, and shroud your soul's perceptions and movements with the veil of chastity and humility: by this means you will discover Him that is within you, since 'mysteries are revealed to the humble' (Sir. 3:19).

Homily 4 (pp. 148-149)

Friday, March 06, 2015

Neither Cloud nor Wind-borne

The Gods of the Copybook Headings
by Rudyard Kipling

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

A useful reflection for Lent, I think, which is in great measure about not hiding things under glittering veils and masks.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XV

This world is the course of the contest and the arena of the courses. This time is the time of combat; and there is no law laid down in the field of combat and in the time of contest. That is to say, the King lays no limit on His warriors until the contest is finished and all men are brought to the gate of the King of kings, where each is examined whether he persevered in the contest and refused to admit defeat, or turned his back. For it oftentimes happens that a man who is altogether useless, who, because of his lack of training, is constantly pierced and thrown down, who is feeble at all times, suddenly seizes the banner from the hands of the mighty warriors, the sons of the giants, and makes his name famous....For this reason, no man should despair; only, let us not be negligent in prayer, nor be slothful to beseech the Lord for succor.

Homily 70 (p. 490).

Thursday, March 05, 2015

William Wallace, OP (1918-2015)

Fr. William Wallace died on March 3, at age 96. Fr. Wallace was a very important, and occasionally controversial, historian and philosopher of science. He taught at the University of Maryland. Among his notable publications:

The Scientific Methodology of Theodoric of Freiberg: A Case Study of the Relationship Between Science and Philosophy. (1959)

Galileo's Early Notebooks: The Physical Questions: A Translation from the Latin, with Historical and Paleographical Commentary. (1977)

Prelude to Galileo: Essays on Medieval and Sixteenth-Century Sources of Galileo's Thought. (1981)

Galileo and His Sources: The Heritage of the Collegio Romano in Galileo's Science. (1984)

Galileo, the Jesuits and the Medieval Aristotle. (1991)

Galileo's Logic of Discovery and Proof: The Background, Content, and Use of His Appropriated Treatises on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. (1992)

Galileo's Logical Treatises: A Translation, With Notes and Commentary, of His Appropriated Latin Questions on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. (1992)

The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis. (1996)

When I was in grad school, I heard an interesting talk by him on the history of measurement, namely, the development of 'per'. That is, how do we get from measuring things in terms like "five miles in an hour" to saying that someone is going, right now, "five miles per hour"? Or, to put it in other terms, we all know what the unit "mile" is, and what the unit "hour" is, but what is the unit "mile per hour"? The latter kind of unit is actually surprisingly late. For a very long time people resisted the notion that these hybrid units were proper units; they were very often taken to be calculating conveniences rather than measures of anything real.

His conclusions were sometimes controversial, but his work is absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the thought of Galileo. His major work, The Modeling of Nature, is also essential reading for anyone interested in broadly scholastic and Aristotelian approaches to science and the natural world.

(The above video is a preview of a course he taught through International Catholic University, based on The Modeling of Nature and his summary reference work, The Elements of Philosophy; you can see the quite developed and informative notes for the course as well.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XIV

Read often and insatiably the books of the teachers of the Church on divine providence, for they lead the mind to discern the order in God's creatures and His actions, give it strength, and by their subtleness they prepare it to acquire luminous perceptions and guide it in purity toward the understanding of God's creatures. Read also the Gospels, which God ordained for knowledge for the whole world, that you may find provisions for your journey in the might of God's providence for every generation, and that your mind may plunge deeply into wonder at Him.

Homily 4 (p. 146).

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Books III & IV

Book III

If we could roughly summarize Book II as having the theme of 'day by day', we can roughly summarize Book III as having the theme of 'looking ahead'. As with Book II, Book III reflects on mortality, but it does so in particular by repeatedly considering what kind of life one should live for what is left of one's life. In a sense we can say it takes the ideas of Book II and stretches them out from daily life to our indeterminate future. Marcus, of course, is throughout talking to himself, even when I say 'we'.

We should keep in mind that even before we die our capacities might fade. We should also keep in mind that many of the charms of life are little things, not beautiful in themselves, that contribute to the excellence of the larger picture: this is true of the cracks on baked bread, the bursting of figs or the beauty of olives as they are about to decay, and true also "of ears of wheat as they bend to the ground, of the wrinkles of a lion's brow, of the foam flowing from a boar's mouth" (III, 2). It is this that lets us see what we are likely otherwise to miss, that there is a sort of freshness and new beauty in the aged, a rightness in its own way, given the larger scheme of things.

We spend too much time thinking about what other people are doing, worrying about their thoughts when it has nothing to do with the common good. This wastes what remains of our lives (4). We should seek "justice, truth, self-control, courage," that is, the life of Reason, because it is not appropriate for anything else "to stand in the way of what is reasonable and for the common good" (6). We should not treat what is inconsistent with virtue as being in any way beneficial to us (7), but instead respect our capacity to reason (9).

