Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Is President Obama Smarter than the Saints?

According to Valerie Jarrett, one of President Obama's closest advisers, Barack Obama is amazingly smart and darn well knows it.  "He knows exactly how smart he is," Jarrett said. "I think that he
Our president
"bored to death his whole life"
has never really been challenged intellectually . . . . He's been bored to death his whole life. He's just too talented to do what ordinary people do. He would never be satisfied with what ordinary people do."

Valerie Jarrett's effusive praise for our president reminded me of that Hans Christian Andersen tale about the emperor who wore no clothes.  You remember the story.  Once there was an emperor who cared about nothing but his appearance. A couple of swindlers came along and promised to make him a suit of the finest clothes, which would be made from the most expensive fabric.  The fabric has a special quality, the swindlers told the emperor.  Stupid people or people unfit for their positions would not be able to see the emperor's fine suit of clothes.

The emperor bought into this deception and paraded around wearing nothing at all.  He was afraid to admit that he could not see the clothes for fear of being thought stupid. His aides and advisers also pretended to see the non-existent clothing, fearing they too would be thought stupid.

Finally, a child blew the whistle on the scam. "But the emperor is wearing nothing at all," the child proclaimed. Everyone began jeering, while the emperor continued pretending that he was finely dressed.

So how smart is President Obama? I think he's pretty smart, but maybe not quite as smart as Valerie Jarrett thinks he is.  I agree with Jarrett, however, that the President is too talented to do what ordinary people do.  After all, ordinary people tell the truth, apologize for their mistakes, and try to show a decent respect for other people's values and religious beliefs.  Yes, President Obama is certainly too talented to behave like ordinary people.

Valerie Jarrett's comment about President Obama set me to thinking: What are the qualities I admire in the people I most respect? I admire the saints, and certain saints in particular: Saint Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and Saint Edith Stein. I also admire a woman who will one day become a saint: Dorothy Day.

St. Edith Stein
How smart was she?
Were the saints smart people? Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Edith Stein were all named doctors of the Church, so I think they were pretty smart.  But I don't admire them for their intelligence. I admire them for their courage, their kindness, their patience, and their humility.

Saint Edith Stein gave herself up to the gas chambers of Auschwitz even though she might have escaped to Switzerland.  Was that a smart thing to do?  Maximilian Kolbe volunteered for the starvation bunkers of Auschwitz  to save the life of a young man with a family. Was that smart?

And Dorothy Day could have been a famous journalist--she might have become the Maureen Dowd of her age. But she gave her life to the poor. How smart was that?

And so our nation rolls along, ruled by an arrogant dissembler, while the New York Times, like the townspeople in the Hans Christian Andersen story, gushes about what an extraordinarily great and brilliant man Barack Obama is.

And I, like the child in the story about the emperor, do not perceive what so many important people claim to see. I must be very stupid because, unlike Valerie Jarrett and the New York Times, I simply do not see Barack Obama's greatness.

References

George Will. Scalise sets it right. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, November 24, 2013, p. 6B.

Note: The quotation of Valerie Jarrett is taken from the George Will essay cited above.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Tribute to Catholic Dallas on the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy's Assassination

photo credit: Art Rickerby
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

 

"If you haven't anything nice to say about anybody," Alice Roosevelt Longworth once remarked,
"come sit next to me."

The New York Times may have a similar philosophy. It seems to have a penchant for publishing negative articles about the South

Thus, I was not surprised to see James McAuley's op ed essay on Dallas, entitled "The City With a Death Wish in Its Eye."  McAuley doesn't say outright that Dallas is a bigoted city. But he comes close.

McAuley strings stray facts together to intimate that the people of Dallas are hate-filled extremists, not only in the past, but in the present. "The far right of 1963 and the radicalism of my grandparents' generation may have faded in recent years,[but] they remain very much alive in Dallas," McAuley writes. "Look no further than the troop of gun-rights activists who appeared just days ago, armed and silent, outside a meeting of local mothers concerned about gun violence."

It is true of course that Dallas has a reputation as a cold, commerce-obsessed city. Jimmy Dale Gilmore, whom McAuley  invokes, famously sang that "Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you're down." Texans themselves agree that Dallas comes across as a bit stuffy, especially compared to the friendly informality of Houston.

But Dallas has changed dramatically in recent years, a fact that McAuley apparently missed. For one thing, the city has voted Democratic in recent years. In 2012, Barack Obama carried Dallas County with 57 percent of the vote.  But that tidbit of information doesn't fit with McAuley's dark interpretation of Dallas political culture.

Perhaps more importantly, Dallas has attracted an enormous immigrant population in recent years. Most of these immigrants are from Latin America, but many are from Asia and Africa.  This influx of the hopeful has reshaped the face of Dallas.

