January 30, 2010

Gitmo Isn't the Problem

The political left has an obsession with Guantanamo Bay, presumably because of its past reputation. But if they were serious about ending abuse - instead of caring what the Europeans think - then they'd start right here at home. Gitmo is paradise compared to most of these places. Great column by Mr. Kristof.

January 29, 2010

Country Song Friday

From singer Josh Turner:
There's a long black train,
Comin' down the line,
Feedin' off the souls that are lost and cryin',
Rails of sin, only evil remains
Watch out brother, for that Long Black Train.

Look to the heavens
You can look to the skies
You can find redemption
Staring back into your eyes
There is protection and there's
Peace the same, burnin' your ticket for that
Long Black Train.

'Cause there's vict'ry in the Lord I say,
Vict'ry in the Lord,
Cling to the Father and His holy name,
And don't go ridin' on that Long Black Train.

There's an engineer on that Long Black Train,
Makin' you wonder if the ride is worth the pain,
He's just a waiting on your heart to say
Let me ride on that Long Black Train.

But you know there's vict'ry in the Lord I say,
Vict'ry in the Lord,
Cling to the Father and His holy name,
And don't go ridin' on that Long Black Train.

Well, I can hear the whistle from a mile away,
It sounds so good
But I must stay away
That train is a beauty, makin' everybody stare
But its only destination is the middle of nowhere.

But you know there's vict'ry in the Lord I say,
Vict'ry in the Lord,
Cling to the Father and His holy name,
And don't go ridin' on that Long Black Train.

I said cling to the Father and His holy name
And don't go ridin' on that long black train
Yeah, watch out brother for that long black train
The Devil's a drivin' that long black train.

Oh the Irony...

Found genealogy news:
BOSTON -- It was bad enough that President Barack Obama lost his filibuster-proof margin in the U.S. Senate to a Republican. Now it turns out he also lost it to a relative.

Genealogists said Friday the Democratic president and the newly elected Massachusetts senator, Scott Brown, are 10th cousins.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society says Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and Brown's mother, Judith Ann Rugg, both descend from Richard Singletary of Haverhill, Mass.

He died in 1687 at 102.

January 27, 2010

The Land of Riddle & Luse & the Jester

Day 1

Sitting out on the porch of my Doubletree hotel room. Drinking a Sam Adams cream stout. Nice view of the river and I pretty much hit the lotto with respect to the temps. This still feels like "the accidental vacation", coming too quickly on the heels of the last one but... my parents gave me an excuse since they were staying at Sanibel.



It feels unnatural given my age and the warm weather, to be in this seemingly semi-plastic state where most are transients and snow birds, many here only for the expediency of warm weather. But then weather is important too. A friend who moved from Ohio said he couldn't survive our cold, cloudy winters anymore.

Meanwhile, it seems I try to embarrass myself at least once a day, purely for humility’s sake. At the kiosk at the car rental shop the worker mentioned that we shared a birthday and I said, “same year too?” reflexively to the younger man. I didn't mention that it never fails to amaze me how long it takes to rent a car, even in this day of modern technology and pre-registering.

I visit the hotel pool. Every pool needs the seductress and this was no exception. She wore what looked to be a cross between a bikini bottom and a thong. Call it a bikong. I realized belatedly that it wasn't really my job to describe her as if I were a reporter covering the six o'clock news so I dipped into Michael Dubruiel's meditations on St. Benedict's rule, the equivalent of a cold shower. Engaging as always, I bookmarked so many pages that it would've been easier to book mark those pages I don't want to go back to.


a clean well-lighted place

Day 2

The day dawned, as it usually does, and I thanked God for it. Then I headed to the little ma & pop grill, where the food was pretty good, especially the toast. The coffee was a welcome aperitif (I just wanted to say aperitif, apropos of nothing). Coffee is to mornings what beer is to evenings. Coffee is to mornings what dew is to grass. Coffee... I digress.

Longer drive than expected to Ave Maria so I have time to contemplate important issues like how Rush and Beck manage to bathe in so much negativity on a daily basis and yet have senses of humor and wide smiles. I also hear a sports radio host mention how different in attitude the coasts are. New York is such a "grind-mill" while L.A. is laid-back and the livin' easy. The influence of sun? Or simply by whom they were settled centuries ago?

While I mused on these issues, I notice up ahead a very slow-moving truck. About 20 miles under the speed limit. The three cars in front of me pass him, and so I 'tag along' as the 4th. I figured if the third car could make it, I could too, since what's a car length anyway? But suddenly I find myself in a game of chicken with an on-coming car and I make a mental note not to play the tag-along game again.

____

I arrived on the campus of AMU and wait for my assigned student ambassador, which sounds like I'm a head of state or something. While my original intention was merely to try to sit in on a Joseph Pearce class, Ave Maria was good enough to offer three classes to audit along with a free meal coupon. But for the cost of the flight and hotel it was *free*, which is like saying except for the stimulus package and bailouts Obama hasn't spent much.

She drives up in a golf cart and takes me to my first class, Christ and His Church. The professor is dressed immaculately in a buttoned suit and white shirt and tie. The class text is Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity, fitting for such a Catholic institution. What would it be like to go to such a self-consciously Catholic college, I wonder.

The class is comprised of fifteen females and three males. In front of me a girl wears a shirt with an unfamiliar name on back: "The Boondock Saints". I assume it to be the name of a band but later googling reveals it to be a "1999 crime thriller film starring Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus as Catholic Irish American fraternal twins, Conner and Murphy MacManus, who become vigilantes after killing two members of the Russian Mafia in self-defense. After a "message from God", the brothers, together with their friend David Della Rocco, set out to rid their home city of Boston, Massachusetts of crime and evil; all the while being pursued by Special Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe)."

Our professor was also his own confessor - perhaps the most memorable moment came when in illustrating a truth Ratzinger makes in how we must serve through the particular, which is the point God makes in coming to earth in a particular body at a particular place and time - he (the prof) said it's easier to be willing to help people in general than personally, saying how he always offers to help students one-on-one. He pointed to a particular a girl in the back row and said how when she came to see his face fell. Despite his offer to help, when it came to the particular it was hard. "I could never play poker," he said, "because I can't hide the way I'm feeling." I felt bad for the girl although it may be that they just felt comfortable enough to admit these things. I couldn't help but think how this exactly mirrors my own situation, how I can't help but cringe when someone known to be a pain comes to my desk.

NOTES from course "Christ and His Church":

Man always learns about the universal from the particular. What is common to all men, we learn by meeting two or three or more particular people and then examining what is common to all.

The problem with that strategy when it comes to learning about God is that He is singular. There's only one of Him. That's why Homer's god was not universal, not even a Greek god - each city had its own deities. The classical world knew only particular gods - understandable.

Why would God of all call himself God of Abraham, Issac & Jacob? Genesis alerts us to the tension that God can be both. See what else Abraham was promised besides land and descendents. The covenant with Abraham reflects what sort of God this is, NOT vice-versa.

Plato and Aristotle were bent on demythologizing God, just as Christianity did too. The philosophers believed in a God who was impersonal and who did not act, did not create the world (they thought the universe was eternal) and that for God to act was "unfitting".

To consider a God who redeems and sanctifies would only make them laugh and turn away, as they did with Paul. (Did they turn away because of the Cross (i.e. pain) or because God acts and loves? Sounds like the latter, and it sounds like Christ sounded too much like the myths they were trying to discredit.)

Plato treated a dumb guy by patting him on his head, twice, an act of patronization. Christ treated a dumb guy (Nicodemus, saying 'how can I go back in the womb?') by explaining and teaching him.
____

After class, I took advantage of the free lunch visitor's coupon and when to the student union for a club sandwich, a concession to recent weight gain. I'd have preferred a loaded-up cheeseburger. Then it was on to the small Ave Maria bookstore where I bought a t-shirt. Walked through the library and saw many fine oil paintings of scenes of the life of Christ. Very, very Catholic this university. It's odd to be walking down a hall with an art gallery on the wall, complete with prices. ($11,000 for a Madonna & child...). Or walking through the student union and seeing signs quoting the Blessed Mother at Fatima asking us to pray and offer our sufferings for the souls who would otherwise be damned. Things you would not see at the University of Dayton, unless transported back in time to 1950.

