September 25, 2013

A Hodge-Podge of Discontinued Items

 
Saturday was nice if perilously short. Jokingly short. So short that if it were a run I wouldn't bother putting my running shoes on (those were the immortal words of Dan H. regarding my typical two-mile run).

The morning was rainy and chill but not unlikable, good reading weather which I'd planned to make better use of but sometimes you just want to be lazy and read something so accessible and gossipy, like the political junkie bible, This Town. It is what it is.

So the morning was also properly wasteful. A time of general laxity as befits the only unscheduled day of the week.   Now that the sun has set and the temperature has fallen precipitously and we find ourselves chilly despite the fire, and so go find sweatpants and sweatshirts. Maybe we need much bigger fires, but it doesn't bode well for nights spent out here in October, when things really cool down. It reminds me of our previous failed attempts to make the back patio a de facto three-season room by way of portable heaters. Mother Nature is pretty hard to overcome.


Really, it is surprising how nice a campfire feels. It's sort of mesmerizing and feels like your own fireworks show, if only in the color palate of orange. I have to believe there's some element deep within us that has evolved to appreciate and “need” campfires (and green foliage as well) since mankind has been staring at campfires for at least a million years. It seems to behoove us to look upon fire, and natural surroundings in general, every day.

Part of the magic of Monday night was the sweet delay of beer, the slow but steady drinkage of a Columbus IPA, and the enjoyment of the novel My Struggle. The book is, at this juncture, about an introvert trying to survive - with kids - in an extrovert world.

Sweet scent of burning wood, the glow of yellow, the brightness of a full moon night. Sow fires while they can be sowed - by December this will be impossible. 

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Had an inspiration, out of the blue, to listen to the old Police song Invisible Sun off their 1981 album which I'd owned. How great to hear the old song via the magic of YouTube! Then Secret Journey from the same album. I recall trying to figure out the meaning of Invisible Sun before I had any clue concerning symbolism and before you could “cheat” and find out via a Google search. I see today that it's Sting's way of saying, basically, “how do these poor people and folks from war-wracked countries survive? There must be some sort of 'invisible sun' of hope within us.” Downcast lyrics with a message of hope. I think I used to think the “invisible sun” mentioned was somehow a nuclear bomb, since nuclear bombs are bright as suns.
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Pope Francis sure gets a lot of media attention. Unwittingly I presume; he doesn't seem particularly strategic.  (Gus Lloyd asks on his Catholic Channel radio show: "is he crazy like a fox?") He famously said that we shouldn't obsess over gays and abortion but then the next day talked about the evil of abortion, which I assume was in response to some getting nervous over the message sent in his America interview. (It seems telling that he didn't say anything about homosexuality, maybe suggesting he's more of the Jody Bottum camp on that? Of course that's to read strategy to communications where perhaps none exists. Still, I suspect that somewhere Bottum is saying, “see, I told you so!”)

Francis is the “anti-politician”. Is that good or bad? If grace perfects nature, then nature matters.  God leads supernaturally, but only after man has exhausted his own leadership skills.  Is the more conventional style of leader communication, assiduously studied and practiced by politicians bent on the success of their message, important or worthy of imitation? I don't know. Most politicians may be successful in getting re-elected but hardly successful in inspiring and governing, though there are exceptions.

Pope Francis is like John McCain on the Straight Talk Express before McCain became a button-downed, neutered presidential candidate and shell of his formerly free-wheeling self. The pope doesn't appear to be about “message discipline” or anticipating what the headline will be from a given interview, or strategizing - but instead prefers to be led by the Spirit. Would a PR firm be horrified or impressed by Pope Francis and should it matter? Would they complain about “gaffes” and a less buttoned-down style? Would they warn him of being misunderstood and misread by the mainstream media and thus the masses? In one sense his message has certainly been consistent: God's love and mercy and the expectation for Christians to exercise the same.

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There's a book out on spending one's money more strategically rather than spending on what we perceive will make us happy. The perception of many is that what will make us happy are a) more stuff and b) isolation. Thus you have people who long to win the lottery dreaming of a house on the hill in the country (isolation) or b) a luxury sports car in the “more stuff” category. The book recommends spending money on experiences rather than stuff, and also says that spending more on others makes us happier, which is not intuitive to lottery dreamers.

This is interesting if only because I do tend to spend money on experiences these days rather than stuff, although book-buying is still heavy. But I'm not interested in luxury cars or clothes or baseball card collections or shoes or any of that type of stuff.  No dreams of a house in the woods or ex-exurbs as I'd had in the past. And do spend on charity. So it seems like I've moved farther in the more strategic direction.


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Mornings have broken….cool. Forty to fifty degrees, so not even a close call for the alluvial time on the front patio. First autumn robs one of the edges, the mornings and evenings, and that has a disproportionate effect on me since obviously those are the times of day I can be outside given the work schedule.

Part of work is dealing with unexpected frustrations, of unplanned mysteries. Like how in tarnation (when's the last time someone's said that? I should google it) code on my machine works and code on another machine doesn't when they're loaded with the same software install?

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Recently read a bit of Mary Beard's blog; she's a Cambridge professor of a certain age and says one of the more surprising things about undergraduates these days is that they are very comfortable with surveillance, cameras everywhere, etc.. They don't mind that Big Brother is watching.

I thought of that recently when my high school-aged niece was aghast that I was aghast about being asked for identification at a local metro park. I was swimming in a lake there a few weeks back and a ranger came by and didn't say, “No swimming allowed!” but instead started an investigation. Asked me if I had identification right off. This seemed a very new thing - you swim in a lake and are asked to provide a driver's license so they can run it against their databases.

