May 30, 2008

Hodge Podge of Discontinued Items

A midge-madge of various thoughts to short to garner their own post,..

I began re-reading Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman and I'm amazed by how this single modern fiction author, almost alone (in my experience at least), has such a perfectly pleasant voice. The prose is not self-aggrandizing and is lyrical without being cloying. The tone and pitch is just...well, he could flat out write.

* * *

It's not often I agree with liberal pundit Michael Kinsley, but he was dead-on when he says that a gaffe in Washington is speaking the truth. Why Hillary should be pounded for saying white voters vote for her in large numbers, or that tragic events such as assassinations do happen, is beyond me. It's a measure of her desperation that she mentions these things, but still they are just facts.

* * *

I've not been following the polygamist sect story too closely, although it's one of those battles where you wish BOTH would lose - the government and the cultists. Both are bullies to my mind. I'm guessing that although it's called a polygamist sect it's not really since marriage to more than one person is against the law, last time I checked. So I'm thinking that they are just 'shacking up'. Which is interesting in that it describes how much the word marriage has already been devalued. If marriage was this devalued back in, say, the 1800s, then I suppose the Mormons could still have their polygamy although the marriages would be recognized only by the Mormon church rather than the state?

* * *

Given a choice of liberal pro-abort Democrats with limited experience (Hillary & Obama), Obama seemed the more interesting presidential candidate before the Rev. Wright stuff came out. The idea of someone "transcending race" was heady stuff but it turned out Obama no more transcends race than any of us. That he could hang with Rev. Wright for 20 years would be understandable if it was about influencing Wright for the better, as Victorian British Prime Minister Gladwell was said to frequent prostitutes in order to preach Christianity to them. (There's no evidence that he did anything other than talk to them, by the way.)

* * *

Mrs. Darwin wins today's "honesty in blogging" (shortened to 'blogesty') award. I feel a twinge of guilt as we (my brother & sister and I) often drove my mother to sheer lunacy. We didn't understand it at the time, but now we do, at least to some extent. The post certainly put me right there and I experienced it vicariously such that I wanted to beat the 4-year old. Tangentially related, I'm sort of hyp-mo-tized by the thought of a 5-yr old being precocious enough to tape record his teacher. I can't even remember when I was five years old.

May 29, 2008

Read at Work.

I think Excel might be a better camouflage than PowerPoint but nevertheless am impressed by the ingenuity proffered. To look like you're working takes a lot of work.

May 28, 2008

Phi Beta Beta Suspended from OU Campus for Reading Violations


PARODY, OR--The Phi Beta Beta fraternity was put on an indefinite suspension by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon yesterday.

The fraternity violated school anti-hazing laws by force-feeding pledges Emily Dickinson poems and making them recite lengthy Ovid passages from memory.

"Reading fraternities" such as Phi Beta Beta are increasingly popular on college campuses today in an environment in which binge reading continues to be a problem.

"You walk by many of the reading fraternity houses and hear 'Drop and give me 20!' only then you hear the pledge having to recite twenty lines from the Iliad," said Sheriff P. Coltrane, who is investigating excessive reading at many fraternity houses. "It's gonna make these kids go blind, 'cuz they're reading ten, sometimes twenty hours a day in addition to their school work."

Some concerned parents have instituted a policy such that whenever, wherever their kid is, they will pick them up if they are too drunk on reading.

"They don't want their child taking a cab, because he might read in transit. I've heard of kids slumped over from reading-exhaustion and parents come and get them and prop them immediately in front of a television. The kids are unable to even ride a bike," said Deputy Sheriff Malarkey.
Diet Recommendation

Too often this blog fails to offer practical advice. To remedy this, I bring to your attention my favorite diet.

I call it a "modified Zone diet". The Zone diet is, if you recall, a modified Atkins diet. The Atkins plan allows unlimited proteins but almost no carbohydrate. The Zone diet allows protein, but limited carbohydrate. My modified Zone diet allows unlimited carbohydrate along with unlimited protein. This is a diet you can live with.

It can be further modified with the beer diet, although I don't recommend this tweak to, say, professional ballet dancers.

May 27, 2008

Faustina & Lucia

"My meetings with Sister Lucia greatly reinforced my conviction that it's the simple people who are closest to the heart of God. They're the ones who intercede with God to make the world a better place. If men act humanely...it's thanks to the prayers of the simple."

- Cardinal Bertone on meeting Sr. Lucia of the Fatima apparition
____________
"Taking advantage of the intimacy to which the Lord was admitting me, I interceded before Him for the whole world. At such moments I have the feeling that the whole world is depending on me."

- Saint Faustina, diary paragraph #870
Various

Long weekends sometimes vaguely remind me of... college days. Those bygone years contained two seemingly disparate things – a great sense of leisure with all the sensation of getting things done. Quantifiable things too, such as a college degree. I was like Huck Finn floating down the river – all the movement but also all the restfulness. It was like being both Pelagian and Augustinian.

Of course that is nostalgia talking. It wasn't that easy. (Was it?)

* * *

There’s a sort of comely humility in many of the pagan back-to-nature folks because even if they don’t believe in God, their belief in evolution means they believe they were formed in a certain way (over time) and it’s best to conform to that. Some people refuse to conform to anyone or anything; they think they can be whoever they want to be (Michael Jackson comes to mind).

The nature folks say we have evolved over the millenia to either farm or hunt and gather and it’s best we get back to that. Or that we evolved to run long distances and that we should thus do that today. In one sense the Christian is not so different from the nature-worshipper in that both have discovered a blueprint. The nature-lover sees nature as guide and teacher and that we are happiest when in communion with it. The Christian sees Christ as guide and teacher and that we are happiest when in communion with Him.

Since grace builds on nature, the Catholic accepts that nature is also guide and teacher (small 'g' and 't') since we don't throw out reason with faith. (Think: "Two great tastes in one candy bar".) Reason strongly suggests that evolution in some fashion is true, though obviously involving a Creator. But I don't think I'll quit my day job and hunt & gather anytime soon although I hear the hours are decent.

* * *

Sleep, like sex and prayer, abhors self-consciousness. Self-awareness, in each case, destroys what is meant to be a entrustment to something other than self. But sometimes sleep is short-circuited for reasons far from self-consciousness. Sometimes just by pure anxiety, as in my co-worker.

He's freak of nature as it is, sleeping 3-4 hours a night. This has advantages he tells me and I believe him. He wakes up before 5am and arrives at work at 6am, allowing him to leave, if he takes no lunch, at the delightfully hour of 2pm. He has so much more free time than the average person that it beggars the imagination. His energy level is somewhat uneven: either full bore with great intensity or, as was the case in a training class, a lot of sleeping.

But all of that was put aside when I learned that his insomnia had increased dramatically and he was at rest two hours a night for the past couple weeks. Great domestic difficulties; a sudden change in his wife’s nephew’s family has presented the opportunity of taking on a 8-year old. Fights have ensued, his wife insisting they take in the child. If you can spare a prayer for him and his wife and the proper outcome I'm sure he'd appreciate it.
         

Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories. - John Wilmot

Philip understood that it wasn't enough to tell young people not to do something -- you had to give them something to do in its place. So at Carnival time, when the worst excesses were encouraged, Philip organized a pilgrimage to the Seven Churches with a picnic accompanied by instrumental music for the mid-day break. After walking twelve miles in one day everyone was too tired to be tempted! - the Philip is St. Philip Neri, via "Ten Reasons"

Mrs. Clinton's supporters are now complaining about the Hillary nutcrackers sold at every airport shop. Boo hoo. If Golda Meir, a woman of not only proclaimed but actual toughness, heard about Golda nutcrackers, she would have bought them by the case and given them away as party favors. - Peggy Noonan

[Jim] Wallis is, of course, a key player in the Democratic party’s “religious outreach” efforts. He modestly describes his political preferences as—in a book by that title—God’s Politics. So much for depoliticizing religion. - Fr. Neuhaus of "First Things"

Alert readers will notice that I studiously avoid current events, mostly because I have no great insights to add to what I hear on NPR or read in the New York Times... - Francis X. Clooney, S.J., at "America" magazine blog, humorously (albeit unintentionally) illustrating the Left's embrace of all forms of diversity except diversity of opinion (nominated by Terrence Berres)

You can't vote for Obama unless you hate him --- You don't hand a suicidal man a loaded revolver unless you hate him. You don't give a thief the combination of the bank safe unless you hate him. You don't give an angry cuckold a knife and access to his wife's tied-up lover unless you hate him: unless what you will for him is damnation. You don't turn a bunch of Jews over to the Nazis unless you hate not only the Jews, but the Nazis too. And you don't turn over executive power in America to a man whom you know with moral certainty will unilaterally issue executive orders authorizing particular abortions which are now illegal unless you hate both the children he is about to kill and yes, the man himself. - Zippy of Zippy Catholic

