April 30, 2008

Want to Get this into my Archives...


Video of the Papal Mass at Yankee (aka "the reverent one"). Beautiful.

HT: Christopher Blosser
The (Divine) Comedy of King Lear

"Perhaps our greatest living biographer," says author Bradley Birzer of Joseph Pearce and certainly Pearce is my favorite. Peter Kreeft couldn't resist the obligatory pun on the book blurb: "Joseph Pearce writes piercingly...".

This time JP turns his attention to the Bard, and in a twenty page appendix titled "King Lear - Finding the Comedy in the Tragedy" he gives an exposition of one of Shakespeare's finest, masterfully summarizing:
"It is indeed ironic, and paradoxically perplexing, that this most delirious of Shakespeare's plays is usually considered a tragedy, even though, for those who see with the eyes of Lear, or Edgar, or Cordelia, it has a happy ending. Perhaps the real tragedy is that so many of those who read Shakespeare do not possess the eyes of Lear, Edgar, and Cordelia. In the infernal and purgatorial sufferings of life it is all too easy to lose sight of the promise of Paradise. If we succumb to this self-inflicted, self-centered blindness, we will see only a tragedy where we should see a Divine Comedy."
They Had Me Till 'Tablestake'

Went to one of those business meetings in which the obvious is stated by highly paid consultants: in this case, "ask yourself 'What would the customer want?'".

A truism but something that it can't hurt to be reminded of.

But when he used the buzzword 'tablestake' he lost me. Time to vamoose! The use of odd words like tablestake seem to be present merely to dress up common sense. Because it's harder to pay six figures to someone for teaching common sense.
Heard On WLW Radio...

...the author of this book interviewed:
Author: "I was a pizza guy for about 2 and a half months..."

Mike McConnell: "...can you profile tippers?"

Author: "Mike, the thing that was sort of shocking to me is I would deliver a pizza to a trailer, and the person who answered the door has no teeth, and they'd tip me five bucks. But I'd battle my way into a gated community and the millionaire would tip me two bucks. I firmly believe if you want even a shot of going to heaven you tip the pizza guy five bucks."

April 29, 2008

Off the Cuff Thoughts on a Homily...or Why "the Secret"?

Our homilist this past Sunday mentioned moral relativism and how that to make your religion a private affair is to, in effect, deny the existence of God. In our time, God is credited with a decreasingly important role. I recall years ago reading an article that stated that whatever you believe will be true for you in the afterlife. If you believe there is no afterlife, you will simply cease to exist. If you believe there will be a tunnel of light and Heaven, you will see a tunnel of light and go to Heaven. If you believe in Purgatory and imagine yourself going there, then you will go to Purgatory.

God can do anything and He could arguably, if he wanted to, have set things up that way. He could've set it up such that it seems like you are "creating your own reality" even though you are not creating anything. It would actually be God allowing it to happen or making it happen that way.

But of course that scenerio is false on many levels. It's completely contrary to Scripture, of course. And it also totally ignores the great compassion of God, who doesn't sit Deistically on the sidelines while someone decides there is no afterlife and so He is thus content with their oblivion.

This view is not too different, I think, from "The Secret" which basically says you create your own reality and that if you want it, it will come - even in this life, be it weight loss or a new car. Just ask for it and expect it. The success of "The Secret" proves that that the thinking behind that article I read a decade or two ago is still alive and well.

So why would this be so popular?

I can think immediately of at least two reasons. One is that it offers us more control, instead of God, over our wants and needs and eternal destiny (with the added benefit of ignoring morality). Second is that it conforms to our perceptions of modern psychology. A placebo "works" and so perhaps the placebo effect works on a much larger scale such that positive thinking determines your afterlife. Given the "observer effect", often called the Heisenberg principle, we know that thoughts are powerful things.

So it is understandable that "the Secret" mentality is popular given it is a confluence of what we desire (i.e. control) and modern psuedo-science. That about sums up the problems of modernity - faith in science (even though science is a work-in-progress) and in our own desires.

It always comes down to who our authority is, because we all have authorities. For many, we guide our lives by scientific studies that wish to prolong life or make it happier.

I'm struck by how often it happens that I'll have already heard a truth from a source - perhaps a blogger - which I will have discounted, or at least semi-discounted or maybe ignored. But then later I will hear it re-echoed in a more authoritative source, perhaps in a book by an author I admire, by St. Faustina, or maybe the Pope. Even then it may not sink in. But then I will see it, or some small seed of the issue, replicated in the gospel, said by Jesus, the ultimate Source, the ultimate Authority, where the Buck stops, and it'll carry so much more weight and I'll see, with a sort of ruefulness, that those people that had said it originally were right.

Exercising faith and trust in God often seems to me like trying to carrying something heavy using only your pinky finger. But over time the finger strengthens.

One of my brother-in-laws has trouble with Christian belief because he sees it as "wishful thinking". He thinks eternal happiness is too good to be true. But sometimes wishful thinking comes true. To quote C.S. Lewis, one myth came true.
On Usury

Riveting article about usury in Gilbert magazine concerning the views on that subject of Chesterton & Belloc (or Chesterbelloc; delusions of grandeur suggest this is like Hamorama, or, as I prefer, Oramaham, though now I'm giving into self-love again.)

Here is something from Bill Powell you'll find nowhere else, I imagine:
A one-cent loan at six percent made on January 1st, 1 A.D. [would be repaid] with spheres of gold the size of this planet. Something is rotten in the state of YenMark.

Ideally, the entire world should be living off its investments. And not working.

Wait...

Money doesn't grow. Money is a tool. It's a useful tool, but a hammer alone doesn't build a house. A hammer sits there. Money is dead. Leave a green five-dollar Lincoln alone for thirty years and you won't return to a family of baby Lincoln pennies. In a "productive" loan, all the new wealth comes from humans at work. They couldn't have done it without the lender's money, but that's why they have to give it back. It's his tool. He contributed money, he keeps his money. They created new wealth, they keep the new wealth.

Interest, then, is claiming wealth you didn't actually make. Interest, I'm afraid, has a startling similarity to theft.

In our present culture, of course, not only do I refrain from judging anyone on this score, I immediately add that many folks invest, with considerable self-denial, for the sake of their spouses, families and even charity. It would be ridiculous not to mention that I myself benefit from such generousity...

Still, what's the alternative to interest? To work for every cent we ever make? That sounds horrible. Every hour we trade for mere dollars seems consumed. We yearn for our time to grow and bear fruit.

Perhaps our craving for growth is just that - a craving for growth, a repressed agricultural impulse. The desire is good; the mistake is appropriating the fruits of fellow humans...

So imagine a world without usury. The end of all growth? Nonsense. Even lending would still be profitable. Borrowers do do things with their money. If Coca-Cola shares would bring exactly the same interest rate as a startup bookstore down the street - zero -, where would you put your money? Which would give you a greater tangible benefit? No more free money, true, but you might get a free bookstore. Down the street. And it'd be the sensible, good stewardship, warm-fuzzies-of-maturity thing to do.

Now imagine everyone investing like that.
Well, he got my attention on the bookstore idea.

I've never looked at interest that way, but perhaps another way to look at it is less theft as a built-in retirement plan. Young people pay their dues; they can do more work than old people. They are net borrowers until at some point they build a nest egg. Just as our capacity for work falls, our investments begin earning real money. (Ideally.)

So to even it out, young people work "for free", as we all do unless we've inherited wealth, and then as we get older we make investments that basically leverage our previous work. It may be on the backs of others, but it's not a Ponzi scheme like Social Insecurity because there is always an interest market no matter how few or many workers there are. But Social Insecurity, by contrast, depends on the ratio of active workers to retired workers.

But I do really like that bookstore example. Quality of life could be much better under some other form of economic model, though I suspect any other model is unworkable in real life.

* * *
"That's when I proffered my words of wisdom, that waste is the highest virtue one can achieve in advanced capitalist society. The fact that Japan bought Phantom jets from America and wasted vast quantities of fuel on scrambles put an extra spin in the global economy, and that extra spin lifted capitalism to yet greater heights. If you put an end to all the waste, mass panic would ensue and the global economy would go haywire. Waste is the fuel of contradiction, and contradiction activates the economy, and an active economy creates more waste."  - Haruki Muramaki's "Dance, Dance, Dance"
As the Primary Turns

Well it's day 53(?) of our continuing national soap opera involving our not-so-avuncular crazy uncle, Reverend Wright, and his young protegee, the once-fresh star Obama. Like Miley Cyrus, Obama is beginning to show a bit too much skin. Cyrus was caught in a compromising pose for a 15-yr old, and Obama was caught in a compromising position with his pastor - at least for a young senator new to the national scene. It's dysfunction to the max in that Barack family lately: He threw his grandmother under the bus in order to protect his pastor but now his pastor is throwing him under the bus. Someone needs to have an intervention and ban bus drivers in the Democratic primary.

