Friday, July 30, 2004

Blogging, conventions and liturgy

Prof. Jay Rosen wraps up the Democratic convention with an interview with Washington Post reporter Thomas Edsall. The two journalists offer insights about the journalism of the blogosphere and how it differs from the more traditional media. The upshot being that both the Metropolitan Daily Times and Joe's Blogworld have a part to play in the presentation of truth. Listen to the interview--it's about 5 minutes on MP3, and my point here won't do it justice.

One difference the two found between "reporting" and "blogging" (using the terms to distinguish, not divide) is that newspapers don't want to offend anybody, and bloggers build traffic by being controversial. Other disagreeing bloggers link, saying, "Look what an idiot he is," and the discussion continues.

Rosen also points out the unreported story of how different this convention was from other political conventions in the past--in the security. It was everywhere, from the constant checks for ID in the hall and around to the prison-like ambiance of the Free Speech area. Nobody talked about it, because everybody just wanted it to go away, but, he added, Al-Qaeda was there.

At the beginning of the convention, Rosen asked what it was all about, why these thousands of people gathered in one place to do what had already been completed state by state, and why triple their number came to report on what they were doing, which was basically nothing new.

He may answer that question yet, but I'd like to take a crack at it. My friend Barb observed that even our social pleasantries are a sort of ritual, a liturgical exchange in some ways like and in obvious ways different from the ones we do in church. I think the conventions are like that, too.

To lay some groundwork for folks who aren't familiar with Orthodox liturgy, the ritual is both set and meaningful. The priest blesses the congregation, saying, "Peace be with you all," and the congregation replies, "And with your spirit." The words and gestures are set, and yet they come compacted with the meaning not only of this congregation with our wandering minds and aching feet, but also all congregations everywhere, in our different languages and times and circumstances--from a fourth-century Cappadocian village to a 21st-century storefront mission to a 17th-century Russian palace Liturgy to the first-century catacombs--and beyond, to the God-Man standing with his disciples and saying, "Peace." These small gestures vibrate with meaning and refer beyond themselves to something greater.

That's not to say that either George Bush or John Kerry is a secular priest, but the conventions are works of the people (the root meaning of the word "liturgy"), places of meeting, and the rituals are themselves meaningful for their connection with something greater than we are.

Blogger Peter Levine is getting at it when he says:
But what if we see politics as ritual, spectacle, tradition, or even "convention" (in the broader sense)? Then we can ask: What do these ceremonies mean? Why do they linger past their original purpose? How does their symbolism change? Jay--more than half-seriously, I think--suggests that newspapers send their religion-beat reporters to the conventions this summer.

What makes it hard to nail down is that the "liturgy" is changes from year to year, decade to decade, even race to race and state to state, and the people who analyze it are frequently not--even if they're religion reporters--all that interested in liturgy. And it's all so familiar that we are like fish describing water.

One transcendent reality in the political liturgy of an American election season is that the candidates are trying out for the office, in the sense that an actor tries out for a role. Earlier in the spring people asked, "Why do these poor candidates have to go to Iowa and flip pancakes? This doesn't have anything to do with the job and it's a grueling schedule, to no purpose." Indeed, it's a grueling schedule, and flipping pancakes is not in the Constitutional job description of the president. Nevertheless, he will have to handle new and unfamiliar situations with people whose mode of expression is even stranger than Iowans'. Does he lose his temper? Behave foolishly? Succumb to heart failure? All these things will be noted in the voters' interview notes as indicative of what kind of president he'll be.

And all the other voices are part of the liturgy--journalists and bloggers, satirists and sycophants, people who read 20 political journals a week and those who get their politics from Saturday Night Live. If it sounds like Babel, well, being fallen, it probably has some elements of it.

Which leads to The Revealer, a blog about religion and the news, referred to recently on one of my favorite blogs, Get Religion, as well as on Rosen's site (Rosen is a contributor to The Revealer).

But it's late and I've gone on and on already with no guarantee that I'm at all coherent, and I don't think I'll get this all sorted out tonight. Maybe if I go to bed, someone will have explained it all in my comments by morning (like the fairy tale of "The Blogger and the Elves").

Thursday, July 29, 2004

"This Land Is Your Land" parody under attack

I've received it from a variety of friends, of all political persuasions, and it's one of the best things to come out of this campaign season: The Flash parody of "This Land Is Your Land."

Naturally, nothing that good can last without an attack from the lawyers. Woody Guthrie's copyright holder is going after the creators Gregg and Evan Spiridellis for copyright infringement. They argue that use of the music does not constitute a parody because the Spiridellis are making fun of something other than the music itself (I would think that the alternative lyrics would cover that).

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing reports that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has stepped in on behalf of the Spiridellis.

Better watch the video soon, though, because it may be squelched.

UPDATE: Reason Online has an article that covers the issues in more depth.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Dem Schizophrenia

I'm enjoying James Ridgeway's coverage of the Democratic convention in The Village Voice. I don't agree with everything he says, but I appreciate his decision not (by and large) to demonize Republicans and his insider's view of what's really going on at the convention.
Wherever you go in this city, people talk about war--either the war on Iraq or the war on terror. This despite Kerry's original support for the invasion of Iraq and his current hedged backing for a continued U.S. presence there. The best the Dems can do in their platform is to gesture at troop reduction in a vague exit policy that would take place under the umbrella of the U.N. and NATO.

As a practical matter, none of this makes much difference, because the real platform is Fahrenheit 9/11. It's too bad the Dem leaders can't just hand out DVDs of the film instead of their platitudinous platform. Dumping Bush is what matters to the delegates.

He goes on to say that "Most of the party's 'ideas' come from the Clintonistas of the Democratic Leadership Council." He says that the Clinton wing of the party, not the Kennedy, is running the show.

Which has interesting ramifications: the Democratic Leadership Council supports middle-class tax cuts, affordable health care ("In all fairness, this idea came not from the DLC, but from the conservative Heritage Foundation"), tinkering with, not gutting, the Patriot Act.
Where the Dems are truly different from the Republicans is on social issues--gay rights, abortion rights, stem-cell research. Here the Dems offer a real difference to Bush's medieval Christianity.

