August 30, 2008



Found here.
In Ohio...

Yesterday, unbeknownst to me, they were shopping at the local Buckeye shop in Columbus:



Smart, they.

A funny, found at Karen's blog:

August 29, 2008

Let Me Get This Strait...

Since Obama and Palin are equally inexperienced, would Americans rather have a 100% chance of being led by someone inexperienced (i.e. if Obama wins) or, say, a 3% chance (if McCain wins). It makes no sense for Dems to bring up the issue given that if one is potentially a heartbeat away from the presidency, the other is a heartbeat within the presidency.
No Ridge, No Lieberman...Instead a Painless Palinoscopy

Well, quite a relief! William of Apologia was ahead of the curve on this one.

You can check out what the Catlick bloggers are saying here.
'61 Topps Mantle...

...after going through the Warholizer:

Bingo, Olympics, & Politics

Kim mirrored my thoughts last night when she exclaimed how tiring watching the Democrat convention is. Indeed, it's like work only less exciting.

Now I haven't seen the speech from der Wunderkind yet so I'm not talking about last night but up until now the speeches have been eminently fast-forwardable.

I miss the Olympics, even though it contributed to our instant gratification culture. How? By affording the viewing of a series of 2-4 laps of a pool, or once or twice around the track, and voila! You have a winner. (Just stay away from the water polo or soccer games. They. are. endless.)

In the Olympics, there are a lot of excellent candidates who run thirty-second races. With this presidential campaign we have a lot of mediocre candidates who are stumbling towards the finish of a two-year race. Call it Long Attention Span Theatre for those gifted with long attentions.

Why are our candidates mediocre and our Olympians excellent?

Because politics is about image and the Olympics about performance.

I'm guessing that John McCain will be tapping Gov. Palin of Alaska as his running mate [Update: er...not]and I was initially euphoric about it, to the extent one can be euphoric over something like politics. McCain has shown himself capable of self-discipline: after the 2000 nomination process in which some said he was unfairly treated by the Bush campaign, he swallowed his pride and supported the president and paid his dues. He also swallowed his desire for lax immigration by understanding, really getting, that the will of the people is to close the border first, and then worry granting legal status to illegals inside. And now, assuming he has chosen Palin, he snubbed his great friend Tom Ridge and was able to reach out to a pro-lifer for his VP pick. Not easy to do.

But it is another reminder, that in politics subjectivity is huge: your pedigree matters (Bush), or who your spouse is (Hillary) or what color your skin is (Obama) or whether you have ovaries (Palin). Be nice if people didn't care about such things and our politicians were held accountable and performance mattered, and not performance measured in such simplistic, materialistic terms as "are you better off than you were four years ago?".

The economy must be slowing since bingo was so slow last night that it reminded me of a dental waiting room. The afterwards was pleasant if the conversation unduly stimulative. I sense an ecelectism in our group; the new guy, a sales/rah-rah sort of guy, initially got on my nerves but he is witty and sharp and seems like he takes his role as father very seriously.

Carry (name changed to protect the innocent) works in the kitchen and is a fellow Officeophile. She was originally the quiet one. I'm not sure if she corrupted us or we corrupted her or it was mutually assured destruction but instead of talking about Dostoevsky or the complexities of a non-computable, nearly undefinable number in support of Gödel's theorem, we end up talking about her nude neighbors and the fact that her son, who is about 5, is obsessed with her breasts and she wonders if that's helpful. Boys & men have a breast fetish, she understands, but do they want to touch their mommy's? I'm not going to touch that one. To borrow from Obama, that question is above my paygrade. Less salaciously and much more soberingly, this seemingly devout regular Mass-goer and volunteer said that she had a dream (nightmare) in which her late father told her she was going to Hell. What to make of that? Dreams are symbolic enough that you can't take it literally.

Kim, of course, is familiar to longtime bingo readers (all two of you). Her good friend left her husband and children for a former classmate she met at a class reunion. Now it seems she's intimate with two men and is "happy". She may be happy in the short-run, and the short-run can run for a long time. Even to the end of our lives.

We also have a male nurse in the crew now, and he has entertaining stories to tell. We works the night shift, his sleep patterns constantly disrupted by weekends spent awake with the kids during the day and four ten-hour nights. And I complain about my sleep? (Which was rescued by quitting the allergy medicine Allegra-D. Stupidly I didn't marry cause (Allegra-D) with effect.)

August 28, 2008

Mass Individuality

R. Reno ponders tatoos on First Things website:
In my perplexed state of mind, I consulted a younger friend (who has some tattoos). It wasn’t long ago that tattoos were for Marines, sailors, and guys on Harley Davidsons. Now, women in graduate school doing dissertations on Elizabeth Gaskell are getting tattoos. What gives? “Well,” she said, “I guess it’s just a way to express your individuality. Everybody’s doing it.”

Individuality—and everybody’s doing it. Hum. That pretty much sounds like the ethos of middle-class culture since the 1960s. Blue jeans and tee shirts. The Rolling Stones. Punctuating conversation with emphatic expletives. It’s a wave that has been crashing onto the beach for a long time now. Everybody tossing off the horrible, oppressive conformities of bourgeois culture—together.

Mass non-conformity has always been a fantasy, of course. In fact, by my lights, it’s the great and abiding fantasy of my lifetime. And it’s a fascinating fantasy, one well worth contemplating in its latest, flesh-altering form...

As a middle-aged college professor who observes the lives of his students, I find myself sympathetic. I can confidently report that our contemporary society demands far more extensive and detailed compliance from young people then was the case in my day. They take batteries of standardized tests, and face a long slog through undergraduate and then graduate education in order to be assured a place in the professions. Every facet of their personal lives is assaulted with exhortations. Be sure to have protected sex! Don’t smoke! Avoid fatty foods! With so much of their lives sacrificed to the gods of health and success, is it surprising that they want to take a piece of their bodies and do with it as they please?

...the more I have thought about it, the more I have come to realize that permanence is part of the appeal.

When we take a sober look at contemporary society, we can see that one of the main results of the cultural revolution of the last half century has been the demolition of soul-binding permanence. Marriage and family are the most obvious examples...In a more subtle way, our postmodern culture of irony and critique also works against permanence. The old binding loyalties of faith and patriotism are openly mocked...Again, I ask myself, is it surprising that in an age with so few binding commitments postmodern men and women seek symbols of permanence etched into their bodies?... The human heart hungers for permanence.
I Have to Laugh...

...that Joe Biden, deigned the great "foreign policy expert" on the Democrat ticket, voted for the Iraq War and against the Surge. Oh-for-two. With experts like this, who needs novices?
Fiction for a Thursday

I woke to the sound of mourning doves, though I was young and thought they were called morning doves as they sang before noon and I was incapable of mourning, having never yet lost anything. It would never have occurred to me at the time that the sound was sad. Just peaceful.

This was the Summer of Love, 1967, but for me the Quiet Summer, the season I worked as a park ranger. I had no Smokey the Bear hat and gave no tours of natural wonders, but found myself king of a grassland playground revolving around a shelter, a series of six picnic tables covered by a pitched roof.

The panic of not being able to find a summer job had been high upon me. Jobs had taken on a scarce, every-man-for-himself quality, like a game of musical chairs without the music. I cared not a whit for money but cared greatly about pride since not having one was to have a scarlet letter emblazoned on your forehead, the only failure in life being to accept a welfare check.

This prospective job didn’t pay well but the hours were good and it promised something different, something out of doors, something other than the working over the greased fire pits of McDonald’s hell.

There were usually twenty kids though under the influence of memory the numbers swell to forty or sixty. (Actually, on slow days there might be eight.) I was temperamentally unsuited to ranger, finding children barbaric and loud. They were like Vikings without the redeeming quality of possessing neat-looking ships.

Fortunately they were amenable to instruction and could be quieted occasionally. I taught them the secrets of contemplative prayer while I verbally prayed they'd be quiet. Most slept, but they slept silently, without snoring, and sometimes I could hear a dove. I woke one day to learn that they came not in plunder but to give, albeit in a plundering sort of way.

August 27, 2008

Michelle, Our Conservative Belle?

I caught most of Michelle Obama's speech. A liberal co-worker said yesterday that Obamas were trying to present themselves as the Huxtables, and I said most of their voters weren't alive when the Huxtables were on television. I jest.

The speech, which included the Smirnoffian "I love this country" line, seems a bit like the apology after a gaffe. This was said almost surely because of having said she wasn't proud of her country until her husband garnered the nomination.

But most of all it was a very conservative speech. In fact, it probably could've been given by a conservative. One is left with the distinct impression of the overwhelming importance of love, specifically parental love, rather than government aid. There was nothing in it to suggest that she and Obama were helped by the government and thus wanted to give something back to the government. It's thus odd that they support abortion rights and larger government given the background she presented. You'd think they'd want bigger families and less government, since they both profited from extended family (Barack's grandparents) and were not seemingly helped by government.

