March 27, 2015

Jesus & Daphne


Attraction seems such a social construct, so susceptible to environmental clues. And yet…yet there's also a genetic component, the idea that curves on a woman are attractive for reasons of fertility. I suppose there are biological limits to what we find attractive.

I think back to how much a single movie might've affected me, namely Daphne Zuniga in The Sure Thing. I wonder how much my crush on a girl back in college was unwittingly influenced of that movie. That look - high cheekbone, beautiful raven hair, twinkly eyes - was not always my thing.  In 5th grade through 12th, blondes held my fancy, perhaps because they didn't look like my black-haired sister with whom I regularly fought.

But I have to assume it was popular culture that ultimately altered my perceptions of attraction. Certainly even names themselves become popular as a result of the culture; Malcolm Gladwell I think once studied the names given to children as status indicators.

This too makes sense with respect to prejudices and racism. If you meet someone you really like who happens to be black, gay, polka-dot or named George, you might associate warm feelings, or greater openness towards, those who are black, gay, polka-dot or have the name George. Which is why we'll always have prejudice with us since impossible to have positive examplars possessing every possible prejudicial characteristic. (Serving all of your alliteration needs for over a decade now!)

Back in the '80s I often thought that my own popularity with girls was marginally dependent on whether some actor who looked just like me (but with great charisma) became popular in pop culture. Matthew Broderick being the closet. Because then those feelings that women had toward that actor might be partially transferrable to me, or at least would make them more open to me. I was looking for someone who looked like me to pave the way for me.

Sort of like Jesus. Here was someone who looked like us humans who could pave the way to God the Father, to make us look (and be) acceptable. The charisma of Christ was such that the Father couldn't resist the Son, and thus the Father looks on all of us humans more favorably.

March 26, 2015

Appalachia

This photo, in the latest Economist, just reeks of fascination:


For one thing, the utter inaccessibility.  To even try to approach such a house would likely get you killed. You don't go to a holler unaccompanied.

Second, the disparity between the girl and the house.  The house is falling down, ugly, neglected. The girl is none of those things. She's dressed in nice clothes, her hair braided. The shoes, crocs, seem well-suited for the muddy environment.

Looks like there's even a satellite dish on the house. Priorities seem reasonable:  personal appearance first, puppy care, and entertainment.  Home improvement projects last.

The article says that poverty in Appalachia has decreased significantly over the past fifty years due to food stamps and other government programs, but health has decreased, reflected in higher relative mortality rates.

More:
IN THE hills around Paintsville, a small town in eastern Kentucky’s Appalachian region, some of the nicer houses have paths that wind from the front porch up to a gate. Through these gates family cemeteries with headstones and brightly coloured imitation flowers can be glimpsed. These hallowed patches of ground help to explain one of the things that puzzles outsiders about Appalachia: why the people who live there remain so attached to a place that has been a byword for rural poverty for at least half a century.

Cynthia Duncan, a sociologist who recently returned to Appalachia to update “Worlds Apart”, an influential book on persistent poverty first published in 1999, says that though poor schooling and a fondness for a familiar landscape do tether people to the mountains, Appalachia’s poorest residents also have a remarkable capacity for resilience when faced with hardship, of which they have seen plenty.

It Occurs...

It occurs to me that I don't have enough nearly enough glurgy pictures on this blog. Forthwith I shall remedy!




Three Takes

Stern ol' teacher Sister Ruth, 4th through 6th grade. A throwback. Came of age during the Depression and worked in Communist China teaching the heathens. Them and later us. 

I remember a few incidents like they were yesterday but only these few, probably because I spent so much of the time dreaming outside the present moment:

- the shock and awe of one female student crying and screaming “I hate you!” to Sister. The response seemed measured and calm, although I remember the eruption more than the response. I couldn't believe you could say that in class.

- How she loved all hymns because they expressed holy sentiments. Lyrics uber alles.

- How she didn't mind dull sermons because she knew someone needed to hear what was being preached. I recall being shocked by that notion; I thought only in terms of me, of course, and couldn't imagine “liking” a homily for the sake of another.

- Her comparing sin and forgiveness to the opening of a feather pillow from a height and watching helplessly as the feathers fell, seemingly irretrievable, except by God.

- And, of course, the time she called me “a dreamer”. I assume derogatorily, although I doubt I took it that way then. I think I thought it meant I was special.

Three years and that's all I recall. It's amazing how sometimes small things can be disproportionate in memory.

Ultimately (perhaps unfortunately) self-knowledge offered from the perspective of others is highly memorable, especially when it has never occurred to you before. When the mother at a party of fellow seven-year olds told me my name was “so common” her comment stung (did it at the time? Or did “common” only later seem a negative? the tricks of memory….) and has resounded in my head for over forty years though the children I was with at the party have been long forgotten. Words are often more memorable than people, which is an very odd thing if you think about it given how little they mean compared to people.

