April 27, 2013

Diaristic Wanderings

Saw a touching photo from the Friday Night Opry of Brad Paisley hugging a tearful John Conlee after having sung Amazing Grace. The show was a tribute to George Jones who died Thursday. (My chance to see him at the Ohio State Fair this year is thus past.)  The “magic” of the 'net continues to amaze. I clicked on a link from the Opry which showcased about 30 of the Possum's greatest hits on Spotify. Nice to hear such good music first thing in the morning.  I sure hope “No Show Jones” will make the gig in Heaven.

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Oh what a fulsome Saturday. Oh how much does the sun (like wine) gladden the heart. Perfect temperature, perfect shine, perfectly free of mosquitoes, spiders, flies and bugs. Surely a great jewel is a warm day in spring if only because it's completely bug and humidity-free. I feel like we “stole one” today in April. Cool early but by 11am it was toasty with a high of 70-ish.

How to spend such a delicious day? Certainly not working out on some elliptical machine. Instead we cleaned out the tree line, clearing it of brush, sticks, bushes… It now looks downright park-like. We burnt most of the branches, starting yesterday and continuing into today (surprisingly the fire was still going despite the long overnight).

Very refreshing to see the sudden expanse of a pine-needle carpet under our tall firs in back. It's a much cleaner, uncluttered look which I appreciate more and more as our house becomes more cluttered. I appreciate the serenity of simplicity though (of course) not enough to keep the house uncluttered. I like to read too much for that. But it is surprising how nice a relatively subtle change, that of removing dead branches and wayward bushes, makes. I used to like the baroque look: that to tangly, jungly, impenetrable green on the edge of our property but now I rather like it open to the field beyond. I even dared say aloud that I wondered how it would be without the trees such that our back yard felt as though it were magnified in size by three.

No day like this would be complete without a bike ride, so I listened to George Jones/Tammy Wynette hits while doing an hour on the bike trail. It was nice to see the long vistas of farm fields, the furrows still unplanted and thus reminded me how the premiere season of summer hasn't even begun yet. It's pure gift now, the meter isn't running yet. And so I went ridin', stealing time, thieving from some poor Argentinian whose summers are the opposite of ours.

But now the summerish sun is mooning over to the west. The end of an era, where era is the length of a single day. I drink to it and drink to this beach-like day in landlocked Oh of io. Read the beginning of Neil Gaiman's American Gods. His prose is workmanlike but effective as storytelling. He reminds me uncannily of Dean Koontz so far. Read a bit more of NW by Zadie Smith which continues to “meh” me.

So this golden day which felt reminiscent of Hollywood, or Florida, seems especially perishable given that tomorrow we're supposed to be mired in the 50s with rain. (Another check of the weather reveals a high of 64 and rain; almost same diff.)

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Jonah Goldberg makes an interesting point with supporting quote:

Emerson once said, “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” Whenever I talk to liberal college kids, I think of this line, because when I disagree with them it hurts their feelings.
Indeed, “disagreement” is getting to be the new hate speech in this country.

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I worship far too much at the modern altar of Efficiency. I seem to take it farther than most. For example, who else gets their lunch and saves ten seconds by cutting back through the cafe, against the traffic? Who else absolutely, positively has to have their keys in hand while walking to the car lest the ultimate nightmare happen, that of having to pause at the car while I fish the keys out of my pocket?

Jason Merkoski in his book Burning the Page talks about how reading is more efficient than talking which I think is also behind this (pernicious?) switch from phone calls to texting: “Reading is still the preeminent mode of consuming information in our culture. It's time-efficient and much faster than conversation.”


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Commented on a Dispatch story today about how some are saying that doctors should be put under pressure not to prescribe strong pain-killers because of the potential of abuse.  Is it the business of the government to conquer our addictions for us?  I don't like that just because we can measure addiction rates and can't really measure the pain relief offered by these drugs means that we should error on the side of not giving people those drugs. In other words I don't think we should be throwing out prescription drugs because some get addicted to them. There seems a hypocrisy: we turn a blind eye to automobiles though they kill as many as drugs do.

April 26, 2013

April Freezes Bring May Showers Which Eventually, Theoretically, Lead to June Flowers

 

What April giveth, April taketh away. The splendor in the grass has been abruptly halted with consecutive days in the 40s. The temps read like a bipolar parody: 82 (the 18th), 43 (the 19th), 64 (the 23rd), 41 (the 24th). The sun gods have AAHD. Or is it AAD? I can never recall because I'm too easily distracted.

Distracted by the umpteenth consecutive day by, what else, book-buying decisions. Amazon offered about 100 Kindle books for $2.99 each for one day only and I had to do “due diligence” to figure out if I wanted any. Of course I did! Three of them. It sometimes seems I spend more time thinking about which books to purchase than actually reading them. (I will say that time is well-spent on novels; it's so difficult to find that one in a haystack that is decent, let alone great.)

