July 15, 2014

Strange Gods v. iGods Faceoff

Came across a new book that would seem to cover the ground that Elizabeth Scalia already scoped out in her "Strange Gods".  This one, also written from a Christian perspective, is called (more felicitously I thought than Scalia's): "iGods".

The author said something I'd seen elsewhere, something perhaps a bit unsatisfying given the somewhat murky division between occasionally and more than occasionally:
Most idols begin as good things...When we shift from thinking about something occasionally (a romantic relationship, a promotion, a possession, our family) to obsessing over it constantly, we are turning an idea into an idol. It becomes the thing we cling to, that gives our life purpose and meaning. Idols are anything we're so attached to that we can't imaging living without... What would we hate to lose and feel lost without?  Where do our thoughts wander in our free time?

July 14, 2014


Read more of Jack Gilbert's poetry. Oh but I'm going to be powerful sad when the book is done, as it shortly will be. For whatever reason I seem to have lost the Cummings bug, at least momentarily. Just a bit too cryptic and “cute” for me, the punctuation feels a bit gimmicky over time and it just makes me appreciate Gilbert's no nonsense, more prose-y approach more. I like that Gilbert brings up religious subjects.

Some excerpts from this a.m:
There is a film on water which permits a glass to hold more than it can hold. If probed, the water breaks. Before and after, both are truly water. But only one will support swans.
Deep, man.

And in its entirety (without line breaks unfortunately since this is a cut & paste from Kindle):

They have Mary’s wedding ring in the Cathedral. I was eager to see it, but learned it is kept fastened in a box which requires keys carried by the district’s three main officials. The box is locked seven times in a chest and the keys held by their chief guilds. The chest is sealed in the wall of the nave, thirty feet in the air. Stairs are built to it just once a year. It is a very holy relic, and I assumed they feared thieves. Today, when I asked of it, I learned it is magic. The color changes according to the soul before it. Then I understood about the locks. The ring is not being protected. It is locked in.

So we're right in the sweet ache of summer, smack dab. It's still early July or at least mid-July, and I take comfort in that even though in the back of my mind I think it's never quite the same after the Fourth of July. It's that tissue thin difference between a woman of, say, 24 and one of 30. There's never enough summer (or youth) unless you live in L.A., and even some of those folks think they have seasons.

Jogged the Goodale route this time, around the park and the large pond with the spouting elephants. The beauty of the fountain in the sun, the statuary of the elephants, their trunks jaunty in the air, made for a breathtaking scene. Reminds me of some of the great shots of Fountain Square in Cincy as shown before some Reds games. Who does not love a fountain in summer? Certainly everyone in Rome…

Later I headed out to the local bike path where I had one of those old-fashioned long (for me) bike rides. Took the trail to the beautiful white farm house, turned right and took the next left, onto the quintessential rural road. Squint your eyes and you'd swear you were in Glynnwood, Ohio, aka God's country. I rolled down the road listening to music on the headphones, including a satisfyingly country/drinking (redundant?) song.

Then took our dog Buddy on a quick ten-minute walk at the park after confronting an orange traffic barrier with a sign saying Beware Aggressive Bird. Wow, that's something I've never seen before in my whole life. I guess if you live long enough you'll see everything. The bird ended up being less aggressive than advertised; with that announcement I was expecting, and half-hoping, to get dive-bombed. I was ready for battle; I would take on any bird using my comparatively large size to my advantage.

The red-winged blackbird was certainly loud and obnoxious, cackling overhead loudly and “escorting” me along the bridge but it wasn't exactly out of Hitchcock's The Birds and no humans (or dogs) were harmed during the walk.

It's funny to see how presumably a fear of lawsuits or safety-mania now involves putting up a sign to warn of a bird (maybe it's a terrorist bird?). I think with safety, as with wealth, (or the welfare state) there seems no natural stopping point: you're never rich or safe enough. It's also partly generational since each generation has an expectation of greater safety and wealth. Certainly I expect safer working conditions than were prevalent in the early 1900s, and no doubt my grandchildren will expect their children to wear not just helmets but full football-gear/pads for a bike or car ride. And no doubt their houses will likely be a lot bigger than mine.


Arguably these are the stages of enlightenment -- in order of increasing difficulty for people to believe --:  a) there is a God, b) He loves us c) He's still with us in Communion, really present and d) his Spirit is within us and our neighbor.


Watched the action-packed finale of 24. Tight season with a sad, heart-rending ending: President Heller, diagnosed with Alzheimer's, comes to terms with the tragic death of his daughter by realizing pretty soon he would forget her death or that he even had a daughter. Alzheimer's has about it a special cruelty of loss, though in one sense it just makes God that much more amazing given that He's going to make it right, and not just make it right but bring some spectacular good out of it. I suppose if we didn't see the depths of earth how would we know the heights of God?  A rescue is no rescue if it's not from danger.


Enraptured by a picture taken of our glorious backyard during the sun-zenith, and realized just how rare a feeling it is, to be out in the yard under those circumstances. Definitionally it can only happen on weekends and holidays, and most holidays seem to be occluded with social or other obligations. So that leaves just Saturdays in June, July and August and naturally it'll be cloudy or rainy for some of them (at least in "Cloudumbus"). So out of 365 days there are maybe twelve max non-vacation days I'm appreciating full sun at some point between 10am and 2pm in our backyard.

Ha, from Life of Johnson (I beg to differ!):
[Johnson] again advised me to keep a journal fully and minutely, but not to mention such trifles as, the meat was too much or too little done, or that the weather was fair or rainy. He had, till very near his death, a contempt for the notion that the weather affects the human frame.

July 11, 2014

Let Us Arise and Go to... Cleveland?

Well, this is good and surprising news.  I'll love being able to watch arguably the greatest athlete on the planet any time he plays (since Columbus cable package includes Cleveland pro sports).  Bank error in my favor.

Reading that story, it's kind of surreal that Lebron James could put aside the seeming bridge-burning of the Cleveland owner four years ago.  I may be a sap but I found that SI Lebron essay linked above downright inspiring.