OK, so Ridgeway falls off the wagon with "Bush's medieval Christianity"--so historically inaccurate that it's funny. How can Bush be a Protestant (post-Renaissance), fundamentalist (20th-century--he's not really, as far as I know, but that's one of the appelations) and medieval at the same time? It's like being both a moron and an evil genius who controls the world.

Anyway, Ridgeway has neatly captured the question arising from the convention: will the real John Kerry please stand up? Is the party represented by Michael Moore sitting in the presidents' box next to Jimmy Carter? or is it represented by the talking points of the Democratic Leadership Council? The only issue Kerry hasn't waffled is abortion, and even there he came up with that curious formulation that life begins at conception, but that has no application in law.

It's an illustration of the old saying, "Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it." In the primaries, the Democrats rejected a number of candidates with identifiable plans and ideas--Dean, Kucinich, Sharpton, Lieberman--because they wanted "Anybody but Bush." So they picked Kerry, a cipher, a Zelig, an Anybody. And what he truly stands for, at least if you ignore his voting record, as he seems to be asking people to do, is anybody's guess.

Don't forget the weather

When I heard a snippet of Glenn Close's 9/11 remarks on the radio, it made me laugh.

It was the whiny, overly dramatized voice, the repeated demand that we "never forget that it was a particularly beautiful morning" (why is the weather important?), the grammatical weirdness of "never to forget coming out of the sky that crystal day the unspeakable horror, the disbelief, the shock" (OK, the horror came out of the sky; I'll give her that. But disbelief came out of the sky? Shock came out of the sky?).

She sounded like a high-school speech student getting tangled in her own rhetorical flourishes.

Then I saw the video. It works much better with her face. The long pauses make more sense because she is speaking to a large hall of a lot of people. So she wasn't funny on video. My questions still hold, though. Why is the weather important? What does it mean to say disbelief came out of the sky?

The other question that remains after seeing the whole thing is What exactly were we to never forget again? The weather, the disbelief, the working together, the mourning, the large sympathy cards from France and Germany (she didn't mention those, but you get the idea). Never to forget the flowers. And never to forget, just in case you forgot already, that it was a beautiful day.

Not mentioned as something we ought to remember: 19 young men hijacked four airplanes and flew them into three large buildings of people going about their everyday workaday lives; that 3,000 people died that day; that the passengers and crew of one of the planes took it down rather than be used as riders on a living bullet.

Remember the feelings; forget the actions, seems to be the message.

Maybe I'm making too much of it. Anybody who would launch "never to forget coming out of the sky that crystal day the unspeakable horror, the disbelief, the shock" on an unsuspecting audience is pretty much out of control of her message anyway.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Question for fellow bloggers

Do the folks at your day job know about your blog? (Assuming you've not reached the level of proficiency that your blog is your day job.)

If not, could their reaction bring repercussions?

I'll answer, too, in an update later.

UPDATE: I've gotten a few replies and now that I'm off the clock, I have the time to think about my own questions.

No, I haven't told the people at work abou the blog, for two reasons: I don't think my friends and co-workers would be interested (not sure they even "get" blogging), and I just don't want to take any chances with superiors higher up the ladder.

Because my day job is with a small media outlet. Oddly enough, though, suddenly I'm having more opportunities to combine the efforts. I got a writing assignment yesterday that simply required a revision of a post from earlier this week (how surprisingly quick and easy that went). Now I've been asked to produce something for next week, and Allah has helpfully provided the angle I need to make it work.

Anyway, keep the answers coming. I'm glad to be getting to know my readers (and the bloggers I read) better.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Convention coverage

I'm more interested in the conventions this year, I think, than ever since I started voting. It's not just the issues, though the issues are big enough, because the conventions have always (within my adult memory) been more about obscuring the issues than presenting them.

It's because there's a whole new group of people covering them, people with wide eyes and strong opinions, who are surprised to be there and interested in everything that goes on.

Jay Rosen from NYU captures the mood:
No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing. The blogs come at this fresh. I'm going.

He's also got a brief history of how the conventions came to this pass, how the organizers, the networks and the press developed a dance that none of them apparently thinks is very important, except for its ability to lock us rubes out.

Well, the bloggers are rubes like me (sorry, folks, I mean that as a compliment), and just as I'd rather hear my friend tell me what it was like instead of Ted Koppel, so I'm happier to hear the funny, irreverent, opinionated voices of the blogosphere telling me what's really going on.

In the meantime, the conventional media pull a pickle face. Tom McPhail of the University of Missouri Journalism School sniffs that bloggers are "certainly not committed to being objective. They thrive on rumor and innuendo.'' Bloggers ''should be put in a different category, like 'pretend' journalists."

As if journalists, by and large, were committed to being objective. The truth is, they've just persuaded themselves that their opinions are objective.

I think journalism professors ought to be put into a category of "pretend" professors, because what they teach could be learned with a two-year associate degree; what journalists need is substantive knowledge about the world, instead of how to fashion press releases into feature stories and "hard" news.

Anyway, I'm collecting convention blogs in my blogroll, identifying them with a descriptor of "DNC blogger." It's an evolving list; I'll be adding more and cutting out as I see fit. If you're interested in seeing what's out there for yourself, here's a DNC news aggregator.

UPDATE: OK, I know, Jay Rosen is a j-school prof, too, but he's still more interested in his topic than in preserving his turf, which makes him a better educator than McPhail.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Why do they hate us?

Writing in the Hudson Review, Bruce Bawer answers a question that my friend and I were discussing just last evening: Why do they hate us?

I'm not sure how the topic came up, but at a local Orthodox conference years ago (before 9/11, I'm sure), someone made a passing comment at the end of one of the Q&A sessions: "American culture is an oxymoron." It was off-topic, and the speaker wanted to move on, but the comment needed to be challenged. If there's no such thing as American culture, how do you explain Gershwin, Twain, James (Henry or William), T.S. Eliot, the Pilgrims and the Underground Railroad, Lincoln's speech at Gettysburgh and "I have a dream." Whether or not you like every aspect of it--Starbucks, McDonald's or Disneyland--to say that it doesn't exist just doesn't deal with reality. It's good that the fourth-century Church didn't have that attitude in meeting the dominant Greek culture of the time.