We should then describe things to ourselves in whatever way they actually are, seeing everything in its context (12); and we should, in addition always keep the essential ideas of Stoicism ready and 'on call' for whenever they might be useful (13), and not get lost in bookish wanderings (14).

We are made of body, soul, and mind; but the body we share with kind, the soul we share with wild beasts and catamites and people like Nero, and the mind with plotters and thieves. What do we have that rises above? What makes the good man? That

he loves and welcomes whatever happens to him and whatever his fate may bring, that he does not pollute the spirit established within his breast or confuse it with a mass of impressions and imaginings, but preserves it blameless, modestly following the divine, saying nothing but what is true, doing nothing but what is just. (16)

Pierre Hadot has noted that ancient philosophy is very concerned with what he calls spiritual exercises, little activities that help us to be better people. The Meditations, of course, is a book in which Marcus Aurelius is recording his own spiritual exercises. We have already seen this somewhat, but it becomes even more clear here in Book III, where the Emperor is engaging in a more systematic approach and summarizing some of the key spiritual exercises he thinks are important, and, even more than this, is actively reminding himself that he should focus on these spiritual activities and not "vague wanderings" (14).

Book IV

While Book III at least approached some sort of systematic discussion, Book IV begins the pattern that will be followed throughout the rest of the books, of shorter, more disconnected comments that formulate and reformulate the Stoic ideas with which Marcus Aurelius was concerned. Many of the sayings of Book IV are specifically on the theme of reason, but, of course, this topic connects with everything in Stoicism; Hadot notes, however, that Book IV carries over a number of themes from Books II and III (The Inner Citadel, p. 265).

As rational beings we should recognize our place in the cosmopolis:

If we have intelligence in common, so we have reason which makes us reasoning beings, and that practical reason which orders what we must or must not do; then the law too is common to us, and, if so, we are citizens; if so, we share a common government; if so,t he universes is, as it were, a city--for what other common government could one say is shared by all mankind? (IV, 4)

The cosmopolis is the city of Zeus (23), and we should have a sort of patriotic regard for it. Those who do not understand the universe's principles, however, are like foreigners in their own city, self-impose exiles (29). We should even think of the cosmos as a living being of interconnected parts (40).

Almost everything we know changes. The former times have passed (32), deeds become legend (33), as time is a river of things (43). Remembered and rememberer are both ephemeral (35). Everything is fleeting, so we should focus on what matters:

What is it which should earnestly concern us? this only: a just mind, actions for the common good, speech which never lies, and a disposition which welcomes all that happens as necessary and comprehensible, as flowing from a like origin and source. (33)

We should recognize that what does not make us worse cannot make our lives worse (8), and that everything which happens, is right (9). If something is bad for us, it is because we have judged it bad, so we should judge anything that could happen to good men and bad men alike as indifferent (39). When faced with apparent difficulty, we should think of it in this way: "this is no misfortune, but to endure it nobly is good fortune" (49).

There are, of course, quite a few other things here. For example: We should always be ready to do what reason shows best for humanity, but also be ready to change how we do things if someone puts us right (12). We should not be distracted by what our neighbors are doing and saying but should focus on what we ourselves are saying and doing (18). Beautiful things have their beauty in themselves; they do not get it from praise (20).

to be continued

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XIII

It is better for you to free yourself from the shackle of sin than to free slaves from their slavery. It is better for you to make peace with your soul, causing concord to reign over the trinity within you (I mean, the body, the soul, and the spirit), than by your teaching to bring peace among men at variance....It is more profitable for you to attend to raising up unto the activity of your cogitations concerning God the deadness of your soul due to the passions, than it is to resurrect the dead.

Many have accomplished mighty acts, raised the dead, toiled for the conversion of the erring, and have wrought great wonders; and by their hands they have led many to the knowledge of God. Yet after these things, these same men who quickened others, fell into vile and abominable passions and slew themselves, becoming a stumblingblock for many when their acts were made manifest. For they were still sickly in soul, but instead of caring for their souls' health, they committed themselves to the sea of this world in order to heal the souls of others, being yet in ill health; and, in the manner I have stated, they lost their souls and fell away from their hope in God.

Homily 4 (pp. 144-145).

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Four Thoughts

I have been thinking recently about what might be four ethical ideas that I wish were taken more seriously, or taken seriously among a wider group of people, and these are the four I came up with:

(1) Some things that are morally permissible are nonetheless morally risky.
(2) Enduring difficulty is itself a human excellence.
(3) We should restrain ourselves even when dealing with good and innocent pleasures.
(4) Exchanges should be done in such a way that all parties to the exchange benefit in some way.

The sharp eye might note the connection to the cardinal virtues. What are some ethical ideas that you think should be taken more seriously?

