Narcissism in Music (or, “How Gregorian Chant can Save the World”)

Friday, May 6, AD 2011

Last week National Public Radio ran a story called “Narcissism on Rise in Pop Music Lyrics.” It opened up with,

On this very day in 1985, the number one song on the Billboard Top 100 was…”We Are the World” (“We are the world. We are the children.”)  Fast-forward to 2007 when Timbaland’s “Give It to Me” featuring Nelly Furtado topped the charts: “…love my a$$ and my abs in the video for ‘Promiscuous.’ My style is ridiculous.”

So more than two decades ago, we were holding hands and swaying to a song of unity, and these days, we’re bouncing to pop stars singing about how fabulous they are.  Psychologist Nathan DeWall has had the pleasure of listening to it all for research, and he found that lyrics in pop music from 1980 to 2007 reflect increasing narcissism in society. And DeWall is an associate psychology professor at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. DeWall proceeded to explain:

I was listening to a song that, really, one of my favorite bands, Weezer, had on one of their albums recently, and it’s called “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” and I kept wondering, who would actually say that out loud?  “I am the greatest man that ever lived. I was born to give and give and give.”

The ironic thing is it’s a song about how I’m the greatest person in the world, but it’s to the tune of “‘Tis A Gift To Be Simple,” which is a song about humility. And so what I wanted to do, instead of relying on self-report measures of personality like narcissism, I wanted to actually go into our culture, our cultural products, which are tangible artifacts of our cultural environment. And so, for that, I thought maybe song lyrics would be a very good jumping-off spot.

What we found over time is that there’s an increasing focus on me and my instead of we and our and us. So, for example, instead of talking about love being between we and us and us finding new things together, it’s mostly about how, you know, for example, Justin Timberlake in 2006 said, “I’m bringing sexy back. Yeah. Them other boys don’t know how to act. Yeah.”

There is no doubt that DeWall is correct.  Pop music is becoming more narcissistic.  The broader, age old question is: Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?  The answer is probably some of both.  Our culture is increasingly narcissistic.  In the spirit of the NPR article, which was about music, I wish to propose a possible antidote for narcissism: the liturgy, specifically liturgical music.

Unfortunately, we must first distinguish between music that might be heard in any given liturgy and liturgical music, properly speaking.  While the Catholic Church has been plagued with bad versions of the four-hymn sandwich for decades, the fact remains that Holy Mother Church has given us a liturgical hymnbook: The Graduale Romanum,  In this book, one will find the ancient Gregorian chants.  But what many will be surprised to find is that the Church has given us specific chants for every Sunday of the year in the places that we currently sing “hymns.”  For any given Mass, there are prescribed chants for the Introit (think here of the “Opening Hymn” you are used to hearing), the Gradual (“Responsorial Psalm”), the Offertorio (“Offertory”), and the Communio (“Communion Song”).  Most of these date back more than a thousand years.  Of course, in the Graduale Romanum, one will find the chant written in Latin.  However, vernacular versions of these exist.  What is key is that the liturgical rubrics, while they permit hymns, call for a preference given to these chants.  Vatican II itself held that the Gregorian chant tradition should enjoy a “pride of place” in our liturgies.

Why do I see this as an antidote for narcissism?  The surest way to deal with this problem is to give people the sense that they are not the center of reality, nor are they the source.  The Cartesian turn to the subject has flipped classical metaphysics on its head so that people come to view reality as what is in their own minds rather than what their minds encounter on the outside.  The liturgy is a reality that is given to us, not one that is created by us.  In fact, it is in the liturgy itself that we find our own fulfillment.  When we go to Mass, we participate in reality itself, something that is much bigger than us.  If we see the Liturgy as something that we fit into rather than something that fits into our lives, we can come to understand that we are not the center of reality: God is.

The problem is, as has been observed on several observations over the past decade, there is an increasing narcissism even within the liturgy itself: both priests and people come to think that the liturgy is something that can be created and recreated with the fickle winds of changing culture.  In fact, the lack of narcissistic language in the new translation of the Roman Missal has been pointed out in comparison with the current, defective translation.  Currently, there are several places in the texts that seem to order God to do certain things and to give a primacy to the people over the divine.  The new translation, being more faithful to the Latin, has sought to correct many of these errors.  What remains to be fixed is the same problem in the hymns that are often chosen for Sunday worship.  Many of the modern hymns focus on man rather than God (think here of “Gather Us In,” or the ever-elusive “Sing a New Church Into Being”).  Quite simply, these hymns are self-centered rather than God-centered.