Then, a quick trip to the controversial main chapel, controversial for it's reputation as not a very pretty church, a glorified airplane hangar. But pictures don't do it justice, it's actually quite lovely on the outside, especially looking at it from the front. (From the back it looks like a giant squid.) The interior was spacious and had an interesting effect in how dominatingly large the crucifix high above the altar was. There's a scale there that religious conservatives should appreciate, of God's transcendence and largeness, which wouldn't necessarily come across in pictures. The figures at the altar are dwarfed by the backdrop and huge crucifix, which threw a shadow so lifelike that you could swear you could really see the painful work Christ went through to accomplish our salvation.

the front of Ave Maria's chapel


...and inside
Then it was on to a Literary Tradition class:

Class Notes from "Literary Tradition":

Why was Dante so emotional in Canto 19? There is much anger towards the church in large part due to the abuse in that time (simony, the selling of indulgences). He anticipated the Reformation in a way.

Dante might be a movie producer today. His poem is so visual. And they teach you in film school that long shots are for comedy, close-ups tragedy.

Why does Virgil carry Dannte? Symbolizes reason carrying you on a journey. Virgil feels tenderly towards him because he is making progress, by not feeling pity towards the sinners in Hell. Anger is preferred to pity.

For Dante, you just can't feel pity for sinners, for those who caused great misery. Virgil acs shepherd-like, much like those simonists should've been.

The contra-passio = baptism. Feet wrong direction from Baptism. Reversed image.

Dante is a co-conspirator in the sins - attempts to bring sympathy to those in Hell which is why Virgil spends a lot of time correcting him. Canto 8: "I'm the one who is sinned aginst." Dante felt his pity was good. Virgil happy when Dante "doesn't fall for pity party".

This is why so many people find Dante's work distasteful. We are told to hate the sin and love the sinner, which is not biblical, while in Dante the sin and sinner are hated. Let's be honest. So how do we deal with this?

Dante wants you to think about sin *now*. To change. To see through sin, not to be seduced by it, and to see how eventually one becomes the very sin one is enslaved to.

____


And so the professor touched on my problem with Dante, that it seems like one long torture porn in which we are supposed to "enjoy" the punishment of sinners. It was refreshing to hear the professor mention this as being a problem. To admit it up front. The class discussion got cut off due to time requirements, wish I could've gotten to hear more of the professor's thoughts on that particular subject.

Then it was onto 5pm Mass which, surprisingly, was a guitar Mass featuring the praise and worship songs familiar to me through my wife's evangelical church. The is great diversity in Masses because they also have a Latin mass offered a few times a week. And the decently crowded weekday 5pm Mass - when they have three masses per weekday - shows the level of dedication to the Eucharist this college has. The Catholic equivalent of Liberty Baptist College? Or is that Stuebenville?

DAY 3



Immediately after pulling into the condo yesterday we all went on a bike ride, going for three hours interrupted by some geo-caching and lunch at Jerry’s. The warmth was real, not pseudo-heat, the sort of warmth you can’t expect in January even in southwest Florida.

5-year old Aaron rings his bell repeatedly, taking great pride in his work as God does even with our meager efforts. His fastidious attention to detail was impressive in signaling to drivers our intention of using the crosswalk. He was not daunted by the barrier of automobile's closed windows. Success is not what God asks of us, merely the effort. Reminded me of the punctilious work ethic of the birds. With stick legs they navigate the shoreline with agility, while the water bends towards the beach, rising and bowing like Obama on a foreign trip.


Castles of sand...like our economy


Nephew on beach

After the bike ride we played tennis, Jean and I taking on Doug and beating him 4-2 in games before fatigue beat us all.

Next we went picture-swimming, which is where you end up taking more pictures than actually swimming. Each pose required at least four shots because there were two cameras involved and we always took at least two shots with each camera to guarantee success. (Having a digital camera means never having to say "but I'm running out of film!".) But it was fun and great to have all of us together, the first time since 1973, pending our investigation of Thanksgiving 1993. Mom's reputation as a great rememberer hangs in the balance. Doug said he didn't come up to Columbus in '93, but then started to melt under relentless cross-examination from Mom.

Doug showed impressive lung capacity by swimming the length of the pool and back without taking a breath. Later he extended that even a bit. Jean and I couldn’t match it and I joked that we were becoming like the Kennedy’s, what with all this competitiveness.

Dinner was at Mazaluna’s, which proved not to be too crowded and which Doug and I tried a very oddly named Italian beer called La Rossa Moretti dark. Doug loved it, I thought it was okay. I'd earlier tried a Michelob Dunkelweissen, which although was a wheat beer I really didn’t mind. In fact I was pleasantly surprised.

My disorganization skills were at their height at this point - I'd lost my car keys so driving two cars wasn't an option. Still worried about the lost keys, I checked my wallet pocked, a place I NEVER (never say 'never') put keys but there they were. Go figure. I blame it on all the exercise.

Matzaluna's provides crayons for would-be artists, and so jejunely we had a contest drawing things and Mom won by waitress acclamation. Doug chastised Mom & Jean for being so off-put by dark beer, saying it was childish to judge a food by its color.

DAY 4

Early morning wake-up call for church at 8:30. Despite arriving a full ten minutes early (which is thirty minutes early in Protestant time), we had a limited selection of seats. The hymns were unfamiliar except for "Lord of the Dance" (?), and they lacked a missal, which surprised me.

Afterwards a day of sitting on a sun deck in Sanibel, Florida, the sun a brilliant concoction for late January, and in the qui-distance I see the ocean, sparkling like the sea as well it should! In the near distance tall palms hearld the ocean’s approach. Allusions pop up like morning glories.

_____

It's become something a family legend: the time my sister and I spent more time trying to decide on which movie to see than the actual length of the movie we saw. It eventually became almost funny. And our restaurant decision on Sunday night looked like a replay since Jeannie had neither the location nor the name of the place she "remembered" from her bike ride. "JT's" or "TJ's" was what she said, but when "McT's" came by it looked like a reasonable suspect. Hungry and suffering from ALBS ('advanced low blood sugar') it looked sort of Ponderosa-y, which I didn't consider a slur, just a guess measurement of the price and modest quality. But Jean did take it as a slur, and so it was on to the next inviting target: "Traders".

I ordered a pint of Guinness and it was the best Guinness I'd had in ages, reminding me that Guinness on tap is a completely different animal than Guinness out of a can or bottle. Every time I took a sip it surprised me.

Jean and I debated the Church situation, she saying that the Church has to change and the Pope is basically an old fogey. I do love those sorts of controversial issues, they get my blood flowing. I was probably unfair or out of line at least twice but I do feel the Pope, in the end, has a hard job. The Holy Father is certainly not going to please all the people all the time, just as no parent will be able to please all his children, all the time.

Afterwards there was the fine entertainment of the Vikings-Saints NFC championship game, won in overtime by the ‘Aints, although now they ain't the 'Aints.

DAY 5

Sitting on the morning patio watching the sun attempt to rise. The weather is changeable down here, so much so that when I asked the cashier at a liquor store whether it was supposed to rain all day he said, “I never say ‘all day’ in Florida.”

The condo buildings are two-story affairs which allows for a good deal of sky-gazing. The roofs are aqua-marine, the color of swimming pool bottoms. Three-foot shrubs and slightly taller varieties of palm encircle the patio pleasingly, pleasingly in their diversity and in how they don’t obscure the view. Though I can’t see the ocean, instinctively I set my chair in that direction.

There’s a gangly palm across the way, its fronds subject to the wind and its long thin trunk reminding me of a giraffe’s neck. Near the top there‘s a sudden thickness like an Adam’s apple or the lighted ball at Time Square at 11:30 on New Year’s. The tree is set at an angle, leaning into the wind and towards the sea, and its tube is constricted half way up as if a tourniquet was applied too tightly at one time in the past.

Small decorative dolphins hang from the pull-strings of the ceiling fan and a big mauve-striped fish graces the entrance way.

I have a hankering to walk down to the beach even in this wind & chill & rain, just to take advantage of the outdoors to the maximum, given the imminent return to the much colder climes ahead. The smell is that familiar salty tang, as regnant as the familiar Borders Books scent that crosses our continent (and perhaps continents).

Yesterday the sun deck lived up to its name. There the wind was minimal and shade caused only by short interludes of harmless clouds. I listened to a tape from a priest with a healing ministry and see where he is coming from: ‘Thou shalt not kill,” goes the commandment, and it follows from that that we are to take care of our bodies. Proper nutrition and exercise being done not in order to live forever as if this is all there is, but simply an extension of our being given a gift and treating it as such.

I also found it interesting how crucial those early hours are attending our birth. The first 72 hours are far more critical than I ever suspected, when imprinting and other various things occur over which we have no control. He said research confirms that even in the womb the babies know if they are wanted.

____

I’d be hard-pressed if I had to give an “excellence in birding” award to one of the great variety of shore denizens. They all look so damn competent, so contrary to the 80/20 rule in human workshops where it is said that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the workers. Watching nature ply its trade is like watching professional sports or the ballet or a symphony - all three are types of excellence “on loan from God,“ to borrow a phrase. Watching a great accountant find an IRS loophole is somewhat less stimulating, perhaps, but...

