A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003 :::
A Mind That Suits Runs His First Clarification...A Sombre Anniversary...Therapeutic High School Plays and Bad Education...Our Failed War Policy...New York Times: Soviet-style Egalitarian State?

A Sombre Anniversary. A Mind That Suits has discovered that he made something of an error in describing the functions of the Swiss Guard. According to what seems to be the most reliable website on them, the Swiss Guard are not only charming young men in brightly colored togs, but they are also the ubiquitous Vatican security people in blue. (Thanks to friend Stephen for finding the site.) The notable difference in age between the guys in blue and the guys who flirt may simply indicate that the younger guys are given the ceremonial jobs, while their more experienced and better trained elders do the real work. The Renaissance p.j.'s are actually quite billowy, so real weapons can easily be hidden. The men in business suits that actually tag along with His Holiness may therefore also be Swiss Guard, although this American assumed the lack of uniform signified a separate status, the way that the US Secret Service is distinguished by their lack of uniform.

The Swiss Guard were therefore the people you see helping John Paul II on the darkest day of his pontificate, when he was shot by Mehmet Ali Agca, 22 years ago today. In the US, this was taken as a major event, of course, but the Pope's already towering reputation behind the Iron Curtain and in the Third World could be seen in the horror of the reaction throughout the rest of the world. In Krakow, where he had done so much for the oppressed as their Archbishop, 1 million people showed up dressed in white (the papal color, of course) to stand in vigil as they awaited news.

The Swiss Guard were there to protect the Pope, and obviously they failed spectacularly at this moment, but this was also the first serious indication that the "low-level" war of terrorism was going to grow beyond regional conflicts. No one expected this kind of attack, and the Guard was in fact there, next to the Pope, willing to lay down their lives. Agca was just a very good shot, and the level of security then considered acceptable for a public figure allowed him to get too close. Without their clear thinking and well-laid-out plans for papal medical emergencies, the Pope clearly would have died.

The Guard was actually on their way back up in importance, and they have since risen remarkably in skill. Their nadir in having real functions to perform probably came during the 70 or so years that the Vatican ceased to be a country and was absorbed into the Italian state. In keeping with this Pope's fondness for using the most modern methods of communication, the security at the Vatican is now as high tech as it can go and still allow the Pontiff the contact he wants with normal people. The kids in the bright yellow togs are charming, which should not detract from the fact that the whole Guard performs admirably and tirelessly.

Today should also be a day to remember what we learned about this Pope from that incident, most notably his physical stamina, his determination, his firm belief in the efficacy of prayer, and his willingness to forgive. He famously went to visit Agca in prison as soon as he recovered from his wounds, and during his trip to Bulgaria last year he assured the Bulgarian people that he never thought they themselves would have allowed someone to use their country as a staging area for an attack on him.

It is interesting that, in all the wave of documents and revelations that have come out, no conclusive evidence or personal confessions have told us how Agca, who gave ample signs of mental instability, was able to operate. This may be something we never know. But the Pope's personal conduct after the shooting, and the Guard's great role in saving him, should not be forgotten.

How Not To Teach Kids About Life. An admiring story in yesterday's Post told of how such topical, therapeutic plays as Bang, Bang, You're Dead are crowding out such hardy perennials as Bye, Bye, Birdie and Arsenic and Old Lace in high school productions. A Mind That Suits' reaction might be described as exasperated awe: he has seen it before, and yet he is still amazed at the imcomprehension of some "educators." If one assumes that all children are alike and are concerned about the same things, you relieve yourself of a huge part of your responsibilities, and you miss seeing the actual human beings you are teaching. In this instance, you are also ignoring a huge body of evidence from psychology that reinforces the common sense notion that the best way to get through some traumas is to focus beyond them.

"Beyond." That is the magic word. Teenagers need no one to encourage them to blow their problems out of proportion. Indeed, if you expose them to other times, other literature, if you give them the chance to play someone other than an American high schooler, you give them the opportunity to choose for themselves how they will get through these problems. You also draw them out of themselves. They will not remain 16-years-old forever,much as the more therapeutic kind of teacher wants them to. Educators must speak to the adult who is forming inside the child.

A Mind That Suits saw a production of Arsenic and Old Lace last year put on by the legendary drama program at DC's Gonzaga College High School. As the audience was filing in, the adults were reminiscing about the parts they had played when they were in High School. (A Mind That Suits himself played Dr. Einstein, apparently effecting a killer imitation of Peter Lorre, whom he had at that point never seen.) What struck A Mind That Suits this time was the incredible range of urban life and old-fashioned psychoses that were crammed into one of the funniest plots ever devised. The production was superb, and will no doubt be remembered as a highpoint by the kids involved. One doubts that Bang, Bang, You're Dead will provide such memories.

The one notable thing was that one of the minor characters, a police officer of limited intelligence, was played by a Southern boy, who looked exactly like the Southern kid who played the same character in the production where A Mind That Suits performed so admirably. Why do Northerners equate being Southern with stupidity?

A Failed War Plan. The administration has replaced its top two officials in Iraq, because of continued lawlessness in Baghdad. When will someone big enough say loudly that our "lean army" war plan was seriously flawed? We quickly dispatched a paper enemy, no doubt, but our boys were needlessly exposed to serious danger and they have been unable to restore order. The only other organized force in the country has been the Islamic fundamentalists, as we should have expected, and they have rushed in to fill the void. Money is no doubt pouring to them from throughout the Muslim world. We should have gone in with our traditional massive army, closely folllwed by a massive army of trucks bearing relief supplies. We proved our point, but did we learn our lesson?

We're Hierarchically Egalitarian. Many words, probably too many, have been spilled over the latest scandal at the New York Times. It's not that this is the first time this has happened. Karl Marx was, at one point, a European correspondent for the Journal of Record, and it hasn't always been uphill from there.

Often journalistic spats pass beyond the trivial to the utterly irrelevant, but this is serious. In case you had missed it, a young journalist, Jayson Blair, was discovered to have faked facts and quotes throughout his meteoric rise, but somehow senior editors did not care that he was a singularly sloppy reporter. They had to run, on average, something like one correction to his work a month . It's not that they didn't notice; it's that they didn't care. Many lower in the ranks complained loud and long, one editor going so far as to say that he should be stopped from reporting for the Times "now." Yet the upper ranks did nothing.

One things has been noticeable at the Times since Howell Raines took over as Executive Editor, and that is its drift toward the loony left, their lonely page-one campaign against male only Augusta National golf course being only the most obvious example. Apparently, people also complain that the place has gotten more hierarchical since he took over, making it hard for those "in the lower ranks" to be heard, and those in the upper ranks to hear. Shouldn't an organization that styles itself a vanguard for radical social change be more...what's the word...transparent?

And what was it that the Times accused Bernard Cardinal Law of being? It escapes me at the moment.

Have a great Tuesday.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 10:07 AM



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