October 31, 2004

Saw a line from Ann Annplebaum's column about Saddam Hussein & the aftermath of the war:

Increasingly, everything that is wrong in Iraq, from the malfunctioning infrastructure to the ethnic tensions, is blamed on the U.S. occupation. A wider debate about how Iraq got to where it is -- how Hussein mismanaged the country, murdered whole villages and stole the nation's money -- might help persuade Iraqis to invest in the present.

One gets the sense that Iraqis needed - but had not wanted or asked for - help. They appear not to be ready to take responsibility for their own part in the situation, and until you take responsibility...(you know the rest).

Still, this was juxtaposed by an email from KTC, who was hesitant to make a phone call to someone who she thought might need - though not want - her help: "...But my favorite priest of all time had the most accurate view, I think. When he escorted a group of 4th grade girls and their moms to a nursing home one Christmas, he didn't hesitate to ask the nurse to wake Catholic patients up. "If YOU were cooped up in here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and a bunch of school kids came in wanting to sing YOU Christmas carols, would you want them to skip you? Heck, you can sleep anytime, but we don't show up anytime!"

Personally, I hope God doesn't wait for distress calls.
Our Pastor's Sermon

Msgr. Lane used the gospel reading of Zacchaeus to speak in a practical way. He said most of us can relate to Zacchaeus, being similarly small of spiritual stature. He said we should once in awhile try to see over the clutter, seek Christ, to look for what is higher amid the compulsiveness this hyper-political season breeds. "We risk becoming as small as our world is."

His homily is no-nonsense. He doesn't pretend we aren't spiritually small. Our pastor's expectations seem to be low, which makes improvement seem possible because we don't have a high hurdle to leap. (He once said words to the effect that it is the young people who will be the force of renewal in the church and I thought, "hey, hey, is he giving up on us middle-agers?" But at the same time I reluctantly recognized a truth in it.)

Beautiful reading from the book of Wisdom (Wisdom 11:22 - 12:2) today (a bennie of being Catholic since it's not in the KJV):
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them, and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!
UPDATE: See Tom's comments on this reading.
Firesale of Weekend Ramblings

Work is tenuous at best. The office climate is mass paranoia, and I wonder how long the second word in “unchallenging job” will still be applicable to me. The bigwigs huddle, never a good sign, and there are wars and rumors of war. To me the matter is settled: do my fool job until God says otherwise. The only vague sense of unease I have is a curious absence of a vague sense of unease, which gives new reason for unease. But I have a sense of rest about it because 1) God knows my limits, and they are very limiting and 2) good soldiers wait for orders before plunging ahead and 3) all you have to do is ask!

Edge of Weekend

Oh sweet the weekend!
bred this Friday night
begun with Guinness and chimes
and jigs and rhymes
till the hour breaks Saturday’s cusp
and dew forms the bluegrass.

By Saturday’s winsomeness
there are volumes limitless
bound in life tuxes,
perfumed in white margins
and burnt-bled of writers wrists.

Oh then to read in the scent-heavy study
‘midst the glow of the lava
near where yard leaves gather
in their hue-full clumps
while a DVD plays
the unwatched episode of “Ballykissangel”.

Only in chill and damp
are books opened and stories told,
For on hot summer days your DNA dances
and the only thought between
heaven and earth is:
“Boswell needs to get a life!”
_

Had a dream where I went to Communion after asking the priest beforehand if I could have 50 Eucharists. He'd said yes, and so after everyone received I knelt at the Communion rail. I'd expected to receive them all at once in a stack which I could presumably consume quickly or take back to my seat...i.e. remain inconspicuous. Instead he gave me Eucharist after Eucharist treating each as separate and with identical reverence ("The Body of Christ".."Amen".."The Body of Christ".."Amen" ). I'm greatly agitated by the spectacle. Everyone is watching from the pews asking "who is this guy?" And I'm thinking how presumptuous and unrighteous I was to ask for 50 Eucharists and how the priest had handled it perfectly. Instead of telling me "no" he did what I'd asked, only in a way I hadn't expected. And so I couldn't be mad at him, only at myself.

October 30, 2004

Awfully Mature, This John Allen

This Word From Rome guy sounds like a real adult:
o Can we desist from patterns of speech and thought that are destructive of dialogue? For example, can we stop pretending there's an animal out there called "the bishops" that has only one way of thinking and acting? In the United States, the Catholic bishops run from Tom Gumbleton to Fabian Bruskewitz and every point of the compass in between. There's little sense in sweeping jeremiads about "the bishops."

Are we prepared, for example, to step outside our prejudices to sympathetically consider the other? I noted that I heard during the weekend negative references to the Catholic TV network EWTN, and descriptions of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's top doctrinal official, as if he were Genghis Kahn. In Schreiter's session, he happened to mention that a new bishop in Austria comes from Opus Dei, and the gasps were audible, as if he had said the bishop was a member of the Nazi party or the Klu Klux Klan. Of course, this was a conversation among friends, and some of these comments were just blowing off steam. Still, what does this suggest about our capacity for dialogue? (The same question could be put to some conservative Catholics who scorn, for example, Voice of the Faithful, the staff of the U.S. bishops' conference, and any number of bishops they regard as "soft" on dissent).

o Are we sufficiently critical of the manifold ways in which secularity shapes our own imaginations, instincts and prejudices? To hear some people talk, I said, one might think "secularity" is a cultural force outside the church which we must seek out and engage. In reality, I argued, secularity was in this room -- it's the air in which we live and move and have our being. As one proof of the point, I said, I heard more references over the weekend to movies and TV shows than I did to Charles Borromeo or Luigi Sturzo.

o Isn't part of the reason that the "secular world" so often turns a deaf ear to us precisely because in so many ways we look, talk and act exactly like it? For example, haven't we reproduced inside the church, in exacting detail, the same polarization, the same ideological hatreds, and the same interest group strategies drawn from the secular world? Don't we see that pattern, to take one current instance, in Catholic debate over the Bush/Kerry election?
And much more...
Liberal
by Vincent O'Sullivan

Consider this:
A man who feels for the people.
A friend to the ill-favoured.
Never a word against the bar-
barians assuming Roman dress.

Reconcile this:
A believer in man's potential.
A voice raised against the games
where human flesh is sport.
A man whose eyes fill at music.

You might at least concede:
No man went hungry from my door.
No woman was molested.
No child was imposed on.
Humanitas inevitable as breath.

I who might have, have
never raped, pillaged, extorted;
abused office or position;
concealed; interfered with art;
stood between any man and the sunset.

And yet as you say,
I have killed a god. I have made
of impartiality, a farce.
I have dabbled in chaos. I,
Pilate. Who vote as you do.

--via Sancta Sanctis

October 29, 2004

Listenin' to Cajun music and I can still see the gator-smile of the bass player of Michael Cormier & the Can’t Hardly Playboys in my mind's eye. I hain’t seen a bigger grin this side of Paradise. When the Cardinals scored a run against the Astros the band tried to take credit for the audience cheers, thanking them profusely. Later runs were similarly received, the moral bein' you take what you can get, even if it's leftovers.

I have a renewed hunger to read. I'm in reading deficit and I go to bed hungry every night. I’m longing to lounge through Boswell’s “Life of Johnson”. And why not Borges’ little non-fiction pieces? Updike’s “Early Stories”? I ordered it. Ala carte. I opened the fresh biography of “Hamilton Joe” Nuxhall and the book was pungent in that jet-photography sort of way, just like National Geographics. When I was a kid, after looking for pictures of African native gals who’d forgotten their bras, I’d enjoy the amazing ink smell that Geographics are known for. Perhaps the binding was airplane glue; it was certainly addictive.

Reading about Nuxhall playing basketball on neighbor courts brought to mind my own misspent youth. While T.C. Boyle was reading Schopenhauer I was trying to be the first 5’10’’ Jerry West. The Los Angeles Laker star spent his West Virginian youth wearing out the nylon of the local basketball nets and I did likewise. I played till it was cold and dark and my fingers were numb. My sense of presumption was impressive; I wore out my neighbor’s net! They never minded, God bless them. I’m not sure I even asked nor appreciated it. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
Tis a Mystery

Irish writer Robert McLiam Wilson, who wrote the enjoyable "Eureka Street" (enjoyable when I was 32 at least) hasn't written anything in eight years. He's about my age, 40, still young by writer standards, so it just seems odd to me. A google search provides little insight into his situation.
It may come down to...

Four Votes in O-HI-O

From the Corner:
THE SEESAW [Jonah Goldberg]
Yesterday, I was highly confident Bush would win. Today I am only somewhat confident. My fear today is that Bush will lose Ohio. He can still win -- as Rich points out today -- if he loses Ohio. But let's face it, with Ohio out of W's W column, it's much harder.


Looking at the electoral map, it's still tighter than Hambone's budget. I think Bush will win FL and Iowa and maybe PA, but I'd be shocked if he wins WI, NJ or HI. Minnesota and Michigan are supposedly "barely Bush" states, but if they go for Bush then my name is Elmer Fudd.