But Bruce Bawer has lived in Europe, and he writes:
Yet as my weeks in the Old World stretched into months and then years, my perceptions shifted. Yes, many Europeans were book lovers--but which country's literature most engaged them? Many of them revered education--but to which country's universities did they most wish to send their children? (Answer: the same country that performs the majority of the world's scientific research and wins most of the Nobel Prizes.) Yes, American television was responsible for drivel like "The Ricki Lake Show"--but Europeans, I learned, watched this stuff just as eagerly as Americans did (only to turn around, of course, and mock it as a reflection of American boorishness). No, Europeans weren't Bible-thumpers--but the Continent's ever-growing Muslim population, I had come to realize, represented even more of a threat to pluralist democracy than fundamentalist Christians did in the U.S. And yes, more Europeans were multilingual--but then, if each of the fifty states had its own language, Americans would be multilingual, too.

He tackles a library of books on the topic, from the pathetically facile to the insightful, and gives his reader a tour of European anti-Americanism beginning before the American Revolution. It's 12,000 words, so you might want to save it to disk and read it at your leisur, but here are the highlights.

Mark Hertsgaard's The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World is one of the simplistic: "America, in short, is a mess—a cultural wasteland, an economic nightmare, a political abomination, an international misfit, outlaw, parasite, and pariah."

Will Hutton's A Declaration of Interdependence: Why America Should Join the World is another: "Hutton is a true statist, the sort of person who feels less than fully comfortable in societies where the government fails to make its presence sufficiently felt: 'In a world that is wholly private,' he writes, 'we lose our bearings; deprived of any public anchor, all we have are our individual subjective values to guide us.'"

Clyde Prestowitz's Rogue Nation "comes off as agreeing with Hertsgaard and Hutton that America is an outlaw state whose cultural values and political system are fundamentally flawed and whose interactions with the outside world do more harm than good."

According to Jedediah Purdy's Being America, "the spread of democratic capitalism is essentially positive, though hardly problem-free; that young Third Worlders' self-contradictions on the subject of America (cheering Osama one minute and Microsoft the next) reflects a simultaneous attraction to both American liberalism and anti-American violence; and that it's in America's interest to encourage the liberalism and discourage the violence."

He describes Richard Crockatt's America Embattled: 9/11, Anti-Americanism and the Global Order in much livelier terms, apparently, than Crockatt uses himself:
In a plodding, prudent, professorial prose, Crockatt first sums up "how America sees the world" and "how the world sees America," then offers a potted history of political Islam, of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and of the war on terror, all the while patently seeking to strike an inoffensive balance, as if such a thing were possible with such a topic. Crockatt's book has a cultivated colorlessness: he seems incapable of making the blandest assertion without qualifying it to death or using the word "arguably" (which recurs here with the frequency of expletives in a rap lyric).

Although Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About America? more or less praises America, Bawer finds his praise lacking: "Souza shares the Islamic view that 'there is a good deal in American culture that is disgusting to normal sensibilities.' (He never tells us what he means by 'normal' --and one is not sure one wishes to know.)"

Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order refers to some often forgotten truths about Europe, Bawer says, "that the "paradise" of peace and prosperity Europe now enjoys is made possible, quite simply, by American power." Kagan says that the European "peace" is based on a fantasy protected by a people who will never be permitted to enter it.

The Frenchman Jean Francois Revel has written in his book Anti-Americanism a surprisingly spirited defense of America against the illusions of the European media elites: "To Revel, the tenacity of European anti-Americanism, despite historical developments that should have finished it off once and for all, suggests 'that we are in the presence, not of rational analysis, but of obsession' -- an obsession driven, he adds, by a desire to maintain public hostility to Jeffersonian democracy."

In the context of a couple of Norwegian books (which I didn't link, not knowing very many people who speak Norwegian), Bawer gives a brief history of European anti-Americanism:
To be sure, Western European intellectuals often claim, as Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe did in a 1966 essay, "We Who Loved America," that they once were pro-American but, owing to some social change in America or some U.S. government action, have altered their position. The current claim is that Europeans loved America until the Iraq War; before that, it was a truism that they loved America until Vietnam. But Bromark and Herbjørnsrud state flatly that "It wasn't the Vietnam War that made European intellectuals, authors and academics anti-American. The truth is that they had been anti-American all along." As early as 1881, the Norwegian author Bjørnsterne Bjørnson argued that Europe's America-bashing had to stop; even earlier, in 1869, James Russell Lowell complained that Europeans invariably saw America "in caricature." Indeed, nineteenth-century European aristocrats despised America as a symbol of progress, innovation, and (above all) equality, ridiculing it as a mongrel land of simple-minded Indians and blacks; later, avaricious Jews were added to the list. These stereotypes soon spread to Americans generally, resulting in today's European-establishment view of Americans as materialistic morons.

The biggest divider between America and Europe, Bawer says, is the illusion sponsored by Western European media elites. "It sometimes seems to me a miracle, frankly, that America has any friends at all in some parts of Western Europe, given the news media's relentless anti-Americanism. There is no question that the chief obstacle to improved understanding and harmony between the U.S. and Western Europe is the Western European media establishment. It is an obstacle that must somehow be overcome, for Western civilization is under siege, and America and Europe need each other, perhaps more than ever."

I haven't read any of the books myself, and my reading stack is tall enough that the War on Terror may be over before I get to them, so although I can't endorse his opinions, I can say that I appreciate the context he's provided.

He doesn't explain, unfortunately, why a lifelong U.S. citizen would say that American culture is an oxymoron. I guess I'll have to ask her sometime.

SOURCE: Godspy

Friday, July 23, 2004

Continuing the conversation

Jennifer raises interesting questions about my post on the Hamtramck, Mich., decision to ratify the amplified Islamic call to prayer:
Church bells generally ring once a week? Are you sure? Doesn't that vary widely?

Does it vary? Yes. Widely? I doubt it. My parish has some of the most disturbing bells I know of. At Pascha, we ring them late at night--the funeral tone on the Vigil of Holy Friday, a joyous peal at Pascha--but that's one week out of a year. We get our neighbors' permission and get a noise variance from the city. We also ring them on Sunday morning.

The bells are nonverbal. They are not amplified; they can't be heard outside the immediate vicinity. Some churches have fake bells, but they aren't any louder than real ones. Also, two universities that I've attended had bells. They were not religious; they simply tolled the hour and quarter-hour. No one living off campus could be bothered by those bells.

