Conserving sound

Conserve the Sound, “online museum”, is clever:

Conserve the sound is an online museum for vanishing and endangered sounds. The sound of a dial telephone, a walkman, a analog typewriter, a pay phone, a 56k modem, a nuclear power plant or even a cell phone keypad are partially already gone or are about to disappear from our daily life.

Accompanying the archive people are interviewed and give an insight in to the world of disappearing sounds.

A few of my favorites? Rotary telephone. Cassette. VCR. Those are things I remember, along with the typewriter. Pretty much everything else on there is foreign to me.

I haven’t checked, but I imagine Internet Archive probably has stuff like this too, but maybe not presented in the same “museum” way.

John Henry Newman’s room

K.V. Turley writes on the experience of visiting John Henry Newman’s room:

To stand in the room of a saint is quite something. Such was my privilege the other day when the door to the room of John Henry Newman was unlocked and I was bid enter.

There, before me, was the desk at which Blessed John Henry had written letters, sermons and books, all of which are still pored over by scholars today, and no doubt shall be in the years and decades to come. There were his books and his papers; upon the walls his pictures, mostly religious, and, pasted on a wooden cupboard, there was still the trace of a Victorian newspaper. Newman was wont to decorate his cabinet doors with cuttings from newspapers and journals.

There was something else though.

The room is partitioned. Behind the thin wall that separates the two parts of the room there stands an altar. Upon it, there is the Crucifix and candles yet that Newman used when he offered Mass there. On the wall above the altar there also hangs a portrait of St. Francis de Sales, the French spiritual father of this most English of Englishmen. To the left, there is a built-in cupboard holding vestments. They all still hang there: green, red, white, rose, black. It is as if they are about to be lifted out and worn once more. It is as if, at any moment, a footstep will be heard, and before our eyes will come the man who lived and worked in this room: Provost of the Birmingham Oratory, Prince of the Church, but above all, a priest of God offering the Holy Sacrifice each day to the Glory of God and for forgiveness of sins. More than 100 years later, the room retains something of the air of the sanctity of its former occupant. No one else has lived or worked here since Newman, and no one else ever shall. It stands still as if John Henry Newman has just stepped out for a moment, and is due back very soon. Perhaps, in a way, that is how a Christian death should feel – a passing, not an ending, before a never-ending reunion.

There is another ‘death’ in this room though. It is the room itself. The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory call this room of Newman’s “ the Dying Room.”

My guide pointed to the ceiling. In the corner of the room where two external walls join, there were large ominous cracks on display. Recent structural survey reports indicate that these cracks, far from being superficial, are the outward manifestation of serious interior decay. In the vernacular: Newman’s room is crumbling to dust.

Many will have seen Newman’s room, and the equally impressive library, at the Birmingham Oratory. Some may recall how Pope Benedict XVI, on his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010, visited this room and its adjacent library. There are many pictures online recording this occasion when one saintly scholar visited the room of another. One can only imagine what might have passed through the mind of Pope Benedict when he beheld the room of Blessed John Henry still as intact, at least superficially, as in the late 1800s. One can almost visualize Pope and Blessed sitting at the table in the center of the room lost in the enjoyment of discoursing upon weighty theological matters.

But the room is ‘dying.’

The Birmingham Oratory is seeking patrons able to help conserve that simple and remarkable space. K.V. Turley adds:

When men, whether in the world of science or theology, history or philosophy seemed intent on rejecting God, here was a man who dared to engage his reason so as to understand better his faith. In doing so, Newman created something in the world of ideas that has not only grown in significance since but also seen off many of his then contemporaries and their modish theories. …

A strange prayer perhaps, but a prayer nonetheless: let his rooms be preserved and, thereby, with them, his memory as a man as rational as he was holy.

When I was in London for the Olympics in 2012 we attended mass at Brompton Oratory, which has a small space of honor and devotion to John Henry Newman. Having first encountered his writing when I was still at Penn State, and then seeing his place of honor in this English church, was a special thing; one of those moments where so much experience that has been “in your head” suddenly came rushing into this particular place and in this particular moment. An experience of concrete reality.

