December 30, 2011

Today's Lit Quote

Gotta Meet that DUI Quota

I got a star on my car and one on my chest,
A gun on my hip and the right to arrest
I'm the guy who's the boss on this highway
So watch out what you're doin' when you're drivin' my way
If you break the law, you'll hear from me, I know
I'm a-workin' for the state, I'm The Highway Patrol


- Junior Brown song
So dinner with Bob* last night at "The Levee", a little Cajun cooking hole-in-the-wall praised by the Bass Brothers on the local radio station 610AM.  I shied away from gustatory boldness and got a chicken burrito (which was delicious).

Afterwards we headed to Macs saloon for a couple of beers, literally two for me, but only one for Bob. He of the small bladder went to the bathroom at 7:15 but then finds, on the ride home at 8, that he has to go again. Badly. There is no where to stop. He waits and waits through the hour ride until, 3 minutes from home, he knows he'll have an accident in the car. He takes a side road, pulls over to the shoulder, then finds his car on a decline. He puts the breaks on but the car is still inching forward, at about 1 mile per hour. He ends up in a ditch and can't get out. He goes to pee, then comes back to the car. He calls home and asks his wife to get a tow truck. A local police officer comes by and talks with sympathetically. The state highway patrol apparently hears the local officer calling into the station (apparently monitoring that frequency) and radios the local officer to hold Bob. About an hour later up walks the highway patrolman like he's God's gift to the world. "What happened?" he snarls, and Bone tells him. He says, "I don't believe you. Look at these tire tracks - I think you loss control of the vehicle and drove over the ditch. And I don't believe you had one beer - how come you smell so bad?" So Bob had to go through all the humiliating rituals, hopping on one leg, eye exercises, reciting alphabets, etc. Finally the cop says he'd let him go, but said he still doesn't believe his story. "If there were one scratch on that car I'd have written you up for reckless op." Another law-abiding citizen treated like a common criminal.

* - Name changed to protect the innocent.

This & That


Saw an old black man in deepest Hamilton, Ohio on Christmas Eve, his face like a topographical map of age and wisdom, walking not far from a corner Mom & Pop grocery, his hands clutching a brown paper bag which presumably held a 40-ounce beer or a bottle of vino. It was about 4 pm, and I instantly saw him as alone, but then/now think he could have a wife or son or daughter and was merely buying something to share with them. But somehow I doubt it. Kinda sad.

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I like what St. Patrick's does to honor the "already and not yet-ness" of the Advent season: they put up Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and kings but no baby Jesus until the actual day. Next time I'll have to do that although admittedly the baby is hardly noticeable on our mantle. But I would know he's not yet there.  I like the idea of the manger scene being up during Advent because it keeps the goal in mind: the Incarnation. There's no question that Advent & Christmas are my favorite liturgical seasons, by far.  Lent reminds me of suffering, His and my own tiny amount, while Easter seems always of a false cheer quality, a premature celebration given our own lack of resurrected bodies.  Ordinary time is, well, a tad ordinary, albeit there's nothing ordinary about the Mass and Eucharist of course! But Advent and Christmas? Pure bliss.  I think if this season came in January I'd be slightly more a fan of that dastardly cold month! 

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Last night saw the movie "The Descendants" starring George Clooney and the Hawaiian land/seascape.  Rather dismal despite the latter and was universally panned by those who saw it, although it did hold our interest.

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Today or tomorrow would be a good day to go to Darby Metro Park. I recall walking the long path up to the place where wild deer, once in a blue moon, might be seen, walking those steep-raked hills like ghosts. The surprise of seeing the unexpected in nature recalls the spiritual surprise of seeing God in the quotidian.

Mornings are not broken when it comes to vacation mornings. I enjoy the pacific tendency of early to bed/late to rise. I gather breakfast in a leisurely fashion, sometimes as late as 10:30. Today we had a guy drive down from Cleveland to put in an alarm system.  I found it alarming, to say the least, when every time you open a door you hear a loud "ding, ding!". Fortunately Steph read the owner's manual and was able to soften that down to a dull roar. 

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Heather King had a guest blogger yesterday. That's usually English for "you can skip this post." But the priest was so incredibly in my comfort zone talking about comfort zones; I was simultaneously encouraged and discouraged, encouraged that even a priest has such issues but discouraged that my own laziness and love of creature comforts was so nakedly exposed.

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So now I listen to more of Josh Groban's hymns of Christmas because I haven't heard any since the morning of the 25th. Like the flip of a switch, the radio stations have determined Christmas season over. They who so assiduously and early announced to us Christmas now announce it done (since no more gifts are being purchased), thus skewing the twelve days of Christmas to Dec. 13-25. Got to go to the iPod as a corrective.

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It's not widely known, but December 26th is also known as "National Introvert Recovery Day".

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One of the great ways to pass long drives is to listen to downloaded Brian Lamb's C-Span podcasts. Enjoyed the author Simon Winchester's hour-long interview, he of "The Professor and the Madman" fame, a book I've long thought about reading.

They Almost Fell On Their Swords

I was amused by the abrupt about-face down by the Boehner's crew. Even I, a political novice, knew that protesting a two-month extension of the payroll tax isn't a good place to spend your political capital.

I'm thinking the House Republicans wouldn't make good poker players. They'd raise the pot while holding a pair of deuces. God love 'em, they go around looking for Pickett charges: places to die politically. I don't get why they wanted to make their stand in what is a short-term conservative victory (two months extension of payroll tax cut, I think - I don't much follow politics closely enough but still feel the need to holler.) What makes the tea party particularly fascinating is the political tone-deafness. It's their nemesis and their saving grace all at once. They show it's not "business as usual" by never having read a political science book. They don't play the "gotcha" games of D.C, so they get had by the Dems nearly every time. They don't want to be good at both politics AND policy, as if the two are mutually exclusive.

December 27, 2011

Power and the Flesh

There's a liberal priest who blogs and who is avidly followed by a family member. The priest recently criticized the pope obliquely by comparing him, unfavorably, with the average CEO. Our numbers aren't improving - Christians make up only about 17% of the world's population - therefore our "CEO" isn't doing his job. This is false on so many levels, beginning with the fact that we look without when we should be looking within, but even given that I don't think we can measure our success with numbers. And I think it's because we are confused about power, as said so eloquently by far and away the best priest blogger I'm aware of, the Friar Minor:

Reflecting on Christmas, and especially our Holy Father's Christmas homily in which St. Francis plays such a part, I've been thinking about contemporary disbelief in God and how maybe it relates to our wrong ideas of power.