Ohio is a complete unknown. Ham o' Bone seems to think that Bush is going to profit from a big evangelical vote but I find it hard to believe there were that many evangelicals who didn't vote for Bush in 2000 (remember that was also the "most important election of our lifetime" - reminds me of how during a baseball game one of us will say "play of the game!" a minimum of eight times). It seems to me Bush has to get many more votes than he did in '00 just to stay even, since Nader didn't make the ballot this time and new registrations in Democratic areas are "out the wazoo" - a technical term meaning lots. Meanwhile Peter Schramm on Backgrounders went from seeing Ohio as "Not a Swing State" on 10/27/04 to a full panic mode "Ahnold save us!" on 10/29/04. Which is kind of humorous if you think about it.

On a personal note, while I, like Charlotte Allen, am not experiencing the angst that some Catholic voters are concerning who to vote for, I do have angst in wondering if I've done enough for Bush in the form of volunteering to knock on doors, etc...So we all have guilt or uncertainty in one form or another. It is patently absurd to compare belief in a candidate to belief in God but they are alike in the sense that the greater the certainty given to you, the more that is expected of you. Bush's foil (Kerry) makes the certainty greater for me.
Jimmy Akin on whether Devout Non-Catholics Can Be As Devout As Devout Catholics   as well as how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if...
If one takes a subjective definition of "devout," by which it would mean "sincere" or "fervent in practice," then it would seem that non-Catholic Christians can be just as sincere and fervent in their practice of religion as Catholics. Catholics do not have an intrinsic subjective advantage in terms of sincerity or fervor. They do, however, have an extrinsic advantage--as you point out--in that they have means of grace available to them that can foster greater fervor. These include not only the sacraments but also sacramentals, Catholic art, etc.

Yet these extrinsic advantages can be overcome by other extrinsic factors. The pitiful preaching and catechesis that has existed in many Catholic churches for the last forty years is an extrinsic factor that mitigates against fervor, and the fervor of many Catholics has been depressed by this compared to the fervor of those in many Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches.

Historically the word "devout" may be taken in another, more objectivist sense--i.e., religious practice that makes an objective connection with God. This might be taken as something Paul has in mind when he says that "it is good to be zealous in a good thing always" (Gal. 4:18). If the term "devout" is taken in this sense (i.e., devotion that objectively makes a connection with God rather than simply being subjectively fervent without this connection necessarily being made) then the Catholic has more of an advantage.
Eve Tushnet on the election:
Bush would have to do something fairly spectacular to get me to vote for Kerry. I'm not going to pretend that I was ever a "swing voter" in that sense. And, as I said, I can't vote in this election anyway. But I know a lot of Catholics, and a lot of conservatives, are considering voting third-party or sitting this one out. And I hope they won't. I don't think Bush's foreign-policy failures are worth a Kerry presidency. I know this is unlikely to persuade; so I will just go back to what I have been doing, which is praying, writing fiction, volunteering, and trying to bring some kind of order and hope to my life and the lives of the people I can touch.
 Extreme
   Soul
      Makeover
 - check your local listings!

      Transcript from last week's show:
Dah-ling, you've let yourself go! Those are the seven deadly sins, not virtues, for heaven sakes. Thank God he starts where we are and not where we should be.



Fortunately we have a team of specialists here to assist: soulatologists, prayer stylists, alms artists, soul beauticians, confessors, spiritual personal trainers, and most importantly the Soul Surgeon, who never leaves a scar. He's always available and no appointments are needed, so don't hesitate to talk with him.

First we'll introduce you to Mary, who without question has the most beautiful soul ever created. I promise she won't blanch at your split ends. We had a gal come in the other day with really crappy nails and Mary didn't blink an eye. Remarkable because Mary's nails look like Heaven! She'll have you say the Rosary which will soften the skin of your soul. You'll feel like buttah!

During your stay there will be a Confessional purgative, where you will experience the healing balm of forgiveness and unmerited mercy. Depending on your needs, we'll set up sessions with our staff of saints who have undergone similar extreme makeovers. Augustine and Magdalen are favorites for those with problems with wrinkles, eye bags, acne and scars. But first a herbal bath in the Psalms. And don't worry. As an old curmudgeon once told me, "Pray, hope and don't worry!"
Twas the Night of the Election

Twas the night of the election and all through the land
Not a creature was stirring, not even Rove's hand
All the chads were hung by the voters with care
In the hope that a result would soon be there.

Then, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but lawyers and gadflys in a shiny new Lear.
A maniacal flyer with a voice like a roar,
I knew in a moment it must be Michael Moore.

And more rapid than eagles his minions all came
As he shouted “On Carville” and each operative's name.
And so up to Ohio the minions soon flew
With a sleigh full of lawsuits and false charges, too.
Down the chimney he came with a leap and a bound;
He wore a strange ballcap, and his belly was round.

He spoke a few words then went straight to his work,
He filled the stockings with lies and turned with a jerk.
Then giving the finger and pinching his nose,
He gave us a nod up the chimney he rose.
And I heard him exclaim as he flew out of sight,
“Merry elections to all and to all a long night!”

October 28, 2004

Via Email...

It looks like Kerry needs Ohio far more than Bush does, which is some measure of comfort here in the Buckeye state:
The 2004 General election in Ohio has the very real potential of being the most chaotic in the state’s history, a condition likely to be echoed in the other five ‘battleground states.’ It appears that Ohio could very well be the most contested election among the 50 states this year, with current Presidential polls a virtual draw, all within the margin of error. Within just the past week Ohio has been moved from a “leaning Bush” to a “toss-up” state.

Four years ago the Gore campaign withdrew much of its campaign resources about three weeks before the election, essentially conceding the state to Bush. In retrospect, political observers view this decision as probably costing Gore the election, since Bush won by only slightly more than 3%.

Of the 5 states listed in the “too close to call,” Ohio controls more than one-half (20) of the 37 total electoral votes in the balance in toss-up states. The environment is clearly ripe for a flood of “political” operatives entering Ohio from all over the country, who will do all they can to get out the vote on Election Day for their preferred candidate. Consequently the Presidential election results in Ohio are virtually impossible to predict. Second week of October national polling results show that Kerry must win Ohio to become President.
The title alone made me smile. Also, she rebuts an anti-blogger here.
"Why Not Us?"

Touching "Win it for..." thread (via Mark S.) posted before the Red Sox win. Hard not to get choked up. Fifty-four pages (at last count), a summa of prayers, a proverbial ocean of heartsick and longing for which the Germans have the perfect word: sehnsucht. From the first couple pages:
Win it for dad who will stop hating them if they win

Win it for mom who passed away 10-23-03.

She never really cared much about the Sox, outside of the fact that she knew I was always in a better mood when they won, until last post season. She watched all the games against Oakland, even game one that ended at 2:30 am.

She called me for play by play during game 6 vs NY because her home town lost power in the late innings.

One of the last things she said to me on 10-22-03, when I was visiting her at the hospital a few days after game 7 was it's too bad they couldn't have won.
*
Win it for the guy Roger Angell wrote about when summing up the 1975 World Series--the guy he imagined driving his car somewhere on a lonely road in New England while listening to Game 6, who, when Pudge hits the HR, stops his car, gets out, and jumps up and down for sheer joy: Everyman.

"We're the leaders of tomorrow."
"Yeah, but it's today."
- Firesign Theatre

[Reminds me of the gospel story where the sister of Lazurus looks to a future resurrection of the dead and Jesus says, "I am the Resurrection": "it is today!"]
*
Win it for Grandma and Grandpa Starrett. They taught my mother and I how to truly love baseball.

Win it for Grandma Anderson who told me just before she passed that she was pretty sure they would win one sometime soon.

Win it for Grandpa Anderson with the Hope that this may briefly pierce the shroud of Alheimzer's that surrounds this noble man.

Win it for Mom and Me we have agreed to only speak briefly after each game mostly to see if we are both still alive.

Win it for my daughter who is watching the games at UCSD. She reminds me of a loney freshmen at RPI in 1978. May she met some life long friends like I did so long ago.

Win it for us all
Updated

I posted more prose on my prose for Nigerian Scammers blog. Rated PG-13.
Ephesians 5 Rules

Is there anything more beautiful than Ephesians 5? I'm not talking about wives being submissive to their husbands but just beyond that, to the real wine:
...Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

"For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."

This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
The spectacular awe of this passage is Christ leaving his Father to be joined to his church and become one flesh with us, "cleansing us in the bath of water with the word" so that he might present us without blemish to the Father. That's an exquisite, inexpressibly wonderful image and a balm to the tough love expressed in yesterday's Gospel reading, Luke 13:22-30. Eligibility for salvation in the OT was blood - kin-blood of being of the tribe of Jacob. In the NT, it wasn't changed from the material to strictly spiritual but fulfilled utterly, by reception of the Blood of Christ, making us of the tribe of Jacob.

October 27, 2004

From a Review of "Early Stories"

...here:
Unlike writers like Emerson and Thoreau, who needed spectacular natural surroundings to bolster their artistic and theological visions, [John] Updike needs only ordinary things to do so. He sees truth, and indeed, evidence of God Himself, in the commonplace things around him. The narrator in one of his stories says, “A piece of turf torn from a meadow becomes a Gloria when drawn by Durer. Details. Details are the giant’s fingers.” The ordinary, to Updike, is extraordinary. The mundane is magical.
Caveman

An Ohio legislator retired last year and I'm not sure but I think he was nicknamed "Dr. No" (or was it "the Caveman"?) because he voted down every new spending idea not on the merits but on the principle that guvmint was big enough, thank you very much.