It appears the desire for privacy and distrust of big business and big government is a generational thing. It's interesting to see how merely the ingredient of time combined with culture has resulted in a younger generation of very new sensibilities on issues gay marriage, surveillance issues, and I'm sure a host of other differences I'm not even aware of. I guess I'm slowly becoming that old man who doesn't know you don't call African-Americans “coloreds” anymore!

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Fr. J gave us the “Come to Jesus” talk as far as financial support goes. The parish has lost a whopping $200k a year since bingo receipts fell 50% a few years ago due to some new state regulations as well as increased competition from the opening of casinos. (Apparently a Republican legislature, perhaps inadvertently, ended up screwing churches out of millions of dollars collectively.)

Of course Fr. J wants bingo volunteers as well, apparently believing that more sellers = more church profit, which is likely true. It's hard not to see bingo as a sinking ship, and volunteering for bingo seems like re-arranging chairs on the Titanic, but Fr J hopes the worst is over and we'll find new stability at our lower profitability point. Live by bingo, die by bingo seems to be the thing.We've hitched our star to this big production number, this entertainment vehicle, at a cost of about two hundred man-hours of volunteer labor a week.

A big killer is, not surprisingly, the school subsidies. You wonder, the way things are going, how we'll be able to maintain Catholic schools. Parents get hit so hard - first, they have to pay for the public schools. Then they have to spend big money on Catholic schools. Then they get hit indirectly via the parish sending a ton of offertory money to bleeding schools.

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So Friday night's Short North Microbrew Festival with Ron turned out to be a grand time. Really so much better than expected. So much “liquid gold” there, meaning delicious beers. The Sohio Stout made by Columbus Brewing was just unbelievably good. Astonishing. The Bodhi and Creeper were 9 and 10% alcohol content and were good, but not as great as some would have it. Really, it's like being a kid in a candy store, getting to try all those excellent beers, many without peer.

Friend R. has the typical resistances to Catholicism despite being Catholic. I think his beef is, at core, with Jesus for letting sinful humans in charge. A crypto-Protestant,  he asks the question “where in the Bible did Jesus say you couldn't do that?” – the quintessential Protestant argument about anything, proving again that the U.S. Protestantized culture usually wins when it comes to setting the framework for religious world views. Again it goes to not believing Jesus left people in charge despite Matthew chapter 16 to Peter: 'whatever you hold bound on earth is held bound in Heaven, whatever you hold loose on earth, shall be held loose in Heaven.“ Unpopular verse, and no wonder given that Jesus was talking to a sinful human being.

But the culture is a tsunami that effects us all in different ways and I'm certainly guilty of a million capitulations.

R. has certain work eccentricities. He says he gets so focused on his work that when he is suddenly interrupted it startles him. Thinks it may trigger a heart attack. So he put up a bell outside his office along with a note saying not to knock loudly (and presumably to use the bell instead of knocking altogether).

It's interesting how little inspiration popes have on folks like Ron. We've had three straight "superstar popes” but it hasn't turned around church membership. Is it the leader(s)? Is it message? Is it grassroots (lay people)? Probably a little of the last two. The Christian life isn't easy, so that hurts the message. And we Christians often don't give good witness, so the messenger is flawed.

People live closer to the ground and R. judges the Catholic Church based more on personal experiences than on a figure in Rome. He's seeing a psychic, a “spiritual guide”. Whether this elocution be of God or the devil it's unclear, but it is sort of uncanny what she knew about him without him telling her a word. He asked her how he could know that she's not of the devil and she said “look around at all theses statues of Mary and Jesus!”. (Notwithstanding that dark spiritual forces are for more clever than we think and can be hid as 'angels of light'.)  Ultimately I wonder what good it does him. It's interesting, a neat parlor trick to be able to discern someone's past, but seems like those that speak in tongues - cool and interesting but not particularly helpful.

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Found a dreamy website, National Geographic's guide to New York City. Lovely article titled “Woody Allen's New York”. Gobsmackingly beautiful pictures of Upper East Side bookstores, iconic delis and lavish pubs. Makes me lonesome for the Big Apple and reminds me just how much there is to see there, even when you might think you've seen it all. Every Monday evening Woody Allen plays at the Carlisle hotel bar, plays clarinet with a jazz band. Imagine that, listening to Allen play jazz in the city. Quintessentially New York. Also made me hungry to see one of his New York films, specifically A Purple Rose in Cairo, the main New York movie of his I haven't seen. And available for free via Amazon Instant Videos and yet….and yet I never watch movies. I don't know why.

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From a Norwegian writer who called his book “My Struggle” (reminding me unfortunately of Hitler's trash), writes of having three children and says, “People who don't have children seldom understand what it involves, no matter how mature and intelligent they might otherwise be…. Erik pretended to be unconcerned, he wanted to appear generous and child-friendly, but he was continually contradicted by his body language, his arms pinned to his sides, the way he went round putting things back in their places and that faraway look in his eyes.”

Ol' Erik later tried to admire the cliff view on a hike “without taking into account that Vanja was only four and incapable of accessing the risk,” and so the narrator comes sprinting to the rescue.

The Proustian six-volume novel is appealing in that it sort of celebrates ordinary life (like spam poetry!) rather than, say, rhapsodizing about the south of France. It's oddly compelling, though admittedly I've only read the first fifty pages of volume two. Family life, warts and all, is front and center. And it has the added benefit of being funny.

There's a scene where he takes his family to a woefully pathetic circus. It's almost a parody of a circus, the “performers” doing quite unremarkable things. And yet if I look at it from the kids' perspective, it's probably wonderful. That's one difference between childhood and adulthood: as a child you'd see that circus as full of wonder, as an adult you look at it as kitsch and shtick. I wonder if they've chosen the better half.

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