Sunday, February 14, 2016

The SCOTUS: A Proposal To Consider...

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died yesterday at age 79. Regardless of what one thought of his politics, he was a force with which to be reckoned; a man and a judge who devoted himself to his craft in the field of jurisprudence.

Justice Scalia's body wasn't even cold yet when the two political parties began staking out there positions on a potential replacement. The Democratic side was licking their chops about putting a permanent liberal majority on the Supreme Court, while Senate Majority Leader The Gobbler Mitch McConnell vowed there would no replacement until after November's election and a new president is inaugurated. This has led to the usual recriminations back and forth, and as usual, most of the talking heads don't have a clue as to how the Constitution actually works with regard to the positions on the Supreme Court. Some points before I get to the main thrust of this post:

a) The President doesn't "fill the vacancy"; there is a reason for separation of powers and such, so the President doesn't get unilateral power over judicial vacancies. He nominates a candidate for the position.

b) The Senate "advises and consents." This is not a rubber stamp. Just because a President likes a particular candidate doesn't entitle said candidate to the seat. The Senate needs to vet and decide whether a candidate for the judiciary. Whether a candidate gets out of the Senate Judicial Committee and brought for a vote is something for McConnell to decide.

c) The Democrats' handwringing over this vacancy is a bit disingenuous: blocking a nomination is not a new tactic, and when in the majority, they even eliminated the filibuster for judicial nominees. True, it wasn't for a Supreme Court vacancy, but to quote someone rather famous..."what difference, at this point, does it make?" Long story short...what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

d) I can't foresee a recess appointment, although some are calling for that. Recess appointments are by definition temporary, so in 10-12 months, such an appointment would expire and wouldn't make any sense for the purposes of voting.

e) Will the Supreme Court cease functioning if there are only *eight* members? Might make for some more appellate decisions standing, but otherwise, it's not really a huge deal if they go with eight members for a while.

So anyway, the reason for writing this post (after the long above digression) is to provide layman's advice to President Obama. As a non-partisan independent-minded conservatarian-type, I'm sure my proposal will go over as well as  finding drunken vomit on the Oval Office desk, but here it is:

President Obama should nominate Ted Cruz for the Supreme Court. 

This would be the shrewdest long-term move, but would never happen just for political and partisan reasons alone. Unfortunately, politicians don't tend to look long term for nearly anything; they are just looking for how to get to next Friday night after the inevitable weekly news dump. I am pretty sure the President is looking to nominate someone on which he believes the Democrats and the media can constantly attack the Republicans. This means he will nominate a minority female, or perhaps an individual who practices Islam.

The way I see it, following the conventional path there is mostly going to be a way to rile up the base and an attempt to gin up fundraising and turnout for a party that isn't particularly thrilled for Hillary Clinton (who will be the nominee - Bernie has to realize he's being played like a fiddle. If the superdelegate aspect of New Hampshire doesn't convince him, nothing will).

Much like with Scalia, I don't think anyone who isn't already an ideological hack would quibble with Ted Cruz's credentials (in other words, spare me the ideological cri de coeur - I'm already aware of what most people think of him, politically). He's certainly qualified to be on the Court, with experience as a clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Solicitor General for the State of Texas, and general legal experience as counsel and in government, and President Obama would be wise to do so. Consider the following...

1) Nominating Cruz would virtually ensure the Democrats win the White House. At this juncture, he is the only Republican candidate who has a shot at knocking off Donald Trump. If Cruz were to win the Republican nomination for President, he has a decent shot at winning. Donald Trump being the nominee makes it a near certainty of a Democratic landslide in November, even for someone who is currently under FBI investigation. Trump has no shot at winning, a) because he is a Mussolini-wannabe, and b) due to the Lattanzi Ironclad Rule of Voting (read #1 at the link to get my opinion of Mitch McConnell, if you haven't figured it out already). 

