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A prelate with the mind of Ratzinger and the heart of Roncalli

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tWhile there are undoubtedly many ways to capture what’s noteworthy about Italian Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, here’s one from my experience just this week.

tTuesday morning, I was on my way to the Paul VI Audience Hall to listen to a talk by Ravasi at a conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers. I bumped into a priest friend in the Vatican, who, it’s fair to say, would probably be seen as falling on the conservative side of many church debates. When I told him I was headed to see Ravasi, his eyes lit up.

t“He’s always giving speeches,” he said, “but he always has something interesting to say.”

tLater that day, I lunched with a lay church-watcher in Rome, who conventionally would be regarded as at least somewhat liberal. When I mentioned I had spent part of the morning listening to Ravasi, she too was animated.

t“He’s amazing … brilliant, but with an incredible ability to speak to real people,” she said.

Condescension on Left & Right

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The DC blizzard has resulted in, among other things, getting your Sunday paper on Monday afternoon. The Post’s “Outlook” section gave top billing to an article by Gerard Alexander entitled “Why are liberals so condescending?” which examined the ways that liberals dismiss conservative ideas rather than engaging them.

Alexander is on to something. There is a sense of intellectual and moral superiority among some on the left, and it truly does impede political decision-making. That said, chastising politicians for considering politics is hardly a uniquely liberal or conservative monopoly and, besides, if you spent five minutes with a member of Congress, you would prefer they stick to politics and not dabble in, say, theology.

The 'socially important' movie

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Nearly every Academy Awards season, the Oscar nominations bring to the forefront a small film deemed to be "socially important," a film of supposedly searing insight into the human condition, a film that - in short - cannot be ignored. These movies often tell us more about the Hollywood elite (i.e., Academy voters) than they do about any real social condition.

This year's anointed picture is "Precious," often described in reviews as a fairly brutal depiction of the life of an obese and illiterate black teenager who has two children by her father. Films like "Precious" garner critical attention and Academy nods not as films -- the acclaim is not really for script, plot, direction or cinematography. "Precious" is celebrated for what it allegedly reveals to us about the hidden sides of society we choose not to see. But does it?

Gotta Love the Tea Party Crowd

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One of the few nice things about losing power around noon on Saturday during the blizzard, and not getting it back until 1 a.m. the next morning, was that I did not have to decide whether or not to watch the Tea Party Convention on C-Span. I was especially torn about watching Sarah Palin’s address to the assembled Tea Partiers. The reason for this ambivalence is essentially hereditary: My father is a bit of an ambulance chaser. He likes to see what is going on and can’t seem to tear his eyes away from a car wreck. If you are stuck in traffic because of rubber-necking as people watch the remains of an accident on the other side of the road, one of those rubber-neckers is my dad. Watching Palin address the Tea Party crowd promised to have all the high drama and the bloody mess of a car crash.

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August 29-September 11, 2014

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