Film: Honor Diaries

April 9th, 2014

The film Honor Diaries, which documents the accounts of seven women who have suffered some form of honor violence — beatings, genital mutilation, child marriage, etc. — is making news since critics, accusing the film of Islamophobia, have managed to have showings of the film banned at a small number of universities.

I have not seen the film, only the trailer.

Honor Diaries is available on iTunes here.

I may comment further after I have a chance to view the film.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Time for Congressional Hearings on Prosecutorial Overkill

March 30th, 2014

The current story in the Wall Street Journal about how prosecutors in Milwaukee during an alleged political vendetta allegedly ruined the finances and employment prospects of Kelly Rindfleisch, 45, a former midlevel official in the Wisconsin governor’s office, over a misdemeanor e-mail infraction of sending of fundraising e-mails from her personal computer while employed in a government building, has generated outrage.

When the chief of staff to the Illinois governor made a similar e-mail infraction in 2010, he stepped down, but was not prosecuted.

The Milwaukee example dramatizes the plight of many poor people entangled as witnesses in criminal and drug investigations, whose lives are ruined as collateral damage, with little recourse. There are few checks on prosecutorial power in our society except the press, and few consequences for those prosecutors lacking a sense of proportion who may abuse their power. Many, many more people have been and are caught in predicaments like Ms. Rindfleisch.

The first purpose for the secrecy of grand juries is to protect the rights of citizens before felonies are charged, not to shield prosecutorial overkill or to make those prosecutors who abuse their powers unaccountable to anyone.

Years ago, Chicago columnist Mike Royko wrote an article about how he learned over time not to completely destroy with his journalism the life of a common, everyday person who made a mistake, to relent, and to not totally ruin the life of some “poor slob” who fouled up and had already suffered the consequences.

Erich Fromm once described totalitarian societies as societies without mercy, without forgiveness. Those who make politics a blood sport, and who destroy the lives of common citizens for no good reason, erode the very democratic nature of our society.

It is time for Congressional hearings on prosecutorial abuse. But it is also time for a wider, bipartisan discussion of how such abuse hurts innocent people, thus eroding justice and our confidence in our government.

As Euripides said in his play Trojan Women, “What the law permits, let shame forbid!”

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Nigel Biggar’s In Defence of War

March 22nd, 2014

On the recommendation of George Weigel’s First Things review I took Nigel Biggar’s book In Defence of War out of the library.

Prof. Biggar’s ethical method appears to have a gaping hole, and that is his rather glib dismissal of jus post bellum considerations as such, since he maintains that post bellum considerations are already implicit under the ad bellum requirement of “right intention.”

Translated into less technical speech, Prof. Biggar discounts considerations about what happens after a war, such as the moral obligation to rebuild the war-torn society, based upon the convenient assumption that those who have the right intention to go to war already include in their decision-making such intentions as rebuilding the society after the war.

For someone who begins his book by inveighing against wishful thinking, Biggar displays, in such arbitrary bracketing and assumptions a caricature of ivory tower lack of realism. In this particular instance of the dismissal of post bellum as a separate category, Biggar’s decision-maker dwells within the old Rational Man paradigm, which trumps history on the weight of his a priori assumptions and good intentions. Prof. Biggar’s weakness as a thinker is his very strength — he’s brilliant at bracketing.

Prof. Biggar’s assumptions weaken his argument because governments often do not fulfill their promises or carry through on their stated intentions. Their priorities change. Post bellum commitments are rarely kept, thus greatly affecting the sixth criteria of just war, “prospect of success.” A military victory can still lead to an historic cataclysm of epic proportions if an incompetent victor “loses the peace” after the war. It is all too convenient to stop the moral time-clock and make the just war determination at the point hostilities end, but before recovery.

Many governments are indeed incompetent, and cannot deliver on their commitments. This question should shout out: Can an incompetent government that cannot realize its intentions and commitments to “win the peace” even make a just war, despite the prospect of military victory?