She mentioned Joe Biden not forgetting where he came from, implying that most who go to D.C. do, which suggests the need for a smaller federal government since if you're making decisions at a state and local level you can't forget where you came from since you're still there. Duh.

She's for ending the war responsibly, which no Republican officeholder would dispute.

She mentioned the importance of jobs for returning vets, which implies a strong support for business, since jobs come primarily from businesses last time I checked.

So based on this speech (and not on the political platform of her husband), she does a pretty good Republican impersonation, with a few exceptions, such as the mention of universal health care.
That's What I'm Talking 'Bout

From First Things:
But as Kalven and Blum wrote, “whether the argument for redistributing income is put in terms of increasing the general welfare or of redressing the injustice of the existing rewards, it is always precariously close to being rested simply on envy.” (Remarkably, Rawls even espoused a doctrine of what he called “excusable envy,” encouraging people to feel envy whenever levels of inequality exceeded a particular–and unspecified–level, on the ground that envy would be “rational” in such cases, as it would lead to a demand for redistribution.)

August 26, 2008

Literary Soapbox Derby

Too many books in the world!? Ah, say it ain't so! That's like saying there's too many roses...too many songs...too many springs!

I ascended this soapbox even figuring I had the short end of the argument since anything Jeff Culbreath and Tom of Disputations agree on is almost surely true. But I couldn't go down without a fight, and I made a comment that in hindsight looks embarrassingly strident. I responded to his original post by saying that books are simply people speaking and that this is like saying there are too many people speaking, which is awfully close to saying there are too many people. Or rather saying there are too many people who aren’t like me. (Here I'm borrowing Sancta Sanctis's policy of quoting herself, which she'd borrowed from me. Very circular, 'eh?)

God is the master of frivolity - how can one look outside at the natural world and not wonder at the redundancy? A maple…looks like another maple. Thank God He who is Depth Itself does not look on our meagerness and become sad. What bothers me, and I’m guilty of it too, is looking around a room full of people (or books in this case) and thinking, “I can’t learn anything from them.” That’s not a Catholic (or catholic) point-of-view.

No one is more entitled to that attitude than our present Holy Father, and yet he always has an attitude of humility, of listening… of respect for even what is below him, as Goethe indicated was the mark of Christianity. (Btw, let me give a shout out to young Goethe!)

Jeff didn't let me slip that comment in the back, Jack. He shined the light on it and weighed in here, making the good point that a call for more silence isn't a bad thing and isn't the same as a call for less people.

Regarding books in general, everyone is created differently and everyone has progressed to different level of sanctity or lack thereof. There are those with high IQs and low IQs and high levels of sanctity and low levels. Therefore there is a need for all sorts of different books. Some people simply have little to no capacity for reading “deep” books. Others may suffer from ill health or depression and appreciate “frivolous” books more than we know. Others are edified and are drawn closer to God by what were formerly banned books.
Ratzinger Quote

I'd been wondering how to reconcile the concept of purification, with how help can come from prayers from others during that purification (given that it is an act necessarily individualistic), and now I find that Cardinal Ratzinger addresses this in his book "Eschatology":
Does not this prayer [for the departed] presuppose that Purgatory entails some kind of external punishment which can, for example, be graciously remitted through vicarious acceptance by others in a form of spiritual barter? And how can a third party enter into that most highly personal process of encounter with Christ, where the "I" is transformed in the flame of his closeness? Is not this an event which so concerns the individual that all replacement or substitution must be ruled out? Is not the pious tradition of 'helping the holy souls' based on treating these souls after the fashion of 'having' - whereas our reflections so far have surely led to the conclusion that the heart of the matter is 'being,' for which there can be no substitute? Yet the being of man is not, in fact, that of a closed monad. It is related to others by love or hate, and, in these ways, has its colonies within them. My own being is present in others as guilt or as grace. We are not just ourselves; or, more correctly, we are ourselves only as being in others, with others and through others. Whether others curse us or bless us, forgive us and turn our guilt into love- this is part of our own destiny. The fact that the saints judge means that encounter with Christ is encounter with his whole body. I come face to face with my own guilt vis-a-vis the suffering members of the body as well as with the forgiving love which the body derives from Christ its Head.
"The intercession of the saints with the Judge is not...some purely external affair whose success is necessarily doubtful since it depends on the unpredictable benevolence of the Judge. It is above all an inner weight which, placed on the scales, can bring them to sink down.
(Balthasar)
         

[Rick] Warren did not ask Obama when human life begins. Here’s what he asked: "Forty million abortions — at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?" So the question was not about ensoulment or the beginnings of a unique biological entity, but about rights. Questions of rights are not above a president’s pay grade. And if Obama supports Roe and related decisions, that would indicate that a baby gets human rights at birth. If that is what he believes, then let him say so, openly. - Amy Welborn

While there is a great deal of interest in and curiosity about the devil in the realm of possession and exorcism, there is much less interest in him in the realm of one's day-to-day life. Indeed, in the realm of our own lives. For the most part, people of America generally proceed with their daily lives as if Satan did not exist at all. An undue fascination with the details of possession is perhaps not spiritually healthy but neither is ignoring the existence of the devil and the reality of evil. We can be sure he is not ignoring us. - Bishop Vasa, via Tom of Disputations

It’s true that some doctors and fathers and theologians of the Church raised the question of “ensoulment,” asking when an unborn baby receives a soul, and given different answers. But in Christian (as opposed to Gnostic) tradition, humans are not only souls but also bodies. And thus no Father ever, ever used the idea of later ensoulment (often borrowed from Aristotle) to excuse or permit abortion. Contrary to what Pelosi expressly says, Augustine never ever said life begins at three months. In Christian tradition, until the 1960s, life was thought to begin at conception, regardless of the details certain thinkers put forth about speculative embryonic anthropology. - blogger at Cathliodocy

Hello. I'm here to abduct your family and sell them into slavery. Now, I know that many people, people of good will, believe this is wrong. I understand that, and I respect their opinion. At the same time, many others are equally convinced of the need for slaves, particularly when our own government can't guarantee that hard-working families will have time to clean their own houses. For my own part, I have thought long and hard about this difficult issue, an issue that doesn't admit of simple answers. And I've come to the decision that the right thing for me to do is to be a slaver. But a new kind of slaver, one who does not vilify those who disagree. - Tom of Disputations spoof

I was at a gathering a few weeks ago for an aged Southern sage, a politico with an accent so thick you have to lean close and concentrate to understand every word, so thick, as they used to say, you could pour it on pancakes. Most of the people there were from the South, different ages and generations but Southerners—the men grounded and courteous in a certain way, the women sleeveless and sexy in a certain way. There was a lot of singing and toasting and drinking, and this was the thing: Even as an outsider, you knew them. They were Mississippi Delta people—Mizz-izz-DEHLT people—and the sense of placeness they brought into the room with them was sweet to me. It allowed you to know them, in the same way that at a gathering of, say, Irish Catholics from the suburbs of Boston, you would be able to know them, pick up who they are, with your American antennae. You grow up, move on, and bring the Delta with you, but as each generation passes, the Delta disappears, as in time the ward and the parish disappear. I miss the old geographical vividness. But we are national now, and in a world so global that at the Olympics, when someone wins, wherever he is from, whatever nation or culture, he makes the same movements with his arms and face to mark his victory. South Korea's Park Tae-hwan moves just like Michael Phelps, with the "Yes!" and the arms shooting upward and the fists. This must be good. Why does it feel like a leveling? Like a squashing and squeezing down of the particular, local and authentic. - Peggy Noonan in WSJ

There's nothing new about air travel, I've never known a time when it wasn't there, yet still I'm amazed at the fact that there are people in the sky. - Bill of Apologia

"There is something colorless and odorless about him," says a friend [about Barack Obama]. "like an inert gas." And Mr. McCain, in his experience, history and genes, is definitely military, and could easily come from Indiana or South Carolina or California...The lack of placeness with both candidates contributes to a sense of their disjointedness, their floatingness. - Peggy Noonan

August 25, 2008

Assigning the Odds

So Brad Paisley has a lot of unlikely scenerios in his song "I'll Take You Back". So let's assign the odds; your mileage may will vary (odds in bold face):
"I'll Take You Back"

When a freight train jumps off a track
And rolls down my road [depends how far train from road]
And it's summer time in Texas
And they're playing in the snow [40,000-to-1]
When politicians everywhere stop telling lies
And only state the facts [infinity-1]
Right then, that's when
I'll take you back

Let's say I get bucked off a bull and fall and hit my head
And then I get amnesia and forget the things you said [could happen]
I lose my better judgment and I take up smoking crack [10,000-1]
Right then, that's when
I'll take you back

[Chorus]
Go on keep trying
Come on keep calling
You know I like it
When you come crawling
It's like music
To hear you bawling
Waa, waa, waa, waa, waa

When Donald Trump takes a part time job parking cars [3-1]
When Clint Eastwood does ballet in a big pink leotard [100-1]
And a donkey wins the Derby as he takes his victory lap [1,000,000,000-1]
Right then, that's when
I'll take you back

[Repeat chorus]

The day that old morning sun rises in the west [Infinity-1]
And they pass a law in L.A. banning artificial breasts [5,000-1]
When cars can run on water, gasoline and oil ain't worth jack [10-1]*
Right then, that's when
I'll take you back

[Repeat chorus]

It's like music
To hear you bawling
Waa, waa, waa, waa, waa
Murakami writes surreal novels while running, and I try to come up with odds to the Paisley tune in my head. Oy vey.