2) Nominating Cruz would be maintaining the status quo prior to Justice Scalia dying. It would still be a generally 5-4 conservative tilt of the Court. Pile this on with the above, knowing that there may be two (if not three) vacancies coming in the next four years (Kennedy is the big one plus Ginsburg, and possibly Breyer). It's a trade of short-term pain for long-term gain. Going with the standard conventional path may backfire on the President because this issue has been pushed to the front burner. It's generally a GOP meme article of faith that "you need to elect us because of the judiciary" but in this case it is actually true for once this year.

3) The biggest objection other than from the President's own side about the craziness of nominating Ted Cruz (I'd say crazy, like a fox) would be how would a Republican Senate who hates him actually confirm him? I believe this is way overblown. The fastest way to get rid of him from that most deliberative chamber in the Capitol is to send him across the street for the rest of his life.   

So to summarize: Nominating Ted Cruz would throw the election to the Democrats in November while not really changing anything of substance on the Supreme Court and also allowing Mitch McConnell to return to giving away the farm on every substantive issue. Everyone wins!

Ok, I know none of this is going to happen, but it would be fun to see people's heads spin just by the announcement, Democrat and Republican alike. If only...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Live Blog! Super Bowl 50! 6 PM!

For the first time in I don't know how long (over five years), Lattanzi Land will be hosting a live blog. Tonight's event will begin at 6 pm, with enough time to preview, snark, and ignore the commercials. Come around and follow and comment on the proceedings as Carolina and Denver play for the Lombardi Trophy:

Monday, February 1, 2016

Similarities In Movie Endings...

I was recently watching the 1966 English film Georgy Girl, starring Lynn Redgrave as the title character. When I got to the ending, I was struck by how similar it is to the ending of The Graduate, the 1967 Mike Nichols film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. To be sure, the styles are completely different - one is ostensibly a happy ending, one is a little more uncertain; what both portray is a descent into the unknown, accompanied by a song.

Here is the better known ending, the one for The Graduate:

Many people have seen it, and it's been oft-parodied. They get on the bus and while there is smiling at the beginning, it is clear that as they look forward, the facial expressions change once they realize they have to come to grips with their action. The use of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" is perfect hovering over the scene.

Below is the ending of Georgy Girl. To give a little context, since most have never seen it, the groom (James Mason) is an older widower who employed Georgy's father. After his wife dies, he professes his love for the young Georgy and proposes marriage. Georgy's former roommate had gotten pregnant and abandoned her child, for whom Georgy begins caring. However, she cannot legally adopt the girl as a single woman and the marriage gives her the chance to be a mother. Watch the ending and listen to the lyrics (provided by The Seekers - although these are not the words most people know to the song; the released single is much more positive):

Despite the chipper tune, it is assumed (through the visuals) that this will be a loveless (and sexless, for that matter) marriage. The lyrics in this ending are the following:

Hey there, Georgy girl
Pretty as a picture, told you so
Can it be the Georgy we all know?
Or somebody new? I wonder!

Hey there, Georgy girl
Hurrying away to celebrate
Got yourself a man but wait!
There’s somebody else for you

Who needs a perfect lover
When you’re a mother at heart?
Isn’t that all you wanted right from the start? Well, didn’t you?

Hey there, Georgy girl
Now that you’re no longer on the shelf
Better try to smile and tell yourself
That you got your way. You’ve made it!

Hey there, Georgy girl
Now you’ve got a future planned for you
Though it’s not a dream come true
At least he’s a millionaire
So don’t despair!
You’re rich, Georgy Girl! (3x)

One breaks up a wedding/marriage and one ends up in a marriage, but both The Graduate and Georgy Girl go almost counter-cultural (for the time) in reminding the audience that decisions and actions have consequences, even if it is unknown exactly what those consequences will be. It is a pretty interesting set of conclusions about films that were set in California during the Summer of Love and Swingin' London, and lessons that are still timeless to all viewing.