____

Ate breakfast today at Jerry’s the sun came out and hope was restored and Matthew and I fed the seagulls who, despite the profusion of meals in the form of a fishkill due to record lows, were eager to snap the food up. I feared only errant poop. Then Matthew went looking for starfish and I wondered: "How do you tell a dead starfish?". “Do they need water?” my Mom asked. Matthew wanted to take one home so these seemed appropriate questions.

Afterwards: a bit of fiction. Felt like a Randy Wayne White novel or something by Dickens since the birds in their variety and eccentricity looked like characters in “Bleak House".

_____

Hope springs in the unlikeliest of places, such as in children themselves. Matthew had been praying for his family and seems okay now with his father's looming work disjointment by saying that it must be God's will because he'd prayed. Amen.

Day 6

Tis 12:30pm and I can see the maid is attending our condo like an undertaker working on a dead body. Makes me feel sad, to see the dry husk of our once little home, now fractured by family leavings two-by-two.

I find internet connectivity a problem, even on the front steps of the walk just outside the room. I’m hungry anyway and so head to Jerry’s for lunch - a crunchy cod meal that wasn’t too healthy but did the job. I’d have rather had the rotisserie chicken but they didn’t have it on the menu. If I hadn’t already ordered my drink I’d have just got the chicken to go.

Afterwards I hit the little nearby Sanibel bookshop and it betrayed that aging hip (oxymoron alert!) new ageism feel. It was mostly underwhelming although “The Bible in English,” a history of the Bible translations, looked interesting if liberal.

Soon it was back to the 'port. Maybe I'm becoming more like the George Clooney character in "Up in the Air" - I'm starting to appreciate airports more. Not as destinations in themselves, of course, and not for the pain in the ass "security theater" we go through. But there is the anticipation of the destination when outward bound and a different, but no less appealing anticipation in returning home. Either way, the airport delivers, literally. And it helps when not checking bags.

Driving to Fort Myers airport today, there was the anticipation of a simple bold cup of coffee and a notebook to write in, all overlooking a pretty bookstore (pardon the redundancy). The coffee is oddly calming, which is not the effect it's supposed to have, I suppose. Maybe it's simply the hot-water bottle feel in my hands. Or that magical potent smell of beans.

Strolling around inside the bookshop I discover a new Ann Tyler novel and a collection of short stories from TC Boyle. But I made no purchases, for which I'm proud. I figure I have enough books. But it does inspire one to read what you already have, just walking through there and seeing them all dressed in the fine dust jackets and full of new book smell. Bookshops, coffee. Yes, airports are okay sometimes.

Walking ahead me on the flight was a guy about my age wearing a shirt that caught even my attention:

I really can't imagine myself ever wearing a shirt like this.

Fiction While Flying

My name is Darin Hunter, an out of work actor who writes novels for relatives and friends. My primary literary goal is to avoid using the third person omniscient. I find first person omniscient more to my liking even though I really don’t know myself all that well. My motives are often mysterious and paths circuitous.

Which reminds me, have you heard the one about the third person omniscient? The punchline goes, "that must mean my husband since he's the third person today who think he knows it all.”

I write my novels only on plane trips, since it's the only extended period of time available for concentration. Costs a lot of money but I'm sure my relatives and friends think it's worth it. I fly roundtrip on the same day causing a lot of furrowed brows at the check-in counter. I always get a middle seat, free from the interruptions of view or beverage cart.

Sometimes I write about the goings-on inside the plane, like the fact that there's a dark blue curtain separating business class from coach, a sort of caste system like they have in India. Do we in back carry some communicable disease such that a curtain is required to prevent transmission?

The flight attendant is a young black woman with hair that ascends heroically. Idly I wonder how long it took to make it behave so obediently, each lifted hair in symphonic unity. I think immediately of a friend who has a thing for African-American women. She’s stern and takes her flight attendant duties seriously, and tells my seat partner to move his bag under the seat in front of him. He makes an strenuous effort only to gain millimeters. A few minutes later she tells him again, with similar results. He figures the third time he'll come clean and admit the bag is really too big for that space. Physics wins again.

January 22, 2010

Blog posts 100% less frequent...

...due to being off-line for a few days.

From A Jacques Barzun Reader

Much interesting content in the book mentioned in the title. A few excerpts:
"I offer no unique nostrum. Let every temperament choose its image of the cosmic round. The scientist may like to look at his favorite exploding star in space. The Greeks used the make-believe of tragedy to inoculate their ailing spirits, and a modern soul may temper its steel by doses of contrived horror, as the king did his body against poison by swallowing it - in moderation."
And the following excerpt which sounds so much like what Tom of Disputations or Bill Luse has written, at least in the first line about celebrating life instead of denigrating it:
[We ought have] a just estimate of life itself. The modern dogma that art is the only redeeming feature of the much-pitied "human condition" rejects nine-tenths of life, and with it those not dedicated to the highest pursuits. Faulkner in that mood said that one of Keats's odes "was worth any number of old women." Such literary conceit is also bad logic. Life is good because it is the source and container of everything we value. It is old women, not Grecian urns, that have in their time borne Keatses and Faulkners.
Perfect!

I'm always seduced by learned sages with an encyclopedic view of history, few more so than Barzun. Another great line:

A permissive society acts liberal or malignant erratically; seeing which, generous youth turns cynic or rebel on principle.

Lot said in a little, and indeed we see a permissive society which can erratically provide good parking spaces for the handicapped and yet kill the handicapped in the womb.

Barzun's of a romantic sensibility so it's not too surprising he greatly appreciates Thoreau's masterful prose while at the same time disdaining his illogic and non-sensical political and social writings:
"Nor did Thoreau ever understand his own relation to society...When one is a hermit - or nearly - one fails to grasp the reason for the compromises demanded by life in groups...The position of conscientist objector is made possible by the great strength, the surplus wealth...in a lifeboat containing shipwrecked sailors, there can be no 'conscientious objector'. There is no 'different drummer' to listen to."
Thoreau, like Updike, seems to be one to read less for instruction and edification than for the beauty of the art itself.

January 20, 2010

Today's Word Among Us Meditation...

...is here:
How often do we rely too much on God and neglect the work that he calls us to do, whether in evangelization or in our own growth in holiness? And how often do we rely on our own strength, doing the “work of the Lord” but neglecting the “Lord of the work”? Both approaches are fraught with danger. The first one can leave us feeling fruitless and frustrated. The second one can leave us full of ourselves or worn out and dispirited. But the middle way—the way of cooperation between divine grace and human work—brings not only fruitfulness but refreshment and joy as well.

It’s an interesting combination, isn’t it? We need to humble ourselves and recognize that we are weak without the Lord. But we also need to believe that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). God wants to convince us that we can be victorious in our lives no matter what circumstances we face, no matter what our weaknesses are, and no matter how many times we have fallen in the past.

Remembrances of Bloggers Past

Was reading Romans 3:4 and remembered fondly a beloved (but not departed; almost sounded eulogistic) former blogger quoting it against her persecutors who felt that her compliance to her husband's demands was overdone.

It is/was none of my business but tis a fascinating dilemma. His desire to limit her blog time is, perhaps, understandable. His desire to keep her from the sacraments is much less defensible.

I gave a friend the book Boundaries and he said reading it made him more confused than ever. It's a book that would seem to apply reasonably well to the blogger-in-question in the first paragraph. And now I hear there's a Boundaries for Marriage. Neither book has an imprimatur, so I think in this case, as in many others, the guide is the Holy Spirit. Given the individualness of our vocations, there's no substitute for the Spirit's guidance.

Point/Counterpoint

Interesting exchange at Jeff Culbreath's Facebook page, where he quoted John Senior:
The whole of our semi-socialist society is a vast, lopsided dis-economy in which few do necessary work and many are parasitic. It would be rash to fix any definite degree of sin on the part of those involved in parasitic work, but from the point of view of economic health we are suffering from a plague. Economic life ...has become an occasion of sin in which virtue becomes morally impossible for the majority.
To which Michael Liccione replied:
The more prosperous a society becomes overall, the smaller the percentage of people needed to actually make, fix, or maintain things, and the more opportunities there are for leisure and contemplation. I don't think that's bad in itself. It's only bad when people aren't taught how to use those opportunities well.
Indeed, as John Adams famously said, "I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain." Personally, I'd skip the porcelain. It breaks too easy and there's no one with the skills to fix it.