I thought it crude - he could at least read the proposal or bill. But we all must fill a role that is unique but not sufficient in itself, and so Mr. Caveman fulfilled the role of guardian of the public treasury knowing he was not sufficient and that proponents would do their thing. Meanwhile he remained admirably detached from what others thought of him. Despite his nays, from 1960 to 2000 Ohio went from one of the least taxed states to the top quartile, and an analysis by the Tax Foundation of each state’s “business tax friendliness” ranked Ohio 47th in the nation.

What is interesting is that the prescient Dr. No didn't get sucked in. He considered new taxes to be like kids who cajole their daddy to consider something "just this once" while knowing that just this once means just as often as their special pleading will work. Just this once is great in theory, but opens the door. With the abortion debate, was it all over when the Pill was legalized? Probably not, but once that hurdle was cleared it was much easier. Now we attempt to incrementally reverse the Culture of Death, beginning with the Conor bill and the partial-birth abortion ban. Slippery slopes work both ways.

October 26, 2004

John Updike ...

...nails it concerning the Iraq War:
"My view is that the sanctions weren't going anywhere except starving a lot of Iraqi babies, and that Saddam could play games with the U.N. forever, so something in me sympathized with George Bush's desire to remove him. He's paying for it, we're all paying for it--the soldiers who are getting killed are paying for it. It's very easy to say that this was a dreadful mistake, but I'm not sure that it was."
...And on Bible translations.
Why should not Alter’s version, its program so richly contemplated and persuasively outlined, become the definitive one, replacing not only the King James but the plethora of its revised, uninspired, and “accessible” versions on the shelf?

Several reasons why not, in the course of my reading through this massive tome (sold sturdily boxed, as if to support its weight), emerged. The sheer amount of accompanying commentary and philological footnotes is one of them. The fifty-four churchmen and scholars empowered at a conference at Hampton Court in January of 1604 to provide an authoritative English Bible had a clear charge: to supply English readers with a self-explanatory text. When they encountered a crux, they took their best guess and worked on; many of the guesses can be improved upon now, but no suggestion of an unclear and imperfect original was allowed to trouble the Word of God.

October 25, 2004

New Orleans

I was impressed by a couple things about New Orleaners, though I know one can hardly make judgments on such a micro trip. One was how friendly they were. And the other was the great facility they have in separating money from wallet while not technically pick-pocketing you. One woman gave us fine New Orleans ballcaps, seemingly gratis. Then she asked for a donation. I gave her one and she frowned and said the cap was $10. I handed back the cap. Later a panhandler with an image of a baby pinned to her shirt began polishing my tennis shoes. Now there’s a first. How can you not give a few bucks to someone who’s polishing your Sauconys while her ill baby looks up at you?

Some vacations have more of a cumulative effect about them, a piling up of brush strokes that form a larger impression rather than a heightened single memory. This first trip to the Big Easy was like that. Time was taut since we were taking one of our ‘speed travel’ trips, trying to see as much in 72 hours as possible.

First thing we did was walk down the infamous Bourbon St. in the French Quarter. It was tacky and trashy and I could already read my wife’s thoughts: “I came all the way from Ohio for this? Walking in ninety degree heat to see smut show signs?” The day was steamy hot, hotter here in late October than any Ohio August day this past summer. One fellow later told us it reached 99 degrees but he might have been just a “sayer” (my wife’s term for truth-embellisher). We came to a shop called “Jazz Funeral”, whose mission in life appeared to be to mock the traditional “remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return”. Everywhere there were skulls and skeletons, some placed in obscene positions. I recall a church in Rome where the monks had arranged their bones in artistic representations of Christian symbols like the crucifix and the sacred heart and “Jazz Funeral” seemed the flip side of that in arranging reminders of our mortality as “party, for tomorrow you may die” instead of a “pray, for tomorrow you may die”.

After a meal at Tu Jacque, a handsome old New Orleans bar full of atmosphere where the barkeep looked the part – like a method actor preparing for a role. Our group of four looked like cardboard cutouts of tourists; if there was a “Preppy Handbook” for tourists, we’d have a page.

After a few hours walking in the heat a tour bus looked very attractive. It saved our feet and we got an overview of the whole city, including a visit to Cemetery Number 3, the safest of the cemeteries, which I’d marked as a disadvantage. (A tour of a creepy cemetery combined with a lack of personal safety has a certain panache.) Our droll guide was in his late 20s and looked like he’d been doing this for awhile based on the occasional stifled yawn. He had the eccentric tic of humming a few notes when he was done pointing out something historic, as if to fill the vacuum.

He also gave the tour a Catholic-centric cast. “New Orleans was 110% Catholic and is now 80% Catholic,” he said as he pointed out some seemingly trivial sights such as local Catholic high schools and smaller Catholic churches, while ignoring non-Catholic institutions along the way. He pointed out Notre Dame seminary and said, “we’ve held our breath but so far it hasn’t been in the news” and in the silence he said, “do you get it?” and yes we nodded. No scandal news. Our stop at Cemetery number 3 was pleasingly Catholic. A large statue of Mother Teresa over a gravestone led Mark to jokingly say, “I didn’t know she was buried here!”. But this was merely a memorial, with a quote engraved in the stone: “If you pray, you will have faith. And if you have faith, you will love. And if you have love, you will serve. And if you serve, you will have peace.” All the sky tilted with the white-stoned angels and virgins in this above-ground cemetery, looking like beautiful immobile birds resting on pedestals. The tall monuments lent it the atmosphere of a town, a peaceful “City of the Dead”.

Drove by the author Anne Rice’s “Mardi Gras home” on the parade route. Beads dance in the trees long after Mardi Gras since the branches catch strands thrown from the 20-foot tall parade floats and there they remain, silently like a reveler’s Spanish moss, the only lasting trace of parties past. Our guide said that having access to a toilet is the key ingredient in a Mardi Gras home but Rice’s digs were far more than that. This beautiful white-pillared mansion was representative of the fine homes in the Garden District of the city. A surprising number of the homes were marred by large political signs. Imagine Tara in Gone With the Wind with a 5’by7’ Bush/Cheney or Kerry/Edwards sign affixed below a second floor window. Louisiana isn’t even a swing state, since the polls are decidedly in Bush’s favor, but maybe in New Orleans there are so many swing state travelers (like us) that they feel the need to assert their opinions.

The architecture is spectacular but I feel blasé. Wonder is more elusive as we age but it is only critical in the realm of religion, although I suspect there is a carryover from life in general. Can awe at the beauty of the pageantry of a Mardi Gras parade set the plate for a more religious awe? Father Joe Warrilow, the saint in Hendra’s “Father Joe” had an awe for the natural world that was almost inseparable from his awe of God. When we are young we may have a great respect for human authority, be it priest or president. This has eroded on a macro scale within the culture (JFK was a saint until the biographies came out in the late ‘60s) and I wonder if this erosion of respect for human authority has carried over to the Divine. We are not disembodied spirits, so an incarnational religion like Christianity can’t afford to lack models in the flesh.

We ate at Mike Anderson’s that night, a seafood restaurant, and I had the obligatory alligator appetizer. I’d forgotten how it tasted. Not that great. Rather chewy. (I’ll avoid the ‘tastes like chicken’ gibe, which is now older than Methuselah, which, come to think of it, is a pretty old cliche itself.) The “Big Easy” is in many ways our opposite: loose, spontaneous, heedlessly lustful. One gets the sense they don’t live in their head so much. At the restaurant I spotted a table that looked like four locals. Late 50s-something guy with a Southern ballcap with some strand (not hair) trailing from the back. 20-ish year old girl wearing lingerie and who looked like a hooker in the old timey brothel sense, rather than the Brittany Spears sense. Another woman in her 40s and a man in his 30s. Good mix of ages and there was warmth and listening and eye contact and toasts. A special occasion? Perhaps. Perhaps not? Travel is most interesting when we listen to what another culture is telling us.

Went to a hoppin’ Cajun music playing joint on Bourbon Street that night, which was okay except that audience participation was the rule, not the exception, and we were stiffer than a grove of knotty pines. The lead singer of the cleverly-named “Mitchell Cormier and the Can’t Hardly Playboys” eventually got around to personally inviting me to wear an aluminum washboard played with spoons but I declined and he said he would refuse to beg. Observers tend to like to observe rather than be observed. Or so I rationalized. Mark and Sandy were smart enough not to make eye contact and so weren’t asked.

Day 2

We boarded a streetcar not named “Desire” and headed down St. Charles Ave to the Garden District for a self-guided walking tour, a very enjoyable experience in the fine sun amid the majestic homes. The Garden District Book Shop, or Anne Rice bookstore as I came to refer to it, contained a heady bouquet of prose. I was sorely tempted to buy early and often. Rice’s “Pandora” looked interesting, as did David Lodge’s new “Author, Author” based on the life of Henry James. James lived a very full life, full of travel and friends and gustatory pleasures. Been everywhere, met everyone but never had sex. Died a virgin. Can we imagine a popular author now who hasn’t had sex? Oh yeah, I forgot - Andrew Greeley.(?)