Contrast this with the use of the Graduale Romanum.  These chants have been given to us by the Church, each carefully constructed around sacred texts in order to serve as a sort of lectio divina for the readings of the day.  Indeed, when Gregorian chant is properly performed, it seems as if it is not of this world.  Part of that is due to the inherent structure of the music, for chant lacks a strict meter (though it has an internal rhythm of its own).  Unlike a hymn, which marches forward towards a climactic conclusion, chant allows the listener to rest in contemplation, a mirror of the eternity which we, God willing, will experience someday.  But another part is due to the words, which become primary (unlike modern pop music, where the words are often a later add-on to an already existing rhythm/chord structure).

Perhaps the most important point, however, is the fact that the music of the Mass inevitably (forgive the pun) sets the tone of the entire celebration.  It stands to reason, then, if we employ a music that is provided for us by the Church (not to mention encouraged by the rubrics), then the people will better understand that the liturgy itself is given and not created.  If they come to understand the liturgy, which is the objective center of reality, in this manner, then they will come to see that they are not the center of reality.  Thus, my rapid fire, probably incomplete, but hopefully coherent, argument that an antidote for the rise in narcissism is Gregorian Chant.  Save the liturgy, save the world.

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5 Responses to Narcissism in Music (or, “How Gregorian Chant can Save the World”)

AP's Article On The Catholic Blogosphere & NPR's Firing Of Juan Williams Are Par For The Course

Monday, October 25, AD 2010

National Public Radio’s ludicrous firing of Juan Williams and a subsequent mainstream media article on Catholic bloggers may seem to be two separate issues. Some may say what does the overwhelmingly conservative leaning Catholic blogosphere have in common with the liberal leaning Juan Williams? The answer is quite simple; both scare the mainstream media because Juan Williams and the majority of the Catholic blogosphere put forth interesting solutions to often discussed questions.

The modus operadi of some in the mainstream media is to find a couple of unnamed fringe Catholic bloggers, who few read, and then make them become bigger players than they really are. Combine this with a Juan Williams quote which most of America agrees with and voila you have it; the ultimate straw man from which you can tear apart any minority who appears on Fox News or any Catholic blogger who faithfully defends the teachings of the 2,000 year old Catholic Church.

In this Associated Press article on the Catholic blogosphere, the piece mentions Thomas Peters and Michael Voris (who is known for his videos not his blogging,) but focuses on harsh unnamed Catholic bloggers. The article quotes John Allen who calls elements of the Catholic blogosphere “Taliban Catholicism.” The highly respected Mr. Allen, who though working for the dissident leaning National Catholic Reporter, is often known for his many high ranking Church contacts and his fairness. He should have know better than to give the quote that he did. To take a few bloggers from the right (or even from the left) and call them the Catholic blogosphere is the type of journalism that would not pass muster for a high school paper, let alone the AP. This would be akin to taking the worst rated college or pro football team and telling the world this is the best of American football, or perhaps watching the Walla Walla Community theater production of Hamlet and saying this is Hamlet at its finest. John Allen should have realized where this article was going and chosen his words more carefully.

The AP article continues by naming a Church official who seems worried about the Catholic blogosphere. One wonders if the Church official would know the difference between Father John Zuhlsdorf from Father Richard McBrien, Amy Welborn from Aimee Semple McPherson, Mark Shea from Mark Sanford, Rocco Palmo from Rocco Mediate, or Tito Edwards from Tito Santana. I worked for years in a diocesan office and I have yet to meet, even in my travels, a diocesan official who is well versed in the blogosphere. It seems to be a generational thing and most diocesan officials are not to be confused with the younger, more conservative seminarians or young priests being ordained.