All sorts of issues are brought to the fore. One is, determining how much should it matter if Obama's spiritual grandfather is Louis Farakhan. Rev. Wright calls Farakhan the "E.F. Hutton of the black community" - that is, when Farakhan speaks, people listen, implying if not a spiritual fatherhood between Wright and Farakhan then something close. And, of course, Obama calls Rev. Wright his spiritual father.

It's a sort of tug of war between ideas and people. People can hold spectacularly idiotic ideas but you can be great friends with them I've been told, although unlike my heroes Bill Buckley and Antonin Scalia (who vacations with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg) I have little personal experience of it. So you want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, thinking that he's got a pastor like Wright not because they see eye-to-eye but because he feels a kinship with him. On the other hand, if you're going to hang out with the cool crowd there are consequences when your buddies do something callow. Wright's little media tour shows that cool guys have a lot of trouble staying out of the limelight. Obama too can sometimes seem too slavishly a follower of fashion. If you're going to be cool and you're black-skinned, you go to the coolest church in town, the one that is edgy and very black. Because in a society that feels guilty about its past and wants to make up for it through multiculturalism, minorities are cool, and if you're a minority the more you stand out the better.

It's interesting to speculate how much Wright's theology plays into this. It's sort of chicken-or-the-egg: is Wright's blackcentric (i.e. self-centric) victimology theology make him more likely to selfishly hurt Obama's chances for president, or is it that Wright was attracted to bad theology years ago because it conformed to his existing character? We are all so resistant to good theology, which is why Chesterton said that it wasn't that Christianity had been tried and found wanting but that it had never been tried. It's probably unfair to compare, but you can't help but see the difference between Pope Benedict and Rev. Wright. Benedict points us constantly to Christ while Wright points us constantly to Wright.

If Obama wins the general, one would hope that he would be better at picking cabinent members than pastors, although admittedly he has a low bar to clear after GWB. (By the way, this tends to disprove that competition makes for better pastors. In Protestantism, you can choose your pastors and the fact that Wright has a big crowd behind him suggests the downside of that particular practice.)

And of course it's amazing how the Democratic party seems to always play to the level of its competition. This is a huge Democratic year. The Republican party is exhausted, running on fumes, and the Dems are choosing between a person whom something like 46% of the country has said they would never vote for (Hillary), and a guy with no experience who has ties to a white-hater. You can't make it up. To borrow from Casey Stengel, "can't anybody here play this game?"

Update: Well, well, the thing about writing about soap operas is that it's outdated almost as soon as you write it. It seems Obama has now thrown the pastor under the bus, although this time in self-defense. As Andrea Mitchell wondered, why did it take three days from the time Wright implied that Obama was just another politician doing his thing?

Meanwhile I stand corrected because a church-goer on MSNBC said the Trinity church that Rev. Wright used to preach at was not so much known for its crazy preacher as a happenin' place to meet and network. So although it was perceived as "cool" it wasn't due to the anti-Americanism.

Update 2: Mark Steyn also picked up on the soap opera nature of the whole thing, titling his Corner post: "As the World Turns":
When [Lisa] refers to "the racial drama with which our culture continues to live", to most Americans it's a "drama" in the sense that a daytime soap is: You're aware it's still out there somewhere, decade in, decade out, and you fully expect to be channel-surfing in 2023 and come across it for five minutes, but you don't want to have to live with it every day.

Imagine if Colin Powell, the genuinely post-racial man Obama merely claims to be, had run in 1996. Would the campaign have dwindled down to Aids conspiracy theories and the genetic predisposition of clapping rhythms? No. Because that's not where Colin Powell lives.
         

I personally find it very difficult to instruct the ignorant without at the same time entertaining myself at their expense. I mean, lighting a lamp in darkness is all well and good, but a real zinger shot into tender parts adds some real zest to life, especially when others are watching appreciatively. And I suspect the reason I feel that way is because I love my self -- or not even my self, but my self-image -- more than I love God and neighbor. To make the extrication that much harder, I'm pleased that I actually do [usually] [try to] love my neighbors enough to rarely weigh in with "you're an idiot"-type comments, even though an "oh isn't that charming" is just as certain to shut down conversation. Now, before anyone tells me it's entirely possible to tell someone in charity that they're an idiot: It's entirely possible to tell someone in charity that they're an idiot. But it has to be done in charity, which is to say in friendship, not merely done without ill will. - Tom of Disputations

Modernism is by necessity obsessed with form, much like a craftsman obsessed with his tools and materials. In my climbing days we used to call people like that "equipment weenies." These days you can see it in fly-fishing, where not a few people go out once a year with $5,000-worth of equipment to catch (maybe) $5-worth of fish. What should have been the story of the man, the stream, and the fish becomes instead a romance between the man and his tools. In this century the same thing happened in art. Just as they who would deny the existence of the soul will perforce worship the body, those who do not immediately know the difference between art and design are those who would confuse and equate a sailfish levitated above windblown waves with a reconstruction of its stiff and motionless skeleton in a natural history museum. - from "Field & Stream" magazine via Bill of "Summa Minutiae"

The Pope...warned that the country’s secular culture too often leads Catholics to profess faith in Christ in church on Sunday, but to leave their faith behind the rest of the week, as they go about their secular lives...What’s interesting is that the Pope doesn’t recommend remedying this situation through sheer willpower, as if having “the courage to be Catholic” would be enough. He calls for more creativity and imagination in how the faith is lived and presented, and opening up to God through prayer, service, and communion with others. In other words, rather than more willpower, which only encourages our tendency towads self-sufficiency and autonomy, he’s calling us to be more receptive to the living God who is the source of our being. This is the spiritual method of the lay movements, not the political method used by Catholic pressure groups. It’s the approach he highlighted in his two encyclicals, God is Love, and Saved By Hope, each of which were appeals to our common “religious sense,” the restlessness for God and the yearning for true happiness we all share. - Angelo Matera in "Godspy"

The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. - St. Faustina's Diary

Back in the late 80’s, when catechesists and pastoral ministers started noticing that the intentional practice of faith they thought was going to flower once the evils of rote memorization and rules had been dispensed with was just not happening, “Catholic Identity” became the new buzz word and textbooks tossed saints back into the mix and started including at least one “Fun Catholic Fact” into each chapter. That didn’t work either. And what I started noticing was that my students saw no connection - none - between faith in Christ and the Church, first of all and secondly, between any of it and the rest of their lives. A good deal of that was undoubtedly due to the “I can be spiritual without being religious” gestalt, but the other part of it was that through all the changes, in tossing things out and trying to rethink things…there just wasn’t enough left ot make connections and most in charge were so negative about anything that whispered “pre-Vatican II” that they just couldn’t even begin to do it. Maybe they didn’t want to. And this is what Benedict’s program is - it’s not really, in its essence, about anything else - all the other concerns - liturgy, Biblical scholarship, theology - flow from this point...the one simple...answer to all of those restless, searching, hearts: "….Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth." - Amy Welborn

It is quite foreign to everyone bearing the name of a Christian to trust his own mental powers with such pride as to agree only with those things which he can examine from their inner nature, and to imagine that the Church, sent by God to teach and guide all nations, is not conversant with present affairs and circumstances; or even that they must obey only in those matters which she has decreed by solemn definition as though her other decisions might be presumed to be false or putting forward insufficient motive for truth and honesty. Quite to the contrary, a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord. - Pope Pius XI, via Steven Riddle

The [makeover] show ends with everyone celebrating the amazing changes in the woman's appearance. You have scenes where everyone claps and cheers and the makeover target twirls around in her new clothes — which look ugly to me — and professes to be transformed. We're assured — typical woman's TV pap — that the young woman was always a wonderful person and now her exterior matches her wonderful interior. Blah! I'd rather see a show where philosophers descend on a woman with a perfect exterior and rip into her for her intellectual and spiritual failings, put her on some kind of internally transformative regime, and turn her into a human being of substance. Can we get that? - Althouse, via Bill of "Summa Minutiae"

All the frisking, beeping and patting down is demoralizing to our society. It breeds resentment, encourages a sense that the normal are not in control, that common sense is yesterday. Another thing: It reduces the status of that ancestral arbiter and leader of society, the middle-aged woman. In the new fairness, she is treated like everyone, without respect, like the loud ruffian and the vulgar girl on the phone. The middle-aged woman is the one spread-eagled over there in the delicate shell beneath the removed jacket, praying nothing on her body goes beep and makes people look. - Peggy Noonan, on airport security, via John at the Inn at the End of the World

As prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, part of Cardinal Ratzinger's responsibility, especially in the latter years of John Paul's pontificate, was to handle the cases of priests accused of sexual abuse. He referred to his Friday mornings reading these dossiers as his "Friday penance." In an article published after his election, Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times wrote of this troubling part of Ratzinger's job and also of the meetings some members of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board had with him in 2003. Former board chair Anne Burke reported they found a concerned and engaged listener in the Cardinal. This reluctant immersion in these cases led to a strong and poignant moment in 2005, just days before the death of John Paul II, when the traditional Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum, written that year by Cardinal Ratzinger, read, during the meditation on the Ninth Station:
Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!   - via "Open Book"

[My husband] and I were woefully ignorant of our Catholic faith when we married and we had absorbed a lot of the feminist, secular humanistic ideas that passed for religious education from our Catholic High School. I myself was very self-centered and focused on what marriage could do to make ME happy! Our home was a nice little newlywed apartment, but nobody would have ever accused us of being overly religious or spiritual. The one thing we did have going for us were models of two wonderful Catholic couples who lived out their faith at home...When I reconverted to my Catholic Faith I was enthusiastic and energetic and something about my delight in the Lord started that seed growing in Mr. Pete. When I would learn something about the faith and share it with him, we talked for hours. We listened to tapes together, we watched EWTN, we read. I have to say that it was one of the most exciting times in our marriage. If Mr. Pete had NOT shared my passion, I don't think I could have been successful in creating the type of family environment I envisioned... After our sixth child was stillborn, I felt a tremendous need to surround myself with religious objects, books, and particularly pictures of the Blessed Mother and Baby Jesus..Mr. Pete told me that at first he was kind of embarrassed by all the religious stuff in the house, afraid that we had become real religious fanatics! But he never said anything to me, and he personally framed and matted many of the prints that I bought. He said that there was something soothing about their presence and after a while he couldn't imagine NOT having these reminders of our faith surrounding us. That was an example of his spiritual leadership in a very subtle but effective way. - Elena of "My Domestic Church"

April 28, 2008

Naked v. Nude... Art and Exploitation

A St. Petersburg Times columnist takes up the issue:

The naked/nude question is a subcategory of — and inevitably leads to — the Big Question: What Is Art?

Bruni's photograph has made it a more potent question not based on the photograph's merits or even who she was in 1993. Its value now seems based on who she has become, a personage rather than a person, someone with the potential to exert influence, even power, on an international, political level.
...

Lord Clark, in discussing naked and nude, did not take very seriously the ascension of photography as an art form in the latter part of the 20th century and the role it would play in the genre of nude portraiture. As we all know, a photograph today can be manipulated every bit as much as a painting. But it has the illusion of unadulterated reality which affects our sensibilities about it, especially in this instance, with an immediacy and intimate directness. A photograph can convey a feeling of voyeurism far more often than a painting or sculpture. That and its potential to be endlessly reproduced often distinguish it in people's minds from paintings and sculpture. Nor did Clark reckon with the pervasive influence of popular contemporary culture.
Interesting Zippy Post...

...on economics, saying that if you're standing still in terms of productivity you're in trouble.:
Every 'human resource' in the company is an asset, and assets that do not appreciate in value over time actually lose money for the company when measured against inflation; so they have to be gotten rid of...

People who enjoy what they do and want to do it for the rest of their careers and live like human beings may be made miserable by that situation, but they aren't the ones who will contribute large leaps of growth to the business anyway, so they don't matter. It is more profitable to get rid of them and staff with the other kind of people.
Assuming there are "the other kind of people", which is admittedly likely in a global economy. An equilibrium is presumably reached at some point in between the corporation's desire to get a 10%+ rates of return on people and a much lower rate of return much of the workforce may want. GE's Jack Welch was famous for his occasional firing of the bottom 10% of his workforce, but to avoid being in the bottom 10% is relatively easy. 90% succeed after all.

Robert Ringer made the case years ago that as education standards and work ethic decline over time, the value of a longterm employee can appear to go up simply by standing still.
Saint of the Day - 4/28

St. Louis de Montfort

Two hundred ninety-two years ago the great Marian priest, St. Louis de Montfort, died.

From the Monfort Missionaries:
...it is clear that Montfort meant much to St Louis-Marie, who preferred to be called simply "the priest from Montfort", probably because it was there that he was baptised. Baptism, for him, was perhaps the most important moment of life, being the moment when he was dedicated to God. In the Maison Natale, a beautiful ceramic by Fr. Leidi, Italian Montfortian, commemorates Louis Marie's baptism and the moment when he ratified this for himself in his personal consecration to Jesus through the hands of Mary.
From wikipedia:
Worn out by hard work and sickness, he finally came in April 1716 to Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre to begin the mission which was to be his last. During it, he fell ill and died on 28 April 1716. He was 43 years old, and had been a priest for only 16 years. His last sermon was on the tenderness of Jesus and the Incarnate Wisdom of the Father.

Thousands gathered for his burial in the parish church, and very quickly there were stories of miracles performed at his tomb. Almost three centuries later, on September 19th 1996, Pope John-Paul II came to the same site to meditate and pray on the adjacent tombs of Saint Louis and Blessed Marie Louise Trichet in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre.
From May Issue of First Things:

Wheaton College professor Alan Jacobs on the evolution of blogs mirroring that of commonplace books:
It was probably inevitable that commonplace books would eventually blend with another early-modern invention, the journal. By 1720, when Jonathan Swift writes “A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet” and recommends the keeping of a commonplace book, he seems to have something very like a journal in mind: “A book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation. There you enter not only your own original thoughts (which, a hundred to one, are few and insignificant) but such of other men as you think fit to make your own, by entering them there.” It’s interesting that Swift thinks that by writing down the thoughts and ideas of others you are “making them your own”; elsewhere in the letter he refers to such a book as a bank from which you can make withdrawals of wit and wisdom. As T.S. Eliot would later say, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” Swift recommends theft.

...

It is curious that the history of the weblog, insofar as it can be fully understood, mirrors that of the commonplace book. The term weblog seems to have been coined by a very strange man named Jorn Barger, and for him it is simply a log of interesting stories he discovers on the Web. It consists of links with brief descriptions, nothing more. But of course what most of us now think of when we use the word blog is a kind of online journal or diary; and that is indeed the path the weblog or blog has, generally speaking, followed. What was once a log of things other people said on the Web is now a log of my own life, which I make available to readers, and which may (but need not) contain links and references. So when we speak of blogs we don’t mean what Jorn Barger does; we mean—well, something like what Jonathan Swift recommended to his young poet friend: “a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading [or viewing or iPod-listening] or conversation.”
Rep. Wright vs. Rev. Wright

If you're like me, you often mix up former House Speaker James Wright and Obama guru Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Fortunately, Parody is Therapy is at your service to clear up the differences.

April 27, 2008

Inside Catholic Poll

As of yesterday:

April 26, 2008

Last Week's Trip to Busch Gardens

I'd failed to mention last Monday's trip to Busch Gardens; it’s one of those things that seems better with the gild of nostalgia, even the insti-nostalgia of only a week's fermentation.

Including the nostalgia of the anticipation driving there. Fresh, relaxed from two days at the beach, it felt Kings Island-y with the retired guys who get their authority fix from being able to wield a red parking stick, pointing to the spot you’re supposed to park and if you don’t!

Well we didn’t (we'd misunderstood) but were soon corrected.

Then we walked on a cloudless Florida day to the tram, a wonderful invention that constantly picks people up and deposits them at the park entrance. We waited in line there while a clown on stilts entertained the crowd and even though we found we hadn’t needed to wait in line after all it didn’t much matter.

The novelty and pure maze-like aspect of the park was pleasing. We had a map but didn’t follow it too closely. We wandered to the bird part of the park and there saw vivid birds like a bright Camaro-red flamingo under netting above a delightfully landscaped pathway. The sun danced on the waters as ducks went by. I could’ve spent an hour or more there.

We went to the interactive bird exhibit where a sign warned that the Lories could land on your shoulder at any moment though we quickly surmised it helped if you had a cup of Lory food on your shoulder. My wife surprised me by expressing no great desire to interact with them even though I thought it was the reason we came.

But we got food and got the birdies to land on us. And then we went on a sky ride that allowed us a birds-eye view of the Busch Garden's Serengeti plain. Then a delicious lunch at the Crown restaurant where we ate on a 2nd floor balcony that overlooked distant giraffe and zebra. I had the most delectable Anheiser beer-battered fish I’d ever eaten. My wife uncharacteristically ordered a beer and it, a Bud light, came in a grey metal, flute bottle that gave it the cachet of a fine Merlot. The lush restaurant was modeled after some sort of British hunting lodge, as if out of the Theodore Roosevelt era; antlers of various African species were mounted near the hostess stand and the walls were filled with 19th century portraits, presumably reproductions of Busch ancestors.