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XII

You yourself know that at all times the hope of comfort is wont to make men forget what is great, and good, and virtuous. Unless they resolve in their minds to suffer hardships, not even those who are found in this present world in the life of the flesh can attain the end of their desire. And since experience testifies to this, there is no need to prove it with words. For in every generation of those who have gone before us, even until now, it is this and nothing else that has made men feeble, so that they do not gain victories and are hindered from excellent deeds. Therefore, to sum up: no man disdains the Kingdom of the Heavens except in hope of some small comfort in this life.

Homily 72

Monday, March 02, 2015

Texas Independence Day

In 1836 fifty-nine delegates from various parts of Texas arrived at Washington-on-the-Brazos in the midst of Texas's war with Mexico to hammer out exactly why they were engaged in a war against Mexico. Discontent against Mexican rule had been so extensive that going to war was the easy part. There was broad agreement about the occasions for the war, but it had quickly become clear that there was widespread disagreement about the objective of the war. In particular, there was a considerable rift between those who held that the war should aim at independence and those who held that the war should aim at restoring the constitutional status of the free states of Mexico that had been granted by the 1824 Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States but had been increasingly ignored and then finally repealed in 1835. (The latter was very closely tied to the original reasons for the war, and was a big, big issue. Texas was not the only Mexican state to rebel over it. Yucatan would declare its independence for exactly the same reason a few years later, and a number of other Mexican states began actively refusing to cooperate in various ways with the federal government of Mexico.)

One of the results, modeled on the U.S. Declaration of Independence, was the Texas Declaration of Independence. It bears some remarks of the inconsistencies in the Texas position (e.g., it lists as causes of war both the repeal of the 1824 Constitution, which established the Catholic Church as the national religion, and the establishment of a national religion), but obviously it came down firmly on the independence side of the debate. That document was signed on March 2, 1836, making this Texas Independence Day.

The Convention also enacted a conscription law and established a provisional government with David Burnet as Interim President and Lorenzo de Zavala as Interim Vice President. (Burnet was not a delegate to the Convention, but had arrived at that time in Washington-on-the-Brazos in the hope of gathering volunteers to assist in the desperate situation at the Alamo. Zavala was a delegate, and had been one of Mexico's most talented statesman.) They also expanded Sam Houston's military authority.

Because of the Mexican Army, Burnet transferred the state capital from Washington-on-the-Brazos to Harrisburg almost immediately. As Santa Anna closed in on Harrisburg, the seat of government was transferred to Galveston on April 13. On April 21, Santa Anna was captured by Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto, which ended the war.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XI

Present your petitions to God so as to accord with His glory, that your honor may be magnified before Him, and he rejoice over you.

Homily 3 (p. 135).

Sunday, March 01, 2015

A Poem Draft

Second Week in Lent

"To know the goodness of God is the highest prayer of all."

What lowly treasures do I bring,
like macaroni strung on string,
to Christ my Savior, God, and King:
good deeds like beads or bits of shell
to One who saves from death and hell!

Not though I plan and toil and fret
can I repay a tenth my debt,
or can return the good I've met;
all I can do is show I know
and scatter mercies as I go.

Fortnightly Book, March 1

The fortnightly book this time around is Two Plays of Anton Chekhov. Chekhov was thrown into literary life as many great authors are, by a desperate need to support his family. He also did extensive medical work as a doctor, despite the fact that he himself suffered from tuberculosis, which, of course, eventually killed him. He is best known as a short story writer, but he wrote several plays. He is regarded as a master of indirect action and subtext; he has a tendency to structure his plays so that major elements of dramatic action occur off stage, and things left unspoken sometimes matter as much as things that are said. His plays are often regarded as masterpieces but difficult to produce; they make very careful and deliberate use of temporal effects, for instance -- other playwrights will tell you that a scene takes place in a room, but Chekhov will tell you that it takes place in the room at noon on a sunny day, and this will make a difference to the story. He also likes using sound effects to carry information. The following stage direction from The Three Sisters shows something of both of these qualities:

The bedroom of OLGA and IRINA. On the left and right beds with screens around them. Past two o'clock at night. Behind the scenes a bell is ringing on account of a fire in the town, which has been going on for some time. It can be seen that no one in the house has gone to bed yet. Ont he sofa MASHA is lying, dressed as usual in black. Enter OLGA and ANFISA.

The two plays in the volume are The Cherry Orchard and The Three Sisters, each of which took him a year to write, and both of which are often considered good even for Chekhov. They are translated by Constance Garnett, who was famous for her translations of Russian works.

The volume is by The Heritage Press (New York), so it has a nice maroon vellum cloth binding with gold stamping. You can see it online here. It also has an introduction by actor Sir John Gielgud and illustrations by the very famous graphic artist and illustrator, Lajos Szalay. The type is twelve-point Garamond.