NFL & St. Therese

Regarding prayer, St. Therese of Lisieux famously wrote:
"Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy."
And I think how this encapsulates football players after a good play - they point towards heaven and it looks like a surge of the heart, a recognition and of love for the Creator and in a desire to credit Him. And yet where it breaks down is "embracing both trial and joy." There's rarely if ever any looking towards Heaven after a bad play, after a fumble, that is during a trial. Not that I'm a whiz at that either...

"Mass Hysteria"

Title comes from the title of an email from an acquaintance in KY, who writes:
My husband is from Mass and he was so excited about the election last night that he was having chest pains. I was afraid that he was having a heart attack but he refused to go to the emergency room.
I'm still having trouble digesting it. I can't figure it out, perhaps because I have a tendency to label people or states and MA is a blue state as has been pointed out ad nauseum. I was also a bit surprised to find the western part of the state more pro-Coakley than the eastern side. I figured all the elites were along the shoreline and the more rural denizens out west, but then my level of knowledge of MA politics is limited at best. Maybe it's as simple as recognizing Bay staters are more influenced by a candidate's charisma (Brown, Kennedy) than by reflexive ideology, although admittedly that makes Michael Dukakis & John Kerry perplexing.

On one level, given the string of Republican governors from Weld to Romney, I guess I shouldn't be surprised a Republican could win a Senate seat. But then too the margin of Coakley - up some 30 points in December - and the rate of decrease was just phenomenonal. I wonder what impact the 24/7 cable media has on races; the dynamic seems to be able to change in a hurry. Her free fall occurred not over months and not even so much over many weeks. The electorate turned, and turned in a hurry.



For the first time in eons I watched Keith Olbermann - simply for purposes of schadenfreude. "It's never over till the other team's cheerleaders are crying," said a friend in the '80s. Grim faces dominated the landscape there, and tiny leakages of humility were seen. I assume they were restrained from calling the voters idiots simply because some of the five people who watch MSNBC would be turned off by that sentiment.

Dreams of Memes (via Steven Riddle's blogorhythm)

1. Which book has been on your shelves the longest?
A Child's Book of Poems

2. What is your current read, your last read and the book you'll read next?
Currently reading "Game Change". Just finished "Come Be My Light", next to read hopefully "The Sober Intoxication of the Spirit".

3. What book did everyone like and you hated?
Dante's Inferno

4. Which book do you keep telling yourself you'll read, but you probably won't?
Proust's Remembrances of Things Past

5. Which book are you saving for "retirement?"
What retirement?

6. Last page: read it first or wait till the end?
Wait.

7. Acknowledgments: waste of ink and paper or interesting aside?
Rarely read unless the author/book is of especial interest.

8. Which book character would you switch places with?
No, not Skimpole. No....!

9. Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time)?
Laurie Colwin's "Happy All the Time".

10. Name a book you acquired in some interesting way.
I acquired a New Testament from a church in the Smokey Mtns. In retrospect, not sure they were free for the taking or just for church services.

11. Have you ever given away a book for a special reason to a special person?
Yes.

12. Which book has been with you to the most places?
The Bible.

13. Any "required reading" you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad ten years later?
Oh Shakespeare for sure.

14. What is the strangest item you’ve ever found in a book?
religious card

15. Used or brand new?
New if possiblie.

16. Stephen King: Literary genius or opiate of the masses?
What, there's no middle ground?

17. Have you ever seen a movie you liked better than the book?
Lord of the Rings

18. Conversely, which book should NEVER have been introduced to celluloid?
Moby Dick

19. Have you ever read a book that's made you hungry, cookbooks being excluded from this question?
"The Naked Pint" with all the talk of flavors.

20. Who is the person whose book advice you'll always take?
"Always" is a strong modifier.

January 19, 2010

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

"Nou atè nèt”: three words in Creole that roughly mean, we are on our knees, conclude an e-mail sent from Father Andre Siohan, a missionary of the French San Jacques Society, writing from Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince a few hours after the quake that hit the city. - Missionary News Service Agency

Since the day of his Resurrection, the Church exists only to make God's affection an experience, through people who are His. - Frederick tweet

Can you imagine a more cantankerous duo--a diptych in irrascibility and harsh (as an artform)? - Steven of "Momentary Taste" on Christopher Hitchens versus Gore Vidal

So here we have an atheist who, in arguing that there is no God, acts like God. And not just any god, but the God of Abraham. There are a lot of possible explanations for this. That the omnipresence of God extends even into human arguments against His existence is just one of them, but it may be the most satisfying. - Tom of Disputations

I don't expect Christmas Day to be magical and perfect. I'm happy to just get through it. Realizing that Christmas is a season and not just one day has also given me a sense of relief in that area - not too much expectation piled on to one day. - Elena of "My Domestic Church"

Privacy is not only essential to life and liberty; it’s essential to the pursuit of happiness, in the broadest and deepest sense of that phrase. It’s essential, as Schneier implies, to the development of individuality, of unique personality. We human beings are not just social creatures; we’re also private creatures. What we don’t share is as important as what we do share. The way that we choose to define the boundary between our public self and our private self will vary greatly from person to person, which is exactly why it’s so important to be ever vigilant in defending everyone’s ability and power to set that boundary as he or she sees fit. Today, online services and databases play increasingly important roles in our public and our private lives - and in the way we choose to distinguish between them. Many of those services and databases are under corporate control, operated for profit by companies like Google and Facebook. If those companies can’t be trusted to respect and defend the privacy rights of their users, they should be spurned. - Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog

I don't mind being ruled by elites. I just wish they were less ordinary. - Tom of Disputations tweet

I find that whenever I finish a book that purports to give me the "history" of anything, I find myself dubious. For example, on the issue of Pope Pius XII, I find it extremely difficult to believe any of the detractors or many of the supporters. I get the sense that the truth, slippery though it may be falls into the cracks between the two. Did Pius do as much as he possibly could to have turned aside the Holocaust--I somehow doubt it--but I don't know. Did he do nothing at all for any Jews ever--the voices of David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir (neither known for their tolerance of anti-Jewish sentiment) strongly suggest otherwise. But once I've finished a book, I am no better off. I know neither more nor less that I did before, merely other. The documents are cited and cut to show the jib of the argument, and thus, one needs to return to the primary sources, which in the case of the documents of someone like Thomas Jefferson, may well have been tampered with by Jefferson, his partisans, or his detractors. - Steven of "Momentary Taste"

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong. - G.K. Chesterton

Parody is Therapy blog...

...updated with the FBI's lame attempt at Photoshop and how Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab's didn't get the memo that Bush is no longer in charge.

The Daily Blog

So will there be another Lexington & Concord today? Will the MA minions shoot at the Coakley redcoats? Tis a fascinatingly impossibly drama to this outsider. It's hard to believe Coakley won't get a huge turnout today given that Obama still has a castely following and he reportedly revved them up. Still, the weather's schlecht and on such things battles are won or lost, be they military and political.
______

Over a ribald pint I gathered in the literary critics on Homer. And instead I'm given over to nostalgia, touching the old books that I bought when I knew nothing but did not know it unlike now when I know nothing and know it. I began to read from Sam Tannehaus's Literature Unbound and admired the words for their erudite sophistication; the philosphy hardly mattered. I was into the baroque and so the profusion of profundities were enough.

Gently I handle the mass-market paperback from the '80s, $3.50 for the slim volume. I relish the fact that now I've heard of Mr. Sam; back when I bought the book he was as no-name to me at least. He seems now to be a semi-sane voice albeit from the liberal side of the aisle. Experience has taught me to have low expectations of academics.

I then moved my hand down book row to a trifecta of Updike nonfiction and I am again in awe at the ocean of matter he's produced, the relentless sea of words, words, words, forming sentences, sentences, sentences. Sentient sentences. I always picture, when seeing the Updike books, of me in my old age, dottering through page-by-page, like a mad scientist in his laboratory, seeking the goal of having read all of Updike's literary criticism.

I pick up the Kenneth Rexroth and enjoy the fine brevity regarding Homer. I call up wikipedia on my computer and read about him. It's hard to believe that before the Internet we could not easily get something like that. With wikipedia, I learn more than I need to know, about his marriages, politics, and some lit crit on his own poetry.

______

There are types: Augustinian or Thomist, Dickensian or Dostoevskian, comic or tragic. I think of my friend Hambone and how he loves Dostoevsky - like the late Richard Neuhaus - and in both there is a pugilistic tendency, a thirst for the fight. And then I think of myself and other Dickens fans, many who are of perhaps a more settled disposition. We long to recline inside a poem, or rest in the byzantine twists and turns of a Dickens novel.

