May 31, 2013

Sadness

What happened to ye olde Catholic Blog search? Site appears to be down...
Central Park last Sunday Morn

May 30, 2013

From the Man Journal, as Lino Rulli Calls It

My Wife Likes Flowers

I guess as close as I come nowadays to being a kid at Christmas is when I just get home from work and it's early summer and the temperature is a decent golf score (low 80s)… I feel downright giddy, the golden light, the promise of time spread before us. It's as beautiful as it ever gets: low humidity, high sun, embracing temps, nice breeze. There's a quality of light now that is almost New Mexican and the plants around the back patio have exploded in simultaneous blooms like a fireworks' grand finale.

I relished this time and was not prepared to spend it sedentarily with a book and so I (gasp) willingly threw myself into mulching the front beds and then worked on replacing our old mailbox, destroyed by a car running into it (presumably) the night before last. Real nice that a neighbor probably did it and didn't own up to it. Likely the child of a neighbor but still… Definitely an unwarranted expense. I feel a bit of schadenfreude that some violence was surely wrecked on the car since our mailbox flew ten to fifteen feet and the cedar pole was nearly split in half. Doesn't seem like a baseball bat would do that, a favorite prank of high-schoolers.

One neighbor happened by and said from his car window, “I didn't do it! Twenty years ago I was drunk and ran into it, but not this time.” Ha.

So we found that the sleeve of the new metallic mailbox was exactly the same size width-wise as the stump of the old mailbox, which meant it wouldn't fit over it. So I used an axed away 10% or so until the new would fit over the old. Pleasant enough work on a beautiful early eve and the smell of the split cedar was nearly intoxicating.

Tomorrow the rains and clouds are reported to enter, so it looks like this paradiso is short-lived at least in the short-run.

*

Explored the Folio Society website and found within me a sudden longing for deluxe, finely-bound books. Imagine that; advertising works. I was put off by the prices of those finely-bound books however, but then wandered about Abebooks.com and found many good books in very good condition at much more palatable prices. I can have my cake and Edith too sort of thing. It occurred to me that the one book I would most like in a fine edition is Moby-Dick since I have only a worn paperback. I eventually came across the Ignatius Press Critical Edition and of course I must have that, at least on Kindle. And now I hear there's a book on the craft beer phenomenon titled The Audacity of Hops… so my bibliomania is in overdrive of late.

*

Night falls. Way too soon. Still pleasingly warm at 9:27 pm.

Sundry & Various

The State of the Weather: The weather is intercontinentally incandescent. Eighty and sunny with a cooling breeze. The patio bricks absorb the heat and pleasantly give a massage-like warmth to your bare soles. Picture-perfect, summer equinoxy, with sun glancing here, there and everywhere, bouncing off trees, bush and flower. Lighting up grass paths and dimpling the pines. It's like entering a superb work of art.  Nature is putting on this spring techno-thriller, this resurrection of sorts, and most of us are in offices missing it.

It's never really summer until…
the tomatoes are planted (done)
the hammock is out (done)
the first hummingbird is sighted (yes)
the first fuzz from the cottonwood sighted (yes)
the first lightning bug (not yet!)

*

Read a few nourishing lines from the new Scott Hahn book called Consuming the Word this morn. Seems neither too introductory nor too scholarly (like his Chronicles volume was), which is where I think I am. Since I donate to Scott Hahn's organization, it seems a waste not to buy his book and simply subtract that from my next donation! Of course he probably only gets a small percentage of any book sales, so my logic fails.

He had me from the opening lines, telling of how St. Romanus desired to glorify God in Eastern hymns despite his poor singing voice and was eventually miraculously given the gift to write them. One sees the “sweat equity” of the saints, how St. Romanus's prayer was long in being answered and yet he persevered, suffering with a burning hunger and desire. Remarkable on two fronts: one that he was so concerned about the glory of God and two that he was persistent in the seemingly unanswered prayer. 

*

Had a meeting with a co-worker that went well enough, if one extraneous and boring, but I dare not let that show after she said she tried to train someone else on it and they fell asleep right in front of her! Wow. That takes some cahoonies in a one-on-one.

*

Waylaid by a burning desire for The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, so I visited it at the local library at lunch. Found the zwei gigantic volumes (5th edition) which may've shrunk a bit in the 6th. To say these bad boys were unwieldy is to put it mildly. And I found, obviously, not nearly the delightful variety and etymological goodness of the 20-volume OED. So I'm relieved not to have spent the cash nd ordered it, although I sense the temptation will return. Having some version of the Oxford English Dictionary is sort of like marathon running: I'd like to be able to say I ran a marathon but not actually run one or train for one. Similarly, I'd like to have at least the Shorter Oxford English on hand, but not pay for it or use it. Because really, when would I use it? It's so cumbersome that it would have to be anchored to the place I most likely read, but I read outside four or five months a year. 

*

I understand Pope Benedict's final planned encyclical, on faith, was controversial enough not to find immediate clearance with all the folks who have to sign off on encyclicals, and thus he didn't wait for it to be promulgated before leaving the papacy. Of course I'm dying to know what it was he wanted to say and why it was considered troublesome. Will likely never know.

*

Bill O'Reilly recommended a celeb interview, very rare for him, with Billy Joel in the New Yoric Times. I found it rather ho-hum.  I assume part of O'Reilly's interest is that they both grew up on Long Island and are about the same age and have had their share of love troubles (i.e. divorces).
Watching makes me predictably upset. It's too irritating of late and it's likely best I don't watch the news. The Benghazi, the IRS scandal and the Nixonian tactics with the press all irritate me profoundly. It's not self-flattering that I seem to be more upset over the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS and the obfuscation surrounding Benghazi than I do the far more damaging and serious case of Obama's enthusiasm for abortion. I remind myself we have to be the voice of the voiceless and unlike conservatives and the diplomatic corp the unborn don't have voices. Frankly I can't stand this administration or its arrogant head. It gets worse over time; I can understand now the growing distaste for Bush by the lefties. There's a cumulative effect to bad presidential policies and hubris. I'm certainly grateful for the amendment limiting presidents to 
two terms. 
*
My mother had some wise words about my surprise over 8th grade graduation parties, which apparently require out of towners to attend: i.e. that that's the way they do things these days. Celebrate everything, and in an over-the-top way, like the way they go to the Washington D.C. trips for 8th grade instead of the Ohio capitol, as in my 8th grade, or the way a recent 2nd grade party involved a visit to the Cincinnati Bengals' stadium. It's kind of funny that Mom, a generation older than me, is telling me in effect that I'm way out of date, an “old fogey” as it were. Certainly the wonders of generosity of parental love seemingly knows no bounds: to paraphrase the Scriptures: “No greater love has this: to lay down one's Saturday and spend from 8am till 8pm watching your thirteen-year old play volleyball games.” Makes my 4 hour round-trip drive look puny by comparison.