We took a walking tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (safe if in groups) and along the way our guide took us to an 1880s brothel with pictures of some of the prostitutes on the wall. “They were well-fed” was my wife’s funny comment, as we looked at the very stout-legged women.

Voodoo is big down in New Orleans, and I, at least, got the impression our guide was a practitioner and a subtle proselytizer. At the tomb of the voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, she left three rum cigars and put her hand against the tomb while “making a wish three times”. Maybe forty-five seconds passed while she closed her eyes. “It was a big wish,” she said afterwards. She invited us to do likewise but I don’t know that any did.

The Catholic Church has refused cremation until a few decades ago and her explanation of this was not out of respect for the doctrine that we will receive resurrected bodies but because “they thought if the body was torched your souls goes to Hell”. This seemed to me to be a sort of Da Vinci Code spin to make the Church look silly but I could be wrong. A quick Google search: “The practice of burying the body dates to early years of Christianity. The Catholic Church forbid cremation because our bodies were seen as temple for the Holy Spirit and the belief in the resurrection of the body. Catholics believe that at the end of time, everyone that goes to Heaven will get their bodies back in perfect condition. Therefore, cremation was seen as a pagan activity and denied the doctrine of the Resurrection.”

But one can easily understand how appealing this Marie Laveau must be to modern women like our guide, who was a short gal with a pug nose, fair hair, blue eyes and was built like a fire plug who looked like she could probably benchpress my weight. Vodoo Marie commanded respect. Six foot tall when men averaged 4’10’’, she was of a mixed, multicultural background in a time when the usual prejudices prevailed. She was a devout Catholic who became interested in this “earthy” religion of voodoo (our guide gave parallels to Native American and new age religions). A romantic story was Ms. Laveau’s. A white naval captain renounced part of his freedom when he married her, since at that time intermarriage had legal implications.

We had lunch at a micro-brewery, in the shadow of the large gold vats where the bier was made, just behind the bar where “To Go” cups are offered. The Black Forest brew was sumptuous and rich, the best of the five we received as samples. One could get lost in that Schwarzvald. I had one to go, and we walked some more, briefly losing Mark who was on the nearly fruitless mission of finding a non-raunchy New Orleans T-shirt for his brother.

I walked into an antique shop that specialized in old religious art objects and I was struck by how they seemed to have some indefinably different quality over those of more recent vintage. They seem more somber, more realistic somehow. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I’d recently been to a religious gift shop at the Retreat center, and everything was light, airy, and Hallmark-y. I was never arrested in my tracks at that store as I was in this shop.
_

We eventually made our way back to Bourbon Street to see if we could find one of those policeman on horseback like you see on Cops at Mardi Gras. (We don’t get out much; had to get a picture of a cop on those tall horses.) We walked up and down the long street, our legs aching and dodging the drunks and weathering the wretched masses of vomit before deciding it was a lost cause. We turned left on Toulouise to go to our final evening destination: an Irish pub. My wife loves horses and was sorely disappointed, but the show must go on. I took one last look at the street jammed with people and in the distance saw the faint blue helmet of one of New Orleans’ finest, and we hustled after him like Vladimirs who had found Godot. Pictures were taken, peace restored, and we headed to the Irish pub off the beaten path.

The singer was named O’Flaherty and he came from the Aran Islands forty years ago and he reminded me again of how lucky I am to be an American, how I’m just one-hundred and sixty years removed from desperate poverty, the poverty of the Irish before and during the Great Hunger. He seemed a throw-back, a moist-eyed sensitive soul who thanked his doorman as if he were his best friend. Perhaps he is. He said his wife made up a website and you can tell he wasn’t the computer type. The internet is a somewhat cold and impersonal medium. He was a popular folksinger from the ‘60s and 70s and played at large venues then when folk was held in high esteem. He said he wasn’t a “pub guy”, wouldn’t play them anymore, because he was “too controversial” despite saying nothing that was controversial as far as I could tell. This pub was his pub and so it didn’t count; he could enforce the rules which appeared to be no smoking and no loud talking. I think he might’ve gotten used to the attentiveness of the crowd in the 70s and now has had to experience the painful withdrawal symptoms when something is taken away. He reminded me of John Denver in that sense.

Day 3

Took the drive out to Cajun country, towards Lafayette, ground zero of the French Acadians. I always notice and appreciate church signs and I wasn’t disappointed on this trip: “Praise God for 1100 in attendance at Drama” and “Over 10 Trillion Served” (the latter referring to Communion services at an Episcopalian church).

We were headed for Zam’s Swamp Tour, a brochure for which was providentially found in a taxi cab on the way to the car rental. We arrived just after noon and I was elected to ask what time the 1:30 tour began. (The brochure had said so, but idiot tourist questions are my stock-in-trade, and I did not disappoint. The coup d’ grace is when your fellow tourists say that you asked idiot tourist questions.)

Instead of waiting till 1:30 we visited the more yuppified swamp tour across the street (is ‘yuppified swamp tour’ an oxymoron?). They advertised a web site, which no self-respecting Cajun swamp tour would. There was nothing Deliverance-y about this set up, no siree. It was a clean, well-lit place with a modern home, red truck in the driveway, cut grass, graveled driveway with nary a gravel out of place and run by a mother and a son.

By contrast, Zam’s was populated with old live oaks and three good ol’ boys who looked like French Acadian fur trappers swapping stories with thick-lipped accents. They had little animals in small cages; a black dog lay silent in his 2’ by 2’ cell. Rabbits hung suspended in cages from the tree branches. It lent an atmosphere of menace, or at least authenticity, to the extent bunnies in cages can add authenticity to anything.

The weather was sweetly hot. Summer was out on furlough and we’d timed our own furlough perfectly. On a beautiful sun-drenched day we lived in the body here in slow-moving water amid the gators and herons and egrets and eagles. It was soporific, the hum of the engine and sun on the face. We received a private tour and our guide provided lots of information about regulations on alligator hunting and the business side of living in South Louisiana.

We ate at a Cajun-style restaurant at which “rack of elk” was offered. Wouldn’t an elk’s horns be a bit hard to chew? Rimshot. One nice thing about writing is you can airbrush personal embarrassments by ascribing them to other people. For example, Mark never could figure out why many like shrimp cocktail. It was unpleasant, biting a hard tasteless shell. Steph mentions how you’re supposed to remove the legs and shell first! Ahhh…it tasted better to Mark, but still not quite worth the effort, even assuaged by a couple Shiner Bocks.

Afterwards we made our way to a Zydeco joint. Benches lined the dance floor and it reminded me of an old roller rink. The music blasted, Randol’s Salle de Danse was the legend over the dance floor. The motion of the squeeze box was hypnotizing; this one was a beautiful tinsel green the color of Christmas wrapping. How nice to be outside the stifling world of politics! Vacations like this that involve exploring another geography gives me a thirst for a good history book. History is non-utilitarian since I’m not a policy-maker and thus not doomed to repeat macro historical events. The danger in writing about trips is that it can becomes experience for writing’s sake instead of experience for experience’s sake. It’s hard to shut off the prose-making part of the brain, which is buried in the reptilian part which also controls breathing and reflexes. (rimshot.) The problem with talking vs listening and writing vs reading is that in the first instance you put others to sleep while in the last you fall asleep. At least I do, when reading good prose like Percy’s. My theory is that if you’re not well-rested, you’re not listening.

So what’s it like in a city where they memorize a strange area code and in a geographically distant place so foreign they call their counties "parishes"? A Lafayette dance hall might have had certain associations in my mind previous but now I was in one and now know what I’d previously only conjured. My lasting impression of the hall is how the sheer amount of good will and happiness there could've powered a small city. This seems a place where the children dance joyfully, the men love their wives and the bands are all above average, to borrow from Keillor.

Sunday morning we went to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. A fine sermon about God’s love, and about the tension between reverence towards God versus too much familiarity. The Church, he said, in her wisdom has us stand to receive Christ in Communion because God insists we receive him in mutuality. We are utterly unworthy to receive the Eucharist, but God’s love is of a piece that he wants us to meet him as friends.

October 20, 2004

Welcome To Ohio, to be known on 11/3 as "Litigation Central"

You're nobody till Jesse notices you.
Is this their year?

In a way it would be sad if they won it all. The Red Sox would become like any other team. Boston combines excellence and tragedy in a way Chicago never has - the Cubs are damned, the Red Sox are being purged into Pulchritude. Sox fans are the adults of the baseball world: they know tragedy but never lose heart. They are the Christians, the long-sufferers who know that at any given moment their patience will be rewarded. They live the Beatitudes, year after year, having faith that past results do not guarantee future performance.

Far from the harbor where the whaling ships sail you can smell the brine scent of mystery churning in the Atlantic, in the waves that rise and fall breathing out Fenway's fortunes. A series win would erode some of the mythology of the Nantucket team; their great whale slain, the fans would lose their hunger, their ardor, their maniacal devotion, their sweet humility and piety. In the City of Man winning corrupts and absolute winning corrupts absolutely.