Rexroth opines on Homer's classics and The Odyssey sounds much like Dickens rather than Dostoevsky:
The Odyssey is entertainment. It is enterainment of the highest order, but it is difficult to imagine anyone saying, 'Reading The Odyssey changed my life fundamentally.' The Illiad can be read only superficially as entertainment. If we make ourselves available to it, it confronts us with a vision of the nature of reality and the being of man. The Illiad says: 'This is life. It is trgic, and if it has meaning, that meaning is an incommunicable mystery; it can be presented, but never explained.' The Odyssey says: 'This is life. It is comic, and it is full of meanings. These meanings are all the multiform techniques for living; they can be learned by work, intelligence, and a canny conscience.'

Tragedy is posture; comedy is an activity. If one read enough comedies, they might change one's life fundamentally. Life as comedy can be learned; as tragedy it can only be assumed. Most men are predominantly one type or the other; an individual's view of life is seldom equally balanced between tragedy and comedy. However, the dramatic artists of the world's literature have usually written both; they have realizd that there are two faces of the coin of life...
Excerpt taken from Classics Revisited by Kenneth Rexroth.

January 18, 2010

Readings & Listenings

The 'vescent glow of lamps polish the gilt-surfaces of the book soldiers languidly laying about waiting their turn of service. I pick up The Odyssey and by Jove I find in Homer's epic the pages referring to the Sirens and to Scylla and Charybdis, those fascinating remnants of ancient lore. The book reads in places as modern as yesterday, the same human nature displaying itself and therefore reminding me of the patience of God (if not Greek gods) in enduring human nature.

It makes me hungry to check my library for any lit-crit books on Homer, but I forget and instead pick up the NBA book and read a quote from Halberstam's classic Breaks of the Game which makes me desirous of that book. A clear case of being in having, rather than being, mode and so I surfed to the Vatican website and downloaded a transcript of Benedict's Christmas and New Years Day homilies and saved them to read later.

* * *

Have been watching more sports lately; a return to my roots as it were. There must be something about sports burnt into the male psyche since we've been watching them for thousands of years. I wouldn't be surprised if mankind used the wheel first for amusement rather than work and fire first as an endurance contest instead of for cooking. There is something inherently inspiring in sports as opposed to politics; with sports there's always a winner, with politics no matter who wins we lose! Or so it seems. But it's no secret that the news is always news is always grimmer than the sports pages.

* * *

Heard Amy Welborn talk about her Pope Benedict on Al Kresta's show. She passed on a sense of the Holy Father's childlike wonder and lack of cynicism, and it was a profound reflection that what a relationship with God means is that we don't have boundaries anymore, because we are dealing with an infinite God, and thus life becomes an adventure.

* * *

My idea of risk-taking is drinking Newman's Own bold coffee a couple hours before bedtime, but I know someone far more risk-averse than me and it's sort of a wonder: my libertarian stepson. Be it eating healthy food, exercise, financial matters, guns, or survival skills, he's all about preparation and minimizing risk. I think his favorite Christmas gift was a "throw-in", an all-in-one knife/pen/scissors item.

* * *

Disappointed that Stephanopoulos demoted himself to GMA from This Week. A curious move it would seem, and now there's no Sunday show that appeals. I suppose it's on to Fox News. I heard Brit Hume made news recently, the good kind of news.

* * *

U.S. states have official birds, flowers, mammals, insects and musical instruments, but I bet you didn't know they also have official weather patterns. Ohio's is: "Mostly cloudy with a 2% chance of sun between 2pm & 2:10pm." Just thought you'd like to know. I'll serve no whine...

January 17, 2010

Excerpt Sunday....

From Descouvemont's Therese and Lisieux:
Therese had a keen sense of the absolute gratuity of the Lord's love for us. Like Luther, she often meditated on the passages where St. Paul affirms that we cannot acquire salvation by our own efforts...Is this to say that in the end Therese thought she had to eliminate from her spiritual world any idea of merit? Absolutely not. Throughout her life, she was excited by the thought that on the Last Day, when he would return in his glory, the grateful God would cry out, 'Now it is my turn! I owe them my eternal and infinite substance.' This was an expression she had found in 1887 in Canon Arminjon's Conferences. It encouraged her to bear all her sufferings patiently.

In other words, though Therese wanted to work only 'to please God,' and not to have a more beautiful crown in heaven, though she expected eternal happiness from him, she also knew she had to 'earn' his children's lives, to obtain their conversion by fidelity of her love. She went so far as to say: 'God must grant all my requests in heaven because I never did my will on earth.' Admirable equilibrium of this spirituality!

* * *


Therese certainly did not scorn those souls 'who offered themselves as victims to God's justice.' She even thought this offering to be 'great and generous,' but she was not inclined to make it. And since 'there are many rooms in the Father's house' (Jn 14:2) - a gospel passage to which she often had recourse in order to legitimize the originality of her Little Way - she did not hesitate to surrender herself to God, as he increasingly appeared to her to be in that year of 1895: an inexhaustible reserve of tenderness and mercy. There was no pride in this attitude, but perfect docility to an inspiration of the Holy Spirit received...Note, moreover, the boldness of this young professed nun. She dared not to follow the example of Mother Genevieve, whom she did consider to be a saint and whose last tear she had collected with reverence.

January 15, 2010

Strange Days Indeed; Most Peculiar Mama

How improbable is Scott Brown's candidacy in MA? Jonah Goldberg opines:
"It’s a bit like Tibet holding its own against China in a land war, or Abe Vigoda giving Tiger Woods a run for his money at Augusta."
Indeed, win or lose Brown can say with Rocky Balboa that he went the distance. (Rocky reference goes out to Enbrethiliel.)

January 14, 2010

Jottings Worth 25% More Than You Paid For Them

Feel tired from water aerobics, which was filled with ample ladies numbering at least thirty, a new world record. "Welcome to January," our instructor said, reminding me why I don't like other people's New Year's resolutions. I can't hope that the ladies turn from the goodness of exercise but I can hope that new classes get added.

_____

From our C.E.O.:
Happy New Year!

Have you ever had the feeling that something big is about to happen? We all know it. It’s that feeling of anticipation that you might get before a sporting event, or the pleasure of seeing a young child’s birthday party, or perhaps the excitement of getting your first vehicle.
...Or just before downing large quantities of beer. I'm so cynical. :-)

_____

Wasn't in the mood for an after-work party at a local bar yesterday given how tonight I'll be hitting the bar. Back-to-back days are not what the doc has on tap. So missed a party that was for someone who left the company and who is now leaving THAT company. Only one parting gift per customer please. Only one after-work party per sojourning former team member.

_____

Am in significant reading deficit, defined as more than two days without a steady diet of read. I want to RMAO soon. I can't wait to captain my chair and burn the midnight oil reading about the whale oil in Moby Dick or maybe attempt to finish War & Peace in one sitting using Evelyn Woods's course. I jest. I met a lady who reads that fast and I wondered why. Reading, like eating, is best done leisurely.

_____

Fried my brain yesterday via copious spreadsheet work, but with the benefit of background listenings to A Prairie Home Companion, the Nutcracker Suite, and Thomas Sowell on National Review. I've a surfeit of news and information so I should stick to the glow of Scripture and holy things at home. That and the long-form narratives we all crave.

_____

Haiti isn't godforsaken, though it sure seems that way. Like a dysfunctional family, there's a tendency to want to have them start over in new families, i.e. countries. It's just unfathomable that a country so poor, so challenged, should have this happen; it reminds me of the potato famine in that you had this huge numbers of people living very vulnerably; the Irish depending too much on the potato, and the Haitians, relying on an unstable government and even less stable buildings not even close to being built to code. But the ambassador from Haiti is a proud man with obvious pride in his country when he said called Haitians a courageous people, and I don't doubt it.

_____

On the elevator I noticed a young blonde offered me good body language. She leaned towards me, and I thought about how this was not unlike other girls her age and it occurred to me I've become safe to them. Old enough not to be taken seriously as a potential papabile, so to speak.

_____

There's a point at which caution and wariness becomes paranoia. I do find the conspiratorial mindset intriguing if only because I tend to lack the imagination for it. Sometimes the paranoids are right; a family member suggested I not fund my Roth 401k versus a regular 401k because it's better to get the tax benefit now rather than later, a later that might never come. The government could easily renege and begin taxing Roths in the future just as they did with Social Security. With debt skyrocketing, all bets on the security of governmental promises are iffy.

Why Can't Harry Read?

The only cringe-worthy part of Harry Reid's otherwise reasonable observation (in Washington saying what you consider to be the truth is considered a gaffe) is that he used the word "Negro"; a quick check of dictionary.com reveals what most of us already knew:
...because of its perceived association with white-imposed attitudes and roles the word was ousted late 1960s

On Pat Robertson's Comment....

Ha! (via Steven Riddle of "A Momentary Taste of Being").