What the mosques in Hamtramck have received is the right to blanket the whole community in a two-minute Arabic call to worship, five times a day, beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m. every day. It's a quality-of-life issue before it's anything else.

But it is something else.

Jennifer writes:
Church bells ring in the context of religion freedom - religious freedom is exactly what we have in America. How can we only have religious freedom for certain groups and not others? Are you assuming all Muslim immigrants are dangerous and want to take over the U.S. somehow? I don't, and I guess that's a basic different worldview. I'm not saying Muslim terrorists aren't dangerous, but I don't believe the majority of Muslims, especially those coming to the U.S. are dangerous or hostile.

I agree entirely that the majority of Muslims, either in America or elsewhere, are not dangerous people. On 9/11, we saw what a minority of 19 out of 1 billion can accomplish. We also saw a larger group, who did not fly planes into buildings, dancing in the streets, in New Jersey as well as elsewhere. We have also seen anti-Semitic violence rising in Europe, a British imam who has recruited terrorists and is accused of trying to start a terrorist training camp in Oregon, movement toward Sharia in Scandinavia, and many similar events.

I've also seen too much evidence to quote of the second- or third-class status of non-Muslims (or Muslim women) in predominantly Muslim societies (for starters, look up Bat Yeor and the ongoing collection at Dhimmi Watch).
I can sympathize with not wanting one's community to change, but haven't we seen this before in the 60's and 70's? Isn't it called white flight?

Which brings us back to my original point: A person in a changing community may be torn between leaving and staying, may not know how to gauge the presence of danger. By the time the danger is apparent, it may be too late to leave.

If I lived in Hamtramck, Mich., I would be looking around for someplace else to live. Another non-Muslim might enjoy the wake-up calls. At the end of 20 years, we might compare our results and see who was right. The process of that decision and the conflict it arouses is what interested me at the beginning of this.

UPDATE: Get Religion has an analysis of the built-in imbalance in "evangelization" methods between Christians and Muslims.

Tracking the wily conservative

Village Voice writer Rick Perlstein flies over flyover country and lands in such exotic locations as Portland, Oregon, where he finds gatherings (herds?) of conservatives meeting at watering holes communicating in their "bewilderingly disjointed" speech about things they like about Bush (the gathering was one of many called "Parties for Bush"--undoubtedly fund-raisers for the election campaign. Fortunately, liberals don't need to do anything barbaric like raising money for a campaign, having billionaire George Soros pledging his fortune to the effort and another billionaire conveniently married to the candidate. Anyway, fund-raising must be one way of telling the difference between liberals and conservatives, sort of like the order of stripes on a king snake and a coral snake, but back to Perlstein).

He also found a conservative living in Georgia. It must have belonged to a different sub-species, though, because Perlstein said that he was "an intelligent man who's open-minded enough to make listening to liberals a sort of hobby."

I was impressed with the level of danger and personal sacrifice Perlstein had to endure to make this "journey among the 'tough love' camp." After all, you never know when conservatives might turn on you, unless you happen to be George W. Bush:
The people who, even in the face of evidence of his casual cruelty, of his habitual and unchristian contempt for weakness, love George Bush unconditionally: love him when he is tender, love him when he is tough—but who never, ever are tough on him.

For a good laugh, read the whole thing. It reads as if it's narrated by Marlin Perkins. Warning: Swallow your coffee before beginning. The article may cause a serious spewing or gag reaction.

SOURCE: Allah Is in the House

Something about the word 'abortion'

The New York Times engages in some head-scratching over the paucity of abortion on TV. It seems that even on the most "progressive" shows (O.C., Sex and the City), pregnant characters decide to keep their babies instead of aborting them. Here's the reason:
Mr. Schwartz [creator of The O.C.] said that Theresa had to continue the pregnancy for the sake of the series, since he needed Ryan to leave his cushy life in Newport Beach to care for Theresa during her pregnancy. He said he would not shy away from a character having an abortion if it fit in with the story. But Mr. Schwartz added: "It's complicated, it's messy, it's a scary topic. Dramatically, I don't know that it has much value compared to the reaction of the audience. It's a topic where everyone watching has a strong opinion."

Mr. Schwartz chose not to use the word "abortion" in the season finale. Characters spoke about "an appointment at Planned Parenthood" and trailed off at the ends of sentences. "There's something about the word 'abortion,'" Mr. Schwartz said. "That the show would sink under the weight of it."

One more illustration of how uncomfortable Americans are with abortion--it's enshrined in law, but they don't want it celebrated on TV. And this is not just a bunch of Evangelicals boycotting--that would be a plus for Mr. Schwartz (don't you love the NYT honorific?)--these are members of their core audience who would simply find something else to watch because the associations with The O.C. would become too painful to continue.

Yes, you can still get away with a movie that confers sainthood on an abortionist (The Ciderhouse Rules), but apparently Americans, at least, won't keep coming back for more.

But just weigh Schwartz's summary on your tongue: "The show would sink under the weight of it."

SOURCE: Godspy

Thursday, July 22, 2004

From this, much comfort

Father Patrick Reardon's rant about a liturgical expert at a priests' conference has buttressed my hope for the Church (not that my hope for the Church was flagging at the moment, but it never hurts to buttress).

In Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments, he relates that the only annoying expert to speak at this particular conference was a liturgist from an Orthodox seminary, who posited that Orthodox laity, specifically high-school students, have no imagination (those aren't the words either one used, but that's what it came down to). Fr. Reardon wrote:
We clergy, three quarters of us adult converts to the Orthodox Church, sat in sackcloth and inwardly groaned like pelicans in the wilderness, while a life-long Orthodox liturgical expert explained to us at length that Orthodox worship "no longer speaks meaningfully to modern man" and suggested ways in which an established panel of his cronies and clones might bring their expertise to bear on this crushing problem of Orthodox irrelevance to American life. They would pull our worship up to date and make it more meaningful to the refined sensibilities of contemporary society.

Growls and low rumblings were audible in the assembly. The fact that there was not a sudden, violent rush at the speaker's podium is chiefly to the credit of Orthodox restraint and ascetical discipline.

One example Fr. Reardon brought from the speech was the fact that a high-school student would be confused by the liturgical references to the four elements because he's seen the periodic table of elements. Well, I managed to escape high school without chemistry, but I've seen the periodic table of elements, and frankly I can wrap my mind around earth, air, fire and water more easily than ununseptium or rutherfordium.