The death-toll keeps climbing and the images that are coming back from the devastation in Myanmar are heart-wrenching. The only thing that could make this worse is to have a country run by paranoid generals who won’t allow much aid to reach the victims. Sadly this is happening...This puts President Bush’s lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina in perspective...I am amazed at the 9/11 conspiracy nuts who think the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were an administrative plot. This White House couldn’t get ice to New Orleans. - Phil of "Please Hold Your Applause'

There are certainly precarious or non-sustainable (in the sense of centuries) things about our modern economy -- but then, there were precarious and non-sustainable things about the Western economy of two hundred years ago, and the result was that it changed, not that it collapsed..The new Cuban agriculture is clearly taking a lot more work by more people in order to produce the same amount of food (though using less oil, chemicals and machinery) and that is pretty much the economic definition of becoming poorer. Many environmentalists are [negative on large scale world farming], but when talking to my co-workers from countries like India and Sri Lanka, the green revolution (in all its chemical-using and oil-burning glory) marked the point where their families began to be able to get as much food as they needed, and their parents no longer had to stand in line for a few hours to get the weekly ration of rice. - Darwin Catholic

Theocoid --- you understood my book precisely. The Lord is putting aside His Divine knowledge in order to "pitch His tent with us" as John puts it. He could draw on His omniscience any time but He chooses to experience things with us. The Gospel of Mark is filled with passages that indicate that this was the Lord's choice while on Earth. And also we have the Letter of the Hebrews describing in beautiful words how He was tempted in every way as we are, except that He did not sin. Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated. Anne Rice, Rancho Mirage, California. - Anne Rice commenting on the humorously titled "Is My Phylactery Showing?" blog

May 26, 2008

Various

Wow, so far it's unaminous: everyone is against the re-painting. The artistically-minded Dylan's nay especially holds sway (rhyme unintended).

* * *

Also I should mention that in the "Mainlining Kindle" post, it is not me shown in the photograph, but someone using drugs - don't try that at home. (To find the photo, I googled images for "drug user" or something like that.)

* * *

I came across a delightful passage from Isak Dinesen's "Out of Africa" that describes a farmer who came to Dinesen's ranch and who sounds like he would've been an avid blogger had he lived in our era (click to enlarge.):

May 25, 2008

To Paint or Not to Paint...

I'm thinking my outdoor Blessed Mother statue would look better if painted a solid color - perhaps the multi-colors look a bit kitsch-y. I bought some tan paint (see log colored with it). I'm not sure the statue would look better or not after painting.

  

May 24, 2008

Airport Conversion Story

It's not every day I read a conversion story in the Columbus Dispatch, but here's a snippet I found in today's edition concerning the Cleveland airport's chapel:
"It's a family, a community of faith," said Diane Doerpers, Charles' wife, who volunteers at the chapel.

Eric Riggs is part of that family.

The aircraft mechanic for Continental Airlines works on Sundays.

Raised a Presbyterian but never baptized, Riggs said he used to go to the chapel on breaks "for some quiet and meditation. One day, I heard the door close and the bells ring, and I realized that Mass was beginning. I was nervous; I didn't know what was going on. But I stayed."

And listened.

And later spoke with Doerpers.

On Easter 2007, Riggs joined the Catholic Church. These days, the Olmsted Township man reads Scripture for those at the Sunday Communion service.

"If no airplanes are calling, I have another calling," he said.

May 23, 2008

Ah, June...


The ideal vacation is one in which you’ve spent so much time upfront dreaming of it that it cannot disappoint. It’s been “paid forward” – the mere anticipation is the greatest delight. If the June trip to NY were to be cancelled and our flight unrefunded I can’t say that we hadn’t gotten my money’s worth.

The joy is in the research, the poring over the luscious pictures in the Frommer’s Travel Guide, the reading of evocative histories like Hamil’s “Downtown” and Tyler Anbinder’s “Five Points”, the inspection of detailed city maps. All of it burnishes proto-memories of the Reds at Yankee Stadium, Strand Books, and hearing Fr. Neuhaus say Mass. I haven’t felt this way since seven years ago, since Rome, which I’d thought in its beauty and spirit had ruined all other destinations foreign and domestic as the girl-next-door suffers by comparison to Sophia Loren.

For the Ireland trip I’d studied for months, immersing in Irish poetry and Celtic mythology, and reading a leisurely fable of medieval Ireland titled “Sun Dancing”. I can’t imagine reading of medieval Ireland or the Celtic myths but for the self-assignment under the deadline of an upcoming trip yet I’m much the richer for it.

It feels like the return of a friend, this pang of vacation anticipation. I didn’t think I’d feel this way about a U.S. city again. Apparently I’d waited long enough between trips, a decade a sufficient interlude to re-awaken the hunger. Beach vacations are well and good but they don’t have the promise of shocking the synapses but instead bathe them in a return to the body in the form of exercise and drinking and sun. If the beach re-awakens the body, New York awakens the mind with its museums and architecture and diverse multitudes. (There’s something ironic that in an age with such accessibility to the greatest writings – witness the Gutenberg site – and the greatest art we seem ever more resistant to the classics and great art, and I recognize my role as a blog-writer as part of the problem.)

I haven’t entirely deserted my suspicion of the truth of Viktor Shklosvsky’s assertion that literature is all about defamiliarization and that habit “devours objects, clothes, furniture, one's wife and the fear of war..[and that] art exists to help us recover the sensation of life.” On a purely natural level indeed, but the saints refuted the hell out of it, living highly sensate lives in the midst of the desert or the sparest monastery.

For a Trappist monk, familiarization is embraced in the most radical way and for some of them habit devours nothing (“habit, where is thy sting!?”) but instead enhances, when marinated with grace, as you can plainly see in the faces of the aged monks at the end of the film “Into Great Silence”.
Mainlining Kindle


I admit I’ve been protesting too much concerning the Amazon Kindle e-reader. My rebuffs and insults (i.e. “it's a Faberge egg”) were half-hearted attempts to stiff-arm overwhelming feelings. This post is part of my Twelve Step program (i.e. "I admit I am powerless over my addiction to Kindle..."). The awful truth is once you go Kindle, you never go back: I can no more imagine returning the replacement in these waning days of the 30-day return period than I can imagine returning a cold Beck’s Dark on a Friday night. My wife can well attest my addiction by my maniacal strategies to protect it from harm. (Think fire-proof steel.)

There’s little to say other than that little device is like crack cocaine and my urgent advice is to avoid it like the plague. (Don’t start with Starbucks coffee either – I think they put something addictive in it.) The Kindle is the closest thing I’ve seen to the “ultimate entertainment” depicted in David Foster Wallace’s novel “Infinite Jest”. Downright scary. I think the pivotal moment came last week just before it broke - God’s none-too-subtle way of explaining to me the foreign concept of ‘detachment’ - when I downloaded the Complete Works of GK Chesterton for $4. Searchable, no less! This felt utterly magical; it was something of a long-felt dream to have the complete works of Chesterton in my library. I immediately searched for Shakespeare and was able to read everything Chesterton said about the Bard.

The whiff of danger expressed concerning the Kindle was mirrored by no less than Ham of Bone, who surprised me yet again. In Wall Street parlance, a high beta stock is one with the capacity to surprise. Ham, even after knowing him all these years, still has a high beta. He objected to Kindle not on expense grounds (he is to frugality what Audubon was to painting birds), but for a more obscure and metaphysical reason. Ham said he recoils at the thought of having his whole reading life mapped out before him. I’m not sure I fully understand what he meant; perhaps it was merely that it would remind him of his mortality too much, as if you had in front of you every beer you’d ever drink and were saddened by knowing it was finite. Given Bone’s frugality he would feel constrained to never buy another physical book but I have no such compunction.

Ham said this will lead to the scenario played out in a sci-fi book he read in which chips were embedded into human brains giving access to Wikipedia such that if we’re on a sinking boat we can get instructions to save our life in real-time. Something like that, I may be mischaracterizing it. I told him that personally I’m not too fond of physical invasions, which is why I’ve successfully avoided laser eye surgery all these years despite everybody and their brother having had it done.

If the Kindle made available only the complete works of Chesterton and Shakespeare I’m tempted to think it would be worth it. Poetry, plays, fiction, memoir, apologetic, biography, literary criticism..the sheer literary biodiversity spun off by those two is stunning. I read, transfixed, sonnets before and after number 63, where I landed by chance. As one Kindle forum member said, Kindle inspires you to read more.

The Kindle forums themselves are a wonder to behold. It's a sad commentary illustrating the drug-like effect of Kindle. The 900+ discussions seem indicative of the logophilliac diarrhea of the new convert. Full disclosure demands that I admit that I, of course, chimed in.

