Wednesday, July 18, 2018

You are Cordially Invited

The mind behind the Bear is live at Conspiracy of Crows. If you have not yet checked it out, I would love to have more visitors. As you probably know, you're not likely to find controversy. The latest article provides the criminal charges characters are facing after the Judging Angels cliffhanger. Can you guess the defendant?

Sorry I delayed getting comments approved. There's a lot going on besides the switch. Time for a house refinancing, and we're taking advantage of VA benefits that seem to be designed to deny. Also medical experiments--er, procedures at the VA (routine, but even so...) and flailing away at the sequel to Judging Angels. Some interesting challenges on that, as the current article at CoC suggests.

What can you expect at Conspiracy of Crows? Humor. More stuff like the internet criticism, more movies, more about writing. And, of course, Ginger. Stop by and say hi. Some of the Bear's woodland creatures have already done so.

Again, the best thing about this blog was always the readers who contributed to the sense of  playfulness and community, as well as very erudite comments. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, July 9, 2018

A Message from the Bear's Attorney

I am Timothy Capps, Esq., the attorney and "human agent" for the writer of this blog, St. Corbinian's Bear. It came to my attention that this blog has been neglected and I made diligent inquiries regarding the Bear. It is my duty to inform any remaining readers that I have been unable to locate the Bear and can provide no information at this time regarding his intentions toward this blog.

The Bear had instructed me a couple of years ago to do as I saw fit with this blog in the event of a lengthy, unexplained absence. In all likelihood, I will put this blog and the (for want of a better term) "Bear brand" in mothballs, possibly offering the few remaining die-hard readers the opportunity to migrate to a different blog reflecting my own interests and style. I will do so only if I believe I would do no disservice to his loyal friends or his spirit of intelligent and forthright inquiry.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the readers and supporters of this blog. I know that your friendship meant much to the Bear.

I would like to clear up any confusion that may have been inadvertently created regarding authorship of the novel Judging Angels and Saint Corbinian's Bear Lenten Companion for Bearish Humans. Certainly, the Bear provided kind assistance in these works, and lent his name and fictionalized history to the one. However, I was the sole author of Judging Angels and co-authored the Lenten Companion with my wife, Kathryn.

I also wish to make it clear that the Bear, shall we say, took artistic license by incorporating alleged elements of my own life's story in his articles. I even tolerated the appropriation of my wife's identity in the thinly-veiled character of "Red Death." Readers will understand, of course, that our talented ursine friend used many devices to relate to his human readers.

In other words, I am me and the Bear is the Bear. I'm sure we all wish him the best, wherever he is.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Day I Saw the Pope on the Toilet

The Pope and the Pinch

I'll never forget the day I saw the Pope sitting on the toilet.

He was in full papal regalia, having a wonderful time throwing rolls of toilet paper to the crowd as he went by. Then, somebody made the mistake of pinching Red Death, no doubt emboldened by the distraction.

To be fair, Red Death remains very pinchable to this day, and a real redhead must have been irresitible among all the black-haired Sicilian girls, not that they lacked a certain monochromatic leggy charm. Things like a fake pope-on-a-float and getting pinched are just part of quaint Sicilian culture, just as having your arm broken in thee places is part of American culture.

That is what makes cultural exchange so rewarding.

That does not mean Sicily is not a religious place. Every week or two there would a religious procession through our little town on the knees of Mt. Etna, accompanied by the tiny uniformed municipal band from The Godfather. On those nights, there would be fireworks, which the family would watch from the back balcony (the one that overlooked the enclosed area inhabited by cats; not the one over the street where we would buy fresh mozzarella wrapped in green leaves by means of a bucket on a rope).

Among all the differences between Sicily (where we lived) and Bahrain (which I visited a couple of times, courtesy of the U.S. government) the one I remember most was that Sicily had church bells and Manama had muezzins.


Funny the things you remember. The proliferation of posters was another culture shock. No flat vertical surface in our Sicilian town was not layered with posters. Besides the pornographic movie posters our children passed on the way to the asilo, there were the ubiquitous black-lettered death announcements and sometimes political posters.

One had a cute, well-scrubbed girl in jeans. Another a smiling sun. There were Communist-red and Green-green posters. (Maybe the Greens had the smiling sun, now that I think of it, but there were probably the Greens and the Real Greens--50 shades of Green: that's Italy.)

There were way too many political parties by American standards. But since their government was proportional, everybody both got their say and didn't expect much. Not a bad system. Is your thing hunting and fishing? You got yourself a party. Neo-fascist? Make the trains run on time! (Bear in mind, this was in the early 90s, about the time the system was being overhauled.) There was even a famous porn starlet elected to the Italian parliament.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Sicilian politics. However, the same people who can make fun of the pope one week and march in a solemn religious procession the next probably hold their beliefs in an easy balance. Perhaps it comes from having your country conquered by someone new every other decade for centuries. In any case, despite invasions, plagues, the Mafia, earthquakes and eruptions of Mt. Etna, Sicilians enjoy life.

Maybe living where you are so frequently reminded that you don't control much makes you focus on the simple pleasures. Everything shuts down for a nap in the afternoon. Everything closes during August for vacation.

You learn to give, so you can receive. We had a padrone--the mayor, who happened to be our landlord--which means we were golden. We were invited to his campanga and his lido. The Bear always suspected he might be asked to "do a small favor," but that day has not yet come. If the road was blocked by a herd of "geep" (we believed them to be an abominable mix of sheep and goats) a couple of cigarettes would get you on your way.

Every job would be done "domani." At first--don't laugh--we believed them. It wasn't that they were lying. That anxious American need to know a deadline probably just didn't compute. "Tomorrow," just meant, "Not today, not six months from now, what do you want from me? Got any cigarettes?"

American culture is all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it. A soccer game might end an a tie, but not a baseball game. Politically, we have our good candidate and the other guy's evil candidate. It's black and white, and thanks to social media, half the country would kill the other half and consider it a mitzvah. Thank God we're all geographically mixed up now, or every day a thousand Ft. Sumpters would bloom.

Which brings me to the real point.

American Binary Intensity

Americans hold opinions with a binary intensity one does not necessarily find in other places in the world, at least those not controlled by ISIS. It is part of our history. Since it also means no American is capable of being argued out of any opinion, the Bear shall not attempt to do so here. He will leave a testament, however, and continue to explore how the internet is making everyone stupid and wicked.

We see the same thing in the controversy over Pope Francis. Maybe if we could get a kick out of seeing a toilet-seated pope-on-a-float without having a stroke, we might have a different perspective.

This is the horrible, heretical truth the Bear believes.

Hierarchy versus Tradition

The Church is a hierarchy. The Church has changed many practices throughout history. There have been popes who were saintly, wicked, foolish and mediocre. We have even had more than one at a time. (Stop snickering.) Wherever we are today, for better or worse, it did not start with Pope Francis, but long ago.

If I believe that Pope Francis is foolish and wish he would isolate himself in a catacomb far from microphones and cameras, that's one thing. However, the establishment of a permanent internet papal opposition party (and there is zero doubt that is what is happening) is a negation of the concept of hierarchy and saps the foundation of the actual Church to replace it with a museum. That, I won't participate in, if this blog's audience dwindles to three people from its current nine.

There's already an Orthodox Church.