Perhaps part of what makes it so hard for folks to believe in God--and even for us religious folks, sometimes, to act as if he exists--is that we are confused about power. God is the Almighty; he is the infinite creative power that made the heavens and the earth and sustains all things in being. And yet, when the Almighty God is revealed to us, what do we get? First, a baby born not only in an obscure place but away from home, to plain parents, and into an ethnic group that was--at least at that time--historically important by no accepted standard. Second, a tortured and convicted criminal being executed on the cross. Christ crucified could not even move his hands and feet, much less control anything or make anybody do anything. And yet these are the privileged revelations of the all-powerful, Almighty God.

Perhaps when we talk about power we are too often talking about what is really the abuse of power, the leverage or ability to manipulate and coerce, to make others conform to our will, to co-opt others into the disorders of our hearts and the futility of our sins.

In Jesus Christ the highest power is revealed as self-emptying humility. If we were to come to really understand and practice our own wills to power in this way, maybe it would be easier to believe in God. Indeed, perhaps God would become as self-evident as he necessarily must be.

Not that it's easy. To embrace the true power revealed in humility is hard on the flesh, which has lusted for the violent domination of others ever since Cain killed his own brother. The crown of thorns cuts and digs when we put it on. But is the crown of the true royalty of this world, of those who bear the real power that is the only source of peace.

December 22, 2011

Books & Authors



Writers and their personal libraries for $200 Alex!

Jonathan Lethem:
"People sometimes act as though owning books you haven't read constitutes a charade or pretense, but for me, there's a lovely mystery and pregnancy about a book that hasn't given itself over to you yet—sometimes I'm the most inspired by imagining what the contents of an unread book might be."

Politics...

It seems to me one of the "x-ray machines" of a political party's soul is to see how, when in power, they apportion legislative districts. The Republicans in control of the Ohio have gotten hilariously creative in drawing districts and this, to me, is a sign of corruption. It's a graphic - literally - display of the dearth of fairness and common sense versus their own self-interest. Ridiculous gerrymandering is the last refuge of a political scoundrel and like pornography you know it when you see it.

The other sign of corruption is that the Bush Derangement Syndrome of yesteryear seems to have its corollary with Obama Derangement Syndrome. How else to explain the rise of Herman Cain, Donald Trump, and Newt Gingrich in the Republican primary polls? This desperation bespeaks less a desire to win the election than to beat Obama up in the debates. Anger makes one less than politically astute, among other things.

December 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Interpretations


Angel appearing to Zechariah

Interesting to hear the differing takes of two priests at the downtown Dominican parish concerning the visits of the angel to Mary at the Annunciation and the visit to Zechariah. (And given, of course, on different days.) One priest said that the reactions of Mary and Zechariah were similar, so why the difference? Because the difference in condition. Mary was treated differently, he argues, because she *was* different - she was conceived without sin and had no original or other sin on her soul. This is one of the biblical clues we have that Mary was uniquely created.

The other priest there said that there was a difference in response and intention: Mary was asking - purely as a practical matter - how this could happen (i.e. give birth without losing her virginity), while with Zechariah, it was obvious how it would come about and it wasn't something that hadn't already happened before in salvation history (see Abraham and Sarah). Plus the priest said Zechariah's tone was different, which doesn't come through in the English so well but was more of a more scoffing attitude.

The first priest's interpretation seems to favor one of predestination. His homilies are big on praising God and not looking at ourselves so much, not trying to take credit for any improvements or become discouraged with lack thereof. The second priest's emphasizes human response and tends to emphasize our role in salvation. So in retrospect it's no wonder that they look at the same biblical story in different ways.

UPDATE: The Friar Minor has worthwhile thoughts on the same subject.

December 19, 2011

This & That Monday

Two reads:
"...to lose physical sight, it is thought, is to gain second sight. One door closes and another, greater one, opens. Homer’s blindness, many believe, is a kind of spiritual channel, a shortcut to the gifts of memory and of prophecy."
- from novel "Open City"

"O God who wished Blessed Margaret be blind from birth so that the eyes of her soul enlightened by your grace, might more clearly see the value of spiritual realities..."
- from novena prayer to Blessed Margaret of Castello.

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From Betty Duffy:
My brother-in-law discovered that he could create a musical communion in the bar from his I-phone, by sending a virtual request to the I-tunes jukebox to play any song he chose, without ever getting up from the booth. No one would know who requested the song. He selected Andrea Bocelli singing Ave Maria.

From the very first notes, the other patrons of the bar were alarmed. The bartender went to the jukebox to see what was playing. Another patron went with him, and together they tried to override the song. But it couldn't be done. The bartender tried to comfort his customer saying, "Well, it's sort of a pretty song."

To which the patron replied, "I'm going to throw up."

This is one of those very rare cases where technology thrills me: you could potentially request an I-jukebox song from your I-phone, without ever even entering the bar. If you want the pool-hall patrons to spend the evening listening to Gregorian Chant, sit in your car, and request (for a small fee) all the songs you desire, from your phone.


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Pray that Maureen secure employment!

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It's funny that the last mortal thoughts of Christopher Hitchens might well be on that most Catholic of English writers, GK Chesterton.

Amazon Search Results

Unlikely juxtaposition of results:

December 16, 2011

Christendom Review Up

Striking Christendom Review images:



Translating Cheers

High school jeer/cheer that will apparently forever be lodged in my head went:
"Go Back! Go Back! Go back to the woods! Your coach is a farmer and your team is no good!"
Alternative renderings include:
"Retreat! Retreat! Retreat to the pines. Your coach is a rancher and your team is not exceptional."
Dylan has some much better ones:
Unto the woods convey yourselves with haste; for, as your coach is adept at nothing save tillage of the soil, your team, O hapless foe, is of truly mean estate.
and...
No laurel of victory shall come your way, O wretched contestants of the gridiron! It would seem that your athletic director is incapable of anything but making the earth yield produce in abundance; therefore, O team, return with all due haste to the rural atmosphere; indeed, go back to the bucolic spot which gave you sustenance.

Links & Thoughts



OP Reach likes Isaiah too.

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Pope Speaks of Something Greater Than Answered Prayers

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Being of a conservative, risk-adverse bent, it took me many years to accept the notion that alcohol had been tested by humans long enough in order for me to indulge, and so it's odd I'm so willing to being part of this on-the-grid experiment.

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Been watching a very watchable movie in 30 minute increments: "Crazy Heart" starring Jeff Bridges. It's about an old time country music star finding love and meaning. Really well-acted by Bridges, whose gruffness and frankness sounds authentic, to my ear anyway. It's like a Western, only with no gunplay.

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Grey and overcast, greyest overcast. The weather has a charismatic quality simply in its newness, in its freshness and its omnipresence. There's always weather, always some differing quality of light and temperature. I want to find the bright side, pun unintended, of this gray-ly authentic December weather. It's very fashionable, very much "of the minute", very much of the season. The grey-ness is not the artificially static climate of southern California but one capable of donning many disguises, from a dapper "London fog" sort, to a Nome-ian snow blitz, and in summer to an equatorial heat. Meanwhile a second squirrel nest has come to lodge in a nearby maple.