*

This New York City memoir I'm reading is narcotically entertaining. The author mentions a “superrational, unforgiving Aristotelianism” acquired by a friend at the University of Chicago, and I couldn't help thinking immediately of St. Thomas Aquinas, who “baptized” Aristotle so to speak.
*
Is Catholicism is inherently more “romantic” than Protestantism, because it is much more appreciative of dates, anniversaries, and symbolism?

*

Today's Catechism reading mentioned the male priesthood as having been instituted by Christ (and followed by the apostles, so apparently you have both Christ and the apostles not being particularly supportive of a female priesthood). But what occurred to me is how the Church seems to come by this teaching so honestly, specifically in comparison with the bread and wine offered at Mass. If the Church somehow singled out women with “prejudice” she might be lax on the matter of the proper matter for sacraments, allowing - for example - grape juice, beer and Wheat Thins as objects of consecration. So if the Church takes so seriously what Jesus constituted as the matter of the sacrament, then how much more she might take the human matter, i.e. the priest, who acts in the person of Christ!

*

The Word Among Us has an interesting take on fear and dread of The Lord (Sirach 4:17):
“This isn't a fear of God's wrath. It's a fear that we may disappoint a Heavenly Father who loves us so deeply. It's the same kind of fear that a young man leaving home has to make his own way in the world. The last thing he wants to do is let down his father, who has supported him, and taught him, and helped him so much.”
Yes I get that analogy. I had no fear of my Dad's “wrath” if I didn't find work after college or ended up in a menial job. But I had a real deep fear of letting him down, embarrassing him. I wanted him to be able to tell his very successful brothers that I had a good job. Dad and I joked about “boomerang kids” who come back to live with their parents but it was really unthinkable to me. It certainly proves that one can be strongly motivated by a fear other than a fear of a father's wrath. 

May 28, 2013

Ahhhh.....

48 Hours in NYC

"Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it."  - Søren Kierkegaard, Søren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers, Part 1: Autobiographical, 1829--1848, p. 412
                                                           *
This part I call the elevated promenade, because its principal use will be to allow people of leisure, and old and young invalids, to promenade over the bridge on fine days, in order to enjoy the beautiful views and the pure air. - John Roebling, builder of Brooklyn Bridge

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which makes all other art museums look like little leaguers. It feels slightly lame to go to a big city like New York mainly for the museums, churches or libraries. It's the city that never sleeps after all, and there is food and music and Broadway and culturally-different people and…

But as the kids say, OMG. Room after room of sublime religious art. Yes, this art - devotional masterworks depicting Jesus and Mary and the saints - lives up to New York's extraordinary reputation. It's a heart-melting, spiritual experience. Even “hypnotic”, as was rightly put in an explanation of a particular work.  In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the gravitas of New York is fairly represented (somehow people-watching on the subway didn't quite measure up). And it certainly makes me free to skip the Museum of Modern Art now, “modern art” being close to an oxymoron anyway.

So why not start with the best? Give me some Fra Angelico. But for some reason I had other agenda items that by comparison look trivial. One guidebook recommended taking the “international line”, the subway train from Manhattan to Queens so called because it passes above ground through all these picturesque enclaves, Mexican, Chinese, etc… I pictured it as a seated (and nearly free) ethnic tour. The reality was banal to the max, though it was seated. I think I made it up to 120th street in Queens, suffering through endless stops and tedious suburban-ish vistas. But vacations are like picking dogs - you win some, you lose some. I must've been a hilarious sight, craning my neck around to look at rain-splotched Queens. There weren't any other tourists that's for sure.

*

ON the plane ride to New York saw this: Sky Mall magazine offers an old-fashioned electric typewriter and actually advertises it as being without the “crutch of spellcheck.” Now that's selling to pedants, those souls who aren't happy simply that they can spell better than others but want to offer proof. No doubt they'll append letters with, “This was typed on an electric typewriter without the crutch of spellcheck.” High-laire. It's as if you went to a doctor and he or she said they diagnosed your problem without the “crutch” of any diagnostic tools.

*

Oh but are my legs crushed, destroyed, demolished, DOA. Tomorrow's soreness will be epic. I walked about seven times seven my normal daily amount and stood for about as long. Talk about a filling day, though. Checked in at the winsomely early hour of 10:30 and then made my way down Columbus Avenue on a cloudy day with gusty winds. Got about a half-mile and had to turn back. Too damn cold! (Say like, “The rent is too damn high!”) In late May, mind you. Went back to the hotel room and retrieved my jacket and then headed towards the nearest subway stop and flawlessly executed the arrival at the Chambers street exit for my intended Brooklyn Bridge walk, which would be nearly the last experience of successful navigation (except along the Bridge itself which fortunately has no turns and thus minimizes the chances of getting lost).

So GPS sucks; I should've used an old-fashioned paper maps. I wanted to hit Ground Zero briefly before the bridge, which turned out to be an unlikelihood wrapped inside an impossibility. Poor planning on my part will be punished on vacations and yet I always like the serendipity of wandering about without a plan. So I walked and walked, getting lost - though serendipitously finding St. Peter's Church, the oldest Catholic Church in New York. Huge crucifixion painting above the altar. Also walked in Trinity church there near Wall Street.

Finally I got to the 9/11 memorial only, to my surprise, they have it roped off tighter than Fort Knox. Tall opaque fences prevented viewing by random visitors. It seemed, unless I'm mistaken, you had to wait in a long line and buy a pass to get in to see the memorial. It is quite possible I'm mistaken because I might've had to have walked an extra ten football fields and achieved victory, but if I'm right then I think it's patently ridiculous. While it is hallowed ground in the sense of people having died there, I have to say that I feel much in the minority as far as not having a deep interest in going there (or the Pearl Harbor memorial for that matter). I find it a curious lack in me, that these sorts of things don't appeal. I'd rather see a 17th century Puritan graveyard than a 20th/21st century sight of death or war. Gettysburg is about as recent as I want to see. And yet when I said I was going to New York everyone said, “oh, to see 9/11?” So I felt a sort of pressure to go, more to check off my list than in a true desire. But there were loads of tourists waiting in line to see the memorial, which is kind of impressive. Kudos to them for wanting to remember and honor the victims by visiting.