I think of Sister Ruth with affection now and a bit of awe at the self-giving emblematic of all those nuns. Like Nixon, we don't have them to kick around anymore and we're feeling their loss severely (i.e. in Catholic school closings and sky-high tuition). At the time Sister and I felt on “different teams”, that unbridgeable gulf between teacher and student, ruler and ruled. Now I feel like we're on the same team, oriented to the same goal of salvation, even though of course she was infinitely closer to her goal then (and presumably has reached it) than I am now.

I think also of likely the most devout Catholic (and counter-culture warrior) at high school was Mr. Mulchaey, a teacher concerning whom, at the time, I was mostly indifferent. He was a man's man but with a sense of wonder, wonder in the sense that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. I recall how airy and unreal that felt at the time. He was teaching theology-of-the-body-type concepts in the late '70s, or at least deep respect for the material God gave us and of the holiness of sex. Doesn't get more counter-cultural than that.

We had saints in our midst and we were blind – it's funny how we see clearly only in retrospect, of how those who sow seeds of faith do so with almost no immediate gratification. The long view is the Faith view, and given human nature I'm not sure there's any getting around that. We are all lagging indicators, usually only seeing the preciousness of people and the gift of Catholicism belatedly. Maybe not till Heaven.

*

Speaking of the afterlife, Blogger Bill at “The Gospel Truth” writes:
In the [preface] Father Robert Barron quotes a vision of St. Catherine of Siena where she suffered in her soul to even think that one of God’s creatures would be damned for all eternity. She said she did not know how to reconcile even one of your creatures made in his image and likeness should be lost and slip from your hands.
The Catholic Church is not one of just laws and judgments. It is the Church of love and mercy. But it is one pregnant with paradoxes and deep esoteric truths that most cannot fathom. God’s infinite mercy is irreconcilable with His absolute justice. It is the ultimate squared circle. We can’t understand it because it contradicts our human logic.
I also read a story about a priest who quipped while I am alive, I am all for God’s Justice but when I die, I am all for His mercy! A resounding Rush Limbaughesque Dittos to him!!
*

Read interesting article about a guy who collected John Updike's trash for years. In the article Updike was quoted as saying that in his work he was interested in the tension between following one's desires and the consequences, how we may listen to our inner (often sexual) urges only to find the “social fabric collapses murderously” but of self-sacrifice and duty it “results in man's private agony and dwindling.” Sounds like the classic dilemma, of whether trying to save one's life, or to save one's soul.  But a false dichotomy? – the last three pontiffs, Popes John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis hardly seem in agony or “dwindled” by their heroic adherence to Christianity.

March 23, 2015

Reformicon

I found the following, from Jim Geraphy of NRO, interesting. Particularly the idea that having ideas makes you suspect. And how the emotions of revenge can block performance (sin makes you stupid?):
"Yes, it’s usually a mistake to read the comments under any article.

But I’m struck by the amount of skepticism and animosity that greets a mention of the word “reformicon.”...The “reformicon” agenda -- to the extent it can be boiled down -- is to find conservative reforms of existing local, state, and federal laws to help the middle class. Start with the problem facing the middle class -- high tuition, high tuition, high health-care costs, high cost of living, slow wage growth -- and come up with ways to get government out of the way as a driver of costs, or figure out how to get the government to achieve the required goals more efficiently and with more choice for individuals.

The reformicon agenda offers problem-solving . . . at a moment that a big chunk of the conservative base wants vengeance for the progressive stinkbombs laid upon this country by a runaway administration: Obamacare and its sales pitch full of lies; a partisan IRS; de facto amnesty by executive order; an enormously wasteful un-stimulative stimulus full of Solyndra-style pork and payoffs; a Dodd-Frank “reform” that turned “too big to fail” into “even bigger and more risky”; shipping guns to Mexican drug cartels in “Fast and Furious”; destructive race-baiting; a retreat from war against radical Islam; a reset button to an ambitious, duplicitous Putin; lying about the cause of the Benghazi attack; skipping Paris rallies for free expression to watch football; and giving away the store to Iranian mullahs.

The reformicon agenda is important, meat-and-potatoes governing issues, but that’s not what gets conservatives’ blood pumping at the moment – and there’s a sense that somebody really focused on the former is giving a pass to the latter. I think that sense is erroneous, but it’s out there.
The other element in there is those who suspect that “reform conservatism” seeks to reform conservatism itself, something that every reformicon insists isn’t true. But while conservatism doesn’t need updating, maybe the particular policy goals do.

There are, in some circles, this insistence that “if we Republicans want to win again, we just need to do what Ronald Reagan did” as if 30 years hadn’t passed since Reagan’s last electoral victory. (If you plug Reagan’s winning percentages among various demographics into the 2012 electorate, Reagan loses.) It’s not 1979 anymore; we don’t have a 1979-style economy, tax rate, education system, health-care system, workforce, and so on; why would it be controversial to take the concepts of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty and apply them to the concerns of today’s middle-class Americans?" 
Why indeed.