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A wonderful writer, I think of Christopher Hitchens as the H.G. Wells or George Bernard Shaw of our time, a man of deeply flawed convictions but capable of very loyal friendships. At the end he began to see our weakness in the face of disease and death, or at least see that that which does not kill us does not necessarily make us stronger. Only God can make us stronger, in body and spirit, and I would that he would know that now.

There were more similarities between Christopher Hitchens and William F. Buckley than many think.  Both were boarding school survivors, hedonists, contrarians, great writers, and intellectuals.  Both had an especial talent for friendship and were charismatic.  I can't be alone in being a fan of both and to feel the pain when they left this world.  Advice for the young: don't pick older writers as favorites. They'll die on ya. 

First reading today:
Let no foreigner who has attached himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ Let no eunuch say, ‘And I, I am a dried-up tree.’ Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants – all who observe the sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain.
- Isaiah 56

December 11, 2011

This & That


Above me a blue skylight, or "solatube" casts the dying rays downward. The blue gets deeper and deeper as time passes. Ten feet away stand the stalwart volumes of the 1911 Britannica Encyclopedia, standing athwart history yelling, "Stop!" How gladsome those soldiers make me feel! They seem too distant from my recliner, and so I imagine ways to integrate them more fully into my life without risking that they lose their salt, so to speak. Right now I look more than touch.

So I have a broad margin of time today as I hole up in the "temple of peace", the library, and read the novel "Open City" by Teju Cole which includes the 'graph:
"His reverie took him out of the everyday, away from the blankets and the bag of urine. It was the late thirties again, and he was back in Cambridge, breathing the damp air of the fens, enjoying the tranquility of his youthful scholarship."
Ah how I love that phrase: "the tranquility of his youthful scholarship". How high the stakes seemed, holding to my coveted if meaningless goal of graduating "cum laude", the fruit of having acquired a 3.5 on a 4.0 scale over the years. And how true it was that the scholarship was played out in a tranquil fashion on those long evenings at King Library. I would wander over to the periodicals after studying and feed on some of the vitality of those wondrous, eclectic magazines. Oh how the ache of learning was slaked in those days!

Now I have this dream stretch of time available on the heels of a beer-free Saturday (a chance to spare the liver and cleanse the palate, or vice-versa.) Got the Bengals on the DVR for later, their fate not necessary for current conditions. For now I drink a Two-Hearted Ale, a crisp remnant from vacation bliss, while reading and writing. I finished "The Marriage Plot" yesterday, experienced the dubious ending but can find little fault in a writer that so engages.

On Guadete Sunday I read Pope Paul VI's apostolic exhortation "On Christian Joy", which cleansed me of any irritability. I was filled with joy, appropriately, especially when the pontiff, with exquisite sensitively, said that we need not be discouraged if we're not full of Christian joy just yet. To my mind, we've had a good long run of excellent popes, from John XIII through the present one. It's fitting somehow that Paul VI, so long type-cast as the shepherd who was mournful and depressed, writes on joy such that even some thirty-five years later, a priest at a parish in downtown Columbus takes the time to print off copies for parishioners.

Watched an HBO documentary on a private detective in Calcutta, fascinating on both a human and photographic level. Then COPS ("Ho, Ho, Ho!" about prostitutes -- always figures of interest given that they sell their souls, it seems. It may be the world's oldest profession, but it also seems the most... disturbing.)

On Joy

Paul VI   Apostolic Exhortation
http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/p6gaude.htm
Let us now pause to contemplate the person of Jesus during His earthly life. In His humanity He had experienced our joys. He has manifestly known, appreciated, and celebrated a whole range of human joys, those simple daily joys within the reach of everyone. The depth of His interior life did not blunt His concrete attitude or His sensitivity. He admires the birds of heaven, the lilies of the field. He immediately grasps God’s attitude towards creation at the dawn of history. He willingly extols the joy of the sower and the harvester, the joy of the man who finds a hidden treasure, the joy of the shepherd who recovers his sheep or of the woman who finds her lost coin, the joy of those invited to the feast, the joy of a marriage celebration, the joy of the father who embraces his son returning from a prodigal life, and the joy of the woman who has just brought her child into the world.
It's perhaps of interest that Paul VI wrote that in 1975, when he was in old age and after Humane Vitae's poor reception, when he was said to be downhearted and discouraged. Later he writes:
Here below this joy will always include to a certain extent the painful trial of a woman in travail and a certain apparent abandonment, like that of the orphan: tears and lamentation, while the world parades its gloating satisfaction. But the disciples’ sadness, which is according to God and not according to the world, will be promptly changed into a spiritual joy that no one will be able to take away from them.

December 09, 2011

"I Dare Not Risk the Sweetness of the Title"

Ha, I've said something similar to this in the past on my blog:
I remember the buying of my "Anatomy of Melancholy" (that I have never read, nor ever mean to—I dare not risk the sweetness of the title); two big beautiful volumes, with a paper label on the back of each, they stood imperious on the shelves.

Robust Low-Hanging Fruit Leveraging Outside the Box Thinking

Most hated buzzwords...

December 06, 2011

Back to Back Tweets in the Twitter Feed

Whoda thunk these back-to-backers?:



I'm sure they don't follow each other.

How Doctors Die

Interesting link via Elena on how doctors die. (Hint: they're not keen on chemotherapy.)

Book Quotes

Found from various & sundry places...this first quote is an argument against nominating Newt Gingrich for president.
Shakespeare seems to have sensed very early—what the world at large has still to learn—that he who cannot rule himself is not entitled to rule a city, still less a nation. - Goddard's "The Meaning of Shakespeare"

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After the birth of a human being his early years are obscurely spent in the toils or pleasures of childhood. As he grows up the world receives him, when his manhood begins, and he enters into contact with his fellows. He is then studied for the first time, and it is imagined that the germ of the vices and the virtues of his maturer years is then formed. This, if I am not mistaken, is a great error. We must begin higher up; we must watch the infant in its mother's arms; we must see the first images which the external world casts upon the dark mirror of his mind; the first occurrences which he witnesses; we must hear the first words which awaken the sleeping powers of thought, and stand by his earliest efforts, if we would understand the prejudices, the habits, and the passions which will rule his life. The entire man is, so to speak, to be seen in the cradle of the child. - Tocqueville's "Democracy in America"

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Unlike every other famous tourist sight Mitchell had seen in his life, the Acropolis was more impressive in reality; no postcard or photograph could do it justice. The Parthenon was both bigger and more beautiful, more heroically conceived and constructed, than he’d imagined. - Eugenides's "The Marriage Plot"

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a snapping turtle lumbered down the center of the asphalt like an ambulatory helmet. His long tail dragged, blunt head jutting out of the lapidary prehistoric sleep of shell.

the drowned boy blurred as much by memory as by water, molded toward an essential, remote ideal. Longing, of course, become its own object, the way that desire can make anything into a god. - Doty's "Fire to Fire"

If Thinking With the Church Were Easy, Everybody Would Do It

Here's National Review's take on the new translation:

December 02, 2011

On Looking Forward to Friday (in this case, today)

There's a thin line between passion and pathology, goes Heather King's motto, and similarly there's a thin line between looking forward to some earthly good and looking TOO much forward to it. "Seek first the kingdom of God and all else will be added," is gospel truth.

