Monday, April 17, 2006

Do we really need drums during the Kyrie?

Of course the answer is no. But in the midst of the Easter festivities at St. Stephen the Martyr church, there they were, providing an insistent and repetitive snare-snare-cymbal. And not just the Kyrie, of course. Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, heck, everything but the Our Father (which was mercifully said, not sung) had the malapropos beat in the background. Perhaps I need to give a bit of exposition about St. Stephen to assist the reader in understanding how ludicrous this really is.

The church is named after the saint who is historically credited for being the first Christian martyr. That's a perfectly appropriate person to name a church after--and it's not like there's any contoversy over that. Now enters Father Patty. If not for the fact of there being a church in the diocese by the name of "St. Patrick," though, there's no doubt in my mind that the Archbishop's desk would be flooded with requests to rename the parish. We've even got a seven foot statue of St. Patrick (complete with clover and shillelagh) near the entrance to the church. Yes. Fr. Patty is that Irish.

And so, for special occassions like Christmas and Easter (which, incidentally, mark two of the past three times I went to church...) the mass setting is done in the Sacred Story. A mass setting is a collection of related melodies to which the various aspects of the mass are intended to be done, and the Sacred Story features melodies based off of traditional Irish music.

Is it just me, or is a drumset not particularly traditional Irish?

To be fair, I understand the limitations of musician volunteers. Where you need a couple dozen string players, a handful of woodwinds, a few brass players, and a percussionist or two, you're likely to get about one violin, another string if you're lucky... and from an orchestral balance standpoint it goes downhill from there. And because this is not auditions for the Chicago Symphony, you take what you're given and make the most of it. So yeah, if the percussionist has his heart set on playing for Easter mass, I understand the argument that you're got to let him play.

To be even more fair, I understand the trends in current church services, both Catholic and non. There's an effort to move past "church music" as the music sung at church services, mostly in an effort for churches to maintain a sense of contemporaneousness (contemporeity?) and to attract a crowd of people that might not otherwise have an incentive to go to church at all. Therefore, instead of an organ and hymns, you're more likely to get a guitar and syncopation. And some people like it. I happen not to. I prefer your set of standard-issue Lutheran hymns (do I go to hell for that, being Catholic and all?), no organ required, but without too much bizarre modernization. But if that's what the church thinks is in its best interest, to keep the worshippers happy and ultimately better serve God, sure, contemporary music makes sense.

Using drums for a song in the mass, while I might not be too crazy about it, is ultimately a stylistic difference. At some point, though, "stylistic difference" becomes "distracting." I'll summarize with a Nortonesque form-function argument. The function of a church is to expose people to the particular faith of the church, and to achieve that, people have to be attending the services. Therefore, the form of the service needs to be such that people feel encouraged to come. But for most of the Catholic mass, especially the parts of it defined by a mass setting, the function is to give focus to specific parts of the faith, and how the current celebration of the mass relates to and defines that faith. So the form needs to be one that encourages thought, contemplation, and reverence.

Not one that sounds like it could be the background track to something playing at the gym.

Currently listening: Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand

Monday, April 10, 2006

Heroics and Humblings in Des Monies

Note the intentional misspelling: "Monies" instead of "Moines." This is a tribute to a rather humorous ariport sign, reportedly from two years ago, which read "Des Monies." And, in the immortal words of Mr. Matovu, the town is now "G'd up."

Georgia Tech mock trial did not have its best year ever. Nor did it have its worst, probably, but our record at nationals was somewhat less than amazing. There are a handful of memories I must memorialize, though, lest they be forgot in the midst of future and potentially even more entertaining moments.

To Travis McGivern, who showed me how amazing and bizarre and thoroughly entertaining a round can be when you have an absolute legend as a judge. Albeit one who sustains "bad math" objections, one who loses evidence, and one who prompts the opposing counsel to object, and then responds with "STRICKen!" when they finally make a motion to strike. Oh, and don't forget "as always, the court does not care what you believe."

