December 31, 2008

And a 2009 Greeting as well


From the January 2, 1900 edition of The Bourbon News (Paris, Ky). Found here, where they are digitalizing the nation's newspapers.
_____

And don't forget that bad indigestion has broken many an engagement...

Oy Vey...

Link:
"High School Musical" star Ashley Tisdale reveals what keeps her motivated to maintain her fabulous figure. In an interview with Shape magazine, the 23-year-old...
23-year old? You got to be kidding. This is like saying, "We interviewed an aardvark in order to give us the secret of developing a long snout...". Come back in twenty years kiddo.

Some Obscure Books

Librarything.com now has a quadzillion books and members and so it's becoming increasingly rare to find books that only I own. Still, there are a few. Here are books that apparently no other librarything participant has logged (only titles in order to keep it simple):
Unmasking the Devil: Dramas of Sin and Grace in the World of Flannery O'Connor

Thurber Album a Collection of Pieces

After Asceticism: Sex, Prayer and Deviant Priests

The Brownson-Hecker Correspondence

A Packet of Letters A Selection from the Correspondence of John Henry Newman

Parched : a memoir

Newsflash! : my surprising journey from secular anchor to media evangelist

Acoustic Ladyland

Mount Calvary Cemetery (Images of America (Arcadia Publishing))

The Unmaking of a Mayor

Correspondence of Thomas Ebeneezer Thomas Concerning the Anti-Slavery Conflict in Ohio

Memoirs and Writings of the Very Reverend James F. Callaghan, D.D.

The Catholic journey through Ohio

History of Educational Legislation and Administration in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati

The Flesh of God

Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America

2006 Baseball Card Price Guide

Crosley Field (Images of Baseball: Ohio) (Images of Baseball)

1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

Marian Apparitions, the Bible and the Modern World

Percy Mackaye, Poet Of Old Worlds And New

Dipped in sky;: A study of Percy MacKaye's "Kentucky mountain cycle",

Padre Pio of Pietrelcina Letters Vol III Correspondence w His Spiritual Daughters 1915-1923 1st Edition in English

Tales of a Missionary in Zambia

Shalom 2000

Germany Confronts Modernization German Culture and S

Breaking the Chains: Understanding Religious Addiction and Religious Abuse

Mexico and the United States, 1821-1973 (America & the World S.)

Eastern Catholic Churches in America

And Justice for None - on no-fault divorce

Bridget's Rosary

My beloved for me and I for my beloved: Eucharistic Prayer Book

Stochastic Systems

Ohio History (pub 1978) - Vol 87 # 1, 2 and 4

The Robinsons' (1872)

Who's Who in baseball - 1989

Historic Front Pages of the 20th Century - from the Columbus Dispatch

The Divine Grace - The Coptic Orthodox Church and Dogmas

A Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about "The Passion of the Christ"

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4 Salvation

The Douay-Rheims New Testament of the Holy Bible

Henry Thoreau,: American rebel

Backwoods musings

New Budget Landscaping: Designing Your Outdoor Space for Use, Comfort, and Pleasure

Shorter Christian Prayer

Peace, love and joy

Artes de Mexico - El Tequilla

Artes de Mexico - Visones de Guadalupe

City of the Dead: New Orleans Cemetery No. 1

The Treasury of San Marco Venice

Corca Dhuibhne: Its Peoples and Their Buildings

Hippocrene U.S.A. Guide to Irish America (Hippocrene USA Guides)

Irish Blessings (Little Books)

The spirit is mercy;: The story the Sisters of Mercy in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 1858-1958

Funk and Wagnall's Standard Reference Encyclopedia (1961) (23 vols)

Divine Mysteries of the Holy Rosary (excerpts from Ven. Mary of Agreda's "City of God"

Marian Apparitions Today: Why So Many?

Orthodoxy and Catholicism: the Differences

The People's Mass Book

The New Catholics

Mike Spino's Mind/Body Running Program

How to watch and control your blood pressure

American Literature of the 17th and 18th centuries

Sayings of Samuel Pepys (Sayings Series)

Ostia Antica: A Guide to the Excavations

As It Were: Stories of Old Columbus

Boyhood of Great Men Intended as an Example to Youth

Gerry Faust: The Golden Dream

Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week

History of the Great War

The Redemption of Corporal Nolan Giles

Appointment In Rome: The Church in America Awakening

The Circle Dancers

Healing journey : the odyssey of an uncommon athlete

The Medjugorje deception : Queen of Peace, ethnic cleansing, ruined lives

Out on a Limb

Christ is in our midst : letters from a Russian monk

Two towers : the de-christianization of America and a plan for renewal

December 30, 2008

Debt and Japan

Peter Schiff talks about the need for greater US savings, and while I understand how there's a tipping point at which debt becomes too burdensome, I'm having trouble seeing the connection between savings rates and a successful economy. You want a nation of great savers? Check out Japan. They save like Ham of Bone on steroids. (Well not quite but...) And look at their lackluster economy.

In a spendthrift economy, savers seem to receive disproportionate benefit. It seems unfair: they benefit from their neighbor's spending habits by enjoying the strong economy that results from that spending - i.e. the jobs and healthy stock market -- but without giving up the nest egg.

Cokie Roberts whispered the "J" word a couple months ago during the fiscal crisis. "We don't want to become another Japan," she said and it does seems their economy has mostly flatlined since the 90s. Check out this Japan index fund chart:
It tain't pretty.

(While on the subject of things economic, I'm guessing this book probably could be reduced to simply saying "Barnum was right".)

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

We continue to celebrate Christmas to the eve of Epiphany. We give each child a small gift every morning. Most gifts cost $1 or $2, but there are some pricier ones in there. Credit my wife with the amazing hassle of organizing those “twelve days of Christmas” gifts. We started the tradition when our youngest were just toddlers, because we remembered the “post-Christmas blues” and wanted our children to have a softer landing. I’ve never seen a trace of pCbs on their faces, so I think it works. I also like the idea of emphasizing that Christmas isn’t a one-day affair. If more Americans got in touch with the rhythms of the liturgical calendar, they’d be happier. - Eric of "The Daily Eudemon"

We got back from Madison, Wisconsin Sunday night. That morning we awoke to a temperature barely above zero, with a wind chill of -22. This is the kind of cold that draws the cajones up into the safety of their pre-pubescent shelter. And yet human beings have managed to make habitation there. Why remains a mystery. It must be the quality of the cheese....I haven't had time to sit in silence and ponder the absolute uniqueness in the world's history of the Event we celebrate tonight and tomorrow, and on, I suppose, through Epiphany. I'd like to have one myself. - Bill of Apologia

The sacrifice you want to make isn't always the sacrifice God wants. - Eve Tushnet's nomination for "What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate?"

The human body is an instrument, not an ikon. - Eve Tushnet's candidate for "What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat?"


- photo posted by Frederick of "Deep Furrows"

When I was ten, in Maryland,
The first snow came on Christmas Eve;
I ran to see, took Mother's hand,
"Look," she whispered, "and now believe
Things sometimes happen as the stories say."
I watched it fall, my heart ran wild,
The whiteness turning dark to day
Like the star at the birth of the manger child.
It sparkled in the frosty night
And settled soundless on the window pane,
Coating a car in the streetlamp's light,
My yard a brightly jeweled terrain.
And I believed what the stories told
Of mythic strangers bearing gifts,
...

Let snow, a mantle from heaven, fall;
Swaddle us in your white array
(A royal robe, a shroud and pall)
That I may believe what the stories told,
That by a Death was sin undone,
That Life was born in a stable cold -
So cover us now, and make us one.

