Wednesday, February 6

More on the Ecstasy-peddling, bleached-blonde priest from Pensacola and Bourbon Street.
My children have all gone to Catholic schools and have, at some time or another, all been exposed to diagramming sentences. I was in public schools when they still did it - 8th grade English at Bearden Junior High School in Knoxville, to be exact. Apparently, diagramming is out - and even the National Council of Teachers of English has highly discouraged any teaching of grammar. (Need we keep asking the question "why don't schools teach our kids?" Aren't the answers obvious?)

Columnist Linda Chavez writes of a 30-year old high school teacher in Maryland who has re-introduced diagramming into her classroom. Interesting.

My mother liked to tell the story of someone she knew who, during a perfectly miserable stint in the Pacific during World War II, passed the time by diagramming The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Come to think of it, such activities aren't a total thing of the distant past. One of my former colleagues, an English teacher, told me that he had a professor at William and Mary (in the early 90's) who had his class diagram the first book (I think....) of Paradise Lost.

You'd think that in these days in which educators are so keen on students' different "learning styles" and the importance of the visual for some learners, that diagramming would be the rage. Of course not. Silly me.

Now we have waving. Joseph (10 months old, if you're not keeping up), can now wave good-bye and hello, and in general, is mastering the art of imitation. I hope to get more photos up soon.
New Jersey representative Chris Smith has received something called the Wilberforce Award from the Prison Fellowship:

the award is given in honor of William Wilberforce, an 18th century British parliamentarian who stood against his party in his campaign to abolish the slave trade.

"In his 22 years of service as a U.S. Congressman, Christopher Smith has led high profile, often controversial, legislative crusades for human rights, both nationally and around the world," the press release stated. The Washington Post has called Smith a "hero" in the human rights field, "always ready to take up the cause of foreign political prisoners, child laborers or those who suffer religious persecution," including Christians in China.

Chris Smith is, indeed, one of the few people of real integrity in Congress. Along with his activism for the rights of already-born humans, he's unswervingly pro-life.

Jim Towey, Bush's new choice to head his faith-based initiatives program, is an interesting person. A Catholic who worked with Mother Teresa, he's from Florida and worked in Lawton Chiles' administration.
Not so good. The John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington D.C., a kind of museum of Catholic teaching, has dropped its admission fee in an attempt to bolster attendance.

Officials had hoped the center initially would draw an average of 500 people a day, and eventually bring in about 1,300 daily visitors. The daily flow, however, has been about 150 people -- about 41 percent of whom hail from the District, Maryland or Virginia, officials said.

Yikes. 150 a day. One more chapter for "Great Stories of Catholic Evangelization."

Today is the feast day of St. Paul Miki and the other 16th century Martyrs of Nagasaki.

Here's a good page dedicate to these martyrs, as well as modern martyrs for Christianity.

If you've not read Shusaku Endo's novel about the persecutions, Silence, you really should. Paradoxical and powerful. Just like faith.

Andrew Greeley weighs in on The Sopranos, mostly in ignorance. In one of his regular columns for the Chicago Sun-Times, Greeley says that he was given the set of episodes from the second season as a gift, and found it dull -well, that figures, considering he hadn't seen the first season. The Sopranos is convoluted enough, and coming into it in the middle is a recipe for even greater confusion.

But what's amusing is Greeley's critique of the series for its language, violence and nudity. Andrew Greeley criticizing a cultural product for being vulgar? Really? Tell me more.

He also faults the series' portrayal of Catholicism, a criticism with which I agree, but not quite for the same reasons. The language used to talk about faith in the series is always a little off, and never quite rings true. But what's good about this dimension of the series is that Carmella's "faith," as awkwardly expressed as it is, is an important part of her character because it exposes her deep hypocrisy, something that comes out with great poignancy in the third season.

He also says that there's not a priest to be found who would advise Carmella to stick with Tony. I don't know. You can find priests who do a lot of things these days: abuse kids, cover up for abusers, sell Ecstasy, or manufacture date-rape drugs. Finding one who'd tell a rich mafia wife to stay with her husband might not be so hard.

I'm not one of those who would proclaim that The Sopranos is the greatest thing ever to hit television, but I would say that it has had some excellent moments and is working at a theme that Greeley just doesn't seem to grasp. I think the fundamental theme and tension of The Sopranos is not about the whole therapy/Mob thing. It's about the incredibly hypocrisy of Carmella and Tony as human beings, and particularly as parents: On their kids to constantly be good, succeed, punishing them for breaking curfew, engaging in vandalism, back talking, when they are pretty much immoral creeps, both in their own way. It will be interesting to see how David Chase continues to work with this in the fourth season. If it ever comes.


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