A chief never deserts his people

In reading John Muir’s Travels in Alaska recently, so many of his experiences and vignettes begged to be remembered that I would have highlighted practically the entire book. Here are a few that transported me to the scene he describes:

Looking back on my Alaska travels, I have always been glad that good luck gave me Mr. Young as a companion, for he brought me into confiding contact with the Thlinkit tribes, so that I learned their customs, what manner of men they were, how they lived and loved, fought and played, their morals, religion, hopes and fears, and superstitions, how they resembled and differed in their characteristics from our own and other races. …

The Thlinkit tribes give a hearty welcome to Christian missionaries. In particular they are quick to accept the doctrine of the atonement, because they themselves practice it, although to many of the civilized whites it is a stumbling-block and rock of offense. As an example of their own doctrine of atonement they told Mr. Young and me one evening that twenty or thirty years ago there was a bitter war between their own and the Sitka tribe, great fighters, and pretty evenly matched. After fighting all summer in a desultory, squabbling way, fighting now under cover, now in the open, watching for every chance for a shot, none of the women dared venture to the salmon-streams or berry-fields to procure their winter stock of food. At this crisis one of the Stickeen chiefs came out of his block-house fort into an open space midway between their fortified camps, and shouted that he wished to speak to the leader of the Sitkas.

When the Sitka chief appeared he said:—

“My people are hungry. They dare not go to the salmon-streams or berry-fields for winter supplies, and if this war goes on much longer most of my people will die of hunger. We have fought long enough; let us make peace. You brave Sitka warriors go home, and we will go home, and we will all set out to dry salmon and berries before it is too late.”

The Sitka chief replied:—

“You may well say let us stop fighting, when you have had the best of it. You have killed ten more of my tribe than we have killed of yours. Give us ten Stickeen men to balance our blood-account; then, and not till then, will we make peace and go home.”

“Very well,” replied the Stickeen chief, “you know my rank. You know that I am worth ten common men and more. Take me and make peace.”

This noble offer was promptly accepted; the Stickeen chief stepped forward and was shot down in sight of the fighting bands. Peace was thus established, and all made haste to their homes and ordinary work. That chief literally gave himself a sacrifice for his people. He died that they might live. Therefore, when missionaries preached the doctrine of atonement, explaining that when all mankind had gone astray, had broken God’s laws and deserved to die, God’s son came forward, and, like the Stickeen chief, offered himself as a sacrifice to heal the cause of God’s wrath and set all the people of the world free, the doctrine was readily accepted.

“Yes, your words are good,” they said. “The Son of God, the Chief of chiefs, the Maker of all the world, must be worth more than all mankind put together; therefore, when His blood was shed, the salvation of the world was made sure.”

A telling illustration of the ready acceptance of this doctrine was displayed by Shakes, head chief of the Stickeens at Fort Wrangell. A few years before my first visit to the Territory, when the first missionary arrived, he requested Shakes to call his people together to hear the good word he had brought them. Shakes accordingly sent out messengers throughout the village, telling his people to wash their faces, put on their best clothing, and come to his block-house to hear what their visitor had to say. When all were assembled, the missionary preached a Christian sermon on the fall of man and the atonement whereby Christ, the Son of God, the Chief of chiefs, had redeemed all mankind, provided that this redemption was voluntarily accepted with repentance of their sins and the keeping of his commandments.

When the missionary had finished his sermon, Chief Shakes slowly arose, and, after thanking the missionary for coming so far to bring them good tidings and taking so much unselfish interest in the welfare of his tribe, he advised his people to accept the new religion, for he felt satisfied that because the white man knew so much more than the Indian, the white man’s religion was likely to be better than theirs.

“The white man,” said he, “makes great ships. We, like children, can only make canoes. He makes his big ships go with the wind, and he also makes them go with fire. We chop down trees with stone axes; the Boston man with iron axes, which are far better. In everything the ways of the white man seem to be better than ours. Compared with the white man we are only blind children, knowing not how best to live either here or in the country we go to after we die. So I wish you to learn this new religion and teach it to your children, that you may all go when you die into that good heaven country of the white man and be happy. But I am too old to learn a new religion, and besides, many of my people who have died were bad and foolish people, and if this word the missionary has brought us is true, and I think it is, many of my people must be in that bad country the missionary calls ‘Hell,’ and I must go there also, for a Stickeen chief never deserts his people in time of trouble…”

I’d like to visit Muir Woods next time I’m in California.

Old City night scene

View from my seat outside Race Street Cafe tonight at 2nd and Race Streets, catching up with Gavin Keirans. I somehow don’t think I had been there before. Across the street is a new luxury style tower that looks out over the Ben Franklin Bridge whose illuminated pillar you can see.

It was a beautiful night, the first that’s really felt like spring. I had come from McCrossen’s Tavern in Fairmount, where I caught up with Alex Smith after work. It was really great to be able to comfortably walk from work to McCrossen’s and then across the city to Race Street Cafe.

Justice and mercy in politics

Randall Smith writes:

I have had the pleasure of discussing Josef Pieper’s wonderful book on The Four Cardinal Virtues with my students this semester. Sometimes I wonder whether the best education I could give my students would be simply to take the list of books in Fr. Schall’s Another Sort of Learning and start working our way through them.