Between the concepts of hierarchy and tradition, many have decided the Church is to be found in the latter. In theory, one should not have to choose, and in practice, I suppose it depends on what one considers essential. Everything on this earth is pinched between a very Sicilian Scylla and Charybdis: the ideal and the real, so Bears are not overly troubled by such things.

This Bear believes the Church is not found apart from the hierarchy and the test of time is not always the acid test of truth--truths of the past sometimes being a little too much acid not to burn people.

The internet makes it so easy now. Americans are practical and see things in black and white. The internet has not opened us to infinite viewpoints, it has only further committed us to which of just two (never more!) sides we have already chosen. That is unfortunate in most things, but a clear and present danger to the Church and souls.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Huxley Right, Orwell Wrong

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. 
-- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book News for Friends of this Ephemeris

Red Death will kill me if I put another
writing-related dime on our VISA.
As you know, the Bear's treatment of marriage and temptations, Judging Angels, became unavailable when its publisher folded. Always one to make lemonade out of lemons, the Bear took the opportunity to carefully edit 38,000 words from the original. Now, it has the same characters, same story, same themes, but moves faster and stays focused. I don't think any previous reader would miss anything.

It will be republished as The Do-Over Birdy with new, more modern cover artwork that will be carried from book to book. Before that, it will be getting professional work at the hands of an experienced editor.

(Which is not cheap.)

It will be concurrently published with book 2 of the series, The Crow Hunter, which picks up the action (from a different perspective) toward the last page of The Do-Over Birdy and adds some new characters Bear thinks you'll like.

The Bear has also been working on book 3, Conspiracy of Crows. (Books 2 and 3 were originally one overlong, overcomplicated book, so he split them into separate ones, which accounts for the progress on both.)

Each book will be as thematically serious as the first, while maintaining that light touch that separates them from most urban fantasy (and certainly horror) novels.

However these books reach the public, the project costs money the Bear just doesn't have. Unlike a blog article, which is here today and gone tomorrow, a book needs sound editorial assistance to make the right first impression. If you have read the Bear's books, or at least his 1448 free articles on a wide variety of topics and enjoyed them, the Bear politely begs for any salmon you can spare for this project specifically. A patron of the arts! That can be you!

Thank you.
The Bear

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Umberto Eco, Charles Williams and the Bear

Umberto Eco
Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community...but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize Winner." - Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco
The Bear will circle back around to the quote, but by now, you know Bears prefer to stalk their subjects in an indirect manner.

The Bear received Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco as an early Father's Day present. Eco is best known for The Name of the Rose, which Hollywood made into a conventional mystery set in a medieval monastery. The first time the Bear read Foucault's Pendulum, he was baffled.

He hopes this time around he's onto Eco. It's not a conventional novel, but meant to engage the reader beyond plot and character arcs. If the Bear is right, the novel itself is the author's "metagame" that engages the reader on different levels. The Bear thinks he can illustrate this in a way he hopes that Eco wouldn't find too awful.

Imagine you receive a novel as a gift. However, the chapters are not bound, and part of the fun is using clues to puzzle out how they fit together in the right order. Furthermore, this process itself reveals meanings related to the novel. It is not, however, part of the text per se.

Maybe you never quite get all the chapters right, and so the communication is not one-hundred percent. Even so, you may have learned quite a bit, and, after all, you still get a novel to read. Please note this is much different from saying, as some academics have tried to say, that the text has no actual meaning and belongs to each reader.

Foucault's Pendulum is the story about bored editors who decide to turn theories of crackpot occult authors into a vast and secret conspiracy. However, their prank becomes dangerous when someone takes it seriously. Occultism is ripe for a send-up, although that's just one ball Eco juggles.

A Wicked Pack of Cards

To use a more personal example, the novel formerly known as Judging Angels is about--among other things--our world's starvation of a sense of the supernatural. From the first chapter to the last, there are references to what T.S. Eliot called in The Wasteland, "a wicked pack of cards." In the novel formerly known as Judging Angels, the Tarot--like a couple of the characters--are intrusions into the consensus world of materialism by the supernatural (or, perhaps, "preternatural" would be more precise from some perspectives).

Slaying the reductionist materialistic dragon is the primary goal of the artist in his culture today.

The Origin of the 22 Trumps in Christian Europe

Forget all the occult nonsense you might have heard about the Tarot. The cards are the product of Christian Europe in the 15th Century and their form was fixed in in the 17th and 18th Centuries in what is known as the Tarot de Marseille. The 22 trumps were used in a game where each was "trumped" by the higher-numbered card. Le Mat (The Fool) is the only unnumbered card, and survives as the Joker. The grim reaper (XIII) is the only unnamed card; perhaps it was considered unlucky in the plague era.

For example, the shady sleight-of-hand performer (whom silly Victorian occultists turned into an adept) is I and is trumped by La Papesse (the female pope) II.
This second card represents pagan religion, perhaps in the guise of the legend of Pope Joan. Contemporary art shows a classical goddess wearing a triple crown.

It is trumped by the Empress (III), then there's the Emperor (IIII), then the Pope (V), and so on. These would have been familiar figures to people of that age. The Renaissance was a time of rediscovery of the classical world and that is reflected in ways space does not permit the Bear to go into here.

Their Use in the Novel Formerly Known as Judging Angels

Anyway, there is a Tarot reading in one chapter of the novel formerly known as Judging Angels. No previous knowledge is necessary, and if readers don't catch on, they won't miss anything essential. If they think about it, though, it does provide clues to hidden connections among characters, their true identities, and an overview of the plot. The numbers 21 and 22 appear throughout the novel, also. Suffice it to say that 21 is missing one card. Who, what or where?

The relevance to the on-going discussion is that here we have one medium (a game with picture cards possessing their own associations) on top of a different medium (words used for description and dialogue). This is not gratuitous. Like them, fear them or just think they're silly, most people at least feel there's something mysterious about them. If they seem like an intrusion into this material world of an unseen reality our culture denies--just as they intrude into the story--it supports an important theme of the novel. And, unlike a motif or symbol, they have a resonant independent existence outside of it.

The Lead-Off Quote

Eco's quote probably sounds like an Italian academic with no appreciation for American ideals of free speech. However, the reason the Bear thought it was interesting was that it recognizes social media can harm the community. Eco is talking about content, but I'm sure he would have also been aware of it as a medium independent of content. As the Bear has argued, a medium limits and shapes content, and social media constricts it in harmful ways. What is your reaction?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Internet Porn a Gift from God?

Since internet users spend an average of 27 seconds on any given site the Bear has to get you into the tent. NEW POPE VIDEO AND PORN!

Pope Francis as Bad Example

Pope Francis is, with all due respect, an excellent example of someone who is unwisely trying to use media with extremely poor truth-transmitting capacities to teach the faith. Off-the-cuff pressers on airplanes? God, no, please. Feel-good lifestyle comments to anyone who manages to get near him? A pope can't be a glad-handing Tammany Hall wannabe like Cardinal Dolan because, hey, he's just a nice guy and wanna be liked.

And there are these damned Pope Videos.

The latest calls the internet "a gift from God," and shows how wonderful social networks are supposed to be. Even Africans with dirt floors have Wi-Fi, apparently. Let's just keep it "inclusive," 'kay? That's right. The only warning the Pope gives about the internet is that we keep it "inclusive."