The truth is I thought I was immune to Kindle because I've always been addicted to physicality of books. (I sent Jonah Goldberg an email praising the smell of his book, for heaven's sake.) But I find that even more addicting than the font and glue and paper and binding are the words and ideas, especially words I would not otherwise have fully usable access to (such as Chesterton's complete works).
Kim: "It was Bingo Hell"

"Bingo Hell" is somewhat redundant ("bingo Purgatory" perfectly so). Out of sympathy, I pass this along to bingo co-worker Kim:


Good for birthdays, anniversaries, Arbor Day...She writes,
"That was the worst Bingo night ever... It was Mom, me and Matthew selling instants when Larry’s trade was calling. 3 people selling tickets and a lot of nasty customers to deal with. To add insult to injury they didn’t even order us pizza."
Sometimes I think our bingo is less about the actual bingo game than about selling instant winner tickets. Isn't it sort of odd that over the course of 4 hours, 120 customers need more than three ticket sellers, if ticket-selling is just a mere add-on to the game itself?
Entering the Gag Me Political Season

I know it's boring. I know it's been done a thousand times before. I know complaining about the MSM is like complaining about the weather. But indulge this Rantasaurus Rex post if you will.

First, the power of the mainstream media is a wonder to behold; I see a bit of it in the reactions I get from Catholics and ex-Catholics concerning the Pope.

For example, whenever there's some egregious headline that twists Benedict's words I hear questioners accepting it at face value asking, "I heard the Pope said everyone who isn't Catholic is going to hell..." or "I hear the Church got seven new deadly sins and that now not recycling is like murder."

No wonder the view of these folks who don't read any Catholic media had a view of the Pope that was greatly distorted.

I could tell just how distorted by how amazed they were by the papal visit. With beaming faces I heard, "wow, the Pope had a great trip!"

I was frankly surprised by their reactions; I found the trip pretty much in line with what the Holy Father had been saying all along. It occurred to me that we Catlick bloggers already knew Benedict but most Catholics didn't. You can bet no one was reading his encyclicals. (I'd be surprised if 2% of American Catholics had read either one.) The public gets their papal news from the Associated Press.

Fortunately the Pope got good press while in America, probably in part because he didn't emphasize disciplinary measures. But I can't help wondering if the surprised reactions were along the lines of: because the MSM gave positive press coverage to the Pope, then it was a successful visit.

If so, it's amazing that the hermenuetic of suspicion applies to our Pope rather than the media. The Pope was guilty until proven innocent.

* * *

I see that the MSM has officially kicked off their Obama for President general election campaign and so we've entered the "Full Gag Zone" when it comes to things political.

The fun part - the contested Democratic primaries - is over.

The gag me's are coming fast & furious. Five minutes of watching MSNBC's "Morning Joe" almost leads one quickly to the puke point.

For example, the banner below the screen is "McCain's Pastor Problem" and the conversation refers to something Hagee said. To equate Hagee with Rev. Wright in terms of the relationship they had with the candidate is simply mind-boggling. I've heard the media doesn't do nuance well, but this is ridiculous.

The next most amazing thing was when the commentators on the show marvelled at how adult and politically fresh Barack Obama was in magnanimously brushing off McCain's Hagee problem and switched to a clip in which Obama said it was wrong for McCain "to attribute every single thing my pastor said to me". Is this the new, fresh politics? I could've missed something huge, but that's one whopper of a misattribution since McCain never said he attributed what Wright said to Obama, let alone "every single thing". You can't make it up; it's like what a seven-year old telling on his brother and embroidering what his brother did to fantastical proportions.

The longer this campaign goes on the more I wonder: what is new and fresh about Obama besides his age? He sounds almost as insincere as any other politician and his policy positions are so old that they could've been handed down from 1972 and you wouldn't know a difference.

Polls have shown that young people are increasingly pro-life, but then why is his supposed "fresh face" completely under the thumb of the pro-abortion lobby?

The MSM loves Obama just like they once loved "the Hamlet of New York" - Mario Cuomo. Obama is Cuomo without the Hamlet part. Both are far left politically, both give off the sensation of warmth and goodness, and both give great speeches. That is the criteria for MSM-love: liberalness combined with articulateness (because media folks are articulate and worship themselves. A current New Yorker piece on Katie Couric mentioned that that "media people’s favorite subject [is] media people." The inarticulate Bush never had a chance.)

I miss the primaries already.

Still, now that my rant is over, I must recall and believe what Archbishop Nguyen van Thuan said in his book "Testimony of Hope", which is that love is even more powerful than the media. So I must pray for all of those whom I think are leading the country and our civilization astray and try to love them. I'm not sure if this post is too helpful in that regard but to ignore the media is like ignoring an 800-lb gorilla in your backyard.

May 22, 2008

When in Doubt, Blame the Supplier

I'm always amused at the Kabuki theatre of hauling the oil execs before Congress. It's indicative of a couple things besides the obvious fact that politicians are more interested in being perceived as doing something rather than actually doing something. I think it indicates:

  • The economic illiteracy of much of the country. People don't understand the dynamics of commodity prices in a free market and think oil executives are setting the gas prices. If so, they sure didn't do a very good job during the '80s & '90s when gas prices were low.

  • That much pain - whether economic or physical or mental - seems mostly relative to what we are used to. The reason gas is a huge bugaboo is that it fluctuates. Taxes are infinitely more expensive than gas, but because taxes stay (relatively) stable, we don't complain much. The old story about the frog who will die happily in water that slowly heats to a boil illustrates a truth - we can more easily take pain when it comes gradually. But free markets can fluctuate wildly - witness stock market fluctuations.

    Republicans are using the issue to complain about liberal thwartings of other drillings, which is true, but upon reflection that seems to be just putting off the inevitable. A more powerful argument is how Democrat politicians have thwarted nuclear energy and how both parties have failed to fund alternative energy.

    Democracies are like publicly-traded companies - they are not good as good at planning for the long-term as passing the next earnings report, that is election. Which is why Medicare, Social Security are going bankrupt and we don't have a plan in place for the predictable-as-punch fact of oil supply not keeping up with demand. And additional drilling will never keep up with demand given the numbers of Chinese and Indians.

    My obsessiveness for planning may be part of being a computer programmer, a profession in which disaster is only a bug away. See this:
    What is even more interesting is that it illustrates the difference between computer programmers (homo logicus) and the rest of the human race. Programmers like to have to plan for all edge cases. They think that anyone that doesn't is careless or lazy.
    It bothers me that our energy "plan" is to solve the problem only when it becomes too painful not to.
  • May 22 - St. Rita's Maligned Husband



    I confess that (not atypically) my interest in St. Rita is mostly selfish. She is, among other things, the patroness of difficult marriages and although my marriage is not difficult, I've always thought that in the larger sense "difficult marriage" is redundant given that we tend to marry our opposites and that provides plenty of opportunities for cross-carrying. Since St. Rita's feast day coincides with our wedding anniversary, I was particularly warm to St. Rita.

    But now I find that the patroness of difficult marriages title turns out to have been acquired under false pretences. Alas and alack! (Though perhaps, saintly as she is and thus able to sympathize even when she has no direct experience of that which she sympathizes, she'll accept the title despite the misunderstanding that has cropped up.)

    That misunderstanding I found explained here, a pdf from the National Shrine of St. Rita. It was said that she had a violent husband, but it appears she did not:



    The above few lines which express the sentiments of an author whose identity remains unknown, were not written for any book, but were painted, rather, on what has come to be called the ‘monumental coffin’ of Saint Rita, - the coffin in which her body was reverently placed in 1462, five years after her death...

    The words of the hymn are at one and the same time a testament to Rita’s great virtue and, as we have to believe, the source of legitimate disappointment for her up until recent times. The story of her virtue is well known; that of her disappointment is perhaps less clear. It was the misreading of this hymn, written in the 15th-century dialect of Cascia, that gave rise to the unfortunate tradition of Rita’s ‘violent’ spouse. In 1626, during the beatification process, the judges reported that the coffin was greatly damaged. Undoubtedly, it was also severly darkened by over a century of smoke from the votive candles which devotees had brought to be burned in Rita’s honor.The difficult to decipher lettering was thought to have revealed a ‘maritu feroce’ or ‘violent husband’ and so the sad tradition was born. Only in 1925 was the coffin restored and cleaned and with it the ‘maritu’ [husband] was more properly seen to be ‘tantu’ [very], indicating the severity of Rita’s forehead wound.
    Witness to Change

    I was a spectator to a fender-bender.

    I was on the sidewalk when Barack Obama drove his car into another car.

    The driver of the front car got out, unhurt but angry and ready to raise hell, though when she saw it was Obama she relaxed.

    Obama explained that this was change, and that he keeps his eyes on the horizon rather than the car in front of him, and that he hoped she realized that sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

    The girl was obviously pregnant; Obama generously offered to raise the child. She wondered how he would do so from Washington. She got into Obama's car and they sped off, driving a half-inch from the car in front of them...

    So went a dream I had last night.