'Twas a well-spung wellspring of a day. Got in a discussion on how to speed up my queries and got chastised by Herr L. for crimes against SQL. From what I can tell because I used nvarchar instead of varchar and I used “float” where I could've used “tinyint”. Neither of which made any difference on speed but can save a bit of space.

Got in a fine half-hour run in on the streets of urban 'umbus. The weather was a bit cool to touch, especially when in a t-shirt and shorts, but the internal heater revved up and before long I was enjoying a romp past signs like “Best Coffee on the Block” which certainly seems a modest assertion compared to the Dispatch's sign: “Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper”.


I rationalize my bi-decade (bi-decadal? Can I get a linguist?) returns to the city that never sleeps as far cheaper than the alternative, i.e. living there. In some part of my soul I feel a New Yorker. I blame it on Jack Finney and his time-travel novels. Or maybe it Pete Hamill. Or Jay McInerny. Or Dorothy Parker. Or… To paraphrase the Indigo Girls, “When God made me born a non-New Yorker he was teasin'.”

Anyway looking keenly forward to those magical, mythical, mystical days in the Big Apple. Just three, really 2.5, but beggars can be choosers. Might stop in and visit Lino Rulli's apartment and say “Howdy'.

April 25, 2013

Yes

The dog in this picture looks like our old dog.  And acts like him too.



Angels, Altars and Catechisms

Was greatly moved by Cardinal Dolan mentioning the other day how the love God has for us is so intense it personifies into our guardian angel. Similar theologically to the idea that the love between the Father and the Son was so intense it became a person, the Holy Spirit.

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Homilist said how we don't want to give merely seeds back to Christ at the end of our lives, we want to have taken his seed and allowed it to flourish into the greatest of trees, much like the parable of the mustard seed. So how do we accomplish this? He said not by human will power. I assumed he'd say by allowing God's grace to work within us but he made a piquant point: by repentance. Continual repentance. Perhaps the secret to everything is not so much obedience, as I'd previously thought, but repentance, the same message of John the Baptist and Jesus: “repent and be baptized!”

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Pope Francis recently mentioned the Ascension. Bodily leaving is hard to take. (The Catechism mentioned that the Eucharist was a gift to the Church as a visible sacrifice, "as the nature of man demands".)

But you can't say that Christianity hasn't thrived post-Ascension. In fact it's precisely then that it took off and had “wings” as it were. Christ's gift of the Spirit was a huge rocket-launcher that resulted in countless deeds of mercy and professions of faith. We can see the truth of Our Lord's statement that those after Him will do mightier deeds, given the subsequent converting of nations and empires. And on a micro level it works: can anyone say that St. Francis or St. Therese would've be holier if Christ had been bodily present on earth?  The witness of the saints tells us what Christ Himself did, that we have Him with us now and that He is powerfully present.

Sometimes stories about saintly people, like Pope Francis, drive me into the deepest dungeons of despair. Read something today that really discouraged me. It was an anecdote whereby the then Archbishop had to catch a train in order to be at a conference of some sort. Bergoglio had a few moments, so he stepped in a church and prayed a bit. Just as he was leaving he was accosted by a young man who looked to be drunk or on drugs. The man said, “Will you hear my confession?” Francis said, accurately, that another priest would be there soon. But then a few steps later he felt a deep sense of remorse and returned to the man and said that he would hear his confession. Which he did, and the train turned out to be late which obviously was literally providential. But the coup de grace of this story is that after that night at the conference he headed not back home but to his confessor because he knew he could not “celebrate mass the next day unless he received forgiveness.”

Yikes. This is the sort of thing that makes me despair. The pope's goodness (and scrupulosity?) seem otherworldly compared to my attitude which imbued with far too much of “personal responsibility”. I've gone to Mass with much worse “sins” (if you can call his that) than the archbishop's.

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Kind of interesting to come across a Catechism entry that describes the altar as the body of Christ:
“For what is the altar of Christ if not the image of the Body of Christ?”asks St. Ambrose. He says elsewhere, “The altar represents the body [of Christ] and the Body of Christ is on the altar.”
I googled and found the following:
…the early Church identified the altar as representing both Christ and the Church. “Christ, Head and Teacher, is the true altar,” it says; therefore, the members of the Body of Christ and his disciples “are also spiritual altars on which the sacrifice of a holy life is offered to God”. The members of the Church “are the living stones out of which the Lord Jesus builds the Church's altar” (ibid.). “The Church's writers have seen in the altar a sign of Christ himself. This is the basis for the saying: 'The altar is Christ'” (4). Like Christians at their initiation, the altar is dedicated by being anointed with chrism, honored with incense, clothed in white, and illumined with candles (22) – all symbols of Christ's presence.
It should look like the place “on which the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs [and] the table of the Lord to which the people of God is called together to participate in the Mass, as well as the center of the thanksgiving that is accomplished through the Eucharist” (GIRM, 296). In the past, those directions have led architects to design altars that look like tombs and that, in fact, sometimes have contained the bodies of saints. (And some tombs were then built to resemble altars.)
Speaking of the Catechism, lines you don't expect to read in it: “Put my body anywhere!" said St. Monica, asking only that her son pray for her after her death. 