- Bill Luse of Apologia

The Presence of Grace and Other Book Reviews... is a collection of the book reviews O’Connor wrote for the Georgia Bulletin (now from the Archdiocese of Atlanta) and the Southern Cross (Diocese of Savannah) from 1956 to just a couple of months before her death in 1964. Now ask yourselves. What diocesan newspaper is seeking out Catholic writers of literary fiction (and there are some out there) to pen book reviews for them? To pen anything? - Amy Welborn Dubriel

Mass was taken out of it [too]. - blogger at Army of Martyrs via Sancta Sanctis on the taking of "Christ" out of Christmas

I wore my pedometer Christmas Eve after the kids went to bed. I logged in over a mile of walking, just carrying presents up the stairs to put under the tree. - Eric Scheske on what’s it like to prepare Christmas for seven children

Civilization is sublimated eros. But then so is sex. - Maggie Gallagher in "Enemies of Eros"

For who can be properly nourished, if indeed he be of human stock, without wine? St. Paul said to someone who had consulted him (without remembering that, unlike St. Luke, he was no physician), ‘Take a little wine for your stomach’s sake.’ But I say, take plenty of it for the sake of your soul and all that appertains to the soul: scholarship; verse; social memory and the continuity of all culture. There may be excess in wine; as there certainly is in spirits and champagne, but in wine one rarely comes across it; for it seems to me that true wine rings a bell and tells you when you have had enough. But there is certainly such a thing as a deficiency of wine; and such a deficiency is one of the most awful ravenous beasts that can fasten upon a living soul… - Hilaire Belloc quoted by the blogger at "Old World Swine"

Can't Have It Both Ways Though

R. Reno in First Things On the Square shows that determinism really won't make any difference in our ethical behavior in the real world:
The ability of science to explain and illuminate the webs of interconnection does not dislodge our deeper intuition that our deeply embedded, highly influenced, and profoundly physical mental lives are somehow genuinely our own—and somehow our responsibility to discipline and cultivate.

Roskies and Nichols think that we are more sophisticated philosophically than philosophers (and scientists) give us credit. It’s quite reasonable for us to reason about the actual world differently than an imagined world—and their experiment shows that we do. This is especially true when we are asked to reflect on the moral significance of abstractions—and the proposition “all our choices are determined and not free” is nothing if not an abstraction.

As Hillary Putnam has observed in a related context, “The impossibility of a metaphysical grounding for ethics shows that there is something wrong with metaphysics, and not with ethics.” The undergrads at University of Utah don’t know Hillary Putnam from Sir Edmund Hillary, but they seem to agree. “In the world taken as actual,” Roskies and Nichols conclude, we assume that “people are morally responsible regardless of the truth of determinism.”
But doesn't that fly in the face of the assumption of most of us (not Reno necessarily) that in a post-Christian world things will be terrible because "everything is permissible"? Perhaps I'm missing something but Reno's post implies things won't get too bad because "real-world consequences focus the mind," as Reno wrote, and even without an awareness that God exists people will be constrained from much evil simply because of earthly consequences.

December 29, 2008

When Did Santa Come Under Fire?

For this post I used Google Books as my main source of "research", which primarily consists of attempting to discern when parents become squeamish about "lying" to their children about the existence of Santa Claus. It seems to have its genesis around the 1890s, which is not surprising given that that was an age particularly devoted to belief in the gods of science and rationalism (perhaps best symbolized by the "unsinkable ship".)

Before 1850, an arbitrary cut-off, references to Santa Claus were most always positive and of a non-controversial nature. In William Euen's "On the Importance of an Early Correct Education of Children" Santa Claus is not a subject of controversy as implied by off-hand advice to have "Santa Claus foot the bill". (Though not always. There is a somewhat cryptic couple of lines in the Knickerbocker magazine of 1850: "There is a puritanical device afoot to abolish Santa Claus! "Abolish Santa Claus!" This single exclamation, from the mouth of the juvenile 'PUBLIC', will put an end to that plot.")

The 1849 Southern Literary Messenger refers to Santa a "kindly superstition" and hopes that "these traditions don't fall into desuetude, for they find their origin in the affections and serve to brighten the rugged pathway of duty." "Desuetude" suggests disuse and outdatedness rather than outright rejection.

So 99% of books and articles of pre-1850 references to Santa didn't question his positive influence. I suspect that as belief in God began to come under fire, Santa Claus and faeries would also for fear that God would be seen in the same light. Mentions of Santa from 1890 to 1915 were filled with concern. The famous editorial "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" came in 1897. That same year in "The Arena", Santa Claus was defended in utilitarian fashon: "The myth of Santa Claus and fairy stories seem to have a wonderful fascination for the child brain."

In 1898, Emilie Poulsson well demonstrates the controversy in her "Christmas with Children":
"The Santa Claus idea has its advocates and disparagers, and there is force to what both urge for and against the children's belief in their patron saint. The only caution which I think is necessary to observe is with regard to the manner of giving the idea and explaining it as a fanciful story when the child is older. The mother must not make Santa Claus too seriously real, and must not break with rude abruptness the spell which she has woven in earlier days."
From 1890 to 1915 there are a spate of articles on the existence of Santa:




_____

A much more recent link studies the issue (literally), through our modern view of truth (i.e. through numbers):
Serge Larivee, a professor of psycho-education from Universite de Montreal, together with fellow researcher Carole Senechal from the Univerity of Ottawa, both in Canada, performed a comparison on the way 1,500 children (7 to 13 years of age) related to the myth of Santa back in 1896, and in 1979 (obviously, not the same children), and studied the implications of the changes.

As a general rule, Larivee notes that "When they learn the truth, children accept the rules of the game and even go along with their parents in having younger children believe in Santa. It becomes a rite of passage in that they know they are no longer babies," shows the official site of the University of Montreal. Among the findings of the study was the fact that some 22% of the children in 1896 were disappointed to find that Santa did not exist, compared to 29% in the study performed in 1979.

"The constant outcome of the two studies was that children generally discovered through their own observations and experiences that Santa doesn't exist," shared Larivee. "And their parents confirmed their discovery. Children ask their parents, for example, how Santa gets in the house if there's no chimney. And even if the parents say they leave the door unlocked, the child will figure out that Santa can't be everywhere at the same time and that reindeer can't be that fast."

History shows an increase in the tendency to perpetuate the myth even after kids' discovering it as such, as it maintains a good mood and joyfulness: 54% of the parents did so in 1896, 73% in 1979 and 80% in 2000.
___________

Perhaps the anti-Santa angst might ultimately trace back to the invention of the printing press. Neil Postman writes in Amusing Ourselves to Death:
Typography fostered the modern idea of individuality but it destroyed the medieval sense of community and integration. Typography created prose but made poetry into an exotic and elitist form of expression. Typography made modern science possible but transformed religious sensibility into mere superstition.
Postman argues not that truth is relative, but that the media affects the way we view truth. He goes on to say that every medium of expression has benefits and drawbacks and that typography obviously has many benefits and is preferable to what we have now (television & electronics).

Most interesting is what he says about our modern view of truth. I can relate to this since I do tend to view economics solely through the lens of numbers. I can also relate to the modern disdain of myth. For years I thought of the book of Genesis as completely irrelevant to much of anything - it was meaningful for people a thousand years ago, but what could it say to me today? After all, it didn't really happen that way (I wasn't then, nor am now, a young-earther). And yet during the late '90s I was blown away by an exegesis of Genesis and how crucial the first few chapters are. The incredible truth that God saw creation and proclaimed it "good" is the lynchpin of much of our theology, not to mention the Fall and Original Sin. There is as much truth and complexity in Genesis as in the letters of St. Paul, and that was mind-blowing to me. Postman writes:
Truth does not, and never has, come unadorned. It must appear in its proper clothing or it is not acknowledged, which is a way of saying that 'the truth' is a kind of cultural prejudice. Each culture conceives of it being most authentically expressed in certain symbolic forms that another culture may regard as trivial or irrelevant...We have enough [prejudices] of our own, as for example, the equation we moderns make of truth and quantification. In this prejudice, we come astonishingly close to the mystical beliefs of Pythagoras and his followers who attempted to submit all of life to the sovereignty of numbers. Many of our psychologists, sociologists, economists and other latter-day cabalists will have numbers to tell them the truth or they will have nothing. Can you imagine, for example, a modern economist articulating truths about our standard of living by reciting a poem? Or by telling what happened to him during a late-night walk through East St. Louis? Or by offering a series of proverbs and parables..?...To the modern mind, resonating with different media-metaphors, the truth in economics is believed to be best discovered and expressed in numbers. Perhaps it is. I will not argue the point. I mean only to call attention to the fact that there is a certain measure of arbitrariness in the forms that truth-telling may take. We must remember that Galileo merely said that the language of nature is written in mathematics. He did not say everything is. And even the truth about nature need not be expressed in mathmatics. For most of human history, the language of nature has been the language of myth and ritual.
Truth thousands of years ago was conveyed through myth. By Christ's time it was parable and proverb. In our time it is through numbers. But truth is not limited by the "adornment" it carries, even though every age thinks it has a monopoly on truth.