To DJ Scribble, who showed that the non-presiding judge can be equally as entertaining as the presider--even when that presider is the aforementioned Travis. Sleep for twenty minutes, wake up, and furiously scribble comments for a minute before taking another nap. Then ask us at the end "why the hell we called such a useless witness, when you can do his entire direct in two minutes?" I didn't remember him being awake for that...

To Daniel Shapiro, who actually told me to "answer the damn question" back in my formative and combative days. But heck, he coaches such a good team that I should probably take his advice.

And, of course, to random 85-year-old judge dude at Rhodes. Where, oh where would we be without your expert guidance?
"Are you jurors?"
"No, we're timekeepers."
"Well that's the damndest thing I ever heard! How do I give you a score?"

"I don't know what the hell this case is about!" (before closing statements)

"Defense closing, you lacked passion. And defense closing, that was the best thing I saw all day."

"Are you their mother?" (to Kate, on Anant, Dennis, Kyle, and Saira. These are, respectively, an Indian guy, a Nigerian guy, a white guy, and a Spanish/Pakistani girl.)

Next year, 946 (Georgia Tech C) is going to thunderously roll out and stun everyone with its prowess. If Yatis and I can find four more people.

Currently listening: Hot Fuss, the Killers

Monday, April 03, 2006

Please, Keep Beating the Dead Horse

Review: V for Vendetta

Surprisingly, everyone I talked to that had seen this movie thought it was wonderful. Having not seen the movie, only trailers and commercials, I'd been kind of rolling my eyes and kind of thinking "I wonder if that movie could be any good."

I'm still wondering that, even after I've seen it.

First off, I liked the movie. But not for reasons you might think. The cinematography was quite good, the acting by Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman was enjoyable if not amazing, and, oh yes, it was trying to make a point. And "make a point" as usual translated into "become overtly political."

As I've stated before, I have some political views. That's not generally what this blog is about. There are more interesting things I can talk about than Congressman A or Foreign Policy B. So I attempt to avoid inserting my political slant into my posts. However, I do not think an overtly political movie can be properly reviewed without venturing into politics.

V for Vendetta was originally a graphic novel, published "in 1989 as a cautionary tale against England's conservative Iron Maiden Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher." (1) If you've read or seen 1984, you know the basic plot of this movie: England, thirty or so years in the future, is overtaken by a totalitarian state. Totalitarianism = not good; lone hero figures this out; lone hero tries to work against the system.

But where 1984 had a very strong sensibility and appeal, V for Vendetta lacks a lot. And the reason for this is that 1984 targets totalitarianism and the suspension of civil liberties in general, while V for Vendetta insists on selecting specific current issues to attack. And yes, I agree that persecution of homosexuals is ridiculous. Yes, I agree that government control of the media is probably one of the most grievous infringements on free speech that can exist. Yes, I think that wholesale discrimination against Muslims is not justified simply because most of the major terrorist groups happen to by Muslim extremists.

These issues, okay, whatever. They expose the movie to have a socially liberal slant. But it really seemed fishy with the first mention of the phrase "pharmaceutical corporation," and I knew for sure the movie had an agenda when it mocked the phrase "coalition of the willing." I am not going to discuss the war in Iraq outside of the context of this movie. My opinion of it is irrelevant, and to tell the truth, not terribly interesting or persuasive. My only assertion is that the movie lost a lot of credibility with me when it started tying the events of the movie all the way back to the Iraq war--even descending as far as to use footage from the war. A personal opinion of the war is one thing, and I recognize that those range from "Bush lied and should be impeached" to "Bush is a hero for liberating the country." Neither of those viewpoints, in my opinion, has a terribly good legal or factual standing, and neither of them makes for a very compelling or convincing movie. And just because it's the most controversial current issue does not mean that every bit of popular media needs to be about it. At this point, the horse is dead, flayed, and fractured, but sure, keep whacking away.

