The Long View 2007-09-11: September 11; Real Intelligence; True Fanatics; The Other Public; The Subterranean Reactionaries of Manhattan


John opines here that chant ought to be slow, but the priest who used to celebrate the old Mass for us always got annoyed if the choir was too slow. He liked a brisk pace.

September 11; Real Intelligence; True Fanatics; The Other Public; The Subterranean Reactionaries of Manhattan

Another September 11: No, I'm not disappointed or surprised by the course of the War on Terror (unsatisfactory as it is, we are stuck with that term). The immediate assessment in the aftermath was that a conflict had begun that would last 20 or 30 years, and that still seems about right. As Robinson Jeffers used to say, "Give nature time."

The Bush Administration increasingly looks like the Buchanan and Hoover Administrations: governments that fought the mobilization that was necessary to deal with simultaneous crises and consequently fractured the political system further. The difference from those earlier examples is that they lasted four years, while the Bush Administration will last eight, unless something greatly untoward happens. The longevity of the transitional period expanded, I think, because a credible alternative did not gel in time for the presidential election of 2004. A credible alternative has not gelled yet.

* * *

Nonetheless, intelligence is rapidly and mysteriously increasing, or at least brain size is increasing: well, at least it is increasing in England:

Researchers have found that the shape of the human skull has changed significantly over the past 650 years. ....Dr Peter Rock, lead author of the study ..."The increase is very considerable. For example, the vault height of the plague skulls were 80mm, and the modern ones were 95mm -- that's in the order of 20% bigger, which is really rather a lot."

When I see a statistic like that, of course, I immediately think of the famous Flynn Effect, which is the name for the observation that, worldwide, intelligence as measured by IQ tests (and the parts of IQ tests that are not affected by schooling, mind you) increases by about three points per decade. Children who scored normal on a test given in 1932 would be rated borderline retarded if measured today.

Visions of Childhood's End and Brainwave come immediately to mind, though I know better. I rather doubt that increases in brain size have much to do with it. In any case, the actual statistics for the Flynn Effect do not reveal major increases at the high end of the distribution; we do see substantial increases at the lower end. There is also some evidence that the effect has stopped and even reversed in some developed countries, but these findings are controversial.

* * *

Vadim Perelman needs to be a very brave man if this deal materializes:

New York, NY (CNS) - Lionsgate has signed "House of Sand and Fog" director Vadim Perelman to direct the film adaptation of Ayn Rand's iconic novel Atlas Shrugged. According to trade magazine Variety, Perelman will also rewrite a draft of the script penned by "Braveheart" writer Randall Wallace. The latter will remain involved with the project.

The film follows, Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive to be played by Angelina Jolie...

Atlas Shrugged's numerous and implacable fans have thought about this book way too much. Change a scene, change a bit of dialogue (or in this book's case, shorten a 20-minute soliloquy to 10 minutes) and see what happens. One suspects that that the screenwriters will take advantage of author Ayn Rand's 100-proof atheism to allow the New Atheism to expand from the Philosophy sections of the bookstores. Fair enough, but don't overdo it. Just shoot the book. Or else.

* * *

Here is another opportunity for a post-Bush Administration, if we may so characterize this analysis by Americanist Michael van der Galien

During the last elections in Germany and France, conservative and pro-American parties and candidates have achieved remarkable results; although many assume that anti-Americanism is on the rise in Europe, these US-friendly parties and candidates have won the elections in their countries...these individuals did not win because they are pro-American, they won despite it. ...For years, the anti-American card has been played by most leftist European leaders. By doing so they confirmed the prejudice or even made it stronger. The argument can be made that former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder used anti-American sentiment so often in his campaign he has made the problem even worse...

However, the current situation provides the newly elected conservative leaders with the opportunity to undo the damage done by their predecessors. It seems unlikely that anti-Americanism will ever completely disappear from the continent, but its glory days could be soon gone. From now on Europeans will hear more positive remarks about the US, which will cause a change of sentiment in the long run. A warmer political relationship between the US and Europe will improve and this will, by itself, destroy some of the prejudices as well. Although Sarkozy, Wilders and Merkel can only win despite their pro-America stance, there is still hope that their successors will be elected because of it.

