The Real News of the Month

June 2005
Volume 12, Number 6

Editor: Joe Sobran
Publisher: Fran Griffin (Griffin Communications)
Managing Editor: Ronald N. Neff
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  -> Money
  -> Letter from the Editor
  -> Papal Dogmatism
  -> Making Musicals
Nuggets (plus electronic Exclusives)
List of Columns Reprinted in This Issue


(page 1)

     While watching old movies (see "Making Musicals," 
page 5), I'm constantly jolted by casual reminders of how 
the value of money has changed even in my own lifetime. 
In one 1948 film, for example, a chorus girl hesitates to 
quit her job: it pays her a steady $15 a week.

     I myself can remember when $15 bought a week's 
groceries, if I could forgo steak. I can remember when a 
dime bought a comic book, a Coke, a cup of coffee, or a 
phone call. In 1956 my parents bought a summer cottage in 
northern Michigan for $5,000. My first new car, in 1967, 
cost $2,400. Old prices cause me intense nostalgia. Then 
there are the ones that affect me most: the prices of 
books. As a boy I bought paperback Shakespeares for 35 
each; now they start at $3.95.

     On reflection, though, the old prices also cause me 
to simmer. What they really show is not how good the old 
days were, but how our money has been devalued. Am I the 
only one who takes inflation personally?

     When the pseudo-private Federal Reserve System was 
established in 1913, one of its chief announced purposes 
was to prevent inflation, to stabilize the value of 
money. The Fed has always baffled me, but you needn't 
understand how it works in order to see that for more 
than ninety years now, it has evidently had the opposite 

     Modern man assumes both the legitimacy of the state 
and its responsibility for maintaining a more or less 
sound currency. To the extent that the state devalues the 
currency, directly or otherwise, it becomes a giant 
counterfeiting operation, victimizing nearly all its 
subjects (except those relatively few who figure out how 
to benefit by the process).

     The U.S. Constitution says Congress shall have power 
to "coin" money and "regulate" its value; this is now 
taken to authorize the printing of paper money and the 
manipulation of its value. But "coin" meant making 
=coins,= and "regulate" meant =regularizing.= And as the 
lawyer-economist Edwin Vieira reminds us, a "dollar" 
meant a fixed amount of specie: exactly 271.25 grains of 

     Delegating these powers to another agency, including 
a "private" one, has no constitutional warrant; nor does 
changing the very meaning of "dollar" and substituting 
paper for silver. Unless the clever people who operate 
the system have no idea what they're doing, we're talking 
about an ongoing, and very successful, conspiracy to 
defraud and rob the American public.

     As with warfare, currency manipulation is so widely 
accepted as a normal and proper function of the state 
that those who bother trying to "expose" it are usually 
dismissed as cranks and ignored. But it hardly needs 
exposing. What needs explaining is why even the great 
majority of its victims see nothing wrong with it.

Letter from the Editor
(page 2)

Dear Loyal Readers,

     Those of you who are also e-mail subscribers or 
subscribers to the WANDERER have heard that I have been 
in the hospital twice in the past couple of months. My 
first episode -- a hospital stay of nine days just after 
John Paul II died -- involved an infected foot. I had 
foot surgery and, even after my release from Inova 
Fairfax Hospital in Virginia, had to wear a contraption 
called the "Vac" to drain my wound.

     About a month later, as I was still recovering, my 
son Mike noticed that my speech was slurred and my facial 
muscles were sagging on one side. I was also finding it 
hard to concentrate and even to type. Mike suspected I'd 
had a mild stroke and called my doctor who, after a quick 
examination, sent me back to the hospital. There tests on 
the old noggin confirmed the suspicion.

     Then came the shocker. I got a phone call from my 
older son, Kent, 38, who told me that he'd also had a 
stroke. His was more severe than mine, paralyzing his 
left side. He walks with a cane now, but he's expected to 
make a full recovery.