Benedict's Jesus on Holy Week is awfully rich. A rich broth; there's no wasted motion in any of the former pope's paragraphs. Again I find myself in highlighter heaven:
It has been argued that the new element—moving beyond the earlier commandment to love one’s neighbor—is revealed in the saying “love as I have loved you”, in other words, loving to the point of readiness to lay down one’s life for the other. If this were the specific and exclusive content of the “new commandment”, then Christianity could after all be defined as a form of extreme moral effort. This is how many commentators explain the Sermon on the Mount: in contrast to the old way of the Ten Commandments—the way of the average man, one might say—Christianity, through the Sermon on the Mount, opens up the high way that is radical in its demands, revealing a new level of humanity to which men can aspire.
And yet who could possibly claim to have risen above the “average” way of the Ten Commandments, to have left them behind as self-evident, so to speak, and now to walk along the exalted paths of the “new law”? No, the newness of the new commandment cannot consist in the highest moral attainment. Here, too, the essential point is not the call to supreme achievement, but the new foundation of being that is given to us. The newness can come only from the gift of being-with and being-in Christ.
Saint Augustine actually began his exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount—his first cycle of homilies after priestly ordination—with the idea of a higher ethos, loftier and purer norms. But in the course of the homilies, the center of gravity shifts more and more. In a number of places he has to acknowledge that the older morality was already marked by a genuine completeness. With increasing clarity, preparation of the heart comes to replace the idea of the higher demand; the “pure heart” (cf. Mt 5:8) becomes more and more the focus of the exegesis.

Hits & Misses

I read something recently about the rise of “technology porn”, defined in particular by how so many people videotape opening their new Kindle, iPad, new technological toy and putting it on YouTube. The “unveiling” as it were, the packaging itself lovingly described, almost as if they were defrocking a young vixen. Well I suppose it's good, clean fun, at least compared to many an alternative.

A recent study showed that books today encourage materialism in young children, but given that the book itself is a material object I wonder if books themselves don't encourage the same.

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Started reading an execrable book that I thought might be a thoughtful critique of the personal financial industry but turned out to be a Communist manifesto that preaches that saving is a waste of money unless you're lucky and the government needs to guarantee everybody an income. Unduly irritated me. People have a right to their opinions sans my irritation.

But it's hilarious how she spends the whole book attacking people like Dave Ramsey, who preaches against getting into debt (how horrible!) and then, in the last paragraph of the books asks “what can be done?” And her answer was “let's have a national conversation about money.” Brilliant. The lib answer to everything is let's talk about it or throw money at it. Usually the former is designed for the purpose of doing the latter.

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Was helplessly obsessed last week by the chase of the two perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings.  I was toast as soon as I heard about how there was a firefight that night and thereafter compulsively checked Twitter and Drudge hoping for capture of the second suspect.  It reminded me of how transfixing the OJ Simpson chase was.

It's still stunning that the guy could evade capture on foot for so long, that he could escape the initial firefight like that.  You never see that on COPS, ha.

The FBI did well to identify the suspects, though one would expect as much given all the cameras on the street, but all those cops and a) they couldn't keep their suspects under wrap in the shootout b) they couldn't find him despite a shutdown of the city and surrounding areas - a woman eventually found him by noticing something amiss. It's easy to second guess though.

Reading Tsarnaev's tweets, I came to a few that well describe the downside of religious certainty. He said he loved debating religion and demolishing the beliefs of infidels. How not to do apologetics, ha.  You can see how he respects power, domination (not "submission" at all, said to be the meaning of "Islam").  He calls himself a "lion" and uses it as his avatar.  How different from the Christian's use of the cross or lamb, those symbols of weakness!  He retweeted a couple posts about the pope: "'The guy announcing who the pope is looks like he's gonna kick the bucket any minute now.' Ahahaha" & "the f--- does the pope do anyway?", the latter shades of Stalin's query about how many divisions the pope has.

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Studies show Americans spend (of discretionary income) 3% on books, 5% on music, 9% video games and 29% on videos.  Not me!

I decided to join the Folio Society since I could purchase the four volumes apparently over the course of seven hundred years. At least I didn't see any timeline. So I'm figuring a $50 book a decade won't harm nobody.