One small bit of trivia: the connection between the two films is in the musicians of the main themes. Paul Simon (of Simon and Garfunkel) had collaborated with Bruce Woodley (of The Seekers) to write some songs, most notably "Red Rubber Ball". This became a hit for The Cyrkle, although The Seekers and Simon and Garfunkel recorded their own versions as well. The Seekers also had a minor hit with Simon's "Someday, One Day" in 1966.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Teachers: A Review

TV Land has been running several original series over the past few years. Hot In Cleveland, The Exes, and The Soul Man are examples of successful shows they have produced. The most recent attempt is entitled Teachers, which follows six ladies' exploits at Fillmore Elementary School.

When I first saw this new series being put on, I didn't pay much attention to it, because I watch TV Land primarily for Everybody Loves Raymond reruns.  On a whim during these endless off days due to Global Warming snow, I decided to give it a shot through the on-demand feature on my FiOS. Now that I have seen all three episodes, I have a  slightly mixed opinion of what I have observed.

A six-member ensemble is a difficult thing to pull off in a single-camera, twenty-two minute episode (The only male regular thus far is the principal of the school). My guess is that the various episodes throughout the season (there is ten ordered for this season, thus far) will take turns emphasizing an individual or two at the expense of the others. The six leads got their start as a comedy troupe called The Katydids (you'll understand when you see all their names) doing webisodes, which then led to this series being put on television. It's a bit ambitious, and I wonder if it will last simply due to the limitations of the medium itself; limitations that are not present when doing stage shows or internet videos.

Try to guess which one is which!
The leads work well together because each one has a "role" or a personality to play. There is the go-hung rah-rah feminist (Ms. Cannon), the man-hungry narcissist (Ms. Snap), the Don Quixote-style romantic (Ms. Watson), the free-spirit (Ms. Feldman), the never-got-over-teenagerhood angsty one (Mrs. Adler), and the naive follower (Ms. Bennigan). I was a bit hesitant to watch because what I was afraid of was essentially one long twenty-two minute cat fight and complaint festival. To be sure, there are those elements; were you expecting none of that with all female leads?

Not only does the show work because of the "roles" played, it also works because they aren't afraid to mock the personality types. There are the glares, the sarcastic comments, and occasionally outright bitchiness. The ladies may be characters and "types," but they are also human beings: certain things in life bring on visceral reactions, and that's just how it goes.

I felt the first episode moved a little slowly. The premise was how to prevent bullying in a place that didn't really have that problem. Some of it was funny, to be sure, but one could sense the slight discomfort of the actresses, which I believe goes back in part to the aforementioned limitations of the medium of television. I don't like to dismiss something after just the one episode, and a pilot, no less, because one episode may well be a fluke. Three episodes is generally a good sense to tell if a) a show just isn't your cup of tea or b) it is complete and total trash.

The following episode was about picture day Fillmore Elementary, which had lots of death involved (in different and quirky ways) and the most recent one entailed the school making nice for the arrival of the superintendent. These episodes moved much more smoothly and strides are certainly being made. Time will tell if this will become a permanent fixture or whether one season will be enough.

I only have a couple of complaints (and you knew those were coming!): one is plot-based, and the other is production-based.

1) I do wonder how realistic the show is. I know at least one of the cast members taught in real life, and how much does that inform the script. I have been teaching long enough to know that the complaining and politics of a faculty room are real. However, I am coming from an almost exact opposite perspective of the show, which is a nearly all-female staff in a public elementary school. I, on the other hand (as you all know), teach in an all-male private high school where the faculty is also overwhelmingly male. Maybe this is just a blind spot on my part. Perhaps some of my friends and readers who teach in public elementary schools can confirm or deny some of the things that go on (if you are inclined to watch the show at all).

2) I get the sense that the show may do a little better in two eleven-minute vignettes rather than a unitary episode. This was especially true of the first two episodes; much of the plot felt a tad disjointed and could have stood to be reorganized into two separate parts, like slightly longer Saturday Night Live skits. The most recent episode did a much better job remaining seamless, and perhaps this complaint will be unfounded by the time they are five or more episodes into the show.