While some in the mainstream media snicker at the Pope and Magisterium (the teaching authority of the Catholic Church) they in reality have their own magisterium. In their secular magisterium anyone who believes in the Catholic Church’s authority is hopelessly outdated, because according to gatekeepers in the mainstream media, true thinkers are those in the dying liberal churches who don’t know what they believe. Sadly, GK Chesterton prophetically predicted this would happen. He said, “It’s not that atheists and agnostics believe in nothing, they believe in everything.” In modern parlance, “It’s all good.” How sad that some who proclaim to be “open minded” can’t see the obvious; liberal Christianity is dying on the vine.”

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19 Responses to AP's Article On The Catholic Blogosphere & NPR's Firing Of Juan Williams Are Par For The Course

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  • Keep preaching brother!

    I nominate the following excerpt to be the quote of year here at The American Catholic.

    “One wonders if the Church official would know the difference between Father John Zuhlsdorf from Father Richard McBrien, Amy Welborn from Aimee Simple McPherson, Mark Shea from Mark Sanford, Rocco Palmo from Rocco Mediate, or Tito Edwards from Tito Santana.”

  • Nothing to “wonder” about. The answers are self-evident.

  • Well said, excellent, wonderful!

  • Uh…it’s “magisterium.”

    Good piece, though.

    🙂

    -Theo

  • It’s not clear to me that Allen was interviewed for the AP story. He was using “Taliban Catholics” in his own writing at least as far back as February.

  • Great piece with good insight. I especially like your quote about people not knowing the difference between Catholic bloggers and others.

    One note: Allen’s quote reveals more about himself than it does about Catholic blogging or orthodox Catholics. For all those who believe him to be fair, you might want to read his work more closely and don’t forget that he chooses to work for the dissident Reporter. His work displays some real blind spots.

  • It’s just funny that in article that to some extent is bemoaning in the incivility of the blogosphere, the term “Taliban Catholic” is so casually tossed about as though there is nothing uncivil about that comparison.

    But that, of course, is par for the course for people who yelp the loudest about tone and the harshness of dialogue. What it really is is an attempt to change the topic and avoid having to defend indefensible positions.

  • Defending the indefensible?

    As in an article that defends the civility of Michael Sean Winters but paints Catholics who are righteously standing up and saying enough as fringe.

    30-40 thousand readers a month may be ‘nobody reading’ to you, but I think it is enough to get an army of Catholics to get folks who espouse the opinions of dissent, silenced.

    It is half past time we take our parishes and schools back.

    We’ll look forward to more armchair criticism from you.

    Carry on.

  • Someone should ask John Allen when was the last time a Catholic blogger destroyed millenia-old works of art. Or shot a woman in the back of the head as halftime entertainment at a soccer match. Or sponsored terrorists who flew airplanes into buildings killing 3000 people.

    For the life of me, I’ll never understand why people who should know better consider John Allen to be “fair”. “Fair” people don’t make such idiotic comparisons.

  • We’ll look forward to more armchair criticism from you.

    Umm, what? I was critiquing the Allen quote and the condescending tone of the AP article, not Dave’s post.

  • Please, please, please – check your spell-check and correct “magEsterium” to “magIsterium”. The word comes from the Latin – magister.

  • Paul,

    Yes, my comments were about the article, not your comments which I completely agree with and thank you for stepping up to the plate to say.

  • p.s. I am not of the opinion that the article had coded message in it that needed to be cracked.

    There are many of us that are finished with letting teachers and priests preach and teach dissent and we area shutting it down by exposing what is going on with teaching, sanctifying and governing.

    Writing intellectual treatises on the internet is swell but it is not helping our children down at the local school being hoodwinked by Sister Mary Wear the Pants and Fr. Hehirtic. We have had to flee from our parishes, pull our children out of schools.

    What are we running from? It’s time to go back and demand our religion be taught.

    1. Pour through every bulletin and expose every problem, naming names and exercising your gifts by explaining the theological problems and consequences to our children.

    2. Start holding the priest accountable.

    3. If the priest won’t be held accountable, go to the Bishop.

    4. If the Bishop won’t be accountable, go to the Nuncio.

    5. If the Nuncio won’t hold them accountable, go to the Holy See.

    Round up as many in your area who are willing to do it.

    If in time, they do not intercede and do something to stop the people poisining the wells our children are drinking from, start a campaign to hold up the money on the annual Bishops appeal.

    Build it and they will flee.

    People may call it harsh. People like this author will call it fringe. Whatever hits you have to take from the author of this article on The American Catholic or anyone in the AP – Do it anyway.