Un-imprimatur'd Thoughts

This pic is apropos of nothing in particular...

Heard Fr. Larry Richards on EWTN radio mention he doesn't like emotional intimacy, which is a pretty intimate admission. “Why do you think I'm celibate?” he joked.

He went on to say we typically don't want the truth. We judge how much someone had helped us by how much they soothed rather than healed us, preferring temporary relief of symptoms over painful removal of a root cause any day. We tend to want to choose our medicine and not leave it up to the Divine Physician. Jim Curley quoted St Francis de Sales as saying God may take us the route of consolation or desolation. St Pio was so bold as to ask what it should matter to us of God gives an arduous or less difficult climb to Heaven.

One of the more “impactful” song lines from the '80s for me came from none other than pop singer George Michael. The killer lyric was from the wistful One More Try:
“'Cuz teacher
there are things I don't wanna learn….
When you were just a stranger
And I was at your feet
I didn't feel the danger
Now I feel the heat.”
Ain't it the truth?

I recall reading many years ago that the famed writer Graham Greene was fascinated by Padre Pio but he didn't want to meet the future saint. Feared it in fact. Because there were things Greene didn't “wanna learn”.

I think that was also part of the problem for the disciples of Jesus leading up to Good Friday. There were things they didn't want to learn, specifically the stumbling block that is the Cross…

*

Got mildly obsessed with Jer 31:31-34, the First Reading on Sunday. Distracted by the promises made, wondering if they were made to us now, or in Heaven or some combination. Collected all commentaries concerning the prophet's assertion that we would no longer need instruction from others, that the knowledge of God would be implanted directly into our hearts. Seems slightly over-enthusiastic, perhaps.

Wansbrough:
“No need for everyone to teach brother’? Yes, we must still learn from one another and accept the guidance of the Church, but the bond is between God and the individual, no longer the race as such.”
Orchard:
“Jeremiah is indicating and contrasting the predominant characteristics of the two dispensations; not that faith and love and forgiveness were entirely absent from the old dispensation, or that proper instruction will be entirely unnecessary in the new.”
Haydock:
“Christ himself came to instruct mankind. The true God was better known than ever, even by the illiterate. Yet God requires us to have recourse to men, in order to know his truths, as S. Paul was sent to Hananias, and the eunuch to Philip. H.—The apostles were enlightened by the Holy Ghost, who still guides the flock by his pastors. The private spirit is too fanatical and delusive. H.—The most ignorant shall easily become acquainted with the truths of salvation. External preaching is requisite, though of little use unless grace touch the mind and the heart. T.—All will hear successively, (H.) or embrace the gospel at the same time, for several years before the last day.”
Some of the early church fathers presumed this to refer to our heavenly existence, not earthly. St. Augustine sermonized that we should memorize the Creed so that it would be written in our hearts rather than on parchment or stone.

*

New Jerusalem Study Bible on what's “new” about the New Covenant?:
1. God's spontaneous forgiveness of sins
2. Individual responsibility and retribution
3. Interiorisation of religion: the Law is to be no longer a code regulating external activity but an inspiration working on the human heart under the influence of the Spirit of God, who gives a new heart capable of knowing God.

*

You can no sooner strip someone of irrationality as you can his clothing. He'll protest and resist. And I recall my own metastasizing fixations of yore, of the girl on whom I would pin my hopes of salvational intimacy. (“Sex is the mysticism of a materialist society,” as one convert Englishman said.)  Tangibility uber alles.

I recall travel to foreign lands as of a similar quality because I felt the foreign held an answer, the key, and something inherently transcendent. The magic of the Ireland trip was that I believed in magic: I believed I might see a faerie, visible or otherwise. I felt the land inhabited a spirituality denied to poor ol' Ohio. This cult of the foreign, be it a foreign body (i.e. a naked girl having parts I lack) or a foreign land (i.e. Ireland, with it's spirits and land-specific tonalities), was somehow both true and false. True because the foreign does possess great worth, but false because both male and female, America and elsewhere, are composed of sacred land. The trick in Christianity is to go from believing the sacred is limited, special, rare and supernatural, to believing it's also plain, natural and accessible even unto us. No prophet is without honor in his hometown and no person is without supernatural grace except in his own mind.

From a recent church document Love is Our Mission:
The tangible, the earthly, the corporeal world is more than inert matter or modeling clay for the human will. Creation is sacred. It has sacramental meaning. It reflects God's glory. That includes our bodies. Our sexuality has the power to procreate, and shares in the dignity of being created in the image of God. We need to live accordingly.
That's pretty potent stuff in our current Gnostic age. Who can believe the earthly, the natural, our penis or vagina, are sacred? (Ok, I just wanted to say 'penis' and 'vagina' on a Catholic blog.) Ireland or Ohio or Timbuktu, it's all sacred ground.

That can be taken too far of course, into pantheism. The pilgrimage to a holy site is a wonderful thing, and we surely recognize there's a hierarchy of sacredness such that some things are more God-like than others (a mosquito versus a human being versus the Blessed Sacrament).