*

So after having wasted a lot of time and energy trying to do the World Trade Center, I went in the opposite direction and found, with surprisingly little trouble, the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Walking across it I had to laugh at the weather: 50 degrees, spitting rain, and gusty breezes. If that isn't worst-case scenario for NYC in late May I don't know what is. But I didn't mind really because thank God I was warmly glad in t-shirt, dress shirt AND rain-resistant jacket. Seasonably appropriate garb for March, but hey I'm not complaining since I'm on vacation.


Walking the Bridge made me want to read David McCullough's book on the building of it given what an exceptional engineering feat it is. Perhaps some “reverse tourism” is in order, where I go somewhere and then read about it. I loved the view of the Statue of Liberty in the far harbor, the Empire State building on the other side beyond a picturesque bridge (Williamsburg I think) just north/east of us. I walked right on in to Brooklyn (sign said, “Welcome to Brooklyn. How sweet it is!”). Wavered on whether to check out the DUMBO gentrified area. Elected not to because legs were already fried.

After le' bridge, walked back into the city and given the steadily worsening weather I thought about how it would be nice just to read my Frommer's NYC in my comfortable hotel room. Which is sort of hilarious. Arm-chair travel while actually traveling. Rather expensive, but there's no time guidebook reading is more interesting then when you're actually in the city.

Instead thought it would be nice to go to McSorley's Pub, take in a pint, maybe hit the NY Public Library and/or check out the Library hotel. But all my GPS misadventures had killed the fly-lifespan of the iPhone battery. Thus by 2pm I had no phone. Which meant no subway map, no Frommer's Guide on the Kindle iphone app, no GPS, no Google search, no nuthin'. So this severely limited my choices to just one: ride that subway, ride!

Early Xian Saint or Mrs. D? I report, you decide.
Rode first to Grand Central Station (now called Grand Central Terminal) because I'd never seen it in all these years. I've gotten it confused in my mind with “Penn Station” but I understand the two are very different. I can never hear Penn Station without thinking of a 1970s-era Reader's Digest line that quoted a child as thinking the end of the Lord's Prayer was “…and lead us not into Penn Station.” Cute kid alert! I may forget my name but I'll never forget that silly thing from a billion years ago. The print equivalent of the greatest ear worm of all time.

Grand Central Station? Lord it is grand. Especially for a train station. Wow. And the people! In the past I've said things like, “it was like Grand Central Station in there” because that's a popular saying. But now I can put a picture with that phrase. The sky-high ceiling is sky-blue with cherubs and little stars of light. Strangely peaceful despite the hubbub.

There's always got to be drama in New York, and I saw something odd going on when I went to the restroom: a man appeared to be going to the toilet in a garbage can. Cops were soon on the scene, two males inside to talk to the obviously mentally disturbed individual and one lady cop just outside. I smiled inwardly that even in this age when the sexes are seen as interchangeable, the female cop did not go in the male bathroom.

I wanted to eat something properly New Yorkian, whatever that means (maybe something ethnic) but I was hungry and there's this huge food court at Grand Central, so I succumbed and ate a BBQ steak sandwich with fries. I'm not proud of it. I am the ugly American, eating boring, predictable American food in an international city while on vacation. Tomorrow vegan sea bass from the East River (joke).

So after fortifying with food I continued the endless series of subway rides to Times Square, where I would hook up with another ride to the Upper West Side near my hotel at 81st (the Excelsior). This was achieved and I charged up my dead phone to 23% before heading back out to the Met, just “.65 miles away” according to an app - as the crow flies, but not as I walk, especially given the three different directions I go first before finding the right one. I think my sense of direction has been severely compromised over the past decade or so, at least since the advent of Google maps. It's nearly unerring as a contrary indicator.
I thought I could “cut through” Central Park but Central Park is huge (newsflash!) with twisting paths and semi-roads. [Later I would learn if I'd entered the Park at 81st, it would've been a snap.] Using my GPS I thought maybe I could just hike as the crow flies, fording boulder and stream, but alas I found to my shock that the GPS is iffy. It sometimes works and sometimes doesn't which makes it completely unreliable. Again, I'm a new fan of paper maps. Plus their batteries don't die.

Forty-five minutes and two miles later I stumble into the museum, hoping to hear the free classical music concert scheduled for the balcony bar. Unfortunately the balcony bar is, well, upstairs in the balcony. Feet don't fail me now! I have to walk up steps, ouch! After a few misdirections I find the elusive balcony bar that, had it been a snake, would've bit me right when I came in, i.e. right above me. I got there to find—-! A long line to get into this balcony bar. No music for me tonight, just art. Since the violin strings' sound carried about five feet.

But what art it was. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I couldn't decide what to see first, second or third. Roman & Greek art or Byzantine, or Medieval or European or… It was truly an embarrassment of riches. But my legs were dying under me, so I limited it to just an hour. Then cabbed back, and I half-vowed to take a cab everywhere from now on, including in the museum if possible (do they allow cabs in there? Rickshaws? Can I get a cab from my room to the hotel lobby?)

*

Before heading to the art museum I'd explored Columbus Avenue near my digs at the Excelsior and came across one of those tiny if heartfelt local groceries. I bought some Bass ale and coffee - I think it was called Calilgonie Brothers Grocery or some-such. Italian. Old Italian brothers. Established 1927. Had old pictures of the joint from way back when. That's the way you want your groceries. Mom & Pop, not chain.

The good news is that it was perfect museum-going weather. Certainly it worked out well given that if it were warm and sunny I'd surely have skipped over some of the treasures of the Metropolitan. Plus I didn't need SPF lotion.

The bad news is it doesn't make for great walking around “exploring” weather. Thus tonight faced with 25mph winds with gusts up to 35, and a temperature in the high 40s, it doesn't look too promising. Years ago I surely would've wanted to haunt old bookshops but nowadays - curse Kindle! - there are few of them around and it seems beside the point since I downloaded a sample of David McCullough's book about the Brooklyn Bridge instantaneously. Hard to go fishing when the fridge is already full of fish. Which is a good thing of course, but still…

[Later]: Well how many days I'm going to be in NYC in my lifetime? Relatively few is the safe bet. Measured in hours, a few score. So I headed out on the bum legs for another adventure, a perambulation down 81st street with short sojourns on Amsterdam and Broadway. Oh how can you know a city if you haven't seen it at night? Or in the early morn? And so I strolled down past those handsome brownstones that occasionally revealed interiors lit with books and light. What a sense of order there is here (although I'm sure money has something to do with that)! Every so often you have these avenues filled with little mom & pops, crossed with perpendicular residential streets. You really don't have to drive a car anywhere. Groceries, coffee joints, churches, gym, restaurants - all within easy walking distance? Wow, that's a nice quality o' life. And geez but there's a lot of florists. Who needs all these plants and flowers? I surmise these urban dwellers are starved for nature. Certainly the native fetish for Central Park seems a result of being nature-deprived. It's a nice park, but there are plenty of better offerings in Central Ohio. Vive le' difference. I love their architecture, they love our trees.