     You can accept the signs of your own mortality, but 
when your children are afflicted, there are no words for 
what you feel. Kent is the oldest of my four, and maybe 
the most beloved among those who know him. I've always 
been especially proud of him: I've often thought he grew 
up before I did. Relatives, friends, and fellow workers 
are eager to help him now, so I don't have to worry that 
he'll be alone, though I can't visit him yet myself. 
Still, until now he has always been self-sufficient, and 
it's painful to know that today he depends on others for 
so many things he has always done independently. Then 
again, I tearfully remembered the days when he was a 
little boy who depended on me.

     I seem to be bouncing back all right; my speech is 
no longer slurred, and more often than not my fingers hit 
the right keys when I type. My army of therapists finds 
my improvement encouraging, and friends are rallying 
round, God bless them.

     I am grateful for the many good wishes, prayers, and 
Masses that have been offered for my recovery. I am 
praying for all of you, too, in gratitude for your 


                                               Joe Sobran

Papal Dogmatism
(pages 3-4)

     Confined to my sickbed, I've been watching more 
movies than usual. I recently watched an oddly disturbing 
one from the dollar bin at Wal-Mart I'd never heard of 
before: THE CONFLICT (aka CATHOLICS), a drama about a 
monastery besieged by the modern world.

     Released in 1973, it stars the excellent Trevor 
Howard, who died in 1988, and Martin Sheen and Michael 
Gambon. According to the credits, it's based on Brian 
Moore's novel CATHOLICS, which I haven't read; but 
another Moore novel resulted in BLACK ROBE, an 
extraordinary film about a French missionary among 
Indians in seventeenth-century Canada.

     Howard is the abbot of an Irish monastery, where the 
old Tridentine Mass is still celebrated, attracting 
hundreds of worshipers and even causing a stir in the 
media. Rome sends a young priest, Father James Kinsella 
(Sheen), an apostle of "social change" and "liberation 
theology," to deliver a rebuke to the abbot and order 
that the new liturgy be adopted. But the abbot and the 
monks stubbornly and eloquently refuse to abandon the old 
rite. They still wear the traditional plain brown habit 
of their order; Father Kinsella dresses in street clothes 
and is mistaken, at first sight, for a layman. (He has to 
keep explaining that he's a priest.)

     During a heated argument, Father Kinsella warns the 
abbot that he may be transferred from his beloved 
monastery if he disobeys Rome's directives. Unity, he 
points out, is necessary to the Church. Not only the old 
Mass but private confession must go. And at this point we 
realize that the story we're watching is set in the 
future -- or what, in 1973, appeared to be the future. 
The young priest reminds the old abbot that "Vatican IV" 
has mandated the changes he's enforcing. Rome has even 
declared that the Mass is merely a "symbolic ritual" and 
revoked the doctrine of transubstantiation. (We learn 
that the shrine at Lourdes has been shut down.)

     Resistance now appears not only futile, but 
pointless. Suddenly the abbot capitulates. Obedience is 
the rule of his life and, standing on his authority, he 
orders the other monks to comply too. The Catholic Church 
they have known, loved, and tried to preserve has ceased 
to exist. The abbot tenders his resignation and asks to 
be transferred to some place where he can live as an 
ordinary monk.

     Father Kinsella is puzzled by the abbot's abrupt 
surrender. He asks for an explanation. The abbot confides 
that he has long since lost his belief in God and has 
just been going through the motions for many years. He 
can accept the new order, in the end, because he no 
longer believes in the old one. He is tied to the Church 
only by a lifetime of habit.

     Father Kinsella, who has never known the old faith, 
sympathizes with him now and refuses to accept his 
resignation. The two men no longer have fatal 
differences; both belong to an organization in which 
neither believes. The young priest, his mission 
accomplished, returns to Rome.