    :O)

  • Anna, I do hope your not talking about me as being part of the dissent, or just sitting at my computer composing essays while Rome burns. I do think my bona fides as a writer, educator (working in the Church and taking a lot of heat from Church liberals) etc should fit pass muster. I would hope so anyone, considering how many nasty names I have been called by the liberals in the Church. If I have misinterpreted your remarks, please forgive me. However, it would appear to me that you think this article is somehow not orthodox enough. I don’t know how that is possible. It would seem to me that the first three or four commentors (among others) like what I have to say. Anyway, God Bless & take care!

  • David,

    I actually never knew you existed before I found your article, but I can see that you are not a dissident.

    It has been such a refuge to come to the internet and read solid opinions. But we need those opinions to get into our schools and parishes and it is time to do something a little different.

    As a Boston activist who is part of the blogging community described in the AP, those of us on the ground doing this difficult ministry not only get called ‘names’ by dissidents, we are undermined by people on the right, sitting staring at their computers using their orthodoxy and bonafides to take cheap shots at us.

    ” to find a couple of unnamed fringe Catholic bloggers, who few read, and then make them become bigger players than they really are. ”

    Is blogosphere a game of “who is the bigger player”? Is it about chumming around with folks who post comments telling you how great you are?

    Oh wait…

    Look, I’ve done my share of years of writing and defending the Magisterium.

    But you know what we realized?

    Not a single dissident in our children’s schools been removed from teaching children by the things we are writing on the internet (myself included)

    A lot of us have been parish shopping for ten years.

    It’s time to go to plan b.

    I can appreciate your frustration with the article that they failed to recognize the big wazoos who have been banging away at their keyboards. But the work we are doing is critical new work and the author of the AP article knew more about that then you did!

    Nobody on the ground is a threat to your thunder. We will not be competing in who is the greatest of them all contests. At ease.

    We are people who are trying to focus getting orthodoxy to our own children, family and friends while you bang away at your ministry doing it for people in the com boxes. Not as worthy as the work you are doing, but it is nonetheless, worthy work that did not deserve your cheap shot.

    The kicker was your respectful attitude towards John Allen, who in between working with Joan Chittister, Tom Roberts, Michael Sean Winters and Bishop Gumbleton (talk about fringe!) serving up poison to Christ’s souls, characterized parents fed up with dissent that is continuously being taught no matter how much you write with concerns to your Bishop, as lecherous murderers.

  • Goodness Anna I think the liberals have got the best of you. I spoke kindly of John Allen? I took him to task for his comment. I only said he was respected by many. Have you ever read what Father Zuhlsdorf says about John Allen? Father Z calls him “his friend and highly respected.” Do you think Father Z has gone wobbly too?

    I understand what you must be going through living in Boston. You may remember that I mentioned in my article that my childhood parish was scourged with not only one priest sent to the slammer for molestation, but two. Some of those these two deviants molested were my friends, so believe me I don’t need any lectures on that subject.

    I would suggest you take some time to pray over the whole matter, calling those that are on your side not wholly orthodox doesn’t help. God Bless & take care!

  • David,

    I must not be making myself clear.

    I have the greatest respect for Fr. Z. But I disagree with his characterizations of John Allen. I am NOT attacking Fr. Z or his orthodoxy. Nor, am I attacking your orthodoxy. Nor am I attacking you.

    Phew.

    There is no need to be defensive. Be at peace.

    The AP wrote an article about a new ministry in the Church and your reaction to it was a knee-jerk.
    Look here:

    ” to find a couple of unnamed fringe Catholic bloggers, who few read, and then make them become bigger players than they really are. ”

    The good people in Boston are getting off their fannies and taking our schools and parishes and chancery back. That’s what the article was about.

    What is it about that you wouldn’t embrace?

  • Anna, there is nothing about what you said that I wouldn’t embrace. God Bless you and the good people of Boston who are helping turn the tide. May God Be With You All!