The historic reality of incompetent government–which cannot be wished away–justifies the inclusion of jus post bellum considerations as a separate category in just war theory. Despite post bellum being implicit in “right intention” (I agree with Prof. Biggar on this technical point), for the “prospect of success” to be met, a government must be competent both in war (in bello) and in peace (post bellum). Inclusion of the post bellum category forces consideration of the question of competence. But Prof. Biggar blithely waves away post bellum considerations in his first pages. The rest of his arguments, despite his brilliance and scholarship, therefore fall short. Tellingly, there is no reference to the Marshall Plan in Prof. Biggar’s index. His arguments would have more suasion if he reported visiting as many historic wartime recovery sites as he reported visiting historic battlefields.

Modern wars are won and lost after hostilities end at the post bellum stage. Rebuilding society and “winning the peace” have everything to do with the “prospect of success.” Post bellum considerations cannot be bracketed, assumed, or waved away.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism LXXVII

March 21st, 2014

In an insane situation, act sane.

(One of Schorsch’s laws, 1970)

© Copyright 1970, 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism LXXVI

March 14th, 2014

Those who export their own repressive radical politics abroad engage in a destructive form of colonialism.

This includes political hobbyists who are pacifists and civil libertarians at home, but who support violent, inhuman, or manipulative regimes or schemes far away in the mistaken attempt to improve the lot of their chosen “pet” poor people.

The face of distant war brought close to the eyes is terrible indeed.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Beethoven and Pope Francis

March 10th, 2014

On the afternoon of 3/9/14, as a recipient of gift tickets from kind co-workers, I attended a recital in Chicago given by the masterful Mitsuko Uchida of Schubert’s Sonata in G Major, D. 894, and Beethoven’s 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120.

During the recital, a few rows behind me I heard a continual wheezing sound, and eventually realized that it was an oxygen device used by a man in the audience. By intermission, half the row in front of the gentleman with the oxygen device had left the concert, along with a scattering of the nearby audience, and through the concert people continued to depart the area nearby the man with the oxygen device. Many pianissimo passages in the Schubert were fuzzed by the wheezing oxygen.

Throughout, I reflected on how a Christian should best respond to the situation, and literally, what Pope Francis would have done. Obviously, the best response was to let the gentleman with the oxygen device enjoy his concert in peace, and that the remaining audience did. And as it turned out, the Beethoven Diabelli Variations had many loud passages, so the wheezing device did not conquer Beethoven as it had disturbed Schubert. When a broken string banged out during the performance, I recalled that Beethoven was known for having an assistant stand by to remove the several broken strings that were known to be regular casualties of his performances. Beethoven is quite capable even today of generating his own disturbances!

When pondering about Pope Francis I recalled the news stories of that Saturday of June 22, 2013 when Pope Francis skipped a concert of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony scheduled to be performed by the RAI National Symphony Orchestra, directed by conductor Juraj Valcuha of Slovakia. When Giampiero Sposito’s picture of the throne-like empty white chair flashed around the world, I reflected that the Pope might have made a different point if he had simply sat in the audience, and put, say, a man with an oxygen device on the throne.

Source: Giampiero Sposito / Reuters 6/22/13

When Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, on 11/24/13, I immediately recalled that he had skipped a concert of Beethoven’s setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy.

It is safe to say that Beethoven’s (and Schiller’s) Ode to Joy and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis will be heard by more people–and move more people–than ever will read or be moved by all the encyclicals of all the popes in history.

(Yes, I’ve been taking my second spin through Evangelii Gaudium, and have read and taught dozens of papal writings, but I’ve heard the 9th Symphony and the Missa Solemnis hundreds of times).

Certainly, one can look on classical music as the music of the rich–and read through the list of wealthy donors in the programs–but that would be to misunderstand the universal gift of music, itself a world-wide natural language of peace, a gift in no small part the gift of Catholicism itself.