* - I heard an urban legend about a guy who made a car run on water but the oil companies killed him.
Parody is Therapy...

...has been updated with news that Faulkner and Hemingway's classics are being asterisked for being alcohol aided, and the tragic story of a guy who bought expensive shoes and nobody noticed.
Dis 'n Dat

Kim of "bingo fame" (oxymoron?) sent a cheering note:
I was so sorry to hear about the end of your vacation. May you always remember it with fondness and know that is in a better place.
Indeed I will remember it with fondness. I see I received no love from my blog friends; it took an actual, real-live person to proffer sympathy. Although tis true her note had the ulterior motive of asking me to help at bingo Thursday. But let he among us whose motives are unmixed cast the first stone! (Speaking of ulterior motives, Kim, if you're reading this, will you take care of our dog when we go on vacation next time? We'll pay you!)

* * *

But enough about me, we're all interested in Joe Biden nowadays. Biden says of anyone who questions his faith that they can "pry my rosary beads from my cold, dead hands!".

Of course he didn't say that but that was the jist of it. The money quote I found was the following, culled from "On the Issues" website:
Q: You have changed your position on abortion. When you came to the Senate, you believed that Roe v. Wade was not correctly decided and that you also believed the right of abortion was not secured by the Constitution. Why did you change your mind?

A: Well, I was 29 years old when I came to the US Senate, and I have learned a lot. Look, I'm a practicing Catholic, and it is the biggest dilemma for me in terms of comporting my religious and cultural views with my political responsibility.
Political responsibility or political viability?

* * *

As a kid, I thought Catholicism was going the way of Judiasm: similarly ethnic, i.e. cultural, and not at all evangelistic. What I didn't realize was how evangelistic Catholicism was during the '40s and '50s, from the television show of Fulton J. Sheen to the street corner apologetics of Frank Sheed.

* * *


I read some of Alexander Solzhenitsyn last night. (Wouldn't his multi-syballic name have fit well in Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire"?). I read his thirty-year old Harvard speech to see what the great man was right and wrong about. My perception of him as a sort of right-wing are wrong. He was an environmentalist, worried about over-population and calling for conservation of energy resources, ala Jimmy Carter. Some would say that he's prescient now, but the conservation of oil merely puts off the inevitable, doesn't it? It's sort of like putting your money in a mattress - you'll be okay for awhile but eventually inflation will make you a pauper.

This is pure speculation but perhaps part of the appeal of the environmental issue for him was simply that it gives the West an opportunity to exercise self-restraint. If George Soros wants to save the environment so as to force a one-world socialistic government, perhaps Solzhenitsyn wanted to save the environment in order to save our souls. He saw the value of spiritual reality greater than material, and environmentalism could be a means to that end - i.e. conserve energy for it takes self-restraint. If Thoreau's message was "simplify, simplify", Solzhenitsyn's message to the indulgent West is "restrain thyself, restrain thyself". It's hard to disagree, seeing how most of our ills, from the foreclosure crisis to Enron to abortion-on-demand are at root about a lack of self-restraint.

The biggest chink in the armor seemed to be his overestimating the might of the Soviet empire. In '78 he thought Angola would never be the Soviet's Vietnam but another country starting with "A" - Afghanistan - was.

It was also interesting to see how he dissed the Middle Ages as being way overconcerned about the spiritual, to the neglect of the material, and how today we go in the opposite direction. It is hard to the hew to the middle! It takes great...oh, what's that word? Self-restraint...?

August 23, 2008

Live-blogging my Summer Vacation  so you don't have to!

10:12PM:  I just put Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” into the CD spinner in order to mourn the near end of my vacation week and summer as well. “If You Could Read My Mind” works well too, as in “if you could read my mind you’d know I need another Guinness.” No kid glove treatment on the beer front; great energy expenditures during the day demand generous beer drinking to offset. (For medicinal purposes only of course.)

On Thursday, visiting mom, she said that I looked exceptionally good: my hair shinier, my stomach flatter. Vacation agrees with me, I told her, though I’m not sure it’s exactly a vocation. "My vocation is vacation" or "my job is retirement" sound remarkably oxymoronic. I suspect that laziness works best in small quantities so please don’t try it at home.

I did the annual bookstore tour this morning, begging off water aerobics despite my promising to be the Michael Phelps of that activity. (Would Michael Phelps blow off swim practice for a bookstore?) On Wednesday I told my instructor/drill sargeant that she’s “got to be German” and she said “yes, how did you know?” completely oblivious and honestly curious. Which is perfect, because you know Germans are always accused of not getting a joke. She’s a lean, mean fighting machine: I'm guessing 100 lbs wet and 5% body fat. She adheres to a diet of only raw meat and veggies; humans have been cooking food for, what, at least a few thousand years and yet she’s got to be different.

The bookstore tour began with a Columbus Borders since it was the only one open before 10am. I found a dog book for my wife, though I made the mistake of not “vetting” it by reading the ending first. She doesn’t want sad dog books, defined by the death of the canine protagonist. This really limits the dog literature field. I scanned the ending back at home, reading something about “he stopped eating” and “cremated ashes” and rolled my eyes. That’s $9 I’ll never get back unless I take it back, though the gas to get there would be close to that.

After visiting a second store I hit the glazed asphalt for a bike tour through the lovely and talented Clintonville, a part of the city where the homes are traditional but the residents not. Lots of Obama signs tarnishing beautiful old stone homes. “War is Not the Answer” declares one yard sign and I wonder why in Republican neighborhoods there is never a modest “Raising the Capital Gains Tax Does Not Significantly Increase Government Revenue” sign. I’m never quite sure whether these sorts of bumper stickers are a way of claiming your tribe or designed to change people’s minds. It could be the latter since we are notoriously susceptible to momentum and what’s hot.
Decoding "Hungry Like the Wolf"

It's been far too long since this blog explored the lyrics of a popular song for the deeper meaning. (Last time was for Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On.) Today we'll explore the subterranean meaning of the lyrics to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” (dedicated to Sancta Sanctis and K-Lo of NRO for their Duran Duran devotion):
Dark in the city, night is a wire
Steam in the subway, earth is a fire
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do


The first stanza poetically sets the mood: we are in a city and it is night. A wire suggests a narrowness in latitude if one is walking it. The presence of a subway suggests a major metropolitan area and hence the presence of multitudes. The “Do-do do…” is intentionally cryptic and builds suspense musically.

Woman you want me, give me a sign
And catch my breathing even closer behind
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do


The first line express the human desire for a sign, for proof that God exists and loves us, in this case masquerading as love for a woman. “Catch my breathing even closer behind” communicates the narrator’s nearness; “Woman you want me” is a declarative posing as a query. As the song continues it gradually appears God and man will switch roles, the pursued having actually been the pursuer.

In touch with the ground
I’m on the hunt I’m after you
Smell like I sound, I’m lost in a crowd
And I’m hungry like the wolf


Here the narrator paradoxically declares himself ‘grounded’ (“in touch with the ground) and yet ‘lost’ (“lost in a crowd”). He compares his hunger to that of a wolf, a species possibly associated with hunger due to a rapidly decreasing habitat. Or perhaps the author confuses wolves with coyotes, specifically Wile E. Coyote who was always frustrated in his pursuit of Road Runner. “Smell like I sound” attests to the narrator’s truthfulness, saying that there is no disconnect between what he is saying (sound) and what he is (smell).

Straddle the line, in discord and rhyme
I’m on the hunt I’m after you
Mouth is alive with juices like wine
And I’m hungry like the wolf


Here we see the paradox of bringing together “discord and rhyme”. We struggle to understand how these can be reconciled just as we did before in the assertion of being grounded and lost. “Juices like wine” interests us because grape juice becomes wine over time. Juice is to wine what immaturity is to maturity. We wonder what the narrator means by conflating the two. A long desired merging of eros and agape?

Stalked in the forest, too close to hide
I’ll be upon you by the moonlight side
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do
High blood drumming and your skin it’s so tight
You feel my heart, I’m just a moment behind
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do


The narrator again mentions his closeness: even “too close to hide”. There must be something important in the exclaiming of the nearness of the pursued to the pursuer. Yet the mention of a forest suggests cloaking, of invisibility even. The blood “drums” and the skin is like a drum skin, tight in order to produce the correct concusive sound. The “high blood drumming” of the pursuer and the tight skin of the pursued suggests a likeness and similarity despite their evident separateness. “I’m just a moment behind” re-emphasizes nearness; the writer hopes to convey an inevitability of meeting, even going so far as to saying he would be upon her by the time the moon rises.