Walking by the ornate brownstones I wondered if Peggy Noonan might live in one of them. I thought she lived on the Upper West Side but I could be mistaken. I eventually was drawn, like a moth to a flame, to a used bookstore on Broadway. Looked for a cheaper version of the expensive ebook price of McCullough's The Great Bridge but they didn't have it. Bought instead - for $1 - Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Craig. Then to the local Barnes and Noble, but no inexpensive McCullough.

DAY 2
We see the trees in their early-spring greenness, but not again until just before winter. The common is mostly beyond us. - Jack Gilbert
So this morning I headed to the blessedly close by World Coffee and copped a spot in the window while enjoying a breakfast sandwich, coffee, and a “two berry yogurt muffin” whatever that is. I felt like a character on the Seinfeld show. It certainly was good eats and drinks even though I'm out of the loop on all these fancy coffees and pastries. In my day we had coffee and donuts, now you have some sort of cafe-expresso-latte with obscure types of scones. And in my day the only beer choices were Miller and Bud.
Shortly thereafter it was off to the art museum, this time by the utterly simple route of entering Central Park at 81st and using the transverse road. Wow, what a difference that made. And hugely helpful since I would end up logging over 4 miles just in the museum itself, if the GPS be working - which it looks like it didn't because even though I was only in the museum my “route” took me up and down 5th Avenue, over to the Natural History Museum, a trip to Central Park, etc… I guess I thought in NYC it would be more accurate than, say, in an isolated region in Montana but I guess not.

*

One of the things I like about art is its relation to history, how inseparable the two are. Thus my interest in history is simultaneously slaked with my interest in art. There is much art depicting a world gone by. I saw rooms furnished as they were from the 18th and 19th centuries, I saw the infamous Five Points tenement district of NYC in a painting.

And oh the crowds today! It's odd to see my appreciation for art echoed by so many others. It was like a football crowd - jam-packed wall-to-wall people in the lobby. I'm sure the weather helped but still it does the heart good to see so many people waiting in long lines to buy tickets to see great art. It's also cool to hear the variety of languages.

I'm touched almost as much by execution of the art as its subject matter: I appreciate the faith that these sometimes anonymous artists had that their works would bring appreciation and meaning and joy. The attention to detail is profound.

Of the many religious depictions of Mary, it seems a good number show her as looking detached, stoical or sad. That seems unreasonable given the Christian joy that suffuses the faces of most saints. Perhaps the artist is symbolizing the sword of sorrow that would later pierce her heart.

The cool thing is everything is real here, from the famous Stuart painting of Washington, to the iconic and gigantic Washington Crossing the Delaware to the ancient Egyptian temple. Only one thing I found faux: the Byzantine image of Christ at the Hagia Sophia. I guess the Met is the only one allowed to make a reproduction.

Walking through the Greek and Roman statues, I'm always struck by how small the men's penises look. Maybe that's designed to make men appreciate their own equipment more.

*

By 3pm I was sufficiently worn out. Limped to the finish line but didn't see it all. My right hip was aching as was my left instep from plantar. Which made me symmetrically hobbled. A pleasing, artistic symmetry. I headed back to the ho' for a nap, which felt crazy to do on a short vacation. Refreshed, I strolled slowly along Columbus and took in the myriad of small grocers and coffee and food joints. I picked up a chocolate soufflé at Gastronomie 491 and ordered a delicious chicken dinner at Spring Natural Kitchen.

Boy did I feel out of place though. My fire-engine red wind breaker didn't blend in with the uniformly black and gray garb of the natives. They don't believe in bright colors up here. I thought I saw actor James Cann but subsequent Google searches have in Cannes five days ago. Possible but not too probable.

DAY 3 - SUNDAY

Final hours in NYC and they felt a bit anti-climactic, partially because of the uncertainty over the cab situation which turned out to be no difficulty at all. And also because not being truly physically fit has its consequences, specifically when on vacation in a city made for flaneurs. I had little desire to move under my own power today.

Breakfast at World Coffee was followed closely by Mass: Trinity Sunday at Holy Trinity parish on 82nd. A micro-walk from the hotel. The priest gave a fine sermon on the creed. He mentioned how the Jews were so respectful of God's name that they wouldn't say it but for the High Priest once a year and I thought about this makes a kind of sense given that in the Old Testament to name something or somebody was to have a kind of dominion over them, thus the story of Adam and Eve naming the animals. So to “name God” wouldn't make sense from a Jewish point of view, and even today we have only the self-revealed relationship of the Trinity as a name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He also mentioned that every part of the Creed is from the bible but the phrase “consubstantial with the Father”. “Consubstantial” is so unusual a word, and providentially so because it deals with a matter we have no human experience of and thus don't want to use an overly familiar phrase that would make us think we fully understand what's going on there.

*

After Mass cabbed to the City Museum of New York at 103 and 5th. Somewhat disappointing museum, very light on substance. Highlight was film about the growth of the city from Henry Hudson to 9/11, though I was surprised Gulliani didn't receive any credit whatsoever for how safe the city has become. By noon I was getting nervous about time despite the 3:40 flight, so walked 5th Avenue down to about 92nd street. Sunny if cool day, I walked with Central Park to my right, with a couple large skyscrapers beyond it as if positioned there for effect. The amazing thing about the Park is that it exists at all given how coveted that real estate would be on the open market. It's always a cheery sign when something trumps the market. Seems like you could say to New York liberals, like so many say in a different way to the Vatican: “why don't you sell Central Park to developers? Think of all you could do for the poor with that money?”

Stopped at the Guggenheim and easily got a cab to back to the hotel and from there to JFK. The cab driver, a heavyset half-Hungarian, half-Serbian and all-accent, wanted to talk. Specifically he wanted jokes but would accept talking about insurance since he wanted to know what I did and I'd told him. He asked how to start an insurance company. I said, “start out with a lot of money,” which seemed like acceptable advice for starting any company. “And be prepared for regulation.” Obviously my knowledge of starting insurance companies is limited, to massively understate it. And my appreciation for Orthodox liturgies went unremarked upon, as well as any discussion about Eastern Europe under the Soviet regime. Politics and religion didn't interest him. Business and jokes instead. On New York he would only say that a lady from the Midwest came here for a week on business and said, “All they do is work around here. Till 6, 7 at night they're still working.”