Beethoven was the Catholic son of a poorly paid (nothing new here) church musician, driven by his desperate father to learn all ninety-six preludes and fugues of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier by the age of eleven, to be another Mozart (at almost 63, after over 52 years of study, I’ve not mastered half of these pieces). Mozart before Beethoven, and Schubert after Beethoven, were also Catholics. There was a time when one could enter almost any Catholic church and hear Mozart’s sublime motet, Ave Verum Corpus. And that is a telling point about music and Catholicism: Catholicism brought the most beautiful music of the world–from the chant to the symphonic masses–to the common everyday people in thousands and thousands of parishes around the world.

And we must understand who musicians are: Yes, a few of the elite musicians are wealthy and influential. But almost all master musicians are common people who work their keasters off for little pay for long hours and days and weeks practicing and learning and perfecting so they can bring the gift of beauty to others. And many people sacrifice–save up–to go to concerts. Each concert is a celebration of generosity: Behind every classical concert are multiple stories of gifting, from the often poorly-compensated work of the musicians to the sponsors of the concert to those who share tickets with others. My co-workers took the Christmas money I gave to them, and gave it back to me by buying me tickets. Music has never been more accessible than it is today, via Youtube, iTunes, and other portals. But never has truly great music been so precious and overlooked amidst all the din and thumping.

I recall that when I was about twenty years old and still in the seminary over forty years ago, I drafted and signed an open letter with a friend reflecting on whether it was a just act to hire professional musicians for a seminary liturgy when there were people suffering who needed our help. It was my later friend and teaching colleague, the late Fr. Stanley Rudcki, who was the conductor! Years later, I’ve realized that I had been spiritually tone deaf: we are called to bring both justice and beauty into the world, and that we have to find a way to keep doing both. As Dostoyevsky said, and Dorothy Day often quoted, “The world will be saved by beauty.”

I well understand that the Pope was rejecting the throne and not the music when he skipped the concert. But I suspect that while the press will sooner or later desert the Pope, Beethoven never will. The melody of the Ode to Joy has been put to hymnody the world over. While the Church is indeed a hospital for sinners, it is also the concert hall of everyday people.

Therefore, I think it would be a great idea for Pope Francis and Beethoven to team up on that joy thing, especially if the Pope puts a poor child on the throne, and takes a place for himself in the nosebleed section.

Perhaps there’s another open date on the calendar of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Juraj Valcuha of Slovakia for a little Beethoven. . . this time with the Pope in attendance.

==

I noted on the way to the 3/9/14 recital that the lovely little Chicago restaurant, Russian Tea Time, had apparently had its windows and glass door vandalized, presumably over the Russian incursion into Crimea. But Russian Tea Time is not exactly the headquarters of Mr. Putin, and could have easily been spared the damage.

I also packed about a half-dozen Clif bars (meal bars) in advance to give to the many people who beg outside the Chicago Symphony Center. All the bars were given away by the time we departed the parking lot (but $40 to park!), one block from the recital. For many reasons (I would rather spend the money on someone else, and the seats hurt!) I rarely go to Symphony Center any more. But I am thankful for the gift of great music. . . and am especially grateful to Ms. Uchida for her artistry. . .

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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UN Report on Human Rights in North Korea

March 6th, 2014

From the Jubilee Campaign, here is the link for the UN Report on Human Rights in North Korea. There is the link for the detailed testimony.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Podcast of Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church Course, Third Session

March 2nd, 2014

Here is the audio podcast of the third class session of the course The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church held on the evening of 2/25/14 at the Blessed John Paul II Newman Center in Chicago as part of the School of Catholic Thought.

Here is the Page for the course, containing links for previous session podcasts, along with notes.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism LXXV

February 23rd, 2014

To those who are happy when their pastor avoids the “hard sayings” of Catholic Christianity, I say: Perhaps these parishioners would be more comfortable with a Jesus Christ who listened to some of his disciples, kept his silence, and stayed away from Jerusalem. Otherwise, he might have been crucified and died a miserable death. And where would we be then?

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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