Fr. Reardon answers in terms of Lord of the Rings, where the four elements are part of the fabric of the culture. Our hypothetical high-school student must be a graduate of Thomas Gradgrind's academy of Facts (perhaps a fellow-alumnus of the liturgist) if he can't think of more than one way to organize the elements (so to speak) of life.

What I find hopeful about this is the reaction of the clergy: annoyance, perplexity, amusement and a sense that listening to the liturgist is part of the price of attending a good conference. It's important for scholars to explore, to wander the dim paths of the mind, and it's important for the rest of us to observe them indulgently and to point out, if only to each other, that a given dim path is wandering into the swamp. If the Church leadership knows when to laugh and ignore the "experts" and when their ideas are well enough developed to take them more seriously, then the scholars are more free to explore and the rest of us don't have to follow them down every dead-end trail.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Too late?

Responding to today's post, Thomas at Endlessly Rocking comments that by the time the non-Muslims move out of Hamtramck, Mich., it'll be too late.

Living in this time has broadened my imagination. Despite much study of the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, I never could figure out why more Jews didn't get out of Germany sooner.

Now I know. You've got a place, a familiar community, language, culture. You know the faces in the market, where to get the bread you like, that pretty little spot in the park that no one else seems to know about. You know the color of the light on a late August evening and the parade of flowers through the spring.

You've got your stuff and your friends and family and memories, and so many of them are pegged to a place that you can't imagine leaving.

Well, maybe you could, for a good job in another city or an opportunity to pursue some dream, but not just to up and leave, because the community is changing and you're not welcome any more. How can that be? It's your community--more yours than theirs. But there's never been an exclusivity about it. People come and go with their odd dress and strange customs. You live and let live. Learn something new every day. All that stuff.

But now you can't stay? Impossible. Just a phase. Wait it out. When they see that you're not really so different from them, they'll calm down, make room for all.

Won't they?

Won't they?

When the Jews really understood that the Nazis were implacable enemies, for too many it was too late to escape.

What that means for Hamtramck, Mich., I don't know. But a friend tells me that there are neighborhoods in Paris where a woman doesn't walk without a male escort and without wearing the hijab. If there are to be such neighborhoods in Michigan, I suspect that Hamtramck will be early on the list.

Citizens ratify Muslim prayer calls

Residents of Hamtramck, Mich., gave a resounding "Whatever," to Muslims' wanting to amplify their five-times-daily call to prayer.

The final count was 55 percent to 45 percent.

Not that it would have made any difference if they had voted the other way. The vote was about repealing an ordinance the city council passed in May that regulated the timing and volume of the broadcasts. The al-Islah mosque started broadcasting in May, and organizers said they had no intention of stopping.

Anyone want to start a pool on when the last non-Muslim will load a moving truck to leave the city?

SOURCE: Dhimmi Watch


Unvoiced the Godhead spoke the Word
And unflesh hands made man.
Time's Creator, not bound by time,
More distant than the sky,

Who willed to be in place and time
Confined, who healed and spoke
With hands and voice of matter born,
Was one of us, though God.

Closer now than one's own heart,
Time deep and cosmos wide,
Enfleshed in fallen hands and tongues,
He builds and calls the world.

I think I should offer an explanation, or perhaps an apology, for posting this, but I remember Faulkner's mother's advice to him: "Don't explain; don't excuse," and instead warn that there may be more in the future.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

French history lesson

A moving account of genocide during the Reign of Terror appears at Godspy:
Once, there was a rich and beautiful and remote land, a land of secrets and songs and story; a land of ocean and forest and river; of quiet marsh and deep paths. Its people lived as they had always lived, in their land and with it, in the depths of their culture which they had not named but which they knew in every fibre of their beings. When the new ways came, at first the people did nothing. They were curious, they reserved judgment. But very soon, they realised what the coming of the new men and the new ideas meant. A violation of their land, their beliefs, their culture, their very soul. They would not stand by and see that happen. They would resist, forever if need be. The intruders, for their part, thought they were bringing progress, enlightenment, improvement, release from superstition, liberty, for heavens sake. Equality, fraternity. They would drag these benighted savages into modern times, even if it cost them some battles. But it would be easy; these savages, these half-humans, would soon be a dying race.

The writer, a descendant of the survivors, says that the people of western coastal France have not forgotten, though Paris finds them whiney and tiresome:
Right wing, left wing, centre in France have never been able to deal with the legacy of Vendée. The left wing has problems with the impugning of the Revolution; the right wing because civil war put France in peril of foreign armies; the centre because, hey, it's not exactly pretty stuff. Thirty or so years ago a then-unknown but now infamous Jean-Marie le Pen championed the cause of Vendée and Brittany, applauding regionalism and independence, and produced a recording of Chouan songs; now, as the leader of the extreme right Front National, he studiously ignores it all, speaking grandly and opportunistically of the marvellous republic and the great destiny of a centralised France—for Vendée costs votes. Vendée is embarrassing, for it shows what the French are capable of doing to the French without any help from immigrant bogeys. The extreme left, the communists, of course never had any warm feelings for 'priest-ridden peasants'. Besides, they understood Robespierre's 'despotism of liberty' only too well.

Beautifully written, it's a story that has been repeated many times during the past century. Once again, the French are ahead of the curve.

SOURCE: Endlessly Rocking

Monday, July 19, 2004

Hate cult in America?

About 20 years ago, when I was still trying to get from the individualistic, anchorless existence of my youth to the community where I live now, I experimented with Weirwille's Way.

It was, at that time, an Arian (as in the hieroheretic Arius of Alexandria) sect that denied the divinity of Jesus and the personhood of the Holy Spirit, which emphasized signs and wonders as the proof of faith. Some examples: A guy who used to silently speak in tongues as he drove, running red light after red light in the "faith" that God would protect him. A woman who drove a yellow Audi convertible, but who I later learned didn't bother to pay for it. God gave her what she wanted; it was God's business to take care of the practicalities of it.

I heard them out and moved on, but while I was there I learned something about the mechanics of small, self-contained groups that build community by setting themselves in opposition to the Outside and how they manipulate lonely, hungry people into losing themselves therein. They weren't the Moonies, but the word "cult" helps describe the group dynamics.