And is if that isn't enough (and it should be), I (rather ironically) ordered the Popular Patristics set from Logos, the one where St. Basil is telling us to “simplify, simplify”. Very Thoreau-ian there. Also pre-ordered the Sacra Pagina set, which was pretty much a no-brainer. Relieved not to have dropped the cash on the Hermeneia set.

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Beware the ball field industrial complex: There are new soccer fields springing up everywhere in my neck of the woods. Turn a corner and there's another. In my curmudgeonly moments I think: “we played in our back yards and liked it!” But it's not really true because we had ballfields too, baseball mostly. Anyway makes for good dog-walking when, as is typical, they are not in use.

Surprised by my nephew's 8th grade graduation party. Defining achievement downward? In my day we had a high school party and that was it. What's next, Kindergarten graduation parties?

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I do wonder the same of my own compulsive journal scribing, about the narcissistic angle:

While [David] Sedaris says his partner sometimes wonders whether the impulse to write almost exclusively about one's own life is a sign of narcissism, Sedaris understands his compulsion to journal and compose personal essays differently.
“I mean, I think everybody thinks about themselves,” he says. “This seems to me like a part of the obsession with it is just as a writing exercise, really: I write in my diary, and that kind of warms me up, and then I move onto other things.”

April 23, 2013

April 20, 2013

Tale of Two Media Outlets

It's kind of interesting how different media are either "protecting" or "attacking" Islam in relation to the bomber's YouTube page. From Robert Spencer:
Islam. Tamerlan’s YouTube page features two videos by Sheikh Feiz Mohammed. According to a report published in The Australian in January 2007, in a video that came to the attention of authorities at the time, Mohammed “urges Muslims to kill the enemies of Islam and praises martyrs with a violent interpretation of jihad.”
Elswhere:
The deceased suspect in the bombing of the Boston marathon, which killed three and injured more than 170, appears to have posted a video extolling an extremist religious prophecy associated with Al Qaeda to his YouTube page.

From a politically correct article in the Dispatch (by way of McClatchy Newspapers), written by Molly Hehnnessy-Fiske, Shashank Bengali and Matea Gold:
In a YouTube channel [the bomber] created last year, he cached videos about Russians converting to Islam, including one who turned to Shia Islam, a choice he seemed to denigrate. He also included inspirational videos of scholars who spoke about Islam and how the religion inspires believers and cleanses them of their sins.

UPDATE: And the winner is... Robert Spencer! Even the liberal New Yorker has admitted the videos were incendiary.  Nice to get confirmation not to trust McClatchy. 

April 17, 2013

Lewis Poem


CS Lewis on being human versus an angel:
Far richer they! I know the senses' witchery
Guards us like air, from heavens too big to see;
Imminent death to man that barb'd sublimity
And dazzling edge of beauty unsheathed would be.
Yet here, within this tiny, charmed interior,
This parlour of the brain, their Maker shares
With living men some secrets in a privacy
Forever ours, not theirs.

A Trip Downtown

Sometimes a plan works pinch-me good. As did last Friday's beauty: the weather was cold and lifeless but what's terrible for outdoor activities is sublime for haunting museums. And lo and behold (will wonders never cease?) the art museum was fab. There was a large exhibition of the works of Mark Rothko, a mid-20th century abstract artist. Some of his art reminds me of Paul Klee, others Marc Chagall. It was intense and beatific and colorful and I had to remind myself not to try to live “my whole life in one day” as the famous song goes. The morning reading just felt a tad pale before the effervescent luminosity of those magnificent paintings.

Last time I went they had a pitiful exhibit of one lousy painting. Sure it was a Caravaggio, but I'd much rather see twenty average paintings than one masterpiece. I sure wouldn't go to the Louvre just to see the Mona Lisa. So in the afterglow I thought about how a NYC trip to the Metropolitan Ar (and MOMA) seems awfully enticing. Just a long weekend slumming in the Big Apple.

Sad that he died by his own hand - boy he telegraphed it with his art. The last years he began eliminating colors from his vocabulary beginning with the lighter ones, until the last two years he was down to dark reds and black and such. His last piece was just a grim, two-tone black and gray. Art seems risky to the psyche. I'm almost surprised ol' Walker Percy, with all the suicide in his family, went the artistic route! But then art is not a choice, it's more of a mandate. Rothko's end is especially tragic in light of the religious impulse he felt, as noted by the crucifixion scene he rendered with Christ so near the criminals next to Him (artificially close), a solidarity so intense that it reminds me of the incredible fortune of the Incarnation.