There's a catch-22 nature to addiction and/or looking too forward: something has to be really good for it to be looked forward to too much. By striving to find transcendent experience one is unwittingly striving to find addiction. You can't really have one without the other, it would seem. Drug addicts have found the most obvious and seemingly dependable source of pleasurable experiences while simultaneously finding the most addictive and destructive. And, of course, the thrill wears off even as the need for the the substance doesn't.

I suspect one reason to not to look forward so much is because by definition you're not living in the moment. By definition you are, in a sense, "wishing your life away" and we know how precious life is. It's not particularly helpful or conducive to gratitude, to be bummed that it's Monday instead of Friday, say, and gratitude is arguably the mark of true religion.

Happened across a Psychology Today link:
The circuitry connecting the orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum is a beautifully crafted machine for learning what you like and pursuing it with single-minded purpose. Its fuel is dopamine. And this machine sends messages directly to the premotor and motor cortex. It guides behavior, action, in pursuit of the good things in life...We can learn to go after anything, full bore, if it attracts us. And that's how we get ahead in life.

But it's also how we get addicted. The goal-pursuit circuit is a bit too flexible. Cocaine high. Oh yeah. That feels good. Want more. Got to get it. That drink at the end of the day. Feels good. Want it. Stop at the liquor store on the way home. These tendencies eventually cause us a lot of suffering, but they are simply byproducts of a brain that evolved to seek rewards, based on their attractiveness, and to pursue them with almost relentless energy.

When your back-ache gets bad enough, you start doing physio or yoga, so that you can use your upright spine to its best advantage. When your addiction gets bad enough, you'd best figure out how to use the goal-pursuit circuit for what it's designed for: to be successful and happy, to avoid suffering, and—of course—to feed the little ones back at the cave.

November 30, 2011

David Foster Wallace

Heather King references a David Foster Wallace book in her post title here and mentions a New York magazine article:
Eugenides got to know Wallace, with whom he’d had a ­rapid-fire correspondence about religion after the publication of Infinite Jest. Like Eugenides, whose search for faith is a major element of The Marriage Plot, Wallace quietly sought out spiritual answers and flirted with joining the Catholic Church, as Karr later did. (When they were together, they tried to pray every day.) He told Eugenides those letters held a lot of meaning for him.
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Heather has some sharp pictures of her Christmas decorations on her blog:



November 29, 2011

RSS Roundup

Some interesting tidbits found here and there... On "iPad madness" Pat Snyder writes:
I cannot blame readers alone for this electronic indulgence, though. The iPad bug had been building over two months of schlepping a laptop to graduate school classes in positive psychology – a field that ironically (1) teaches that buying more gadgets does not bring lasting happiness but simply sentences us to a “hedonic treadmill” and (2) warns against being a “maximizer” – that person who goes nuts trying to make the right choice out of way too many choices.

“Are you someone who has trouble choosing just the right dish on the menu?” the professor had asked. “Do you get stuck looking for the very best solution?” He urged us to become “satisficers” instead – people who do not agonize but go for the “good enough” choice.
From Brother Charles at A Minor Friar on the new translation:
I certainly notice how I hear the Latin behind the English (is that the right metaphor?) I hear the mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa in the new English Confiteor, the double dicens before the words of consecration in the way we now say 'saying' instead of 'said.' And of course I hear the calix sanguinis mei and the pro multis. Does this mean anything that I should hear the Latin under the English? I guess that goes to some of the hard questions at hand. What does Latin mean for western Christianity? Is it a historical accident? Or does God mean for it be that way? I think most folks I know would subscribe to the former theological assumption. For a sort of sed contra on a similar question on the history of human language and revelation, go read the Pope's infamous Regensburg speech, not the part that caused all the trouble, but the part about the Septuagint.
From Msgr. Pope:
I, like you, have read with interest the reactions of many to the new translation, after its first week of use. Most of the remarks I have read are quite positive. A smaller, though not insignificant number, are negative, some strikingly so...There is one strain of negative reaction I would like to address however, since it goes to the heart of a common misunderstanding of the Liturgy. The negative reaction basically stated is:

I can’t easily understand what Father is saying in those long, run-on sentences. It doesn’t make sense to me and I get lost in all the words.


...But here we come to an important insight that, though it is not politically correct, is still true: The priest is not talking to you. He is not directing the prayer to you, and the first purpose of the prayer is not that you understand it perfectly. The prayer is directed to God, (most often, to God the Father). The priest is speaking to God, and is doing so on your behalf, and that of the whole Church. And God is wholly able to understand the prayer, no matter how complicated its structure.

Too often in modern times we have very anthropocentric (man-centered) notions of the Sacred Liturgy...Intelligibility, while not the most important thing, IS important... But, frankly, it is not essential. Otherwise the faithful could not validly attend Mass in foreign lands, and the Mass could not be offered in Latin.

November 28, 2011

Fr. Barron's Documentary

Watched some of Fr Barron's Catholicism project on EWTN. Nice. Preferable to the book, since when he's discussing some overly familiar aspect of the Faith I can zoom out/zone out and let the amazing photography flow over me. It's part travelogue, or virtual pilgrimage, and I wondered, while he explained dark night of the soul so confidently, whether he'd ever really experienced it. It seems like the vast majority of us haven't and yet that seems to be the key to life because it gets us close to God. To see the prison wall where that great spiritual giant, St John of the Cross clambored down was something else. Or to see Lourdes, or the convent of the great St Teresa of Avila. Pretty cool.

The Sea



"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul...- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can... There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me." - Moby-Dick

Let's Play...Why's My Bookbag or E-Reader Equivalent So Heavy?

From Mark Doty's "Fire to Fire":
...a snapping turtle lumbered down the center of the asphalt like an ambulatory helmet. His long tail dragged, blunt head jutting out of the lapidary prehistoric sleep of shell.
From Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville:
Henceforward every new discovery, every new want which it engendered, and every new desire which craved satisfaction, was a step towards the universal level. The taste for luxury, the love of war, the sway of fashion, and the most superficial as well as the deepest passions of the human heart, co-operated to enrich the poor and to impoverish the rich.