As I was leaving, I drew an illustration, which I seem to have lost, titled "Weirwille's Way" (Weirwille being the name of the founder, a Scriptural illiterate who, throwing up his hands in despair at all the different interpretations of the Bible, developed his own, unique interpretation unaided by any Christian tradition). The illustration, a large water drop made up of lots of little water drops identical except for tiny differences in facial expression, summed up my understanding of a slogan of theirs that still appears on the website:
These fellowships in the home include an inspiring and positive teaching from the Bible, words of edification and comfort, prayer, singing, and a joyful sharing of abundance, resulting in Word-centered, like-minded believing in a broad range of activities. (emphasis in original)

That small quote contains five slogans that I remember from back then, but the one that my illustration referred to was the "like-minded believers," which went far beyond doctrinal unity or being one in Christ to an actual like-mindedness, thinking the same thoughts, processing information the same way, finding "peace" by filling one's mind with the same gibberish masquerading as prayer.

So that's my background (though some might call it my baggage) when I read this quote from a column by Thomas Lifson in The American Thinker:
There is a good word to describe groups based on common beliefs at variance with society at large, which tend to flock together socially, and which define themselves as smarter, better-informed, and more correct than everyone else. They are termed "cults."

He's talking about house parties, promoting a new movie Outfoxed. There, like-minded people gather for an inspiring and positive teaching from, words of edification and comfort, [don't know about the prayer, singing or sharing in abundance, though there's probably a collection of some sort], resulting in Left-centered, like-minded believing in a wide range of activities [the Way's website showed people playing basketball;'s wide range of activities are probably political].

Clinical psychologist Margaret Singer lists four characteristics of destructive cults:
  • The group interferes with an individual's ability to think freely.

  • A charismatic figure dominates the group, claiming to have a direct line to God or some secret knowledge that makes the group elite.

  • The cult persuades members that the group goal is more important than individual needs, using guilt and shame to keep followers from questioning doctrine.

  • The leader instills fear that something dreadful will happen to anyone who leaves.

Three of the four have to do with "disciplining" renegades, those who question doctrine or depart from the group. On all three counts the hard Left, the mad Left, comes close to fulfilling the criteria, in the slathering animosity especially reserved for those who were formerly in their ranks.

Consider for one example (which I just happened to have read in the past few days) this e-mail to 9/11 Democrat blogger (and novelist and screenwriter) Roger L. Simon:
Among the lesser evils of the world, if there is any sadder sight than a liberal who "converts" to the radical right, I have yet to see it. Moses Wine would be ashamed of you. So am I.

Jim Turner

Simon is a grownup and quite capable of taking care of himself, but the depth of the animosity is not unique to him, and it serves as a warning to any others who might consider leaving the fold.

I despise conspiracy theories, and I don't think even the hardest Left quite makes it up to the level of destructive cult (for one thing, I can't find evidence of an charismatic, all-consuming leader), but the people who have gone to dwell in the fever swamp would be wise to look around at where their ideology is leading.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

This is just plain weird

Journalist and professor Terry Mattingly attended the North American Christian Convention in Phoenix. He writes:
Here is what I saw. On one of the quieter halls of the convention center was a small room set aside for private prayer. Since this was a Protestant gathering, the room contained no traditional religious art. Yet there was an icon, of sorts. Over on a low table was a framed portrait of President George W. Bush, with a candle in front of it. The meaning was clear -- pause here to pray specifically for our president.

So was this a Religious Right shrine?

Not that there's anything wrong with praying for George W. Bush or any elected official. They come up in our church prayer every day--liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, corrupt and honest, bland and controversial; the Orthodox Church in Japan prayed for the Emperor during World War II, and rightly so, because he needed it. As does, at this time, George W. Bush.

The problem is that the convention organizers have so little sense of liturgy and unverbalized meaning that they put a president's photo in the place of Christ in the chapel. It's not just the Restorationist Christians. A friend of mine attended her brother's church's Fourth of July Sunday service and got a celebration of All Saints of the USA--St. Thomas Jefferson, St. Benjamin Franklin, St. Thomas Paine. Well, no, they left off the saints part, but it's the same thing. My friend asks when they last celebrated the memories of the Church Fathers--St. Basil the Great, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nanzianzen? The saints, actual saints, who distilled the core faith that anchors faithful Protestantism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

But, again, without a sense of liturgy, there is no sense of placement or proportion.

As a Protestant, I attended a Christian Church, one of those that belong to the nondenominational denomination whose convention Terry Mattingly attended, and in my last few weeks there, Mother's Day fell on Western Pentecost. The minister had been working his way through Ephesians for the preceding several weeks, so that day, he wrenched the text of Ephesians to make it fit with the theme of Mother's Day but never gave a glance to the birthday of the Church, extensively recorded in Scripture.

Soon after that, circumstances took me to visit my present Orthodox parish, and I later told the minister I was planning to become Orthodox. "Watch out," he cautioned me, with honest concern, "for those who put the traditions of man over those of God." Even now, more than a decade later, I kick myself for not asking the question that didn't quite fully form that day: "Of the two celebrations, Pentecost and Mother's Day, which is the tradition of God and which is the tradition of man?"

In that inability to distinguish lies the danger. Mattingly writes:
A few steps away was another door leading into a larger candle-lit room. This one contained a large prayer maze called 'The Desert.' It was based on Native American prayer traditions and, whether its creators intended it or not, is part of a larger movement with branches into all kinds of alternative forms of spirituality.

In their effort to avoid the divisions and customs of historic Christianity, they have replaced them with political activism and the tyranny of the trendy.

Lord have mercy.

We're not obsessed

In a review of I, Robot, Michael Atkinson manages to get through almost three paragraphs (the second to last sentence) before falling into electioneering:
Even a late-in-the-game megalomaniac computer paraphrasing John Ashcroft--exchanging freedoms for security etc.--can't buy this lemon a sour drop of integrity.

Michael, trust me. Sometimes it's OK to be irrelevant--or at least to stay on topic.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Poor, poor Whoopi

Whoopi Goldberg delivered a raunchy but cheerful monologue that included a joke about eating bear testicles and some spectacularly unsubtle Bush double entendres. (New York Times, July 10)

I saw the same basic joke on a bumper sticker a couple of weeks ago and thought the driver had unnecessarily lowered the public discourse.