Many of the immigrants are Catholic, and these Catholic newcomers have completely changed the religious landscape of the Dallas area. In 1963, the year President Kennedy was assassinated, only about 2 percent of Dallas residents were Catholic. Today the figure is 25 percent.

Catholicism's growing presence is dramatically illustrated every Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in downtown Dallas.  The cathedral celebrates six masses on Sunday, one in English and five in Spanish. And the cathedral is packed for every Mass--standing room only week after week. It is said more Catholics worship in Our Lady of Guadalupe on a given Sunday than any other Catholic Church in America with the exception of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the Catholics of Dallas are mostly Hispanic. In recent years, many corporations have moved their corporate headquarters from northern cities to the Dallas area, bringing their employees with them.  A large number of these new Dallas residents are Catholic. 

You can see the boom in non-Hispanic Catholics if you visit St. Ann's Church in the Dallas suburb of Coppell or St. Thomas Aquinas near Southern Methodist University--again standing room only at the Masses. And speaking of Southern Methodist University, guess which denomination claims the largest religious affiliation among SMU students?  The Catholic Church.

So, Mr. McAuley, the next time you visit Dallas, I urge you to attend Mass at one of the city's crowded Catholic churches.  And I especially urge you to drop by tiny St. Jude's Chapel, located just a half block from Neiman Marcus and the Adolphus Hotel.  Come early for noon Mass and browse through the gift shop, presided over by a not-quite life-size statue of Pope John Paul II.  Purchase a St. Jude car deodorizer or flick a switch to light an electric candle for a loved one.

Dallas, that once cold and formal city, is becoming lovelier and kinder and more welcoming toward strangers with each passing day.  And its growing Catholic presence is surely a great blessing. John and Jacqueline Kennedy would be pleased.


References

James McAuley. The City With A Death Wish in Its Eye. New York Times, November 17, 2013, Sunday Review Section, p. 5.

2012 Texas Presidential Results. Politico.com. November 19, 2012. Accessible at: http://www.politico.com/2012-election/results/president/texas/

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gore Vidal bequeathed his entire estate to Harvard University, but he died anyway.

Gore Vidal died in 2012, leaving his entire estate to Harvard University. I'm sure he received a nice thank-you note. Harvard knows how to charm the suckers.

I know. I once received a letter from Harvard confirming my appointment as a teaching assistant. I think it was signed by the Provost. It came on fine stationery and closed with the words, "Your most obedient servant."  Of course the job only paid $300 a month, less than my family's monthly health health insurance bill. But a  letter from some Harvard muckety muck signed "Your most obedient servant" meant more to me then than a living wage. I kept the letter for years.

William F. Buckley & Gore Vidal
Photo credit: CSU Archives/Everett Collection & New York Times
According to the New York Times, Vidal died in his home at age 86, tormented by alcoholism, incontinence, and dementia. Apparently, no one in his life meant more to him than Harvard, which gets the royalties from Vidal's book sales plus his $37 million estate.

But why give the money to Harvard, which after all has loads of money. Perhaps Gore Vidal sought to buy immortality. As one of his friends said in the New York Times story, "Gore was clearly uncomfortable talking about a wold without Gore Vidal. Nothing above immortality and world domination would ever be enough for him."

But a $37 million bequest to Harvard won't buy immortality. and Neither will Vidal's 25 novels.  Even literary giants die and their reputations fade into obscurity. Remember Norman Mailer, supreme egotist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner? How many people read Armies of the Night last year do you suppose?

We all creep toward death, most of us in obscurity. I have no money to give to Harvard and wouldn't give it if I had.  Harvard figured that out years ago and stopped sending me its glossy Harvard magazine. I will never be rich, never be famous, never be powerful.

But I am comforted at this time in my life by my wife and family--comforts Mr. Vidal apparently never had, although he had a long time companion he loved very much. I am grateful for my small home in a friendly Southern town, by the beauty of South Louisiana's swamps and bayous, and by the mild and temperate sun that shines most days throughout our Southern winters.

And I am comforted by my faith. I feel sure a priest will give me last rites in my final hours. I know I will have a funeral Mass at Christ the King Church on the LSU campus; and I am confident that at least some of my grandchildren will attend.  And surely someone will write my name in the Book of Remembrance and will pray for my soul now and then.

And in my remaining years, God will strengthen me with the Mass, with Christ's body and blood. And when bitter memories and regrets sweep over me, I am reassured by God's forgiveness.

I am sorry  Gore Vidal did not have these comforts in his final years. It made me sad to learn that this famous and dazzlingly creative man felt compelled in the last year of his life to make the pathetic gesture of giving the fruits of his life's work to a soulless university he never attended.

References

Tim Teeman. A Final Plot Twist. New York Times, November 10, 2013, Style Section, p. 1.