    May 21, 2008

    From the Curmudgeon File...

    It seems symbolic of country music's sellout during the '90s when the Big Money came in, that the long traditional "Fan Fair", the name accurate (many artists found Fan Fair more fatiguing than their tours) has been renamed the CMA Festival. Yes very symbolic. CMA stands for "Country Music Association" and membership is limited to individuals working within the Country Music industry. So now the festival celebrates the industry rather than the fans.
    * * *




    Regarding Amazon Kindle:

    PRO: You're able to carry many books in one slim unit.

    CON: You have to carry it inside a large heavy protective device, preferably a padded safe.

    May 20, 2008

    Food, Sex, and Drugs

    I heard something on NPR about the uneasy co-existence of teen abstinence programs in sex ed programs that also preach "a condom in every pocket".

    One could've easily predicted such tension given that sex is now perceived as something somewhere between food and drugs: that is, food is necessary to survival, while sex is not, but sex is a natural impluse as a means to an end, procreation, while drugs have no such utilitarian end a desire for them is derived secondhand.

    When sex was no longer seen as a mystery and something holy and sacramental, it became reduced to a bodily urge and thus became fodder for sex ed programs which focus on the less important since the sacred does not obtain. (It strikes me as teaching abstinence without teaching grace might be akin to teaching desert dwellers to snorkel, although I hear the programs have some success so what do I know?)

    Well I know that we see what things are like now when we see Bill O'Reilly, the self-described voice of the traditionalist, arguing against prostitution on liberal terms - "it is unhealthy" he says on his television show, unable or unwilling to make any moral claim.

    His argument may be weak or strong (weak, in that people do unhealthy things all the time, or strong because we live in a culture where Health is our god) -- but it's certainly not traditional given America's Christian heritage.
    Exegesis Without a License

    The title serves as warning that this is pure speculation on my part.

    It recently occured to me that the most incarnational moment of the Incarnation was our Lord's carrying of the cross.

    I can think of at least three times in the gospels where Jesus was sorely tested and in need of relief. One was after forty day fast in the desert, and there were no humans near to console him; the angels did. The second time was the agony in the garden, in which he requested the consolation of humans but the apostles didn't stay awake. The angels came to minister in their stead.

    But the third time was different. The third time he was carrying the cross and fell, but no angels came. Instead the reluctant Simon the Cyrenian was pressed into service. This feels more incarnational in the sense that Jesus received some small measure of relief in the form of purely human service instead of angelic ministration. I suppose this is mostly the way God intends our relief - from each other, not from supernatural means. But then I could be wrong and looking at things from a too Pelagianistic view.
             

    Arguing that Mary isn't important, only Jesus is important, is incarnational nonsense. It assumes that what is contingent is irrelevant. But everything is contingent: not just the person who happened to give birth to the Son of God, but also the very fact that the Son of God was born. Our salvation, our Church, our Bible are all contingent on God's grace. Arguing Mary's irrelevance from Jesus' importance is just as sound as arguing Revelation's irrelevance from His importance. I worry somewhat that, when it comes to talking of Mary, we [American Catholics who talk of Mary] think relatively too much in terms of apologetics, of intellectual acceptance of enumerated dogmas, and relatively not enough in terms of mystagogy, of living a life in communion with the person who is the subject of those dogmas. - Tom of Disputations

    What does puzzle me...is that there are intelligent and well-educated Catholics (like those, I presume, serving on Senator Obama's Advisory Council) who say that they agree with the Church on abortion, yet support a pro-abortion candidate (Senator Obama) for president. How can a sane person who has reached the age of reason believe on the one hand that abortion is unwarranted homicide, yet on the other support a presidential candidate who makes no secret of the fact that he wants to protect and even extend this homicide "right"? Unless you are a moral monster, you can't possibly hold these two things at once, for they contradict one another. It is psychologically impossible both to agree with the Catholic teaching on abortion and to support a pro-abortion candidate for president. - Inside Catholic

    Castrated my first goat yesterday. - Jim of "Bethune Catholic", vying for the most unusual first line of a blog post, as well as the line most likely to induce cringing in male readers.

    If Eliot Spitzer's recent experiences are any indicator, you can't afford my evening rate. - Mrs. Darwin commenting to Mr. Darwin, on a post concerning financial compensation stay-at-home mothers would command in the marketplace.

    Most [Republican] party leaders in Washington are stupid – detached, played out, stuck in the wisdom they learned when they were coming up, in '78 or '82 or '94. Whatever they learned then, they think pertains now. In politics especially, the first lesson sticks. For Richard Nixon, everything came back to Alger Hiss. They are also – Hill leaders, lobbyists, party speakers – successful, well-connected, busy and rich. They never guessed, back in '86, how government would pay off!.. But affluence detaches, and in time skews thinking. It gives you the illusion you're safe, and that everyone else is. A party can lose its gut this way. - Peggy Noonan

    Hollywood's Variety refers to the comedy "Harold and Kumar" as "the stoner's irreverent look at Guantanamo Bay", but the word irreverent is redundant. It is difficult to imagine a stoner viewing anything with reverence unless we are talking about the normal depraved values of wine, women, and song. Not that those values don't have their place (I am not judging them for values I have held dear at various stages of my life.) but they certainly are not relevant starting places for broadside attacks on critical national defense policies... I love Art. I have even found an appreciation for Art that contains messages and values I disagree strongly with. But Art does not provide the slightest toe-hold upon the cliff of political policy. The society that relies on Art for political direction has already fallen to the rocks below and is experiencing the final disconnected thoughts as they flit through a disintegrating mind. - Social Engineer

    The other day, in speaking about the employees of the company to the senior management team, the great body of us were referred to as "commodities." We've been reduced from resources, to capital, to commodities--the title deflation not ceasing for a moment in its lockstep downward turn. When I shared this with a friend he remarked, "Isn't it interesting how corporations have attained personhood and people have become commodities."….When speaking about forthcoming layoffs, they were referred to as "tweaks, nothing that you would even notice if circumstances were different."...Linda's response was, "Well, that will look so much better on a resume. You can say that you were 'tweaked' rather than laid off." - Steven of Flos Carmeli

    Quarry rock with razors, or moor a vessel with a thread of silk, then you may hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and pride of man...It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing. - Ven. John Henry Newman

    The majority of the Church's "wealth" is tied up in real estate and in art work. These assets are "public wealth." They are open for all to visit and see, much like a public museum. There is a Church in Montreal that has beautiful art, (St. Joseph's Oratory) I walked in off the street because it was open to the public. I wasn't a Catholic. I lay in front of the Cross and gave my life to the Lord Jesus. - David MacDonald, owner of cin.org website

    While Tolkien’s works are vast and grave, Lewis’s Narnia stories feel unaffected, sympathetic, homey. If in The Lord of the Rings someone is always swinging an axe at the head of a monster, in The Chronicles of Narnia he is getting out of the rain, warming up by the fire, and having some tea and biscuits. I think that Lewis had a better knack for storytelling than Tolkien did. - Frederica Mathewes-Green

    Tolkien disliked allegory so intensely because he felt it was too didactic. It leaves no possibility that any other levels of meaning in the work could exist. Tolkien understood the artist, created in God's image, to be a "sub-creator" -- producing a work of the imagination that functioned best when it followed God's own complex action of creation. To do this most successfully, a complete alternative world had to be created in which the work of redemption could be played out within its own consistent and logical constraints. It was not enough to create a world with symbolic pointers to Jesus Christ and the cross; that world would have to have a whole history and unique inner dynamic that would incarnate the universal truths in a totally fresh way. The difference between Narnia and Middle Earth points to the underlying difference between the imagination of Lewis the Protestant and Tolkien the Catholic. For the Protestant, truth is essentially dialectical. It consists of abstract propositions to be stated, argued, and affirmed or denied. For the Catholic, Truth, while it may be argued dialectically, is essentially something not to be argued but experienced. The Truth is always linked with the mystery of the incarnation, and is therefore something to be encountered. Many Protestants will argue, for instance, that God's primary revelation is Sacred Scripture, while Catholics maintain that God's primary revelation is Jesus Christ. That Lewis produced works that were profound, worthy, and beautiful, but less than fully incarnational, while Tolkien produced a masterpiece that incarnated the same truths in a complete, subtle, and mysterious way reflects the deeper theological differences that remained between the two men. - Rev. Dwight Longenecker on "Inside Catholic"

    If [the Holy Spirit] can appear as tongues of fire over the heads of the Apostles, why not go ahead and do the same over everyone's head? We can answer such questions in a more or less convincing fashion, but whatever we come up with, we're still left with the fact that this is how the Holy Spirit prefers to operate. That is, we're still left praying that the Holy Spirit continue to work in the world through our own hearts, even in Ordinary Time. - Tom of Disputations
    Day 16: Amazon Kindle, R.I.P.
            Or John Updike's Revenge
    Well I just remembered why, until now, I've never been an early adopter of things technological.