I do believe Teachers is a show I will continue to watch. It isn't going to be a show for everyone - there is a bit of raunchy humor involved (it is on at 10:30 PM after all), and it is certainly not for children to view. Thankfully, the children who are involved as characters are not particularly subjected to the raunchier side of the dialogue. The show has promise, and I am at least willing to see where it goes from here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Good and Evil In Children's Programming

Being a dad (my daughter is now 3 1/2 years old) means watching a bit of kiddie programming. Some of what passes for children's programming is total and absolute drivel (see Caillou as exhibit A), but sometimes there are shows that manage to demonstrate a fundamental lesson to children that they need to learn.

One such show is entitled PJ Masks. It is on Disney Junior and it is a fairly clichéd superhero show with three protagonists (Catboy, Owlette, and Gekko) dealing with problems and villains at night time while their daytime identities as schoolchildren provide the setup and conclusion.

Despite the clichéd nature (and really, is there any other way to do children's programming?), I like it because it provides good and stark contrasts between the good guys and the bad guys. This is something that has gone missing through much programming at the childhood level, even through the tweener years. Most shows now will either avoid the issue altogether (bad enough) or (worse) take a position of wishy-washy moral equivalence. Those two positions will leave a child ignorant or confused. 

Before anyone gets on my case about how it is the parents' job to teach that rather than television, I respond that it is true, but media at large can be a reinforcement or a competitor to what we teach her. Teaching the difference between good and evil, right and wrong is something of which society at large could stand do a lot more. Instead, we have a lot of relativism in our society and our popular culture reflects that. There are plenty of "aren't we all fabulous!" types of shows out there, even ones geared toward pre-school age kids. It is nice, though, to see the occasional program that gives an old-fashioned lesson in an age-appropriate manner. 

Now, bring on the hate mail!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Liturgical Warfare

I am a musical minimalist when it comes to the Mass. Most of that stems from the outright nonsense that we put up with for most of my youth in terms of the "music" that was put forth in worship at Mass in our parish. I suspect I am not close to being the only individual in my age group (out of those who still actually regularly attend Mass, that is) who was scarred in some fashion by horrendous liturgical music. 

Today in First Things, Richard Mouw reminds us that battles over the aesthetics and presentation of worship is hardly new, and each subsequent generation fights it all over again. It's sort of an incarnation of the quote often attributed to Twain about history rhyming rather than repeating itself. 

All of that said, the role of music within the boundaries of the Mass is to foster worship. Unfortunately, one of the lines that gets thrown around often to justify unlimited and often bad music is St. Augustine's "he who sings, prays twice." However, that is a misquote. The real quote is:

"He who sings well, prays twice"

Big difference. 

Let's face it, sometimes the songs are so bad that even a well-sung rendition is just putting lipstick on the pig, to borrow the phrase. "Gather Us In," "Anthem," "We Are Called," "City of God" and the rest are just awful songs that even brilliant four part harmonies won't remove the triteness and abject heresy dreck from our ears. 

Getting back to the original point of this entire post: being a musical minimalist means that the only singing that is technically required are the actual parts of the Mass: Gloria, Alleluia, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, the Great Amen, Agnus Dei, and the Communion antiphon. Opening and closing "hymns" (how "All Are Welcome" qualifies as a "hymn" is a mystery even God cannot comprehend) are pragmatic elements at best; they are meant to get the procession and recession on and off the altar. Offertory and Communion hymns are done likewise; however, they are within the boundaries of the Mass itself, and as such are not really an issue. Nothing is more annoying in Mass that an opening or closing that has all four verses sung, especially when the priest has arrived or departed after two of the verses.

Singing those extra verses is the very essence of the "vain repetition" Jesus warned against in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:7). Is it for the glory of God, or is it just to give the choir extra exposure? The fact the question even has to be asked sort of answers itself. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Back From The Dead...