Haiti Relief Efforts

It's interesting to me that both Amy Welborn and the Anchoress recommend the nondenominational Food for the Poor instead of Catholic Relief Services for aid for Haiti. Could be indicative of more of a concern for the people on the ground than for who gets credit for helping those on the ground? Using the Catholic blog search, CRS bests Food for the Poor 34-14 in terms of mentions over the last few days. Of course be it the Red Cross, CRS or Food for the Poor or another help to Haiti charity, it's all good.

Update: a fellow blogger reminds me: "I remember vaguely hearing about problems with CRS: that, incredibly, somehow some of the money for, let us say, Africa, or other developing parts of the world, was getting diverted to contraception. I remember some of our fellow bloggers urging that people not donate to any collections for CRS unless & until the situation was rectified."

January 13, 2010

Found Art



Milton Elting Hebald (American, b. 1917)
Capriccio, 1986

From Cincinnati Diocesan Newspaper from Decades Ago

Various & Sundry

I remember like it was yesterday (because it was) making that special trip to McD's 'round about 2, the sun still all a-gust, and purchasing one of those pluperfectly chocolately brownie melts. I'd brought milk along so that I could consume the all-world dessert properly, albeit while doing other errands. Sure it would've been better to eat it at home but, as I reminded folks during the '08 election, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Don't blame me I voted for McCain.

And oh yes I remember chuckling at how our cat found a huge swatch of sun in the green room, as if it had a daily schedule (sun appointment upstairs in office; postpone nail appointment). The sun, the sun! I called like a lover, or maybe Herve Villechaize, before the gentle reminder of belated morning prayers to seek the everlasting light.

* * *

Bill of Summa has a fine smorgasbord of seven quick takes, including the comedic sixth item, "this space left intentionally blank."

He writes poetically of Bibles:
My new CTS Bible (Jerusalem Bible/Grail Psalms) is great, but I still turn sometimes to my hefty old 1966 Jerusalem Bible (the burgundy hardback edition). Its large noble pages are beautifully designed - they provide lots of open space for contemplation and scads of notes and cross-references for dot-connecting. It's a pain to hold for long, though.
Whatever you think of the truth about the Medjugorje, there is truth in the purported words of Mary: "Dear children, today I call you to read the Bible everyday in your homes and let it be in a visible place so as always to encourage you to read it and pray."

* * *

This headline - Watching TV Linked to Higher Risk of Death - reminds me that the mortality rate is still 100% among human beings, TV or no TV.

* * *

I see Melissa Wiley has a post about her iPod Touch. Sans irony, I find myself googling "iPod touch addiction" on mine. Even found an Outback Steakhouse app that allows me to save orders so I can re-order at an i-touch of a button.

Melissa mentioned Betty Duffy's blog which prompted recall of the many blogs I've read over the years, Dylan's & Steven Riddle's & KTC's especially, but it seems like at any given time there's ONE blog that speaks to me in a particularly resonant way during any given period of time. Call me blogogamous. So here's my evolution of Internet reading:
On the first day God created Amy Welborn's blog, which I read as thoroughly as a Kremlinologist during the Cuban Missile crisis.

On the second day God created Tom of Disputations, whose blog I did not worship, though admittedly came close.

On the third day God created Bill of Apologia, whose electric style produced learned expositions on weighty matters followed by thoughts on breastfeeding (emphasis on the first syllable).

On the fourth day God created Betty Duffy, the most underrated blogger in the Western Hemisphere.

January 12, 2010

Mac the Knife

Through the miracle of modern technology I googled for info on the ambidextrous former pro golfer Mac O'Grady, now pushing 60, an eccentric who read Shakespeare and Emerson while living in a cardboard box back in the early '80s. Turns out he's doing well and heads a successful golf instruction school.

Came across this quaint reminder about what you could get in trouble for back in the mid-'80s:
The latest violation cited a quote attributed to O'Grady in The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel last Sunday: ''Deane doesn't like guys challenging his authority. It's part of his Russian ideology. Maybe I should change my name to Mac Sakharov.'' O'Grady, who had no comment on the move by Beman, may appeal the charges within 30 days of notification.
Actual violation: "failure to string together banal sports cliches in the presence of a reporter."

(Speaking of violations, Mark McGwire had his long-delayed come-to-Jesus moment when he admitted the pluperfectly obvious. They say the wife is always the last to know, but it's really the husband. It's ourselves.)

It's both surprising & not that Mac O'Grady became an excellent golf instructor. He reminds me of former Dodger hurler Mike Marshall in how both were mad scientists in the sporting realm and how both became coaches/instructors. "The truth shall make you odd," is the tagline of Sancta Sanctis, and both O'Grady & Marshall discovered truths outside the conventional wisdom of their respective sports and both were seen as odd. But oddly effective.

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

The poverty of the manger in Bethlehem is not chiefly economic; it is, first and foremost, the poverty of One who was in the form of God, yet emptied Himself, being made in the likeness of men. This is the message of Bethlehem, of the whole Gospel. Not, "God wants you to be rich like His Son," nor, "God wants you to be poor like His Son," but, "God wants you to be loved like His Son."
- Tom of Disputations

To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
- George Orwell

Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.
- David Sedaris

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards "having" rather than "being," and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.
- Pope John Paul II via Darwin Catholic

There are so many things I get wrong. But this one thing, this desire to love God, is one thing I know I do right, because it was given to me, independently of my own efforts. “He has put into my heart a marvelous love.” It comes from outside myself, “a greater joy than they have from abundance of corn and new wine.” - Betty Duffy

I knew that the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club died the day free agency was born...If Barry Larkin had played in a big market, he'd get into the HOF no doubt. His numbers, which are pretty much the same as Roberto Alomar's, warrant it. But he played in a small market, and the world has changed. No longer is there such thing as capitalism. It's corporatism, the leviathan, and it eats teams like Cincinnati for breakfast. - - bitter Reds fan "Daedalus" on Larkin not making the HOF

The weather down here is more suitable to some other part of the country. I want my global warming back. - Bill of Florida and Apologia

I fancied myself Vigdis the Viking Lady from Sigrid Undset’s “Gunnar’s Daughter.” - Betty Duffy, on efforts to dig out from many inches of snow

yesterday was hell no mirth. went to re-register so i could check out the heap o' words from the library. and wound up having to traipse across the yes gorgeous yet hilly and wide wide way of the UGA campus with her babuness in tow. she wanted to stop at every flag (those flag's that landscapers place around the place) and dally and dilly. so we did. then we'd arrive at our destination, and i'd be locked out by invisible computer bureaucraps and so we had to re-traipse and re-dilly and re-dally. at the end of it all, dinner-time, armload of books and eager grin and light heart at the desk… - Mildred's Umbrella

A priest friend of mine recently told me that Tradition is not a Thing so much as it is an Activity of the Church. Like the electron in physics, it is always in motion and its exact location can never be pinpointed because the very act of observation affects it. The medievals were as immersed in both Tradition and the small-t traditions as everyone reading this is immersed in electronic media. Would we describe wireless connectivity, electronic mail, Web rings and other social networks, the 'blogosphere, or even the Internet itself as simply things? Obviously, a more complex understanding is in order. - Sancta Sanctis

January 11, 2010

Kiva & Lending



Kiva: Loans that Change Lives
From Frank Hanna's What Your Money Means:
"Rabbis of the Talmud taught that the primary purpose of charity is to help others help themselves. Also, many Talmudic laws sought to protect the poor from the shame of dependency, emphasizing the dignity of the charity recipient....Consider as well what the rabbis of the Talmud deemed the most meritorious form of dispensing charity: loands, which recipients are expected to repay. 'He who lends is greater than he who performs charity, and he who puts in capital to form a partnership with the poor is greater than all.'"

Various & Sundry

From the file "No Reason You Should Care But...": have switched my workout music from Ralph Stanley's bluegrass album to "The Tartan Terrors", an uptempo Scottish bagpipe band. Definitely increaseth the pulse.

Not your father's piper band

* * *

Some men dream of man caves with cavernous (almost wrote carnivorous) televisions, I dream of the wondrous book-room where the books multiply like clematis vines...

* * *

I remember in high school hearing the scorn heaped upon alcohol by teachers and administrators for its property of making you talk louder and laugh more easily. "Indeed," I thought priggishly. I disliked those who talked too loud and were too easily amused. I was a natural-born teetotaler. But something happened on my way to the Abstinence League, and that was I was too fond of tradition. Both familial and societal. And in both alcohol extended as far as the eye could see. Two traditions butted heads: the tradition of personally not trying anything that led to lessened rational thinking and the tradition of doing what has been done by everyone from Churchill to Christ in the past. I accepted the latter as having more authority and so tried my first beer. And I noted it had certain positive qualities that might be useful at a later date.