After lunch we headed toward the hippos, though from a greater distance than I would’ve liked. Their shiny, leathery skin stretched in astonishing expanses. But “stretch” is somewhat a misnomer given the double-chins they had!
We also saw lions and tigers (no bears), and ingeniously close via the inventive viewing areas. Later a train trip gave a close-up of zebras as well as the whole park. The employees were apparently instructed to wave, but you can’t mandate enthusiasm so it was humorous, if embarrassing, to see the half-hearted attempts of some of the rail employees. Shades of the “Sign of Peace” at Mass?

This wave thing seems a tradition handed down to train travel from ship travel and the romance of it seems vaguely connected to the Titanic in which no film version has resisted the scene of joyous passengers on the maiden voyage waving in their fortunateness to those still on land. We were actors in this historic re-enactment for even though the train deposited us less than a mile from where we got on, we waved to strangers as if going on a long journey across the Atlantic, as if it might be our last, but then there’s a honesty in that given the precariousness of the flesh. If the Titanic taught anything it's the hubris of betting on what in human terms looks to be inevitable.

After the train trip I saw a sign promising a “baby gorilla” and my wife can resist no animal with the adjective “baby” in front of it. We hit the surprisingly long pathway to see it (the legs were complaining by this time) but came only to a curmudgeonly gorilla with his arms crossed. After awhile the baby sauntered by and we were all transfixed by his youthful vigor and curiosity. He tried, over and over, to stand on two different plants that were just far enough apart to make this act difficult...

April 25, 2008

Did He Just Say That?

Watched the D.C. papal Mass on tape; given the patische nature of it I can see why the liturgists in the crowd are recoiling in pain. There is something so seamless in an Eastern liturgy by contrast; the nature of the Byzantine liturgy allows one to enter into it fully and to lose consciousness of earthly things. This liturgy was one in which you were constantly jolted by the next "act", as if attending a variety show.

It wasn't terrible in any of its parts, but I think it did faithfully represent the mediocre state of music in the church these days. Although there was certainly something for everyone in it - I loved the songs accompanying Benedict into and out of the stadium.

I heard Fr. Neuhaus, in the EWTN commentary, try to sneak in something in, in that classic hushed, "golf announcer" tone:
"We have not been given background notes as to who to credit for introducing the Holy Father to aspects of the aesthetic suffering endured by the faithful in America."
Ha! I had to rewind and play it again in order to confirm he was taking a shot at the organizers. It was marvelous in its subterfuge - he said it so calmly as to give all indication that he was praising the organizers. It was also said cryptically enough, as if by design, as if intending that for those not paying much attention it'd could've been missed, perhaps by those non-elites who might be fans of the music. (Reminds me of how I bury things in trip logs that I don't want to emphasize, figuring only a few would read in full.) Fr. Neuhaus seemed to say in a lot of words such that the word 'suffering' might be missed.

Unfortunately I didn't tape the Masses at Yankee stadium or St. Patrick's Cathedral, which I've heard were edifying and very reverent and inspiring.

I thought it was great to hear the Pope, Peter that is, say the vernacular words and phrases that are so familiar to us such as "Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word..." in the D.C. Mass. The somewhat distant figure of the Pope saying those words was sort of like St. Peter himself coming back to earth and saying those words. It furthers the connection in a way stronger, I think, that if we were all saying Latin (since Latin is nobody's native tongue).
Bingo: The End is Nigh

There was a fin de siècle (of course I got that spelling from Google; it started out as fin de sickle) atmosphere in the air at bingo last night. Two of the co-workers said they were on the verge of quitting, which was spontaneous with my own confession of bingo burnout:
Bingo burnout - n. often marked by the tendency to want to kiss a customer just for giving you exact change.
The apocalyptic mood was heightened by the newest instant lottery game: "Bass Hole". How's that for subtly? If that doesn't represent bingo jumping the shark then I don't what does. Pass me the Metamucil, I'm heading for the door. The only question is to whether to try to limp till the next bingo volunteer recognition picnic which involves free catered food.

And while it's true I didn't get into the bingo volunteer game for the glamor and exotic characters, they were a nice byproduct. As an eliminator of writer's block there's nothing better. And it keeps your brain trim, at least if you play it. But, alas, no one did anything crazier than usual last night.

My co-workers were suitably crazy though. The giddiness that we had all previously attributed to hours of cigarette smoke seem to be the result of bingo itself, prompting another definition:
Bingo madness - n. a form of insanity brought on by fatigue and tedium that causes you to say things you otherwise wouldn't, short of consuming a twelve-pack
Writing this from the clear-headed morning, I now recall (fortunately sans hangover) saying something about the pain of a catheter and expressing the great distance it had to travel. I don't know, you can't take me anywhere, least of all bingo.

One co-worker who declined to be identified on the advice of counsel described a spa visit from hell. Her husband and father-in-law got together and bought a Mother's Day present, an 8am-4pm spa package that was all-inclusive (say like Michael Scott) including everything from haircut to massage to manicure to pedicure to younameitcure. One day the mother/daughter tandem decided to use their beauty training academy gift certificates. Asked to slip into a paper bra and panties, they couldn't tell which was the bra and which the panties. Before that they asked to enter a tub of hot water which later gave them yeast infections. The "massage therapists" were students for whom massage was not their particular interest area and thus acted as if they were doing it at gunpoint. Even better, the 'soft music' that is usually played for massages was talk radio. Rush Limbaugh. Brilliant! Rush while you get a massage. Then too was the gourmet meal they got for lunch.

"What do you want from Quiznos?"

All-in-all, it was the spa from hell with the total price doubled by the cost of a doctor's visit and antibiotics.

But the killer is this: the next year the men in their lives secretly cabal'd together and decided to get them the same gift! They'd reportedly forgotten how lame it was. This is exactly what gives men, deservedly, a bad name. Not that gift-buying is easy. It's always hard.

That's what she said!!

April 24, 2008

Tampa Bookstore, Clock Ticking...
My wife was waiting in the car while I borrowed time we didn't have (missing a flight for the sake of books seems unreasonable, though explicable, to me).

In the waning seconds I found a book of poetry by Madeleine L'Engle. Thomas Howard has a nice blurb on the back of her collection: "The Weather of the Heart". Some are found here.

April 23, 2008

Sunday Mass

Mass was at a handsome church of Spanish-influenced architecture. Interior was odd; I didn’t realize there was another wing of church on the other side of the altar.

9:30 am guitar Mass and my evangelical wife knew all the songs. “You stole them from us,” she said later with a tinge of triumphalism. The pastor there is a re-located Irishman and gave most of us homily over to the Pope’s trip here, saying that he’s spent many hours watching the talks: “We were wondering: ‘Would this Pope be able to fill the huge shoes of our beloved John Paul II?’” There seemed a hermeneutic of suspicion regarding Benedict in the beginning by many. But the pastor said twice: “He’s done us well.” He also said that Benedict is seeking unity and that he’s come to America and welcomed us with open arms, all of us, not just Catholics. “Imitate Benedict and you’ll be imitating Christ.”

I think I felt, perhaps cynically, that the beginning of his pontificate was intended to re-assure the skeptics, to ease into a more, shall we say, disciplinary approach (i.e. ‘good cop’ before ‘bad cop’). But I think Benedict obviously sees his role as pope to encourage rather than discipline, much like John Paul II obviously did, and I think that speaks volumes as to how much the church must need encouragement and hope.

Of course Benedict was never really conservative and never really liberal, but always a fascinating mixture of the two which is why he appealed so strongly to me. The people of greatest interest are dynamic and surprise us. They inherently have credibility in their stances because they are not locked to one camp. So Benedict was a huge proponent of Vatican II and was/is friends with Hans Kung, while at the same time he loves the Latin Mass. In this it’s no surprise that his papacy is not “liberal” or “conservative” but…so Christian.

It was a reverent guitar mass (“Agnus Dei, you take away the sins of the world…” – first time I heard a mixture of Latin & English in that prayer) but still it’s a 9:30am guitar mass and a guitar Mass at a beach town can’t be too unexpected. Why? Is it because beach areas attract more rootless people who, consequently, aren’t particularly interested in the roots of Catholic musical tradition? Is it because there are more Hispanics here, “warmer people” expecting something less European?

I see a Franciscan 50-something server at Mass and surprise myself by wondering, as if it matters, whether he’s native here or moved here. For some reason it seemed “purer” if he were here indigeously, not seeking an Order that happened to have fine weather and a beach. Judgmentalism rears its ugly head when I “suspect” clergy here. I leap to conclusions like most of the church is made up of visitors, which may not be true. Then I leap to the conclusion that since visitors require less need for priestly services then this is a good gig for priests, an easy gig. But what of that? We are not born with equal capacity to serve. It’s true that God exalts the weak to shame the strong but I see that as an example to prove the point that God is in control, not man. The problem is we don’t know whether we are meant to be one of the weak to be made an example of, i.e. to be made strong, or whether we are one of the weak who are just…weak, so we have to stay alert and attentive. Envy is easily stiff-armed given the fate of those strengthened: we may not all experience the strength given St. Paul at Damascus, but neither will we likely see Paul’s suffering or matrydom. “To whom much is given…”.