Easy for the non-suffering to say. And could there be a better time, now, matched against the haughty, gouty, payroll-engorged Yankees? Meanwhile, the angst continues:
But now, Dear lord, I collapse, my ulcers raging.
I am your servant, Lord, but I am just about used up.
I ask your grace that I might be strong, O Lord, and able to survive tonight, Whatever thy will brings to the Idiots.
I ask that you steel my will, and allow me to withstand the ramblings Of McCarver.
Dear Lord, of all your trials, he may be the most cruel!

St. Spaceman, Proto-Idiot, ora pro nobis
- ? -

Palestinians say that the U.S. election is stalling the "peace process", but given that suicide bombings and retaliations are way down, am I off base to think that maybe the delay of the peace process a good thing?

October 19, 2004

Please Consider Donating ...

...to the Manny Ramirez batting helmet fund. The destitute hitter apparently can't afford a new one.
Different Tate

Inspired by a Steven Riddle post I was looking for Alan Tate's poems but came across this James Tate poem excerpted here:
Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
Extraordinary people who don't hesitate
to cut somebody's heart or skull open.
They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease.
and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
These same people stroll into a church
as if that were a natural part of life.
Investing money is second nature to them.
They contribute to political campaigns
that have absolutely no poetry in them
and promise none for the future.
They sit around the dinner table at night
and pretend as though nothing is missing.
Their children get caught shoplifting at the mall
and no one admits that it is poetry they are missing.
The family dog howls all night,
lonely and starving for more poetry in his life....

*

Radiant childhood sweetheart,
secret code of everlasting joy and sorrow,
fanciful pen strokes beneath the eyelids:
all day, all night meditation, knot of hope,
kernel of desire, pure ordinariness of life
seeking, through poetry, a benediction
or a bed to lie down on, to connect, reveal,
explore, to imbue meaning on the day's extravagant labor.
And yet it's cruel to expect too much.
It's a rare species of bird
that refuses to be categorized.
Its song is barely audible.
It is like a dragonfly in a dream--
here, then there, then here again,
low-flying amber-wing darting upward
then out of sight.
And the dream has a pain in its heart
the wonders of which are manifold,
or so the story is told.
Good Morning, Columbus

We have an occasional problem with clutter, which can take the form of food items. A box of donuts not immediately refrigerated is an example. Or a loaf of bread that fails to make the long journey from the kitchen counter to kitchen cabinent. Fortunately we have a pet who disposes of all biodegradable materials (and some not so biodegradable - he once ate razor blades, our stock story illustrating his omnivorousness).

We refer to him as the clutter tax collector and we had a major assessment today. He devoured a turkey breast of bones, meat and wings and cartilage. Where once there was a half-eaten bird there is now just the stark, empty, glistening surface of a plastic dome lid, the fruit of his impressive anti-entrophic efforts. I'd had a late night snack and left it in a "safe location", i.e. on top of my tall roll-top desk. But where there's a will there's a doggie. He'd scale mountains for less than fowl. So we have a 4:30 appointment with the vet because apparently splinters from bones can fatally pierce canine intestines. Sigh. I remember a simpler age when "give a dog a bone" wasn't a death wish.

So I ponder Obi's troubles and start the car and note the odd flashing light on the dashboard. I think it's safe to say unusual blinking on the dash is never good. The symbol appeared to be of an air bag and I immediately deduced it as an air bag light. The owner's manual said: "get it serviced immediately", (best said with a slight German accent). I found this odd, since how serious can the air bag be? I mean we're not talking the engine. But the curtness of the manual was bothersome. You'd think they'd simply say "this means your air bag deployment system is effed up". But it didn't. I began to wonder, in my pre-morning coffeeless state, if this light meant merely that my air bag would fail to deploy or if in ten miles the fuel tank would explode due to a regrettable computer glitch. I was given much time to reflect on this due to a tremendous, awe-inspiring traffic jam on interstate 70. But - whether temporary I cannot say - after Mass the light blinkered no more!
Provocative comments on why Jews vote against their own interests.
Cleansing the Palate

Ugh. Way too much soap boxing in that last post. My tendency toward preachiness is insatiable. Let's change the subject with this humorous Derbyshirian comment regarding Bill O'Reilly:
In war, you take what allies you can get. You're not going to get Edmund Burke hosting on prime-time TV. Heck, you're not going to get William F. Buckley, Jr. This is *TV*. It's junk. If there's a junk-conservative, a sometime-kinda-conservative, a not-quite-our-kind-of-conservative running a popular prime-time TV show, go down on your knees and give thanks. It's more than we can expect. It's more than we had for 50 years.
Et Tu ODC?

Sad. Ellen Goodman given a platform at a Catholic college. I saw a car yesterday with the window sticker "Ohio Dominican" and two bumper stickers: "9/11 Was a Faith-based Initiative" and "Kerry for a Stronger America". Oy vey.

Harvard and Yale began life as unashamedly sectarian institutions. The ceremonial shedding of "parochial" beliefs over time almost seems like part of the lifecycle of private schools founded on Christian principles. Intellectual pride is perhaps most difficult sin to avoid so it's no surprise that universities would chafe under the restrictions of church or biblical injunction. Some theologians have contempt for bishops because of their comparative lack of knowledge. But faith is the key and Jesus was clear in resisting rule by theologians when he selected a fishermen as the chief authoritarian.

Inviting Ellen Goodman is poring salt in the wounds of the children who have died in abortions. It saddens me because though funding alternative schools like Ave Maria and Christendom may be necessary, this risks furthering the split in the Catholic Church. We all should fervently resist - because God does - remnanthood.

Perhaps school presidents, like pastors, have to achieve a balancing act. Pope John Paul II expressed misgivings in his latest book, "Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way":
Another responsibility that certainly forms part of a pastor's role is admonition. I think that in this regard I did too little. There is always a problem in achieving a balance between authority and service. Maybe I should have been more assertive. I think this is partly a matter of my temperament. Yet it could also be related to the will of Christ, who asked his Apostles not to dominate but to serve.

Obviously a bishop has authority, but much depends on the way he exercises it. If a bishop stresses his authority too much, then the people think all he can do is issue commands. On the other hand, if he adopts an attitude of service, the faithful spontaneously listen to him and willingly submit to his authority. So a certain balance is needed. If a bishop says: "I'm in charge here" or "I'm only here to serve," then something is missing: He must serve by ruling and rule by serving. We have an eloquent model of this dual approach in Christ Himself: He served unceasingly, but in the spirit of serving God He was also able to expel the money changers from the temple when this was needed.
    Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

Being attacked by a shark (a crazy fear that never hits me in the ocean, only in swimming pools, even though I know the impossibility - something that goes back to my competitive swimming days), Kenny G, Canada - the three biggest fears of Erik of "Erik's Rants & Recipes"

Speaking of scruples, if it's established that we have to vote, do we also have to be dismayed that many potential Kerry voters won't be motivated enough to get to the polls? - Mama Owl aka Davey's mommy

Overall, I had a good time. I think they had a good time too but I won't know for sure until I read the evaluations. Ugh... nothing like getting ripped a new one for your volunteer work.- Elena of My Domestic Church

But I would not trust someone to tell me about sin through art, just because they happen to be a prodigious sinner. I think you need sin + grief to make something true and redemptive. You need to have a profound sense of falling short of your nature at the least, and ideally the certainty of having turned away from God ("Against You, You alone have I sinned. What is evil in Your sight, I have done." My sense is, Graham Greene lived in a continual state of grief. As did Dostoevsky. As did Emily Dickinson. As did Lord Byron. - Barbara of Church of the Masses

I think coming from a free-will-emphatic upbringing is good for maintaining faith (or at least belief) in the face of evil and suffering, but not so good for trusting that you yourself won't bring about (more) evil and suffering. - Mama Owl/Davey's mommy

One good thing about being a beginner is that you always know how to make progress. Whenever I get off track, I'm sure to find that I've wandered out of the cell of self-knowledge, leaving humility behind...It may be possible to fail as a disciple of Christ without failing at self-knowledge and humility, but I never have. - Tom of Disputations

A French emigrant Catholic writes at Godspy of war and abortion as two faces of evil. I applaud her conciliatory tone, but find I don't quite agree with the dichotomy she describes. My sense: Firemen and policemen responding to an emergency are acting selflessly, as are soldiers who defend their country, or fight for the freedom of others. Raising a child is an exercise in selflessness. Carrying and bearing a child is, too. Snuffing out the life of unborn child who is inconvenient is not. In other words, warfare can be pursued for a good cause. Can the same be said for abortion? Where the political parties in this country reflect the same side of the coin, in my view, is in the exaltation of personal gratification and gain over and against personal responsibility or the notion of sacrifice for the greater good. A fixation on "freedom of choice," on one hand, and on tax-cuts and the pocketbook, on the other, smacks of selfishness; so, too, for that matter, does sloth in the face of the world's dangers and challenges. - Mark of Irish Elk

Vile Bodies Evelyn Waugh--I'm sure it's no new discovery to note that one should be extremely cautious in the quantity of Waugh one consumes at any one time. Cynicism and bitterness tend to be contagious. - Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli

In any case, the Culbreaths are moving to Orland. I want my kids to know the difference between goose eggs and chicken eggs. I want them to know how to prune trees and plant corn and shovel manure. We can do this in Orland, without cutting ties to our spiritual home and dearest friends in the big city. And I'll do my best to persuade anybody who will listen that Orland would be a fine destination for Catholic resettlement on a grand scale. - Jeff of ECR

One of the reasons I enjoyed the weekend: I thought little about politics. - Lileks

But blogging about politics is fun. It's also like salt: it seasons the ephemera, gardening, and web-surfing if not overused, but ruins the taste if huge amounts are used. - commenter on Bill of Summa Minutiae's blog

Why you need a horse if you've got wings I don't know, but it's a cool image. - Camassia, upon visiting an Orthodox church and seeing a large painting of the Archangel Michael on horseback

"Was it oveh when the Germans bombed Pearl Habah?" it rightly has been observed at Sons of Sam Horn. A poster at the Royal Rooters gives the prescription: Petey needs to play Oedipus tonight. - Mark of Irish Elk on the Red Sox being down in the ALCS

October 18, 2004

Conversion Story

Heard the remarkable conversion story of Roy Schoeman on EWTN's Bookmark, author of Salvation is from the Jews . After a Jewish upbringing he fell away from all faith, graduated from M.I.T. and eventually taught at Harvard. One day he felt this incredible sea of love for him. He referred to it as "falling into Heaven". He asked that God not tell him His name - Buddha it or a pagan Roman god or whatever - because he wanted to be anything other than a Christian and feared it would be Christ. That request was honored until he was ready to ask.

Later he had an experience of the Blessed Virgin Mary and he knew in a moment how exalted she was and he longed to say a prayer but knew none. He asked what was her favorite prayer that was said to her and she said she liked all of them. He pressed her: surely you like one better than others? And she said a prayer in Portugese. He memorized the phonetics of the first sentence or two and later researched it. It was "Immaculate Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee". Portugal is the site of Fatima and there the first prayer mothers teach their children is that one, hence one could understand the special appeal.

October 17, 2004

Frugal Prayers

Ham of Bone is an American original. Who else would proffer a post about Borges's musings over a Coleridgian vision joined to his own $2.99 (per roll) answer to prayer? From Kublai Khan to the Meijer's photo lab without missing a beat!
My Library
Robert Service

Like prim Professor of a College
I primed my shelves with books of knowledge;
And now I stand before them dumb,
Just like a child that sucks its thumb,
And stares forlorn and turns away,
With dolls or painted bricks to play.

They glour at me, my tomes of learning.
"You dolt!" they jibe; "you undiscerning
Moronic oaf, you make a fuss,
With highbrow swank selecting us;
Saying: "I'll read you all some day'—
And now you yawn and turn away.

"Unwanted wait we with our store
Of facts and philosophic lore;
The scholarship of all the ages
Snug packed within our uncut pages;
The mystery of all mankind
In part revealed—but you are blind.

"You have no time to read, you tell us;
Oh, do not think that we are jealous
Of all the trash that wins your favour,
The flimsy fiction that you savour:
We only beg that sometimes you
Will spare us just an hour or two.

"For all the minds that went to make us
Are dust if folk like you forsake us,
And they can only live again
By virtue of your kindling brain;
In magice print they packed their best:
Come—try their wisdom to digest. . . ."

Said I: "Alas! I am not able;
I lay my cards upon the table,
And with deep shame and blame avow
I am too old to read you now;
So I will lock you in glass cases
And shun your sad, reproachful faces."

* * * * * * * * *

My library is noble planned,
Yet in it desolate I stand;
And though my thousand books I prize,
Feeling a witling in their eyes,
I turn from them in weariness
To wallow in the Daily Press.

For, oh, I never, never will
The noble field of knowledge till:
I pattern words with artful tricks,
As children play with painted bricks,
And realize with futile woe,
Nothing I know—nor want to know.

My library has windowed nooks;
And so I turn from arid books
To vastitude of sea and sky,
And like a child content am I
With peak and plain and brook and tree,
Crying: "Behold! the books for me:
Nature, be thou my Library!"
Fine NY Times tribute to WFB:
"Miles Gone By" is an elegant book, one of Buckley's best, and the man the reader meets in these pages is the Platonic ideal of a dinner companion, a raconteur whose pomposity is calculated and whose self-deprecation charms...

Witty, deft in argument, willing to assert that the secular left had no monopoly on truth, he helped change the way the country thought of the right, beginning with his first book, "God and Man at Yale." Published in 1951, it is one of those books people talk about but today hardly ever read. Its essential argument was that the loftier realms of higher education were increasingly hostile to religion and to conservative viewpoints. "I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world," read a controversial passage in "God and Man." "I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level." (Interestingly, this precise formulation was not Buckley's but his mentor's, a Yale professor named Willmoore Kendall, who edited the manuscript. In part out of loyalty and in part because he was "tickled by the audacity of the sally," Buckley writes, he never disavowed it.)
       
From Our Church Bulletin:
A researcher asked twelve volunteers to assist her in studying how the general public would respond to a person with a physical deformity. Each one of the volunteers was placed in a separate room without mirrors. Next, a make-up artist was sent in to each room to paint a lifelike facial scar on the left cheek of each volunteer. When this was done, the researcher then came into each room and privately told each volunteer that she had to make some last minute adjustments to their scar. While pretending to make adjustments to the scar, the researcher actually wiped off the make-up. The volunteers, however, still believed that they had a scar on their left cheek. They were then sent out to various locations to observe how the public responded to their scar. Upon returning at the end of the day, each person reported that they were treated rudely and that people stared at the "scar".

The study provided a good lesson in self-image. If we dislike ourselves, we may convince ourselves that others dislike us as well and we will treat them accordingly. How many arguments and personality conflicts could be avoided if only we remembered that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.
Spontaneous Prose

Caught a bit of Douglas Brinkley on C-Span explaining the discipline that went into Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Said he'd studied Shakespeare, Proust, Dickens, Twain and was extremely well-read. The prose might've looked spontaneous but it wasn't. He didn't create it by "booze and osmosis".
Comedy Time

Since the national strike in Nigeria began, I've received far fewer scammer emails.
_

In a multi-cat household, can you tell which cat produced which hairballs just by the sole of your foot?
_

  ..borrowed from "I'm an Ordinary Man" from Lerner & Lowe's "My Fair Lady", who borrowed from George Bernard Shaw:

Pre-Conversion

I'm an ordinary man;
Who desires nothing more
Than just the ordinary chance
To live exactly as he likes
And do precisely what he wants.
An average man am I,
Of no eccentric whim;
Who likes to live his life
Free of strife,
Doing whatever he thinks is best for him.
Just an ordinary man.

But let the Divine in your life
And your serenity is through!
He'll redecorate your soul,
From the cellar to the mole;
Then go on to the enthralling
Fun of overhauling
You.
...

I'm a quiet living man
Who prefers to spend the evenings
In the silence of his room;
Who likes an atmosphere as restful
As an undiscovered tomb.
A pensive man am I
Of philosophic joys;
Who likes to meditate,
Contemplate,
Free from humanity's mad, inhuman noise.
Just a quiet living man.

But let the Godhead in your life
And your sabbatical is through!
In a line that never ends
Come an army of his friends;
Come to jabber and to chatter
And to tell Him what the matter is with you.

Post-Conversion:

I've grown accustomed to His face...
He really makes the day begin...

October 16, 2004

Goldbergian Column

Interesting Goldberg column......
John Kerry's...faith is clear on abortion. It's pretty darn murky on, say, affirmative action.

I say you shouldn't pick and choose, but I understand that sometimes you have to — but in completely the opposite way John Kerry picks and chooses. Kerry invokes God's guidance on the little stuff, the easy stuff, the boilerplate. He turns his back to God on the big issue, abortion (and, with a wink, gay marriage).

It seems to me this is exactly backwards. God doesn't have a position on the minimum wage or Superfund, so politicians shouldn't feel the need to consult Him about that stuff. It's only on the grave fundamental questions in politics that God should speak to one's conscience. Thomas More didn't put his life on the line about how Henry VIII handled crop rotation.
Week in Review

I still can’t get the scene of Michael J. Fox, ‘80s sitcom hero who held the Republican fort against hippie parents, out of my mind: He was sitting stage left of Therese Heinz Kerry at the debate. The dissonance rankled. Must be a bad dream.

Meanwhile the Red Sox dropped two games quicker than Madonna switches religions. I'm starting to worry about that famous "seventh-game Red Sox guarantee" since going 3-1 from here on out against the Yanks is a tall order. I sat down in my recliner, beer at the ready, and Game 1 was over before my Schlitz lost its head. Schilling looked like a Cincinnati Red’s fifth starter. This was disconcerting because this is the real World Series. A Yankees-Cardinals series might be mildly interesting but nothing compared to seeing if the Ruthian curse gets a contract extension. The cumulative suffering of Boston fans makes the games interesting in a Bonnie Tyler “see how much their ol’ heart can take” sort of way.