     "Prayer is the only miracle," the abbot tells the 
other monks at the end of the film, as he tries tearfully 
to lead them in prayer. Unity has been achieved, but at 
the price of faith. The Church itself has committed 

     THE CONFLICT May be regarded as a Catholic horror 
film, though I suppose liberal Catholics would regard its 
ending as a happy one. In any case, it now seems dated. 
It represents orthodox fears and liberal hopes of a 
generation ago: limitless "change," in both liturgy and 
doctrine. It shows a future that never came to pass.

     What has happened since then? In a nutshell, John 
Paul II. His long papacy encouraged and revivified 
orthodox Catholics as much as it disheartened liberals. 
In fact it inspired some Catholics to hope for a fuller 
return to the Church as she was before Vatican II. But at 
least it's now clear that there won't be a "Vatican IV."

     As I watched John Paul's funeral from a hospital 
bed, I felt joy at the tremendous warmth he'd inspired 
all over the world. In spite of my own sins and faults, 
which had never been more painfully obvious to me than at 
that moment, I sensed something even greater than his 
personal greatness: the wholeness and unity of the 
Universal Church, saying good-bye to its beloved old 
pastor. It was as if my soul were being carried like a 
little raft on the surge of an ocean of grace.

     Over the 26 years of his papacy, John Paul had 
become one of the best-loved men who ever lived. He was, 
in the words of Jonathan Kwitny's biography, MAN OF THE 
CENTURY. Contrary to the standard charge of his liberal 
critics, he never tried to "reverse" the changes of 
Vatican II; he always celebrated the Council and 
continued its work. But he refused to allow it to be 
hijacked for the purpose of indiscriminate "reform." The 
accusation that he was "reversing" it came from people 
who pretended that the Council itself had reversed 2,000 
years of Catholicism. John Paul always insisted that it 
had continued and strengthened orthodox tradition.

     When he died, many of the eulogies managed to avoid 
any mention of Jesus Christ. These included those of 
neoconservatives, who praised him as a Cold Warrior 
(which he wasn't) and likened him to Ronald Reagan, as if 
there could be no higher compliment to a successor of 
Peter than to place him in the company of the Gipper. 
True, he had done much to bring about the collapse of the 
Soviet empire, but his anti-Communism didn't make him a 
blind partisan of the West. He was also critical of 
Western materialism, capitalism, militarism, and sexual 
licentiousness; he opposed both American wars on Iraq. 
His authorized biographer, George Weigel, an American 
Catholic neocon, even tried to "correct" his opposition 
to the latest Iraq war.

     In different ways, praise of the Polish pope implied 
that he was to be judged by political standards. The 
question, however, was whether he had led the Catholic 
Church faithfully and well. Most Catholics had found him 
an inspiring leader; whether he had been a successful 
disciplinarian was another matter. His own evident love 
of orthodoxy did little to curb disorder and even active 
heresy at lower levels of the Church.

     But when THE CONFLICT was made, it was still 
possible to see the Vatican as destabilizing 
Catholicism's customary ways. After the papacy of John 
Paul II that is no longer true. And the election of 
Benedict XVI as his successor -- long hated by liberals 
as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger -- underlines this. In fact, 
liberals hate Benedict so much that they have already 
forgotten how much they hated John Paul! Typical is Jane 
Mayer of THE NEW YORKER, who attacks the new pope for his 
"dogmatism"; she seems to be unaware that "dogma" isn't a 
term of opprobrium in the Catholic Church. She doesn't 
say what his dogmatism consists in, but it sounds vaguely 
menacing, akin perhaps to the fanaticism of Osama bin 

     The man who is now Pope Benedict laid his cards on 
the table in a series of interviews 20 years ago, 
published as THE RATZINGER REPORT (Ignatius), whose 
precision and moderation must be frustrating to anyone 
searching for scary quotations. Cardinal Ratzinger has 
always been an urbane but uncompromising Catholic as well 
as a sophisticated theologian. Like John Paul, he defends 
Vatican II without being blind to the abuses committed in 
its name. These interviews show him as especially 
sensitive to liturgical corruption, including the 
banality of the music now used in many churches. (He 
himself is said to be an accomplished pianist, devoted to 

     Precision might be said to be the chief 
characteristic of Benedict's mind. He insists on clear 
definitions; and as James Hitchcock has written, "Modern 
culture is at its very root hostile to the act of 
definition and prefers an endlessly fluid reality, 
capable of being endlessly manipulated to serve the 
purposes of history." What do liberals really want? 
What, for example, would the Apostles' Creed look like 
when they got through with it? Would there be anything 
left of it? They are usually as vague about this as about 
everything else.