The homilist mentioned about how parents can sometimes work up a sweat over explaining death to a child, perhaps betraying their own fear and maybe lack of faith, while the child ends up preaching to the parent: “don’t worry, they are in Heaven with God.” He went on to say that psychatrists say we should re-visit our childhood in order to experience a re-birth in love but they are only saying what Christ said; that you must become as little children and be born again.
* * *

Is the essence of a Pelegian attitude conveyed by this “prayer”: “I hope you appreciate this Lord!” where “this” is any good work. This seems heretical as it denies the truth of the combination of these two statements: 1) every time I sin it is because of me 2) Every time I do well it is due to God.

Thus “I hope you appreciate this Lord!” is like saying to a man who gives you money and you give part of it back and say, “I hope you appreciate this sir!”.

St. Clement said we should thank God for our chastity even, for it is He who controls our passions.
Clearwater Trip Log
“And then suddenly….last summer…”
Oh how ineffably cruel, the car that takes you away, away from that bay. How cruel the jet that takes you from the sparkling sands and jet-blue skies!

Too soon by a half! I’m suffering from post-traumatic non-stress syndrome.

As a European trapped in an American’s body (and white tennis shoes) - at least when it comes to love for vacation time - I think that ten months since my last vacation are in European months equivalent to at least twenty-two.

Eccentric Florida house
Too short. Sat-Sun-Mon and a little nub of Tuesday, which was cruelly compacted into 9-10:30am beach reading “The Historian”, stretching out in the sand languorously as a cat with feet in the cooling sand, and then a 10:30-11:15 run around town before one last green gemstone water splashing shore sprint.

“A day at the beach” goes the popular phrase, something that consoles in that it seems to specify the proper unit of time for the activity – a day, not a week, and since we had more than a day but much less than a week it felt okay, I guess, though if I had my druthers I’d live there, though that also provokes a cliché: “beach bum”.

The aqua-waters that speed by 60-East seem to taunt. We traded forty-five minutes of pool time for a trip to an antiquarian bookstore in downtown Tampa. It was a compromise decision, for even a bookstore can’t eliminate the pull of sun and beer. A bookstore that closed too early on Monday eve to visit was called “Haslam’s” and my wife said it sounded Muslim and so I thought it funny when I read praise from the brochure: “Over the years, Haslam’s has been a Mecca for the city’s book lovers…”.

* * *


Running down the run-down Mandalay road along the beach you can see why ex-pats from the North descend here to live out a Jimmy Buffet song. The boxy motels along the sun-drunk lane lends a fittingness to Florida’s claim as the last home of Jack Kerouac.

Reminds me of a college town, with the sleepy, sunny mornings, the shopkeepers just opening up at 10am, the modest squat houses of ‘60s & ‘70s vintage with “For Rent” signs. The languor in the air. The young people and cigarette smoke, the beer-drinkers in the stoop.

Beer, like heaven and hell, transcends time at Clearwater Beach. At the sit-up window outside the Mandalay Grill a middle-aged couple are happily consuming beer, an hour and a half before noon. At Kelly’s, a sign redefines the word ‘hour’: “Happy Hour 12-7”. This too was college, when alcohol wasn’t just for lunch & dinner.

I always imagine vacations as Larry Hagman days. Hagman, the actor who played JR Ewing, had at least two eccentricities. One, is he spent one day not uttering a word, a natural enough thing for an actor given how he spends his or her time. Their way of resting. The other is that he went though every waking moment slightly tipsy. It cost him his liver, but I figure I can do the same for a few hours daily while on vacation.

T-shirt sighted: “Give me a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll sit in a boat and drink all day.”

Sitting poolside at sunset, quivering palms before a pink-orange sky make it look like the cover of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” album. In the background there’s live music, a guy singing a Jimmy Buffet song: “Son of a son of a sailor”.

* * *


A balcony – oh the power and romance of a balcony! It’s like…alchemy. Fifty feet above the ground I can see a hundred and eighty degrees of land & seas: the low-slung buildings of Clearwater city, the far ‘scrapers along Clearwater Beach, the palms below me, the pool beyond that, the ocean beyond that.

But please don’t feed the seagulls. Please. It feels like the Hitchcock movie at 8:30 in the morning. They come in liked crazed kamikaze pilots, screeching and waking the dead. One poops inches from my books. When you have a couple hundred neighboring balconies all it takes is 1% of your neighbors to decide to feed the birds and chaos results.

The following morning I woke up early, before 7am, and it’s still dark. But then the light starts to strengthen and the first gull does a drive-by, a solitary sweep of the balconies, hoping that the early bird gets the Dorito. A harbinger of coming unpleasantness. Soon his friends will join his screeches and soon someone will be fool enough to throw a potato chip and then we’ll all suffer for it. Sure enough, two minutes later and they come not as single spies but small battalions. It’s time to go to breakfast.

One of the pleasures of this hotel is the free daily NY Times. The Times is tolerable when free and it’s a weekday (their slogan: ‘50% less bias per page Monday thru Friday!’). And they hired Amy Welborn so they can’t be terribly bad, but…

But nothing is more civilized than lingering over a cup of morning java and reading the paper. David Brooks has an interesting editorial saying how covering the political season this year has impoverished his sense of wonder. He writes of C.S. Lewis and how the medieval view of stars and asteroids was not as rock-like machines, but full of energy and verve and intelligence.

The lock waits
attached to door or safe,
Some stationary value.

A key moves
agile and unencumbered
seeks the lock.

A miracle it seems
that key finds lock so often,
such that to the uninitiated
it looks effortless.
Steven mentioned how bad form it is to criticize another blogger’s poetry. Silence is best in that situation; why tear down? I think writing poetry is like sex in that even if you’re terrible at it you’ll still like it. Which is why far more people write than read poetry. Writing prose also must be sufficiently universally pleasing to warrant so many blogs.

The beach is my library, my gym, my solarium, my writing venue, my nature sanctuary, my concert hall, my drinking joint….Today started with a leisurely read of “Geography of Bliss”, then by 2:30 or so a 45 minute jog watching the pelicans dive and fall as thunderbolts and then music and beer.

Ceremonial first use of Guinness bottle cap opener/hat
Ben Franklin said that beer is proof that God loves us, but that apologetic seemed a means to an end. As would seem my early fascination with whether Shakespeare was a secret Catholic. Back in the day my reverence for literary geniuses outpaced my reverence for spiritual geniuses such that if the Bard was Catholic that helped make the case for Catholicism more that, say, St. Francis. Perhaps this was due to thinking that saints are freaks of (super) nature and were “command performances” in that God made them saints while he made the rest of us average. But Shakespeare Catholic!? Whoa, that would be cool, I thought, because it would’ve seemed a “guy like the rest of us” (except for being a literary genius of course) chose Catholicism. Heresies we have always with us, to one degree or another.

* * *


The sand is white and powdery. What is it like? Suddenly it hits me - it is like…flour! It’s so white that the white-cap of wave matches the shore as if the wave meeting shore is a home-coming, as if wave is sand and sand is wave.

There are many things I have yet to do to make this place mine: to walk the length of the pier and explore the housing structure in the center of it. To walk in the Mandalay Grill and have a look-see. To re-visit the little ma & pop shop with the sweet Indian woman who has yet to master taking credit – she debited my Visa for $24 instead of crediting it (a good deal if you can find it). I paid cash and she said she’d void it.

I decide to move the chair close to the water and my wife says of a half-empty cup of beer: “don’t leave that cup!” I tell her not to worry, that I leave no beer, or children, behind. I suspect I’m too suspicious: we see a woman extremely well-endowed and my wife asks if I think they are real despite their sag and I say that maybe they are fake and that now some surgeons make drooping breasts to fool the eye into believing they’re natural. After while it would seem easier just to leave the natural be in order that it appear most natural of all.

Was changing channels and was momentarily (fortunately only very momentarily) arrested by the Montel Williams’ show. He had on a woman who had surgery to increase the size of her rear. I predict that tomorrow’s “virgin” will be the surgically-unenhanced girl, and that will be a turn-on. At the beach the swmsuits make Hilton Head’s look like those at a Mennonite convention. There are women with garish bruises on their thighs and buttocks. Spousal abuse? No, tattoos. Tatts are like an arm’s race (pun intended). You have to keep getting more in order to keep up with the next guy.
The Eyes Have It

Mudpaste He applies
to the blind man’s eyes
till sight restored
a life fresh moored.
The reverse be true?
for the man who rue
too keen of sight
and Aphrodite’s might?
The sea is green and cold this time of year. “For watching, not for swimming,” says my wife. (Later it would get warmer.)