The next few stanzas are purposely repetitive, perhaps in order to convey the passage of time. Then there is a sudden break, literally so:

Burning the ground, I break from the crowd
I’m on the hunt I’m after you
Scent and a sound, I’m lost and I’m found
And I’m hungry like the wolf


Instead of being lost in the crowd as in the earlier stanza he’s now broken from the crowd. This suggests progress and yet he’s paradoxically still lost and found. "Burning" is indicative of a presence beyond the human. The hunger is again compared to the species canis lupus. The pursued seems changed now too; the woman mentioned in the first stanza has no words (logos in Greek) to say in the song but can be heard to laugh at the start. Towards the end of the song she begins to lose her breath and eventually moans as if in the pain of labor. It's as if the pursued has changed due to the actions of the pursuer. His scent and sound have so merged as there is no longer the need to claim that what he says is what he is.
Pindell says Ohio to Obama

August 22, 2008

Home Vacation Remedies

It's time for the annual home vacation - five days off spent in the luxury of primetime Northern Hemisphere weather. The official beer of the home vacation is Corona (light & summery). The official CD is Jimmy Buffet's Greatest Hits...

* * *
I'm reminded again that the sun is a Republican, of German heritage, or must be given how fastidiously he adheres to schedule. At 5pm the remains of his descent are in the west sky, obscured by the neighbor's huge sycamore. He's touching the south hem of the behemoth's tallest stretches.

The tomatoes are coming in waves, almost too many to even give away. It's the consolation of the end of summer and the only good thing that reverses the scarcity principle - there is no end of them while they have their head. The vines have grown so fecund that harvesting becomes something akin to an Easter egg hunt. Earlier in the season there is a different, if less satisfying harvest: I rub their aromatic fronds and inhale the smell.

But now the air is scented by newly laid mulch, still regnant under my fingernails and on my clothes. I briefly ponder whether the modern wonder of bleach will return my clothes to presentability. Bass wind chimes chime in, sounding like church bells. Yesterday I'd heard bells playing church hymns while on the bike path, presumably coming from a cemetery just beyond it's end.

Now the sun has dipped between the large leaves of the sycamore, leaving only diamond splashes created by slight rustles of wind. It makes its way slowly through the leaves, in a northern direction, like a Windows progress bar, a natural time increment.

Eyes above: there are "people in the sky" as Bill Luse aptly puts it. I share his incredulity. A tube of steel carries a bunch of people in arranged aisle ways thousands of feet above me. The jet leaves twin white streaks like a speed boat on the Okeechobee. Just to the west I see either a UFO, or maybe a small black balloon. I report, you decide.

* * *

I feel all "Belloc-y" after a few beers, alive to the natural world and capable of delusions of grandeur. "Everything I learned about God, I learned from alcohol" is untrue but sounds good after a couple of beers. Our ancestors must've thought so giving whiskey a name meaning "water of life" and calling drink "spirits". The only thing I recall from my Driver's Education class is how the instructor insisted we not drink and drive but also pointed out that if you're drunk you stand a much better chance of surviving an accident because you go with the flow, you don't resist or retract in fear. There could be a metaphor in there somewhere. (Reminds me of Homer Simpson's famous line about alcohol being the cause and solution of all life's problems.)

"Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" goes the elegant baseball aphorism; less elegantly I think, "Beer and books and pray for more vacation time."

Speaking of drinking and leisure time, let us ponder, a moment, this selection from Walter Kerr's "The Decline of Pleasure":
I would like to consider, briefly, a man I know. This man lives in the suburbs, earns a satisfactory salary in an investment house, is educated and intelligent, gets along well with his wife and three children, has his evenings and Saturdays and Sundays at his disposal, and possesses many of machines invented to assure him of leisure and pleasure. For a while, several years ago, he developed a surprising habit; perhaps I should say he developed a habit that is not at all uncommon among twentieth-century middle-to-upper-class men but that was surprising at the time to his family. Three or four times a year, in a rhythm too erratic to be easily understood, he would lose himself for a long weekend in a succession of bars. These periods of escape did not seem to be related to domestic crises or office tensions; they did not spill over into Monday mornings but were cut off sharply and quite soon enough to enable him to return to work; the classic symptoms of an incipient alcoholism -- self-pity, indifference to family, fear of faltering in a career -- were nowhere in evidence. The problem was not acute, but a problem existed.

The problem was ultimately solved, as it is now so often solved, by the purchase of one more machine for the home. This man bought himself a power saw and installed it in his basement. Certain supplementary tools were added a little later. With his new equipment, the essentially responsible husband and father transformed a rather dingy room that had been used for laundering into a pine-paneled breakfast nook, which is both charming and useful. Having completed the task, he transferred his attention to an unfinished attic...an outdoor terrace.

[His] drinking bouts have ceased...He does not look particularly well. He seems tired. It is not unreasonable that he should be tired. He is now working five days at the office and two days and five nights at home...Still he goes on, content to have been rescued from his aberration.
* * *

Summer is a gateway drug, a mild hallucinogenic. I run like Olympian Emil Zapotec down the asphalt to U2's "With or Without You" and that "End of the World As We Know It" song. Friday music is....Friday music.

Afterwards the back patio becomes a second skin and I'm surprised by the cramming of so much beauty in such a modest suburban space. Flowers hover suspended in air. The regal crowns of the fence post stand like heraldic knights, and the dapper sash across the gates seems to signal some sort of hierarchical pride. The pavers are hot to the heel and Spanish in appearance. Wild sunflower stand with astonishing height and a few fireflies stand athwart Time yelling "Stop!" to no avail. Queen Anne's lace dot the tree line. A little moat of stones, a micro "Great Wall of China", demarcks the dark mulch from the grass.

I could stare for hours at the scene, as I might at Christmas lights given the right environment.

The sun dapples the pine and sets the fence at half-mast. Trees wave pedestrianly, like horses moseying. The world briefly stops, the days cast away their rock-ruttedness. Welcome to Havana, Ohio.

Whatever I might change I would not change, since they satisfy the designer, in this case my wife assisting the Almighty with her landscaping skills. It was a somewhat foreign concept to my younger self to find pleasure in another's pleasure but now sometimes I get it. If she likes it, I like it derivatively.

* * *

On the reading front...The latest New Yorker absorbs my attention only for a single ad (displayed in this post). Daedalus commands our attention with his single eye. Sometimes less is more, like less work and more vacation.
I also ponder Heather King's delight in writing. Based on "Redeemed", I find her stuff full of self-revelation and piquancies but not the least self-indulgent or non-utilitarian (do not only justice and mercy kiss in Heaven but also anti-utilitarianism and helpfulness to others?)

August 21, 2008

Evangelicals Moving Left

It's been interesting to watch the leftward march of certain prominent evangelicals, including one prominent in our community. Although the number is surely small, some of them seem to be de-emphasizing the right-to-life issue and re-emphasizing issues of poverty and health care.

Part of this may be due to gratitude for the attention being received from some in the Democrat party. Democrats understandably don't like losing elections based on "values voters" and so there is much more care & feeding of evangelicals given the gold mine of votes available. Hence Jim Wallis was deputized, or self-deputized. Books were written, websites like Beliefnet.com set up, and debates begun.

So it's self-evident what's in it for pro-choice Democrats. What's in it for evangelicals? Number one, it was a way to counteract an image problem. Christians don't like being perceived as narrowly focussed on the pro-life issue. One website - http://unchristian.com - came highly recommended by a conservative family member. (I saw the Jim Wallis imprimatur and didn't go much farther.)

This all fits nicely into Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life" view, since political activism revolving around poverty and universal health care seem more politically viable and have a greater chance of being solved in the short-run than the pro-life issue. It's harder to be an activist when you don't see much happening. To the extent we think of Christianity as defined by our works and our results, or to the extent we think that by changing our politics in order to make our religion more appealing to those closely following politics, we'll be tempted to vote for leaders espousing death for little ones as long as they do visible good in other areas.
Critiquing the Olympic Critics

Both the New Yorker and the Columbus Dispatch have their Olympic coverage stories out. I lean closer to the view of Molly Willow of the Dispatch fame, the tv critic who has good taste in television.

I thought: why am I able to watch this Olympics when past ones left me cold?

Answer: no lengthy, painful, melodramatic "set-up" stories that last longer than the events themselves. As Willow puts it:
Perhaps the biggest difference between NBC's coverage of these games and the last in Athens, Greece, is the smart reduction in long, saccharine profiles of athletes.