Le Weekend

Sitting around our kitchen table trying to decide which movie to go to felt like a meeting of the UN Security Council. Isn't that where there are five or so powerful nations, all with veto power?

Eventually we drew straws, or in this case toothpicks, a foreign concept to one of us who apparently thought she could tell the length of the 'pick by the small amount peeking above my wife's fist. "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" won.

Naturally we didn't see it.

Of the movies in contention there was the aforementioned talking dog movie, which personally I was struggling with after my sister saw a trailer and said it was really silly. Which really shouldn't be surprising because we're talking talking dogs here. It's not going to be Shakespeare. But I really liked the Mexican angle since I'm now almost a native, having been down there three times. I could lapse into Spanish at any moment. Podría caducar en español en todo momento.

There was "Four Christmases" which I'd seen but couldn't judge accurately because I had gone into the movie with exceedingly low expectations (I'd almost never seen a movie with the word 'Christmas' in it that I've liked, including "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation") and I was giddy from being off work. A slide show of a stranger's European vacation might've been exciting given the novelty of getting paid to watch a movie. But I was partial to it since it had the greatest comedic line I'd heard in a decade. Talking about his sad childhood, Vince Vaughn says it was like "Shashank Redemption" but without the gentle elderly black man to help him through it. I could also much relate to his gag reflex when someone else vomits. Highbrow humor indeed.

I wanted to see "Valkryie" but that drew no interest. "Benjamin Button" looked pretty good and I'm surprised Mom, whose birthday we were celebrating this 27th day of December, was uninterested. Eventually she limited the field to "Four Christmases" and "Bevery Hills", partially because I'd talked up "Four Christmases" so. Someone hated Jim Carrey so "Yes Man" was dismissed. "Seven Pounds" was said to be too sad for the Christmas season, and maybe any season. "Marley and Me" was a non-starter since my wife can't see movies in which the dogtagonist (dog + protagonist) dies in the end.

Round and round we went, debating the merits and demerits, reading reviews and assessing whether 13-year old Katelyn could see it. It actually took longer to decide which movie to go to than to see the movie we eventually chose.

Shopping-wise, due to the time wasted movie wrangling, instead of going to Easton we settled for Tuttle, which is like settling for watching the Cincinnati Bengals when you could watch the Buckeyes. Or it's like having a Bo-tox'd blowhard like Joe Biden as VP instead of Sarah Palin. A stiff price we paid for movie indecisiveness!
___________


What sylvan glade, at least in frigid winter, compares to the beauty of a cleaned bathroom? It was all I could do to stop from taking a picture of it so that it would last longer. Because that's the thing about cleaning - the results are so temporary as to make the seasons look, by comparison, almost eternal. "Take a picture, it'll last longer" was the childhood rejoinder to star-struck boys from pubescent girls. Now in middle-age the shining white bathtub has a similar effect on me.

I sing the bathroom electric! Yes the bathroom shines in glory, the product of necessity. They say necessity is the mother of invention but I say that a visit from your mother is the mother of cleaning the bathroom. It was all I could do not to buy five bathmats as if I could buy my way out of the future desultory sight of mildew. (Who was it who said the Irish don't clean well because they'd rather be reading? There's a nice spin.)
_____

Fresh from victory over the bathroom gremlins I descended on the quiet park path along a rural lake. The rain was of a continuous variety but felt good as it conferred virtue as well as ensuring privacy.

This self-same lake was the site, so short a time ago, of the Labor Day canoe trip. It always feels a highlight of summer somehow, the conquering of the internals of a lake we normally only hike around.

On this day there was no canoeing although I always fantasize that I was an Indian and hardy enough to treat the winter as if just a wee bit chillier than summer. I imagine barely noticing the changes in nature, or at least giving them no quarter, of wearing a light t-shirt and shorts to this place in deep December and pretending there has been no intervening change. It's folly; recognizing the seasons is as necessary as recognizing human limits. (To quote Miss O'Connor, "In genuine tragedy and comedy, the definite is explored to its extremity and man is shown to be the limited creature he is...")

Sometimes I imagine the lake fantasy but with all the technological improvements that I can bring to it. Bundling up warmly, with proper shoes, so that my feet don't half-freeze as they did today after they got soaked. It's along these times when I think of how we try to alter nature to the point of unrecognizability, such as the way poor Michael Jackson wanted to be white or a woman or some combination thereof. Nature often has the last word. Sometimes I think of the plot of a fictional piece in which an Indian suffers from seasonal affective disorder. Something like this:
The squaws leave and the tribal council begins. "Runs with Elk" passes the pipe while the elders stare ahead with dark, impassive eyes. Mention is made of the white man and what to trade him for firearms.

The young semi-warrior named Bows with Glittens asks to speak. He is recognized by the wizened chief. He says that it's increasingly clear that the tribe needs more light boxes to treat an epidemic of seasonal affective disorder.

"When the light grows dim, I have a craving for sweets and feel sorta depressed," said Bows with Glittens. "I hear the white man has an invention called 'light boxes' which emit full-spectrum light that mimics the sun in the time before the deer mate."
I continued to walk to the sweet spot, that place where it's fun to walk, where the rhythm is infectious and where you'd sooner stride than not. I feel relaxed in the sleety rain and unbidden, a song comes to mind only it turns out I mangled the lyrics. I thought Neil Diamond sings in "I've Been This Way Before": "And I've been renewed! I've been regained." But Google proves otherwise, smashing blissful ignorance:
I've seen the light
And I've seen the flame
And I've been this way before
And I'm sure to be this way again
For I've been refused
And I've been regained
And I've seen your eyes before
And I'm sure to see your eyes again

For I've been released
And I've been regained
And I've sung my song before
And I'm sure to sing my song again

Some people got to laugh
Some people got to cry
Some people got to make it through
By never wondering why

The Modern Mindset

Some lack the Sacraments tnfoto*.
"God's fair," we say,
so sacraments can't be important.

Some lack the Bible tnfoto.
"God's fair," we say,
so the Bible can't be important.

Some hate others due to poor upbringing tnfoto.
"God's fair," we say,
so behavior can't be important.

Some are never born tnfoto.
"God's fair," we say,
so ... ?

Contingencies matter because
the One Who is Not Contingent
came to earth to prove it.

* - (tnfoto = "Through no fault of their own.")

December 26, 2008

For those about to read, we salute you!

Pegasus's ode to books.

The Buckleys



Story here
Oh what a fascinating family! The Buckleys are to me what the Kennedys are to the public at large. I can hardly wait to read Christopher Buckley's memoir, due out next spring. I'd like to learn more about Pat. What a fighter! What a mixture of paradox! Earth mother, nurturer who was to the right of Bill politically. She who, even when she wasn't speaking to Bill, would pack lavish lunches for him. This Manhattan socialite, hobnobber with the rich and famous, believed foremost in taking care of her man. And a bit of him died with her - how copious were his tears at her passing.

Pat in later life dismissed and maybe loathed the New York years. One-by-one her earthly delights were taken away, especially in the form of the people she outlived. Priests and nuns live longer than lay people. Could it be because they are less subject to losing their will to live because they are attached to the spiritual, delights which do not pass away?

To indulge the sentiment, in properly seasonal Auld Lang Syne fashion:
Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? could we?