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From the time when the exercise of the intellect became the source of strength and of wealth, it is impossible not to consider every addition to science, every fresh truth, and every new idea as a germ of power placed within the reach of the people. Poetry, eloquence, and memory, the grace of wit, the glow of imagination, the depth of thought, and all the gifts which are bestowed by Providence with an equal hand, turned to the advantage of the democracy...
From Goddard's "The Meaning of Shakespeare":
This was Shakespeare’s enunciation of a belief he never abandoned: that ideal young manhood is a union of masculine and feminine qualities. “Men who have the woman in them without being womanized,” says George Meredith, “they are the pick of men.”
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There are two ways of fitting into one’s environment that are as opposite as night and day. To fit into one’s age as mud does into a crack, or to be molded by it as putty is under a thumb is one thing; to fit into it and to use it creatively as a seed fits into and uses soil is quite another.
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In proportion as they master them, men grow skeptical of their own professions. When they come to know them, they see through them.
*
It would be folly to try to subsume Shakespeare’s works under one head, but, if we were forced to do so, one of the least unsatisfactory ways would be to say that they are an attempt to answer the question: What is the cure for chaos?

First Sunday of Advent

So it's the First Sunday of Advent. It's the beginning of the church year, which is a far meaningful beginning than January 1st, the secular beginning. I surprised myself by stumbling on the "And with your Spirit" several times at Mass. I think I only got it right twice out of five tries. I thought that since the Eastern rite says "and with your spirit" that I would have little trouble with it. I guess not, especially since they chant it and we say it. But it's good as a dose of humility!

Our pastor mentioned the image of God as potter in the first reading and I thought about how often that image has occurred to me in only a spiritual sense, as if we were made, physically, independent of Him! But the pastor spoke of it mainly in terms of our physical selves, how each of us ("even twins") is unique. And so there's another reason to thank God. Too often I completely ignore the fact of my physical creation; I take it for granted or minimize it.

*

(Before I forget, Fr. Martin in "Between Heaven and Mirth" humorously mentioned a spiritual adviser who told him he was 'shoulding all over himself', a rather colorful image of those who are always saying, 'I should do this, I should do that...').

*

From the unlikely source of the novel "The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides, a character in the story describes reading St. Teresa of Avila's "Interior Castle", quoting the saint as saying that those who find themselves in the castle at all ought be grateful: "it's a great gain that they found their way in at all." Perhaps it's a temptation to a "reduction of desire," as Heather King put it, but I do sometimes think that instead of complaining that I'm not at the fourth or fifth or seven level of the castle that I should be thankful merely for the fact that I've been Baptized -- even if I'm still in the swamp outside the castle to borrow from the saint's imagery.

*

Potent gospel last Sunday, perhaps the most potent of all. It's the daunting Matthew chapter 24 in which we learn how we are judged. And I thought about how Christ is indeed hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison, ill, because He is within the least of us. It goes beyond mere identification with, or empathy for. The verses I often have taken as a very hard goal for us to achieve, can also be taken another way: as a way of saying how much He loves us. It's not enough to do good, the pastor says, but to see Christ in what we're doing and who we're doing it for.

*

Wow, Jennifer of Conversion Diary says what I've been thinking:
"The same force that drives people to slot machines is what drives me to my computer. I realized that when I mindlessly get online, every time I click it’s like pulling the lever on a slot machine and hoping to hit the jackpot. I’m hoping to hit a virtual jackpot — a blog post that changes my life, an email that blows me away, a hilarious video on YouTube, etc. And the truth is that there’s enough stuff online that if I clicked on enough links or spent enough time on email I would get that payoff I’m looking for. But, just like with slot machines, I need to be careful about spending endless amounts of time just sitting around pulling the lever."

Of Human Bloggage

Really I just wanted to blog this because I like the title. I never come up with good titles.

One thing that's sort of surprising about blogs is that it doesn't seem like very many are glorified diaries. (Or maybe I just don't read them.) It's pretty darn rare where you see someone writing, "Today I went to the grocery store and had dinner with X followed by a movie." You'd think there would be a lot of crossover between diaries and blogs*, but so many people - at least in the Catholic blogosphere - have profound things about politics, religion or culture. That's more helpful to the audience, and is more audience-centric. The trip log feels inappropriate simply because I can't think of any other Catholic blogs post long trip logs like that. It feels nakedly self-indulgent. It's funny that even in something as idiosyncratic and independent and (mostly) invisible as our blogs we still want to conform to everybody else's. We are social animals indeed.

* - perhaps that's what Twitter/Facebook have become for some.

Ye Olde Trip Log


































Saturday

Modern technology's weak link is the battery. Freshly charged keyboard died immediately upon entry and now I'm left high and dry for the week. But who cares when we're above the clouds and the sun is present and it feels idyllic just being on the plane, the gentle motion, those surprisingly tasty airline cookies simply via association.

We got upgraded to an exit row and have legroom aplenty. The flight's only two hours and I wish it could be longer to half-sleep, half-dream, think of the past, of band camps in spring, of how we have this entire continent of memory and yet can only access such a pitifully small fraction of it, at least on earth.

*

Check-in smoothly. Best Western rules. To the beach! I forget, when landlocked, how when I get to the sea I want to read sea books, mythical books really, books that contain no dialogue but the sea's breath, a vast compendium of ocean poetry linked together. "Now the scalloped sea engulfs me....".

Sea reads are not the only type appealing on trips: travelogues in general are, notwithstanding the difference, say, between strolling through Paris and lounging on a beach. I'm reading John Baxter's "The Most Beautiful Walk in the World" about Paris and he mentioned something I hadn't heard before: the English love sun, the French love shade. Makes sense given that only "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun."

We spend the day on the sands but dusk comes early to mid-November Florida. It changes the color of the Gulf from a leaden flatness to a brilliant white, at least where the sun strikes it. Winds produce a fine spray of white sand; like mist it travels over the malleable hillocks.

SUNDAY

1988. A poet in Monterrey, California. I was there on vacation and his book seemed a vast improvement over the kitschy souvenirs, for what could improve upon a poet of the place? More than even rock or soil, a writer sings of the distilled essence. And yet that particular souvenir gathered dust. I was more interested in collecting than in experiencing. I was more interested in the idea of re-experience than in actual real-time experience. And yet I knew, or suspected, that the book couldn't live up to my idea of the place, and so it goes... It's like love or God: you feel no one can live up to your idea of love so you collect glimpses, fragments of love and put them away for a rainy day, not realizing every day is a rainy day.