Dumb PSA: Papal Service Announcement

What can you say about these dumb Public Service Announcements from the Pope. Here is the Vicar of Christ using his teaching authority (apparently) to raise awareness of global warming, care for the planet, indifferentism, and all sorts of things, so long as they don't challenge the zeitgeist. Catholic content: zero.

The Pope Videos are a metaphor for how media not only limits, but shapes content. The Christian religion is reduced to another TV commercial that might have been produced by the Democrat National Committee or Greenpeace.

And, typically, whoever created this particular abomination about the internet deals only with content, not the problems with the medium itself. In other words, They Don't Get It. But, we knew that all along.

Pornography and Sex

Almost no one is using this "gift from God" to watch Pope Videos, though. They're all watching porn. (James Martin S.J. probably isn't, because he's too busy being an idiot on Twitter.)

That's right. According to an article on the Forbes website, 2.5% of all the internet users in the world are finding some sort of god at just one adult site: Live Jasmin, which is interactive. You not only watch,  but tell the girls what you want to see! Internet porn stats are notoriously difficult to pin down, but it's safe to say this gift from God is leading a lot more people to Live Jasmin than Pope Francis. (If you fell for the Bear trick, don't feel bad. We're all human. Except the Bear.)

Given the awful Pope Videos, Bear is not sure that's a bad thing. But, hey, the Bear would pay $1.99 a minute if they were interactive to tell the Pope to just stop, but if he wants to talk about the internet, talk about how it's making us all stupid and wicked, not about content and how it's all good as long as we're "inclusive" whatever the Hell that's code for.

But what is porn doing to humans? Let the Bear introduce you to:

The Coolidge Effect

The name comes from a story, or a joke. President Coolidge's wife was at a government farm and noticed a rooster mating several times. Upon asking, she was told, yes, it was the same rooster, and he did that all the time. "Tell the President when he comes by," she told the attendant. When it was the President's turn, he was informed as the missus had asked. "Same hen?" Silent Cal asked. "Oh, no, sir, they're all different hens." So Coolidge answered: "Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge."

Scientists (don't ask Bear why) experimented with mice and found that boy mice were capable of heroic sexual activity as long as they were provided new partners. Mrs. Mouse? Let's just say he did his duty.

Your Brain on Porn

What's that got to do with the internet? The brains of the people who use internet porn don't know they're not, um, interacting with new and exciting real partners. Enter the Coolidge Effect. Variety is the hardwired spice of life, which for thousands of years we didn't need experiments with mice to know. Just ask David. Or Solomon, who had like a billion mice.

Porn changes the human brain. But, then, everything you do much of online does.

A gift from God, huh? If so, it's the Bear doing God's work with it, not the Pope.

Here's an illustration of the Coolidge Effect from Stanley Kubrick's hilarious Dr. Strangelove (1964). Watch George C. Scott's reaction to the plan for repopulating the United States and the question and answer starting 55 seconds in.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Session 3: The Abby Normal Brain

The Historic Jeanine Nicarico Murder Case

The 1983 murder of Jeanine Nicarico is the nightmare of every parent, but the disturbing details are not part of this story. You can always read about it in on Wikipedia if you have a morbid curiosity.

Police and prosecutors sent two men, Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez, to death row. After years of appeals, a sheriff's lieutenant reversed his testimony and Cruz was acquitted at his third trial in 1995. Shortly thereafter charges against Hernandez were dropped.

Three DuPage County prosecutors and four deputies were indicted for conspiracy, because they had hidden evidence that showed Cruz and Hernandez were innocent.. 

You see, Brian Dugan had confessed.

Brian Dugan and the Abby Normal Brain Defense

Brian Dugan was a very bad man doing time for similar crimes. In 2009 he pled guilty at his death penalty trial and the jury considered whether he should be sentenced to death or not.

This is where the Abby Normal Brain defense -- and, more or less, the Bear -- comes in.

It is relevant to this course on how the internet is making us stupid and wicked because a big part of that story is about how our online time is physically changing our brains. The other is a media critique along the lines of McLuhan and Postman. Eventually, it will all come back around to show how many of the problems we see in the world are, if not manifestations of, at least aggravated by humans struggling with new ways of handling information without giving it sufficient thought because it's just so easy and ubiquitous.

For the first time in Illinois history, the results of functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) were to be introduced into evidence. Dr. Kent Kiehl had taken his fMRI road show from New Mexico to Illinois to see if Brian Dugan was a psychopath or not.

You probably know what an MRI is, or perhaps have even had one. An MRI gives a static picture of the brain. An fMRI purports to scan the brain, run the results through a computer, and show brains in the process of being used. In this case, emotionally-charged pictures are shown to the subject to see what areas "light up" -- or don't. Kiehl claims to be able to detect psychopathy this way.

Just Because We Can, Should We?

The Bear had been arguing in print and in our little circle of death penalty lawyers on the state payroll  that the last thing defense lawyers should do is portray defendants as nothing more than "Abby Normal" brains.

Bear did not and still does not understand how it is a good thing to prove to a jury a defendant is a remorseless intraspecies predator incapable of empathy and biologically doomed by an Abby Normal brain to commit crimes. Not that there aren't psychopaths, although they're rare. Ted Bundy is the classic example. Brian Dugan might be one, for all Bear knows.

Not only is the Bear philosophically opposed to a reductionist materialistic world-view, he does not welcome this kind of thing into the law. But most of all, he thought it was just a bad strategy. 

Prosecutors (Bear's first death penalty case was as prosecutor) and defense counsel use all sorts of tricks to dehumanize (prosecutors) and humanize (defense). The prosecutor stands and points an accusing finger at the defendant (he's always "the defendant"). The defense lawyer puts his arm around his client at counsel table and leans in to whisper into his ear, even if it's just to say, "look how jurors two and three are paying more attention to each other than the evidence." He's always named, never "the defendant."

They call it "optics" now, a term the Bear finds annoying, but there you go. On some level, jurors think, "Wow, that nice Bear isn't afraid of him, so he can't be all bad." Or, maybe, "That Bear is just as awful as his client." You just never knew what jurors are thinking.

Boning Up on the Brain

Before the fMRI of Brian Dugan was entered into evidence, the Bear had done much research on the brain. It was of vital professional importance. He lost the argument. The defense went forward on the cockeyed theory that Brian Dugan should be spared because he was a dangerous, broken machine. 

He was sentenced to death (not that a different theory would have made much difference). The Bear, however, had learned a whole lot about how our brains work, and has kept up with the research. 

That is why he read with such interest the book by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Carr marshals impressive evidence that the internet is physically changing our brains and the very way we think. Is it possible we're all getting our own Abby Normal brains from the enormous differences between what we do online and anything that humanity has ever seen before?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

More on Bear's Facebook Page

More conversation on the Facebook page of the Bear. Hot topics include why the mega-best-seller The Time Traveler's Wife is bad, plus more on the subject of the current series (course). Feel free to get all the Bear by checking in.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"The Web was Woven Curiously" Extra Credit

The prolific Victorian painter John William Waterhouse
got all the weaver's details right in one of two
famous paintings of the Lady of Shalott.
Class Notes and Meditation

If it isn't clear, the previous post marked the first session of Dr. Bear's free online course, which might be called "How the Internet is Making Us Stupid and Wicked." Or, more poetically, "I'm Half Sick of Shadows."