December 23, 2008



Merry Christmas to all!

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

It takes man's humility to respond to God's humility. - Pope Benedict XVI

--Photo from Spanish blogger at "Compostela", who finds a use for his blog beyond therapy: "Y este blog, aparte de medio para hacer amigos (y algún enemigo), para terapia, como sustitutivo de la creación literaria y como altavoz me ha servido para tener un disco. A partir de ahora lo podré contar: con mi blog he conseguido un disco (alguna cosa más, he de decir, en honor a la verdad)."

The mistakes that our elites made, and that led us to this pass, have their roots in flaws common to all elites, in all times and places - hubris, arrogance, insulation from the costs of their decisions, and so forth. But they also have their roots in flaws that I think are somewhat more particular to this elite, and this time and place. Flaws like an overweening faith in technology's capacity to master contingency, a widespread assumption that the future doesn't have much to learn from the past, and above all a peculiar combination of smartest-guys-in-the-room entitlement (don't worry, we deserve to be moving millions of dollars around on the basis of totally speculative models, because we got really high SAT scores) and ferocious, grasping competitiveness (because making ten million dollars isn't enough if somebody else from your Ivy League class is making more!). It's a combination, at its worst, that marries the kind of vaulting, religion-of-success ambitions (and attendant status anxieties) that you'd expect from a self-made man to the obnoxious entitlement you'd expect from a to-the-manor-born elite - without the sense of proportion and limits, of the possibility of tragedy and the inevitability of human fallibility, that a real self-made man would presumably gain from starting life at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder (as opposed to the upper-middle class, where most meritocrats starts) ... and without, as well, the sense of history, duty, self-restraint, noblesse oblige and so forth that the old aristocrats were supposed to aspire to. - Ross Douthat

From Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries to Keep Your Theology Off My Technology: Why Can't We All Just Get Along? - Title of Meullerstuff link to Creative Minority Report post

It's like Christmas in December! - title of Biil White post concerning Ellyn's decision to RSS feed and another's to add comments

Once again inaction, coupled with rigorous drinking, brings about the desired result. - Gregg the Obscure

Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops. - Kurt Vonnegut

I have never been so upset by a poll in my life. Only 22% of Americans now believe "the movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jews," down from nearly 50% in 1964. The Anti-Defamation League, which released the poll results last month, sees in these numbers a victory against stereotyping. Actually, it just shows how dumb America has gotten. Jews totally run Hollywood...As a proud Jew, I want America to know about our accomplishment. Yes, we control Hollywood. Without us, you'd be flipping between "The 700 Club" and "Davey and Goliath" on TV all day. - Joel Stein in the LA Times via Terrence Berres

Don't count on some rigorous theological analysis--for one thing, I lack the wherewithal to undertake such an analysis--for another, it would be like a semiotic analysis of the Bobbsey Twins novels. - Steven Riddle, unimpressed by William Young's "The Shack"

The first sentence in Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind:
"The stupid party": this is John Stuart Mill's description of conservatives. Like certain other summary dicta which nineteenth-century liberals thought to be forever triumphant, his judgment needs review in our age of disintegrating liberal and radical philosophies.
If liberal and radical philosophies are disintegrating today (Kirk wrote in 1953), what do we call the growing spirit of Leviathan in Washington that claims competence in all areas, great and small, of every citizen's life?
Upon earth there is not his like,
a creature without fear.
He beholds everything that is high;
he is king over all the sons of pride. —Job 41:33-34, on Leviathan
- Bill of Summa Minutiae

It's Oktoberfest Somewhere

Sure it's cold and icy with below-zero windchills. A long way from Oktoberfesting. And yet just as it's 5:00 somewhere, it's Oktoberfest somewhere. A couple of pictures from this past season:


You know it's a partying town when there's a sign forbidding "pole climbing".


Beer cubed!

Acedia & the Times

This review in the NY Times about a new book by Kathleen Norris was predictable as far as the Grey Lady favoring an organic explanation for sloth rather than sin, but was not so predictable in exactly how it did so. Personally, I was disappointed in the lack of meat on the review's bones. I'm always sympathetic to therapeutic explanations but this seemed to serve unwittingly as an apologia for Norris's case.

Ms. Harrison, the author of the Times piece, suggests maybe the devil talked Norris into taking the side of the practice of virtue, but I really don't think Harrison wants to go there. It's far more believable to think that she is doing Wormwood's bidding than Norris. The therapy culture, after all, has led to so much less sin hasn't it? Wasn't the priest abuse scandal partially caused by the view that they they needed only therapy?

Then too it might've been counterproductive for her to mention all the lights cited by Norris:
Dante. Pascal. St. Ignatius of Loyola. John Donne. Chaucer. Seneca. Coleridge. Kierkegaard. Baudelaire. Chekhov. Joyce. Albee. Joseph Brodsky. F. Scott Fitzgerald. John Berryman. Flannery O’Connor. Graham Greene. W. H. Auden. Kafka. Evelyn Waugh. Aldous Huxley. Karl Menninger. Thomas Merton. William Styron.
Oy! That's sort of like a prosecuting attorney mentioning that Mother Teresa proclaimed the defendant's innocence.

If Kathleen Norris used to be the darling of the Eastern elite intellectual set, both for being a poet and her non-dogmatic stance concerning religious doctrines, it seems she's risking her appeal with this book. Wormwood would not approve.

December 22, 2008

Musings and Link

I think a book ought be written about how we got from the Lincoln-Douglas debates - when voters listened for up to eight hours to speakers using more difficult language than we are used to today - to... today.

I'd assumed it was due to declining education standards but now am wondering if Neil Postman didn't nail it with his 1984 book "Amusing Ourselves to Death". Television was the cause; he provocatively stated that he thought "Sixty Minutes" was far more dangerous to the republic than "The A-Team". It's not superficiality on television that is the problem, it's actually news shows. Will quote eventually...
________

The individualist may think that God loves us collectively and that our value to Him is primarily what we can contribute to others. But that is a false distinction because Reality is that we are a single body. Paul wrote that through Adam we all sinned, through Christ we were all redeemed. The doctrine of Original Sin well emphasizes our mutuality. I say let's graciously accept the benefits of Christ given the burdens we've acquired from Adam.

As far as our value being what we can contribute, if we injured our right foot, would we protest that the left foot is shouldering more of the burden of walking? Would we resent the brain (or heart's) decision in that regard? No! If we were blind, would we resent that our other senses will be exercised more acutely? Not at all. It's only when we see ourselves as rugged individualists that we think of God in utilitarian terms.
_____

Very interesting post from Kevin Jones. I just got something from our bishop that said "engagement", a term familiar to me lately in the corporate world.

Long Time Readers, First Time Commenters...

...may've noticed a template change. I've been wanting to take this olde blog (now 49 in dog years!) in a new direction and a blog format change seemed in order. I like the look and feel of the white character on the blue since it makes it seem more understated, as if I can get away with more (which is ridiculous of course but...).

I've been slowly working out bugs, which includes the fact that my posts seem to be unlinkable (i.e. no way to link to a specific post). Also I've just figured out how to publish moderated comments (as we used to say back in the '80s, 'duh!'). [Updated: Problems fixed!]

December 21, 2008

In Favor of Santa

Father John Dietzen: Dec. 12, 2008

QUESTION CORNER
Do believe in Santa

Q: My question isn’t very deep, but with Christmas coming I am concerned about the attitude of some friends who don’t want their children to “believe in Santa Claus.” From almost infancy, they tell their children there isn’t really a Santa and that it was all made up to sell more things at Christmastime. I think they’re missing something, but I’m not sure how to tell them. What do you think? (Florida)

A: I too think they are missing something — very big. It’s always risky to analyze fantasies, but maybe it’s worth trying for a moment.

Fantasies, perhaps especially for children, are critical ways of entering a world, a real world that is closed to us in ordinary human language and happenings. They are doors to wonder and awe, a way of touching something otherwise incomprehensible. Santa Claus, I believe, is like that.