July 10, 2014

The Insouciance of Summer

Looks like could be one of Betty Duffy's kids ('cept for the cig)

Minor league baseball


The arc of 'bow

"If sensuous beauty delights you, praise God for the beauty of corporeal things, and channel the love you feel for them onto their Maker, lest the things that please you lead you to displease him." - St. Augustine

"This woman….often reminded me of something Samuel Johnson said of pretty ladies: they might be foolish, they might be wicked, but beauty was of itself very estimable." - Saul Bellow, "Humboldt's Gift"

June 24, 2014

Shortish Takes

Listened to a bit of Brian Lamb's podcast with Bernard Tate, the British chap who's worked for CSPAN for 25+ years and is retiring. He was C-Span's man in London and talked about British distinctives, like the eccentric House of Commons guy who hollers out a snarky line every year when the Queen “demands” (as the script goes) that the House of Commons go to the House of Lords in order to meet with the Queen. No fan of royalty, he'll make a complaint about royal expenses, like the Jubilee celebration coming on the heels of the Great Recession. Oh those crazy Britons.


On Saturday made the drive to Cincy and we rode bikes along the Ohio River for a mile or so till we hit the stadium. I hadn't been to a Reds game in years, maybe five? - and the length and width and breadth sort of the baseball cathedral sort of took my breath away. I'd gotten so used to the small confines of our minor league park in Columbus that it was sort of astonishing to see how big everything was here, and how packed the sold-out game was. Everything first class - the tall stacks, the craft beer choices, the nooks and crannies of alternate entertainment options within the ballpark (such as a small astroturf'd whiffle ball field for kids). Just outside the park they had a rose garden with a white rose marking the exact spot Pete Rose's 4192 hit came. Pretty impressive all around.


A spit in the eye of utilitarianism came from a book review of a book on reading offering the following:
You must conclude [her reading] stunt useless - and wonderfully so. There is something freeing in that uselessness, particularly at this moment, when so manny act as though reading were a civic duty, good only for its power to teach empathy or improve job performance.
The New Yorker piece continues:
It is a decidedly contemporary feeling, this feeling of missing out (FOMO)…And what about the books right in front of you? My own bookshelves are filled with books I haven't read, and books I read so long ago that they look at me like strangers. Can you have FOMO about your own life? Reading more books begins at home.
It occurred to me to wonder why it is that perfectly wasteful occupations seemed such a salutary pursuit when I was a boy, pursuits that either paid or unpaid were almost designed not to make a splash?  My habit of collecting things illustrated that.  What is more useless than collecting colored pieces of paper (stamps and baseball cards)?  Why did steady, low-profile occupations also attract me?  I tend to think partially due to weak faith - I didn't feel worthy of being called to something greater and (also indicative of weak faith), I desired financial security.

I think part of it was a reaction to the folly of ambition, of all the "dress for success" books out then, of the whole gamesmanship part of it.  I wanted to opt out and be judged objectively on merits, not on personal presentation, hence I hated the idea of schmoozing but loved the idea of accountancy or being a mailman. The numbers add up - or they don't.  The mail gets delivered - or it doesn't.  Part of the reason I changed my major in college was I began to understand that the green eye-shade bookkeepers of yesteryear were becoming a figment of our imagination, that even accountants had to present an image, had to be outgoing, had to, at least at some firms, move up or move out.

I always liked those stories of eccentric men in Ripley's Believe It or Not! who collected every newspaper from the last thirty years.  Or who diligently collected on tape the birdsongs of two hundred calls.  There seemed something of a spit in the eye of pragmatism.  Surely part of the appeal was my own introverted tendencies.  I liked nothing more than the thought of long nights in a carrel of a library; I wanted, in essence, to be a "professional student".

Even the great Samuel Johnson spent years on a dictionary which seems, perhaps in retrospect, slight use of his prodigious talents.  How many lives were changed by a dictionary?  How many people said, "I read the dictionary back when I was twenty and it changed my life."  Life-change is where the action is, and it's certainly right where the gospel is.  Metanoia is everything in the NT.

There's a continuum of course - the man collecting newspapers is a less worthy enterprise, it would seem, than Samuel Johnson's quest, which is less worthwhile than Ronald Knox's translation of the Bible, which is arguably less worthy than a papal encyclical.

What I'm getting at is wondering how you can waste time without injuring eternity. We are called to be junior St. Paul's and so it seems kind of crazy to spend time in philately.  Better than fellatio I suppose.  But it is sort of remarkable how few saints were collectors of anything save "treasure in Heaven" as the gospel from today went.  (Who, I wonder, is the patron saint of philately? Surely no one but I will google it -- well, omg as the kids say.  St Gabriel the Archangel is supposedly the patron saint of stamp collectors, presumably on the strength of his being sent, like a letter.)

Speaking of treasure in Heaven, the deacon-homilist at St. Pat's is awesomely gentle.  He boldly interpreted our Lord's words in rather surprising fashion, saying that by "treasure in Heaven" it's not helpful to think of it as a pile of good deeds, a big pile of merit, that we either cumulate or not (with bad deeds subtracting from the pile) and with our Heavenly place depending on the size of our cache.  No, he said we should look at it as something we already have, that the "treasure in Heaven" is within you and me by virtue of the  gift of our Baptism. Very hope-inspiring.


It's still slightly surreal to see "Pride" banners around town.  Odd times we live in.  Our company went so far as to actually have a "Pride" table in the entrance to cafeteria, with two people there presumably to answer questions about the Pride club.

It's interesting to see the 180 degree turn from when I was a kid.  Then gays in school were persecuted.  Now they're celebrated -- the Columbus Library tweeted today a list of gay books for toddlers, of the "Heather Has Two Mommies" variety. We swing from extreme to extreme.

I think you see the tendency to overdo past wrongs not only with the election of Obama, a candidate with nothing going for him but skin color and a decent way with words, and also to some extent in fathers.  Back in the day, fathers had it easy.  Now - presumably because a lot of present-day-parents felt bereft of fatherly interaction - they are going to the other extreme such that missing Jimmy's 28th ballgame of the month is seen as bad parenting.

Balance seems to be something we human beings have real difficulty with.


There's the famous saying that “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer”. And I've certainly seen it in action. But how much of this is simply the result, for good or ill, of the power of compounding?

Compounding means that those in debt will tend to get more in debt due to spending on debt servicing, and those with assets will tend to acquire more assets since assets often generate wealth. Shouldn't the phrase “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” be always followed with “so don't get into any more debt than you have to.”  Easier said than done of course.