Now Goldberg, whose uncivilized behavior has gotten her fired from SlimFast is whining about the assault on her "freedom of speech." "America's heart and soul is freedom of expression without fear of reprisal," she said in a statement. Where did she get that idea?

Goldberg, whose performances I've liked over the years, seems to be descending into a second adolescence, if not madness. She should have expected reprisals for her performance because her jokes first appeared on bumper stickers. She shouldn't have been surprised that SlimFast's customers might have felt icky about being associated with her presentation. And if I think she's pathetic, well, that's another consequence. No Republicans required.

There's no Constitutional amendment to protect someone from social consequences of exercising her mouth.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Revenge of the scambaiters

We get more than we can count of them every week, in the stilted English of someone who learned the language well, but not quite well enough:

Esteemed Sir:

I am the last of a wealthy family in [African country of your choice] and have $[???] billion dollars in [a named bank of that African country]. I am a Christian [usually] and am being persecuted by [the government, religious interests, other]. I seek your gracious help in getting my money out of the country. For your generosity, I would be glad to give you a small portion of the sum, say $[???] million. Blah blah blah.

This outrageous story manages to bilk $200 million from U.S. cititizens alone every year.

Now a handful of wily computer geeks have mounted a counteroffensive. Using the same methods--e-mail and a sob story--one has managed to collect $80 to cover administrative expenses. He told the scammer that he needed to join a new faith, The Church of the Order of the Red Breast, in order to get the help he desired and received a photo of a rotund black man in initiation paint.

The scambaiters have sent the e-mail exchanges to police in the UK, Niger and the U.S. FBI, but the law enforcement agencies have given no response.

In the meantime, Prince Joe, the new Nigerian devotee of The Church of the Order of the Red Breast, who is out $80 in processing fees, continues his daily prayer, "When all above seems a great test, Get on down with the Holy Red Breast," and waits for his $18,000 from Mike the scambaiter.

Sometimes it doesn't get any better than this.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Of blogs, bridges and mystery

In a comment, Douglas says I should explain the significance of the bridge in the upper left corner of this blog.

To begin with the basics, it's the Hwy. 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay at Newport, Oregon. It's a beautiful bridge, built in 1936 when Oregon was still a distant place and when Depression work projects were building highways and landmarks around the state. (Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood was built by the WPA, also in 1936.)

It's there to replace the lighthouse that comes with this Blogger template. It's a nice lighthouse, but I don't want my template to look like everybody's template, even though I'd be at sea without the coding it incorporates. So my photo replaces the Blogger lighthouse photo.

The rocks at the bottom right are part of the original template. I think the idea is that the blog is in the space between the lighthouse and the sea. For now, they go well enough with the bridge, but both bridge and rocks will change as the mood strikes me.

The deeper question is why a bridge, even one of the most beautiful bridges in the world?

A bridge is a mystery, spanning chasms, linking unconnected things and carrying travelers over whatever dangers--or delights--might lurk below. It at once unites (horizontally) and separates (vertically). It's a metaphor for Christ (Bridge between God and man) and man (bridge between spirit and matter), for translators and historians and storytellers. The archetypal bridge, the one that makes us feel its bridgeness most intensely, is a creaky, crumbling span miles above an impassible gulch. In its most familiar form, fast-moving traffic uses it to flow fearlessly, awelessly, across slow-moving rivers. But even at that, kids hold their breaths as they cross, so that they won't drown if it breaks.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Stories of conspiracy and paranoia

Foucault's Pendulum, The DaVinci Code, Jonathan Rabb's execrable novel titled The Book of Q, Three Days of the Condor, Conspiracy Theory, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Fahrenheit 911, Late Great Planet Earth, and its descendant Left Behind, Pinky and the Brain.

The paragraph above is a mixed bag of great fiction, crackpot theories, movies and books, and several works that purport to be nonfiction. Murder mystery, adventure, thriller, "evangelistic" tract and excuse for blaming all the world's problems on one of its tiniest and least-landed minorities.

What they all have in common is that they "reveal" (or portray) a secret society with designs of world domination, with religious overtones (although the nefarious conspiracy is occasionally a political body), and seeing the world through the prism of the work gives the audience a new view of reality, a question that lingers after the work is finished, "What if it's all true?"

The oldest in that group (not at all a systematic collection) is the Protocols, dating from the early 20th century.

I haven't read (seen) all of them, but what I'm getting at is not their quality as works of art or research, but more about what their popularity says about their audience. I've got more questions than answers right now:
  • What is the history of the secret society-conspiracy literature? What would a systematic collection look like?

  • What is the appeal of the secret society, beyond the conflict of the story--that is, why does that specific conflict feel so intensely interesting?

  • Is the interest a function of our large, mobile society? If so, how does the popularity of the Protocols in Egypt and around the Middle East figure (is there an answer beyond the obvious one? is the obvious one a function of something else?)

  • Why are we so willing to believe? A friend saw a sign under The DaVinci Code in Powell's Bookstore: "Even if you don't like the story, read it for the information"(!).

I write this not as someone who is so above the hoi polloi that I've never experienced the appeal, but as someone who has tasted and enjoyed the paranoia. I'm hoping that recording the questions is the first step in getting the answers.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Modifications done

Several hours later, the modifications to the Blogger template are done. That's the Hwy. 101 bridge at Newport, Oregon, in the upper-left corner, instead of the generic Maine lighthouse. The rocks in the lower right are Blogger rocks, but they look a little like Oregon rocks.

The font is Trebuchet, which I think is beautiful. The color scheme is the blogger template.

Links and ad bugs transferred over. Javascript menu installed for archives.


Maybe I'll have time to write something now.

Coming soon: a list of some main blog entries by topics.

I wasn't ready to roll this out yet

But I've taken the dive for the new templates. Now I like it.

Modifications to follow.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Google fun

Someone looking for information about george de paris tailors guestbook 2004 found this listing:

In case it's too small to read, if you take out the ellipses, it says, "George W. Bush was asked whether he believed that the streets of Paris are washed by compassion like rainmakers, two hatters, two silversmiths and four tailors."

