Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Die Große Stille

We watched Into Great Silence tonight. There was an oddity or two: the French text had “give up everything and follow me” to be a disciple, but the German and English translations left off the “follow me” part, for instance.

Set that aside. It was nearly three hours, and was the kind of thing you should be able to watch quietly. Laundry and monitoring children interfered somewhat. And I must confess that from time to time I checked the clock.

My first reaction to the opening shots was that this kind of focus on background was pretentious. But I got over that quickly enough: the images reflect what life is like there. Our crowded lives need loud commercials to get our attention, but when your world is stripped down and you're trying to pray, an apple on the table can be distracting. Actually, when you're trying to pray pretty near anything can be distracting. At least that's my experience.

It helps to know a bit about what's going on, because there's no commentary. If you're patient, sometimes the meaning or use of something becomes clear; like the loop of cloth hanging in the hall. Sometimes you have to puzzle it out yourself: the monk with the keyboard was practicing hitting the notes right because he was leading the singing for the group later.

Of course you can't see the major activity: prayer. You see people sitting quietly, but since you are a watcher and not a participant there's a certain distance. But Philip Gröning is respectful, and neither approves nor disapproves. The blind monk, and the dying monk are not shunted aside, but are still part of the group. Gröning doesn't celebrate that, just notices it. The outside world can be seen—in fact the monks have regular walks through the countryside and towns—but they're disconnected from it. Except for the abbot who is shown dealing with bills on a desk piled high with paperwork.

The movie covers a year, starting with new postulants in winter, and showing snippets of life: kneeling in cells, singing in chapel, digging out the garden, feeding the cats—and ends after an explanation of life by the blind monk.

My better half said “Half the time I thought what they were doing was wonderful, and the other half I was saying The world is full of people who need love and attention and you're shutting yourselves away in a mountain.

I'm too talkative for such a regimen not to have some attractiveness, but I have no calling to spend the rest of my life doing nothing but praying and chopping wood. Even if I were Catholic. I do think that the occasional fast from news and talk and everything else but prayer and physical work is a good thing for most of us, but not for more than a few days.

I wonder if the reverse is true (probably is): would Trappists benefit from spending a week or two every year making kids clean up their rooms and do their homework? They'd probably do OK at waking up at 4, and at changing diapers; but those are the easy jobs.

Watch it if you can. Read up on the Trappists first, so you can catch on quicker; and try and see it with the kids in bed and the phone turned off.

Copyrighting Pyramids

So Egypt is planning to copyright ancient Egyptian designs, including the pyramids. This should be a great boon to Imhotep and his heirs and assigns. Where they can be identified. For the unexpired copyrights. Where Egyptian law pertains.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Transience and futility of power"

This article was pointed out to me this morning: a meditation on the transience of power by Paul Johnson, about how powerful men fall, like the rest of us, to the grim reaper; and all their plans evaporate. Nicely done, but he spoils it at the end:

Fortunately, I am a writer rather than a moralist. I write essays, not sermons. And I am now nearing the end of this one, which I planned last night in bed, awake in the small hours and reflecting on the hollowness of all power, wealth, success and fame. We writers, impotent as we often seem, always have the last word.

Not quite. Fashions in literature come and go furiously fast. The hot topic books for last season's election are so much worthless paper this year. You know the pattern: everybody was talking about some timely book, and the author was no doubt gratified to appear on so many night shows; but this year nobody cares, and no one will ever care again unless some historian a hundred years hence wants to do some background research for a more important topic.

And when empires go, so do their libraries; and the barbarians always need something to start fires with or wrap peanuts in.

Most authors see their demise at the remainder table, but for all but a tiny few that demise will come. Was Aristophanes the finest of the ancient Greek comic playwrights? How could you possibly know?

All power and fame here on Earth will fade--the political and the cultural giants both--as God calls "Time's up. Next!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I suppose it is coming on for time to examine the presidential candidates.

I am angry that they started the process so early--I see no good reason for 24/7 x 365 x 4 coverage. I detest the solemn punditry studying every random fluctuation in the polls. I hate the canned talking points. I despise the focus on electability rather than competence and accuracy.

Of course I'm not a Republican or a Democrat, so I can in good conscience skip the fooforaw. Still, I suppose I should at least familiarize myself with what the candidates claim and do, rather than rely on the "common knowledge" shaped by news outlets more interested in novelty than accuracy.

Am I in a bad mood?

Friday, December 07, 2007


This judge has courage. If he believes in the gods, he knows they might show up and charge him

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


While waiting for his ride this evening, Youngest Son walked across the rug to sniff the long-stemmed narcissus flowers growing in the dish. He was startled by a static shock to his nose.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Writer's strike

I gather that the Hollywood writer's strike is still going on. From what I hear (without detailed knowledge of how royalties generally work in that shell-game industry) it sounds like they have some legitimate beefs and a rational request.

I'm tempted to speculate that a strike improves the caliber of TV shows. Those I've seen in the past few years haven't seemed paragons of quality entertainment. But I'd be wrong--I understand that the producers are planning to fall back on "reality" shows, which apparently are even worse.

Still, it'd be a few years before the strike noticeably impacted my life directly. I just don't watch that much TV, and I've a backlog of movies I meant to see sometime or another, so no new movies wouldn't bother me that much either.

Indirect effects are another matter. With more "reality" stuff and more "Jackass" stuff about, I'd start feeling even sicker about the culture.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


The BBC special report on land mines is interesting. The US comes off rather well, curiously enough, as a non-signatory that has been doing more to remove them than just about anybody else, whilst certain signatories and non-state actors have been planting them anyhow. The last word was given to Tamar Gabelnick, Treaty Implementation Director for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

"One can argue the military value of any weapon - even a nuclear bomb - but does that make it moral? No.

"In a democratic society it is not OK to use any weapon to get the job done."

Shall I assume that English is not her first language, and she misspoke? Or shall I conclude that she has no idea what she is talking about?