March 19, 2015

Work and Other Four-Letter Words

A book I'm reading ("Detroit: An Autopsy") has an interesting paragraph about how many folks of a certain age had their work ethic undermined by the mere presence of factories:
Still, we had all gotten a taste of [factory work], summer jobs sweeping the floor or working the press. It was horrible. The yellow lights, the stink of grease and oil and acid. The unblinking time clock. You walked in the door and the first thing you’re trying to figure out is how to get out. If you don’t know that about factory work, you don’t know anything. What our generation failed to learn was the nobility of work. An honest day’s labor. The worthiness of the man in the white socks who would pull out a picture of his grandkids from his wallet. For us, the factory would never do. And turning away from our birthright—our grandfather in the white socks—is the thing that ruined us.
I'm of that certain age, growing up during the '70s when factory work was still common in our neck of the woods. It seemed - at least as described to me - a slow torture, a dehumanizing job that involved no creativity, just doing the same brainless, mechanical motion over and over and over again. It seemed scarcely distinct from prison and made me think something was fundamentally wrong with capitalism that such work existed.

Perhaps some people enjoyed it or at least dealt with it more sympathetically. Not all people are suited for all jobs and I could've been projecting my ten-year old, book-loving sensibilities on a job I was not called to. And certainly if you're starving in a Third World country factory work must look like Nirvana. But there's always this intrinsic sense, I think, that if someone is slighted or abused, then the system is fundamentally flawed.  Of course the root problem is we live in a fundamentally flawed world, one not too often confused with Heaven.

March 17, 2015

Seven Church Tour in Columbus







































So Saturday was the Seven Church Tour with the inestimable Fr. W, who is not charismatically challenged, to put it mildly. This tour was much more engaging for me than last year both because the churches were unfamiliar and architecturally more interesting. And it really felt more devotional, more like a pilgrimage this time. Maybe it was the prayers we said or perhaps the unfamiliar architecture and statues made it feel more devotional.

Lineup:

St. Dominic: Fr. W is the pastor here. Inner city neighborhood and it looks it: bordered up houses looking like crack dens. Very Detroit-ish. A predominantly black parish (Stations of the Cross featured a black Jesus and a placard/map inside the church showed a “Justice Journey” that had Ferguson, Mo listed.) St. Dominic was originally an Italian parish but in the '50s and '60s switched ethnicities. Lovely church with granite columns that extend ten feet below ground. Have to go back sometime for 11:30 Mass there and check out the full gospel choir.

St. Aloysius: a true gem of a church. I'd seen it many years before but was surprised by its stunning attractiveness and distinctiveness. The icon mosaics behind the altar have a Byzantine feel, the Stations of the Cross amazing (painted-on glass, with real gold in the paint), and the Confessionals a rich, ornate wood with Latin phrases carved at top. I'm a sucker for art with a combination of words with structure or image. The stained glass windows are otherworldly in boldness of color and my eye apparently was not alone in thinking that since the craftsman did some work on windows for the Vatican in the past.

St. Francis of Assisi: this tour had nothing if not very distinctive churches, and this one added to the diversity. It was simple, as might be expected given for whom it was named, but there was a kind of classical feel to it. Not too busy. Very pleasing dome cupola, and the pews were arranged on three sides of the altar. Bright and well-lit, it's the church for non-hoarders, those who dislike disorder and clutter.

-LUNCH-

So we had lunch in the basement of St. Francis church and I scored this year with the Neapolitan sandwich, which was a big improvement over last year's chicken caesar sandwich. More meat! Fr. W's assistant sat with us, who told us of her six-month bout with homelessness and the struggles of trying to get custody of her child. I often get the feeling of folks who have gone through more end up having more devotion to God, surely because they've been forced to lean on God for a lack of alternative.

Then my sister & mother joined us, and they didn't want a lunch before she wanted one, sort of like how John Kerry was for the war in Iraq before he was against it. Luckily we had the assistant with us and she graced our thievery. (There were extras.)

St. Catherine of Siena - This church was pleasant enough, made unique most dramatically by the stained glass windows of all 34 doctors of the church. The windows were modern-ish but calming, and made even more interesting by the text (presumably Latin) that faintly stretched across the bottom of some of the panes. Others had not text but some symbol, which added a level of pleasing ambiguity. The altar was an island surrounded by pews on all four sides. In a side room off the vestibule was a legos structure of the church made by a nine-year old child! While this church was somewhat interesting because of the stained glass windows, the church was mostly forgettable for me.

Immaculate Conception - This one reminded me immediately of St. Therese on Broad street, the retreat center. Same romanesque, stone archways.  Nice.  I liked the image of the ship over one of the doorways, and Fr. W told us a ship was a symbol of the church.