    Ironically, last night my stepson said mentioned something about how anything electronic is far more fragile than a physical book. Prescient he.

    It could be the WASP equivalent of Montezuma's Revenge, i.e. John Updike's revenge, for at a convention of booksellers he spoke of the ideal of “the printed, bound and paid-for book” and worried that book readers and writers were “approaching the condition of holdouts, surly hermits who refuse to come out and play in the electric sunshine of the post-Gutenberg village.”

    Indeed what was I thinking? From the get-go I recognized that Kindle is a Fabergé egg; users warn in the comment forum that the spring in the cursor wheel is the "weak link" and that whenever possible you should use the "enter" button instead of the cursor wheel.

    Okay, I could live with that. They suggested a felt sticker pad addition, and I followed their advice by constructing a makeshift one using duct tape & Kleenex and taping it to the inside of the Kindle cover so that when it was closed it didn't depress the cursor wheel and thus wear it out. The things we do for book love.

    But all that was for nought. I don't recall dropping it, but last night part of the screen suddenly froze, which I'm told is a "cracked screen" and is not fixable. Now I get to try to fight the bureaucratic hassle of getting it replaced or preferably refunded.

    With books you don't have to worry about batteries, fly wheels or cracked screens; Kindle's a bit too high maintenance for my tastes.

    * * *


    UPDATE: To Amazon.com's credit, there was zero bureaucratic hassle. I called and immediately got a representative and after explaining the situation said he would mail out a replacement. The whole thing took no time at all. (I didn't ask for a refund - which I now regret - because I just assumed they wouldn't give allow a refund of broken merchandise.)

    May 19, 2008

    Clash of the Titans

    Riveting, as disputations concerning important issues often are:
    It’s another rich issue, featuring, for instance, the sharp exchange between N.T. Wright, the bishop of Durham, and the magazine’s editor in chief, Richard John Neuhaus. Bishop Wright complains:
    Errors abound in Neuhaus’ discussion of Surprised by Hope. I do not “heap scorn” on centuries of Christian piety. I do not claim that I am the first person since the New Testament and the early Fathers to take the thoroughly orthodox view that I do; many Orthodox and Reformed theologians of the last centuries have expounded a similar view. And, despite Neuhaus’ suggestion that I think myself superior to the Angelic Doctor, it is substantially Thomas Aquinas’ view of the Resurrection to which I suggest the Church should return. The views I attempt to controvert are, in terms of overall Christian tradition, comparatively modern and mainly Western.
    To which Fr. Neuhaus responds:
    My chief complaint about Surprised by Hope was and is that, in its admirable advocacy of a recovery of the eschatological, it caricatures and derides centuries of Christian thought and piety, including the thought and piety of almost all Christians today, with respect to their understanding of eternal life. A cosmic and eschatological corrective is needed, but I believe it will only be effective if presented as a development, and not as a severe rupture, in the Church’s faith and life. I, too, trust that this exchange with Bishop Wright will be understood within the context of “robust friendship and indeed fellowship in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
    We Got to Pray Just to Make it Today

    (FYI - I think that's the first rap song reference on this blog.)

    Today's gospel reading feels like a re-enactment of Moses coming down from the Mount, only this time it's Jesus after the Transfiguration.

    Moses was covered in glory, his hair white, Jesus too was covered in glory, wearing clothing whiter than any earthly bleacher could make.

    But there's a difference when they come down the mountain. In the OT, the people committing sins of comission by doing what God asked them not to do, that is to carve idols. In the NT, there are sins of omission - lacking faith and not praying.

    St. Alphonsus Liguori so strongly emphasizes prayer in this book that it's as if no one really recommended it before. (Although admittedly my spiritual reading list is not that extensive.)

    The Word Among Us meditation for today is also helpful:
    Susie was almost late for a job interview where punctuality was a must. As she pulled into the parking lot, she could see it was filled. Panicking, she prayed, “Lord, please help me find a parking spot.” As she rounded the corner, right in front of her was an empty space. She immediately prayed, “That’s okay, Lord; I found one myself.”
    We may chuckle at this story, but it raises a good question: Why are we so quick to look for natural solutions and slow to look for the supernatural answers? Could it be a lack of trust in God? We read self-help books to cope with the challenges in life. We go to friends for advice on how to handle troublesome situations. We automatically call a doctor when a loved one gets sick. But we don’t think naturally about taking our challenges to Jesus, either for his intervention or for his help in persevering.

    Isn’t this what happened to Jesus’ disciples when they were unable to heal the young man possessed with demons? It seems that they were relying on their own abilities instead of God’s power. Jesus told them that they were unsuccessful because “this kind can only come out through prayer” (Mark 9:29)—something they hadn’t done.

    There are many reasons why we should pray, but one of the most important reasons is that we are not merely natural people. Created in the image and likeness of God, we have a spiritual dimension as well. We need to be in touch with that spiritual dimension of who we are in order to fulfill our whole person and to know the kind of peace and contentment that we all long for. Through prayer we can touch the Holy Spirit and his power in our lives, so that we are not left living as “mere mortals.” Do you believe that God’s Spirit can be a part of your life? Do you believe that you can experience his power to heal you, to lift you up, and to make you his instrument in this world? Seek Jesus in all parts of your life, and watch for the transformation that follows!
    Humorous Columbus Dispatch Cartoon

    May 17, 2008

    Manhattan Nostalgia

    I've been reading Pete Hamill's Downtown: My Manhattan and it stokes memories of my three trips to the Big Apple in '85, '92 & '98.

    NYC has waned enough in memory and affection that Boston feels more my favorite, but then Boston has nothing like the Strand or Gotham Books (slogan: "Wise Men Fish Here") and New York is to cities what Warren Beatty is to Carly Simon songs. Frank Sinatra’s refrain about making it in NY always seemed to have the undeniable ring of truth. I suspect few with a competitive nature can completely resist her.

    What nostalgia I feel from that first visit, back in that pre-journal age before records were kept when I stayed at the Essex House for half-price with the help of an Entertainment book coupon. How gutsy I felt, a 21-year old out of the land of Podunk and fresh out of school, driving alone right on into Manhattan, engaging in gladiatorial combat with fast-livers and finger-givers as if I owned the place and well-nigh I did in some sense for I was an American and this was the de facto capital of America. At the time I grandiosely considered it a rite of passage, the post-Vietnam equivalent of war.

    I stayed at a hotel on Central Park - in close quarters with those whom I then esteemed as higher beings, New Yorkers, the denizens of Woody Allen movies. If the film Manhattan was pure fairytale, I came to see if it was real. For months I’d pored over the opening pages of the New Yorker, scouring the agate print full for locations and reviews of every blues joint and off-off-Broadway play. (Who wanted to sell-out and see a Broadway play?)
    Perhaps most of our enthusiasms are ultimately derivative – much modern art is surely proof of that, having little seeming value other than the pedigree of recent authority. Reality is charismatic, and to be in the city where I considered the Real lived was heady. Slaves of New York was more than the title of a book; I was easily impressed because my appreciations were such that if the Times said something was great, then I shared in the enthusiasm. The imprimatur of hearing jazz balladeer Shirley Horn as the featured album playing at Tower records in Greenwich Village was enough for me to buy a CD. (Though she really can sing.)

    In the ‘98 visit, from which records are extant, I find a letter I’d written to my out-of-town co-travellers offering a potential itinerary. Motivated by my adoration of Dorothy Parker, I’d spliced a mention of the round table at the Algonquin from the New Yorker:
    “Every time we sit down at one of the plush little sofas in the oak-paneled lobby-lounge and ring the bell for a glass of Scotch we are reminded of the generations of actors and writers who have held forth here since 1902. Robert Benchley, James Thurber, HL Mencken, Dorothy Parker….Once you get there, do have a meal at the celebrated Rose or Oak room, or at least a drink in the lobby.”
    I had a crush on her notwithstanding her unhappinessness and irreligion. Even her name seemed magical: Dorothy Parker, a perfect five-syllables, for all good names have either four or five syllables. It struck the right notes: “Dorothy”, redolent of “dolorous” (and thus depth), and Parker, the perky, strong name one would expect to stand up to the boys, i.e. Thurber and Benchley.

    The cliché "I wouldn’t want to live there" certainly applies. It can even apply to New Yorkers - I recall Jody Bottum of "First Things" wrote something awhile back that mentioned his wish to be out West where he grew up. I was surprised to read it for I’d always had the impression that pining generally reached from the sticks to New York, rather than vice-versa.

    It's a city meant for walking - begging to be walked - but there's too much city for most legs. If only one could easily walk from the Battery to Central Park! I recall a Times Magazine article from a million years ago that described the author’s weekly jaunt, a walk not terminated until he saw a celebrity. Be it twenty minutes or three hours, he walked in search of. In that article he described his latest journey, seemingly fruitless, until the redemptive denouement when Andy Rooney (!) suddenly appeared.