     As former prefect of the Holy Office, Cardinal 
Ratzinger had the specific duty of fighting heresy. He 
was admittedly responsible for the dismissal of such 
theologians as Hans Kung and Charles Curran from teaching 
positions at Catholic institutions, on grounds that what 
they were teaching was at odds with Catholic teaching. 
Now most organizations may, without incurring obloquy, 
fire paid spokesmen who misrepresent their corporate 
positions; but when the Catholic Church does this, it's 
condemned as intolerance and persecution, and the 
"victims" are regarded (not least by themselves) as if 
they'd been burned at the stake, or subjected to 
thumbscrews, merely for uttering innocent personal 

     Liberal Catholics now constitute an aging "lost 
generation," who are taking very hard the slow 
realization that they are no longer the Church's Wave of 
the Future. They sense that any clear definition of 
Catholic doctrine threatens to define them right out of 
the Church. But it's because of this very aversion to 
clarifying their terms that they can't specify just what 
makes the new Pope so sinister in their eyes. We have a 
good idea what Benedict wants; but we can only guess at 
what his "progressive" enemies want, except more 

     By electing this close friend and partner of John 
Paul II, the College of Cardinals has served notice that 
it hopes to end a long period of chaos in the Church. Of 
course letting the genie out of the bottle is a lot 
easier than putting it back in. That is the challenge 
facing Benedict XVI -- and maybe his successors too.

Making Musicals
(pages 5-6)

     Anyone who complains about government security 
measures, onerous as they are, has probably never tried 
to open a DVD. During my recent confinement I've risked 
fingernails, as well as a nail file, in attempts to do 
so. All this in order to fight off boredom while barely 
able to leave my room, let alone my house.

     On the infrequent occasions when I could get to the 
local Borders, I found myself buying more movies than 
books. After watching SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and Laurence 
Olivier's Shakespeare films a few times, I realized that 
light musicals wear better than serious drama, however 
great. So on my next excursion to Borders, I bought a 
stack of famous musicals, which included lengthy and 
fascinating documentaries on how these films were made.

     The documentaries gave me enormous respect for one 
figure in Hollywood history. Consider the following two 
dozen old MGM movie hits, most of them recognized 
from the studio, what do they all have in common?

     They were all produced by Arthur Freed, once a huge 
name in the movie industry. Freed (1894-1973), born 
Arthur Grossman in South Carolina, was a noted lyricist 
(SINGIN' IN THE RAIN used many of the hits he'd written 
decades earlier with tunesmith Nacio Herb Brown) and had 
appeared in vaudeville with the Marx Brothers before 
joining MGM in 1929, when Irving Thalberg ran it; he was 
assistant producer of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), whose huge 
success led to his elevation to producer.

     In the movies, producers get little of the glory 
that goes to actors, singers, dancers, and sometimes 
directors. Even film buffs give them little attention. 
Yet the producer is usually the man who, in Hollywood, 
actually conceives the whole project, then has to 
assemble and coordinate all the elements. During the 
Freed era, MGM featured such stars as Clark Gable, Judy 
Garland, Greta Garbo, Greer Garson, and Cary Grant, just 
to start with the G's (and omitting Spencer Tracy, 
Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, Myrna Loy, Elizabeth 
Taylor, and countless others). Other huge box-office 
draws of the day, though their fame has faded, were 
Mickey Rooney, William Powell, Nelson Eddy, Jeannette 
MacDonald, and Johnny (Tarzan) Weissmuller. For musicals, 
MGM's forte until 1960, Freed could choose among Garland, 
Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, 
Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller, Mario Lanza, Cyd Charisse, 
Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, Betty Hutton, and 
Esther Williams (the mermaid who was Hollywood's top 
female draw for five straight years). The studio's noted 
directors included King Vidor, Erich von Stroheim, Fritz 
Lang, George Cukor, Victor Fleming, and the peerless 
Vincente Minnelli; late in his career, Busby Berkeley 
moved to MGM too. Freed put all of them to good use.