When were were kids we’d go to Lake Michigan, but one year we got to go to the ocean. In both cases the claim-to-fame was that you could not see to the other side. And yet the ocean had that exotic ingredient of salt, something our creeks, rivers and local lakes didn’t have. And the ocean had waves, serious waves, and prettier shells, sometimes serious shells.The fruit of the sea was such that poor Lake Michigan seemed a pale imitation, and in my ‘70s clericalism I thought Lake Michigan a married deacon while the Atlantic was a priest.

Steven Riddle (one isn’t tempted to call him “Steve” is one?) made an interesting observation that it is good nature is imperfect lest we turn green with envy. And yet…is there anything so perfect as the flight of a hawk, soaring above? Or the sun refracting through shade trees? Nature seems our consolation, sometimes, more than our envy. We look at our dog & sigh: “if only I loved like him”…er, I guess that is envy!
Prim and proper
in the water
sits the pelican.

Ungainly in flight
like Orville Wright
till like a thunderbolt she falls.
There’s a pelican on the beach today unable to fly. A fish-hook with line has penetrated his abdomen and shoulder and so the bird’s wings are trapped in the line. A young man slowly sidles up to grab the neck and hold it close so another guy can cut the line and deal with the hooks. The big bird didn’t fly off immediately after the “surgery” but tried his wings on the ground for awhile before summoning the energy of lift-off.

Four black youths, cool & muscular walking down the beach. Leader trips over a hole in the sand and the others laugh uproariously. One says something like “check out the one in pink”, meaning the young Hispanic-looking girl in the striped bikini next to us, lying on her stomach facing away from the beach. She turns and looks up at them thinking (correctly) they meant her. I look to see her reaction but could see none.

Too many Speedos down here. My wife seems to take too keen an interest by asking if it’s usual for ‘it’ to lay upward or downward. Steven says Speedos are the European and South American influence here. Tampa has a Spanish flavor and thus feels comfortable to Spaniards and Brazilians. It’s Miami on the cheap.

* * *

British family sits next to us on our Busch Gardens visit. We are eating on a deck overlooking distant giraffe and zebra and the English family's accents make it feel so…colonial. Dr. Livingston, I presume?

I suppose the cheap dollar makes it a lot more affordable for them. The cheap dollar is due to our debt load, which is arguably due to George Bush being unable to say “no” to Congressional pork (due to an unpopular war) as well as the Iraq war spending itself. So maybe they are here in Florida as a result of an evil Middle Eastern dictator? Interconnected are we?

* * *


Polemics is the last refuge of a scoundrel, especially down here, but it comes to mind that some pro-aborts point to the death penalty as proof of pro-life hypocrisy. Indeed, I used to think that it was crazy pro-lifers supported the death penalty if only for tactical reasons – why in the world give not take the death penalty red herring away from our opponents? That is naive, I suppose, as changing hearts and minds seems little affected by red herrings. I would not think the welfare state was a good idea even if Democrats like John Kerry gave more of their income to helping the poor.

There was a group of veterans at the airport, being flown to Washington D.C. as gratitude for their service to our country, made possible by corporate donations. The volunteers helping the disabled vets had t-shirts that read: “If you can read, thank a teacher. If you can read English, thank a vet.”

April 22, 2008

         

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Patti Renfroe said she knows that when the Holy Father hears “One Bread, One Body” played this week during his historical trip to the United States, it has to hurt his aesthetical nature, but she is hoping that the pain it causes him may mean she will spend less time in Purgatory. “As he rode by, I yelled out, ‘Pope Benedict, please offer up ‘One Bread, One Body’ for me and my kids, for our salvation!” He kind of gave me a knowing, but pained smiled and nodded. “What that man has to suffer for us,” said Renfroe, a music teacher at Our Lady Queen of Heaven School in Arlington, Virginia. “People just don’t appreciate it.” - Maureen Martin parody via Alicia of "Fructus Ventris"

Some of my more Evangelical friends find this very odd about the Catholic idea of liturgy. Why have so many pages and intricate systems just to pray? Why not just open your bible or lift your heart up to God in your own words? Why should the mass be so "scripted"? The answer is that as Catholics we do not just pray individually, as persons or as congregations, when it comes to liturgical prayer. We pray as the one Body of Christ. And all those thousands of pages serve to keep Catholics throughout the world on the same page, as it were. Never has this been so immediately illustrated to me as today, when I had the chance to watch via the USCCB's web streaming as Pope Benedict XVI prayed Vespers with out nation's bishops at the National Shrine. I pulled my copy of Christian Prayer out of my briefcase and began following along. There I was, a thousand miles away, holding and praying the same text as the Holy Father and all our bishops. And rippling backwards and forward through the time zones of the world, priests, religious and laity across the globe were doing the same, praying the same psalms and antiphons and readings. The Body of Christ praying as one. - Darwin Catholic

I love and hate life just enough:
ibis in the dawn clouds' tracery wouldn't bring
me to tears, nor would ash in my mouth
at our schizoid communions,
nor the halt in my step, once so sure,
nor the pain in my neck from gazing up
at the stars, roaming cataclysms
thrown about the void on a whim and a word.

I won't remember bygone days
vernal and wet with sun showers, footprints
impressed in the grass, light glinting
off green blades like porcelain,
golden rain trees dropping blossoms in the dark;
no, I love and hate life just enough. - Endlessly Rocking

Blackadder reminds us that it's tax day (I'll confess, I'd forgotten, having filed back in February) with a quote from the first book of Samuel warning the Israelites that if they choose to have a king they can expect him to confiscate a whole tenth of their income in taxes. As of this year's tax bill, ancient Isrealite tax rates are sounding pretty good to me! - Darwin Catholic

It was rough telling our children yesterday. Their options are now public schooling or home schooling. We’re exploring both. I’m leaning toward home schooling. The way I dramatize it, we’re the last Catholic family in America, and I have to start the re-building process. I’d rather nurture a drop of devout Catholic water than swim in the ocean of lukewarm Catholic water that caused our school’s downfall. In the meantime, I am broadcasting on all AM frequencies. I will be homeschooling every day at mid-day, when the sun is highest in the sky. If you are out there… if anyone is out there… I can provide food, I can provide shelter, I can provide security, I can provide beer. If there are any serious Catholics out there… any loyal Papist… please. You are not alone. - "The Daily Eudemon" on the news of his Catholic school's closing. The last few sentences parody "I am Legend".

God did not create an imperfect world. His creation is perfect, our disobedience corrupted it and brought it all down with us. I've often pondered why this should be so--why would Adam's disobedience affect the world of cats and dogs? Why is this necessarily so? And it occurred to me, that it is, once more, a sign of His love for us. Humanity could not exist in a perfect world because of its own imperfection. It would be a constant stimulus to envy, jealousy, and destruction. The food of such a world would be like poison to us. - Steven of Flos Carmeli

Vexed by Musselmans aggressyve.
Hie and thither to the Arche-Bishop's manse
The pilgryms ryde and fynde perchance
The hooly Bishop takynge tea
Whilste watching himselfe on BBC.
Heere was a hooly manne of peace
Withe bearyd of snow and wyld brows of fleece
Whilhom stoode athwart the Bush crusades
Withe peace march papier-mache paraydes.
Sayeth the pilgryms to Bishop Rowan,
"Father, we do not like howe thynges are goin'.
You know we are as Lefte as thee,
But of layte have beyn chaunced to see
From Edinburgh to London-towne
The Musslemans in burnoose gowne
Who beat theyr ownselfs with theyr knyves
Than goon home and beat theyr wyves
And slaye theyr daughtyrs in honour killlynge
Howe do we stoppe the bloode fromme spillynge?" - Blogger at "Iowa Hawk" via Karen Hal

Obviously people do value seeing Pope in person and also, obviously, that interest irritates others...The secularist looks at the Pope pilgrims and sees dupes of an erstwhile Flying Spaghetti Monster, wasting their time, as usual. Some Protestants see another kind of dupe. Papist Dupes, strangers to Jesus Christ. Which is O.K. People think whatever they think. But in my mind, in a Gawker Stalker culture, in a culture which is fixated on celebrity for its own sake, and a culture in which on any given weekend, zillions of dollars are being spent hauling ourselves to the latest AARP-sponsored geriatric arena rock-out or to see a few dozen young men zipping around a stadium or, God help us, taking our children (at 15 bucks a pop) to see a Hannah Montana 3-D movie … well. In that context, making some sacrifices to see an 81-year-old guy talk about God seems to be a little easier to live with. Even without the sneering, maybe. Oh, and about the Papist thing? Putting “man” in the place of God? Believe me, I’ve been to enough conventions of evangelical Protestant book-selling organizations and seen enough life-size cutouts of Joel Osteen...to know how much that criticism is worth. But still… what’s the value of the personal presence of the Pope? How can it be more than just one more celebrity hogging the headlines and taking up our time? What’s renewing about it?...After contemplating this for a while, I finally decided that it comes down to connection — one of the deepest connections I’ve ever experienced. When I see the Pope, I’m seeing more than a man named Joseph Ratzinger. I’m seeing a figure that resonates with 2000 years of history, that reaches back to Christ himself. Weirdly, seeing the Pope in person — especially in Rome — deepened the connection I feel, most of all, with Catholics all over the world and through history. Which, I’ve heard, is sort of the idea — You are Peter… - Amy Welborn
Brilliant!