Good FB comment on the wonderful Cat Hodge's feed:
Do you feel guilty when you have a negative reaction to something a saint wrote or said? I used to but it's happened so often that I don't anymore… I figure that either I am seeing something out of context and can't evaluate it, or that it's good in itself (the Church says so) but not meant for me because of my personality or situation in life.
I was kind of glad to see that several on her feed aren't attracted to St. Jose Escriva; I do fall into that camp. Which is why I sold my “Escriva Bible”, the Navarre, a few months ago. Cat mentions how she's put off by St. Pio after hearing that he scolded a woman for going to Confession immodestly dressed. Interesting how people react to different saints. But understandable given we're all different, with different sensitive areas. Different paths to our heart and conscience.

Last night was elated to find that Garry Wills wrote a book on Chesterton. As much as I loathe Garry Wills' heterodoxies, I can't help but be impressed over his erudition. A formidable foe. I half-fear reading it since it might undermine my appreciation for Gilbert, but on the other hand there's this feeling that I've got to know what the opposition thinks or else I'm, in some sense, blind in one eye.


So you know you have too many books if you end up buying a book you already have. A tell-tale sign as it were. In this case I was about to pick up Peter Brown's biography of St. Augustine when I thought I'd just better check that invaluable website, LibraryThing.com, where all my books are cataloged. And I was pleased to find it, and even more pleased to actually locate the physical copy after some bookroom searching. Found not one but three biographies of Augustine, which is a bit much given I haven't read any yet. I've read a biography of Aquinas; I owe it to myself to read Augustine, seeing how these are the two giants that go a large part of what Catholicism is. And they complement one another; Augustinian pessimism and Aquinas optimism. I can't find much of what Chesterton wrote on Augustine. I wonder if the optimist GKC leaned towards the optimist Aquinas over the pessimist Augustine.

And in the secret way
If human hearts, where in the sordid street
The modern slave, and master dumbly meet
And in the other's eyes
Each, unaware, beholds the eyes of God,
That ever after burn and scrutinize…

-Percy MacKaye

Obama & Clinton Obligatory Vent

There's a cumulative effect at work with my Obama-disgust: Each of these upped the ante: 1) the way the health care bill was passed 2) the bigoted "guns and religion clinging" comment 3) the HHS anti-religious liberty mandate 4) Benghazi (for the cover-up, not for the fact that he was incompetent with respect to defending the embassy)  5) NSA spying and eavesdropping on Germany's Merkel  6) IRS scandal, i.e. calling it a "phony" scandal.

And Hillary? She's starts in huge deficit of course. But unlike with Obama there's some sort of weird voodoo she's casting. I can't turn my eyes away from her during these book-tour interviews. Just going on Fox News was something of an ask for forgiveness. It's just penny dreadful that we'll surely have to put up with her for a term or two as Prez. I can't quite turn my head away because it's a man-bites-dog story given that she wants something from me/us: i.e. book sales and a potential vote. Come inauguration day we'll like be treated as pond scum. Ah politics! What a perfect waste of a good attitude!

June 06, 2014


From the New Jerusalem Bible footnotes on the recent readings from John chapter 17:
It was Jesus' mission to reveal the 'Name', i.e. the person, of the Father; now love for all people is a characteristic of the Father, and he proves this love by delivering up his only Son; it follows that all people must believe that Jesus is the Son, if they are to appreciate this love; and thus 'know' the Father. 

June 05, 2014

Favorite Scripture

Interesting to read this from Tim at Catholic Bibles:
As part of this blog tour, I have been asked to comment on chapter nine, which focuses on St. Paul. I was very delighted to get to write a bit on St. Paul. When I ask people what their favorite part of scripture, I often hear one of three things: 1) The Psalms; 2) The Gospel of John; 3) Paul. Notice I didn't say which letter of Paul, but simply Paul. I have found that Paul has touched so many people who are daily Bible readers, Catholic or Protestant, that often they are unable to pick which of his letters they like best. It would be like selecting your favorite child. I have often felt the same way. Those thirteen letters of St. Paul provide us a rich insight into understanding the Church, how to live as Christians, the role of Grace and Faith, and, put simply, Jesus Christ himself. As Hahn says: "When we read them, we sometimes feel as if we're being propelled forward by a hurricane, a tidal wave, or some other force of nature. But it's even stronger than that, because it's a force of Grace (104)." And as Hahn points out, when we read those letters, or hear them in the liturgy, we are exposing ourselves to that same powerful force (105).
Timely for me in part because I recently snarked in my journal:
Hour in the evangelical church was heartfelt, if a bit Hallmark-y. Readings from the Psalms and Paul's letters, and why not? The gospels, other than John 3:16, aren't quite as beloved in many circles as St. Paul.

What amazes me about Popes Francis and Benedict is they encourage without cloying. And I'm deeply grateful for how the liturgy allows the priest to more or less disappear, how the focus becomes God and not the priest. Except for the homily, the words the priest says are not his own and thus our inner critic need not emerge. We can truly pray. When I hear extemporaneous prayer at a non-Catholic church spoken by the minister I'm always sensitive to “how he's doing” (how fluid he sounds) rather than actually praying. Though I assume that's something I'd get over with practice.

June 03, 2014

Equinoxical Splendor

Amazing quality of light these days:

The return of greenery and equinoxical light makes for an almost unbearable beauty, even, perhaps, exhausting beauty?

Various & Sundry

Check out the electrically charged wisdom of St Jerome (showing again that intimacy is not optional):
It is hard for the human soul to avoid loving something, and our mind must of necessity give way to affection of one kind or another. The love of the flesh is overcome by the love of the spirit. Desire is quenched by desire. What is taken from the one increases the other. Therefore, as you lie on your couch, say again and again: “By night have I sought Him whom my soul loveth.” (Song of Songs 3)
He waxes poetic amid the asceticism:
Be like the grasshopper and make night musical. Nightly wash your bed and water your couch with your tears. Watch and be like the sparrow alone upon the housetop…Say to yourself: “What have I to do with the pleasures of sense that so soon come to an end? What have I to do with the song of the sirens so sweet and so fatal to those who hear it?”
And one more:
Born, in the first instance, of such parentage we are naturally black, and even when we have repented, so long as we have not scaled the heights of virtue, we may still say: “I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.”

Author Tom Robbins writes in his memoir about being born on the cusp of Cancer and Leo, on July 22nd, and how his Cancer half wants to “live in a cave like a hermit and rarely come out.”