Instead, brief bios have filled the lulls between high-profile events, helping to ensure that viewers stay up well past their bedtimes.
Nancy Franklin in the New Yorker also has a few good lines:
In the four years since I was last forced to watch beach volleyball, I somehow have not found the maturity and wisdom to take it seriously as an Olympic sport, and, frankly, I doubt that NBC takes it seriously, either, except as a ratings grabber. Every time I turned on the TV, there was May-Treanor (the short one) and Walsh (the tall one), in those silly little Victoria’s Ill-Kept Secret outfits. I now know more about these two women than I know about some of my relatives...
Including their anatomy. I was amused that even that bastion of liberal propriety, NPR, got into the controversy of whether the bikinis were for comfort or ratings. Beach volleyball was way overcovered (by NBC that is) but I was glad for it because it allowed me to focus only on the swimming and the women's gymnastics. You can't watch 3000 hours of coverage so NBC actually did me a solid. Meanwhile, I could also relate to Franklin's take on "where's China?":
Watching the Beijing Olympics, for all the athletic and architectural spectacularity on display, has turned out to be more frustrating than I expected. What an opportunity this was—not, as is obvious, just for China but for the rest of the world, the people whose only chance to visit China would be through the lenses of NBC’s cameras. Thirty-six hundred hours of sports and features filled the network and its cable sisters CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Telemundo, Oxygen, and Universal HD, and the Web—but I feel as though all I saw of China on TV was tourists walking on the Great Wall and correspondents eating, or not eating, “funny” food like fried scorpions.

August 20, 2008

Free Thought on Campus!  film at eleven

I'm always surprised by the occasional breakout of free expression on college campuses (or "campii" as we say 'round here). What follows isn't exactly a challenge to the academic world's group hug of designerless Darwinism, but you take what you can get.

What happened was that several college presidents, including Ohio State's, signed a petition calling for debate about lowering the drinking age from 21 to 19. Now there's a man-dog-bites story. It surely must show that the drinking age on campuses has not been working.

But free expression usually comes with a price - witness poor Larry Summers of Harvard - and MADD let no beer cans collect under their feet before going for the jugular, i.e. the collegiate bottom line, in suggesting that parents direct their children away from colleges where the president has signed a petition calling for talk about lowering the drinking age. Wow. Just signing a petition to call for a debate and MADD plays the thought-stopping trump card. They sure know how to play the game.

The game is about money. Which is how the drinking age came down in the first place. The Federales came in and said, "you wanna our money, you raise your age." The states, one-by-one complied. All fifty. What was said of some women could be said of the states: "we've established what you are, now we're just haggling over price."

Ah but easy for you to say, you say. You're not in charge of a state budget. True, and you do have to pick your battles. But it is discouraging to see the flouting of the principle of subsidiarity and to see another example of the steady erosion of state and local power.
Photo from a Bike Ride

"Garden Spot of the World"

August 19, 2008

Funnies

Culled from the Columbus Dispatch...Editor Ray Stein has a funny line:
Editor: I was just watching the TV sports news, and they showed a Chinese basketball player who is 7 feet, 6 inches tall. Jeez, there ought to be some restrictions on a guy that tall, like a semi-circle around the hoop about 5 feet wide that he couldn’t score in. A guy that tall would only have to reach up to slam it. — David P.

David: I think a better rule would demand that Bob Costas stop coloring his hair.
* * *
Ray: As another sad Reds season wheezes to a merciful close, it was encouraging to see that Reds executives were addressing problem areas in preparation for next season. They apparently felt the team needed to add another mascot; hence Rosie Red, who presumably will assist the hilarious Mr. Red, the other big baseball with legs. Maybe they jumped the gun. A better choice for another mascot might have been St. Jude. Dressed (tastefully) in turn-of-the-century baseball togs, he could cavort around the ballpark, delighting young and old alike and even launching, by slingshot, promotional items into the huge crowds. St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes, which is quite fitting. — Jim L.

Jim: I just hope Rosie Red and Mr. Red don’t hook up and before you know it you’ve got a bunch of big-baseballheaded Reds rugrats running around. Another mascot choice could be St. Corey Patterson, the patron saint of lame outfielders, whom you bury upside-down in center field at the end of the season.

And a quote:
“In other Olympic cities, there’s literally stuff going on until early in the morning. Here, you just don’t get the festival feeling, even during the day. They don’t understand the concept of fun.” Chris Welton, CEO of Helios, the Atlanta-based sports marketing giant, when asked to assess the games
         

I would love to live in a world where the media provided more space for arguing about the actual truth claims of religion — where op-ed columnists and bloggers and essayists spent less time on meta debates about the politics and sociology of religion, and more time arguing about whether Christianity or Islam or Judaism is true. These kind of arguments still take place, obviously, but they take place in books rather than in the popular press — and I’d like to live in a world in which the pope’s book about Jesus of Nazareth sparked a lively intellectual debate about Christianity’s truth claims in, say, the Times Book Review and the Post op-ed page, instead of being largely ignored. - Ross Douthat on "Get Religion"

Demolition has begun on old Tiger (formerly Briggs) Stadium in my hometown, Detroit. I remember attending many games there when I was growing up, including Detroit Lions football games in the fall. I saw Mantle and Maris play, Whitey Ford pitch along with the stars of one of the Tiger's best seasons, 1961. That would be Stormin' Norman Cash, Al Kaline and the rest. If there is baseball tradition in Detroit, it lives in Tiger Stadium. It was a beautiful old park and its a shame to see it go. Another suprising thing to me is that, looking at the web sites of the major Detroit papers, there seems to be relatively little interest in the loss of the old place; the demolition is not receiving major coverage. One aspect that is receiving coverage is the apparently failing attempt by a private group to save part of the stadium from destruction. The papers seem to almost be gloating over the failure to raise sufficient funds to prevent total demolition...I also wonder if the papers' lack of enthusiasm for saving Tiger Stadium is an indication of the current day disdain for anything that smacks of tradition: out with the old, in with the new, whether or not the new is an improvment. This current disdain is most graphically displayed in the unfathomable rush by a major political party in this country to nominate a man for President who has no discernable qualifications for the job, other than an expressed desire for "change." - The Seven Habitus

“Wake up and smell the incense!” This is one of my ripostes to those who downplay Pope Benedict’s plan to revitalize Holy Church, especially through derestricting the Traditional Latin Mass. Incense is one of those marks of solemn liturgy which, we hope, will return to more frequent use in our Latin Rite parishes. Apparently, that fragrant smoke wafting upward does far more than mark with solemnity our prayers rising on high to God. It also fulfills the goals of homemade progressivist liturgy: It makes you feel good about yourself! Here’s the science! Please rush to your local library and read a paper in a recent number of the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology entitled, “ Incensole Acetate, an Incense Component, Elicits Psychoactivity by Activating TRPV3 Channels in the Brain.” Zzzzzzz. . . .Not so! It seems that frankincense acts on the brain to lower anxiety and diminish depression. Research was done at Johns Hopkins University and Hebrew University. They administered incensole acetate, a component of frankincense, to lab mice. This great- smelling stuff affects the part of the brain controlling emotion, including anxiety and depression. In other words, incense makes you feel good about yourself. That in itself should help even the progressivist liturgy types get on board with Pope Benedict and his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum! - Fr. Z via the "Inn at the End of the World"

The Bolsheviks regularly killed in a few minutes more people than the Romanovs managed in a century, giving pre-revolutionary Russian history the retrospective luster of decency, wisdom, and compassion that it did not in the least deserve. For Voinovich—and the distinguished historian of Russia Richard Pipes—Leninism had its roots in the Russian tradition as well as the Marxist one. This meant that Solzhenitsyn, while absolutely right in his uncompromising attitude to Marxist-Leninism and all its works, belonged in the category of Dostoevsky: a brilliant seer who would nevertheless have made a very bad guide. - Theodore Dalyrmple, via Eric Scheske

Say for example somebody asked me: "Do you think science has contributed to humanity? What about science's role in developing medicine, technology, and helping us to come to a greater understanding of the universe?" "No, people made those contributions to Western Civilization." I would deserve a good slap to my head for such an answer. - Jeff of "Curt Jester", on reluctance of many to credit religion with anything good

Dissenting with wit and fighting when nobody else cares — that’s what the GOP does best! So it’s back to being eager Young Republicans who refuse to be oppressed, for our eager Congresscritters. Dawn Eden, intrepid blogger, has an extensive report on her day in the midst of all this fun, which is free and open to the public. You too can go on the floor of the chamber! Apparently, there’s also a blogger in the House: “….Texas Rep. John Culberson, who makes it clear right off that he is a techie. The rep has found ways to beat the media’s near-blackout by posting video updates on Qik.com and short blog items on Twitter.com.” - Maureen of "Aliens in this World"

A Jewish convert once said that Jews think of converting to Christianity the way Italians would think of converting to Irishness. To them, they would not be leaving a "mere" religion, but an ancient race and a virtual nation spread over the world…[St. Paul's] declaration that "everything is lawful for me" may sound like a boast, but it is actually a lament. A Jew without the Law is like a fish which has found it safe to breathe air. So much of Jewish law was about prohibitions; at its heart was the belief that the Jewish race was set apart from the Gentiles. Suddenly he was no longer set apart. Not quite an exile, he still did not have a country. His vocation to be the Apostle to the Gentiles was a cross--the greatest cross God could have handpicked for a patriotic and zealous Jew. - Sancta Sanctis

there's always the threat that a crowd of converts will bump the thermostat off the lukewarm setting. - Terrence of "The Provincial Emails", on how some worry about a high influx of High Anglicans "more papist than the Pope"

Hello, cross.
You’re ugly as sin,
But lovely, since Christ’s
Body broke you in.
The battlesteed
He rode to save the world –
His dead limbs gleamed against you
Just like pearls.