Art, Love, Suffering, The Usual Suspects

Very interesting reading about Dante and Beatrice (I'd googled for something like "Was Dante's love for Beatrice idolatrous?") and how Peter Kreeft sees that love as coming out of seeing an icon, an image of God. It seems like one would be more likely to feel that way towards a saint since saints are, by definition, most like God incarnational. And I don't see too many people developing an intense love for Mother Teresa, though I suppose it's possible. Anyway fascinating subject. Makes me want to read that Eve Tushnet-recommended Love in the Western World book. A reviewer writes of it that the author, Rougement, is conflicted about the very subject he purportedly mastered:
Rougement traces the “courtly love” tradition from its orgins among 12th century troubadors in southern France through the high Romanticism of 19th century opera to the modern-day consequences of a love that is based on Eros, delusion, and selfishness–a passion that lives for passion, and whose only consummation can be death (for were it to endure, to be exposed to the glaring light of day, it would no longer be romantic passion)… It's impossible not to feel the conflicted emotions of the author himself. On the one hand, he presents himself as the enemy of “Eros” and proponent of “Agape,” as the critic of immature, romantic passion and the defender of mature relationships based on a realistic “dialogue” between two unique, complex individuals. On the other hand, he reveals the heart and soul of an incurable romantic, someone who has been love's thrall, who has been swept up in the dark rapture and sublimely lyrical death wish that is Wagner's “Tristan und Isolde.” But far from being a liability, that underlying tension provides the book's argument with an energy, vitality and, yes, “passion” that is lacking in similar studies of this fascinating topic…. I defy any close reader of this text to leave the book more repelled than enticed, entranced, and ultimately entrapped by the Tristan and Isolde myth. Rarely have I read a work in which an author so convincingly argues against himself.
 
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Crazy how satisfying/addicting tumblr is. I'm amazed by the sheer quantity of art in the world, of how it feels like an infinite supply. I'm also surprised by how many painters depict women entering or exiting a bath. An excuse to paint a nude I suppose. If you want to paint a nude in a natural, normal setting I guess it's going to be involving a bath.

That aside, I'm just stupefied by the great kaleidoscope of art parading through my internet browser. Of course it's not quite the same as seeing paintings in person. I love the 3-dimensional aspect of “live” oil paintings, of how you can see the ridges of paint poking up and the gleam of it. Plus, of course, the works are so much bigger than a 10-20 inch screen.

I find myself looking back at my collection of posted tumblr art much less frequently than I used to. Partially this is because I follow enough people now that I don't have even enough time to go through everything posted by others in real time. But it does please me to know I have those images saved, even if the true value of tumblr is “in the moment”, that pleasing first view of a given image.
  
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Today's catechism reading has a line that seems a bit odd: the unleavened bread that Israel eats every year at Passover commemorates the haste of the departure that liberated them from Egypt. Just seems a funny thing to commemorate. “Let's eat unleavened bread to remind us of how fast we had to get out of Dodge!” I'm sure I'm missing a much deeper significance. Perhaps it's intended mostly as a remembrance of God delivering them from Egypt.

Another interesting passage:

The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life".
The twining of the Eucharist and the Cross as stumbling blocks is interesting, going so far as to call them “the same mystery”. On the surface one could see them as different, as the Eucharist as a miracle of the changing of bread and wine into the resurrected flesh of Christ, and the Cross as the “less-miraculous” death and destruction of His earthly flesh. And yet they are the same in that they are both examples of Christ's willingness to humble himself by taking on bread or body. Both are incarnations as it were.

I also like how the Lord's question “Will you also go away?” is given the inflection of a loving invitation, not an accusation or sigh or indifference.   
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Later I get would up over things I shouldn't. The latest is the controversy the Dispatch is trying to stoke, a story about a Catholic school teacher who came out as gay and got fired. Of course the newspaper is promoting the hell out of the story, including linking to an online petition to the archdiocese to reinstate the teacher.

I thought about commenting which, of course, is a fool's errand. I wrote some initial thoughts which went unheard, harming no one, until I decided to post this comment anyway:

During the '70s and '80s there were a lot of teachers at Catholic schools who weren't really on board with Catholic doctrine. Which isn't fair if you're a parent paying for a Catholic education, so there's been an understandable reaction. The Catholic Church, like it or not, has a duty to ensure there's “truth in advertising” in schools calling themselves Catholic. We already see how many colleges, such as Georgetown, are no longer Catholic in any discernible way. Knowing this history, if you're a teacher it's not advisable to publicly identify yourself as having a gay partner given it publicly undermines what the Church is trying to teach.
The whole gay agenda is scary to me not because of gay marriage or gay rights, but simply because it's importance to many intolerant lefties has gotten so disproportionate that it's suddenly not beyond the realm of possibility to see persecution based on it. Which is scary, and would seem to require some push-back from believers.

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My fetish for all things Irish is evaporating with their religious beliefs. It seems a big part of the charisma of Ireland to me back in the '90s was that they seemed a throw-back to the Age of Faith. Of course I'm shorn of that illusion, as so many others. This life does tend to do a decent job of shearing illusions, but I'm reminded of the refreshment of a Calah Alexander [via Betty Duffy] post in which she wrote of those good folks offering places to stay for those in Boston in the wake of  the terrorist act: she said no one said in the ads "must be a Democrat", "must be Republican", "must be straight", "must be white", "must be black", etc...  I could use more of that attitude.