     One of the myriad talents he hired, the prodigiously 
talented Andre Previn, has called the secret of Freed's 
success "mediocrity." By this he meant not an absence of 
artistry, but a positive quality: a wisely modest 
ambition to entertain, without aiming too high. Freed had 
an almost infallible sense of what would work in a 
movie. And his performers recalled, long after his death, 
that they'd always found him encouraging; bringing out 
their best was one of his crowning gifts. The words 
"producer" and "executive" don't begin to suggest his 
real contribution to a delightful popular art form, which 
he brought to its perfection as an invisible presiding 
genius. It's a pity that he remains largely unknown to 
the moviegoing public.

     As a temporary invalid, I've been watching the old 
musicals with an interest and appreciation I've never had 
before. It may be a bit late in life for me to launch a 
new career as a dance critic, especially one plagued with 
chronically sore feet; but I always feel entitled to 
sound off on popular entertainment, of which I remain a 
greedy consumer.

     As they say, they don't make 'em like that anymore. 
Entertainers no longer exist; everyone is an artist now. 
A mere entertainer smiles; he wants to please. His credo 
was expressed in Dr. Johnson's famous words, "For we who 
live to please must please to live." The artist, on the 
other hand, doesn't smile; he broods. He is preoccupied 
with deeper things, and he affects not to care whether he 
pleases anyone or not, though he may still count the 
receipts and haggle about his contract, Give me the 
entertainer any day.

     As Dr. Johnson also observed, "No man is a hypocrite 
in his pleasures." When you're being entertained, you 
don't have to put on airs and pretend you're engaged in a 
form of anything that might be called edification or 
self-improvement. By a certain age, which I've long 
passed, you're probably edified to capacity already, and 
you may as well just enjoy yourself.

     That's the nice thing about the genial old American 
musical, on both stage and screen. Without insulting your 
intelligence, and while displaying an unpretentious 
intelligence of its own, it asks only that you enjoy 
yourself, and it assumes full responsibility for pleasing 
you. You don't have to be as smart as Cole Porter to 
enjoy Cole Porter.

     The Italian Renaissance prized a quality it called 
"sprezzatura" -- a seemingly casual attitude toward one's 
own accomplishments: "Oh, that?" it shrugs. "It was 
nothing, really." A gentleman wasn't supposed to have 
worked hard at anything, especially if he had. Fencing, 
dancing, singing were supposed to have come naturally to 

     We see this aristocratic quality superbly in Fred 
Astaire (born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, by the way). 
His dancing has an offhand elegance that, as the cliche 
has it, looks effortless. You'd never guess, from 
watching him, how much hard work actually went into it; 
he'd rehearse until his feet bled. His most famous 
partner, Ginger Rogers, let it be known (after they'd 
parted company) that she deserved credit for doing 
everything he did, only "I had to do it backward and in 
high heels." That was a fair point, but claiming credit 
for it wasn't in the code of "sprezzatura." (I was 
unpleasantly surprised to learn recently that the 
Astaire-Rogers films, long available on video, aren't yet 
on DVD.)

     "Sprezzatura" is subtly absent from the dancing of 
Gene Kelly. He may have been, technically, Astaire's 
equal, but to me, at least, he makes dancing look like 
the hard work it really is. I find him more exhausting 
than exhilarating to watch, without the angelic levity 
that makes you feel that Astaire might have gone on 
dancing forever. Even Kelly's geniality looks slightly 
forced; I admire his teeth, but when he grins he seems to 
have too many of them.