Have you waited here
Since those days of old?
I come to you now
Exultantly, and bold.
Before He mounted you,
You made us fear.
Now we see only
All His love left here. - Maureen of "Aliens in this World"

I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered. - George Best

We are saved by the New Covenant, not the New Haggle. We are judged, not by weighing our good deeds against our sins, but by weighing Christ's sacrifice against our sins. - Tom of Disputations

Speaking of Linda Hirshman, her Slate piece crowing over the absence of the "safe, legal and rare" formulation from the Dems' platform language on abortion ought to provide some clarity for pro-lifers hopeful that an Obamafied Democratic Party might provide any kind of an opening for advancing anything resembling a pro-life agenda... The Democratic Party's rigidly pro-choice stance is one of the more unyielding positions in contemporary American politics, and at least for the foreseeable future, pro-lifers who vote Democratic will always be casting votes that cut against their convictions on abortion, rather than with them. - Ross Douthat of "The Atlantic"
Wealth Inequality Bad for Your Health?

In a Byzantine Catholic newspaper I came across this article, against inequality of wealth, written by Glenmary Fr. John Rausch.

From Ben Stein to the Vatican to Fr. Rausch, I'm hearing the same message: inequality of wealth is bad. This is one of the few issues from the political left that I am sensitive to and they could be right about. Great extremes of wealth are not good, but I think the fix is worse than the cure.

I assume those who are upset about people with large incomes are actually concerned about that as the fact that they (those with large incomes) don't give away 80% or more of their income. I assume that if the wealthy were as generous as they were wealthy, the left wouldn't have a problem with disparity of incomes.

In the past I've never been too bothered by income inequality since I couldn't understand why someone could be envious of someone with more money. I'm not envious of Bill Gates since there's no incremental increase of happiness beyond a certain level of comfort, i.e. above the middle class. But just because it's not my particular sin (at least when it comes to money - I do feel spiritually envious sometimes) I probably should realize that many others do. It's interesting to me how much society should bend itself in order to help people avoid this sin. (Reminds me of how Muslim countries have gone to extremes - i.e. burkas - in order to help men avoid lust!)

I thought Rausch made an excellent point in how wealth allows a separateness and leads to a less cohesive society. However, the wealthy have always been separate - in the past more so than today. America has become steadily more egalitarian over the past two centuries, notwithstanding the wealth disparity; consider the changes surrounding women and minorities. So I'm not sure wealth disparity is so pernicious. But we could limit this separateness by changing the tax code, i.e. "mandatory charity", although a more socialistic state also ends up pitting people against each other too. In Britain, under universal health care, the new scapegoat is the heavy person because he costs society more. Any time you move away from self-reliance you get a lot of people who become irritated at the "freeloaders". That's human nature too.

I'm not sure that wealth concentration equals political power as the author assert. Numbers = power, which is why both the Republicans and Democrats are terrified of making a mistake with respect to Hispanic voters since their vote will determine the future. Demographics is destiny. Recall how in the 19th century the dirt poor Irish took over politics in New York & Boston after they arrived in great numbers. Nothing the wealthy could do, though they tried.

If we consider not just physical health but spiritual, are there any spiritually healthy socialist countries? Barring those who are socialist not by their own design but by government fiat (i.e. Poland), it seems America is far more religious than Europe these days and I wonder what part, if any, socialism plays. I wonder if some see government (where government wasn't the USSR!) as the the entity to rely on, rather than God?
The Consolations of the Sympatico

I've recently found two writers whom I can relate to and sympathize with greatly: Heather King, author of "Redeemed" and John Zmirak of "Bad Catholic" fame.

King's book is chockful of the sort of thoughts that I tend to think but not say aloud. And Zmirak struggles with Jansenism (note the high-larious title of his post, which I still chuckle over: "Nearer My Dogs to Thee"):
Theology figures into this, because I adopted Susie on the advice of a spiritual director, a Catholic shrink I was seeing who hoped to banish my Jansenist image of God. “You wanna know pure and unconditional love, the kinda love God has for every human soul?” he asked between mouthfuls of pasta. (The doc looked and dressed alarmingly like Joe Pesci, and scarfed down Italian take-out during our sessions.) “Get a dog.” At least that’s what I think he said. His mouth was full….

* * *

Zmirak also wrote a more recent Lileks-like gem of a post. I savored it and then read it aloud to my wife to guffaws; she says I have his same lack of filter between brain and mouth. (Though I’m not at all into expletives.) A recent example: I’m in a meeting with my boss and bosses’ boss and various & sundry other big shots. My boss started it all by getting a little vaklempt and saying how in a previous meeting he could feel the bonding and how it was a “Kumbaya moment”. I jumped on this to say how I was glad the forced corporate Togetherness Days were over (the last one was about five years ago) and how I’ll never forget the trust-building exercise in which Heather F. sat on my lap while I squatted. Heather was a looker and this immediately seemed a bit unseemly, what that this particular memory should rise to the surface. I broke the ensuing awkward silence by saying, “Well THAT was off-topic”, to which everyone assented a bit too enthusiastically, including my boss who later said he couldn’t believe I went there.

I tend to think Zmirak’s singleness creates the right condition for humor (wasn’t Keillor funnier when he wasn’t in love?). A lack of sex tends to supply the requisite desperation. Married men who practice NFP can, fortunately, share it. But I think he’s in the sweet spot age-wise for his perfect word choice - being 30-ish years old means never having to consult a thesaurus.

* * *

What follows is tongue-in-cheek, but I’ve long been disappointed by my lack of hard drinking. I can’t hold a shotglass to my forebears or probably even C.S. Lewis or Chesterbelloc. (Certainly not Belloc.) Regardless whether the poetic imagination is nourished by Guinness it’s a sure thing that all my ancestors drank more alcohol than they did water and it’s a middle finger to evolution for me to drink so much Sprite rather than beer. Grace builds on nature and all that.

But there’s another reason for wishing to be a “modern drunkard”. Could alcoholism be a feature, not a bug? If the focus of it is changed towards its proper end it reflects the radicalism of the gospel. Heather King in “Redeemed” lays out what I knew without knowing I did:
I have a theory that all addiction is, at bottom, a search for God. Think about it: the blackout—a crude form of mystical union; the willingness to sacrifice reputation, family, money, health, one’s very life—a twisted martyrdom. Sometimes I think anyone as drawn as I am to suffering would have had to become a Catholic. But truly, it’s a gift to have seen the depths to which I’ll fall, the extent to which I’ll compromise myself, the lengths to which I’m willing to go to avoid God. The problem with avoiding God is that next thing I know, I’ve latched onto something outside myself, established a substitute God; and he, she, or it is holding me in complete bondage...Alcoholism is an interesting phenomenon. It’s the universal perverse tendency toward self-sabotage, except taken to the nth degree. Normal people look at an alcoholic and think, She drinks like me—just more. But it’s a difference in kind, not degree: for the person predisposed to alcoholism, the very first drink begins setting up a mental obsession and physical craving—in essence, a form of insanity—that is entirely beyond the normal drinker’s ken. Alcoholic drinking is only a symptom—of a soul divided deeply against itself; of mental, emotional, and, above all, spiritual conflict. The conflict is of a soul in which the universal human thirst for connection, meaning, love has gone terribly awry—a soul in the grip of a compulsion that has seized upon a substitute for love and made it into a god. Everybody’s spiritually sick to one degree or another, of course, but what’s interesting about alcoholism is that if I don’t tend to my spiritual sickness, I’ll die. I’ll pick up a drink, or a crack pipe, or a Xanax or three million, and die. Or I’ll kill myself. Or I’ll get so crazy someone else will kill me. It’s a condition that, over the years, has tended to grab my attention. As one of my sober friends says, “I’m not on a spiritual path because I’m so spiritual. I’m on a spiritual path because I’m so not spiritual.”
I admire people who burn out rather than rust out, like Ham. They have a singleness of purpose that if turned to religion would result in sanctity. Ham is frugal to the point of insanity. He would easily drink himself into madness or liver disease, whichever comes first. He works 70 hours a week and spends another ten studying for a certification exam. He writes entire screenplays All of this is unthinkable to me, for most addicts don’t seem to have a mediocre bone in their body. By definition, if you drink to excess you’re quite aware of the “God-shaped hole”. You don’t need to be convinced that pleasure isn’t the primary aim of life since you see it doesn’t work. He who drinks tepidly and moderately, prays tepidly and moderately?