Astrology is frowned upon by the Church, but only, as I understand, to the extent we use it to discern the future or see the stars as superior to or replacement to God, rather than simply used to understand ourselves better. But while it seems nonsensical and irrational that the very month/day you were born could matter in personality, I certainly seem a fit to the Cancer astrological sign given my own hermetic tendencies. Perhaps it's not so irrational anyway. For one thing, there's often an underlying wisdom to ancient thought or custom that only becomes evident to science much later. And secondly, would it be so odd that someone conceived in the autumn and who grows in the womb during the cold, bitter months of winter, picks up some of the hibernatory feelings of his mother and father? The baby in the womb is far from insensate of maternal emotions and the winter is, normally, a less social time.

More from Robbins, in an interview:
I particularly like [writing] on rainy days with the skylight up above and the rain pouring down. There is something really cozy about it and comforting, and it has a tendency to turn one inward, to make one introspective and get down into what Hume calls “the bottom of the bottom of the soul.” The rain, it stimulates my literary juices.
If the astrological signs have any truth, and I'm not saying they do of course, then it seems the would apply as well to Jesus given he was fully human. The downside is we don't know when Jesus was born. Based on biblical and other evidence, John the Baptist's birth (based on his father Zechariah's time as High Priest) and other data, September is the mostly likely month of his birth, making Jesus most likely Virgo:
Virgo exists in the mind, everything is inside. To the world, Virgo presents a calm and collected exterior but on the inside, nervous uncontrolled intensity in the mind, trying to figure things out, how to improve everything, analyzing and thinking. Virgo has a constant drive to improve and perfect, this can lead to extreme pickiness and finickiest. They are pure, their motives are honest never malicious and they want to accomplish something.
Certainly that desire for improvement and perfection and wanting to accomplish something seems much like Jesus. And to the world he certainly presented a calm and collected exterior but one that matched interiorly.

What's interesting to me about natural inclinations is how much God intends them to be operative. Despite the fact that Creation is good, the flesh is weak and the spirit prized, so I'm not sure how much we should honor or accept the flesh. I guess the catholic view is grace builds on nature, rather than replacing it.


So, it's always feels like a whole different world when the boys come over. Our quiet-as-a-monastery home gets filled with hustle and bustle, laughter and tears. Filled with life in other words. It certainly feels like time is suspended or in some way altered. My consciousness raised or lowered, ha, I'm not sure which.

We started goldenly, with Kentucky Fried Chicken (I'm sticking to revered old name and not the KFC- initials abomination that strips pride of place). We ate out at our picnic table in “the forest” at the back of our lot. I'm always impressed by the different look and feel of simply sitting somewhere other than on our back patio. Whole different perspective.

What I've learned about children aged 2-4 is the tremendous amount of personality they possess, even at such an absurdly young age. The other thing that occurs to me is the incredible amount of learning and life lessons they will need to go through over the next few decades. It's stunning how much they don't know, of course, despite being “competent toddlers” given their sphere of ability. As do we adults, of course.


Read more of the Tom Robbins interview in a Kindle single. A hippie through and through, he wants to produce a reality show where they take middle-aged corporate men and given them a large dose of LSD and then follow them for the next 24-48 hours. “Fungi for the Straight Guy” he humorously titled it. Interesting premise, ha. Given my often unsavory and/or unpleasant dreams, it's hard to believe I would have anything but an awful acid trip.


From latest National Review:
You observe in [modern man] a flattening of the soul like the flattening of personality - the numbing of the life-spirit - detectable in those who, to escape the succubae that prey upon them, take medications that reduce them to a uniform mediocrity of temper, a dead level of tranquilizing inanity. It is the tragedy of Whig progress that, if it comforts the body, it dulls the soul - issues in a sedation of spirit that leaves so many of us unable to apprehend the divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.
Hmmm….well we've had a drug, namely alcohol, since the invention of agriculture so it's not a modern Whig thing, as he implies.

He also seems to link comfort - surely one of the gifts of modern civilization - as a bad thing, as something that leaves us unable to apprehend divinity. I can't really believe God wants us to live in huts in order to apprehend him better?

Still, his point about bodily comfort dulling the soul hits extremely close to home. There's a reason St. Thomas More wore a hairshirt and it wasn't for bodily comfort but for soul comfort.

Tom Robbins writes that: "Meditation, by the way, while generally effective at reducing anxiety, is useless as an aide to literary composition. By its very nature, a writer's mind is a monkey mind - and meditation, alas, kills the monkey."

Desperation is the mother of good writing? And good spirituality? witness Mother Teresa?

My Irish Journey

My appreciation for Ireland, unlike that of Germany (which was almost inborn given the Teutonic influence of an early friend and his family) seems to have arrived slowly. One of my earlier memories was seeing a poster of the country at cousin Terry's house and being underwhelmed. It depicted a tree-less landscape, overcast sky, and grey-stone fences. It was not my idea of picturesque at the time; I preferred lots of trees and sun, like the Great Smokies or the Amazon jungle.

Another early memory was seeing Gone with the Wind and I came to associate Scarlett's father, who went mad, with his Irish heritage. Irish had a gothic twinge for me, at least after seeing that movie.

But really there didn't seem much to Ireland, St. Patrick's Day notwithstanding. I was unfamiliar with the music and there weren't any famous landmarks. No Eiffel Tower, no Grand Canyon (the Cliffs of Moher notwithstanding). No famous Irish cooking or sunny beaches or cosmopolitain atmosphere. Irish whiskey, like all whiskey, held no interest to me. “There was nothing in him to draw the eyes of his contemporaries,” as was prophesied of Jesus in Isaiah. Sure there was literature, James Joyce and William Butler Yeats, but both were forbiddingly cryptic, at least at the time. And besides, you could read a book at home - who needed to travel for that?

But gradually my indifference faded. It seems like the major turning point was when I went to Boston with my uncle in 1994. We hung out an Irish pub and heard “traditional” Irish music, the most memorable being The Moonshiner by the Clancy Brothers. It was accessible Irish music, much like Guinness is an accessible alternative to familiar pilsners like Bud and Miller Lite. So just as Guinness was my entry point to more interesting tasting beers, so too was The Moonshiner a gateway to more interesting Irish music which culminated a few years later in hearing Tommy Makem's amazing Four Green Fields.