That later date came soon enough. What I couldn't recognize as a haughty teenager is that laughter and loud talk would, in the future, not be quite so common. In high school it was the default position. Soft talk and a lack of humor were the odd man out then. But it would not be so forever.

Easy laughter is easily pilloried, but should it be? Is the world too full of laughter already? Then there's the law of inertia and how a lack of a sense of humor tends to extend itself and how it's contrary does the same...

* * *

So, didn't have the sort of breakout writing that I always hope for on Fridays. It's couintertuitive but I write to learn, to have those sudden small epiphanies. But on some Fridays all I think is: "wow, this beer is damn good!" But then inspiration is 99% perspiration and 1% alcohol, not the other way 'round.

* * *

Speaking of real epiphanies, at Mass Sunday realized that it was precisely that quality of God being in the commonplace - bread, a manger, my neighbor - that allows me the audacity (can one still use that word with a straight face post-'08 campaign?) of believing that I too, no account me, can be a temple of God. So, selfishly, I do very much like the whole God-is-found-in-unexpected-often-banal-places truth because it includes me!

* * *

God is not arbitrary, He's not a utilitarian. The hymn instructs: "Saints below, with hearts and voice, / Still in songs of praise rejoice / Learning here by faith and love, / Songs of praise to sing above." This life is learning the words to the Heavenly song. It's not meant to test or torture, but to sing, to love, to do acts of kindness, which function as the words in the hymnal in Heaven. From the Infant of Prague devotional, "Help me to follow the inspirations of Divine grace, which guide me to union with you." The purpose of the inspirations of grace is not utilitarian except in leading to greater union with God.

* * *

Read some of a Karen Harper novel, about Appalachia and the search for ginseng root. Pretty interesting. Then read long from Drood, a fictionalized account of the last years of Charles Dickens, followed by reading some of Jane Smiley's biography of the great author. The new Dickens biography is sorely tempting me. I don't know why I'm so fascinated by the life of Dickens, or what I can learn from it, but there you go. Instead I should be reading the lives of saints like...

* * *

Like Mother Teresa. Something very chastening about reading "Come Be My Light," Mother Teresa's letters. Very humbling. I'm not sure it's good for me to read about how God treats his friends, i.e. his saints. Reading the lives of saints, it's hard not to see suffering being to sanctity what weight is to sumo wrestlers. (Is that the first analogy between saints and sumo wrestlers ever? I hope so.) But what is inspiring in the book is that suffering is limited. It eventually ends. One of the sisters wrote that "[Mother] would say to me in difficult times, 'Don't give in to your feelings. God is permitting this.' This really taught me that the best and the worst in life would pass and if I will learn to accept the cross, to be quiet, humble and hopeful, that all will pass."

January 08, 2010

Couple Quick Links

A Hermeneutic of Continuity: It's interesting to me that some of the same points made against the Bible - that there is little unity between the Old and New Testaments - is also made of the Church and Sacred Tradition, especially post-Second Vatican Council. A defense of biblical continuity is posted here at Ignatius Insight.

The other link that caught my eye was this interesting link at First Things about the atonement via Tom of Disputations.

There Are Still Some Things Only Males Can Do

...like go shirtless in order to spell alma mater's name. Bras really mess up the aesthetic effect.
Where this is really amusing is when it's 2 degrees outside and the dudes are so desirous of getting on television that they're willing to freeze their you-know-whats off. In those cases the over/under on how many drinks they've had is 20. Each.

Various & Sundry

The artistic mentality seeks beauty, the singular, that which is pleasing to ear, eye or touch. And yet we learn in the Bible of the value of the common, of bread that becomes the Bread of Life, of a baby in a manger becoming the king of kings, and of the presence of God in our neighbor.

As Dylan well-described it: "it's the sacramentality of the commonplace, not of the lofty. Or of what was thought to be beautiful ... before Our Blessed Lord pitched his tent and dwelt among us."

I've never quite figured out how to reconcile the artistic mentality given how God sees so differently, sees value in what doesn't appear to be singular or particularly beautiful. (Like, say, a mosquito.)

And yet beauty is also a path to God. My betters say that beauty is more persuasive than apologetics and that which is precisely what is lacking today.

* * *

Yesterday's moment of light occurred during praying Ps 81, "You called in distress and I saved you. I answered, concealed in the storm cloud." How often we think He is not present in the storm! And no less so in today's mysterious gospel reading, where Jesus nonchalantly walks on the water despite a terrific headwind. He was, quite literally, in the storm. And then he calmed it, fulfilling Ps 81.

* * *

I wonder sometimes if the status of my spiritual life is signified by my reaction to prayer requests found on the 'net. Sometimes I come across one, even from those I know, and I feel...very numb to it. And yet I think of Padre Pio and the millions of requests he got when he was alive and... Well anyway this at least spurs me on to pray; my lack of fervor can sometimes paradoxically be a proximate cause of greater fervor. In other words, I have fervor concerning my lack of fervor.

* * *

Heard Jimmy Akin recently talk about the different graces God gives and how He gives everyone "sufficient" grace for salvation but not necessarily "efficacious" grace. There are some things I'd prefer not to know, and the whole grace controversy is one I prefer not to dwell on.

January 07, 2010

A Visitor from Deutschland

I could blog on politics, or how I subtly missed the boat with respect to Janet Napolitano (I said that her sin was that she said nothing and CYA'd during her first interviews after the failed terrorist attempt when her line 'the system worked' was properly the lede. Her saying the system worked is like Barney Fife saying the system worked when he managed to catch a crook despite himself.)

(Btw, I'll tell you where "the system worked" and it's the fact that Sen. Chris Dodd is retiring due to political unpopularity. It's good to see the folks of Connecticut aren't totally blinded by the usual "he may be a dog, but he's my dog" mentality.)

I could also write about how the sainted Brian Lamb is taking on the D.C. penchant for secrecy. It's so not like him, except that it's non-partisan. I've always liked C-Span because of its countercultural aspect given its unexercised power (unlike, say, reporters who go into the op-ed business). Admittedly C-Span has to play nice since the Congress can ban their cameras, but still...

I could write about how most drivers in Columbus, given dry roads, don't drive crazily. I'd say 99% of the time there's no one really calling attention to himself. But yesterday I was passed by a maniac driving 90-100mph, swerving in and out of traffic, and don't you know it there was a cop by the side of the road and a mile later the guy is pulled over. Justice. That's what freeway cops should be there for, not for pulling over the 69mph'r in a 65 zone.

But how about a diary entry instead, which I call a "journal entry" to give it more heft?

Overcame slogitis, my neologism for laziness, and ran a quick 15 minutes even though my legs were D.O.A. Tis better to workout for longer if less frequently, meaning I should attenuate runs to 30 mins or more.

Then headed home and soon after arrived our German visitor, complete with authentic German accent. I was taken aback immediately by her height. She towered over my 5'11'', standing at least 6ft 2 and I managed to momentarily avoid making any comment on her height. (Americans, it turns out, are considered polite by at least some foreigners, which doesn't fit the stereotype.)

She was dressed suitably Europeanish, with black shoes, black pants, and a maroon sweater over a black turtleneck. Her hair was a blonde mix with dark roots, shortened relative to most womens hair. Her smile very familiar from the German side of my family, reminding me of an aunt. She was quite animated, quite lively & fun. I trotted out my elementary German on her: "Wie geht es ihnen!" but forgot to ask her about a subject of minor fascination to me, the formal address "sie" versus informal "du". Such borderlines interest me. Perhaps it's no different than how we might call someone by the first name or a nickname instead of a more formal address.

January 06, 2010

Don't Call 'em Musings

Read long the NBA book, satisfying in that you can read 300 pages as I have and only be half-way done with it. It's a cornucopia, a nearly infinite analgesic. The names alone read like poetry: "Gail Goodrich" "Jerry West" "Nate Tiny Archibald" -- then read a bit again of Simmons' Drood, for contrast's sake.

* * *

There's a near-stranger (neighbor of a distant cousin) who emails me frequently and who is a bit brusque in her denunciations of my genealogical work ethic, but who has nonetheless agreed to phone a 95+ year old distant relative in hopes of finding out something about my great-grandparents. Told her I was a "shy Yankee" (she being from Kentucky and very self-consciously Suthern). Just thought you should know, seeing how five people voted in the poll for diaristic meanderings (don't call 'em musings please).