* * *

So the priest in his homily during the Assumption Mass tells us that he was staring at a woman the other day. Not out of lust but disgust. 76 years old and she wore leather showing her aged mid-drift and having a low-cut halter. They were the clothes of a 20-yr old, he said. She flirted with 20-yr old men. He called it pathetic and said the difference between her and the Christian is that while she was terrified of aging, we shouldn’t because we believe in the Resurrection, including our own. But isn’t it also possible that the reason this is sad is not that she fears death but that she fears being ignored. Is it that she feels she won’t have worth? In this society, looks are so overvalued that I’ve often felt sympathy for how women must suffer from being treated one way when they were 28 and another when 68. A man doesn’t have to go through that. Now you can say, rightly, that she should seek her worth from God instead of other people. But isn’t that too neat and leave us off the hook, in just referring everything to God when we are the vehicles of God? I say there but for His grace go we all.

* * *

I stared like a smitten schoolboy at the farm scenes in front of me while on a recent bike ride. They were impossible to fully asssimilate given the infinity of viewing angles. I longed to drink in the scene in the Quixotic attempt to be able to draw from it in lean winter.

The weather has been freakishly good for the past six weeks but that’s not unexpected since July and August are the king and queen of months. They are to weather what Fred Aistaire and Ginger Rogers were to dancing. July begins with the crisp Sousa marches of the great PBS “A Capitol Fourth” followed by bright eye’d lightning bugs torching the night. It continues with midsummer’s own midpoint: MLB’s All-Star game. August kicks off with the Irish music fest and is followed shortly by the arrival of huge quantities of tasty fat red tomatoes on the vine. There is no scarcity principle in our tomato crop. All through August the days burn like bright candles while the apples adorning the trees next to the old railroad track ripen. The months of the year are so distinct as to be geographic: April is a foreign country compared to June.

While I'm still in "grateful mode", at least until mid-September, I do feel an element of sympathy in the editor of the "Catholic Times" recent piece:
“When I was a boy and we got a spell of August weather like this my dad would always proclaim, “Well, summer’s over. Better start getting ready for the snow!” My mother always hated that. She knew that there was still plenty of hot weather to come. But my dad loved the summer heat and dreaded the onset of winter so much that all it took was a couple of cool mornings to set him into an ill humor.”
While on the bike ride I pondered the glee to be “onto something”. Intellectually that is. Too often I denigrate being onto something as mere mirage. The only onto something one can be onto is love of God and neighbor. Words & thoughts are cheap, actions dear. It's so easy to think God is only interested in our production. It’s so easy to think that our neighbor needs us to fix his material or physical needs more than he needs our smile. It’s easy to think that God wants our obedience more than our love. Our technology tends to change us in its direction, such that we become more computer-like, more robotic. That is, more intolerant of error in ourselves or others, more emotionless, more focused on solutions to suffering rather than love.
Walking NYC

From Sunday's NYT, on unofficial walkers' rules in NY city:
...There is one austerity measure that has always been an ineluctable part of living here: walking. And it's still the very best way to get around.

Walking effectively is not unlike driving, minus the vehicle (or so I'm guessing; I've never had a driver's license in my life). There are speeders and road hogs. There is rage. And most important, there are rules. Unwritten, certainly. Unspoken (politely, at least) until now. Since there will be so many more of us taking to the streets, some checks and balances are in order to avoid complete mayhem. Herewith, just a few from the Unofficial New York City Walkers' Code. Learn them. Follow them.

CHOOSE A LANE: Yes, there are lanes. If you see something you like in a shop window, check your blind spot and, when it's safe to do so, shift over. (Happily, soon the stores will have closed, their windows boarded over, or smashed and empty from the latest blackout looting, rendering this rule as anachronistic as the requirement that men remove their hats in an elevator when a lady enters.)

NO TAILGATING: Walking too closely behind someone for more than a block is irksome. Either pick up the pace and pass (on the left), or hang back. There should ideally be a compact car's length between you and the next person. (Disregard this rule at rush hour.)

Indeed, close formations of any sort are best avoided. If you insist on walking three abreast, then listen carefully for the frustrated footfalls of those trying to get around your phalanx.

DON'T EVEN THINK OF PARKING HERE: Running into people you know is one of the great pleasures of life in a crowded metropolis. When you see a friend, take an ambulatory hiatus and step to the side. This is doubly required in the case of strollers. Similarly, unless your dog files an individual tax return, it is inappropriate bordering on immoral to block human progress by unreeling 30 feet of retractable leash across the pavement.

WE ARE NOT YOUR MOTHER: If you walk while texting or sending e-mail, thereby foisting the responsibility of avoiding collision onto the rest of us, you abrogate your rights as a walker. You, my friend, are a mere pedestrian. Whatever is on that saltine-sized screen is, I guarantee, not even fractionally as interesting as anything you might see out in the streets. Which leads to the lone daub of honey amid all this vinegar:

LOOK AROUND YOU: Every jaunt, every stroll, every errand brings you into contact with someone not like you. (Greetings, tinfoil-hat-wearing, manifesto-scribbling, profanity-spewing eccentric, fresh from your screening at MoMA!) Now — make sure to stand to the side while you do this next bit — look up. That old saw about craning your neck being what separates the visitors from the natives is nonsense. I've lived here for more than half of my 44 years, and I still rubberneck like a tourist.

See that thrilling array of cloud-dwelling spires, ziggurats and temples? Monuments, every one, to the age of relative plenty in which they were erected, and then mute sentinels during the inevitable subsequent downturns, from "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" to "Ford to City: Drop Dead." They got through it. So will you. Start by putting one foot in front of the other.

August 17, 2008

Obama's Choice

Ever wonder why Barack Obama is pro-choice and supports Roe v. Wade?

Well, he answered the question in a recent Rick Warren forum. Obama says:
"I believe in Roe v. Wade and come to that conclusion not because I'm pro-abortion, but because ultimately I don't think women make these decisions casually. They wrestle with these things in profound ways..."
Remarkably disappointing. Leaving aside whether the decisions are made casually or not, he is basically saying that a moral issue is culpable depending on whether we've "wrestled with it" beforehand. By this definition, premeditated murder is okay if it wasn't done casually or in the heat of the moment. It's the typical modern belief that there is nothing intrinsically evil.

This is why Obama is easier to listen in speeches than to read in transcript: he rarely says something meaty or principled, although that's not to say he isn't an extremist. He could've been more convincing by saying that he didn't know when life began and until he was certain he preferred to leave it up to the woman. "It's her body," seems more principled than assuming or assigning motives to the hundreds of thousands of mothers who choose to abort a child each year. Trying to make abortion sound kinder and gentler doesn't make it any kinder or gentler for the aborted children.

August 16, 2008

Something For My Archives

This is an fascinaing reference material - twenty-plus years of church bulletins. You can read more about it here, where I discovered it.

I'm a sucker for boundaries, for attempting to find out exactly at what point the past becomes "a foreign country".

This bulletin from the 1958 is an example of something you'd never see today (click for enlargement purposes)!
And it just wasn't giving money; here's a plea to attend one weekday Mass that week:


By 1967 there are inserts against abortion and information about the need to support Catholic schools. From 1970 on the kiss of peace:
By 1975, we have the basic smell & shape and of the current bulletin: businesslike, somewhat impersonal (perhaps due to an increase in size of the parish), non-hectoring and non-inspirational.

August 15, 2008

How 'bout Manhattan AND Farm Livin'?

Green acres is the place for me.
Farm livin' is the life for me.
Land spreadin' out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

New York is where I'd rather stay.
I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view.
Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.

...The chores.
...The stores.
...Fresh air.
...Times Square...




Evolution of a Diocesan Newspaper

It's been interesting to watch the fluctations in our local Catholic newspaper, the Catholic Times. I'd love to know the politics involved in the changes, primarily who chooses the editor since the newspaper becomes a reflection of said editor (I assume the bishop has the final say but it's probably someone lower in the chain who recommends him or her). Our paper has changed so much in the last five or six years that you could get whiplash.

In the beginning, or at least a decade or so ago, the paper was resolutely non-controversial: events & festivals were listed, the columnists were socially acceptable (i.e. moderate to liberal). All was calmness and the effect was mildly soporific. Then a new editor took over and made it more intellectually stimulating, more disputatious, and more conservative. He added the George Weigel column, printed long excerpts from Vatican encyclicals like Humane Vitae as well as more recent papal offerings, and encouraged letters to the editor (of which yours truly contributed - now I don't get printed anymore as I'm too disputatious/conservative).

Clearly this wasn't going to last, 'eh?

A new editor took over and made it a kindler, gentler publication. More felt-bannery. Sharp color photography was added, polemics discarded, and cultural Catholism was emphasized, including lots of photographs of kids. In the latest issue, abortion-rights supporter Elizabeth Edwards is proudly mentioned as speaking at a local Cathlic college. No mention, of course, was made of her advocacy of universal abortion coverage last fall.

It's just like old times.

August 14, 2008

Mother's Day

For the Church - in typical "opposite world" fashion - your birthday is your death day. That is, your birthday into Heaven.