Felt good to be back at the beach, despite the long delay (3pm). The day got behind us too quickly: Mass at 10am after which we went a mile down the rode to see a professional sand sculpting display (they even charged an entrance fee but it was quite worth it), followed by lunch at the Beached Whale. Time spun away from us and it was with a sense of relief I regained a temporary beachhead and the quiet - the blessed quiet! - of wind and wave. We'd been pummeled by noise at the restaurant, where a thousand screens showing pro football games were accentuated by whoops and hollers. Before that we rode 9 miles along a busy thoroughfare with plenty a motorbike. Yes it was good to arrive back at the beach, pleasantly fatigued and ready for books and beer and the music of the breeze.

*

It's been surprisingly difficult to figure out nationalities just from appearances. For example, I rode up the elevator with one of the more American figures I'd ever seen, like John Wayne with a off-brand ball-cap and that all-American touch of impatience. But when he spoke to his wife I couldn't even identify the language. In hindsight, he held his books - yes, plural, another dead giveaway - too high against his chest. American men are taught from little on that the higher books are held against the body the more feminine the pose. Plus the books were enclosed in a ziplock bag, which seems, again in hindsight, a bit fussy for the average laid-back American paperback reader. Leider (German word for 'unfortunately') I couldn't see the title of the books, nor did I ask him where he was from. He looked pretty blue-collar to be taking books to the beach.

Another difficult case was the man wearing a large hat and a Speedo swimsuit. That would suggest not an American, but he had such a Texas look about him, and he was overweight, which is an American characteristic.

*

And so to the electric prose (literally): the Kindle and its pleasing array of literature. I feel a bit of a pull to continue reading about glamorous Paris though the scene in front of me is glamorous as well: the swells of waves beyond which carry a pirate ship, complete with authentic-sounding booms (I know, because I've heard pirate ship cannons in movies).

I read in the Paris book of how Hemingway said that the modern world is so full of mechanical oppressions that it's a good thing we have alcohol as a mechanical relief. Surely we're now more, in ways technological, even more mechanically oppressed now. Or not. I don't feel particularly oppressed at least at this particular moment. And I don't think of Hemingway as in any way worthy of emulation except in his writing prowess.

The early retreat of the sun cannot be reversed - at 4:50 it's sitting low in the sky, sort of like the way men are supposed to carry books. Sandpipers hunt and stilt-walk their way along the shallows. The sand under my feet is packed neither too hard or too loosely. All of these facts seem somehow of import.

MONDAY

Steph woke up with a mild sickness and so it was to the doctor we went, a walk-in clinic, where the old gathered in the waiting room as if in living proof that as we age we breakdown, and all "getting better" is merely temporary. They come to the clinic honestly and we see our future: one of us routinely waiting in doctor's offices or emergency rooms as if it were a hair appointment. It's not unpleasant, reading the Kindle with the distraction of the noise of Kathy Lee Gifford on the television. Most of the visitors are neither reading nor watching tv but simply sitting and waiting with perhaps the patience of an older generation, or one comfortable with, and interested by, their own thoughts. I hadn't seen Kathy Lee since the days of Regis's little show and I wondered if she'd been able to resist the omnipresent desire of older women to go under the scalpel. She looked fake-young to me, with long yellow hair. In this world the phrase, "She's looking older," is apparently worse than "She looks like she's had surgery" and I think we're the poorer for it. Taking care of oneself is great but knives, well...A huge billboard in our neighborhood, advertising for a politician named Young, says it all concerning our society: "Act Young, Be Young, Vote Young".

Afterwards there was the issue of the prescription, with the closest pharmacy cross island. We waited for a trolly, not the most punctual of modes of transportation for the patience-impaired. Vacation has unwittingly forced me to slow down. After a wait we made our way down the long Estero Boulevard of paradise regained to the CVS. American efficiency reared its pretty head and within ten minutes we had the medicine, after which we waited 45 minutes or so for the next trolley, after a few false starts of "special trip" vehicles.

Back at the hotel by 1:30pm, and to the beach I went. Under the Brisbane-ish sun I ran down the beach a mile and back, enjoying the second half more than the inertia-breaking first half. I decided an early happy hour was in order and proceedeth thence to open a Dogfish Head "Rasion D'Etre". I sit in the same spot, the spot where the sun unfailingly seems to shine as if making a path to the sea just for us. Shining diamonds crystal in front of me while the pirate ship booms. Two German lesbians lay out to my right, an extended family to the left.

The weak link in this vacation is the food: breakfasts are continental with hard-boiled eggs, functional only. Dinners are micowaveable since there is no conventional oven. So it's not a pretty picture unless and until we go out, which we did on Sunday with a sun-defying visit to The Beached Whale (whose t-shirts we definitely don't want). The carbo-rich breakfasts and dinners make me feel as though the weight is being put in exponential fashion.

The childhood pool game Marco Polo is being played nearby. We varied it, back in the late '70s, by replying "Polo, ol' chap". I think we thought Marco was British or something. Plus it was a cheeky way of saying "you can't catch me", via the extra syllables said in that detached 007 way.

TUESDAY

The definition of a leisurely morning: a walk on the beach with the concomitant pleasure of a shoreline of seashells that line the Gulf like trinkets. Early on we have the beach nearly to ourselves while later many share the view. I find myself looking, as often as not, towards the empty terraces and balconies that lace the shoreline. So many vantage points from which to see the sea, so many with that same exhilarating scene from lofty heights.

Then we got on our bikes and headed towards the "Times Square" area for an American breakfast at a Greek cookery. Yum, if undaring. We followed with a bike-ride past the pastel buildings of the Square to the quiet harbor before putting out to Bowditch Point, at the extreme end of the island.

To the beach at 11am where I started to run: oh how I'd secretly craved a run! I sprinted down the beach "like a gazelle" Steph said. I felt in better shape today than the first day down here. Beer and sun will make me run. (Er, that didn't sound right.) Who wants to read when there's ground to cover, fleeting sand underfoot, barefoot down the beach past gliding pelicans and piping sand pipers (I refer to pretty much all sea birds other than gulls as 'sand pipers' because it's the only type I know.)

Speaking of Europe, my "can you spot the European" game show continues with today's slam dunk: a blonde woman with bunched shoulders wearing white shoes with black socks. Nothing says "European" like an unlikely flirtation with black. The easy way to tell a foreigner is simply anytime you notice them, since one tends not to notice the overly familiar. Thus when I was talking to a guy from Ottawa, technically a foreign country but who gave off all the signals of an American, I said without realizing he was one: "there are a lot of foreigners here." Not that there's anything wrong with foreigners of course. Some of my best friends happen...

Is the popularity of tattoos a metaphor for the modern tendency towards short-term thinking and live-for-the-minute? The conventional wisdom is that tatts may look good now, but will they when you're 60? "They're not thinking about 60," goes a school of thought. On the other hand, if everyone in your generation is getting tattooed, then it seems like what "looks bad" will be culturally defined downward by the time they get to 60. In a sense it seems a risk worth taking given how much beauty is culturally influenced. What surprises me about tattoos is how there's a segment of the population that becomes addicted to it, and keep going in for more.