On marriage, he related what his father said of the institution: “one-fourth honey and the rest shit, so you can choose which to go for first.” I said that I think the person you marry matters and he seemed to agree. He also had a joke: what is the “hottest part of a woman's body? Her palm. Why? Because if you put a $100 in there she'll…” and the rest was too accented to understand but I'm pretty sure I got the jist of it.
He managed to miss the Delta terminal at JFK, which seemed surprising for a cabdriver. He insisted on giving me his Skype email address in case I wanted a cheap place to stay in Europe, where he has a small house. Just Europe, nothing more specific. I said Europe'a a big place but he didn't specify, which was kind of humorous. Here's the American dream, or dreamer, in action. There's a strong sort of optimism in advertising your house in Europe by giving strangers your email address without giving them the country. It would take as big a dreamer to take him up on the offer, I would think.

*

Arrived at the airport a good 2+ hours early only to find the flight delayed a half-hour. So make that three hours early. You know an airport is seriously big when it has a sign with directions to terminals for different countries including Uzbekistan, a country I spelled so wrong that even spellcheck had no replacements to offer me. When you can't spell close enough for spellcheck there's something srsly wrong. I'd packed two beers that I now had to get rid of before going through security so got them out of my suitcase and put them on a seat in the airport lobby. One bottle rolled off and hit the hard-tiled floor and broke. Not good. The other I drank.

*

Feel a fullness of sensory image after bathing in that New York state of mind for the weekend. Rue'd, of course, my early departure from Gotham at noon but didn't have much oomph left. Wondering if I should've visited the Natural History museum since I was right on top of it. Might've been nice to walk to the Dakota, where John Lennon was shot even though I'm not a Lennon fan. Also would've been cool to have received Communion from Cardinal Dolan, assuming he gives out Communion at his masses. Also didn't make it to the parish of Catholic savant and author Fr. George Rutler. Also could've easily used the subway to go to downtown Brooklyn and explore there. There seems to be so much more to do in New York than, say, Chicago.
Feel a bit of instant-nostalgia (just add beer) for the little things, like the giddiness of writing up the trip log that Friday night over a few Bass ales, the “extraneous” night trips to the bookstores on Saturday and the art museum on Friday, how nice the shower felt Saturday morning with that deep window-well that I could've stored a refrigerator in and that reminded me I wasn't in Kansas anymore. The startle of that unique church, Holy Trinity, at Mass on Sunday. The rush of reading McCullough's book about the Brooklyn Bridge after just having walked it. The excitement of seeing the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building from that bridge. The inviting swirl of street after street in every direction that begged to be walked. The simple appreciation for the two berry muffin at World Coffee. The incredible performance of the quintet of two trumpet players, two sax and one drummer in the subway, playing like there was no tomorrow, as if they were at Carnegie Hall....

May 21, 2013

What is Beauty?

I found this Catholic Answers thread entertaining.

My favorite responses:
is the pic on black velvet? that makes a huge difference. only pix of dogs playing poker or Elvis should be on black velvet.

and
This is about thomistic and Aristotlean Asthetics. Maybe Teleology.

and
You might read this article on the philosophical concept of aesthetics.

Pentecost

I got distracted, if pleasantly, by what many would see as minutiae, that is just what exactly the tongues over the apostles' heads at Pentecost were made of. Apparently not fire since the text is clear about “tongues as of fire”, and a biblical commentary made that point as well. I think our man Ronald Knox simply goes ahead and makes it “tongues of fire”, although that could be originally St. Jerome's Vulgate rendering.

“Tongues” for the Jews were basically anything pointy. Perhaps they were pointed lights, very bright. The reference to fire, however, is intentional by the gospel writer since Christ was said to baptize with “fire and the Holy Spirit”. I love the “everybody” aspect of Pentecost, how the tongues rested on everybody and how they could speak all the languages of their listeners. The reading from Sirach yesterday went: “He has poured her forth upon all his works, upon every living thing according to his bounty.”

I'm kind of surprised Pentecost isn't a bigger deal in the Church. Seems like it should have at least its own week, an octave. The Holy Spirit seems the St. Joseph of the Trinity: overshadowed.

May 20, 2013

Co-Workers of the Truth Quote

Josef Pieper quotes from a translation of Hesiod by Cardinal Newman in which this thought is expressed with inimitable elegance and accuracy:
“Being wise with someone else’s head … is, to be sure, inferior to being wise oneself, but it is infinitely superior to the sterile pride of one who does not achieve the independence of being wise himself, yet at the same time despises the dependence of one who believes on the word of another.”
The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant.
"They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.

From: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Auf Christus schauen, pp. 21–23

Quotes from Kingslover's Flight Behavior Novel

Luther was the last shearer standing. Younger men wanted nothing to do with such hard work, preferring to drive some rig or gaze at a screen.
*

Dovey observed to Dellarobia that there was no end to the amount of effort a man would put into saving himself some work.

*

His bewildered sexual gratitude, as near a thing to religious awe as a girl of her station could likely inspire. These boyish things had made him lovable. But you could run out of gas on boyish, that was the thing.
*

Here we go, she thought, into the quicksands of stupid. 

*

everything living now seemed to yearn for sun with the anguish of the unloved.

*

Four wings, with the symmetry of a bow-tied shoelace. Preston had spent all of a recent morning trying to tie a bow, biting his lower lip in concentration, but here was perfection without effort. 
A movement of clouds altered the light, and all across the valley, the butterfly skin of the world transfigured in response, opening all the wings at once to the sun.

*

It did get her out, among people. Whether friend or foe hardly mattered; they ate with their mouths closed and wore shoes without Velcro...being a stay-at-home mom was the loneliest kind of lonely, in which she was always and never by herself. Days and days, hours and hours within them, and days within weeks, at the end of which she might not ever have gotten completely dressed or read any word longer than Chex...Just motherhood, with its routine costs of providing a largesse that outstripped her physical dimensions. She’d seen ewes in the pasture whose sixty-pound twins would run underneath together and bunt the udders to release the milk with sharp upward thrusts, jolting the mother’s hindquarters off the ground. That was the picture, overdrawn. A gut-twisting life of love, consecrated by the roof and walls that contained her and the air she was given to breathe. 

*

An hour in the café, the slake of a tall cup of coffee, and stillness, and wearing shoes, a clean tile floor, time off for good behavior. 

*

She was what Hester called a 911 Christian: in the event of an emergency, call the Lord. Unlike all those who called on Jesus daily, rain or shine, to discuss their day and feel the love. Once upon a time she’d had her mother for that. Jesus was a more reliable backer, evidently, less likely to drink himself unconscious or get liver cancer. No wonder people chose Him as their number-one friend. But if the chemistry wasn’t there, what could you do? 