What else? Oh yeah the debate. Well I’m prejudiced. I’d always been ABK man – “anybody but Kerry” - even back in the early primaries. Embarrassment has ensued, since it’s easier on the gullet to hear Howard Dean espousing anti-life positions than a fellow Catholic. I watched the debate in the juvenile need to be privy to the “definining moment” should a defining moment come, i.e. should Bush say something like “there you go again”. Or should he make the faux paus that ends the deadlock. But no faux paus’s or defining moments came so I was left holding the bag. A movie without an end.

It bothers me that this election fleshed out political leanings quicker than a blue-tick hound. I mean who can remain agnostic against this backdrop? Necessarily we see Peter Nixon become the apostle to the Left and Elena the apostle to the Right. Is that the way it should be? No. Peter Nixon should be an apostle to us all, as should Elena. The fracture is much more painful amid our bishops. Bill O’Reilly joked the other day: “so it’s a sin to vote for Kerry in Denver but not in Pennsylvania?” and that's not so though it does have a bit of truth-scent to it.

Update/Disclaimer: This was written while basking in the afterglow of Guinness Stout. I was in an kumbaya mood, a "why can't we all get along" idyll. This was written purely for entertainment porpoises.

October 15, 2004

Fictional Friday

The diagnosis was the obscure condition known as “Clutter Mania III”, a form of madness precipitated by a house with too much litter. There were spent clothes, books, papers, pencil holders, objects d' Art such as an “I Got Smashed In Texas” mug, CDs, DVDs, cheap Haitian saucers, signed baseballs and souvenir statuaries. Magazines were an especial nemesis: they sprouted like kudzu over the room landscape without the decency of being pornographic.

It all started with the innocent purchase of a $29.95 plastic fountain with rocks that was supposed to micmic a waterfall. It arrived in the mail and he plugged it in but could hear the motor, soft but annoying. It sounded like water falling over an engine and made him anything but peaceful. It sat around for 2.5 years, out of respect for the twenty-nine and 95/100 he’d written the check out for. Finally the day came when he threw it away and he did so with gleeful panache! "Be ye gone Satan, and all ye works", he said, exorcising his need to be annoyed by its presence for the 880th day. But it set in motion all the symptoms of advanced CM III because he didn’t stop there. To the trash went his alarm clock, a Redskins sweatshirt, the desk, a printer, the kitchen sink...
Pete & Repeat

Finished Pete Rose's book and I'm struck by the parallels between him and Bill Clinton. Both lied with conviction and were given opportunities to confess and "cop a plea" along the way. Both forgave everyone except their prosecutor: Rose saves his bitterest words for John Dowd while Clinton bore the most contempt for Ken Starr. At the news conference banning Pete, Bart Giamatti said "no man, no matter how exalted, is above the game" and Ken Starr said "no President is above the law".

Clinton received an arguably reasonable punishment: impeachment without having to leave office. Rose was banned for life. It helped Clinton that he had far more apologists.
Thoughts

How can the way be narrow and yet He draw all things to Himself? I recently saw a physical manifestation of the answer:



*

I guess it isn't surprising that when Jesus gave Mary as mother to John and John as son to Mary it would reverberate to every Christian's benefit for eternity. What you see with Jesus isn't what you get - you get much more! In the flesh, it's seen as merely a custodial arrangement. In the spirit, it redounds beyond itself.

*

I love the first Luminous Mystery. Jesus, after accepting John's baptism of mere water, received the sensible presence of the Holy Spirit. The humility in accepting a "second-rate" baptism resulted in the unanticipated reward of the descent of the Holy Spirit and words of consolation from the Father. A powerful lesson.
Prohibit Not Ye Average Joe

I didn't even know there's still a Prohibition Party.

Reminds me of a story my friend Ham o' Bone told me. His dad was a minister way up in Maine. Years ago he ran for office basically as a prohibitionist and Bone dutifully knocked on doors and handed out flyers - while half-drunk! Bone never had any qualms about quaffing the fermented grape.

Speaking of politics, check out this site. Do you want to vote for an average joe instead of Bush or Kerry? Well here you go - literally.
Ohio means "Good Morning" in Japanese...

...but on 11/2 "Ohio" means saying good night to one of the two presidential candidates. We have a bandwagon tendency here that is irritating - we've voted for the presidential winner every election for the last forty years. I fear that if Bush is not ahead in the polls on election day a few voters might be tempted to pull the lever for Kerry out of that bandwagon "be with a winner" mentality. In a close election it only takes a few.

There are an amazing 700,000 new voters registered in Ohio and there are reports of college students changing their voter registration from their state of origin since we're a battleground state. And believe me, there are a LOT of colleges and universities in this state. Most new registrants tend to vote Democratic. Republicans are more anal-retentive and conscientious about voting, even when it means little. Which it doesn't this time around.

So...In '00, Bush got 2,351,209 Ohio votes to Gore's 2,186,190. If half of those new registrants vote (i.e. 350,000) and if 70% of them vote Kerry, then that's 245,000 Kerry votes and that, my friends, would give the state and nation and two soon-to-be-vacant Supreme Court chairs to Sen. John F. Kerry. I hope I did everything I could to avoid that, although I fear I haven't.

*

Bush's dire situation in Ohio reminds me of the Red Sox's. (Cue segue alert!) Came across this hilarious Soxian prayer which even a Reds fan can appreciate:
O Loving Father of all that is good on the diamond, hear our prayer!
The Holy Idiots of Landsdown Street are in grave danger,
Falling before the mercenary hordes of the Evil One.
Give them strength in this, their hour of need.

St. Cronin, Perpetual Manager, and St Yaz, Most Immaculate Captain, pray for us.

The lineup, O lord, being so full of Your Idiotic Servants -
Manny and Ortiz, Millah and Trot, Tek and Mueller,
Bellhorn and He Who Has Replaced the Whiney One-
Grant that they may hit many RBI singles and doubles and dingers, which are so pleasing to You.

St. Ted, Holy Kid of the Homer, and St. Pudge, The Ever-Clutch, pray for us.
Pelagian Peale?

I read Norman Vincent Peale's "Power of Positive Thinking" many years ago and think mostly positive thoughts about it. After all, repeating affirming bible verses daily is a good thing. But I wonder, in retrospect, if he was preaching the doctrine of Pelagius? The whole enterprise seemed to be using psychology to achieve closeness to God, a purely "natural" religion rather than a supernatural one. If every day you say a hundred times "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me" are you saying it because you believe your saying it will accomplish anything or because it is Christ who is doing the strengthening?

I'm reading the Book of Judges now and Yahweh went to prodigious lengths to show that it was he giving the Israelites victory over Midian. Yahweh told Gideon to send 21,700 of his 22,000 man army home. Gideon would fight in tiny numbers to glorify God and leave no doubt of the power source:   The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many soldiers with you for me to deliver Midian into their power, lest Israel vaunt itself against me and say, 'My own power brought me the victory.'
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I recall our retreat master saying that Original Sin was not something Jews believe or believed. Original sin is a Christian doctrine, something that became obvious only in hindsight of the redemption of Christ because redemption implies that you need redeemed from something. I came across this about Dr. Laura while googling for Peale & Pelagius:
Orthodox Judaism, and consequently Dr. Laura, take a much more benign view of man and his sinfulness. Dr. Louis Goldberg details this:

“Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews deny that man’s nature is basically evil and always inclined to do evil. ... In summary, none of the Jewish theological camps teach that man is born with a sinful nature which will ultimately condemn him.”...

While we may help our self-image by doing right, our right-doing will never effect righteousness before God. In making man autonomous, Dr. Laura is the perfect (or imperfect) blend of Pharisee and Pelagian...

October 14, 2004

Good Point from the Internet Monk
God's relationship with this fallen world allows terrible things to happen. Go back to Genesis 3 and remember what happened at the beginning. That is what we are living out. It is a miracle of God's grace that He didn't press the "delete" button and immediately "reformat" the entire creation from the first, tragic rebellion against Him. Instead, God is redeeming creation through Jesus, and as the cross reveals, it is not by removing Himself and His purposes from human sin and pain, or by preventing those realities.

I often ask my students to imagine four families. One chooses to not have children. The second has children, but takes the infants to a surgeon and has brain surgery performed. This surgery prevents the children from ever rising to the point of being able to make wrong or evil choices. The third family raises their children in isolation from any danger or temptation. The children stay at home, and never participate in sports or have friends. The last family has children, and allows them to grow up with skinned knees, choices, risks, mistakes and consequences. At one point, one of their children is badly injured in a bike accident.

Which is these four families has the healthiest kind of love? Which of these four families most mirrors the relationship between God and human beings?
Bad News

...for cell phone users. I wonder if holding the phone a bit farther away would help.
Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

It was disturbing to see Jimmy Carter sitting next to and lending respectability to filmmaker Michael Moore during the Democratic National Convention. But worse was the news that at Emory University recently Carter said his favorite movies were Casablanca and Fahrenheit 9/11.

That he would endorse such an obviously dishonest movie is troubling. I've always respected his "walk the walk" Christianity, especially in regards to helping the poor through his efforts with Habitat for Humanity. I was privileged to hear him give the sermon at his church during a '99 visit to Georgia.