Last time, the Bear wanted to get you thinking about how you can separate content from its medium. If you suspect he is going to say we not only should, but must, go to the head of the class.

There can be no question that different media are suitable for some content, and unsuitable for other content. Think of a Tweet versus an article in a journal. Or, if you remain unconvinced, do you think Dostoevsky could have written The Brothers Karamazov in smoke signals? Form limits content.

The Bear feels certain you will agree that (1) you can separate content from its medium and (2) some media are objectively better at transmitting rational thought than others.

The Bear leaves you with selections from Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott to think about. Next class session is Tuesday. The Bear, too, is "half sick of shadows." (The painting above shows her before her mirror, compulsively weaving her web. Can you find the shuttles and the swift? Note her foot upon the treadles. The Bear looks up from writing this and sees a nearly identical loom belonging to Red Death.)

No time hath she to sport and play:
A charmed web she weaves alway.
A curse is on her, if she stay
Her weaving, either night or day,
       To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be;
Therefore she weaveth steadily,
Therefore no other care hath she,
       The Lady of Shalott.


But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
       And music, came from Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead
Came two young lovers lately wed;
'I am half sick of shadows,' said
       The Lady of Shalott.


[Turning from her mirror-view of the world, she beholds it as it is, but is cursed.]

She left the web, she left the loom
She made three paces thro' the room
She saw the water-flower bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
       She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
'The curse is come upon me,' cried
       The Lady of Shalott.


'The web was woven curiously,
The charm is broken utterly,
Draw near and fear not,—this is I,
       The Lady of Shalott.'

Entire poem here.

Suggested by Martha (see comment).

Monday, May 28, 2018

From Ernie Kovacs to Neuroscience

Agitprop for the Masses.

A Life in Communication: From Ernie Kovacs to Neuroscience

In thinking about his reasons for discomfort with focusing on Church scandals, the Bear has broadened his inquiry from the content of blogs, tweets, comments and Facebook posts to the nature of what we're doing online. Although our cultural life is lived largely online, we don't think about it much. The internet is just the tool we use, like books or magazines.

But, what if there is something strange about the way we use information now? What if it is not only shaping our way of using information, but how we think, and much more? It sounds far-fetched, but stick around. During this course, the Bear thinks he will be able to make a good case that it is true.

Ernie Kovacs
The Bear's interest in the way we communicate is lifelong. He has not only been a blogger, but a newspaper reporter, a librarian, a radio news director, a conference presenter, a police dispatcher, a columnist, a novelist, and disk jockey. Besides a part-time job as a repo man for Sears (which was not without its own communication challenges) he cannot think of a single job he has ever held that did not revolve around communication.

He was even an Electronic Warfare/Cryptologic Linguist - Arabic (MOS 98G, then). Not only did he listen, but he did radio direction finding. When two teams separated by some distance each got a bearing on the same transmitter, someone could draw two lines on a map and where they intersected... could be an unhappy place.

Talk about the ultimate separation of content from medium and an apt illustration of the danger the later might present! Our version of "the medium is the message" was "break squelch and die."

In this blog, the Bear has played like Ernie Kovacs (surely the earliest influence on his style) played with the relatively new medium of television. Those of a certain age will never forget Die Moritat (the original Mack the Knife, in German). Kovacs was one of the first to see television as something unique, more than a tiny theater screen or radio plays with pictures. Kovacs made the medium the message until his untimely death in 1962 -- two years before Marshall McLuhan came up with the famous phrase.

(There is a direct link from Kovacs to Laugh-in to Sesame Street, with debatable results on the learning ability of children.)

The Bear is the benevolent despot of the Woodlands, which are inhabited by various creatures with names chosen by themselves. He has been kidnapped and has sent messages in Morse Code which were accurately translated by readers. He has appeared in a screen capture from Al Jazeera with Syrian President Assad. He has liveblogged Lent. He has created agitprop for the masses. At various times he has used satire, polemic, essays, poetry, stories, even song lyrics. And who can forget the investigative journalism blockbuster on how Jethro Tull's Aqualung album influenced the future pope?

The point is, these many different forms of communication all have strengths and weaknesses. Their form often determined content, and sometimes vice-versa. Police need radio traffic, and the way they use the radio determines the content. Neither a telegram nor a tweet can carry much of a payload. And yet we think nothing of using tweets in some sort of attempt at public discourse that would have seemed ludicrous to our telegram-sending ancestors. Agitprop (e.g. the Bear's Photoshop pranks) can carry only the simplest message, and is meant to support one's own party. (A theme that will appear again.)

Absurdist segment from David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE
put to unforeseen use re: "rabbits" comment.

But next time, the Bear will tell you about the job that brought everything together for high stakes and added the secret ingredient to this discussion: neuroscience.

Friday, May 25, 2018

What Hath God Wrought? Free Online Course from Bear!

Note: Bear European Privacy Compliance Statement

If you're reading this from Europe, please go away. Bears have a very low tolerance for a bunch of foreign sissies demanding they get fussy about silly things. If you value your privacy that much, you should not be online in the first place. In fact, you should not leave your house.

The Bear is an intellectual. Just like this guy in the movie line from Annie Hall.

Most people would not call themselves intellectuals. It seems like a pose, or bragging about one's own intelligence. Also, intellectuals get made fun of a lot.

However, all the Bear means is that he is pursuing with whatever intellect, education, and experience he has, the traditional vocation of the intellectual, now largely abandoned. That is, thinking about stuff that affects everyone, but which no one else bothers with because they're busy leading productive lives and pursing particular ends.

Some may have run across the phrase "trahison des clercs," perhaps once or twice in this very ephemeris. Literally, it means "treason of the clerks," but a better translation would be the English title of Julien Benda's classic extended essay from 1929, The Treason of the Intellectuals. His argument and the Bear's intent can be put in a nutshell: the moment an intellectual picks a side, he becomes a traitor.

(See? Only intellectuals talk like that.)

Benda makes a pretty good case that everyone was better off when intellectuals devoted themselves to the general and disdained the particular. He saw in the political upheavals preceding and resulting in World War I the influence of French Thinkers, or German Thinkers, or Thinkers of the People. Such intellectuals were traitors to their historic vocation.

So, to what subject is the Bear directing his attention as a born-again intellectual?

Communication as medium separate from content.

You see, the Bear believes what we're doing here online may look like older methods of communication -- good old reliable print, in particular -- but is really nothing like anything we've seen before. Furthermore, this is distorting content and even changing the ways we can think. As one example, he believes this is contributing to a fragmented online simulacrum of the Catholic Church because Pope Francis and bloggers both have yet to realize how the new way they are trying to handle information is sabotaging their good intentions.

During the course, the usual content-oriented comments ("but the Pope is wrong because he said..") will be disallowed. However, comments about all forms of communication in general are encouraged, and may use any relevant examples, including -- as examples only and not pressing a particular point of view -- ones from the Church.

This is a huge topic, and a lesson the Bear has finally learned is that this is a hit-and-run medium. Therefore, this is just an advertisement for a free online course entitled: What Hath God Wrought. Your first homework assignment is to discover the significance of this phrase to the subject. You may provide your answers in the comments.

The optional textbook for overachievers is Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (1985). Class begins Tuesday! See you then!