As a child I thought it a shame that Mary lacked a birthday celebration like the other saints' received. But that's not true, it's today. Today is the day the celebration of her entrance into Heaven.

So instead of getting wrapped up in whether she died and then was taken up to Heaven or was taken up to Heaven before death, perhaps it's nice to just think of this day as THE Marian feast day.

This day always feels a bit more festive since it's the only big church holy day that occurs during the summer, at least for those of us in the Northern Hempishere.
Midnight at the O'Ramas

Except for Darwin's radical 18th-century hairstyle (evoking as he does a young Goethe), I was stunned by the physical resemblance between the Darwins and my wife and me:
(As you can see, my wife's hair was almost got into my Guinness during the taking of this picture. The things you do for love & TV Guide.)
Is Health Care a Human Right?
Obama No Messiah to the Unborn

Bill Luse says of Obama, "I've always thought he was a suave suit over an empty vest, but it appears that millions of people who call themselves Christian are prepared to vote for him."

With respect to the life issues, there is absolutely no reason to vote for him over Al Gore or John Kerry. Obama is to the pro-life cause what Richard Nixon was to eliminating corruption in government: i.e. not particularly helpful.

Bill O'Reilly surprised me yesterday, which he rarely does, when he said the question he'd most like to ask Obama is how he can have "found Jesus" and still be for partial birth abortion. For this to come from O'Reilly, who speaks much more about terrorism and national security than unborn children or Christianity, is telling. But O'Reilly sees it as a key to understanding Obama, whom for Bill is still a mystery.

I don't see Obama as mysterious as I did before the primaries. I now see him as someone with a yen for socialism but who excels in being politically palatable to centrists via externals like speech and looks. What makes someone mysterious and attractive are those who have an underlying philosophy, a way of seeing the world, but who are open to "new data". Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan was a Democrat who was open to new data; he warned of how the collapse of the black family was going to have far-reaching effects in terms of poverty and disintegration of inner cities. As an example from the other side, Willam F. Buckley was a conservative who was for legalizing drugs. Moynihan was excoriated, predictably, and like Pope Paul VI who was excoriated after Humane Vitae, lowered his profile. Pope Paul VI never wrote another encyclical and Sen. Moynihan never bucked the Democratic establishment again, at least not on the primary issue of our time (although at least he did say that partial birth abortion "comes as close to infanticide as anything I have seen in our judiciary.")

So guts interest me, presumably because of my lack thereof, but only guts with intelligence and self-restraint. McCain has guts, but it is guts without philosophy, guts without self-restraint (Feingold-McCain law is unconstitutional), guts for the sake of guts. The warrior ethic, but without the leavening of depth.

I'll definitely vote for McCain but without much enthusiasm. His philosophy seems to be neither conservative or liberal but some sort of hybrid based on his gut instinct on a given issue. He's against lobbyists so he limits free speech. He's weak on stem cells, which means his stand on the life issues is not due to principle. He admits to not knowing anything about economics. I don't trust him not to give away the store due to global warming. None of these things bothers me individually so much as they bother me collectively. I don't think he has much of coherent world view. "Mister we could use a man like Ronald Reagan again."

So the wealthiest nation in history kills a million of its children annually, but Jim Wallis would prefer we focus on a government solution to poverty. Even though abortion would not go away with the reversal of Roe v. Wade, that reversal would likely save more lives than any income redistribution plan. I've heard it said that we long for a scapegoat and that Christ ascended the cross in order to be that scapegoat, to show us how capable of evil we are that we might repent. If nothing else, the acceptance of abortion is the clearest proof since Calvary that humans are tragically flawed and capable of great evil.

Got a phone call from Ham of Bone who told me about his former evangelical pastor who has "drunk the Kool-aid" of his new mentor Jim Wallis, and who now supports Obama and eschews the fundamental issue of life.

He (Bone) humorously said he called that I have might schadenfreude for the miscues of the "junior circuit" as I refer to the "upstart" American League, he applying it to the Protestantism vis-a-vis Catholicism. But I felt no schadenfreude as evangelicals and Catholics are indispensable not only to the pro-life cause, but in seeing the kingdom of God as something that can't be measured in purely materialistic terms.

August 13, 2008

Selections from Recent Reads  Or Why's My Kindle So Heavy?

From Pete Hamill's "My Manhattan":
The creators of the American Yiddish theater also provided what earlier entertainers had given to the Irish and the Germans: the immense gift of laughter. They used gags, skits, slapstick, and wit to make fun of one another. Romanians made fun of Hungarians. Both made fun of Poles. All made fun of Russians. They skewered the greenhorns, the pompous nouveau rich, the greedy landlords, the humorless goyim, the corrupt politicians; and they added something else, an attitude that forever shifted the New York mind: irony.

That is, they made jokes out of the difference between what America promised and what America actually delivered. Irony remains the essence of American humor to this day. They were also triumphantly eclectic. The creators of the Yiddish theater made their own versions of what they saw the Irish doing in the rowdy theaters of the nearby Bowery.
...

The Gilded Age had begun. Old New York sniffed. The new people, to Knickerbocker noses, smelled crude, ill-mannered, ignorant about the refinements of life. They showed far too much, uh, energy. They bought art by the crate. They failed to distinguish between forks at dinner. They preferred fat slabs of beef and mashed potatoes to the intricate delicacies of Delmonico’s. But the old Knickerbockers could count. Their own fortunes were dwindling. They had given their faith to the monotheistic god of property, and that god was now failing them. They would buy houses of summer refuge in Saratoga or Newport, if only they could afford them. Why should some robber baron peddle his homely daughter to an impoverished English duke?There were, after all, many beautiful young Knickerbocker women who could begin the process of civilizing these rich new American men. Slowly, an exchange was made. The Knickerbockers began to merge with the new money, exchanging bloodlines and manners for a share of the new wealth.
Liked the humor of the dog taking the man for a walk in this "Netherland" (by Joseph O'Neill) snippet:
On my floor there lived an octogenarian person of indeterminate gender—it took a month of surreptitious scrutiny before I’d satisfied myself she was a woman—who told me, by way of warning and reassurance, that she carried a gun and would kick the ass of anybody who made trouble on our floor. There was also an old and very sick black gentleman (now dead), apparently a legendary maker of prints and lithographs. There was a family with three young boys who ran wild in the hallways with tricycles and balls and trains. There was an unexplained Finn. There was a pit bull that never went out without a panting, menacing furniture dealer in tow. There was a Croatian woman, said to be a famous nightlife personality, and there was a revered playwright and librettist, whom it almost interested that I knew a little Greek and who introduced me to Arthur Miller in the elevator. There was a girl with gothic makeup who babysat and walked dogs. All of them were friendly to me, the crank in the suit and tie.
From George Will's latest book:
Matthew Arnold, for example, was a fastidious social critic and hence an accomplished complainer. When he died, an acquaintance (Robert Louis Stevenson, no less) said: “Poor Matt, he’s gone to Heaven, no doubt—but he won’t like God.” American social critics wince when this country, in its rambunctious freedom, falls short, as inevitably it does, of the uniquely high standards it has set for itself. But different things make different people wince, because sensibilities differ. And nearly four decades of observing American politics and culture have convinced me that, in both, sensibility is fundamental. That is, people embrace a conservative (or liberal) agenda or ideology, or develop a liberal (or conservative) political and social philosophy, largely because of something basic to their nature—their temperament, as shaped by education and other experiences. Broadly—very broadly—speaking, there are, I believe, conservative and liberal stances toward life, conservative and liberal assumptions about how history unfolds, and conservative and liberal expectations about how the world works. This is one reason why we have political categories like “liberal” and “conservative”: People tend to cluster. That is one reason why we have political parties. This collection of my writings is not designed to recapitulate the large events of recent years.
From Ross Douthat on Chesterton:
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, it's worth pointing out that a great many opponents of slavery in the United States, Abraham Lincoln included, were racists in much the same way that Chesterton was an anti-Semite - possessed of ideas about black inferiority, the necessity of the separation of the races, and so on and so forth, that look morally abominable to us today. But it would be at least mildly peculiar to attack Lincoln, let alone the more strident abolitionists of that time...

But as with Chesterton, the two faces of Solzhenitsyn were really one face: His witness against Communism emerged from the same ground as his critique of Western liberalism. When Hitchens writes that the great dissident's "mixture of attitudes and prejudices puts one in mind more of Dostoyevsky than of Tolstoy," he's absolutely right. But it's not a coincidence that Russia's two most eloquent and prophetic critics of utopian radicalism - Dostoevsky who attacked it in its infancy, and Solzhenitsyn who helped usher it into extinction - were both standing outside Western liberalism, while so many people inside liberalism busied themselves making apologies for terror and mass murder. Which is why Solzhenitsyn, like Chesterton, isn't important despite his deviations from "the current consensus of liberal good will." He's important because of them - because his deviationism allowed him to see things that others were blind to, and because reading past giants who stand foursquare outside the current New York liberal...