Part of the reason I have never officially shut this blog down despite the multiple long hiatuses (or is that hiati?) is due to the necessity of having an outlet. We have been suffering through another long snow-day cluster (similar to what we saw back in 2010) and cabin fever has set in to some extent. Ergo, here are some random thoughts about this and that just to put out there. Pardon the rustiness of the commentary...

1) If I had been sleeping for a long time (i.e. like Woody Allen in Sleeper), I would have assumed that the Presidential race was coming down to reincarnations of Vladimir Lenin and Benito Mussolini. Bernie Sanders is an honest communist socialist, although he is really just a closeted corporatist. Donald Trump has all the hallmarks of Il Duce, save the promise to make the trains run on time. 

2) Mrs. Bill Clinton should be going to jail. The next few weeks will be verrrrry interesting, especially if the President and the Attorney General put the party ahead of the law. The FBI won't be taking this sitting down. Drip...Drip...Drip...

3) The Super Bowl will be a fascinating game in a couple of weeks. Peyton Manning will be playing what I think is his last game, one way or another. I will be rooting for Denver to win, as I have nearly every time I've seen them play in a Super Bowl. I don't have any animosity toward the Panthers, and I am actually amused by the Cam Newton dancing. The giving away of touchdown footballs to kids is cute and a good connection with the fans. I'm just hoping for a good game. 

4) Maybe, just maybe we'll be back in school on Wednesday. I am not too confident, as the anecdotal evidence piles up against Wednesday. Too many days ought already, and it's royally screwed up any plans I made for the 3rd quarter at school. God help us...

Maybe, this will kickstart regular blogging again. Who can tell? Only one way to know. Until next time. So long...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Holy Week Reflections, Part IV: Judgment

There will be no Ten (or Observations) at all this week. Instead, I'll be doing a reflection on an event that corresponds to each day of Holy Week, all the way through Easter Sunday itself. It is a purification of sorts; to remind oneself that it isn't always about this world and this life. Politics, sports, and culture are all important, but in the end, we aren't taking any of those things beyond. The Ten will resume on Monday, April 6. -- J.L.

Some of the most profound teachings Jesus gave came within a day of the coming of his "Hour." Sitting on the Mount of Olives, he recounted what the day of his return would be like through parables and warnings; for many people, the association is with all of the cataclysmic events - earthquakes, volcanoes, the sky darkening, and so forth. However, the watchword of Jesus' teaching in this matter is preparation.

Be prepared, for we do not know when the Son of Man shall return. And when he does, are we ready to make that full accounting with him, as the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) relays? Are we prepared with what we need in appearance (Wedding Feast - Matthew 22:1-14), substance (Ten Virgins - Matthew 25:1-13), and deed (the aforementioned Talents, as well as doing for the least of Jesus' brothers - Matthew 25:31-46)? Are we ready to answer the Big Questions?

One of the most fascinating parts of what Jesus says while talking to his disciples on the hill overlooking Jerusalem that day was that no one knows the day or the hour in which he will return (Matthew 24:36), not even him. Only the Father in Heaven knows. Presumably he knows know, but this is so very important because it speaks to a failing in us as human beings that goes all the way back to the Fall of Man: the desire for complete knowledge and complete control.

We all like to be in control, and we all want to know when, how, and where everything is going to occur. Part of this is a natural curiosity, but the fundamental larger is flaw is our desire to be God. It's what got Eve in trouble in Eden, and it is what still gets us in trouble now. Occasionally, people are made to be fools in trying to "predict" when the Day of Judgment will be (like that time in 2011), but most of our attempts at control and knowing tend to have a more subtle feel to them. 

Many people know the prayer about having the strength to accept things beyond control and change things that we can control. It's a great prayer to remind oneself of constantly, even as we repeatedly stumble and fall into the trap of believing we can indeed know and control all things.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:8-11).