Perhaps President Bush did not try to appeal to European publics because there was no way to offer them a tax cut. That was a pity: I think that one of the functions of the American presidency should be to make up part of the European Union democratic deficit. An American president can say things that European politicians would not dare say.

* * *

Perhaps the immigration issue was always self-limiting. Mickey Kaus here presents more evidence that many people in the southwest may be "self-deporting." Whatever else is happening, we should remember that Mexico is not a country with an exploding population. This may be a situation where politics will follow the facts: we'll get good border security after it isn't necessary.

* * *

On Sunday I went to an evening lecture by Martin Mosebach, a noted German novelist (whose surname has three syllables, by the way) and Father Uwe Lang, a German priest associated with the Brompton Oratory in England; they spoke at Church of Our Savior at 59 Park Avenue in Manhattan. The topic was the revival of the Latin Mass permitted by Benedict XVI's motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum. They spoke from or about their recent books, Herr Mosebach's The Heresy of Formlessness and Fr. Uwe's Turning toward the Lord (the latter has a foreword written by Joseph Ratzinger before he was pontificated). The event was sponsored by an organization called the Society of St. Hugh of Cluny, which is based in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The talks were preceded by a Tridentine mass. The church in which it was celebrated is the most striking of the Latin Rite I have ever seen. It is a huge, rectangular, dark space, actually rather sparing of ornament, but dominated by immense icons in the Byzantine style, especially the Christ Pantocrator over the high altar. There was standing room only for this service (I know; I stood). The liturgy, with half-a-dozen clerics in the sanctuary and a great retinue of servers, moved at a pace appropriate to its scale, like a drama staged underwater. It took a good 90 minutes. The chant, as chant is supposed to be, was like slow breathing; it was sung by a choir imported from Connecticut. The arrangements sometimes sounded to my untutored ear like adaptations of arrangements by John Taverner.

The principal celebrant was the pastor, Fr. Rutler. Fr. Rutler is a fine priest and a justly famous speaker. He is also a former Anglican who came over to Rome. This liturgy was a special event to mark the visit of his guests, but he plans to do something like it every week, with local talent. If he succeeds, one cannot help but note he is a High Churchman who will regularly be celebrating a liturgy so exalted that it makes anything they do at Canterbury look like a Pentecostal tent meeting.

The venue for the talks was a wonder in itself: down four or five flights of marble steps to a great domed undercroft. (I had thought that "undercroft" was a term used only in Sparta, New Jersey, but now I know better.) Unless I am mistaken, Manhattan is solid granite at that point (around 38th Street), and you don't drill into that unless you a very good reason to. It's a mid-1950s building, and more than one visitor asked whether it had originally been intended as a Midtown bombshelter. The question remains unresolved.

Fr. Uwe's special study is whether the priest should be facing toward the people during Mass (to create community) or toward the east (to lead the people to God). He gave lucid historical and theological reasons for favoring option "B." Herr Mosebach was more autobiographical. He emphasized that he never had much sympathy for the principle that the only way to grasp the essence of a thing is to strip away its appearance; rather, the appearance should reveal the essence. This is a point that the efforts to reform the liturgy since Vatican II have tended to overlook.

A question period followed; most of the questions were along the lines of "Where do we go from here?" Herr Mosebach said that this was not the moment to ask how the old liturgy can be changed, but he noted that of course it would change, incrementally, as it had in the past; the thing to avoid was wholesale changes that are driven by ideology.

In retrospect, I should have asked how the new Old Mass already differs from the old Old Mass. We had just seen a sterling example of the difference, I think: a liturgy in a neo-Byzantine Church, accompanied by music that had ancient roots but was new. Of course, if I had asked that question, I would probably have followed up with one about whether we were seeing the arrival of Oswald Spengler's Second Religiousness, so perhaps it is better I said nothing.

Afterward, I took the PATH train back to New Jersey. That was also standing-room only and moved underwater, but it took only 20 minutes.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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