Every page of Pieper’s book brings new insights, but I was struck by this one the other day. Justice is one of those topics much in the news these days, whether it is “political justice,” “economic justice,” or “social justice.” Early on in his discussion of “justice,” Pieper makes this challenging observation: “We may venture to assert that expressions like ‘calumny,’ ‘malign aspersion,’ ‘backbiting,’ ‘slander,’ and ‘talebearing’ are now in their proper meanings scarcely intelligible to most people.”

Indeed, none of my students had ever heard the term “talebearing,” which admittedly is not much used in American English. Fortunately, Pieper defines it: “talebearing” is “privately spreading evil reports about another, and to that other’s friends, no less.” Classically, this was considered an especially grievous violation of justice, “since no man can live without friends.” The writer Pieper quotes to this effect is not some socially-conscious Brit writing during the age of Jane Austen or John Henry Newman; it was made by one rather socially-unconcerned Italian friar named Thomas Aquinas.

In Latin, the term Thomas and his contemporaries would have used for this vicious disposition to tear people down was derisio, from which we get the English term “derision.” It is the act that violated justice “by bringing shame to another through mockery.” How, asks Pieper, would we designate the special form of justice that “consists in sparing another man shame?” We no longer have a word for that virtue, perhaps because it has largely disappeared from society. …

I am not claiming there is never room for public shame. People who do morally wrong acts should feel guilt. They should be ashamed. Whether public shaming is the way to bring about this inner transformation in them is not clear. …

In the same chapter on justice, Josef Pieper adds another interesting comment. Suggesting that it might be possible for a just person to be mistaken about some particular issue and propose an objectively “unjust” solution to a problem, Pieper asks this question: “Should not all this be of some significance for the realm of political discourse, which is of course concerned with what is just and unjust? Does it not imply for example, that it may be quite possible and logical to reject a certain political objective as ‘objectively unjust’ – and even to combat it with intensity – without at the same time bringing the moral integrity of one’s opponent into the discussion?”

I wonder. Current evidence suggests not. Our opponents aren’t just mistaken, they are either fools or scoundrels or both. And the key skill we look for in political discourse is derision. This is what sells, both in television news commentary and in the magazines on supermarket checkout lanes. Are just institutions built on unjust words? Will constant recrimination bring reconciliation?

I like the idea that we can all gain from removing aspersions and derision from our political discourse. It reminds me of something Arthur Brooks talked about a year or two ago, which is the goal of practicing “warm heartedness” with one’s political opponents—that has to be the route to cultivating a better and more resilient society, doesn’t it?

French Catholic dialogue

It seems likely that France will make at least some forms of euthanasia and suicide legal later this year, which is why President Macron’s explicit invitation to Catholics to participate in the French public debate on bioethics leaves me feeling conflicted:

French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the importance of a Catholic voice in the country’s political debates, particularly on bioethical issues, in an address to the French bishops April 9.

“What I want to call you tonight is to engage politically in our national debate and in our European debate because your faith is part of the commitment that this debate needs,” Macron told French bishops in a rare public meeting between Church and government leaders in France.

While France was once referred to as the “eldest daughter of the Church,” the country’s legal secularism has required strict neutrality of the state in religious matters since 1905.

In his speech Monday, however, Macron spoke of the important philosophical need for the Church’s voice.

“What strikes our country … is not only the economic crisis, it is relativism; it is even nihilism,” said Macron.

“Our contemporaries need, whether they believe or do not believe, to hear from another perspective on man than the material perspective,” he continued, “They need to quench another thirst, which is a thirst for absolute. It is not a question here of conversion, but of a voice which, with others, still dares to speak of man as a living spirit.”

Father Joseph Koczera, an American priest based in Paris, told CNA that in some ways, Macron’s speech “was quite remarkable.”

“This is a clear challenge to a particular style of French secularism that suggests that, [since] the state must remain neutral, perspectives informed by religion should not be invoked in political debates,” Koczera said.

Macron stressed that “Secularism does not have the function of uprooting from our societies the spirituality that nourishes so many of our fellow citizens.”

“To deliberately blind myself to the spiritual dimension that Catholics invest in their moral, intellectual, family, professional, social life would be to condemn me to having only a partial view of France; it would be to ignore the country, its history, its citizens; and affecting indifference, I would derogate from my mission,” he said.

Macron’s speech comes as bioethical debates continue in France, with parliament preparing to reform its bioethics laws.

It’s a great thing that President Macron is inviting Catholics back to a place in public discourse. But if it ends up merely being a further way to condone an anticipated legalization of forms of euthanasia and suicide by underscoring that “Catholics were given a chance to voice their positions,” after all meaningful decisions had already been made, then it would be an example of cynical political use, rather than meaningful outreach and dialogue. We’ll see.