Radio Personality: Members of the Opposing Party Should be Denied Health Care

Friday, October 2, AD 2009

Garrison KeillorYesterday Rush Limbaugh said that Democrats should be denied health care.  No, no, wrong radio personality!   If Rush had said anything that stupid, rest assured that you wouldn’t have had to wait to read about it on this blog to learn of it.  The networks would have been shouting the news and condemnatory editorials would have been thundering from newspapers coast to coast.  Instead it was just Garrison Keillor, National Public Radio’s Mark Twain wannabe, who decided that there are just too darn many Republicans and by gosh something should be done about it.  (As they would doubtless phrase a call for gopcide in Lake Wobegon.)  Writing in the Chicago Tribune,  Keillor has this charming sentiment:

When an entire major party has excused itself from meaningful debate and a thoughtful U.S. senator like Orrin Hatch no longer finds it important to make sense and an up-and-comer like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty attacks the president for giving a speech telling schoolchildren to work hard in school and get good grades, one starts to wonder if the country wouldn’t be better off without them and if Republicans should be cut out of the health-care system entirely and simply provided with aspirin and hand sanitizer. Thirty-two percent of the population identifies with the GOP, and if we cut off health care to them, we could probably pay off the deficit in short order.

Denying health care on the basis of political ideology.  Nice guy.  Of course Keillor was merely joking.  He has a long history of hating Republicans,   but I am sure he merely jokes, and perhaps fantasizes, about the deaths of those who have the temerity of disagreeing with him politically and in reality he would never harm a fly.  At least a Democrat fly.

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38 Responses to Radio Personality: Members of the Opposing Party Should be Denied Health Care

  • Keillor is a typical “progressive” idiot. He has a platform and a reputation bought with out tax dollars and he acts as thought that gives him the right to do our thinking for us. God save us from such fools.

    By the way, where did he acquire the reputation for being a humorist? I have tried on several occasions to listen to his radio show and found only low grade witticism no better than what fellow workers produce freely in the course of the workday. And if I’m driving, I am constantly in danger of being put to sleep and driving off the road.

  • I confess Jim that my wife and I in the mid to late eighties listened to Prairie Home Companion. We stopped, partially due to the politics that began seeping in, but mostly because Keillor simply was recycling the same gags and skits in the show with minor variations. It got boring to us, a cardinal sin when your goal is entertainment.

  • I remember coming across the show quite by accident in the mid-80’s. Keillor was talking about being raised in the austere sect of the Plymouth Brethren and his secret boyhood wish to be Catholic (specifically an Italian Catholic – red wine, spaghetti, paintings of nekkid ladies, and “Let’s do the motorola!”) I laughed so hard I cried.

    I think the politics began seeping in because there is only so much material you can squeeze out of Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery and a small handful of characters. How many Norwegian farmer jokes can you do?

  • Oh, and it’s one thing to bring politics into the show, but Keillor has gotten increasingly bitter and spiteful about it. For a guy who places such a high value on “being nice to each other” – well, apparently conservatives are barely human (we’re all rich and greedy too), so there’s no need to be nice to them.

  • I recall that one Donna! Keillor definitely had his moments.

  • Keillor used to be pretty funny — mostly back before he started retiring with a big farewell episode every year and then coming back again. (Which was, what, 15-20 years ago?) Though even then there was a certain amount of off-key political ranting about Reagan.

    Well I remember the NPR lineup of Prairie Home Companion, following by the BBC imports My Word and then My Music. Ah, youth…

    But this editorial piece of his is just moronic. And then, of course, we have the Democratic congressman from Florida calling saying we need to pass the Obama bill now in order to stop the holocaust.

  • I peg the date that Keillor stopped being even remotely funny and started being a partisan hack at roughly November 1994. He completely went off the deep end and became unbearable to listen to right about 1998.

  • I think some folks here are being lead around on their nose by their ideology. Feigning may be a skill in court, but it is tiresome in writing. I also find it interesting that you don’t just have to disagree with Keillor’s column, but you also can’t find him funny, entertaining, or even like him.

  • I think some folks here are being lead around on their nose by their ideology.

    Unlike you, of course, who is the world’s last independent thinker. Never mind your recent penchant for defending any piece of left-wing agitprop, no matter how silly or offensive. Oh, if only the world had as many courageous, independent minds like Mz Discalced Yooper Forrest.

  • That one should be left up to show how the intelligentsia thinks.