The jigs and reels grew on me too; I'd caught echoes of the bluegrass music I was starting to like after having discovered country music and going to Branson in '93. Turns out Irish music was in my blood even if I came to it via American bluegrass music, derived as it was from the Scotch-Irish bringing it with them centuries ago.

The next huge milestone was my uncle wanting me to go to Ireland with him. The London part of the trip was enticing and I can't be sure if that wasn't the major draw for me at the time. But now that I was actually committed to going to Ireland my interest took off. I read Irish books as if on assignment. I was charmed by Irish mythology and poetry. I even took a couple Irish language classes at St. Patrick's Church. I was fully hooked - there was something mystical and otherworldly about the olde sod and it was fueled even more by a rediscovery of Catholic apologetics which showed the religion of my birth had the added benefit of being the one True religion.

So the visit there in '96 lived up to all of what I'd imagined. If I had to pick a favorite of all my vacation trips, it would have to be that one. And now what's left but to forgive Ireland, forgive the swift fall from the grace of being the world's most Catholic country to being just like the rest of us. But still there's a magic, I think, hidden deep within the Eire soul, that one day shall rise again.

May 28, 2014


Sitting in a hotel room in lovely downtown Toledo, Ohio (alas, not Spain). It's a city with a sad reputation from my youth ever since I heard the words to the John Denver song: “Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio is like being nowhere at all” and “I once spent a week one day in Toledo…”. Ouch, not good pub for T city. So unfair.

I'm overlooking the Maumee River (sing to "I'm looking over a four-leaf clover"). It looks a lot like the Great Miami or the Ohio. Midwestern rivers tend to have a similar look and feel. Just now, though, there's excitement: the roadway bridge has become vertical in order to let a big ship through, presumably on its way to the Great Lakes. The ship's name is “Saginaw” and you don't see that in the Great Miami river. The 'net tells me: “The lake freighter Saginaw was commissioned the John J. Boland, in 1953, the third vessel to bear that name.” She's heading due north, towards Lake Erie.

Turns out I'm only a few blocks, maybe a 15 minute walk, from the minor league baseball stadium. I checked and lo and behold the Mudhens are at home, and playing right now. I wanted to find reasons not to go, mostly just out of laziness I suppose. But really the idea of seeing a baseball game isn't overly appealing for whatever reason, despite the serendipitous timing.

On the drive listened to Brian Lamb interview Gregg Easterbrook, who talked about his book about football. Easterbrook brings up interesting points about the greed of those who run football, of how team owners ask taxpayers to pay for stadiums that will enrich the billionaire, how college football teams rake in 40-50 million dollars a year and only 10-15% goes to the school (the rest staying within the football program in order to build ever more palatial workout facilities and jack up already high coaches salaries). More football coaches at Ohio State than teachers at the English department. Over 40 assistant coaches at universities get paid more than the school's president.

Easterbrook also brought up the question of whether football is a cult. He said now that politicians, clergy and CEOs have become disrespected, arguably the only figure still respected and admired in America is the NFL football coach. “They alone show tough love,” he said, "and have become father figures to us.”

And the biggest tragedy he mentions is of course the brain damage suffered by so many high school and pre-high school football players. Forty thousand concussions annually in the high school ranks alone. One of the Supreme Court justices, Elena Kagan, told Easterbrook she was a big football fan but wondered if it she should be.

There's nothing like atmosphere while reading. Reading in comfy digs next to a large window overlooking a city is a pleasure, almost as good as reading in a grand library. Motivating. I had wanted to check the television to see if a baseball game was on but reading got in the way. Always hard to have time for both TV and books. Had stopped by St. Patrick's Historic Church on the way to the hotel but it was locked.


Strong a/c in room aids and abets sleep.  Dreams vivid and “funding” the later sleep. Want to see what happens!  After the deliciousness of sleep came the deliciousness of coffee. Lukewarm, but still. I made two cups and poured them into the thermos right before I left last night. Saves the grogginess of trying to figure out the oldfangled coffee makers they have in most hotels. Not the least of which involves moving water from bathroom to table area.

Am glad I didn't walk the mile and a half from hotel to museum given that I was already arrived a half-hour late. I thought it no sweat, figuring the museum would give me at most two hours of intensity. Boy did I misunderestimate this one! Really good stuff. Spent four hours and it went by like a minute, and I didn't even see everything.  John Denver obviously never went to the Toledo Museum of Art. Entering a good art museum is like entering another world. Museums of modern art fail on two counts: one, never any religious art. And two, extremely ahistorical. With the old school art museums there are at least three effects for me:
  1. Awesome devotional material in the form of Christian (almost always Catholic since Catholicism emphasizes the eye while Protestantism the ear) art.
  2. Centuries old images that gives us the only mirror of the world pre-photographs. It feeds my interest in history.
  3. Sheer cussed beauty. A room from a castle transported, jammed with paintings on ceilings, walls. The human form depicted at its best. Evocative natural scenes.
What struck me religiously-speaking include:
  • the humbling humility of Mary in a painting of the Annunciation.
  • the halo around the good thief at the Crucifixion; I thought about how the very first canonization was the best, i.e. being declared a saint in Heaven by Jesus Himself.
  • the fascinating comment of St. Bernard disapproving of the images in marble of beasts and animals in the monastery because it distracted the monks from the Bible. We're just hardwired for art so I'm not surprised the directive from the great saint was not honored (even among his order of the strict Cistercians).
  • the grasping look of joy as Adam reached for the forbidden fruit
  • the stunning tableau of Mary queened in Heaven with the angels and my being reproved by a museum official for being closer than two feet from it! 
  • a quartet of saints, each holding missing limbs or head due to martyrdom or persecution, holding these war wounds as offerings with pride
  • seeing an eleventh-century carving from a Buddhist temple of a mean-looking figure with big teeth, a meanness required, according to the explanation, to assure the temple-goers that this god was tougher than the demonic gods that he expels. Seems we've always wanted/ needed God to be powerful given the obvious power of our foes.
  • the most intense scene of the mocking of Christ that I'd ever seen
On the historical front:
  • seeing an old rail station that struck me as potentially so much like what my town would've looked like around the time it was painted (late 19th century)
  • seeing the marble carvings adorning columns of an early medieval monastery. Animals and centaurs from 1,000 years ago.
  • the face of Martin Luther in a 16th century German painting looking like a chubby Matthew McConaughey. 
  • a gigantic book from the 1700s featuring American birds lushly illustrated with a commentary beside each (a certain type of woodpecker was called the “Lord God Woodpecker” because that's what people said, so stunned were they by the size and color of it).
  • the winsome painting of St. Anthony with a donkey, with the explanation beneath telling of the legend that in order to prove the presence of Christ in the Eucharist to a non-believer, the saint “offers Communion wafers to a starving mule, who immediately kneeled before him.”
  • a transported Swiss chalet from hundreds of years ago! You can't make it up how cool it was in this room. Would be a grand place to write my journal, and sure would've been nice to go inside, to enter beyond the rope line. There was also the oddest oven I ever saw: it was decoratively covered with tiles (with pictures of biblical scenes and patriotic heroes, along with Germanic subtitles).
  • The fascinating tidbit concerning a painting of a huge church stolen by Protestant leaders during the Reformation: all the saints and angels and decorative touches were removed but replaced with military heroes and coats of arms and such! That can't look good to future generations. The other things that amaze me about the Protestant revolt is that it didn't seem to take miracles to get 'er started. Another small thing, and surely superstitious, but just that there are 66 books in the Protestant bible. Shouldn't some of them be a bit squeamish that their version of the Bible has that number 'six' repeated?
And on the beauty front:

Too many to mention, but there was a painting of Ophelia, the tragic Shakespearian character, that was exquisitely rendered beyond words. A flying bluebird nearby added to the magic.


All too soon it was 2:30 and I figured I'd better run to the car in order to escape rush hour traffic when I neared Columbus two hours later. Had to drop the idea of visiting the Cathedral of Toledo, Rosary Cathedral. Also no time to explore some vaguely recalled Indian story/memorial from John Switzer's column in the Dispatch a few months back.

Went past the Mudhens stadium and saw, with a pang, that it's open at the street and you can watch a game for free if you want to stand. So I could've soaked in some ballgame ambiance last night free of charge, although the real impediment was the desire to read instead.

Onstar let me down on the way home. I asked for a route to avoid the boring and jammed US 23, a dual-ponc. The advisor then gave me a route that went through 23, at least that's what my display said after we hung up. Called again, same result. I asked her to read the route to me - obviously her computer says one thing mine another. So I smartly used my smart phone to give me the better directions, i.e. through Marysville, Oh, and later - at that proverbial fork in the road - called Onstar a third time just to let them know about the error although really I wanted an “I told you so”. But of course you get different operators each time, a nice gig if you can get it since if you're an operator because you never have to be mistaken. I should've called a few miles before the fork in the road so they could observe in realtime the error. As if it really matters in the big (or even little) scheme of things!

The smart phone app led me through graceful Ohio towns time forgot, like Dunkirk and Kenton. Who knew there was a Dunkirk, Ohio? Picturesque and often interesting, I saw a condemned-looking house with the “Jesus Saves” sign in the yard.


Home by 5, I had to immediately do a boring, pointless run through the dull neighborhoods adjoining my house because it's been four days since my last run and I really don't want to be a big, fat idiot. Just being an idiot is enough!

So, alas and alack, my four-day weekend has ended. I could use one more day, just one. last. day… I remember like it was yesterday (because it was!) that crazy five-lane highway that up and went vertical to allow a ship to pass. And I recall like it was yesterday that anticipation of painterly goodness, of a fresh soak in the sea of art.

Gallery of cellphone pics:

May 20, 2014

Shelby Foote circa 1997

From Shelby Foote 1997 interview in The Paris Review:
I received two hundred and eight books, all in their shiny jackets, published the past year. I found all but two of them barely readable. That’s a shocking thing. It was because of the writing. It’s also because of me. As I get older, I care less and less what happens in a book. What I care about is the writing—how it’s told. I read words and I don’t see a scene going on as if I were at a movie; I want to see how these words are shaped and how they intertwine and what the sounds are next to each other, how they rub up against each other, along with the distribution of commas and semicolons.

Getting old has way more virtues that it has faults, if you leave out the pain you might suffer if you have some serious injury. But I take great pleasure in being able to look back on things. I remember certain little scenes that are almost meaningless, like Thomas Wolfe coming up the library steps while I was coming down, being with William Faulkner and talking to him about his work, all kinds of things. I remember a sky without a jet trail. I remember Joan Crawford dancing. I remember Roosevelt’s fireside chats and people sitting in front of the radio, like warming their hands in front of a stove.

Ulysses S. Grant, for instance, was never willing to accept blame for anything, under any circumstances. He would let no blame attach to him. He always blamed somebody who was alongside him or under him or over him. It becomes a key to understanding the strength of his character. He just didn’t admit the possibility that anything could be his fault. That sounds unattractive, but it’s quite attractive in Grant. It’s so much a part of his character and part of his ability to be a great general.

The real monster of the Civil War was that it cost us God knows what all, not only in young men, blue and gray, but in the recasting of what public life was going to be like. It brought a new cynicism in to us that we’ve lived with ever since. We began to appreciate scamps in politics, which we hadn’t really done before.

A great enthusiasm of American literature for a short period was Thomas Wolfe. How do you explain how everybody loved him with such passion at a certain moment in our history and then suddenly nobody can read him anymore.

The people who read [Thomas Wolfe] with the greatest enthusiasm were young people. We were young when we read him, and when we read him it had a pure zest to it, larger than life.

Faulkner does it by communicating this tremendously complex combination of sensations, Hemingway by honing everything down to the essential pang. Faulkner in his Nobel speech says that you have to write about the heart, otherwise you’re just writing about the glands. He said this with scorn. Yet Faulkner wrote about the glands better than anybody I know.

Artie Shaw once said that what you need to write the blues is no money in the bank and nobody loving you. Maybe writing prose is the same way, at its best...and the reason I wouldn’t go to California was all that weather, all those beautiful women, all that money. I was absolutely certain I would disappear as if into quicksand; I’d be gone. With those three things holding me there, I certainly wasn’t going to do any writing.

But then try to do it again, do it again, and then keep doing it, until you can do it. You may never be able to do it. That’s the gamble. You not only may not be able to make a living, you may not be able to do it at all. But that’s what you put on the line. Every artist has that.