You can see the Guinness ballcap my wife bought me has an actual, functional bottle opener sewn in - obviously the greatest thing since manned space flight. After all, after a few beers you tend to misplace your bottle opener.

April 18, 2008

Polarization

As one oft guilty of being a polarizer (though without the compensatory popularity, although I always feels that is precisely what gives me license), I'll offer these posts up as an inadequate recompense:

Mark Mossa is leaving the blog world:
I thought I saw an opportunity, an opportunity to bridge a gap between people of different perspectives in the Church. So, I threw my hat into the fray and it was fun, for a while. It even appeared that I might make some progress in this endeavor and perhaps even accomplish some goals that I had set for myself in becoming aware of the various dimensions of the Catholic blogosphere... And, at first, there seemed to be some hope of success at this, and there are still a coterie of bloggers (you know who you are) that give me hope in this regard. Yet, I’ve grown tired of swimming against the tide. The most negative of Catholic blogs still continue to be the most popular and, like myself, the more positive bloggers seem to be posting with far less frequency.

Michael Liccione contra moralism:
Lately I've noticed a style of moral theologizing in which moral uprightness, understood as external conformity with precepts that can sometimes be quite technical, is presented as a sine qua non not just of the Christian life itself but even of—well, basic credibility. I don't want to call that Pharisaism, exactly; the precepts involved are typically more important, objectively speaking, than many of those the Pharisees thought important. But we have here a kind of moralism particularly seductive for highly intelligent Catholics who, if they succumb to it, thereby become prone to impugn the character of those who disagree with them about one or more of the technical precepts at issue. Such moralism is a problem for both "the Right" and "the Left," i.e. for the rigorists and the laxists. It is important that moral theology not become moralism because, if and when it does, it becomes at least as much an obstacle as an aid to Christian spiritual growth.

Amy Welborn at the NY Times blog (never thought I'd say that; credit to the Times) on our divisiveness:
Progressive, conservative or orthodox? Traditionalist or Novus Ordo Mass? Commonweal or National Catholic Register? Do you buy your books from Our Sunday Visitor, Ignatius or Paulist? Do you love EWTN or want to scrape it off your cable lineup? Scott Hahn or Ron Rolheiser? Boston College or Thomas Aquinas? What’s your favorite swear word? Apologetics? Social Justice? “Gathering Song”?

And never the twain shall meet, it seems. What kind of witness is that, the Pope is asking?

Not that he’s suggesting that a round of Kumbaya (or Tantum Ergo) followed by sharing (or a beer) will fix it all up. But he’s calling Catholics to focus on Christ and serve him … sacrificially. And let the Spirit work.
The Tipping Point?

Interesting post on politics in America:
So it is in America. The two most powerful parties are so equal in strength that a victory can be determined by a few ambiguous ballots cast in Florida.

It doesn't take the teams long to figure out that while the platform can be balanced with everyone in the middle, it can also be balanced with everyone at the edges. In fact, there are an infinite number of configurations that will balance the platform. But everyone has to work together. The movement of any player on either side requires a compensating movement by someone else.

Then they notice that if the goal is to avoid the clunk, and not necessarily to keep the platform level, the platform can in fact be tilted a little in one direction or another.

April 17, 2008

Thoughts Occasioned by the Papal Visit

Watching Pope Benedict talk is, in some ways, more helpful than reading the text. He reminds me of the Eastern icons that fill our Byzantine parish, only he is a living icon, someone to watch and emulate in his obvious peacefulness and "what me worry? Christ is our hope!" radiance. Very Julian of Norwichy ("but all will be well"). Just as he insisted on the inclusion of art in the Compendium to the Catechism, so we benefit by seeing him talk and not just reading the words on paper.

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If, as Amy Welborn opines, he really enjoys the papacy, perhaps it's because this job is more natural to his personality in that it's less confrontational than his old job. Less need to knock heads. On the other hand, it's got to be a tough job for a rather introverted scholar! I wonder sometimes though whether he gets more joy from being able to write and speak constantly about known issues, those basic "block and tackle" issues like the hope and love and mercy of Christ - than on the unknown, that is the knotty theological issues that consumed much of his earlier life.

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I was amused by the Holy Father's exchange with the "liberal" Archbishop Pilarczyk, giving him that "Hey, I know you!" grin when the Archbishop rose to ask a question. Before answering Benedict mentioned having an "interesting discussion" with him. Interesting is often a euphemism for 'difficult'. Boy I'd have liked to have been a fly on that wall. One could see that the Archbishop made quite an impression on the Pope. It may be too bold of me to surmise this but one gets the sense Pilarczyk is not easily impressed or cowed and that thus he may have engaged Benedict in a more forthright fashion that many of his brother bishops. Just speculation.

On the priest abuse scandal, I was unburdened by hopes that the Holy Father was going to do anything more than he has already said. There was a time for the woodshed and that's pretty much past. I'm interested now in wondering what message to take from this. Is this Benedict's way of asking all of us to be more merciful? Am I unmerciful? I likely have too much thirst for justice when it comes to some of these bishops, especially Cdl Law. Should I even be opining on any of this? Is it presumptive of me to casually speculate about Pilarczyk, a successor to the apostles? To label him as 'liberal'?

For whatever the known flaws, such as those exhibited by Cardinal Law, maybe the parable of the wheat and the chaff is operative here such that the Pope has to let the wheat and chaff grow together lest in pulling up the roots we lose both, but if so, I wish he'd said so. The root problem, pun unintended, is a lack of faith (as Benedict has said), and you can't force people to have faith.

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I was glad he made the point about marriage losing its status as a sacrament in so many eyes since I think that's a huge problem:

"To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond, or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person."

I also thought it interesting that he quoted Mark 10:30 in attempting to get us to see our affluence not as the result of our own efforts but as a result of a promise from God:

"For an affluent society, a further obstacle to an encounter with the living God lies in the subtle influence of materialism, which can all too easily focus the attention on the hundredfold, which God promises now in this time, at the expense of the eternal life which he promises in the age to come (cf. Mk 10:30)."

Is it dangerous to quote that verse in a culture susceptible to the health/wealth gospel? Although this was directed at the bishops of course and in the same sentence eternal life is mentioned.

Update: Don't you think a fine birthday present the Pope might've been a reverent Mass at Nationals stadium? I haven't seen it yet, but I heard it was bombastic and full of the sort of Broadway musical stagecraft that we've come to know and cringe at. I just wonder what the organizers were thinking, assuming they know Benedict's opinion about the Mass and that he's a guest in this country. Do you give the guest what he prefers or do you give the guest a flavoring of your country? In other words, if I go to Germany and it's well known that I don't like sauerkraut, do I get served sauerkraut because it's 'authentic German cooking'? Or does my German host attempt to serve me somehing German but something that he knows I might like? I don't know, again it's unfair of me to opine on this subject since I haven't watched the Mass yet (it's on tape) but then this is a blog...

Update II: A blog friend who was actually there reports that "the musical accompaniment (though not the vocal melody) for the Responsorial Psalm at the Mass at Nationals Stadium was straight out of the Stephen Sondheim Songbook, but other than that I didn't notice any bombast."

Blogs are sort of like that game of telephone where someone tells somebody something and they tell something else and eventually the original word becomes distorted...So it's nice to have this correction.
Snorkelin'

Just their presence makes me smile
those pirate fins so sleek and true,
carry muscle mem'ry of the hug
before the slide-under oyster-blue...

Under, Lo! where the sea fills the cavities
and canisters till you cheat death diving
down where no man has gone before to
spin amid the gaudy sea-breathers till
Uisce debt! Gulp to hale-in, rinse
the mask and return to Lilliputia...

There carol downward spiral
Weightless as an astronaut,
bare sand mounds like village greens
undulating to infinities...

Heed we the call of the water
and give us the margaritas!
'Cuz it ain’t real 'less it's salty
till the brine-sand sole burns
for we’re sailin’ straits
for that Floridian meridian...
The Dems Last Night

A rabid (as a child I confused that word up with "rapid", as in "he is a rapid baseball card collector") Republican approached me today and asked if I'd seen the Democrat debate last night. I said I watched some of it and he said he thought it was disgraceful how it all got watered down in distractions like the Bosnia gaffe and the Rev. Wright controversy.