For a year she’d gone with Cub to Wednesday Bible group and loved the sense of being back in school, but her many questions did not make her the teacher’s pet. Right out of the gate, in Genesis, she identified two completely different versions of how it all got started. The verses could be a listen-and-feel kind of thing, like music, she’d suggested, not like the instruction booklet that comes with a darn appliance. 

*

Pastor Ogle had lured Hester over from a harder line of Baptists, and Dellarobia knew some marital compromise was involved. Bear had stopped attending over there. Here he could sit out the service in Men’s Fellowship, which had checkers and country music pitched low enough you could still hear the sermon on the closed-circuit if you so desired. Bobby had found the key to modern believers: that many preferred their salvation experience to come with a remote. 

*

Dovey liked to text her on Sunday mornings for her own entertainment. There was one waiting now: COME YE FISHERS OF MEN: YOU CATCH, GOD WILL CLEAN. Dovey’s fondness for one-liners-in-Christ was bottomless, she collected them off church marquees. 

May 19, 2013

Random Thoughts & Quotes

He gave us this eternal Spring
Which here enamels everything.
  --Andrew Marvell
Oh May, like Mae West when you're good…you're very good. And today is magical, another pluperfectly minted day fresh off the factory line. I'm in my hammock now, avoiding the “laying versus lying” confusion. Just “in” it. And watching a gold sun still pleasantly high in the sky at 5:45pm.  Bask now I do in this especial moment, gazing at the dewey wax of plants plump with rain. Oh the shimmer-play of light through the back patio pine! How I underestimate this magic spot on the hammock, this rich topography of sun before me while I rest in dappled shade. In the mid-distance I see the fountain and the St. Francis statue, in the foreground the richly landscaped vicinity.

Oh May, fickle May! I've learned by hard experience not to count on any pre-Memorial Day days, but if summer starts June 1st then summer is but three weeks long. For then comes the bittersweet equinox, the Midsummer Night madness, the days shortening. (Oh I must find that wonderful Donald Hall book, Seasons at Eagle Pond. Don't know that I've ever owned a book with content more true to it's form: those handsome thick pages with perfectly chosen font and margin. How that book lingers in memory, particularly the ice stored all summer underground and the madness of an English Midsummer's Night's Eve.)

LATER: Oh the perils of the printed book. Amid two thousand volumes I didn't want to spend the lit-hour hunting. But I did find Hall's Unpack the Boxes which shall have to do for now. There's definitely a point at which one can have too many books for finding purposes, unless you are meticulous in your cataloging.

And so now for my State of the Sun address: the state of the sun is strong. It's 6pm and still very warm and bright proving, against recent evidence of chill, that we are actually in May and not late March. On days like these who needs a beach? I have a private backyard glade. 

*

So I ill-spent yesterday evening reading a book harshly critical of the English medieval Church. The superstition depicted is a bit surreal (even allowing for the atheist author's obvious prejudices) and hard to read but it's no wonder the early Protestants reacted so viscerally. The Reformers, or Revolutionists, seemed to throw the baby out with the bathwater by jettisoning the sacraments. Making the sign of the Cross was surprisingly controversial with the controversialists; they certainly were allergic to any action that even could be undertaken without thought, which is also why they didn't like formal, rote prayers. The early Reformers were so allergic to “superstition” that they ended up with the logical endpoint: double predestinationism. If you hate man's attempts to manipulate God, which is a definition of superstition, then you will easily go to the extreme of denying any cooperation of man. Thus men are saved or damned and there's nothing they can do about.

I do have a bit more sympathy for the Reformation leaders after reading this though. What's interesting is how it seems the tables have turned: Catholics seem less superstitious than many evangelicals in as far as expecting health and wealth in this life as a reward for faith.

*

Ran into a hale and hearty former co-worker in the weight-room today. I'd worked with him something like 15 years ago. He looks boyish even at 51, despite three children and four grandchildren. His kids are all growed up, which is amazing. It seems like only yesterday they were knee-high and stole my cowboy boots one time I stayed overnight there. His house and ten acres in Newark still remind me of the agrarian dream, although admittedly I've always been semi-smashed there and alcohol provides rose-tinted glasses. “Good times,” he said.

He's worked three years now from 8pm-4am. Sleeps from 5am-9am, a grand total of four a night. Don't know how he does it.  Drinks Maker's Mark and takes a sleeping pill before going to bed. Knocks him flat he says. I said that I heard you don't get as good sleep on a sleeping pill and he sloughed that off and given his energy on the elliptical trainer it did feel like here was living proof of the falseness of the claim.

Seeing his kids get older drives home the passage of time in a way visible and tangible. Seeing these kids change so radically, from infants to teens to adults, is a way of measuring time that doesn't compute with adults (my wife to me looks pretty much the same to me as she did when we got married.)

*

Aristotle said 2000 years ago: “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.” That dude was wise. None of this, “I'm going to do whatever I want to do for work” nor the other extreme of trying to fit what the market tries to enforce. 

*
No white nor red was ever seen
So amorous as this lovely green,
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress' name:
Little, alas! They know or heed
How far these beauties hers exceed!  -
Andrew Marvell
                                                *
Thus shut out from their neighbours by mountains, the Greeks were naturally attracted to the sea, and became a maritime people. Hence they possessed the love of freedom and the spirit of adventure, which have always characterised, more or less the inhabitants of maritime districts. - A Smaller History of Greece
Ruffled by want of a cigar, I made a special trip to Kroger's for one. It feels earned and I'd been pining for one ever since catching a whiff of Dad's cigar last weekend.

Tried my three all-time favorite beers on brother Doug but he didn't like them - too hoppy - which I can understand. Those sorts of beers can be an acquired taste I suppose. Sometimes I'm convinced of the universality of the palate when, of course, everyone has different tastes. There's a beer slogan that goes, “Life's too short to drink cheap beer” but I think it should read: “Life's too short to drink beer you don't really, really like.” It's worth trying different beers but obviously not worth giving up favorites. 

*

[This paragraph may be safely skipped if squeamish]:  Sperm, for all its potential potency is simultaneously utterly useless in the wrong context, i.e. outside the body of a woman. It shows the complete dependency on two people to produce the new and in that is a metaphor for our interdependence.  It reminds me a bit of the relationship between God and man: without God, man can do nothing. And without man's cooperation, God does not force him to fructify.