A bit about pharmaceutical corporations. It seems to be fashionable to hate businesses, the bigger the more hated, and if they're pharmaceutical companies on top of that... well hell, you hit the soapbox jackpot. This may be personal bias reflecting the possible eventuality of me working for a pharmaceutical company, but do people out there know how fortunate they are that these companies exist? Imagine a world in which there's only one kind of antibiotic, and if it doesn't work for you, well, get used to your ear infection. Or how about one with no antihistamines, where March through May, and then September, turn from the most pleasant months of the year into dreaded ones. We don't have to live in that world, though, because of the innovation and continuing efforts of pharmaceutical companies. Just because they're (gasp!) successful at business, and they deign to make a profit (the horror!), doesn't mean they don't make a substantial and appreciable impact on lives.

Another criticism that I can't avoid having is, like a whole lot of contemporary movies, V for Vendetta does not know which genre it wants to belong to. It's not an example of the mostrosity known as the "dromedy" in which the sappiest and most maudlin parts of a substandard drama are mashed together with the least subtle and thought-provoking elements of a tepid comedy to form a ghastly "funny/emotional" film. If I want to laugh, I want a straight comedy, uncomplicated by seriousness, and if I want to think, I want pure suspence or drama uncorrupted by an attempt to make me chuckle. This movie, though, is an odd fusion of action and politics, and you know what? Action movies don't do it for me anymore. Not to say that I don't appreciate a good explosion or chase scene, but am I remiss for wanting that sort of thing to be, oh, signigicant to the plot? It seems like a lot of action movies are based on the premise of "look how badass I can make my protagonist... and oh yeah, here's some evil stuff for him/her to kill." There's a touch of that in V for Vendetta, like when we have the Wachoswki Special of knives floating through the air in slow motion, just for the purpose of looking cool. Again, not criticizing the use of special effects--I'm not denying the fact that they were pretty cool--but I am criticizing the fact that the action sequences didn't really add much to the movie other than visual appeal. So take two parts George Orwell, one part Nancy Pelosi, and one part Neo, and you've got the slightly confused jumble that is V for Vendetta.

Finally, for a movie with such a prominent theatrical motif (and Shakespeare in particular), I was disappointed at with the pacing of the movie. By that, I mean that it sadly followed the current trend of half an hour of buildup... another half an hour of buildup... another half an hour of buildup... another half an hour of buildup... climax!ending!credits! Although I shouldn't really expect anything like "falling action" or, say, a "resolution" out of modern movies, it would have been a nice homage to the Bard to give us a bit of what happened after the climactic scene.

Now, you may be thinking, "I thought you liked the movie! This is an awful lot of criticism for a movie that you supposedly like." The reason I have to say that I liked the movie is, despite its flaws, its miscues, and its unnecessarily political nature, is that it inspired this much thought and discussion. And I'm all about any movie that can pull that off.

In a previous entry, I promised a discussion of to what extent religious wars are actually motivated by religion. I thought this fit in nicely with V for Vendetta, which was especially vocal in criticizing discrimination against Islam. Take the Crusades--true religious war, with Muslims fighting Christians, both because of the other side's religion? Landgrab by European kindgoms under the guise of Christian goals? Aggression by Arabs to drive out peaceful settlers in the Holy Land? I'm not proposing any answers here, just questions.

The reason I thought of this is because I heard a caller to a radio show a few weeks ago with some ludicrous claim about the Moorish invasion of Spain and how it related to (inpsired? I couldn't remember the exact argument, only that it had no basis at all in historical fact) the Crusades. To show my continued loyalty to AP World History geekiness, this prompted me to think of an interesting essay question: Compare the Crusades to the Reconquista from the years 1000-1450. In the essay, consider specific goals, tactics, and outcomes, and how they impacted other areas of the world.

Basically, I think one of the most important questions of our time is dealing with the rise of Islamic extremism. To what extent to "Muslim" terrorists actually believe they are doing the work of Allah, and to what extent are they using Islam as a tool or a front for their operations? How many Muslims feel that this terrorism is actually compatible with and even required by their religion? And finally, is mainstream Islam, assuming that it does not see eye to eye with the terrorist groups, willing to reclaim its religion?

That should be enough to keep the mind occupied for a while.

Currently listening: Commit This to Memory, Motion City Soundtrack

(1) See, I do my homework and I cite my sources.