No one has ever expressed this truth more movingly and accurately, in my opinion, than the great British Catholic author G.K. Chesterton in an essay years ago in the London Tablet. On Christmas morning, he remembered, his stockings were filled with things he had not worked for, or made, or even been good for.

The only explanation people had was that a being called Santa Claus was somehow kindly disposed toward him. “We believed,” he wrote, that a certain benevolent person “did give us those toys for nothing. And ... I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.

“Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

“Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.

“Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic good will.”

Are not parents of faith blessed, countless times over, to have for their children (and for themselves) such a fantastic and playful bridge to infinite, unconditionally loving Goodness, the Goodness which dreamed up the Christmas event in the first place?

Call Santa Claus a myth or what you will, but in his name parents, and for that matter all of us who give gifts at this special time of the year, are putting each other in deeper touch with the “peculiarly fantastic good will” who is the ultimate Source of it all. Plus, it’s fun!

I hope your friends reconsider.

How a Sunday Spent Reading Became Something Else

Today's windchill is said to make it feel like minus ten degrees outside but it feels much chillier. It's brutally cold. The out-of-doors is like forbidden territory, like the forbidden city in Beijing, and even the indoors is double-sweat shirt weather. Good time to read, I think. (For a reader I'm always amazed by how little I spend actually reading - unlike illustrious true readers like Julie Davis and MamaT and Steven Riddle.)

I begin with the bad news the newspaper brings such that I think it ought be renamed "The Bad News Dispatch". I learn some companies are dropping the matching contributions on 401ks and that feels like a moment, a sort of symbolic crumbling. Sure, it's better to do that than lay off people but there's a sense that the whole notion of retirement will become quaint in the future except for the very frugal. Even the once blue chip Ohio teacher pension fund is feeling blue. The three-legged stool designed to prevent poverty in seniors - pension, personal savings and Social Security - is beginning to look like a chair from the Three Stooges set in that it's designed only for pratfalls.

The other bad news arrived as I continued reading Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. He describes how Walmart and Microsoft were completely uninterested in D.C. and crass lobbying until competitors began begging the government to hurt them (Microsoft & Walmart) and suddenly Microsoft and Walmart were forced to pay "protection money" in the form of lobbyists and contributions. The sheer hopelessness of the situation was brought home to me, how big and powerful the government is such that it can bring private sector giants to their knees. If they can do it to Walmart they can do it to anybody. "Government by the people, for the people" maybe, but soimetimes government feels more like an ugly tumor with a mind of its own.

So I turned away from the bad news and went to the Byzantine liturgy and my mouth fell open involuntarily at the beauty. Pinch me. I had a seat up front, just behind the four cantors and their beautiful singing of beautiful words so oft repeated, such as our Christ as the "lover of mankind" and the consoling if familiar news that God accepts the liturgy of humans despite the heavenly presence of uncountable angels. St. Andrew's stained-glass window was beside me sporting his words "We have found the Messiah". Appropriate words in the Christmas season. I was caught up in this "Heaven on Earth" and the only thing that made its end palatable was that we would repeat it so soon - Wednesday on Christmas Eve. It'd been three or four weeks since my last Byzantine liturgy and I was obviously feeling the loss rather keenly.

I felt a calmness after having been softened by liturgy despite the day not going exactly as I'd planned. I'd imagined a series of langorous literary excursions under the auspice of the strong sun shining through the book room window despite the cold weather, but unbeknownst to me today was the annual Christmas cookie bake day. While pacifically eating Chinese food in front of the tube at 12:30 watching "This Week with George Stephanapolis", I was interrupted from psuedo-bachelorhood by my wife and then my stepson & his wife.

Time dilated. 1:30, 2:30. My wife's parents came to visit. 3:00. My parents call and it's going on 4. To the computer I read from bloglines. Then by 4:30 it was to the bookroom. Distracted by the sad condition of the leather couch, I began cleaning it. By 5pm I was done. I settled down to a book; at 5:30 I heard the call from downstairs: "Do you want to eat dinner?"

I could've said, "But I've barely read anything! My imagination is still in the throes of utter poverty!", but instead I said, "I could eat!" I walk downstairs with Kindle in hand reading Charles Chaput's admonishments in "Render under Caesar".

I'm committed now; I'd chose the belly over the mind. The reading life was whittled down not by large battalions but by single spies. It'd been nibbled away by the 'Net, by the lacklustre luster of a leather couch and by social interactions. The white flag flew as Sunday was expiring in the mist before my very eyes. We indulge in a Kentucky Fried Chicken family bucket and then talk and watch a little football and then a little "Arrested Development".

9:00 pm. No time to get lost in a novel I tell myself...

December 20, 2008

Today's Rant

While looking for a one-volume study bible for a neice, I've noticed there are none (that I know of) that are particularly orthodox. Isn't it outrageous that the Ignatius Bible that Hahn is working on is coming out piecemeal and thus prolonging the process? I've heard this isn't Scott Hahn's doing but the publishers. Perhaps so that profits can be maximized(while souls famish)?, though that is supposition on my part. What I do know is that it's scandalous that the American church can't produce a decent Catholic study bible.
Week in Review

A little Tom T. Hall plays on the stereo as vacation fades in the background such that I can get a bit weepy-eye’d in nostalgia over reading of Richard J. Neuhaus’s two weeks spent reading Dickens and drinking Jack Daniels at dusk. Sounds like the perfect time to me and I especially liked the “two” part in the phrase “two weeks”.

This week was chockful of meetings such that my Lotus Notes calendar looked as tattoo’d as a 20-something bar fly. The week before Christmas week has a generally antebellum feel to it but there were enough meetings such that I can only think our extrovert bosses scheduled them in order to fill their days.

Got my haircut and noted disapprovingly the slightly receding hairline. I thought I’d been grandfathered into the “will keep his hair” club. I blame it on a lack of exercise, as I do most things. “Barb the barber” said she was always sure of her vacation even though she said her parents hadn’t named her “Barb” for alliteration purposes.

I’m looking forward to long reads from Updike’s latest (“Widows of Eastwick”) and tastinesses from the best book of ’08, “Render Under Caesar”. On “The Education of Henry Adams”, well, I’m hoping Adams gets a more positive attitude soon and/or gets a good education.

December 19, 2008

Abbey in the Desert

I Ran by “A Flock of Seagulls” now fills the air with poignancy and drive. But the song has the leisurely start of Ravel's Bolero and of my own life; the five-minute record is in no rush to get where it’s going. It was like the endless twenty-minute run around the workout room track today, the air languid with a damask of women, heavy-breasted for such slight frames that I wondered if there was artificial augmentation.

One gets the sense from our anatomy that God intends us to be specialists; you can no more get milk from a turnip as the male nipple. He intends us as specialists spiritually too. One the monk, the other the activist, one the ascetic, the other Chestertonian. The trick is to discover what the specialty He intends. We are so influenced by culture and ourselves - though not our true selves - that it’s hard to tell.

When I was a child all my heroes were rugged individualists. It never occurred to me that God didn’t intend me to be Mowgli although that could’ve simply been the dislike of homework talking. But that’s the thing isn’t it? To be able to see beyond the laziness and sloth while understanding that laziness can also occur around things you are not asked to do. The man trying to nurse a child may feel laziness and sloth simply from lacking that calling.

So in college I inhaled Emerson and Thoreau as well as the hermit poets and poet hermits. May Sarton. Edward Abbey, drinking a beer in that desert wasteland full of orange monuments. I thirsted for their experience of nature. But more than the beauty of nature I think I saw individualism as a Stoic's form of control. I prided myself on my ability to survive. Survive not only physically but emotionally via the imaginative innerscape. I could be in situations that would drive the extrovert mad by daydreaming within, even while in the city, even amid a thousand distractions.

I never really noticed they were all pagans, Thoreau, Abbey, Dickinson and Sarton. Perhaps it was wisdom I worshipped, not God. "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" scared the hell out of me for fear of which I would choose. I covered for them all, calling them cryptic Christians who were turned off by bad examples.