May 16, 2013

Snippets & Thoughts

Poetry anthologist Quiller-Couch:

Writing in 1939, I am at a loss what to do with a fashion of morose disparagement; of sneering at things long by catholic consent accounted beautiful; of scorning at 'Man's unconquerable mind' and hanging up (without benefit of laundry) our common humanity as a rag on a clothes-line. Be it allowed that these present times are dark. Yet what are our poets of use - what are they for - if they cannot hearten the crew with auspices of daylight?
*

Happened across a Catechism passage and it made me think of anti-Catholic Catholic Garry Wills:
The chosen people was constituted by God as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” But within the people of Israel, God chose one of the twelve tribes, that of Levi, and set it apart for liturgical service.
It's interesting to me that in Wills's systematic attempts to dismantle the Church he began with producing a book he called “papal lies”. In other words, let's look at the words of popes and refute them. But now he goes “one better” by trying to undermine the whole institution of the priesthood. It's as if he first said, “Oh don't listen to those out-of-touch Catholic prelates, especially on birth control!” Then, without achieving noticeable success he decided to say, “And another reason not to listen to them is that the whole schema lacks credibility!” If you can't undermine the popes by their actions then do so by the office itself. It seems childish, like saying, “I don't like cops because they are often in the wrong” and then saying, “I hereby question the whole need and justification for cops.” Methinks he protests too much. It really feels like he's doing Satan's bidding.

*

Pascal observed the problem in seventeenth-century France when he saw the obsession with entertainment as the offspring of the fallen human desire to be distracted from any thought of mortality. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”
Sounds similar to Homer Simpson's claim that alcohol is the cause and solution to all life's problems. Quote above is from an article in First Things about how tragic the author finds the lack of tragedy in current church services. Death is the thing we constantly hold at arm's length. Very provocative to say that the problem with church is that it isn't entertaining enough - because there's no addressing the reality of death in current services. He wonders if it didn't start when cemeteries were separated from church grounds. He also makes the dubious claim that Joseph Conrad was a better writer than Charles Dickens because the former dealt in tragedy. He makes the much less dubious claim that Shakespeare's best plays were the tragedies. The author adds:
Today tragedy has, with few exceptions, dropped from popular entertainment. Whether it is the sentimentalism of the Hallmark Channel, the pyrotechnics of action movies, or the banal idiocy of reality TV, the tragic sensibility is all but lost.
The news is depressing enough it seems it's no wonder most people don't want to dwell on the tragic even if it is said to be cathartic. Besides, even back in the “golden age” of the '40s and '50s there weren't too many tragic films by my recollection.

*

I need a beer due to stress of the NTSB recommending that a.05 blood level of alcohol being criminal. Which I think is ridiculously over-the-top. The prohibitionists live again. Soon federal highway funds will be linked to the lower limit and all the states will buckle under like they did with the .08 limit.

May 14, 2013

Thank God for Overreach

Power is said to corrupt and this attribute of power can make it somewhat self-limiting in a democracy.  Given his friendly media Obama had more room to overreach, more of a tendency to self-corrupt (FOX News and talk radio have sadly become ghettoized and de-legitimatized by the rest of the mainstream media).  But eventually he would 'overrun his coverage' and I think we're seeing that now.  The sad thing is that it didn't happen earlier in his presidency and thus limit his ability to damage the country via his policies.

Anyway, Jim Geraghty had the following to say and I have to admit to feeling some serious schadenfreude over the mainstream media's sudden shock at what they have wrought:
You know a scandal is bad when I can point you to the Huffington Post's summary, because it can't collect any more outrage than I can:
Journalists reacted with shock and outrage at the news that the Justice Department had secretly obtained months of phone records of Associated Press journalists.
The AP broke the news on Monday about what it called an "unprecedented intrusion" into its operation. It said that the DOJ had obtained detailed phone records from over 20 different lines, potentially monitoring hundreds of different journalists without notifying the organization. The wire service's president, Gary Pruitt, wrote a blistering letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, accusing the DOJ of violating the AP's constitutional rights.
Reporters and commentators outside the AP professed themselves to be equally angered. "The Nixon comparisons write themselves," BuzzFeed's Ben Smith tweeted. Margaret Sullivan, the public editor for the New York Times, called the story "disturbing." Washington Post editor Martin Baron called it "shocking." CNN's John King described it as "very chilling."
Speaking to the Washington Post's Erik Wemple, a lawyer for the AP called the DOJ's actions "outrageous," saying they were "a dagger to the heart of AP's newsgathering activity."
BuzzFeed's Kate Nocera was perhaps more pithy, writing simply, "what in the f--k."
With corruption, it's never personal until it's.... personal.

Kentucky Basilica & Book Haunt

On Sunday we and made our way on a sunny but chilly morning to the breathtaking St. Mary Basilica in Covington, KY. We arrived a good half hour before services and I anticipated exploring the near empty cathedral but that was not to be. Surprisingly for a Catholic Church, there were a lot of people there that early and so it was hard to tour while people were trying to pray. The brightness of this gothic cathedral was created by the jillion stained glassed windows. Built around 1895, the Stations of the Cross were huge mosaics. But the most stunning vista for me was a gigantic floor-to-ceiling stained glass window to the left of the altar.

On the web, one commenter said:
One of the few Cathedral Basilica Minors outside of Rome, it has the largest stain glass window in a church in the world. The inside of it is absolutely breathtaking and I find myself staring at the different stain glass windows or mosaics while attending service there.
Another writes:
Cathedral Basilica is home to some of the most beautiful architecture in the tri-state. Located in the heart of Covington, the grand church can be seen from highrises in Cincinnati. Once inside, the view becomes even more breathtaking.
Cathedral Basilica is home to the World's Largest Stained Glass Window, measuring 67 x 24 feet. The facility was erected in 1894 and ended in 1915, unfinished. Near the front door, you can notice some empty pedestals which were meant to house statues. The church ran out of money, and never added them in. The Cathedral is also lacking a steeple because it would be too heavy for the foundation to support.
Some notable architecture:
  • 26 gargoyles on the building exterior
  • murals by 1903 Covington artist, Frank Duveneck
  • two beautiful, stained glass rose windows
  • ornate statues of religious figures
  • marble flooring, sanctuary, and Baptismal
  • two gigantic organs, one dating back to 1859
  • 82 stained glass windows made in Munich, Germany
  • mosaics of the stations of the cross, made out of 80,000 tiles
Outside, one can find a lush garden, complete with path, benches and fountain. It's an enjoyable piece of serenity for Downtown Covington.
The inside of the church is modeled almost exactly after St. Denis just north of Paris, where the remains of Marie Antoinette reside in the crypts.  St. Denis in Paris was very dark, moody and medieval. It was a gorgeous church, but was in a sad state. It's replica in Covington, KY is more beautiful in my opinion. After a recent renovation, they moved the altar and added some of the most beautiful woodwork I've seen. The stained glass and the rosary are astounding! This is a place not to be missed. 