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Real Problem with Reinstating the Illinois Death Penalty

Coin-Flip Reliability of Illinois' Death Penalty and Now, Revival

In the two decades leading up to the 2000 death penalty moratorium in Illinois, the state executed 12 men while exonerating 13 innocent ones sitting on death row. 

Some, including Illinois Governor George Ryan, were troubled by the coin-flip reliability of the system. In 2003, Ryan followed up the moratorium by commuting all death sentences to life in prison without parole. (Only one of my many cases ended in a death penalty - I was a prosecutor in the 1996 Niels Nielsen case.) In 2011, the death penalty was abolished in a rapid and surprising development that caught even those at the heart of the system off guard.

Now, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, a pro-abortion Catholic Republican, has included both reinstatement of the death penalty and strict new anti-gun measures in an effort to square the political circle. The initial death penalty qualifiers would be mass murder and killing a police officer, but more would no doubt be added over time. A curious "beyond all doubt" standard has been proposed. (Don't ask me; I don't know either.)

Do not fear, your Bear has not set paws to keyboard to debate the morality of the death penalty in the abstract. He has salmon of a more practical nature to fry.

Why the Death Penalty was Abolished in the First Place

The last execution in the Land of Lincoln took place on March 17, 1999. Andre Kokoraleis, an abominable member of the infamous "Ripper Crew" in Chicago, was executed by lethal injection at the Tamms Supermax, deep in the heart of nowhere, down in southern Illinois. (In a surreal conversation the next day or so at the Alexander County State's Attorney office, I was present as the warden spoke with an almost paternalistic note of approval about how well-behaved Kokoraleis was at the end.) 

Southern Illinois has a history of death penalty lasts. In 1928 our colorful local gangster Charlie Birger was the last person hanged in the state.

By the time of the 2000 moratorium, Illinois had spent $800 million dollars in the previous two decades to execute those 12 men. (This is on top of what life in prison would have cost.) Those 13 innocent men had spent a combined 115 years on death row. And there were tens of millions of dollars in settlement money for the wrongfully convicted.

Besides wrongful convictions themselves, Illinois was rocked by Chicago's Commander Burge torture scandal and evidence DuPage County police and prosecutors suppressed evidence favorable to Hernando Cruz in the horrible Jeanine Nicario murder. Brian Dugan had confessed, and when the case was reopened, his DNA linked him to the crime. Cruz was freed, and three prosecutors and four deputies were indicted. They were acquitted of deliberately railroading Cruz. Burge was convicted and spent four years in the federal pen.

The Fixes

When the death penalty was abolished in 2011, I was one of a handful of lawyers on the state payroll charged with assisting defense counsel in these unique and difficult cases. My position was just part of the foundation Illinois had painstakingly laid to guarantee (as much as humanly possible) that past death row scandals would not be repeated.

Some of the fixes were simple. Perhaps one of the most effective was requiring police to tape interrogations in homicide cases. Others, however, were more complex and expensive.

Strict standards of experience and training were established, and lawyers had to be screened and admitted by the Illinois Supreme Court to an elite new Capital Trial Litigation Bar. Continuing legal education requirements were established. A multi-million dollar fund was created to pay for trials. There were not only lawyers’ fees to cover, but the unique multidisciplinary challenge of “mitigation” (providing the jury context for their verdict on the death penalty).

And, there was the  unit of which I was a part.

Putting Humpty Dumpty Protections Back Together Again

In 2011, that complex machinery of safety was not put into mothballs. It was nuked. Fund money was reallocated. The cadre of certified lawyers moved on. Death penalty specific training ceased. And the office to which I belonged that trained and assisted lawyers was abolished within weeks.

If the death penalty reforms were Humpty Dumpty, abolition pushed him off the wall in 2011 and all the king's horses and all the king's men haven't even thought about putting him back together again.

Aside from political, constitutional and moral considerations, no debate over reinstating the death penalty in Illinois can be complete without recognizing the significant difficulty, expense and time it would entail. Oddly, this seems to have been missed.

It was easy to abolish the death penalty - and the protections my state had determined were necessary - with the stroke of the very pen that hangs on the Bear's wall as a souvenir, or, perhaps, consolation prize. Recreating all those protections will not be so easy seven years later. It seems unlikely Illinois could return to the relative safety of 2011 any time during a second Rauner term.

Friday, May 18, 2018

It’s Official: U.S. Population Extinct


UPDATE: This gives a general idea of Total Fertility Rates. South vs. North.

How does it feel to be a dinosaur?
And you yawned through the Bear’s demographic articles. Turns out he was right all along.

Our anti-family culture was as deadly and unavoidable as a Kansas-size asteroid. Western economic penalties an the stigma attached to large families contributed and birth control was the means, but Bear blames Catholics. At least they knew better. Not only did they contracept at the same rate as everyone else, but even the best of them worried more about pop singers at the Vatican.

Next to extinction of the West, a lot of things seem kind of trivial, but at least we were distracted while it happened.

The math is simple enough even a Bear can do it. Any species requires two offspring who survive to breed in order not to shrink and eventually go extinct. (One to replace mom and one to replace dad.) In modern Western countries with very low infant mortality rates, that’s a “Total Fertility Rate” of 2.1.

No population is known to have recovered once its TFR dropped below 1.80 - the demographic Point of No Return. Europe is already well below that and the U.S. was circling the drain, but now it’s official: it’s a Dead Population Walking.

If all this isn’t clear, the Bear is saying it’s all over but the shouting, you had a good run, and (with apologies to T.S. Eliot) you banged without the resulting whimper of babies. You will soon notice real world consequences. “Immigration” is not an “issue” any more than “electricity” is. Both are required to keep the lights on, as babyless Europe learned.

Demographics is destiny and you, gentle reader, are destined to extinction.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

About Those Missing Seven Days...

EMBEARRASSED. Bear noticed (apparently the only one) his protagonist in Judging Angels has a mysterious seven-day gap in his whereabouts, or possibly sojourn in alternate time dimension. Trying to figure out how to address this.

-Shows up naked in grocery store after “Walter White Fugue.”
-Wakes up in a motel with a dead hooker, but Italian guys take care of it.
-Says he spent seven days trapped in a shower with someone named “Bobby.”
-Has been busy putting up flyers with the picture of some redhead that say HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WOMAN?
-Stalking his estranged wife.
-Taping cooking show with his famous “Krow Kebab” recipe.
-Locked up by elderly blind lady downstairs “to keep you out of trouble.”
-Remind readers that he is, after all, suffering from postconcussive syndrome so who knows?
-Wait until sequel to explain it (along with everything else).
-Pre-kidnapping all his children so they’ll know what to expect.
-Just working on the old love nest (replacing mirror, washing walls, cleaning up after search warrant execution, and trying to get that smell of shellfish out of his kitchen).
-Working hard to pay off Totally Not My Girlfriend, Just Giving a Girl a Hand related credit card debt.
-Memorizing pickup lines from famous poems, which is really hard with postconcussive syndrome.

Could really use some help.

Bear Amnesia? From 2015

The Bear was rifling through his archives to steal some of his own material for something else and was surprised to find his critical examination of Catholic blogging is nothing new. What has changed since the 2015 article (one of several along the way) is that it did not represent the settled opinion of the Bear. Three years later, the criticism seems just as timely and more urgent.