Robert Browning. Browning decided at the age of fourteen, I think, out of the clear blue sky, to become a writer. His father had books all over the house anyway. He said, If I’m going to be a writer, there’s certainly one thing I must do, and then he proceeded to memorize Johnson’s Dictionary—both volumes, cover to cover. He has, next to Shakespeare, the largest vocabulary of any English writer. Now that’s preparation.

Freud says we write for three basic reasons: desire for fame, money, and the love of women.

One of the greatest enemies of happiness, of enjoying life, is the intrusion of loneliness. When you’re most alone is in nausea; when you’re throwing up you are alone on the face of this earth. The moment of orgasm is very lonely too—a little island in the middle of nowhere. There are a lot of paradoxes involved. When you’re working very hard you’re not lonely; you are the whole damn world.

Good writing doesn’t come from inspiration. It may spark you, set you off, but if you write under the influence of inspiration, you will write very badly—probably sentimentally, which is even worse.

Well, obviously I [wrote *The Civil War*] because I enjoyed it. I don’t deserve any credit for working hard. I was doing what I wanted to do. Shakespeare said it best: “The labor we delight in physics pain.” There’s no better feeling in the world than to lay your head on the pillow at night looking forward to getting up in the morning and returning to that desk.

May 19, 2014

New Yorker Piece

Why so busy? (warning: often invokes the liberal's holy saint named Keynes):
Keynes assumed that people work in order to earn enough to buy what they need. And so, he reasoned, as incomes rose, those needs could be fulfilled in ever fewer hours. Workers would knock off earlier and earlier, until eventually they’d be going home by lunchtime.

But that isn’t what people are like. Instead of quitting early, they find new things to need. Many of the new things they’ve found weren’t even around when Keynes was writing—laptops, microwaves, Xboxes, smartphones, smart watches, smart refrigerators, Prada totes, True Religion jeans, battery-powered meat thermometers, those gizmos you stick in the freezer and then into your beer to keep it cold as you drink it.

“Most types of material consumption are strongly habit-forming,”... By Becker and Rayo’s account, this insatiability is hardwired into us. Human beings evolved “so that they have reference points that adjust upwards as their circumstances improve.”

Joseph Stiglitz, of Columbia University, by contrast, takes a constructivist approach. People’s choices, he argues, are molded by society and, over time, become self-reinforcing. We “learn how to consume by consuming,” he writes, and how to “enjoy leisure by enjoying leisure.”

In support of this position, Stiglitz cites the contrasting experiences of Europeans and Americans. In the nineteen-seventies, the British, the French, and the Germans—though notably not the Italians—put in just as many hours at work as Americans. But then, à la Keynes, the Europeans began trading income for leisure. The average employed American now works roughly a hundred and forty hours more per year than the average Englishman and three hundred hours more than the average Frenchman. (Current French law mandates that workers get thirty paid vacation days per year, British law twenty-eight; the corresponding figure in the U.S. is zero.) Stiglitz predicts that Europeans will further reduce their working hours and become even more skilled at taking time off, while Americans, having become such masterful consumers, will continue to work long hours and to buy more stuff. TVs, he notes, “can be put in every room and in both the front and the back of automobiles.”

A third group of economists challenges the Keynesian presumption that leisure is preferable to labor. Work may not set us free, but it lends meaning to our days, and without it we’d be lost. In the view of Edward Phelps, of Columbia University, a career provides “most, if not all, of the attainable self-realization in modern societies.” Richard Freeman, of Harvard, is, if possible, more emphatic. “Hard work is the only way forward,” he writes. “There is so much to learn and produce and improve that we should not spend more than a dribble of time living as if we were in Eden. Grandchildren, keep trucking.”
I sense that Pope Francis is in that last group. He's a bit of a work proponent.
In the future, Keynes imagined, the fruits of capitalism would redeem capitalism. “All kinds of social customs and economic practices . . . which we now maintain at all costs, however distasteful and unjust they may be in themselves, because they are tremendously useful in promoting the accumulation of capital, we shall then be free, at last, to discard,” he wrote.

It is, to say the least, disappointing that things haven’t turned out that way—that inequality has grown, that leisure is scarce, that even the rich complain of being overwhelmed. And yet so much of what we do, collectively and individually, suggests that we still believe more wealth is the answer. Reëxamining this belief would probably be a good idea—that is, if anyone had the time for it.

How Dare You Call It a Warehouse?

Truth in advertising!:

I Yam What I Yam

A city of books / Una ciudad de libros (autor desconocido)

It occurred to me that the new social network at work, Yammer, seems pejoratively named. “To talk in an annoying way usually for a long time” is the definition. Is that what the network is designed to do? Is that meant in a hip, ironic way, or was the name chosen simply because someone didn't know the true definition of “yammer”? Did they look in a thesaurus and pick a name for “talk”? Mysteries ne'er cease.

From the web:
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, one of the judges of the panel on which Yammer launched, commented: 'I really like this company the best.The name is not very corporate. It reminded me of what I’m having for Thanksgiving. Maybe you could use a Yam for a logo.“
Elsewhere, one of the founders says they brainstormed for names: "Chatter” and “huddle” came up - but the only name that folks could remember later was “yammer” and the domain was available. The founder says the connotation they're going after is “persistent communication”.

Having the Internet means having the answer to almost any meaningless question you might wonder about, but without answers to the things that really matter.


In 1774 Goethe wrote: "See how nature is a living book, / Misunderstood but not beyond understanding." Interesting to see where author Annie Dillard's quest to see the Creator from creation without a trust of revelation and doctrine ended up. Her eclectic oeuvre and persona reminds me of Heather King's, but fortunately Heather hasn't given up Catholicism as Dillard has. On her website the latter writes that she sees as “absurd” the doctrines of “divine omniscience, divine mercy and divine omnipotence”. What kind of god does that leave you with? A god of limited power, effectiveness and love?


Shelby Foote once said, and he's not alone in this I'm sure, that “the more trouble I have learning something, the longer it stays with me; and the easier time I have learning it, the faster it leaves me.”

Couldn't God, the ultimate Teacher, employ the same methods with us? Is that why we learn so slowly of his reality, and his love and benevolence?

John Keats said “a fact is not a truth until you love it”, again applicable to God perhaps, in how the truth of Him comes after faith. “Faith before understanding” is the famous phrase I believe.