St. Mary Magdalen - Very unique church to put it mildly! Like a snowflake, I'm sure there's no church in Christendom quite like it. Very busy, to be sure, and slightly kitschy in that respect but at the same time you can't help but be impressed. A lot to take in. Mostly you take in the incredible mosaics, my favorite being one of the Blessed Mother. The whole church in fact is pretty much covered with mosaics. I understand they did them in Italy by painting each individual stone and gluing it to a “cartoon” image underneath. Most of the church consists of a pale blue mosaic above arches resembling the St. Louis arch but actually were meant to mimic the Miraculous Medal, a devotion still strong in this particular church. Another striking feature was that of the five scenes in stone depicting the life of Mary Magdalen, one was not true, that of the “sinful woman” who dried Jesus' feet with her hair. Apparently that was originally thought to be Mary Magdalen but since thought not to be. (Full disclaimer: I wasn't there.) The altar is held up by twelve pillars with the name of each apostle, St. Peter the lone one to have a round one rather than square (“first among equals”). The altar is elevated and is covered, like St. Peters Basilica in Rome, in the a way meant to evoke the Old Testament Holy of Holies. A tent, as was said in the Old Testament. In the new the Greek has it: “The Word pitched a tent of flesh and dwelt among us.”

St. Leo - this was our final stop, a church now closed and only open for special events like this. Perhaps it was “church fatigue” or the lack of hearing Fr. exclaim on it, but this one seemed kind of average. A few nuns who lived on that street were in attendance, no doubt thrilled to be able to attend Mass in their old church.

Marital versus the Martial

I read the prison diary of St. Perpetual on her feast day the other day. Ultimately what I got from it, perhaps not surprisingly, is that conflict is the order of our lives. The Christian is definitionally involved in a war against Satan, the demons, evil, and his/her own selfish inclinations. We've been drafted into an army, even those of us who loathe conflict.

But perhaps we should focus not on the martial but on the marital aspect. Instead of viewing life as a struggle against evil within us and without us, why not view it in terms of God “marrying his creation” as Isaiah writes? Why not look at strife and suffering not so much as the coin of the Church Militant realm but as the God-chosen ways to reciprocate His “crazy” love for us?

March 13, 2015

Goldberg's Newsletter

Jonah Goldberg is high-laire in his latest cinematic-quality newsletter.  Hillary the subject, naturally. 

I got to thinking that part of the so-called Clinton Derangement Syndrome of the '90s was triggered simply by the fact that bad people were succeeding (which doesn't necessarily explain Obama Derangement Syndrome or Bush Derangement.) I mean bad, as in likely rapist-bad.  You just don't want to see that behavior get rewarded with the presidency, and the Clintons had scandals in their past that reached infinitely close to imprisonment without ever getting there.  And that led to a lot of derangement. The Clintons teased us by never, ever leaving a smoking gun (other than the blue dress) despite leaving behind more fires than a Detroit Devil's Night.

Ultimately you can't say their strategy of lying and stonewalling hasn't worked. Very successful careers. We're told to trust them.  I trust that they'll hide the smoking gun, yes.

The funny thing about the Hillary episode is it took her eight days to come up with the "convenience" defense.  I mean I'd hoped for something a little bit more.  I hereby propose to her that a private life might, in the end, be more convenient for her than public life, given the onerous demands of two email accounts.

*

More politics: I'm not disappointed that Republicans didn't commit political suicide with a DHS shutdown since it looks like that wouldn't accomplish anything.

The Dems were smart enough to fall on their swords over something substantive (Obamacare). I don't think it's smart to go to war when you're obviously outgunned and won't accomplish even the immediate goal.  Dems mostly only kill themselves when it's an important and reachable goal -- Obamacare was a longterm victory at the cost of losing the House and Senate. Dems will not/have not gone to war over gun control, despite their passion on the subject, because they know it's an important but not reachable goal.  Repubs would shut down goverment and get no longterm victory, no goal reached, with the cost of losing the House (and likely Senate).

The key: we only get one shot at really changing things. The Dems took that shot with Obamacare. The Republicans could take it by doing something equally dramatic, like abolishing Obamacare, abortion, or the IRS (although arguably some of those may not be reachable goals). But if you're going to lose Congress for six or eight years, make it worth your while.  Shutting down the government seems a poor substitute for doing things the right way: i.e. enacting laws.  And why won't Repubs repeal Obamacare?  Because they have no plan in place as backup.  Repub's big problem is they are a party with absolutely no ideas.

*

So back to Hillary.  Here's Goldberg's beauty:

"As Bill Clinton said when the harem girls on Jeffrey Epstein’s plane finally announced they were over international waters: 'Where to begin?'

...The ChappaDataQuitIt or E-PotDome story (okay, we’re still looking for a better nickname) reminds me of those kinds of movies [where] the silent whistle has been blown. The sleepers activated. The old timers have been notified. I like to imagine Lanny Davis right in the middle of a meeting with an African dictator when, suddenly, his assistant hands him a note. All it reads is “Cankles Is Down.” Lanny abruptly terminates the meeting, pushes back a briefcase full of krugerrands, and races to some hellish Third World airport, telling his aide, “Let the Redskins know they’re on their own. The Clintons need me.”