Perhaps he subscribes to the end justifying the means. He wants Kerry to win and doesn't apparently care if a dishonest film can be used towards that "good" end. Certainly I'm for Bush as much as he's for Kerry and can't say what I would do in his situation. Still, isn't it remarkable how as our culture rushes towards callowness we can appear to look more and more mature if only by comparison - even if we just stand still?
News Maxed Out

I feel discombobulated by the sudden news of my bishop's retirement, by the Red Sox loss, and by the usual post-debate political hangover although the latter was somewhat assuaged by the lovely prose of Percy's The Moviegoer. Between piquant descriptions of New Orleans he expresses a tragicomic truth about the human condition:
As I watched, there awoke in me an immense curiosity. I was onto something. I vowed that if I ever got out of this fix, I would pursue the search. Naturally, as soon as I recovered and got home, I forgot all about it.

October 13, 2004

Rating the Moderators

Lehrer-to-Gibson-to-Schieffer. An triple play of conservative unfriendlies. Would a Lehrer-to-Russert-to-Hume have been asking too much? Yes, the parties themselves negotiate the moderators, which means to steer clear of the Democrats on that panel if you need to haggle.

I have mixed emotions concerning the differences between Lehrer and Schieffer. Lehrer was robotic but egoless. He knew the debate wasn't about him and didn't entertain or interject himself. He was the professional.

Schieffer was the opposite. He interjected himself wherever he could. Towards the end he mentioned what they had in common - not the candidates but himself and the candidates. (Strong wives and daughters.) His avuncularity and informality were disarming though.

Worse was the cloying bias in his questions. Cliff May on Schieffer's framing of the question on raising the minimum wage: "This is the problem with such moderators. They don’t know how to be neutral. They assume that a government-mandated higher minimum wage ameliorates poverty. They don’t believe – or don’t understand -- that it may mean that low-skilled workers will be priced out of the work force and into poverty." By the time I got done listening to Schieffer's stemwinder I was outraged and ready to call my Congressman and ask for a higher minimum wage. Seriously. But whether you buy May's economic views or not, it shows that Schieffer doesn't. Which we ought not to know, right?

Sigh. I imagine an alternate universe where a moderator asks Sen. Kerry: "Sir, you said you believe that life begins at conception. How do you reconcile this with your pro-choice stand?" Sure, we already know the answer. But we already knew the answer to 90% of the questions tonight and at least this one didn't start from a left-wing bias.
True...

JFK IS MY BISHOP [Kate O'Beirne]Forget the Bishops, Kerry's higher authority is JFK. His ridiculous answer as to what science and reason tell us about beginning of human life akin to Catholics' belief in the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception. He goes on to say that faith informs his positions on poverty and the environment - why should he force those views on non-believers? I guess I have to consult JFK's teachings.
Comic Relief

The Man who Knew Too Little is hilarious, the opening scene priceless. Bill Murray's character hands his passport to a British customs official and says, "Good day, chap!". The clerk tries to hide a look of pain. Murray's character says, "I just flew in from America. I'm an American." Hours later they are still chatting. The friendly garrulous American is completely oblivious to hints and the British "chap" unwilling to be too direct due to British reserve. Murray confides he doesn't want to look like a tourist, hilarious on the face of it. Reminds me of the time I met an Australian girl at an Irish B&B, who, upon learning I was an American said that was obvious given my clothes, accent, etc... She wasn't impressed although I recognize it could be less my nationality and more a lack of personal magnetism.

But I digress. I think the movie strikes a chord on some level because Murray is engaged in a very dangerous situation but is completely oblivious to it and his performance is improved by his ignorance. There seems a sort of protection in his ignorance.

We are, of course, likewise engaged in a dangerous situation. We are on a path towards Heaven while having to pass by the Dragon, as I think St. Cyril of Jerusalem put it. Even if we manage to convince ourselves we aren't in danger, we need only look at the culture to gain a sense of urgency.

This morning I was reading John Henry Newman's blog. Or at least that's how I view his collection of personal letters. He probably felt more free to give his opinions in the "privacy" of a letter just as we are more likely to be truthful in the "privacy" of an ephemeral blog. Newman wrote about how he misses old friends who've died, but who are now outside judgment: "I am still on trial and have judgment to come. The idea of judgment is the first principle of religion, as being involved in the sentiment of conscience - and, as life goes on, it becomes very overpowering. Nor do the good tidings of Christianity reverse it, unless we go into the extreme of Calvinism or Methodism with the doctrine of personal assurance. Otherwise, the more one has received, the more one has to answer for. We can but throw ourselves on the mercy of God, of which one's whole life is a long experience." So it seems Catholics know too much, or at least have received much, and must bear the additional responsibility cheerfully. Fr. Corbett remarked on how contingent and extraneous we are, and he was very sure what God wouldn't say to him at his death. He wouldn't say, "Fine job! I couldn't have done it without you!". No, He bloody well could do without us. Instead, there might be criticisms, but Fr. Corbett's attitude was one of sweet resignation. God is our Father and we hope to be inheritors, and that is a sweet part of reality.
Oh No!

The Alta-Vista Translator service seems to me an underutilized resource. Here's "He ain't heavy, he's my brother" in German!

Er Ain't Schwer, He's Meine Bruder

Lyrik Die Straße ist,
mit vielen eine Wicklung Umdrehung lang,
die uns führt zu, wem wo, das wo aber I'm weiß,
das stark ist, stark genug, um ihn zu tragen
er schweres ain't - he's mein Bruder

weiß So auf gehen uns, seine Wohlfahrt sind mein Interesse,
das keine Belastung zu entblössen ist er,
we'll erhalten dort für mich wissen, daß er mich nicht
er schweres ain't - he's mein Bruder

And how about:

"MacArthur Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!"

in Italian:

il parco del MacArthur sta fondendo nell'oscurità tutto il dolce, la glassa verde che fluisce giù qualcuno a sinistra la torta fuori nella pioggia I don't pensa che possa prendergli 'Cause che ha preso in modo da desidera per cuocerla ed I'll non hanno mai ancora quella ricetta OH, no!

October 12, 2004

Bracing article on the perils of downplaying unpalatable doctrines:
Anyone who has followed the path taken by Protestant theology in the past two centuries, and by Catholic theology in the past four decades, already knows the point of this story: All the costume changes in the world won’t matter if the messenger has squandered his treasure by altering his message to suit the convenience of the audience. For Ratzinger, creeds matter only if what they proclaim is true, and if Christians deep down don’t really think so, then all the translation strategies in the world will mean nothing.

I maintain that the Christian dispensation is much more difficult to believe than it is to understand, for its message can be boiled down to a five-word sentence of remarkable simplicity but one that represents a radical challenge to the intellect: We die before we live. Or again, another five-word kerygma: We meet Christ in death. In each case, five simple, easy-to-understand words, but ones that nearly everything about the way the modern world is structured make difficult to believe. In an age of popularized books on neurology from the pen of Oliver Sacks and when most people are intuitively aware of the dependence of consciousness on brain chemistry (just from living in a “Prozac Nation” or from witnessing a relative suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, if from nothing else), these two five-word sentences will immediately strike the hearer as easy to understand but difficult to believe.
They dropped like Flakes
Emily Dickinson

They dropped like Flakes—
They dropped like Stars—
Like Petals from a Rose—
When suddenly across the June
A wind with fingers—goes—

They perished in the Seamless Grass—
No eye could find the place—
But God can summon every face
Of his Repealless—List.
Moving Patrick Reardon

    ...reflection:
Why should they receive a preference that the Florida Supreme Court recently denied to Terri Schiavo? Putting it plainly, wherein is the life of Terri Schiavo found wanting except that she somehow failed to be a movie star?
Succumbing to Memes

Name THREE of your...

1. Pet Peeves: Catholics for Kerry, succumbing to memes, having pet peeves
2. Favorite Sounds: autumnal locusts, violins, bagpipes
3. Biggest Fears: hell, mental illness, cancer
4. Biggest Challenges: 1 Corinthians 13
5. Favorite Department Stores: "Favorite department stores" is an oxymoron in my creed
6. Most Used Words: the, and, or
7. Favorite Pizza Toppings: pepperoni, extra sauce
8. Favorite Cartoon Characters: Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote, Underdog
9. Movies Recently Watched: The Man Who Knew Too Little, The Song of Bernadette
10. Favorite Fruits & Vegetables: blackberries, peaches, asparagus
9 out of 10 Writers Agree...

Novelists are voting for Kerry, perhaps revealing their bias towards fiction and flexible characters. Thomas Mallon was a voice of reason and Richard Dooling played the role of adult:
More than any other election in recent memory, this one reminds me of Henry Adams' observation that politics is the systematic organization of hatreds.

The left-wing political road rage directed at George W. Bush for being dumb and lying about the war reminds me of nothing so much as the right-wing obsessive invective directed at Bill Clinton for being smart and lying about sex. Rush Limbaugh versus Michael Moore, and let the man nursing the most unrequited rage win. The DRAMA and spectacle of the election will be fascinating to watch, but novelists, even more than actors, should be political agnostics.
   But not bloggers.