* * *

Encountered the unexpected help of my fellow man in the church parking lot (he directed me to an empty space). Sporting a scruffy, 3-day beard, he was presumably there to scare away non-church traffic, that is the increasingly heavy load from the nearby community college (which seems to have reached a critical mass, no pun intended, as far as taking up area parking). (Yes, I included this snippet simply for the sake of that pun. How far this blog has fallen, to quote Dylan.)

* * *

The password this time o' year is: "slog". I was relieved not to pick up dinner tonight at the cafe since we're having company tonight and my wife's cooking. It's the little things. I'm surprised by the proximate burden felt by the daily task of acquiring three dinners (two for dinner, one for lunch), securing them in the refrigerator at work and then hoping I remember to take dinners with me before going home. (It's cheaper to bring home good $4 meals from cafe than even to cook, supposedly.) Part of it all may simply be related to my propensity to carry too many things; Lord do I make it hard on myself what with my books, workout equipment, Kindle case, etc. "Schlep" is a good word for what I do, schlep around with all these beast of burdens hanging off my frame such that I relish not having to pack mule it or wait in that extra line for dinner. Don't do as I do.

* * *

Got a lot of brainless work done this morning, ably assisted by the playing of the full Nutcracker Suite on my iPod. Music hath charms... I noticed though that my Mozart discography is lacking; I like Mozart much more now than 10-15 years ago, perhaps because my metabolism has slowed and perhaps in part because the Pope's a fan and I'm perennially under the illusion that some of his charisma will rub off on me via these sorts of things.

* * *

Speaking of, warmed by a Pope Benedict blog called Beggar for Love. Can't recall where I came across it but the host has a good eye for inspiring Benedictian quotes. Sometimes I think 90% of the job of a pope is simply to encourage, to be, crudely, the "encourager-in-chief".

* * *

Speaking of encouragement, heard Fr. Corapi on the commute mention indulgences. Indulgences is another species of hope. Fr. Corapi was initially very disappointed when noting the words of Jesus that "every penny will be paid back," until he learned about indulgences.

I seem to have gotten on Ignatius Press's mailing list as well as Sophia books and these present temptations. The Passion of St. Perpetua particularly so, as well as this book.

January 05, 2010

Reading...

Read last night from the marvelously entertaining Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon, the sort of stuff that is so intrinsically interesting that you're amazed you found it. Read two chapters, one about David Foster Wallace, and I got a look inside the writer's fraternity. Chabon talks about how even though suicide is the farthest thing from his mind, how nevertheless the subject fascinates him and is a thread present throughout all his books. He also writes on the cheerier subject of how songs bring back memories in a fabulously powerful way and how a song can be associated with a "nothing moment" way in the past, something you otherwise wouldn't remember except via its association with that song. That's so true - I can recall riding to baseball practice with my dad and "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" was on the radio. Forever after I recall that moment.

He articulates exactly what I've long thought, that it doesn't matter if your iPod has every song on it - there's something different about hearing a song serendipitously:
"No medium is as sensuously evocative of the past as radio...But for the power to have its maximum impact, the process of remembering has to be randon at both ends."
He writes about how the
"iridescent bubble of the music and the air of the past that it randomly traps" [is] "the magic of an accidental conjunction, a flitting moment and the resin drop of a pop song transformed by luck and alchemy into amber. The radiant shins of a girl named Jennifer Dagenais, for example, as she oiled herself with Bain de Soleil at the Phelps Luck swimming pool in the sumer of 1978 are retained in the opening riff of 'Hold the Line' by Toto."
Update: I might add that Chabon's views of religion in general and Christianity in particular are traditional, meaning traditional for a modern literary man-about-town, a man utterly of his time. He's an agnostic who admits that "learning to doubt everything has created a condition strongly akin to fierce belief," a belief strong enough to write "if there was a Jesus", thus holding Jesus to a standard no other ancient figure would be held to. But I suppose it's not surprising given the headwind of the current age.

Creative Writing, Nigerian Scammer Edition

Received this:
Dear E-mail Account Owner,

You email address have been awarded the total lump sum of $650,000.00 (six hundred and fifty thousand USD) in our New Year/Eid online promo You were randomly selected from a list of e-mails collated globally from (WWW)
...and this:
GOODDAY,

This is to bring to your notice that, I have paid the re-activation fee and the delivery charge of your ATM CARD.I paid it because the ATM CARD worthy of (USD$2.5MILLION),has less than 21 days to expire and when it expires, the money will divert and forfeited into Government purse (account).

With that I decided to help you pay the money so that, the ATM CARD will not expire, because I know when you get your ATM CARD definitely you must pay me back my money and even compensate me for helping you. Now I want you to contact Fedex Express Company with your Full Contact information’...
* * *

You never give up
you never say die
you write like the wind
'thout hesitating to lie.

Whenever a number
appears in your prose
you repeat it in characters
as if offering a rose.

Poet Nigeriette
many miles away
you're efforts at English
oft fail to sway.

You scatter much seed
you send quite a scatter
emails by thousands
hoping some may just matter.

You rock in type-ariums
to the rhythms of clatter
with a touch of the formal
and a good deal of flatter.

You sanction your work
by greed of receiver
you think it's okay
"that gullible believer!"

They roll in with the tide
like form letters structured
though never a once
is a poem there constructured
!

January 04, 2010

Choices

Nice line from David Brooks' column:
Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has to be seen doing something, so it added another layer to its stage play, “Security Theater” — more baggage regulations, more in-flight restrictions.
To make it more fun, perhaps they should play the "Chicken Dance" or the "Hokey Pokey" during the stage play. "Put your laptop in, take your laptop out..."

I suppose there are two ways of looking at the body scan technology: 1) if you want to fly, you have to put up with somebody looking at you nekkid or 2) if you want to fly, you have to put up with the infinitesimal risk that the plane will be subject to a terrorist act.

Diaristic Wanderings

'Tis disturbing, that last day of vacation gestern. The long line of kings has ended, the last whistle blown on the sportescapade. Watched OSU (per current local law) and a bit of the U.C. Bearcats on Friday. I pictured a long sloe gin buzz of drinks stretching nursedly along the I-4:00-10pm corridor, assuming I didn't overvisit that particular highway on New Year's Eve. I captained my living room chair for an extended period of time yesterday, stiff-arming any idea of going out to pick up dinner. The last day of vacation I was in the comfort zone, suckling the glass teat, listening to the dulcet tones of Michelle Malkin on C-Span's In-Depth interspersed with a satisfying Cavs game and an unsatisfying Bengals game (Bengals were blown out early). The famous couchus potatous gene must've gotten passed down in my y chromosome.

* * *

Felt a sort of bifocal love, both horizontal and vertical, in the receiving of the Eucharist at the Byzantine liturgy. Felt gratitude towards the Deacon merely in his instrumentality of giving me so great a gift, and, of course for Christ himself. The miracles in the gospel are not about us believing Jesus can cure diseases of the flesh so much but that we might believe He can cure diseases of the spirit.
* * *

I see Betty Duffy has one of her typically lively posts accentuated this time by a bull staring you straight-ways with the quote "You're on a Freight Train Headed for the Blues". Now that's what I'm talking about.

* * *

Enbrethiliel posts about bad Catholics now and then, and one of my "favorite" bad Catholics is the puzzling convicted spy Robert Hanssen. Despite his myriad crimes, I think of him primarily as a traditionalist Catholic. Solitary confinement, 23 of every 24 hours. How is he faring mentally? I search the Internet, feeling as if I have a personal stake. I'm greatly relieved to learn that the Supermax prison is not draconian; the prisoners all have cable TV and distractions like bingo and jeopardy. (Well, Bingo is another matter...) They can yell to cellmates and be heard, so despite the solitary adjective there is still some human contact.

* * *

'Twas hyp-mo-tizing to hear Willie Nelson live-in-concert on New Year's Eve in little (I assume it's little) Carl's Corner, TX. Modern technology is amazing. He sounded real, in other words like he'd had a few, and I thought his heart was so much more in the blues numbers than his own hits, which he seemed to hurry through like getting in from out the rain.

* * *

At water aerobics last week I witnessed the fragility to which we are subject: wick-thin Sarah (not her real name), with a surface and body strong as tensile steel, had gained weight, mostly in her breasts (I did not fail to notice). Her typically boyish figure had become more noticeably feminine but at a personal cost - her busted knee had crashed her exercise routine for six months. To become overly dependent on exercise is to depend on the body and it's structural integrity. She talked about going through the steps of grief: denial, acceptance, etc... This formerly energetic, extroverted young woman rarely went anywhere or did anything for months, plunged into dark depression.

* * *

Current reads include but do not occlude: Cincinnatus by R. McClure, The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, Drood by Dan Simmons, Isaiah: interpreted by early Christian and medieval commentators - by Robert Louis Wilken. I keep looking around for my Lydia Davis book without success.