I hope someone raises that question at his next press conference.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Raise it up to throw it down to raise it up again

Thomas at Endlessly Rocking has helpfully posted a paragraph that leads into something I wanted to think some more about.
[The Declaration of Independence] is our charter of liberty, and the Constitution is a workaday framework for daily governance crafted in compromise and cunning, and together they constitute this country as a rather weird experiment. It's fatally flawed, of course, and in no way resembles or helps bring in or models or otherwise yields a speck of the Kingdom of God. In fact, this will no doubt go the way of all penultimate things - God raised it up, he'll throw it down.  It's his way.  "The nations are as a drop in a bucket," the rulers and peoples of the earth "are like grasshoppers" hopping pitifully at his feet.  He looks upon them and laughs, and who can blame him? All the same, as that's out of our hands, let's make use of our fortune while we may, so that when we are gone some might faintly remember that once there was a place invented as a broad space for liberty and virtue.  I can dream anyway - I want all tyrants here and abroad, now and forever, to remember, and tremble all the more in their night terrors.

To begin with, since I'm going to take one sentence and depart in a tangent toward Neptune or somewhere, I agree with his basic and overall points.

I depart at the place where it says "He looks at them and laughs." That may be true as well, but . . . .

I heard Fr. Thomas Hopko on Incarnation Broadcast radio talking about the work of the laity in the world. He said--and I wish I had it written down instead of aurally ingested, so that I could cogitate on his words--that when Christ redeems the world, it will be the whole world, not only what He created, but also our widgets and software and bridges and buildings and sculptures and symphonies and novels and poems and plays, and, I suppose, even our various experiments at government.

What we do has meaning and value because we are human beings and because our creative works participate in the creativity of the Creator. It doesn't mean that what we've done is perfect--in the sense of either "finished" or "unfallen"--but because we are part of the cosmos, what we bring into the cosmos will be redeemed.

As Fr. Michael Oleksa said in a recent sermon in our parish church, John 3:16 doesn't refer to the "civilized world" (ecumene), but to the "created world" (cosmos): "For God so loved the whole creation that He gave His only begotten Son . . . ."

More abandoned buildings

Kate from Saskatchewan has photos of an abandoned store.

You know how I love abandoned buildings, especially shelves of spices and canned goods black and rusted with long disuse.

Where's Havdala?

Is it just a temporary Blogger thing, or is Doves and Pomegranates removed from the Web?

It's amazing how you develop affection and concern for people you wouldn't know if they walked down your street, and to find someone's blog gone 404 is like finding your neighbors' house empty with no announcement that they had planned to move.

But maybe it's a Blogger (I almost wrote Blooger) quirk.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Literary agent as institution

"Publishers, reports The New York Times, are 'not overfond' of the wheelings and dealings of agents: 'They say he has been of advantage to the few writers of the first class, having made their work much more expensive, while he has been the ruin of all the smaller fry. The steady, old-fashioned relationship between publisher and author no longer exists.' True, true: Things are (sigh) so much less gentlemanly now, and what with all those obscene advances for celebrities and blockbusters, these are hard days for midlist writers."

Thus writes Paul Collins in his Village Voice history of the institution of the literary agent. In the next paragraph, he reveals that that observation was written in 1899.

The literary agent arrived after the 1890s, when new copyright laws acknowledged intellectual property (thanks, Congress!), and writing became a commodity:
What happened was money. In the 1890s, new copyright laws meant that authors could no longer be ripped off with impunity. Authors now possessed intellectual property—and wherever there is property, agents are sure to follow. Publishers now faced dealing not with reclusive and impractical artistes easily put off with vague numbers and legal language, but with negotiators as ruthless as themselves. And as author William Alden tartly observed in 1898, "a publisher never approves of anything that puts money in the pockets of the author."

Collins recounts how agents became the publishers' gatekeepers. He opens with his own classic story of a manuscript being rejected from the slush pile while an editor is drooling over the same manuscript, submitted by an agent. He also recounts the Deering agency scam, illustrating the truism that a good agent is worth every penny, but a bad agent is worse than no agent at all.

The column is sprightly written and entertaining as well as informative. It makes me wish there had been literary agents when Jane Austen was writing.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

New at the Onion Dome

The Onion Dome: Orthodox News with a Twist is up again this week. Here are the headlines:

The monks of Mount Athos are protesting the reunification talks between "the Church Overseas of Russian Orthodox Christians (COROC) and the Patriarchate of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, and All the Russias Besides (PMSPNNARB)," in which that excellent COROC priest Fr. Alexis Lafitov makes an appeareance.

The insurance carrier for St. John Orthodox Church in Springfield Wash., ups its premiums because of a series of altar-boy merry mishaps.

And your humble rambling reporter finds an Orthodox spiritual autobiography, My Life: In Christ by Fr. William ("St. John the Baptist") Clinton, suprising the publishing industry as it climbs the New York Times bestseller list.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Two books worth hearing

I didn't know this was a young adult book when I picked it up at the library, and I was well into the book before I realized that it was. It doesn't matter, Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, and read by the author if you pick it up on audiobook as I did, is a splendid adventure, even if you're so far past young adult that you're becoming childish again.

Coraline is an ageless little girl who moves into a flat in a mysterious house with peculiar neighbors and a bricked-up door in the drawing room--except sometimes the bricks aren't there, and it's a door into a creepy "other" house, with an "other" mother and an "other" father and "other" neighbors. Apparently, only the door and the cat remain the same.

Coraline finally has to choose between the very interesting other world, with its pasty white other parents with button eyes, talking rats and walking toys, where her other mother loves her like a lawn ornament, and the boring world of her real life, busy parents, not getting green gloves and an upcoming school year. Gaiman is a good reader and the audio version has some original songs written for it that are creepily haunting.

And while I'm on the subject of books playing in my car, I want to say that narrator Anton Lesser is a genius. I just finished his reading of Dickens's Hard Times (abridged, unfortunately), and I was amazed at the variety of voices and dialects. A lot of men in audiobook narration do a good job with women's voices, and some women do a passable job with men's voices. I really just want them to read the part and get out of the way, and the good ones do that. But Lesser gets the women's voices so right that it's hard to believe it's the same person reading both parts, and it's not so much pitch as modulation. And the dialects. I don't know where "Coketown" is, but I suspect Lesser does, and he does different speech patterns for the workers and the factory owners, and when Mr. Bounderby is introduced as having a voice like a trumpet, Lesser takes Dickens literally. What a performance.