Here is Blogged to Death Part II. (The title alludes to Neil Postman’s 1985 critique of the television age.)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Slacker Bear

You will probably notice diminished output from the Bear for a while. For one thing, it is a lot easier to riff off the latest Pope Video or dog-bites-man story. Another thing is that he has no more intention of courting controversy in one direction than the other. It is unpleasant to be seen as suddenly turning on the very people who are following you (although that is a standard Bear tactic in the wild).

The main reason is that now that his books belong to him he’s not happy finishing the sequel (working title, Sandy Goes to Hell) without addressing some issues with Judging Angels. Not that he thinks it’s bad, but it can be better. Sure, there are the usual problems of excess dialogue tags and striving for ever-more-natural character voices, but mostly, it’s the length, especially now that it will be searching for a new publisher.

The Bear is certain readers of this ephemeris assume he is getting paid by the word. JA is good enough to be less self-indulgent and thick books are out of style. At 158 thousand words, it could stand to lose 30k at least. (To give you an idea, a chapter runs 2500 - 4500 words.) Part of the excessive length comes from too many digressions into legal themes, naturally enough, Bear supposes, for a lawyer.

Some of that is interesting, even essential, but a better, or at least more experienced, writer would have figured out which was which earlier. That also contributes to the impossibility of marketing a book that is not a genre novel at all, but looks like a mashup of a half-dozen genres. (Urban fantasy/police procedural/romance/mystery/Catholic/thriller/dark comedy.)

The Bear thinks of Catholic novelist Michael O’Brien’s Voyage to Alpha Centauri. If you had never heard of Michael O’Brien, you would assume it was a science fiction genre novel. Since a lot of people have heard of Michael O’Brien, though, he can get away with it. No one has heard of that Capps fellow.

In the Bear’s defense, all of these elements serve one theme: not only does no person or institution have a clue to what’s going on, as products of a post-Christian world, they can’t. Mistaken identities abound, and even characters think they are something they’re not.

No diet is easy. The most obvious problem is JA carries the dual weight of serious themes and a capering plot true to the Bear’s beloved old Hollywood conventions to keep the pages turning. (Especially the old “comedy of remarriage,” although it’s a pretty dark comedy.) More subtly, it is obsessively structured. Something in chapter one finds completion in the last chapter. Revealing a world charged with magic that is our world, not Westeros, and faithfully Christian at that, requires a lot of reminders, subtle and otherwise.

It is easier for people to feel at home with wizards and dragons these days than a Christian world-view that was rejected and is now mostly forgotten. It’s as if Dante had to stop and argue why Paolo and Francesca are being punished. Florentine politics is the least obstacle to a modern reader’s understanding of the Inferno.

Selling the sanctity of marriage when everyone has given up on it isn’t easy.

Given how everything is connected, the Bear can’t just drop bombs from 20,000 feet. He must stalk each page and murder a lot of beautiful children face-to-face while not “cheating” readers of the original.

JA was not conceived as the entree to a series, either. It came from an older “Adapt” universe of a very different project. (Opiuim is the religion of the masses, those clever devils.) It’s time to bring everything back together and reveal the domestic troubles of our unhappy characters in their much larger context. Marriage isn’t just good, it turns out, even one may be the cosmic lynchpin. So, this is also a good chance to address some continuity issues with the next two books, which are already well underway.

One minute you’re chatting up a strange redhead in a bar, the next thing you know, not one, but two worlds are in crisis. Well, thanks a lot you terrible Able couple!

So, that is requiring a lot of Bear hours.

Friday, May 11, 2018

American Gods: Pray for the SMOD before Season 2

The only honest review of Starz series American Gods is this: find some god, any god, and pray for the Sweet Meteor of Death to obliterate us before season two airs. 

Start With a Clever Novel

Neil Gaiman's American Gods was recommended to me by a likable prosecutor in a murder case. I thought it was interesting with some very memorable parts. (The story gets put on extended hold somewhere near the middle, though - how does that happen at this level?) But the Bear is a sucker for Golden Age roadside attractions like Rock City. Also, the melancholy forgotten time capsule of Cairo, Illinois is a sort of second hometown for the Bear, and it is a setting. But the word "overrated" once again comes to mind, as it so often does when the Bear casts his jaundiced eye on post-Hayes Code culture.

What's it about?

Old gods are dying because nobody believes in them anymore. New gods are media and tech. If the old gods are willing to be re-branded for an atheist world, they can survive in style. The catch is, they won't be worshiped.

"Everyone Will be Talking About Showtime After This!"

Critics are raving over Starz prestige production of the book. As usual, the Bear thinks the critics are raving mad degenerates.

The executive summary is that American Gods just wallows in filth, making it too uncomfortable for any normal person to watch. The details are not important. The Bear bugged the meeting at Showtime, no, wait... Starz? Whatever. Here's a short transcript.


Starz Network Execs: Game of Thrones got  buzz for sex and violence and violent sex and profanity. That's the ticket, but we ain't exactly HBO. So, we're goin' all the way to Hell. And listen: hit stuff like borders, guns and homosexuality hard.

Creative Team: Homo-freaking-what? You mean LGBT, right, you Nazi bastards who are paying for this?

Starz Network Execs: Uh, yeah, sorry, that's what we mean. The point is, you know what we mean. No critic will dare say anything against us out of fear of being called a Trump supporter. The main thing, though, people are going to remember the Showtime brand!

Creative Team: Showtime? We want to renegotiate our contract.

Starz Network Execs: Starz. Whatever. See the problem? YOU are the solution.


If you took out every sentence with the F-word it would be a silent movie.

Sad, but it's a winning publicity formula today. In a weak Starz defense, the novel was not exactly edifying in parts, but there are some things you might read about with an acceptable kind of horror that you just do not want to ever see with your eyes. (Bilquis and don't ask.) It might be adapted for television with a careful touch, but here, much of what makes the novel interesting is ignored or buried in excrement.

So, writing a review of American Gods is like asking, "So, Mrs. Astor, other than that, how was the voyage?"

Where Story Doesn't Matter

The Breaking Bad network, AMC, had for its motto: "Story Matters Here." Starz is "Story? F*** That." Aside from anything else, American Gods is literally a television series without a story. Not even a make-it-up-as-you-go LOST story or quirky atmospheric Twin Peaks story.

This is some accomplishment for a series based, after all, on a novel.

Each episode, some stuff happens. A lot of the time the same characters are on screen doing the same sorts of stuff. Driving without getting anywhere; talking without ever getting to the point. Ian McShane plays the role he was born to play, which is the same role he always plays, come to think of it, so he's had a lot of practice. But none of the other characters are given a chance to gain much traction.

Sometimes, instead of no story, the writers give us some completely different story, although the Bear is sure they would tell him it's really sort of the same story if he were paying attention. Hey, writers. YOU HAD ONE JOB. TO MAKE ME PAY ATTENTION.

Writers: No, our job is to make sure everyone remembers the Showtime brand through wretched excess.

Bear: You mean Starz.

Writers: Whatever, NAZIBAR.

The general idea is that Ian McShane and his sidekick are going somewhere to do something important. But by the end of the first season, we haven't even made it to House on the Rock, let alone Rock City.

What's Done Relatively Well

Easter Party Where Things Actually Make Sense and Stuff Happens

This is not to say there are not parts that are done relatively well.