The vacation is starting to get long in the tooth, Thursday being our last full day. I feel a bit nonplussed about it, assuming I know what nonplussed means and I'm not sure I do but I know what I'd like it to mean. Saturday was a travel day, Sunday a semi-travel day given the long journey down Estero, and Monday a semi-travel given the illness. Today is the first full day of beach, nothing but beach.

WEDNESDAY

Woke up with disquieting dreams, including one in which I was back in high school and the powers-that-be suddenly added a new requirement: crucifixion. Yes, we all would be crucified our senior year. Needless to say I was very upset and agitated about this development. Perhaps this speaks to my subconscious protest to our having to give ourselves completely to God. Needless to say we Christians are expected to, if not be crucified, at least carry our cross towards that end. Perhaps it's guilt at being able to go on so many vacations.

So it's day five already and a bit of fatigue has resulted from the fatigue and exercise. The weather ebullient, as it has been all week, although tomorrow is supposed to cool down, relatively speaking. This week the weather has been decided warmer than normal, for which I am not ungrateful.

Got out by 10:30 or 11-ish and enjoyed the fine sea breeze while reading the surprisingly engaging "Eyewall", about a fictional cat-5 hurricane striking a Georgian sea island. A nice light beach read, perhaps the pluperfect one. No "Drood" today, though a spot of Kingsley Amis' "Every Day Drinking".

The great hours at the beach are 10:30am-12:30pm and 3pm-5pm. In the first, you get the "thrill up your leg" as Chris Matthews might say that the day is young and the sun is high and you're high on that sunshine. By 12:30 or 1pm, I feel ready for some movement, exercise, something else. Too much sitting/laying about. By 3pm, I'm usually drinking, which is its own reward as drink and drug (can't we say "and/both" despite Chesterton's admonition that both drunk and teetotaler miss the fact that alcohol is a drink, not a drug.)

Spotted an amorous display of affection involving a guy wearing a speedo. Is that a wise move given the visibility of sexual appreciation in the male? A good reason not to wear speedos. Speedos often reflect the quintessential mistake: "as I think, so will females". "Skin to win" is a mostly ironclad rule from the male perspective but most females are not so sight-motivated. Of course I generalize here. Some men have an exhibitionist fetish (hence the prevalence of male streakers and Anthony Wiener-type tweets.) There's nothing quite as dispiriting as seeing a group of naked bikers with the great majority being male.

The sun is so blinding off the water that when people walk by they become silhouettes, surrounded by the glory and glamour of the sun. Even average-bodied figures become as transfigured, acquiring a kind of transcendence and poetry.

4:30 and the clouds have blocked the sun to egregious effect. Cool winds zephyr up our legs and down our backs. I put on a shirt and Steph covers with a towel. Beer, the great warmer-upper, helps but the cloud bank is huge and extends for half the sky and it's cool as an Irish fall evening. Boats nod in the choppy waters. The wind feels exhilarating, it gives a feeling of windswept nostalgia like the grainy videos of JFK at the Cape. Or it could be that no one is more melodramatic than me on the penultimate day of vacation (or really any day on vacation for that matter).

Never bet against the Sunshine State. No sooner had we retreated to our unit when the sun shone bright beneath a huge dark slab of cloud. The sliding doors, facing west, flood the room with savor-able light. Parisian painters of the 1800s used to appreciate the "melancholic light" of 5-7pm. Me, I appreciate any given that I live in Columbus, aka "Cloud-umbus".

And now the sun begins its precipitous decline. 5:20 and we live on borrowed time -- but then don't we anyway? Isn't all time borrowed? Meanwhile Steph is reading my Kindle (I've created a monster!) and so I can't get back into Goddard's rich Shakespearian feast.

So the winds blow through the hunter-green fronds of the palm in front of our balcony. A single spear juts from the base of the palms. White sand and water complete the endlessly appealing backdrop. And sky - so much sky! The fronds wave as if weaving goodbye; they look so creaturely for plant life.

THURSDAY

It's funny what the water brings in. Yesterday a half-pumpkin the size of a canned ham. Also an ear of corn. But no note in a bottle, alas. Until yesterday the beach was clean as a lick, with just light-colored shells undulating along the shoreline. Then, apropos of nothing, driftwood and bamboo sticks in quantity appear, marking the beach with dark matter for a mile or more.

Lots of "Heaven and Mirth" followed by a mirthful 20 minute run followed by a beer & malted milkshake runs. The weather is of paradise, which is how Ft. Myers markets itself. To my knowledge no one calls Vegas, or the Grand Canyon, or Niagara Falls paradise but I saw two road signs claiming such, and one bike rental operator refer to the sunshine, warm temps and beach as such.

"A fish just ran over my foot!" complains a 20s-something youth. A lot of rowdy "civilians" (non-hotel residents) at the beach today, presumably because of the holiday.

Overheard elsewhere: "The water is muddy-looking, probably from the dredging they're doing." There is a sand restoration project going on as I write this: a big ship in the distance runs an underwater tube to the shoreline from which great gobs of sand are emitted.

FRIDAY

So it's "Black Friday", so-called because it's when retailers get in the black economically but for me it's a black Friday because I'm heading north back to the land of cold and shadow.

We got up early and walked the beach one last time. The sunshine state delivered yet again, I thought to myself. On the ride to the airport we met yet another transplant: this time from Tennessee by way of Michigan, last time via New Jersey. Tempting that... I like that Steven Riddle move south.

November 18, 2011

On the Cusp of Weekend


Lazy Dog in His Natural Habitat


Last night suckled two fine beers, different as night and day but equally refreshing: a Columbus IPA with its apricot-y high hops flavor followed by the ever-rich Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, another local brew. I used to be dubious of Ohio beers, as if their popularity was a sign of bias or "homerism", but these two brews are as fine as any I've tasted.

*

Just me, for about ten minutes yesterday, before the Blessed Sacrament. Honored to be guarding the Host. Then an older woman happened in and slowly made her way a few rows in front of me. In her hands was "Shirt of Flame". I felt a moment of connection with Him, the small feeling that my donation to the reading table was not in vain!

*

Very enjoyable half-hour at my desk today reading of the magical prose of Jeffrey Eugenides. Ah I've been going through fiction withdrawal without realizing it! What pleasure in his printed word I took, savoring the highly digestible sentences. Poetry without affectation, I tell ya.