Kyrie Eleison.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Holy Week Reflections, Part III: Questioning Of Jesus

There will be no Ten (or Observations) at all this week. Instead, I'll be doing a reflection on an event that corresponds to each day of Holy Week, all the way through Easter Sunday itself. It is a purification of sorts; to remind oneself that it isn't always about this world and this life. Politics, sports, and culture are all important, but in the end, we aren't taking any of those things beyond. The Ten will resume on Monday, April 4. -- J.L.

After Jesus had driven the merchants and money changers out of the Temple, the conspiracy had heated up and the authorities began looking for ways to entrap him in speech. They attempted to do this through a series of questions that were meant to make him look bad, whether it was asking by what authority he performed his signs, or whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or by posing a hypothetical about whose wife a woman would be at the Resurrection of the Dead.

Each time, Jesus was able to expose their questions for the silly entrapment attempts they were and provide a deeper understanding of the issues involved. It was clear that his authority was heavenly; that we are to give ourselves to God since we are made in his image and likeness; and that marriage is something for the people of this world, not the next.

In our everyday lives, we often tend to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. That is, we miss the point of why we are here and why we exist. We tend to debate the little questions because either we don’t want to address the big ones or we don’t even know what the big questions are!

It is so important to keep sight of those big questions, as uncomfortable as they may be. God asks us those often – “are you ready to follow me?” or “can you deny yourself and take up your cross?” These are not easy questions, and we want to either avert our eyes or change the subject. We need to have the strength to answer them, one way or another – for Jesus himself says that lukewarm followers make him sick (cf. Revelation 3:16). We do not have to do this alone; God will give the strength through his grace to make a positive answer, even when you feel alone.

Stand up for truth, and the answers to these questions become a lot easier for us all. We must avoid acting as the Pharisees and Scribes when they were completely unopened to the Truth who stood right in their midst. We must be open to him who is the Truth, and it is only when that happens that we are truly free to answer those difficult questions that are posed to us.

How great are your works, LORD, how profound your thoughts! Senseless people do not know, fools do not understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever (Psalm 92:5-7).

Kyrie Eleison.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Holy Week Reflections, Part II: The Cleansing Of The Temple

There will be no Ten (or Observations) at all this week. Instead, I'll be doing a reflection on an event that corresponds to each day of Holy Week, all the way through Easter Sunday itself. It is a purification of sorts; to remind oneself that it isn't always about this world and this life. Politics, sports, and culture are all important, but in the end, we aren't taking any of those things beyond. The Ten will resume on Monday, April 4. -- J.L.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of "Hosanna!" one would have guessed that the Temple authorities (chief priests, the scribes, and so forth) would not be pleased with such a display. They always tended to fear any kind of "popular" movement because it could very well upset the existing power structure that depended upon Roman cooperation.

The next day, Jesus kicked it up a notch by overturning the tables of the money-changers and "cleansing" the Temple of its "marketplace" feel, reminding us of the purpose of the Temple:
“It is written: ‘my House shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of thieves’”
This did much to solidify the conspiracy against Jesus, since he had struck at the heart of a corrupt system that was predicated on kickbacks and mutual back-scratching to the detriment of worshipping the Lord.

While we haven’t experienced as many dramatic scenes in our lives, no doubt we are all guilty at some point of placing something higher than God in our lives. It may be subtle or very upfront, but there is always a point in which we, as temples dedicated to God, need to be cleansed as well. The recognition that we are sinners in need of a Savior can be a tough pill to swallow, but a necessary bit of medicine.

God always needs to be the first priority in our lives. As tempting as it may be to shove him aside and place him in a closet to be taken out once a week like a suit, we need to be mindful of the fact that, for all the things we do, we need to ensure his place within us. We need to make of ourselves that "house of prayer" rather than turning it into the "den of thieves" as the result of our sin and neglect of the most important things in our existence.

Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness (Psalm 29:1-2).

Kyrie Eleison.