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Woke early and spent the morn reading the new biography of Pope Francis. Not 8:30 and I'd already logged about 90 minutes.  Read the following anecdote about suffering, a topic that interests me in part because I'm so bad at it and which, unlike most things we're bad at, we can't avoid:

As young Bergoglio was recovering in the hospital, he was annoyed by the conventional words spoken to him by the friends and relatives who came to visit him: “You will see; you’re getting over it now”, or else: “How nice it will be when you are able to go back home.” There was a pain that he had to confront, an existential anguish that took no consolation from those phrases. Everything changed when a special visitor arrived at his bedside, who forgot about the conventional things to say, the pat phrases. She was a nun, the religious sister who had prepared him for his First Communion. Her name was Sister Dolores. “She told me something that really struck me and gave me much peace: ‘Keep imitating Jesus.’ ” Lo and behold, in light of those words, even everyday suffering took on a different value. It was not taken away, but it gained significance. “Suffering”, Bergoglio explained in the book El Jesuita, “is not a virtue in itself, but the way in which it is experienced can be virtuous. We are called to the fullness of happiness, and in this search, suffering is a limit. Therefore you truly understand the meaning of suffering through the suffering of the God-made-man, Jesus Christ.”
The future pope recalls the dialogue between an agnostic and a believer composed by the novelist Joseph Malègue. The agnostic said that, for him, the problem was: “What if Christ had not been God”, whereas, for the believer, it was “What would have happened if God had not become Christ”, that is, if God had not become incarnate, had not come to earth to give meaning to our journey. “Therefore,” Bergoglio explains, “the key is to consider the Cross as the seed of the Resurrection. Any attempt to alleviate suffering will obtain only partial results unless it is based on transcendence. It is a gift to understand and to experience suffering fully. Moreover, it is a gift to live fully.”
Perhaps for this reason, too, the new pope mentions the White Crucifixion by Chagall as a painting he especially likes: “It is not cruel; it is full of hope. It depicts sorrow with serenity. In my judgment, it is one of the most beautiful things Chagall painted.”

Diaristic Thoughts

Under a sky clotted with clouds (April weather beggars can't be choosers), I set off on the annual spring hike at Glacier Ridge. Sunglasses seemed an optimistic touch, but I did end up employing them a couple of times.

The day started well anyway; I read long from Kings of the Road, the story of the great U.S. marathoners of the '70s. This dovetailed fortuitously with the Boston Marathon, which I watched completely ignorant (as everyone else) of carnage that would later transpire.

I later bathed, surely unhealthily, in the coverage of it. Certainly that's what the bomber wanted, the constant replaying of the images of death and dismemberment, a fixation on death proper to their philosophy of nihilism. Also unhealthy because it leads to great frustration in me, a frustration of not being able to reach these people. But then appropriate first reading the other day about the stoning of St. Stephen. There will never be an earthly end to murder and mayhem and nonsensical destruction, at least not until the Second Coming. We know the script: persecution and then glorification and we're in the first part.

When you think about how open a marathon is compared to, say, a sporting even like an Ohio State game you realize it must be a tempting target for terrorists. But then there were so many cameras out there that it's just unreal that they haven't caught the person on camera yet. 

So I watched caught a good bit of the race and wrote some of this during it: Kenyans, Ethiopians everywhere, especially at the finish line. But the Americans had a couple 4th place showings. It was interesting to read about the rise of African countries in the sport of distance running. It's another example of economics and the market in action: when money started coming to the sport, East Africans were recruited to the sport. As did colleges and universities who recruited the phenomenal athletes. It's an example of an under-utilized resource that money found. Sort of a micro example of the whole economic story since the '70s: the labor and productivity of Third World nations being employed, at the cost of First World jobs. The American marathoners of the '70s gave way to the Kenyans and Ethiopians of the '90s and beyond. The wonder is not that these things happened, but that they didn't happen sooner.

Anyway it was a fine thing to see these wondrous runners striving along the streets and towns of Massachusetts heading for Boston. Many of the top female wore what looked to the naked eye like bikini bottoms. There's an interesting double-standard that happens even when there is no enforcement of a double-standard, i.e. no one is forcing the men toward greater modesty or women toward greater display, and yet the men and women fall into their respective sartorial camps.