Well knock me over with a feather. Au contraire!

Listening to Hill & Obama on the issues seems an exercise in predictability: utter pander-ation. On Iraq: get out, honkey cat! On the home front? Treat citizens like college kids: "hold on son, we'll send money soon!". I may be wrong, but I sense there's precious little creativity in Hillary & Obama's domestic agenda. Just find new ways to redistribute wealth, less the 30% gov't take. So any talk about "the issues" goes a long way for me at least.

That's not to say the Republicans aren't similarly out of ideas. Most of the "solutions" seem to consist of cries of "cut taxes and batten down the hatches, for a Nor'easter is comin'," meaning that Teddy Kennedy saw his shadow and that means sixteen more years of a Democratic Congress.

Last night was superb entertainment if disturbingly schadenfreudic. Normally Obama's too cool to show emotion amid the falling arrows, but the unexpected ones aimed by George and Charlie wrought visible pain. I almost felt sorry for the guy. Concerning Wright and Obama's recent gaffe "it is what it is" and if his explanations fell short, the arrows didn't. It'll be very interesting to see how much weight Americans will put on these things come November. This is an election very hard to predict because while America's in a left-of-center mood, Obama's very left-of-center.

One interesting moment last night came when Hillary admitted her misstatement about Bosnia sniper fire given what she'd said in her own book. Forget Sinbad or the other eyewitnesses (they could've been part of a vast right-wing conspiracy after all): when she saw that her present account didn't jive with her past account she admitted fudging the truth. A very human thing - we trust ourselves first and foremost. I tend to feel warmth towards Hillary, probably because she's the underdog and because there's a part of me that admires their chutzpah and shamelessness. Shamelessness seems to wear better on those for whom it is a perpetual kind, like Mr. Skimpole in Dickens' Bleak House.

So I can't get too exercised about the Bosnia exaggeration. Notice how the stock market sometimes doesn't go down despite a devastatingly bad jobs report? That's because the market has "already discounted that". Already digested the fact that things are going south. So here I thought all of us had already discounted Clintonian lying and that by now the Clinton stock wouldn't fall in reaction to a new revelation.

Obama, on the other hand, is full of surprises. One surprise I experienced this campaign cycle is how differently whites and blacks view the prospect of a black president. Whites think that it would be a boon to race relations if a black man was elected president, while I think most blacks would consider it a boon to race relations only if an "authentically black" was elected president, where "authentic" is a liberal Democrat friendly with the Rev. Wrights of the world. In other words, no Bill Cosbys or Colin Powells or Condi Rices need apply.... But then whites see electing an "authentically" black candidate as rewarding bad behavior, offering legitimacy to racists like Rev. Wright and Louis Farrakhan.

Experience has shown, however, that rewarding or punishing bad behavior is an exercise in futility. Fidel Castro will (has?) die(d) in his bed, absolutely unaffected by decades of El Norte's ostracization. The U.N. attempted to "punish" Saddam Hussein through economic sanctions and there's little evidence that he felt punished. We have rewarded China with favored nation status and China shrugs and goes on doing what China does. We are more impervious to external stimuli than meets the eye, and our natural desire to see "the good guy win" is frequently thwarted, notwithstanding that none of us are good. I think I'm becoming more pacifistic in the sense of finally realizing how overrated force is.
Let's Play....

      Why's My Bookbag So Durn Heavy?

(The short answer is because there are a lot of books in there.)

Pardon & Peace - Fr. Randolph
American Sucker - David Denby
It's All About Him - Denise Jackson
Turning Back the Clock - Umberto Eco
Divine Mercy - Robert Stackpole
The Thought of Benedict XVI - Aidan Nichols
The Geography of Bliss - Eric Weiner
Liberal Fascism - Jonah Goldberg
Speaking of Liberal Fascism, Jonah is engaging in Fascism-spotting. Back in May of '03, I received an email accusing Bush of fascism. My reply was:
"Since the dictionary definition of fascism is: 'Strict regulation and control of the economy by the regime through some form of corporatist economic planning in which the legal forms of private ownership of industry are nominally preserved but in which both workers and capitalists are obliged to submit their plans and objectives to the most detailed state regulation and extensive wage and price controls, which are designed to insure the priority of the political leadership's objectives over the private economic interests of the citizenry.' ...and since George Bush doesn't control wages and prices I guess he escapes the 'fascist' tag. "

April 16, 2008

Local Congressional Aide at Talk
Also present was a young Voinovich aide, Garrette Silverman, who called the experience of seeing and hearing the Pope live quite incredible.

"There was such an amazing energy," Silverman said.

When Pope Benedict XVI said "'God bless America,' it was the first time I ever felt the true meaning and weight of the phrase," Silverman said. "It was an electric moment for everyone around me as well - we talked about it on the way out."

- Jonathan Riskind
Universal (well, if you have an Internet connection) Access to Lit of the Hours

From yesterday's reading via Universalis:

From a sermon by Saint Peter Chrysologus, bishop

I appeal to you by the mercy of God. This appeal is made by Paul, or rather, it is made by God through Paul, because of God’s desire to be loved rather than feared, to be a father rather than a Lord. God appeals to us in his mercy to avoid having to punish us in his severity.

Listen to the Lord’s appeal: In me, I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death. These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no less to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds...

Paul says: I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living and holy. The prophet said the same thing: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me. Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest. Do not forfeit what divine authority confers on you. Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity. Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on your forehead be your unfailing protection. Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that he himself has given you. Keep burning continually the sweet smelling incense of prayer. Take up the sword of the Spirit. Let your heart be an altar. Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice. God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will.
Answers to Quick Quiz

1-G, 2-B, 3-F, 4-H, 5-A, 6-E, 7-C, 8-D

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Also, Parody is Therapy updated...
Things That May You Say 'What'? (or our weekly Curmudgeon-in-Training Post)

The Columbus Dispatch reprinted a Wall Street Journal article with the headline "Spiritual activities make us happiest".

I figured by spiritual activities they meant prayer, volunteer work, bible reading, etc...

But spiritual activities are defined therein as exercising, visiting friends, listening to music, fishing, attending church, reading a book, sitting a cafe or going to a party.

The word "spiritual" has really got watered-down if it means going to a party.

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I live in a typical suburb, neither too rich nor too poor. And it was interesting to recently see how many employees have been hired who are not teachers but whose job seems to be handling troubled students. (There are six principals for the local high school - in my day we had one principal, and we liked it!)

Here is a partial breakdown from a local blog:
82 Intervention Specialists including...:

*17 "gifted" instructors & 19 psychologists (Does not include 33 Guidance Counselors)

*17 "gifted" teachers & 40 Reading Recovery/Title reading teachers

*13 Kindergarten Intervention teachers KINDERGARTEN????
It's interesting how over the years the mission of "school" has expanded. Now it includes elaborate sports programs and psychologists, and probably sports psychologists. :-)
Meandering Dream Reverie & a Wiliam F. Buckley Anecdote

I woke from a dream, one I've had in the past, which seems indicative of why I've never been able to write plot. Even in my dreams I'm recycling. My excuse for posting this is that man is a social animal and thus we influence each other and it was Steven Riddle's posting of his dream which encourages it, though admittedly his post was redeemed by theological musings. But without delay:
"C'mon. It'll get the blud flown."

That was the gist of the answering machine message from a fellow Korean war vet recruiting for the annual Burgundy Regatta, named for a founder with a penchant for red wine.

It was like a reunion of twenty-five Charles Bukowski's and I feared for my life while on Boomer's sickle though it was a familiar enough ritual. We'd gather in the basement of Trenchant's Drugs. I'd hitch a ride on Boomer's motorbike, and we'd fan out to smuggle shooters to the non-ambulatory. Then we'd head to Morey's and drink till the "blud" flowed or coagulated, whichever came first.
But to completely switch gears, Steven's post got me thinking, as did something else I saw recently - that of a blog of an apostate - a term that sounds harsh if descriptive, a believer turned atheist. A young man of pyrotechnic philosophic reading, he is trying to enter the sheepfold (that is, Truth) but not through the gate. He reminds me of how one has to be a little child to enter the Kingdom for it does haunt, in the back of my head, that there could be something in his reading that would much challenge, even, rob me of my faith. This is partially a fear of the unknown: you don't know what you don't know, of course. The unknown is usually worse than the known. But then there's the consolation that nothing outside us can rob us of that gift (although one doesn't want to necessarily test it either). Then too, I'm reminded of a priest friend of the late William F. Buckley who consoled WFB over a young apostate. The priest said that all the young lose their faith for a time. "I didn't!" Buckley said, his face incredulous at the very thought.