Flash to a canoe on the banks of the bayou. James Carville has just caught a catfish with his bare hands and proceeds to tear apart the wriggling fish, Gollum-like. He eats the entrails first. Then, suddenly, a flare goes off above the tree line. That’s the signal. He throws the bulk of the carcass into the river, where gators churn the water to grab it now that the apex predator has departed. He makes his way to the shoulder of a dirt road where a limousine is waiting to get him to an MSNBC studio as fast as possible. His suit and tie, neatly pressed, are waiting for him along with as many hot towels as he may need to remove the fish viscera.

David Brock slinks out of his leather onesie and races to his command center, bustling with Dorito-dust frosted 20-somethings at computer terminals. “This is a level-one-alpha scenario. Cancel all leave. Turn off all X-boxes . . .”

Sidney Blumenthal, consciously dressed like that French guy in The Matrix, leaves his table-for-one, and heads home to sacrifice some creatures to Baal in preparation.

They’re all coming home.

Save for one. Poor Geraldo Rivera, locked in a reinforced steel cage deep in the bowels of News Corp, is pacing his cell like a  vampire’s familiar ordered to return to his master but unable to. The sounds of his howling, can be heard, ever so faintly, in the background during the O’Reilly Factor. Poor Greg Gutfeld has been tasked with keeping him locked up and is using his cattle prod a bit more than necessary . . .

And scene.

The fact that Team Clinton is relying on the old rat squad once again is vastly more significant than most commentators have suggested. Yes, yes, it’s bad politics. A candidate looking to offer a fresh face forward, figuratively speaking, has no choice but to keep his or her own face (John Kerry notwithstanding). But she surely has plenty of options for who she picks to represent her in public. Mrs. Clinton has millions and millions of dollars at her disposal. She has people placed at the highest reaches of the government and the media. There are over 200 people working, formally or informally, for her as policy advisors already. And yet she chooses to get the old band back together instead.
Why? There are many possible answers, but the only plausible one is that a Clinton only trusts Clinton loyalists. This fits everything we know about the Clintons. And it speaks volumes about the thickness of her bubble.

But it also speaks even louder about what kind of president she would be. If you want to know what Hillary Clinton would be like as president, you’re seeing it right now. There is no other Hillary. This is her.

This was the point of my LA Times column on Tuesday. The pathetic parsing and dishonest dissembling (excuse the redundancy, I was going for alliteration), on display in her U.N. press conference is exactly what you’d see from Madame President. For 30 years, Hillary Clinton has been defensive bordering on paranoia (with occasional forays far over the border). For 30 years, Hillary Clinton has responded to every challenge -- not just every scandal, but every challenge (like HillaryCare) -- by convening huge task forces of loyalists. For 30 years, she’s hidden from making tough decisions until events forced her to make them."

March 09, 2015

Naivety Happens

Every once in awhile I stump across a jaw-dropping, alternative-universe level of naivety that makes me despair for the American experiment. And here is today's offering, from the Alaska Dispatch News:

Obama receptive to exchange idea

Just got a letter today from the President of the United States. Although I disagree with some of his policies, he seems willing to listen, and communicate with his country.

Seems he likes my idea of building a closer-knit community among us, by have a program similar to foreign exchange students, only within the borders of our own country.

It would be a school-run program, with students receiving credits for learning about a different race, religion, or creed, by going to live with a family of different belief systems. For instance, a city kid might go to a Native family, and learn about dog sledding or hunting.

A Jewish kid might go to a Muslim family, and learn about their religion. A Christian kid might go to a pagan household, and so forth.

I presented this idea, twice, to Alaska Dispatch News.

It’s a little sad when the president of our beautiful nation has more time for me than Dispatch.
— (name withheld by me)
Now that's an awe-inspiring level of obtuseness.

FOIA is DOA

The Hillary email story prompts a smorgasbord of issues:  secrecy versus transparency, national security, Hillary's hypocrisy and sense of entitlement, how her private email account was known to the Benghazi Committee for at least six months but they said nothing either due to incompetence or because the committee is a sham.

So there's a lot to the story.  But some say it won't have much political impact because Jane and Joe Citizen won't care about what server Clinton's email resided on.  And that is certainly a possibility. Some say it's merely a media story because it's an affront to them in that if a public official is able to hide work communications it makes getting stories harder.

And I I get all that, but I'm not in the media and yet am highly exercised over this story.

Part of the reason may be that I know too much about the context this is coming in: the dramatic undermining of  the Freedom of Information Act  by this administration.  (Which was the bolder and more blatant lie? That George W. Bush would have a humble foreign policy or that Obama would have a transparent administration?  Answer: Obama's lie was bigger, because Bush had the decency not to keep saying it after it was proven patently untrue.)