It's sort of funny that Frank Shorter, who was constantly evading the amateur rules by taking money under the table during the '70s, laments what money has done for the sport. I suppose the two things aren't mutually exclusive; it's one thing to make a very modest income like Shorter and Rodgers did compared to today's runners. It seems like there's a huge psychological difference between some money and a lot of money. It's much like baseball players made modest money in the '70s only to become millionaires in the '80s. Baseball changed by becoming more mercenary, no team loyalty, players much friendlier with opposing players and arguably less caring about World Series and playoffs because the money isn't needed. During the '60s and '70s, the money a player made by making the playoffs or Series was extremely helpful.

Shorter says that the agents changed running because today's athletes will intentionally schedule around head-to-head match-ups with other good runners. The opposite happened in the '70s. The elite runners went in search of events with other elite runners.

The whole amateur system seemed a romantic thing to me and I had mixed emotions when thy did away with it. Who wouldn't like a story involving runners who ran for love of the sport rather than for money? But, as many romantic things, it didn't start out that way. It originated in Britain in order to keep the riff-raff from participating in sporting events. The Cambridge and Oxford boys didn't want to be on the same field with the lower class who played for money.

April 06, 2013

"You Gotta Fight / For the Right / To Read...." (credit: Beastie Boys)

So magically, the morning and early afternoon opened up. Like the parting of the Red Sea it was. I languidly read Paul Theroux's evocative Ghost Train before heading out at noon to the local YMCA. Worked out on the elliptical while saying the Lit of the Hours. Wonderful "double-bagger", improving spiritually and physically. More than ever I'm making the church's prayer my own, with my own interpretations. For example, "Fire and heat, praise The Lord / Cold and chill, praise The Lord!", which always reminds me that I should be praising God whether it's August or January, whether I'm in straits or flush.

Then there's the lines, "...a two-edged sword in their hand, to deal out vengeance to the nations and punishment on all the peoples: to bind their kings in chains and their nobles in fetters of iron...this honour is for all his faithful." Being my own worst enemy, I see this not in terms of binding our external enemies but our internal ones. The "kings" and "nobles" are the vices and idols I have in my life; I have the right and responsibility, via the sword of Scripture and grace, to be rid of them, to be in control of my fleshy nature.

Today's Scriptural reading goes, "For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living." I spiritualize this so that it means, "For this is why Christ became spiritually dead and came to spiritual life, that he might be Lord of both the sinner and the saint."

I am particularly intrigued by the Benedictus prayer said by Zechariah after having been struck mute for awhile. He uses the phrase, "In the tender compassion of our God..". How amazing that he thought of God as tender and compassionate after his punishment, his mini-purgatory! That offers hope that we too will see God as tender even when he's chastising us.

Often I think of the great love Mary Magdalen had for Christ but almost never do I consider what He did for her in driving out seven demons. Seven the number of fullness, what he did for her was in fact extraordinary and her love was merely a response to His love. Which means we have to let him drive out our demons and thus elicit greater love for Him.

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And the rest is from last night:

Oh so glad to be in the land of Fri, sitting here in Kindle bliss reading Zadie Smith's Joycean NW: A Novel. Hard exercise done, snuggling in the half-dome of sleep and reverie, dreading the brevity.

Extra sensory perception suggested that Betty Duffy might be reading my blog. I check SiteMeter for the first time in a couple months. And...she is reading it! Hey Mikey, she likes me! Right there in our sister state of Indy, and in real time. (I know, I ought act like I've been read before...) I reflexively wonder how lame recent blog posts are; it helps to write as if no one's reading, just like that corny saying about dancing like no one's watching.

It's still light at quarter till 8, a sight that feels almost revelatory. "Light before warmth," is the adage of spring and is certainly true now given the chill.

The work week was preter-exhausting, but I finished with a little help from tumblr. Three Masses, four workouts, the dizzy-dazzy way I feel after so much data ropin' and tyin'. Gitty up lil' datum! Whipped their hides and branded their asses and got all the reports done on time and accurately.

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I saw an article on the obvious, that of the pitiless math of weight loss and gain, how if you're going to drink a lot of empty calories in the form of beer or sweets then you risk malnourishment or obesity. Two options: you drink one of your three meals a day and thus under-nutrient, or you drink and eat and tomorrow you'll be fat. No such thing as a free lunch, they say, but even more true of a free beer.

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Nice to "reset" with a 27-minute run. A small victory over the forces of sloth and mental turbidity. Nothing quite like the mental makeover of strong exercise (as Samuel Johnson said, "Such is the constitution of man that labour may be styled its own reward; nor will any external incitements be requisite, if it be considered how much happiness is gained, and how much misery escaped, by frequent and violent agitation of the body."

Speaking of Dr. Johnson, he also said of activity: "Exercise!! I never heard that he used any: he might, for aught I know, walk to the alehouse; but I believe he was always carried home again."