  • “Old men shouldn’t be allowed to doze off at the switch and muck up the works for the young who will have to repair the damage. Get over yourselves. Your replacements have arrived, and you should think about them now and then.” Keillor

    Though given M.Z.’s last comment perhaps its the middle aged that should take over.

  • I deleted MZ’s use of the colloquial term for fornication and e’s quotation of the same. I trust that people can express their thoughts adequately without using some of the language prized by the felons I defend in criminal matters.

  • Donald (?):

    Thanks for cleaning up M.Z.’s mess.

    M.Z.:

    You’re fortunate that the TAC moderators were kind enough to wipe that little expletive of yours off the record. You might want to exercise a little more retraint. To resort to such profanity can only worsen your case, not to mention, reveals certain aspects of your character, too.

    God bless.

  • Donald: So it was you! Just wanted to bring to the attention of the TAC moderators that little expletive of M.Z..

    I appreciate greatly how promptly you attended to it. Needless to say, such profanity is undeserving a place here at TAC.

    I find it ironic that just a little while ago, Vox Nova, of which M.Z. & Michael Iafrate are part, looked down on such comments as these and even devoted an entry to address the matter with such supposedly noble intention that they would hitherto not allow that kind of foul commentary on their blogs.

    I guess that doesn’t apply to the Vox Novans themselves as far as their own participation goes on other blogs.

  • I knew your intentions were honorable e.

  • If you’re going to go to the trouble of taking down my comment, take them all down, and at least remove my name from Paul’s comment.

  • Nothin’ like some good ad hominems

  • I have no idea of what has transpired in the past 90 minutes, but if MZ would no longer have his full name associated with his comments, then it’s fine by me if you delete that portion of my comment.

  • MZ I have no problem with Paul’s comment or a rejoinder from you so long as no language better left to lock ups is used.

  • Uhhhh… Paul, I believe that little expletive of M.Z., which subsequently followed your comments, was meant for you.

    I can’t be sure, but perhaps it was something you said that enraged him so?

  • e:

    I have no idea what MZ said in response to my comment. I went out for lunch and came back and saw only the aftermath of the controversy.

  • If I see either of you in real life, you’ll regret it.

  • M.Z.

    Was that a threat?

    Hopefully, Paul hasn’t divulged his personal information or the results could prove disastrous.

  • Now my comments make less sense. But they’re still billiant!

  • Yes, e, the *natural* reading of “If I ever see either of you in real life, you’ll regret it” is a physical–albeit conditional and not immediate–threat.

    Having been repeatedly accused of issuing a threat myself (since graciously retracted by the accuser), I hold out hope for another explanation.

  • e.,

    Please stop provoking M.Z. You can say the same thing without having to use certain adjectives and adverbs.

  • Hold on, now —

    Before M.Z. sics his mafia hitmen on me, let me just say that it was Paul who provoked M.Z.’s ire; not me.

    I only entered into the scene because I deplored M.Z.’s subsequent comment to him which contained uncalled-for profanity.

  • e.,

    I know what you’re saying, just being your friendly taco tracker and making sure this doesn’t escalate anymore.

  • Before M.Z. sics his mafia hitmen on me, let me just say that it was Paul who provoked M.Z.’s ire; not me.

    Oh come on e, that’s just not fair. I now have to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, hoping against hope that some crazed albino assassin doesn’t whack me while I’m out for a stroll along the Potomac. For the love of humanity, one of his co-bloggers knows exactly where I am every Sunday morning. What chance do I have?

    Time to write that will.

  • Back to GK’s statement. I get the humor and don’t mind it at all. I just don’t get the math. He seems to forget that the 32% self-identified GOPers pretty much pay for their own health care insurance and are almost certainly aggregate net contributors to the care of the other 68%. No money to be saved there unless one expects the GOPers to pay for nothing, which as I think about is probably just shorthand for the public option.

  • Thank you Mike for bringing this back to the post. All further comments on this thread, please focus them upon the post.

  • There’s nothing more spiteful and mean then a Liberal that’s been disagreed with!

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  • Reading this blog entry has made me choose to abandon this blog altogether. There are so many things in this world to complain about – why don’t you choose one of the real ones?

  • Suit yourself LTN. This is a fairly eclectic blog when it comes to what we write about, and part of our blog brief is to write about American culture and politics.

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