This should concern us all and not merely the media.  As Scott Woodham wrote:
This trend means that eventually, if they aren't already, government officials will use private email accounts to conduct every kind of state business except to make the blandest, most innocuous statements. The face of our government will become a public mask scrubbed of all import, unresponsive to any meaningful request for information in the public interest. It's pretty close to that already.
Our technology allows unprecedented connectivity, and it is advancing faster than ever. If public oversight doesn't catch up, it could get left behind for good. And then the public's right to know will be completely thwarted.
When that happens, we'll only have ourselves to blame. We must not allow public access to the inner workings of our government to become a partisan issue instead of the civic one it always will be no matter who's in charge.
One of the seemingly most obvious things - that our public officials work for us and not vice-versa - is increasingly getting lost.

March 05, 2015

Found Poetry

I was checking out Poetry Magazine and found a couple I liked: 

Tender  by Randall Mann

There was a time
we had functional alignment.
I was your individual
contributor, you my associate

director. On Monday
I said Happy Monday,
rolling my rimshot grin.
Ring-fenced

by cool molecules,
like cattle, I battled biosimilars,
sipped local gin;
I tried my luck at affairs

and trade fairs,
optimistic as a fantasy
suite. I inked the deal,
the ink slick

...

Something was always gated
on a fragile something.
Everything
on the critical path.

The whiteboard, cruel
as conceptual math,
scope creep
like a disease.

Some of those days,
our parent showed up,
bespoke shoes bearing Leckerli.
I felt like a starlet

on a cruisy backlot,
an outpost of opportunity.
I took on a new role,
went through the motions

and the typing pool.
But the bonus was no bonus,
any more than the bay.
Like tender, it started to fray...


***

Bible Study by Tony Hoagland 

Who would have imagined that I would have to go
a million miles away from the place where I was born
to find people who would love me?
And that I would go that distance and that I would find those people?
...

Who knows, this might be the last good night of summer.
My broken nose is forming an idea of what’s for supper.
Hard to believe that death is just around the corner.
What kind of idiot would think he even had a destiny?

I was on the road for so long by myself,
I took to reading motel Bibles just for company.
Lying on the chintz bedspread before going to sleep,
still feeling the motion of the car inside my body,
I thought some wrongness in my self had made me that alone.

And God said, You are worth more to me
than one hundred sparrows.
And when I read that, I wept.
And God said, Whom have I blessed more than I have blessed you?

And I looked at the mini bar
and the bad abstract hotel art on the wall
and the dark TV set watching like a deacon.

And God said, Survive. And carry my perfume among the perishing.

March 04, 2015

Synchronicities

In one of those momentary synchronicities, I heard a priest who'd spent much time in Europe say that Americans are internationally famous for being unable to be passive and not talk. He said one European monastery has ruled out letting Americans take a vow of silence since it is so difficult for us and because so many left - hence this particular one had an American as greeter and tour guide.  Our priest said the downside is obvious with respect to prayer: we talk to God, but rarely are receptive, passive, or listening. 

Then I see this, on Karl Ove Knausgaard's trip to America:
On the way back to the car, we stopped by another place for coffee. I told him about the last time I was in New York, when a well-known American writer invited me for lunch...I tried desperately to think of something to say. We had to have something in common, we were about the same age, did the same thing for a living, wrote novels, though his were of considerably higher quality than mine. But no, I couldn’t come up with a single topic of conversation.
He talked a little, I listened, nodding politely now and then, said: “Oh, really? Is that so?” while all the time I also had to communicate with the children, who weren’t used to strangers either.
When we got back to Sweden, I received an email from him. He apologized for having invited me to lunch, he had realized he never should have done it and asked me not to reply to his email.
At first I didn’t understand what he meant. I thought we’d had a good time. So why was he apologizing?
Then I realized he must have taken my silence personally. He must have thought I didn’t find it worth my time talking to him.
I wrote back and asked him if he’d seen any Bergman movies? No one talks there either. And Finland was even worse; there, no one ever said anything to each other. I wrote that I’m always like this, that I never say anything to people I don’t know, even when they’re having dinner at our house. He never answered.
“Who was it?” Peter asked.
I told him.
“It’s deeply un-American, you know, not to make small talk. It’s a very important part of the culture of this country. You remind me a little of my dad. He didn’t know how to make small talk, either, when he first got here. Or maybe he didn’t want to. But he does now.”

March 03, 2015

Things I Don't Understand

I try not to follow the news, finding it causes dyspepsia, but two recent stories make me say "huh?".

One is the hullaboo over an ally, Israel's prime minister, speaking at Congress.  After being in the political wildnerness for a decade or so, deservedly so, Republicans finally took control and offered the most mild and milquetoast of rebukes to Obama: an invite to Netanyahu. And they had the temerity to fail to "clear it" with the White House. Because, you know, we don't have three branches of government, just one and a half, the Presidency and the Semi-Supreme Court.

So that whole non-story story was a head-scratcher extraordinaire.  "Protocol ├╝ber alles!"