*

Likely made a tactical error in blowing off the Lunch & Learn yesterday, the AVP's pet. Admin assistant threw me under the bus by mentioning loudly that I wasn't there, something that wasn't lost on my boss yesterday. I chided her this a.m.: "You busted me out didn't you?" I should've picked up on the signal that this wasn't an optional meeting by the fact that she kept asking us if we were going to be there: the quintessential "tell". The usual corporate passive-aggressive enforcement tactic. I'm somewhat glad I didn't fall for it. (Famous last words.) The meeting, about the financial concept of goodwill, gave me an excuse: "I didn't go because I already know what Goodwill is - I donate there!". Hardee har har. (As always, your experience of humor may vary.)

November 17, 2011

Link O'Rama

Compare and Contrast What Our Libraries Say About Us.

Tales of a Bibliophile


Good stuff, found here, on Arthur Balfour's reading habits:
...From Blanche E.C. Dugdale, Arthur James Balfour, First Earl of Balfour K.G., O.M. F.R.S., Vol. 1. (G.P. Putnam's Sons: New York, 1937), pp. 135-136. Blanche Dugdale was Arthur Balfour's niece.
Nothing ever interfered with his reading. He always had several books on hand at once. The latest work on science might be found propped up on the mantelpiece of his bedroom to vary the process of dressing, and Lady Frances once declared that she suspected him of "making a raft of his sponge" to support a French novel while he took his bath. It was seldom that some work by Edgar Wallace or P.G. Wodehouse was absent from his bedside after these authors rose to fame, and the table by his arm-chair was always heaped with books of history, or Memoirs. It would be difficult to define the limits of his reading. Its range could astonish even his oldest friends, as for instance when, staying with Lord and Lady Desborough at Taplow Court on the eve of a General Election, he carried off to his bedroom a manual on chess, a game which since his boyhood he was never seen to play. Serious fiction was perhaps the only class of book upon which he was cautious of embarking. He never began a new novel until he was assured that it ended well. If no such assurance was forthcoming, he fell back upon Scott, Jane Austen, Kipling, and Stevenson.

He chose "The Pleasures of Reading" for the subject of his Rectorial Address to St. Andrews University in 1887, and there gave his personal answer to that most personal of questions—what to read and how to read it. Mr. Frederic Harrison had lately given forth some portentous warnings against "gorging and enfeebling" the intellect by over-indulgence in carelessly chosen literature. Balfour suggested that the analogy between the human mind and the human stomach might be pressed too far. He had never himself met the person whose natural gifts had been overloaded with learning. No doubt many learned people were dull, but not because they were learned. "True dullness is seldom acquired. It is a natural grace, the manifestations of which, however modified by education, remain in substance the same." People should not be afraid to read what they enjoyed. Idle curiosity, so-called, was a thing to be encouraged. Here follows a passage which might well mislead posterity into supposing Balfour a newspaper addict, ingeniously defending his favourite vice. The exhaustive study of the morning and evening papers was "only a somewhat unprofitable exercise of that disinterested love of knowledge that moves men to penetrate the Polar snows, or to explore the secrets of the remotest heavens.... It can be turned, and it should be turned into a curiosity for which nothing...can be wholly alien or uninteresting."

Such being his views, Balfour was naturally a lavish book-buyer. The library at Whittingehame is a large room, well stocked before his day with standard works of every kind. Soon it overflowed, and other rooms were lined with shelves. His own sitting-room was packed from floor to ceiling, mainly with books on philosophy and theology, and its sofas were heaped with flotsam and jetsam of current publications. The books at Whittingehame had an alert look about them, as if expecting to be pulled out at any moment. They were, in fact, often temporarily lost, for the ever-growing library was too large to be kept in order by the family's spasmodic efforts at arrangement, continually begun, but never ended. If Balfour was found wandering down the corridor at unwonted hours he was most likely in search of some book, and his relations would rush to proffer conflicting evidence about the present position of the missing volume.

"Read everything you find interesting and nothing that you don't," was nearly the sum-total of his advice to the younger generation with regard to literature. It sounded easy, yet to try to keep up with him along any of his primrose paths to knowledge, was to discover how deceptive was that apparently leisurely pace.

November 15, 2011

This & That Thursday

A fine couple tidbits from Eve Tushnet:
* This is third-hand, so bear with me, but one reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that when the story is finished and Jesus asks, "Who was his neighbor?" and the Pharisee says, "The one who showed him mercy"... the Pharisee is placed in the role of the wounded man. The one who thought of himself in the powerful role, the role of the man extending his hand in charity, instead sees himself as the wounded man in need of mercy. And Jesus not only acknowledges his wounds and dirtiness and pledges to cleanse, heal, and forgive him, but also gives him the task of going and doing likewise--now from a position of gratitude and humility, rather than a never-sullied position of privilege and power.

* We were asked to think of three concrete ways God has shown us mercy. I had a few in mind, but after hearing from several of the other participants I realized that I had only identified places where I have been lucky. Privilege, basic health, good work, and financial security are things I'm immensely grateful for, but God's mercy is a fiercer thing.

*

Heard about St. Christina the Astonishing today. She could smell sin, and it wasn't pleasant. She went about hiding in closets trying to avoid the stench. Yikes! She rose from her own coffin and set up camp in the rafters to avoid the smell of the congregation. I reckon I wouldn't smell too good my own self. It seems so hard to believe, that of Christ's unconditional love, such that I'm faced with the truth that my sins do not define the compass of Christ's love, smell or no smell.

*

Our pastor Sunday talked about the upcoming changes and mentioned the "for many" versus "for all" controversy and said that the reason for "many" is that we all know that some reject Christ and thus even though Christ died for all that some reject Him.

But this seems a bit iffy in the face of the assertion that Hell could be empty. How can we say "many" when we don't know the eternal fate of a single soul?

As one friend said, it seems to elevate human choice. On the other hand, if we take the long view we see that the Church has almost always elevated human choice since the word has been "many" for a long, long time before the New Mass came in. So I can't get too excited over it given the history. The Church has survived worse.

*

It felt bracing and "empowering" (as the corporate-types so want us to feel) to blow off one of those egregious "Lunch 'n Learns" (meetings held in lieu of lunch that I alone appear to view as optional) despite it being politically inadvisable. It's amazing how you have to please so many more people now. Directors, AVPs, VPs...I get so much face time with higher-ups now and that's just not in my favor.

Feel uncomfortable with authority figures, primarily priests and assistant vice presidents. Hence I have difficulty with the semi-yearly sit-down chats. I would love to know the genesis of the fad to personally meet everybody on the planet. Blessed obscurity, where art thou? Flying beneath the pretty radar, how canst I?

*

Am reading "The Compass of Pleasure" and the author promises to go into the heart of the subject: why does every human, and many animal, culture seek out ways to alter their brains via substances like alcohol or caffeine or hallucinagens? Have to wade through a lot of science & dancing dendrites along the way though.