Read copiously of Rick Barnett's novella Living in the Meantime (so funny) and Kingsley's magisterial Everyday Drinking. Call me shallow, but I'm finding, halfway through, Donna Tartt's Goldfinch to be depressing and well-nigh unreadable. So despite the acclaim it's received and despite I've already invested a lot of time in it I'm thinking it's time to either speed-read or give up the ghost. I wonder if the modern equation is “serious = nihilistic”. Read a bit of National Review but it's so whiney. I grow tired of the endless criticism of liberals, no matter how well-deserved. Why waste a minute of your life reading about the pathetic Harry Reid? I'd say only 20% of any given NR is worth reading, but that's a lot when added up over a whole years' worth of issues.


Very surprising was Maureen Mullarkey critique over at First Things. Dang but she was hard on our populist pope. She's also none too fond of the instant sanctity model for recent shepherds. Sounds like that other more famous Maureen, Dowd:
This expedited exercise in saint-making was a premature apotheosis, a pageant of synthetic piety staged for immediate media consumption. With this as a precedent, canonization risks becoming one more pseudo-event, like bread and circus, thrown to a culture besotted with virtual reality.

In our lifetime, we have watched the papacy descend into spectacle. By now, showboating—from kissing feet to a mega-Mass on Copacabana Beach—is an established feature of the modern papacy. As if spectacle itself could cure the malaise that has emptied churches, closed parishes, and turned cathedrals into pay-per-view tourist sites.
….In [Benedict's] last general audience in St. Peter’s, he lapsed into the kind of mutual deception that fans celebrity culture: “The Pope belongs to everyone, and so many people feel very close to him.”

No, the man does not belong to everyone. Any suggestion that he does is a saccharine oblation to consumers of image. That illusion of intimacy, so seductive and so crippling, is the very ground of demagogic populism. It is a dangerous chimera, as lethal to the judgment of a faith community as to electoral politics. Catholics—popes among them—are no less subject than anyone else to the lure of the star system and its crafted emphasis on personality.

It took no time at all for Francis to degrade into a celebrity. And like any politically astute showman, he takes to the camera for carefully designed photo-ops. (Posing with an anti-fracking T-Shirt in November, he conferred on activist filmmakers the kind of endorsement we expect from Yoko Ono and Matt Damon.) Media-conscious symbolic gestures are mirrored in an airy, imprecise rhetoric that is a receptacle for whatever meaning the public drops into it.
Provocative to say the least. I don't know what to make of that but I just read Lino Rulli's adoration of Pope John Paul II and it's hard to see that as mere sentiment.


Ch'u Ch'uang I, “A Mountain Spring,” tr. Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese: Love and the Turning Year:

There is a brook in the mountains,
Nobody I ask knows its name.
It shines on the earth like a piece
Of the sky. It falls away
In waterfalls, with a sound
Like rain. It twists between rocks
And makes deep pools. It divides
Into islands. It flows through
Calm reaches. It goes its way
With no one to mind it. The years
Go by, its clear depths never change.


Listened to Hugh Hewitt as interviewed by Brian Lamb. Hewitt was a cradle Catholic and converted to Protestant evangelicalism when he couldn't stand left-leaning bishops publishing “dumb things” on nuclear weaponry and economics. He then came back to the Faith when contacted and counseled by Archbishop Chaput, soon to be Cardinal Chaput according to Hewitt.

I can understand Hewitt's frustration but really you can't leave the Church over bishopric political stands.

I was also surprised how good a friend he was to Christopher Hitchens. He says that Hitchens likely never got over the understandable shock of his mother committing suicide. It's a hard thing to believe in a benevolent God after that.

Hewitt also is unapologetically a fan of Richard Nixon (not his presidency, but his friendship). And Mitt Romney as well. Calls those two geniuses in the sense that they'd read everything, knew everything, were always one step ahead of you or knew what you were going to say.  I could do well to recognize Nixon had good qualities as well.


So Monday went to a social justice rally, where 3,500 were said to have shown up. The issues were two and very nicely clear-focused: more care/funding for the mentally ill (with specific agenda items) and requiring Columbus police to recognize Mexican consulate-issued idcards as other cities like Chicago and Dayton do so that illegals don't have to live in fear of the police and so that they'll report crimes committed on them.

There was some hard-corn (short for corniness) to the event - every time a speaker said “Bread” (the group's name) we were all to shout, “rises!”. And there were women with placards up front who held up signs saying, “Care, not crisis!” when we were supposed to say those words (meaning to provide care for the mentally ill before it gets to crisis/emergency room). It seemed a bit overkill, as if we were memory-challenged, as we were told to say “Care, not crisis” in the beginning of the meeting and repeated it a couple of times for the preacher emcee.

It had sort of a PBS feel to it. Lots of good-natured liberals who look like they appreciated Peter, Paul and Mary back in the day. A curious gathering of interfaith and non-faith, including the United Universalist Unitarians. I think. The opening song was Down by the Riverside and opening prayer made no reference to God, but substituted "Love". My stepson, the rare white male under 40, definitely added to the diversity quotient.

We got a taste of black preaching, or at least forceful teaching that gives the flavor. Immaculately dressed with a bow tie, one looked like a member of Farrakahn's group. He gave a rousing address and invoked the Old Testament prophets often as well he might given the focus of the meeting was justice. Justice was given its due, and I got to thinking of how interchangeable those OT prophets seem to me (though admittedly I'm not exactly well-read in the prophetic literature.) But those prophets seemed often very hard on their own while African-American preachers tend, understandably, to preach on behalf of their own. Repentance doesn't mean simply saying your sorry, one said, it means reform, restitution and reparations. Surely that last a word familiar in the black community in connection with slavery. Speaking truth to power, they say, but not too many people want to speak truth to themselves, in this case that you shouldn't be given money just because you had oppressed ancestors. There's an element of self-pity that is perhaps inescapable to avoid in these types of movements.

The Catholics on the list were mostly Latinos talking about the situation where they become a magnet for crime because others know they won't call the police because they're deathly afraid of being deported. It's sad to think that police would deport someone if they'd done nothing wrong. I say if illegals aren't doing anything wrong, let them be. And certainly allow them to report crimes made against them.


My inner Judger came to the fore today. I've been moderately obsessed since yesterday with family members thrilled to go to the anti-Mormon, anti-Christian Broadway musical Book of Mormon. Terry Teachout, I think it was, said it's not particularly brave to pick on Mormons - try that with Muslims, was what one columnist mentioned. Second, there's the infamous part where they sing “$!%^ God”.