    Re-reading my old trip log, I see that even in those bad old days we were congenitally Catholic. For of all mortal sins the easiest to avoid is missing Mass:
    "St. Patrick's", I said as we entered the cab.

    "Good for you!" the surprised cabbie said.

    "Yeah we're paying for our sins."

    The cabbie laughed and told us in broken English of his all-boy boarding school background, and how the only time they would see girls would be at church.
    New York feels the most inexhaustible of cities. With Boston, I felt I could get a handle of it, but even if Manhattan could be tamed there are always the outer boroughs, Brooklyn with her fascinating Hasidics and the Bronx with the House that Ruth Built.

    It feels poignant to read of what would be the first (and last) visit to the World Trade Center:
    After rest and a shower, we cabbed to the south end of the island and headed up to the 107th floor of World Trade Center. The view from there captured all the elegance and magic of New York. This was first class, something that even a hardened New Yorker could enjoy. We paid dearly for it, as our $23 check attested. We'd each had one drink, and boy we savored it. Overlooking the Brooklyn bridge, looking out 20-30 miles in the distance, I etched the view in my mind.
    I can’t say that I etched it well enough in mind for I wish I could recreate it now. It was beyond my powers of imagination that it would be destroyed, at least in my lifetime. And it’s funny to think of a $23 check being in any way shocking today unless it’s breakfast for two at McDonald’s.

    Finally no trip down Manhattan memory lane is complete without a reference to an early memory, that of my best friend's mother teaching us to sing with a New York accent:
    Give my regards to Broadway,
    Remember me to Herald's Square,
    Give my re-goids to old Broadway
    and tell them baby I'll be there.
    Funny, all those trips and I've yet to be there!

    May 15, 2008

    An Insider's View of Charities

    Found here:
    Many organizations today raise money by renting out their donor lists to companies who then sell these lists to other nonprofit organizations. That might seem a bit odd to you – why would an organization sell the names of people who support them to “competing” organizations who will then ask the same donors for money, seemingly taking away money the donor might give to the original nonprofit?

    The logic? Nonprofit organizations only sell the names of their “least profitable donors.” Keep in mind that for many organizations, the average gift size of the checks they receive in the mail ranges from $12-$40. A $50 gift is therefore considered to be a substantial-sized gift, particularly if the donor makes such a gift two, three or more times each year. Accordingly, nonprofits typically only rent out the names of donors who make gifts under $50, keeping the names of the donors who make $50+ donations carefully under wraps. So if you want to limit the number of direct mail pieces in your mailbox, make fewer, but larger, gifts.

    * * *

    Given that fundraising can be extremely expensive for nonprofits, help them out by making their fundraising more efficient...As much as possible, make donations by check versus credit card, as it costs an organization less money to process a check gift versus a credit card gift. A $50 gift by check might cost an organization $0.20 to process the donation, but a $50 credit card gift might cost them $1.50 to process the donation. While studies show that donors who give by credit card are typically younger and send in larger gifts, both demographic variables extremely important to organizations and therefore they gladly accept credit card gifts, keep in mind a large credit card gift of $1,000 might cost your nonprofit $30 vs. the $0.20 for a check.
    Conversion Story

    Musician David MacDonald's conversion story. Wow.

    I looked at those vintage '70s pictures and thought: "he's got to be the same age as me" but soon I was reading for the riveting story rather than his age.

    Too much to excerpt but a snippet or two:
    One day a guy watched me for about 30 minutes 'til I took a break. Then he came over and chatted. He said he liked my music and I asked him if he played. He said "not really, I'm into acting." He was young and beginning an acting career. He lived across the bridge in New Jersey. We talked about trying to make it in the Big Apple. We got along quite well and he gave me his number. I didn't think much about it and I never got around to calling him. A year later the movie "Risky Business" came out. The picture in the poster looked a lot like the guy I had talked to in the Subway. So I went home and looked him up in my phone book. The name I had written down was "Tom Cruise." I called the number but he had moved and I never saw him again. I thought to myself "if he can make it, so can I." I didn't realize that it took more than will power and hard work to succeed in New York.
    * * *

    In retrospect, it was the greatest moment of clarity I've ever had. However, as the philosopher Keirkegaard explains, there is a cost to making an "absurd" decision for God. Sometimes that which follows is hard. We step forward with "fear and trembling" (Mar 5:33, 2 Co 7:15, Phil 2:12). Abraham was not spared the dread of looking into the eyes of Issac as he lifted the knife, (Gen 22:1-19) Mary was not spared the pain of being misunderstood by Joseph (before the angel visited him - Mat 1:24); the apostles were not spared the fear of their faith as early Christians (Acts), and I was not spared emotional turmoil of giving up everything with which I identified. Nor was I spared the dread of being misunderstood by my relatives who believed I had gone mad. So the paradox of a decision for God, as Keirkegaard explains, is that the "closer we come to the Absolute, through inwardness, the less we are understood by the outside world."

    * * *

    Mary
    Younger than Springtime


    "French novelist Georges Bernanos describes the Virgin's gaze in these words: 'It is not the look of indulgence...but of tender compassion, pained surprise. It is the look that reveals the inconceivable purity which makes her younger than sin, younger than the race from which she has sprung. Though she is the mother for and of grace, she is also the youngest member of the human race.'"

    - Cdl Bertone's The Last Secret of Fatima
    Unlikeliest Nigerian Scam Email of All Time

    Subject: CONSIDER MY URGENT REQUEST

    From: John Wyndham
    Abidjan Cote D'Ivoire

    With Due Respect Dearest Beloved,

    My name is Mr.John Wyndham. I work in the credit and accounts department of Union Bank of Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire. I write you in respect of a foreign customer with a Domicilliary account by the name of Engineer Manfred Becker. His late second wife twice-removed was among those who died in a plane crash here in

    No, wait - I just can't do this any more. The truth is I'm involved in a Nigerian scammer ring after quitting a technical writing job at a Fortune 100 company because, you know, it was such a straightjacket! Every time I tried to do something creative I was shot down. Like throw in a little poetry in an instruction manual. By "technical writing" I didn't know they meant writing stripped of creativity and humanity and reduced to step-by-step joke-free documentation!

    And oh boy do they hate fiction. Try to interrupt a computer training manual with a snippet of the novel you're working on (I hope to self-publish) and it's like I'm Edmund Morris or something, ostracized by the entire technical writing community.

    So there is no Engineer Manfred Becker and he was not a dead customer for whom nobody has come forward to claim the $18.5 million in his account...

    Sure, writing Nigerian scam emails can't look too good on my resume but I hoped at least it would satisfy my creative outlet. But you wouldn't believe these guys - this stuff is more formulaic than what I had to write as a tech writer at GE! Yet my boss says he'll fire me if I try to write "OUTSIDE THE PLOT" as he puts it. (Did I mention they love CAPS around here?)

    So don't tell him I wrote this. And please send money as I eat more than the other guys and am large (that's what she said!).

    May 14, 2008

    Rank Punditry

    Amy Welborn mentions personalities she likes despite disagreeing with them:
    They’ve also lined up the best panel, partly because they have no one that I can’t stand. No Keith Olbermann, no Hannity or Colmes, and Larry King only shows up later. Like the Anchoress, I’m putting Donna Brazile on my “Pundits you most disagree with but love the most” list - but then I’ve always liked Brazile. But you throw Begala, Bennett, and the others in there, and you’ve got some watchable stuff. Is it the “B’s?”
    Of pundits I can't stand, Olbermann and Katrina Vanden Heuvel head the list. (Thank God for the "fast forward" button on Tivo.) Paul Krugman is terrible too.

    Of pundits I disagree yet like, numero uno is James Carville. On Meet the Press, at least, he behaves himself and is very likable. I like Brazille too. And who doesn't love Dee Dee Myers?
    The Hillcat Chronicles

    I heard someone say recently Hillary is only loved when she's behind. And thus humble.

    I think that's likely true, which is why she won New Hampshire. And why she originally won her Senate seat. When she has been humbled by scandal (Bill's behavior) or by a loss (Obama's win in Iowa) it makes her softer, more sympathetic.

    It seems a lifetime ago when Bill & Hillary cut that cutesy ad where they're in a restaurant trying to decide which tune to play.

    Back then she seemed so ahead of the curve, so in control. She was like Snow White among the seven dwarfs. Or like a pool shark looking for victims. Or maybe just a shark.

    But at the time of the ad it seemed a perfect Clintonian gimmick. You can imagine them sitting around a war room table saying, "Hey you know what we need? Something interactive, something to get them to the website, and let the kids think they're in charge of something. How about the campaign song?"

    Schtick from long ago
    The Clintons had the advantage of the slick advertising, lots of money, and years of planning. (The Hillcat was planning for running for president in the womb.)