     The divine Cyd Charisse danced on the screen with 
both men; with Kelly in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, BRIGADOON, 
with Astaire in THE BAND WAGON and SILK STOCKINGS. If her 
awesomely versatile dancing has any shortcomings, I'm the 
wrong man to point them out, unless having only two legs 
can be called a shortcoming. Even if you hold no 
particular brief for bipeds, she makes two seem exactly 
the right number somehow; and if she were one-legged, men 
would still whistle at that one. But her great beauty is 
less remarkable than her utter grace in motion.

     Because Charisse, now in her eighties, looks so tall 
on film, I was startled to learn that she stood only 
5'6", an inch shorter than Kelly and three inches shorter 
than Astaire, who once jokingly threatened her, "If 
you're going to wear high heels, I'm wearing a hat!"
     It saddens me to note that Charisse made her film 
debut in the infamous Roosevelt-Stalin propaganda movie 
MISSION TO MOSCOW (for Warner Brothers, not MGM), though 
I hadn't noticed her in it when I watched it a few years 
back. Obviously hers couldn't have been a dancing role, 
or the world would have remembered. (Even more 
distressingly I've read that lovely Lena Horne's career 
suffered because of her "close association" with that old 
Stalinist Paul Robeson.)

     The less we know about great entertainers' private 
lives, the better; but sometimes they insist on drawing 
us into their misery. None illustrates this better than 
Judy Garland, whose marriage to Vincente Minnelli ended 
when she found him in bed with a boy; after that her 
personal unhappiness seemed to become the theme of her 
public career, the cloyingly naive "Over the Rainbow" 
yielding to the throbbing bathos of "The Man Who Got 

     By 1960 the movie musical was a dying genre. Though 
the biggest-grossing musical of all time, THE SOUND OF 
MUSIC, was still to come in 1964, this was actually a 
Broadway hit adapted to film rather than a movie musical 
proper. Public taste in music as well as cinema was 
changing, as witness the success of Elvis Presley's 
movies; rock 'n' roll had little use for either melodies 
or lyrics like those of Freed's heyday. The medium no 
longer catered to adults, and the full irony of the 
change may be gathered from what "adult entertainment" 
has come to mean since then.


SO SORRY: The U.S. Senate has apologized for its failure, 
many moons ago, to pass anti-lynching legislation. But 
you have to remember that in that atavistic era, laws 
against murder were still generally left to the states. 
The Senate is actually repenting for having respected the 
Tenth Amendment. We can be sure it won't happen again. 
(page 9)

ANOTHER ONE WALKS: Michael Jackson now joins O.J. Simpson 
and Robert Blake in the honor roll of California's most 
famous acquitted entertainers. The system works -- at 
least if you're a celebrity. (page 10)

AT LAST: Well, well. The mysterious "Deep Throat" of the 
Woodward-Bernstein Watergate investigation has finally 
stepped forth from the shadows: Mark Felt, now 91, but in 
those days a high-ranking FBI official whom Richard Nixon 
had passed over for promotion. If you're too young to 
remember what all the fuss was about, relax. More on this 
next month. (page 11)

BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE: Hillary Clinton, it already 
appears probable to certain, will be the Democrats' 
presidential nominee in 2008. But Bill insists she hasn't 
decided yet whether to run. The husband is always the 
last to know. (page 12)

Exclusive to electronic media:

JUST WONDERING: Is it my imagination, or is Saddam 
Hussein starting to look like Abraham Lincoln? It may 
just be the beard; we have no Matthew Brady photos of 
Honest Abe in his jockey shorts. 

(pages 7-12)

* It's Still the Same Old Story (May 5, 2005)

* The News and the Good News (May 10, 2005)

* Kyd Stuff (May 12, 2005)

* The Press and Patriotism (May 17, 2005)

* Movies as History (May 19, 2005)

* The Gray Lady Shows Her Colors (June 9, 2005)


All articles are written by Joe Sobran.

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