The season finale (Come to Jesus) with Kristen Chenowith as "Easter" (pagan Ostara, having sold out to Christianity for the whole eggs-and-bunny thing) has a recognizable plot and even makes sense. It is shot in dazzling small-screen Technicolor and drips with style. The menacing dance of glitch-replicating walking stick-and-tux faceless men resembles a tech-twisted vision of Fred Astaire's Top Hat, White Tie and Tails. (Fred does, after all, mow down the entire chorus line by using his stick as a gun.) New god Media (Gillian Anderson) is rocking Judy Garland's costume from Easter Parade.

It is as if everyone realized, "Maybe something could, you know, actually happen in the season finale. It would be even better if we could also explain something, since no one has a clue what's going on."

Too bad the whole "telling a story" concept wasn't discovered until the final episode.

That is the creative problem with American Gods in a nutshell. You could watch this episode by itself and not be at the slightest disadvantage compared to people who watched the whole season.

Of course, there are "Jesuses" from various cultures as the party's guests of honor. While not as blasphemous as you would expect (a low bar indeed) let's just say Starz isn't going to be pulling this joke on the Muslims.

When Ostara is confronted with how she's been co-opted by Christianity, a compassionate one-of-the-Jesuses (played by Jeremy Davis) mournfully says something like, "I'm so sorry," prompting Kristen Chenowith to flutter over to him, the perfect hostess who, behind her frozen smile, is starting to realize her big day is turning into a fiasco.

That is actually pretty funny and of a piece with the concept, not a gratuitous slap.

I Want My MTV Back

In other words, you should think of American Gods (if you must) not as a drama, like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, but early MTV. A series of unconnected segments of different styles and quality. It is occasionally stylish and engaging. Occasionally very clever. If it's sole purpose was not to put Starz on the cultural radar through a shock and awe devastation of good taste, there is talent enough behind it to make something less awful. 

You can catch glimpses of it, but nothing more, even if you don't miss anything looking for your emesis basin.

When you used to watch MTV, for every Money for Nothing, there were a hundred Barbie Girls. But, even then, you didn't feel obligated to burn your house down around you every week.

Don't just skip it. American Gods requires nothing less than for humans to nuke their entire planet from orbit before season 2. It's the only way to be sure.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Strange Case of Buttons the Dancing Dog and "Alien"

Eleanor Powell and Buttons
The Forgotten Eleanor Powell

While Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were becoming legends at RKO, a very different dancer, now largely forgotten, enjoyed a successful career over at more prestigious MGM.

No, it was not Buttons the Dancing Dog. It was a human tornado named Eleanor Powell. To call Powell a tap dancer would be like calling a Bear in your kitchen a pest.

Eleanor Powell wasn't gorgeous, couldn't sing, and wasn't much for acting, either. The technicians and publicists at MGM had their work cut out for them to make her acceptable for the big screen. (The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger includes Powell as a fascinating case study.) And Powell's salary demand was crazy-high under the circumstances. Louis B. Mayer offered her $1000 a week for Broadway Melody of 1936. She turned it down and countered with $1250.

He accepted. Mayer was a genius at knowing a good investment when he saw one. The gawky kid in costumes sewed by her mother could dance like nobody before or since.

Not as in "as good as," although she was fabulous. Eleanor Powell literally did things you can hardly believe even when you see them today. Her numbers might include ballet en pointe, acrobatics, stupefying high leg kicks and low back bends, and, of course, tap. Those pile-driver legs tapped Hell out of the dance floor as her smile lit up the screen.

Watch the jaw-dropping, if trippy, finale to Born to Dance (1936) - a tribute to America's Art Deco battleship fleet. Here, the incredible athleticism of Powell is displayed to full effect. (Just as odd, low-angle closeups of her grinning face unaccountably highlight her lack of movie-star beauty.)

Dancing Alone with Fred Astaire

Ginger Rogers
It was a nightmare of Fred Astaire that he would become half of another "dance couple." He had already had a successful career on stage with his older sister Adele. Fate and RKO, however, would bless us with "Fred and Ginger." While Powell rarely danced with a partner, Ginger has only one solo number, to the Bear's knowledge. Fred could more than hold his own, but they are remembered today because of the magic they could only create together.

A mere human partner would just slow Eleanor Powell down.

Powell was paired with Fred Astaire to make "Begin the Beguine" memorable in Broadway Melody of 1940. However, while Fred always had praise for her, it comes across as though he felt a little intimidated by her "mannish" strength and energy. He may have resented being forever an "and" with "Ginger," but one senses a tacit admission of what Ginger gave him that Powell could not.

Ginger knew her job, and it was not just dancing, it was acting. It was to make dancing with the incredibly talented, but balding and comical-looking Fred look like the most sublime experience a woman could enjoy.

Powell, on the other hand, was an equal to Fred, tap for tap.

Buttons the Dancing Dog

It was only with Buttons, a dog she trained herself, in a number shot in her living room (where the dog was used to dancing) for Lady Be Good (1941) that Powell found her perfect partner. Note, in the video below, Powell's hair all a-flop, something the studio normally took care to avoid. But, she was a stickler, and insisted that a "rehearsal" number look like one.

Tap had it's day, and Eleanor Powell retired quietly and became a Unity minister. She died in 1982 at the age of 69. She is not much remembered today, which is a shame, even if tap is not your thing (as it is not the Bear's).

The Alien Connection

Oh, what is the connection between Buttons and Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien?

Eleanor Powell.

That first MGM movie, Broadway Melody of 1936, featured the song "Lucky Star." Apparently, at the end of Alien, besides stripping down to her skimpies, Sigourney Weaver fights some sort of monster while nervously singing "Lucky Star." (Thanks to the Bear's driver, bodyguard and factotum, Red Death, for that amazing catch.)

It was Weaver's idea, but Scott took the heat for the expense of the music rights.

And here they are: Eleanor Powell and Buttons. Go ahead and smile. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Um, Bear Knows Nothing About This...


More on Outrage

As Bear has thought about the comments from the last piece, he realized something.

The Bear himself has usually thought of this ephemeris as a “niche blog,” a reliably jaundiced, even clownish take on the current state of the Church. However, it has really never been that restricted.

The Bear has often taken his own view of broader cultural issues. This blog has been pretty eclectic. The Bear has written on all sorts of things, some for fun (at least for him), some on topics he thinks are interesting, overlooked, and useful in understanding the world we are making and why. Discussing doctrine without demographics seems futile, for example. Conducting arguments as if we were all living in 1988 and we are not more reactive, polarized and fragmented in a way we could not have imagined not long ago ignores reality.

There is a lot going on right now. That’s why the Bear has tried (in what he believes is his better work) to write about things in context. You can’t talk about problems in the Church without talking about problems in the West, problems in the world. To be brutally honest, not without being willing to examine your own personality, history and psychology since these are the filters through which you see everything.

This is not to deny there are problems. It is not even to deny there are outrageous things going on. The issue is how we should respond.

The Bear is essesentially a cultural critic who is Catholic. As such, examining Catholic blogging does not seem like some odd departure to him, especially since no one else seems to be doing it. Its response to current Church events has, or should have, given us something new to think about because it is affecting our understanding of the Church. Is the Church an identity or a collection of teachings? (If the latter, who in the wide spectrum of Catholic opinion among opponents of Pope Francis is right?) Not that blogs are some brand new thing, but we are using information in newer ways all the time, including social media.