    You get the sense that humility has an extremely short shelf-life in Hillary. The sense of entitlement would resume almost immediately; had she won a couple more states and eeked out the nomination, by convention time she would've forgotten the difficulty it took to get there.

    Or maybe that's unfair, but if it be true then it's not an unusual story. It's the story of nearly all of us.
    Churchy Anecdote

    So I was going to Mass, having just gotten up from the Communion rail (it's an old-fashioned parish where you kneel and receive on the tongue) and lo & behold the silence of church is shattered by my cell phone playing "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" at Def Leopard-volume. I about jumped out of my skin - likely literally leaped - and assumed my phone was in one of my pockets and so patted myself down in a wild self-frisk. (My very first liturgical dance.) Very embarrassing.

    Well, turns out I didn't have my cell phone with me and someone else in church had/has the exact same ring tune. Now there's a first. Live long enough and you too might do a liturgical dance after receiving Communion.
    Random Thoughts

    There's something eminently practical in the Evangelical approach to things. You could call it quintessentially American since Americans are a practical people.

    A local Protestant church, for example, distributed a book to all members with a title that echoes a famous phrase in corporate circles only instead of helping companies get better, this helps families. It looks "self-helpy" but I didn't delve too deeply. I can't imagine any Catholic church handing out free copies of any book, let alone one what improving your familial relationships.

    Love seems primarily experiential, not something of a didactic nature, although that could be based on my heretical tendency to see love as a feeling rather than an act of the will. The word "knowledge" is used promiscuously as either book knowledge or street smarts, the learning of facts or the lived experience of those facts. Presupposing that facts = knowledge, I read of a biographer, certainly not alone in this, who says she knows her long-dead subject: "I've lived with so-and-so for five years during the writing of this book". On the other side of the fence we also speak of sexual intercourse as a form of knowledge preceded by the adjective 'carnal'.

    In the bible God uses imagery that refers often to experience. He loves with a "father's love", a second-hand knowledge that is accessible to fathers and children, though many aren't fathers and some never knew theirs, thus requiring for them either first or third hand knowledge. Experience is of degrees, like relics which are first degree, second degree and third degree. You may have the experience of first hand, second hand or third hand. The trick, I think, is to be content with whatever level of relic to which God calls us to.

    Thankfully God is in love with others, for that is our surety that He loves us. And which is why we're still here. If he loved only us, why would he make us endure the earth when we could be with Him? Heard a Protestant preacher this week say that proof that not everyone goes to Heaven is the continuing existence of earth. "If everyone goes to Heaven," he said, "then why doesn't He just end things right now and bring us all to Heaven? It would make God out to be monstrous if he kept us here suffering when we're all going to Heaven anyway. No, he gives us a whole lifetime to decide where we want to spend eternity."

    The question comes up: What if we've already decided? The answer is help influence your neighbor's decision.

    "Influence", though, is an interesting word. My experience - there's that word again - is that to attempt to influence creates an equal and opposite reaction. Influence seems little achieved with words for as Cardinal Newman said, "It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing."

    When my then-girlfriend (now wife) gave me anti-Catholic materials from her friend, I wasn't influenced towards Fundamentalism. In fact, it led me to Karl Keating's book and I began learning about and appreciating my Catholic faith.

    But words are easy. Perhaps the Cross teaches that only the hard thing matters. And is the thing we can't understand:
    It seems there is also a special message for us in the way the children of Fatima and Mother Mariana accepted and embraced the cross. The mystery of cross is such a very special grace that Eternal Wisdom only bestows it on His best friends. "It is a greater happiness for St. Peter" writes St. John Chrysostom, "to be imprisoned for Jesus Christ than to be with Him in His glory on Mt. Thabor; it is a greater glory for him to wear his prisoner's chains than to bear in his hands the keys to Paradise."

    Eternal Wisdom tells us that the number of fools is infinite. That is, St. Louis de Montfort says, because the number of those who do not know the value of the Cross is infinite, and they carry it despite themselves. You should thrill with joy, he says, because the cross you carry is a gift so precious, it would arouse the envy for the Blessed if they were capable of envy (Love of Eternal Wisdom, p. 97).
    Olde Catlick Encyclopedia

    I'm hyp-mo-tized by the fact that there's a new Old Catholic Encyclopedia (oxymoron intended) site. It seemed like that was already covered here. Is there some sort of tiff between New Advent and Catholic Answers?

    At first brush it seems the new one brings to the table every page lovingly scanned, and many a beautiful page there is, albeit disfigured by a Catholic Answers emboss.
    Fiction for a Wednesday
    When last we left, Cube Warrior had been led from the free range of a spacious office to a cubical reservation. There he was to grow corn, perfect his whine-making ability, and pacifically chew cud while saying deep things, occasionally getting a star turn on television - like producing a tear at the sight of litter thrown next to his cube wall.

    Cube Warrior and his band all went willingly, walking the trail of tears down to the burren lands no one wanted. Huge trash bins and old equipment lined the hallway leading to the cubicals and lent a feeling of unease, like that of an overfull closet that won't quite shut right.

    New construction along the trail created the need for a floor-to-ceiling black plastic sheet, leaving a one-body passageway. They went single file, weighed down by personal effects. An electrical outlet on the floor nearly tripped Likes-His-Cereal (English name: "Mikey"), and so later Likes-His-Cereal taped a miniature flag with flag pole to the outlet box in order to alert others but later he tripped over the flag so he took it down.

    Once ensconced in the new cubes and in their old chairs they felt as if underwater, limbs heavy, the simplest tasks requiring a great overturning of inertia. Odd that in so small a space it would feel a great distance to retrieve a farming tool from a desk drawer! But then they were feeling self-conscious, every movement seemed unnaturally loud and having the dynamic of a restroom stall.

    Chief Shining Dome sits next to his diminishing tribe but feels the pinch of privacy too; he adheres to musical notations that only draw more attention to the score: a sudden pianissimo, the hushed sound of something interesting being said on the phone alerts their ears, as does the familiar fortissimo.

    Occasionally they'll hear, "did you hear that!" but it was mezzo and they did not, engrossed as they were in corn-growing even though it was meant for their ears. They're still getting used to the reservation.

    May 13, 2008

             

    I was thinking the other day about my own "personal experiences of God's power." Nothing astonishing, I hasten to say, no visions or wonders, not even anything inexplicable in natural terms. It occurred to me, though, that explicating experiences in natural terms is a right daft way of living my life. Look, I told myself, I believe that God loves me. If I can believe something as ridiculous as that, why can't I believe that something I subjectively experience as His love for me objectively is His love for me? If my wife makes me my favorite breakfast, I'll freely say it's because she loves me. I don't say, "Sure, she loves me and all, but why would she make me my favorite breakfast just because of that? It's probably just a coincidence." Shall I be like the man on the desert island who prays, "Dear God, please send a ship to rescue me -- oh, never mind, there's one now."? Or shall I instead trust in God, particularly in His presence and involvement in my life, even at the risk of -- what? Seeing God present and involved in my life? - Tom of Disputations

    Perhaps the reason converts from Protestantism expect to an experience tantamount to be being blinded by a great light and knocked off a donkey is that they have been taught, whether consciously or unconsciously, to pattern their Christianity after St. Paul's life. (Well, his epistles are closest thing we have to a practical instruction manual. That must be a big deal for anyone who holds to sola Scriptura.) Cradle Catholics are far more Petrine: there is no dramatic light and heavenly voice, just Someone we've known for years--Someone we've grown prosaically used to--suddenly turning to us and casually asking, "And you . . . who do you say that I Am?" - Sancta Sanctis

    It always concerns me when an issue [i.e. clericalism] is presented as something to be solved. [Russell] Shaw’s image of the sick man, as clear and expressive as it is, does not serve this particular issue well. Clericalism will always be with us. It can never be “solved.” Trying to “solve” it can only feed the frenzy of anti-clericalism. It is better to identify its characteristics and seek to lessen them, in a word, contain them. - commenter on "Inside Catholic"

    [Thomas] Merton’s dedication to the prayer of the Hours and the normal work of Gethsemani fits in to the basics of such exercise; his prayer was regular, his eating regular, his work regular, his fasting regular, all within the confines of the ordered liturgical year. His spiritual life was well-ordered by his community, and so he didn’t fall into the excesses of heart in which many of us more independently-minded Christians will often wind up...So why did he go to the hermitage?... It has been said of Gethsemani that after the community decides you’re a good fit and accepts you, it works you over. Gethsemani changes you, and often, you’re no longer right for it. I’d say that it’s God that does the changing, but the principle remains the same: something of the experience is transformative, and the difficulty is in remaining in your place when you’ve been cut to a new shape. For Thomas Merton, the key, the solution, was to disengage from the community while remaining a part of it by physically separating himself from the main body, and taking new work...I’m inclined to think he overacted in isolating himself from his community. There, while capable, perhaps, of better prayer, he was more able to let his mind wander around his many books, and in a short period flirted with dozens of ideologies and ideas. In withdrawing from the monastery, he may have assumed a strength he didn’t yet possess. Merton’s writing has always had, to me, a tinge of arrogance. I don’t say this in contempt, as I confess that I’m a pretty arrogant guy myself, and he grew increasingly insular and incomprehensible and disconnected in his work in that hermitage. He began writing, in a sense, only to himself. It’s like the philosophy of art for art’s sake, which early 20th century literary and art critic Malcolm Cowley derides as useless and without referent to real life. - found here, via Amy Welborn