But eventually I saw the problem with individualism was that it was incompatible with Catholicism. And so there was the smash-up of my self-absorbed dreams of splendid isolation with an equally firm desire to please a God so worthy of love. What a remarkable train wreck! I hardly saw it coming. But far more difficult than giving up Abbey-like dreams of drinking at Arches was giving up the feeling of control. Suddenly I had to give my well-being to Another. And He whom I gave control didn't want what was easiest for me but what was best for me in the long run. And His long run is the very, very Long Run. Suddenly I was confronted by someone who wanted to potentially make my life harder and less happy and yet who still had my best interests in mind.
A Cottage...Dickens...a Dusty Edition of the Britannica

Sigh...How wondrously evocative is this First Things piece by Neuhaus? Let us count the ways:
Readers of long standing will recall that for a few weeks each summer at the family cottage in Quebec, across the Ottawa River from Pembroke, Ontario, where I was born and reared, I attend to a particular project, usually a re-reading of familiar texts...

There is, of course, neither Internet nor television nor newspaper. The last factor is an annual reassurance that there is life after the New York Times. Not, to be sure, that anyone should need to be reassured about that. I would not exaggerate. Life on Allumette Island is not pristine wilderness. There is, for instance, a phone...It is a tradition of more than twenty years that for a couple of weeks George Weigel and his family, now extending to the third generation, are there, and the conspiracies extravagantly attributed to the two of us are plotted in leisurely evenings on the deck accompanied by Jack Daniels, cigars, and sunsets beyond description. This year Rabbi David Novak was not able to make his annual visit, so the further elucidations of the errors of Immanuel Kant will have to wait until next summer.

But back to Charles Dickens. Our daily “newspaper” at the cottage is the Encyclopedia Britannica and, as it happens, the extended article on Dickens is by the inimitable G.K. Chesterton. As you might expect, this is the old fourteenth edition of the Britannica. (I have the even more venerable eleventh edition at the house in New York.) Later, after Sears Roebuck bought the Britannica in 1920 and then gave it to the University of Chicago, it ended up falling into the hands of Mortimer J. Adler, whom I trust God has forgiven for turning it into something of a referential muddle, complete with a “synopticon” based on the 102 “greatest ideas” of history and a complicated compendium of subordinate ideas. The Britannica at the cottage is content to give one material to think about rather than a tutorial on how to think like Mortimer J. Adler. And Chesterton on Dickens gives one much to think about.
Various & Sundry

I was privy to an exchange between two Byzantine Catholics which included a line that I don't think you'd hear in a Roman Catholic or Protestant setting:
"It would have been tempting to really give the hard @ss a piece of your mind. Liturgy is paying off for you."
"Liturgy is paying off for you." My guess is the Catholic might say, given that circumstance, "The praying you've been doing is really paying off." The Protestant might say, "That bible-reading or small group you are doing is paying off." Or "the Spirit is working on you."

Pope Benedict teaches the liturgy's indivisibility from charity:
Love for the poor and the divine liturgy go hand in hand, love for the poor is liturgy. The two horizons are present in every liturgy that is celebrated and experienced in the Church which, by her nature, is opposed to any separation between worship and life, between faith and works, between prayer and charity for the brethren.
Defining the poor further, Benedict writes:
We know that other, non-material forms of poverty exist which are not the direct and automatic consequence of material deprivation. For example, in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty, seen in people whose interior lives are disoriented and who experience various forms of malaise despite their economic prosperity.

_______

One line in the NFP literature that really struck me was one nobody ever told me about. Literally no one ever said "face it, our estimate of our future wealth and capabilities tends to be much more pessimistic than God's." I thought I was the only one who underestimated his future wealth and capabilities, or at least have underestimated them up to now.

_______


Terrence Berres points us to this Rolheiser piece which includes this:
Like Pope Benedict's first Encyclical, this book might too be entitled: God is Love. It is a good corrective to many popular and intellectual images of God that conceive of God as cold, distant, impersonal, and needlessly judgmental...The real task of evangelization today is very much that of trying to evangelize the imagination, of trying to put healthy, life-giving images of God into the popular imagination.
Which, if you think about it, is rather amazing isn't it? That is, that we tend to have poor images of God? I don't get the sense that Muslims see God as distant, cold and impersonal despite their conception of God's love being, in my opinion, infinitely poorer than ours given that ours came down to earth and died for us. Assuming what Rolheiser says is true, I'll throw out a bunch of possible reasons and see what sticks:

  • lingering Deism produced during West's Enlightenment

  • lingering Jansenist heresy

  • Islamic clannish societies produce less alienation and anomie.

  • To some extent we take our image of God from our earthly fathers; fathers in West are devalued and/or distant from their children.

  • The West is suffering-phobic and so God is seen as not a consistent reliever of pain.

  • Lack of prayer

  • Fr. Groeschel says that prosperity, paradoxically, breeds anxiety. (Presumably because once you have it, you could lose it.) Anxiety is an enemy to trust of God.
  • Of course seeing God as distant and unloving is almost literally the original sin. It was Adam & Eve's seeing God as not having their best interests in mind that led to obeying the serpent instead of God.

    December 18, 2008

    Oy Vey - A Rant

    A study in contrasts: Sarah Palin represents a meritocracy, emphasis on merit. She worked her way up from nowhere to be governor of a state and more to the point she performed extremely well while in office.

    By comparison Caroline Kennedy apparently wants a Senate seat without having to earn it except by virtue of having a famous last name. Some of the same people who hate Bush apparently think that voting for someone simply because you like their last name is a swell idea if they have a "D" after their name.

    As Phil Albinus writes:
    I hope Sarah Palin is getting a chuckle out of this:

    When one reporter asked what she would tell New Yorkers who question whether she has the qualifications for the job, Ms. Kennedy, 51, started to respond. But then an aide stopped her from saying more, and led her to the waiting vehicle.
    “Hopefully I can come back and answer all those questions,” she called out as she got into the S.U.V.

    Nice one, New York Times.
    2009 Babes of the Blogosphere Calendar

    ...special Catlick edition

    So many calendars, so little time. A thought came to this mind (that line was for Hambone): why not a "babes of the blogosphere" edition for charity? On the advice of counsel, "babes" briefly became blogueuses, which is a more elegant word for women bloggers. All the proceeds from this post will go to charity although in full disclosure this blog makes no money.

    Of course nothing will be racy as this is a Catlick blog and there are ssilverdards to uphold. A main criteria for inclusion is if I was quickly able to find a photo of the blogger. Elena, you'd have been in if your profile picture was bigger. And now...

    drumroll!....

    ___________________________________________________________________________


    January

    Kate of Rosemary Sauce, a woman, wife, mom, and writer trying as hard as she can to be the best of each. Not just a pretty face, Kate writes deep posts.





    February:

    Mrs. Darwin Catholic's curvaceous sister makes her blogosphere calendar debut for the month of February. Not all of these calendar girls are bloggers themselves but all have some connection to a blogger.






    March

    The famed Smock of Summa Mamas, leaves her signature smooch wherever she goes. The femme fatale of St. Blog's, Smock specializes in eschewing capital letters. No word if these are actually her lips. [Updated with Smock's pic!]

     



    April

    One of Bill Luse's two talented daughters, Bernadette Luse just won Big Break X and instead of going to Disneyland she is appearing in this calendar! Woohoo!





    May

    What red-blooded Catlick male has not a crush on Amy Welborn, the ur Catlick blogger? What Mark Shea is to righteous indignation and Jeff Miller is to humor, so Amy is to charm, literary knowledge and Romephilia.






    June

    Meredith of "For Keats' Sake" is a scholar and a gentlewoman who can translate Hopkins into Latin in her sleep while walking walking and chewing gum.






    July:

    Miss July blogs at "Sancta Sanctis"; a Philippines native, she seeks a man taller than her "who can build bookshelves". She loves Chesterton and romantic novels.