What is new is the collision between these new ways of using information and this particular, peculiar  and challenging pontificate. There is something brand new and largely unexamined happening. That is just as worthy of discussing as anything else, in the Bear’s opinion.

Everyone seems pretty complacent about what the Bear is coming to realize is actually a pretty big deal. It’s a matter of perspective. The Bear is not going to define himself as a Christian or this blog by an opposition to Pope Francis. He never has.

We are not going to blog our way out of this. The Bear is not sure he can even resolve the contradictions to his own satisfaction. (Which would not, in any case, lead him out of the Church.) But we can contribute to the crisis. We might blog a way right out of the Church for ourselves or others by the complex attractions and subtle effects of outrage. That is the forest the Bear sees while everyone else seems to be looking at the trees.

A reminder: anonymous comments are not permitted. Please be courteous and identify yourself.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Catholic Outrage Blog Industry

the Bear has learned a few things since retiring from the Catholic Outrage Blog Industry. (Beyond a certain number of lines, Blogger does not display text for editing on iPad. That is the Bear’s excuse for today.)

  • It is a lot harder to blog. It is pretty easy riffing off the latest outrage.
  • Outrage (especially with some humor) drives traffic. (Rush Limbaugh made a fortune off that realization decades ago.)
  • Bear is more peaceful and is beginning to refocus on the Church as the institution of his salvation, not a daily target.
  • Bear believes the Church is WHAT IT IS, not WHAT BEAR THINKS IT SHOULD TEACH. In other words, the constant outrage is eroding the bona fides, which Bear believes is a disaster. The Bear kind of already went down this road with Orthodoxy. Arguably, Orthodoxy is a better Catholic Church (or so believe converts). In reality, it is something great, but different. It deserves to be respected for what it is, not as a “better Catholic Church before it got all screwed up.”
  • Bear anticipates the objections that you cannot blame honest bloggers for the Church going evil. The answer is the medium is the message. The other answer is Bear does not see improvement, despite all the outrage of all the bloggers.
  • When you focus on the outrage of the day, you lose historical perspective. It is easy to blame Pope Francis and those around him. But we are seeing a natural autolytic historical process in the West of which the Church’s problems are only a part. Why is the Church failing in the same way at the same time as all other Western institutions? That is the real question.
  • The Bear was always right about his three favorite themes: demographics, Amusing Ourself to Death, and The Treason of the Intellectuals. Look at his own diocese. The cathedral is tucked in a corner, in the decaying metro east Illinois side of St. Louis. Belleville was once “Rome of the West.” The large German Catholic farm towns are gone and churches are closing. It is sitting on a bubble of Mexican agricultural labor and temp priests from Africa and Cental America. 139 churches still open across southern Illinois. 39 priests, over half over 50. Number of vocations from Bear’s parish in history? Zero. Vocations for entire diocese for year? Two. Long-term prospects? Heck, short term? Reorganization with a very different experience for Catholics used to mass every Sunday. Circuit-riding priests for the rare mass; laymen introducing novelties into the usual weekly fare. Recommend learn to say your Divine Office. Invite friends.
  • The Bear was also right about how modern worldwide communication and social media are driving changes that go far beyond the individual issues they carry. We are being forced into polarization and fragmentation that will eventually render every institution unworkable. Again, the Pope may faulted for saying x, but it is magnified beyond reason by the present state of communication. To put it bluntly, Catholics were never meant to deal with a Pope like Francis in a communications environment like exists today. No wonder we see that giant “TILT” light over St. Peter’s.
  • The West is in demographic/cultural meltdown. It remains to be seen how the Church will manage without the West. (It did once, but the idea of “the West” had not been discredited.)
  • Vatican II was a result, not a cause. 
  • The safest place for Catholics is in the Catholic Center, in the Church, realizing times are tough and we will face every kind of challenge we can imagine. And then some. The best response is not outrage and rejection, but humility and perseverance. The Church is still the Church. God knows our confusion. We can rely on Him to help ordinary Catholics if we keep focused on fundamental Christianity.
  • The rise of the Catholic Media Personality with his or her own followers as a kind of counter-Church has proved a disaster. If only we had to choose between Paul and Apollos.
  • Private revelation and prophecy applied to current events is an old Catholic tradition. It should be retired, along with conspiracy theories. While there are supernatural elements and conspiracies, Bear believes, there are plenty of natural, historical answers.
  • The Bear was right all along about staying in the intitutional (real) Church. You either trust God and let your light shine or not.
  • Twenty minutes with the Divine Office or Rosary is better than blog-crawling for three hours. Decent, peaceful Catholics is the best answer to the problems in the Church. But it also the one over which you actually have direct control - scary.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Law

Neighbor’s goats in your tree? Call a lawyer!

Once upon a time, everyone acted like idiots. It was truly shameful.

Then came the law. As a (former) lawyer, The Bear holds the law in high esteem. Now, people with grievances still acted like idiots, for the most part, but it’s a lot less fun at $300 per billable hour. Even before the  billable hour, lawyers invented something they like to call “client control.” (At first, large clubs were used, but those are no longer allowed.) 

(Client control for non-paying clients, such as a methamphetamine cook rolled up in a federal conspiracy is a true art form.)

It’s okay to blow off steam, but only in your lawyer’s office. The lawyer is used to it, and, besides, he’s getting paid to watch his client chew the scenery. The client soon discovers why his lawyer’s face assumes a pleasant, far-away expression. He learns the quicker he gets in and out, the cheaper. And, the lawyer rests easier knowing his client has been conditioned to leave the job in his capable hands, not pasting threatening notes together that will become defense exhibits A through Q.

Then, the lawyers, who have a great incentive not to act like idiots within their profession (their license) work things out. They’ll even go to trial if they absolutely must. (Expensive for the client and uncertain for the lawyer). The best part is that the judge and the jury don’t care as much about some limb hanging over the property line as the parties. They don’t think the case is worth nearly what the plaintiff does.

And, though they’ll do the job they are paid to, and do it with zeal and diligence, if they’re good, which most of them are, the lawyers’ concern over that overhanging branch does not, admittedly, burn with the same white-hot heat of their clients.

Mostly, lawyers are there to deliver the bad news that the tree limb over the property line - if it is over the property line - is really not worth three million dollars in “sunlight deprivation.” It is a rare moment in the legal profession when a lawyer gets to make someone really, really happy. Today’s “not guilty” verdict for a triple ax murder is tomorrow’s discouraging answer about a 20 million false imprisonment lawsuit. (Some lawyers may recall Jay Foonberg’s all-too-true Client’s Gratitude Curve.)

You see, the law, when it works, is really a mechanism to take highly emotional and contentious issues out of the hands of the people least qualified to resolve them - the ones who stand to gain or lose and hate the other party. (See first sentence of the piece.)

If everyone were perfectly reasonable, lawyers, whom it is fashionable to hate, would be out of jobs. But, thanks to lawyers, people don’t run around willy-nilly sawing off tree limbs or killing each other in vendettas.

So, as long as the Bear is not involved in a case, he says let the lawyers come to some reasonable settlement that will probably make none of the parties happy, or, if the parties insist, go to trial, which will at least make the trial lawyers happy, because they will get to jump to their feet and yell, “Objection! Rule in Queen Caroline’s Case!” and otherwise have a fine old time.

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