    The disciples think they've finally figured Jesus out...and they say with one voice: "Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God."...Jesus [replies]: "Do you believe now? Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone." He doesn't say the disciples don't believe that He came from God. He warns them that their newly-minted belief in His origins does not yet amount to faith in Him personally. They have not yet worked through the implications of their profession; they aren't quite ready to declare boldly, "What will separate us from the love of Christ?" Well, they're ready to declare it. They aren't ready to live it. Still, Jesus loved them to the end. He did not belittle them for their immature declaration of belief, but directed them beyond declarations to Himself: "I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world." He neither demands nor expects the disciples to take courage that night. He might have commanded them to stay with Him...but is that the discipleship God became man to obtain? - Tom of Disputations

    Our separation of economy from the home is part of a long fragmentation process. ... We have separated everything from everything else. We have accomplished this by separating everything from the home. Feminism has separated women from the home. Capitalism has separated men from the home. Socialism has separated education from the home. Manufacturing has separated craftsmanship from the home. The news and entertainment industry has separated originality and creativity from the home, rendering us into passive and malleable consumers rather than active citizens. - Dale Ahlquist via Jim Curley of "Bethune Catholic"

    Few cradle Catholics approach Catholicism as a favourite hobby. For us it is often as invisible, and necessary, and taken for granted, as the air we breathe. Our local customs, our swear words, and our lack of enthusiasm often shock new, fresh, dazzled converts. But despite our lackadaisical air and our many sins, the words of the Mass and the grace of baptism still course through our veins. - Still Seraphic, via Sancta Sanctis

    Parts of Europe are wondering how to deal with Muslim fundamentalists while their very governments are caving in to demands for Sharia law, the removal of St George’s Cross from British prisons, and offering welfare to immigrants who want to turn England, Holland and France into a Muslim state. It seems that like US liberals, members of the EU see America as a bigger threat to freedom and modernity than the bearded men who want to turn the calendar back to 950. Mention this to any good, decent American lib and they’ll nod and add, “But have you seen Jesus Camp?” The documentary is the scariest argument for liberals who equate American fundamentalists with Muslim terrorists. Apparently speaking in tongues and trying to teach evolution is the same as celebrating a plane load of terrorists who asked that no women attend their funerals. Moral equivalency much? Is modern culture worth saving is the question. According to some, even asking this makes you a nationalist or a Nazi. - phil of "Please Hold Your Applause"

    [G.K. Chesterton] is well-known for pointing out that there are two ways to reach one's home: the first is to stay put and the second is to go all the way around the world until one arrives back at where one started from. Martin Luther went on such a quest; so did John Calvin, John Knox, and all the other Protestant founders. On them lay the strange grace of resembling Our Lord in having no place to lay their heads. Such a quest is bigger than any one man, and it is no surprise that none of them completed it in his lifetime. It is their sons and daughters who, by the hundreds, are completing the circumnavigation of Christendom. Yet it may take hundreds of years before the quest fulfills itself and all our separated brethren complete the journey home. What is to separate this kind of searching from natural periods of doubt which assail individual cradle Catholics and which are often agonising to overcome? We can do that without ever leaving home. Protestantism is the same natural doubt on a grand--even epic--scale. Who is to say that our separated brethren aren't closer than either party would like to admit? "Home" has a wider, wilder landscape than most of us recognise, especially when we had that other strange grace of resembling Our Lord by being brought out of Egypt and then never leaving home again. - Enbrethiliel & Antony of SS

    May 12, 2008

    The Great Uncluttering

    ...via Terrence Berres

    While on the subject, here are my tips to unclutter and/or symplify life:
    1) Pay all bills online (with Visa or by automatic check)
    2) Set up Excel spreadsheet with charities /bills that automatically sums categories. Easier than Quicken.
    3) Kindle or other e-reader
    4) Shave in the shower
    5) When our cafeteria has two good entrees I'll buy extra meals at lunch; one to be consumed immediately and the others stored in a refrigerator at work and intended for supper.
    6) Drink more beer; then you won't notice clutter as much.
    Stream o' Consciousness Post

    “Give me poetry or give me death!” Patrick Henry should've said, after that liberty thing got nailed down. I would've agreed in kind, though not that I read poetry that much – it draws too much attention to itself. I prefer poetry masquerading as prose. I like music. Movies are nice although I've found I'm increasingly under the title "tough crowd". For Mother's Day we took my mom and a grandchild to see “Nim’s Island”, a tryingly trite entertainment. The South Pacific island locale promised great photography and escapism but this seemed a bit too… fanciful, and that wasn’t just limited to plot twists. 'Twas very Rousseauian. Good movie for kids though.

    But real art... well, it has the element of surprise and refreshment. Sometimes it’s hard to see art as secondary let alone irrelevant, though it is for so many who are in parts of the world where there isn’t enough food, let alone art. I think “The Lost Weekend” was a title of book, or a movie, or a book and movie but I can’t relate; I never have lost weekends because that's where the art lay. I have lost weeks and found weekends but never the reverse.

    * * *

    This month's meeting was made bearable by a co-worker giving out “Buzzword Bingo” to five of us. Everyone had different words, and it increased mental acuity by 74% by forcing you to pay attention. I was able to get five buzzwords but not such that I could stand up and yell “buzzword bingo!”. Amazingly, one of the big guys knew about it and played along, asking during lulls in the action how we were doing. I asked if he took bribes.

    * * *

    It was pleasant to read Scott Hahn’s account of his sticking with "dull" Presbyterianism at college in his latest book despite being surrounded by Pentecostal kids getting more “bang for their spiritual buck” in terms of emotion. Hahn turned his back on the emotionalism and enthusiasm and even apparent miracles of this other church when his Presbyterian services were so dull and seemingly lifeless. It all hinged on his buddies going to get “re-baptized”; the rubicon was reached. Infant baptism – yes or no? He went to see his professor who suggested he write a paper on it and Scott was reinforced in his Presbyterianism but, at the same time, you could see how he was destined for Rome from that. If you’re not going to go for the emotionalism & miracles then an awful lot of searchers are going to go Roman. Catholicism feels a bit of the headwind of history in that nowadays we so don’t want intermediaries because our world is full of prefunctories and intermediaries and yet…and yet we have the Eucharist, which is God, without even the direct pipeline, and the salvation economy is centered on intermediaries in the form of not only priests, in persona Christi, but lay people who are to bring God to each other.

    No wonder Pope John Paul II was so taken by personalism as a philosophy. It is the ache of modern man. We want “authenticity”, which may well be another word for the “personal”. An authentic signature is different from a robotized signature only because the former is personal. Pope Benedict is so right in emphasizing the personal relationship aspect with Christ. As he said in his recent visit to America:
    “Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: “Choose life!” (Dt 30:19) was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God’s commandments. Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and “institutional” to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.”
    The great problem of modernity is alienation – alienation from land and man due to industrialization and individualism, and both of those lead to alienation from God, because we see God as similar to the “neighbor whom we can see” - be it the asphalt we constantly pave or the neighbors from whom we feel distant because they are simultaneously both too much with us and too little needed. We feel extraneous and ubiquitous.

    St. Faustina wrote, during a period of darkness, “O Lord, though I cannot comprehend You and do not understand Your ways, I nonetheless trust in Your mercy.” How could someone not comprehend God and not understand His ways and still love him? I think because she knew God enough to compare him to the sun: “Despite the deep night…I know the sun never goes away.”

    We do not have a pontiff unsympathetic to the subtleness of the Spirit. Benedict continues:
    In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world (cf. Jn 16:33).

    Yet the word of God reminds us that, in faith, we see the heavens opened, and the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the Church and bringing sure hope to our world. “O Lord, my God,” the Psalmist sings, “when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30). These words evoke the first creation, when the Spirit of God hovered over the deep (cf. Gen 1:2). And they look forward to the new creation, at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and established the Church as the first fruits of a redeemed humanity (cf. Jn 20:22-23). These words summon us to ever deeper faith in God’s infinite power to transform every human situation, to create life from death, and to light up even the darkest night. And they make us think of another magnificent phrase of Saint Irenaeus: “where the Church is, there isthe Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace”.
    This week Jesus returns our longing in the gospel of John: “I wish that where I am they also may be...” and “that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me." What greater surety is there than the Father’s love for Christ?