    August:

    Christine of "Laudem Gloriae" recently called Bill Luse a "perv", ensuring her selection to this august calendar. Enquiring minds want to know why this picture is blurry and whether it was taken in a bathroom.






    September:

    Any mom of twelve actually deserves not just one month in this calendar but all twelve!






    October:

    She mysteriously calls herself "Lady of the Lakes". Her blog One Woman's Daydreams now includes a baby on board:






    November:

    A reader and writer of stories, Miriam even has a book available which incites a bit of envy in all unpublished writers!






    December:

    A teacher in Texas, Andie looks young enough to be a student. Her blog is called "Theophany All Over" and she takes good pictures too.

    Email from my Brother-in-law:
    "This is such a sad story. Mugabe and his cronies have completely destroyed the entire country in six short years. Now they're culpable in killing off the remaining population -- and the world simply watches as it happens.

    Mugabe reminds me of a Metallica song 'King Nothing'
    "Just want one thing
    Just to play the king
    But the castle's crumbled
    And you're left with just a name

    'Where's your crown, King Nothing?'"
    Lord, to Whom Shall We Go?

    This "drunkenfreude" column reminds me how it's sometimes easier to learn from sinners than from saints:
    For me, the psychology is often in reverse. I learn from seeing what I don’t want and avoiding it, rather than from seeing what I do want and aspiring to it. I have been to many wonderful Christmas parties in the last decade and seen many glorious women behave with dignity and grace. I don’t remember them. It’s the woman in the red dress I won’t forget.

    December 17, 2008

    Local History
    There are stained-glassed windows that adorn an enclosed corner of the building that contains our workplace. Curious things, I thought, curious enough to research. (Though hardly curious enough to interest any readers; label this a self-indulgent post.)

    The windows were originally a hundred or so miles to the southeast. They stood in a hall (pictured above) dedicated to Thomas Ewing, a Catholic, and a U.S. Senator born in 1789. He was also Treasury Secretary and later headed up the Department of the Interior and last, but not least, was the foster father of General Tecumseh Sherman. His autobiography is here.

    He was a "colorful country lawyer" who was taught to read by an older sister. "He soon demonstrated a healthy appetite for reading and a remarkable memory for what he had read. Until his twentieth year he labored on his father's farm. Nights, he devoted to the past time he enjoyed most -- reading."

    About twenty-five years after his death, building began on Thomas Ewing hall on the campus of Ohio University. This source cites the November 1974 issue of Ohio University Alumnus Magazine as listing William Cotter and Sons, of Cincinnati, and the Riordan Company, of Covington, Ky., as the manufacturers of the windows. I can find nothing on the internet of these two companies or their founders.

    Outside Ewing Hall, early 1900s


    Stained glass windows inside hall
    The building was "demolished in November 1974. The stained glass windows were salvaged, put in storage for nearly 30 years, then restored and installed in Walter Hall."

    Well some of them were installed at my workplace, which are the ones shown above. Others installed in Walter Hall are of human figures:
    Hmm...Sounds like a Case for Criminalizing Abortion

    From NY Times:
    Professor Redfield said, “The laws reflect the culture, and the culture is shaped by the lack of laws.”
    Had to get this book for the niece just for the cover:
    Reminds me of a country song by Joe Diffie that went:
    Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die
    Lord, I wanna go to heaven but I don't wanna go tonight
    Fill my boots up with sand, put a stiff drink in my hand
    Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die...

    Just let my headstone be a neon sign
    Let it burn in mem'ry of all of my good times
    Fix me up with a manequin, just remember I like blondes
    I'll be the life of the party even when I'm dead and gone
    _____________


    Let's re-write the words for the biliophile as:

    _____________

    Prop me up inside the library if I die
    Lord, I wanna go to heaven but I don't wanna go tonight
    Walker Percy and Thomas Mann, put a Kindle in my hand
    Prop me up inside the library if I die...

    Just let my headstone be a Borders sign
    Let it burn in mem'ry of all of my good times
    Fix me up with some Shakespeare or maybe "Kubla Kahn"
    I'll be the hit of the library even when I'm dead and gone

    Prop me up inside the library if I die
    Lord, I wanna go to heaven but I don't wanna go tonight
    Walker Percy and Thomas Mann, put a Kindle in my hand
    Prop me up inside the library if I die..
    Four Christmases Review

    It's not often than Mother Employer treats us to free popcorn and a movie as she did yesterday.

    In fact it's never happened before.

    Which made me nervous in the way I get on those bi-annual occasions when my wife cooks dinner, something she only does when she has bad news and wants to soften it. (Such as news of an unexpected family gathering - just a joke.)

    I was thinking layoffs in this case but hope it's just the result of low "engagement" scores. Or it could be simply what it was said to be, a celebratory occasion for our hard work in '08.

    Not that I'm complaining. It's never a bad day to get paid to see a movie even though my expectations were low since I hadn't seen a good movie with "Christmas" in the title since "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas". But surprise was the order of the day as this one combined hilarity with an excellent message.

    The premise was an unmarried couple coming from dysfunctional families who have decided to "break the cycle" and not have any children since bad parenting is said to be passed down from one generation to the next*.

    When the parents find out the couple is not skipping Christmas for charitable causes (helping the poor in Burma I think was the excuse) they go on a grueling family gathering tour. Both parents are divorced so they go to four Christmases in one night, a purgatorial experience that changes them sort of the way Scrooge was changed by a visit from ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

    In this case, the visits began with a Neanderthal-like family - his father and two brothers and sister-in-law - who were simultaneously ridiculously over-the-top and yet strangely believable. It takes really good acting to play a white trash family so gothically cartoonish and to have it come off as utterly believable. And yet Robert Duval and company pull it off marvelously. The casting in this film is brilliant.

    The other families are more upscale but no less over-the-top. There's a scorching send-up of a Christmas worship service as entertainment concert with the preacher coming on stage to smoke machines and music like something out of the WWF.

    Reese Witherspoon is wonderful as always and has a great scene in which she faces her childhood fears, but the star of the show is the verbose Vince Vaughn who I had no idea was that funny. I'd seen him elsewhere but never even thought of him as a comedic actor. One of my favorite lines was when he describes his upbringing as being like the Shawshank Redemption only without the gentle black man leading the way out. And seeing his family you buy it; you think the Shawshank Redemption was a movie where the protagonists in prison were spoiled!

    Anyway this is a hilarious movie with a strong pro-family message.
    ________

    * - On a serious note, I'd never thought of having children as an act of faith in God. I read something recently from the NFP literature that emphasizes this: "Let's face it, our estimate of our future wealth and capabilities tends to be much more pessimistic than God's. Faith tells us that God can do anything; His power is limitless."

    December 16, 2008

    Review: Flannery: A Life by Brad Gooch

    Brad Gooch, in his biography of Flannery O'Connor, quotes his subject: "There won't be any biographies of me because, for only one reason, lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy." But Gooch proves that notion false with an absorbing biography of one of the most fascinating of 20th century writers.

    Flannery's wit and sharp sense of humor is ever present despite the sometimes grim subject matter. On a trip to Lourdes she assured Betty Hester that "I am one of those people who could die for his religion sooner than take a bath for it." She went into the waters of the spring anyway, saying that "at least there are no societal trappings along with the medieval hygiene....I saw nothing but peasants and was very conscious of the distinct odor of the crowd."

    Gooch builds suspense while deftly handling subjects such as the gradual learning of the nature of her disease and how a potentially serious romantic relationship ended when he married someone else. Betty Hester's loss of faith was another blow, using the plural as a mask for personal pain: "I don't know anything that could grieve us here like this news." Gooch says that she came to blame this loss of faith on Irish Murdoch, whose works she found "completely hollow". Hester grew infatuated with Murdoch in what the author terms a "weird literary battle for Betty's soul."

    Reviews and reactions to O'Connor's fiction from the literary world was especially interesting. T.S. Eliot said he was "quite horrified by those [stories] I read. She has certainly an uncanny talent of a high order but my nerves are just not strong enough to take much of a disturbance."