The other was learning that we had entrusted national security, or at least the State Dep't, to someone who decided to go rogue and set up a hackable email account.  I'm speaking of Hillary of course, whose spokesperson took the Orwell route and decided the best lie is the boldest, saying Hillary complied with the "letter and spirit of the rule".  Complied, without the "comp".

In the early 1600s Richard Burton wrote the following:
For as the Princes are, so are the people; Qualis Rex, talis grex. Their examples are soonest followed, vices entertained, if they be profane, irreligious, lascivious, riotous, epicures, factious, covetous, ambitious, illiterate, so will the commons most part be, idle, unthrifts, prone to lust, drunkards, and therefore poor and needy for poverty begets sedition.... It was an old politician's aphorism, "They that are poor and bad envy rich, hate good men..." 
Where they be generally riotous and contentious, where there be many discords, many laws, many lawsuits, many lawyers and many physicians, it is a manifest sign of a distempered, melancholy state, as Plato long since maintained: for where such kind of men swarm, they will make more work for themselves, and that body politic diseased. A general mischief in these our times, an insensible plague, and never so many lawyers: which are now multiplied (saith Mat. Geraldus, a lawyer himself,) as so many locusts, not the parents, but the plagues of the country, and for the most part a supercilious, bad, covetous, litigious generation of men. A purse-milking nation, a clamorous company, gowned vultures, thieves and seminaries of discord.  
No surprise Hillcat is a purse-milking lawyer...  Okay, set rant off.  At ease men! No more buzz-kills for at least a couple days.

March 02, 2015

I Don't Think I'll Ever View Nutella The Same Again...

Obituary of the inventor of Nutella: 

Each product was exhaustively researched in his two labs, one in Alba and one in Monaco where he lived later, and tested out on board members. (“We eat all day,” one complained.) New technology was eagerly tried. He took five years, it was said, to find a way of bending the wafers inside his Ferrero Rocher pralines. Wherever he went he would visit shops incognito to check that his products were fresh.
...
The second woman was Maria, the Virgin Mary. He could achieve nothing without her. Each morning he prayed to her and placed his business in her hands. Every year he went on pilgrimage to Lourdes, and arranged for his workers to go. (One company legend was that the shape of Ferrero Rochers was inspired by the grotto there.) A statue of the Virgin, with white robe and golden rosary, stood at the entrance of every Ferrero office and factory round the world. Under her influence, he and his foundation channelled much of his wealth back to Piedmont. It was done, though, with no fanfare, and after a brief appearance in his dark glasses il Signor Michele would, as usual, slip away.
This reminds me of something our mission priest said this year.

"We must wrap our finite purpose within the infinite purpose - to know and love Christ...I read of a dry cleaner who cleaned stains customer couldn't see because his finite purpose - cleaning - was wrapped in larger purpose of focussing on Christ.“

Observationals


Excerpt from F. Scott Fitzgerald short story:
“He was enjoying himself as much as he was able. It is youth’s felicity as well as its insufficiency that it can never live in the present, but must always be measuring up the day against its own radiantly imagined future—flowers and gold, girls and stars, they are only prefigurations and prophecies of that incomparable, unattainable young dream.” 

*

I dread a Hillary win in '16. I'd prefer anybody else, even godforsaken Biden or Elizabeth Nefertiti Warren.

Why? Because she combines two things few candidates combine: corruption and a lack of resume.

Say what you will about Barack Obama but there was no hint of corruption in his past when he was running in '08. Hillary's is checkered, from shady Arkansas land deals, to cattle futures, to money-grubbing from foreign sources. As one liberal pundit put it, she's obsessed with money and always has been, presumably as a conduit to power. This has led her down some dark places, ethically. Add to all this how she covered for Bill and helped smear his women, one who credibly was raped, and you have an extremely ethically-challenged person running for president.

But what makes her even more special is that unlike many shady politicians, she's never been effective. She has gotten to her current position on the back of Bill Clinton. She was mediocre at best as Secretary of State; she was an average senator, the latter a job that requires no heavy lifting. Unlike George W. Bush, who also had the advantage of running on the back of someone (his father) Hillary has never governed a state.

She'll likely win simply because we tend to buy politicians, like products, based on name brand.   Coke and Pepsi often win not on merits but familiarity.

But the combination of never being an executive while having a problem with corruption makes her a particularly unattractive candidate. God save us from more years under an arrogant, corrupt presidency.

*

I recently thought of Andrew Greeley, God rest his soul, and of the agonizing end of his life, and how an accident was the culprit. I thought about Thomas Merton, who died quickly, but also from an accident. What is it about my mind that dislikes accidents as a cause of death in the near-saintly?  Superstitious of me, surely, but I thought of how both Merton and Greeley flirted with heresy, and I want to try to recall if there were any orthodox near-saints who died from an accident. Fr. Groeschel, almost, but his pull-thru was so miraculous that it scents of a grace denied to Greeley and Merton.   I'm sure there is some famous, traditionalist Catholic who succumbed accidentally, but I can't recall.