April 05, 2013

Call Me a Cynic But....(but not late for happy hour)

Sometimes I wonder if romanticism is a contrary indicator for length of marriage. Sentiment tends to breed self-pity in my experience, and self-pity tends towards a refusal to take responsibility. So in the interest of empirical science (ha) I googled "most romantic ballads" and looked at the writers of those ten. Of course 99% of folks involved in music, especially rock, are likely to be divorced but....
"Close to You" - Burt Bacharach (married multiple times)
"When a Man Loves a Woman" - Percy Sledge, has been married 33 years now but reportedly to his second wife
"I Want to Know What Love Is" by Mick Jones (Foreigner) - divorced
"Everything I Do" by Bryan Adams - has kids, but never married
"Thank You" by Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant, divorced
"Still Loving You" by Scorpions Rudolf Schenker divorced
“You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker, written by Dennis Wilson, divorced
"Take My Breath Away", Berlin, Giorgio Moroder, got married only 12 years ago, at 50
"Faithfully" by Journey: Written by Jonathan Cain, divorced
"Wild Horses" by The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger, divorced

This & That

Something is afoot here, namely there's an unknown character around these parts: the sun. And a warm one. I'm really getting the sense that spring and summer aren't merely distant rumors. This new thing, this radical weather change, is coming.

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Oh how cruelly fast days off go when the sun is out and I indulge a nap! Like Carl Lewis on speed. Tis a sad but wondrous thing to be outfitted with great gobs of sun and to be able to return to the beloved back porch. I've missed it! Fifty degrees but I'm a gamer since the wind is still.

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Read lazily last night of a dreamy travel book through depressing Eastern Europe. Some things never change, the author states, like the sort of dreary Soviet feel of Hungary and Romania.

Paul Theroux has some very harsh things to say about luxury travel, including cruises, and I don't doubt he's got a point. The problem with comfort, he says, is that it's the “enemy of observation” (although Lord knows I was awfully observant of the bikini clad girls on the cruise ship) and induces such a good feeling that you “notice nothing”. Seems a tad unfair since I noticed a thousand more things on the trip than I would've at home or work, for sure. From the fishy denizens of the Caribbean to the gorgeous waters of the Atlantic to the devotional items of my Mexican cab-driver but tis true I didn't exactly learn about foreign cultures or talk with natives. Theroux says comfort “infantilizes you and prevents you from knowing the world” which I suppose is true. There's no question that wealth cocoons. He says traveling with the wealthy is a trial because they never listen and they (ironically) constantly grouse about the high costs of things.

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Am transfixed by the blogger over in Dayton, Maureen at Aliens in this World, who has published a book on amazon, a very “other-directed” book, in fact a translation:
The famous medieval commentary on the Book of Revelation, translated into English for the first time in 1200 years! This book meditates on Revelation's connections to the rest of Scripture, quotes great early Christian sources, and provides timeless advice for living in a world where not every Church member acts that way.
Not surprisingly I'd never heard of the original author, a Beautus. Maureen O'Brien has a penchant for obscure-ish books even though it may well be as famous as advertised. I downloaded the first chapter and tried to like it but a good part of the problem is that I'm not a huge fan of the Book of Revelation, so there's that. But I do admire the dedication and selflessness shown by one Ms. O'Brien and hope her book succeeds.

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Searching for news of Fr. Groeschel (in the hopes that he's doing okay in these, his 'post-fame' days), found a comment from a Catholic blogger a week ago referring to Fr. G: “Fr. Benedict Groeschel told me on the phone the other day that it is a poor Church that is needed.”

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From Pope Benedict's book on Jesus: "Ultimately, in the battle against lies and violence, truth and love have no other weapon than the witness of suffering." Wow. That's slightly unexpected. It teeters on the brink of love = suffering? Read my Catechism and prayed the Lit of the Hours. Some good things. A line from a Psalm resonates: “Your love is better than life.” NABRE notes say this is the only time in the Old Testament that something placed ahead of life on the goodness scale. Sometimes (always?) you have to choose between the two, as Christ did when he gave up his life for us.

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Felt uptight lately; blood pressure at an interstellar 151/90. Tired as well. Perhaps because there's a sense of anti-climax - I recall the thrill of watching the NCAAs at work with the “boss button” on the screen for quick exits. Now the tourney is for all practical purposes over. I recall, of course, the “thrill” of Lent, the possibility that anything could happen during the season of grace. And I recall Easter, the big denouement, even if technically it is still Easter. Seems understandable to have difficulty coming down from those mountaintop experiences, all jammed together: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter…

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While Examining the Spot Where My Great-Grandfather Fell Back in 1899

It all looked so pedestrian
this street like a thousand others
these tracks like any other
though history happened here
and the street seemed ennobled
until I realized that it's not so much
that this spot is exceptional
but that everything is.

April 02, 2013

Learn Something New Every Day

Today I am hyp-mo-tized by learning of digit ratio, and all the physical and psychological effects attributed to it.