    O'Connor was delighted when she came across things that looked as they really were so it was appropriate that it was her eyes that many visitors to Andalasia found remarkable. Her friend Maryat called them "astonishingly beautiful". She saw suffering as a gift, seeing a connection between her illness and her literary career:
    When she broke the news of her lupus to Robert Lowell, in March 1953, she swore that "I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing." Spinning her own life as a parable of a prodigal daughter, forced home against her wishes and finding a consoling gift, she later encouraged the young Southern novelist Cecil Dawkins: "I stayed away [in New York] from the time I was 20 until I was 25 with the notion that the life of my writing depending on my staying away. I would certainly have persisted in that delusion had I not got very ill and had to come home. The best of my writing has been done here."
    Anecdotes abound, such as this tidbit of what captured her attention on a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the Cloisters in New York:
    In the soft light of the Early Gothic Hall...she was drawn to a four-foot-high statue of Virgin and Child, with both parties "laughing; not smiling, laughing."...What chiefly pixilated her in the sculpture was its artistic sensibility. As she wrote to a friend, "Back then their religious sense was not cut off from their artistic sense.' Embodying a profound spirituality that could accommodate humor, even outright laughter - a recipe she was working toward in her own novel - the statue...was living proof of Maritain's writings on the breadth of expression possible in religious art."
    And on the issue of faith and mystery, Flannery writes in response to a friend who worried about the challenge of secular learning:
    "At one time, the clash of different world religions was a difficulty for me. Where you have absolute solutions, however, you have no need of faith." Instead she suggested a respect for 'mystery,' a term she first applied to illness, but which was increasingly key to her theology. As for the conundrum of predestination and God's punishment, she offered a literary answer: "Even if there were no Church to teach me this, writing two novels would do it. I think the more you write, the less inclined you will be to rely on theories like determinism. Mystery isn't something that is gradually evaporating. It grows along with knowledge."
    Two nitpicks: the author suggests that her final two stories display a development in O'Connor's vision, a development which doesn't appear to be explicitly defined other than a quote referring to a critic saying there was a "mellowing" in her fiction. More on that theme would've been helpful. Also O'Connor's reaction against Communism during the late '40s was labeled as "shrill" and apocalyptic though given the level of death, both spiritual and physical in Stalin's U.S.S.R., her response seems proportionate.

    But Gooch has given us a great treat in this excellent and fair-minded biography of a story-teller who once said that it "requires considerable courage not to turn away from the story-teller."
             

    The good life does not have to be an easy one, as our blessed Lord and the saints have taught us. Pope John Paul II in his later years used to say, “The Pope must suffer.” Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils, but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be accepted as elements of a full human existence. Well into my 90th year I have been able to work productively. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. - Cardinal Avery Dulles S.J., R.I.P.

    I do not understand suffering - but I know it is real. But a God who is in any way responsible for this terror of our lives, such a God must be terrible, a Molech consuming the children we love in contempt for any individual's striving and selfhood. But that is not the God revealed in the history of Israel and in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, a man whose life is written to echo the history of his people. Our God shows that he is with us - Emmanuel - in the slime of life, in the pain of life, in the joys of life, and in our death. I still do not know why people should die meaningless deaths, but because God is with us, he can look me in the face and I will not turn away in disgust. This story is so powerful that its symbols grip me absolutely. If all the details are wrong or ahistorical, the story itself remains true. Perhaps it is a dream, although I think not, but the story of Christmas is that life has meaning, humanity is worthwhile, and ultimately 'all will be well, and all will be well, and all things will be well". - Unknown

    As I watched Smith’s eyes leave us again for that other, farther off, field of inquiry, then return, then do it again – possibly wondering how much he counted, worrying the hope of a world beyond time – it reminded me of a scene in that story he liked to read us, O’Connor’s “Guests of the Nation,” when the condemned prisoner Belcher, a normally quiet man now babbling in the face of death, says of his already slain comrade lying on the ground at his feet, “It’s very queer, chums, I always think. Naow, ‘e knows as much abaout it as they’ll ever let ‘im know, and last night he was all in the dark.” Well, I think Smith counted, was worth more than any could see on earth, and I have great hope beyond worry – that on that morning when his gaze became irretrievably lost in the distance, its focus dimmed upon this world, he was eager only for the path ahead, the one followed on that “journey none of us know anything about”; and that, when my own time comes and I try to peer through the darkness woven by this trick of time, I’ll have the grace to let it go, and that maybe Smith, having gotten there first, will be able to teach me what he knows one more time. - Bill Luse in "Christendom Review"

    Tucked securely under the sheets
    were the small fry,
    Haunted by the cranial choreography
    of spectral fruit-snacks.

    For a glacial forty winks
    our minds became mute,
    My wife, who was wearing a bandanna,
    and in my night-cap, I.

    - excerpt of Dylan's "The Night Before Christmas", imagined in NAB-like prose (on Meredith's blog)

    Terry Gross was so subdued, so whispery-deferential during his [Bill Ayers's] "Fresh Air" interview that I wondered if he had placed a pipe bomb under her seat. --blogger at "Deafening Silence" via Terrence Berres

    I’m just about finished reading almost every pertinent address, homily and message that’s come from Pope Benedict - those that I can safely assume come from his hand, at least. I told Michael the other night that my basic conclusion the dual experience of immersing myself in B16’s words and engaging in various church-related activities and events over the past week is that he is wasted on us. That is, Benedict is relentless in his call for us to focus on Christ. He constantly takes in the ways of the world, diagnoses our ills with precision, reminds us of who we are and “proposes Christ.” Just as relentlessly, he calls on the Body of Christ to get with it, to love fearlessly, to embrace the “adventure” (a favorite word of his) of witnessing to the joy of friendship with Jesus and to be courageous in assessing its own sins and weaknesses, for the sake of a more powerful, merciful witness to a wandering, hurting world. And we drone on about committees. And gauge how Jesus will fit in with our lifestyle. - Amy Welborn

    It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues. - Abraham Lincoln

    One of the great ironies of the stem cell debates of the last few years has been that some of the most serious attention to scientific detail and reality has come from Catholic circles, while some of the most wide-eyed messianic faith-healing talk has come from liberal political (and sometimes even scientific) circles. There is another example of the former today, with a new Vatican document about reproductive technologies and bioethics. I’m not a Catholic and am in no position to speak to the theological components of the document, and I don’t agree with all of its conclusions (on IVF, for instance) but its treatment of the latest scientific developments and of the related ethical questions is exceptionally good, and its attitude—very pro-science and very clear about ethical boundaries and the reasons for them, with arguments that reach well beyond Catholic theology—is very impressive. - Y. Levin at NRO

    In a critical sense, we academicians know these men as psychopaths, and perhaps they are. They believe in sensuality, not sense; in thrill, not mere experience. Beauty is physical, and they think the world owes them a living—a free beer, a pat on the back, easy sex, and a wad of twenty-dollar bills. Responsibility has too many syllables and love is a dirty word. Ginsberg makes a disappointing Rimbaud. But when these strange men in dungarees read poetry to unmuted jazz, or steal cars and drive to Denver, or just “burn, burn, burn, like a fabulous yellow roman candle” it is with a vigor which marks the rest of us as dead, a bad penny vitality and a grubby crucifixion which make lectures and Haze-Bick existentialism seem extremely square. - literary & cultural critic John Leonard on Allen Ginsberg and the beat poets in The New Yorker

    Why do I read poetry in translation? I do so in order to encounter the geniuses of other cultures. I read Leopardi to get his perspective on life, living in Italy at a particular time. What I want is the human: this man who lived and died and struggled, who got some things right and other things wrong. Do I want the translator to be invisible, transparent? No, I don't think so. Some translations I like: Marianne Moore's Fables of La Fontaine, John Ciardi's Divine Comedy, and J.G. Nichols translations of Italian poets. Each of these translators has a certain style and personality and negotiates the perils of translation with care. - Frederick of "Late Papers"