As if the beauty of the church wasn't enough, the liturgy itself was wonderful, a true high mass featuring the bishop, the successor to the apostles, and all the “smells and bells.” The music was extraordinary as well and I wouldn't have minded owning a recording of their choir's Ave Maria.

Hard gospel truth in John 16: “you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.” Jesus goes on to compare it to a woman giving labor - we'll forget the pain afterward. Lino Rulli brought up the movie Dogma in which one character said something that struck him as so true way back when he first saw in over a decade ago. The character said, “Catholics don't celebrate their faith, they mourn it.” Which is sad and not right but then I thought, “hmmm….In light of today's gospel that's kind of interesting.” Rulli praised evangelicals for being so much happier about the faith but then I recalled the priest at mass today saying how disturbed he was by a big billboard of a smiling “wealth gospel” preacher, dressed to the nines in front of a Lexus. 

*

Later went bookshop explorin' and found a 1940 volume called The Oxford Book of Verse with poetry from 1290 to 1918. Pretty much covers the gaumet.  Editor was a fellow named Quiller-Couch. Also picked up another poetry book by Ashley Shelby called Appalachian Studies. I love Eastern Kentucky stuff, especially in the wake of the History Channel's Hatfields & McCoys as well as the TV series Justified. It was very pleasant thoroughly exploring the local interest section and the leather-bounds. Happened across a history of early New England by Fiske from the late 1800s. There's something about that early Puritan period in the MA area that appeals, or rather interests, me. Would never have wanted to live there in those times.

Via podcast, listened to the great Brian Lamb interview the producer of a film documentary about the decay of Detroit and then one with Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institute of Health, star of the genome project, and atheist-turned-Christian. Collins mentioned how he had his DNA tested and found out his risk for Alzheimer's, heart disease, cancers, etc… Makes me want to drop $150 and get the test done as well.

May 10, 2013

Peggy Noonan on Benghazi

All politics, all the time for this White House.  Doesn't matter if babies die or ambassadors:
The Obama White House sees every event as a political event. Really, every event, even an attack on a consulate and the killing of an ambassador.

Because of that, it could not tolerate the idea that the armed assault on the Benghazi consulate was a premeditated act of Islamist terrorism. That would carry a whole world of unhappy political implications, and demand certain actions. And the American presidential election was only eight weeks away. They wanted this problem to go away, or at least to bleed the meaning from it.

Because the White House could not tolerate the idea of Benghazi as a planned and deliberate terrorist assault, it had to be made into something else. So they said it was a spontaneous street demonstration over an anti-Muhammad YouTube video made by a nutty California con man. After all, that had happened earlier in the day, in Cairo. It sounded plausible. And maybe they believed it at first. Maybe they wanted to believe it. But the message was out: Provocative video plus primitive street Arabs equals sparky explosion. Not our fault. Blame the producer! Who was promptly jailed.

If what happened in Benghazi was not a planned and prolonged terrorist assault, if it was merely a street demonstration gone bad, the administration could not take military action to protect Americans there. You take military action in response to a planned and coordinated attack by armed combatants. You don't if it's an essentially meaningless street demonstration that came and went.

Why couldn't the administration tolerate the idea that Benghazi was a planned terrorist event? Because they didn't want this attack dominating the headline with an election coming.

...if the administration was to play down the nature of the attack it would have to play down the response—that is, if you want something to be a nonstory you have to have a nonresponse. So you don't launch a military rescue operation, you don't scramble jets, and you have a rationalization—they're too far away, they'll never make it in time. This was probably true, but why not take the chance when American lives are at stake?

* * *

From the day of the attack until this week, the White House spin was too clever by half. In the weeks and months after the attack White House spokesmen said they were investigating the story, an internal review was under way. When the story blew open again, last week, they said it was too far in the past: "Benghazi happened a long time ago." Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, really said that.

Think of that. They can't give answers when the story's fresh because it just happened, they're looking into it. Eight months later they don't have anything to say because it all happened so long ago.

Think of how low your opinion of the American people has to be to think you can get away, forever, with that.

Will this story ever be completely told? Maybe not. But it's not going to go away, either. It's a prime example of the stupidity of all-politics-all-the-time. You make some bad moves for political reasons. And then you suffer politically because you made bad moves.

Snippets of Williamson's The End is Near and It's Going to be Awesome!

It has long been observed that while historians date the fall of the Roman Empire to A.D. 376, the imperial implosion would have been news to Roman authorities and Roman subjects for a century after that—the empire didn’t know that it had fallen. (Politicians: always the last to know.) A similar dynamic is at work today: The edifice of government looks as imposing as ever, perhaps more so. But something has changed.

*

The Declaration of Independence is a statement of our aspirations, not a description of our reality. Good poetry makes bad politics.

What makes good politics? The question itself is a problem, because to ask the question assumes that good politics is possible. It is not, and the main reason for that is not ethical but technical: Political rhetoric aside, politics as an institution fails first and foremost because it cannot manage the complex processes of modern life, because doing so would require politicians to be able to gather and process amounts of information so vast that they are literally incalculable.

Second, politics fails because people do not cease to be self-interested economic actors once elected to political office or hired by a government agency; the profit-maximizing forces that operate in the marketplace operate in politics, too, whether “profit” is measured in conventional economic terms or in power, prestige, or some other commodity.

*

Big Business isn’t what it used to be. Twenty-first-century corporations are more like temporary associations of people and capital lucky to survive for a few decades, and, if present trends continue, the future corporation will be an even more ad hoc tissue of tenuous short-term relationships...a successful twenty-first-century corporation is really more like an unusually enjoyable dinner party: a happy coincidence that is in part the product of careful forethought and execution, but also the product of the spontaneous interactions among people and events.

*

An important difference between the early twentieth century and the early twenty-first century is that businesses have become more specialized and the division of labor radically more precise, so the corporate life cycle runs more quickly. The corporate lifetime is shortening because the pace of social learning is accelerating. More complex economic entities develop adaptive strategies more quickly. We recognize our economic mistakes more quickly and develop alternatives in great number and at high speed. Understood properly, bankruptcy and business failure are pedagogical tools: They are an important part of how individuals, businesses, and industries learn—and the global marketplace is an exercise in collective social learning.

*

We often see only the unpleasant side of such developments: the laid-off workers, the shuttered mills, the declining steel towns. Those are very powerful images because they are discrete and specific. The pain is concentrated, but the benefits are widely dispersed.

*

It is remarkable that we speak and think about commerce as though competitiveness were its most important feature. There is, as noted, a certain Darwinian aspect to economic competition—and of course we humans do in fact compete over scarce resources. But what is remarkable about human action is not its competitiveness but its almost limitless cooperativeness...Competition is only one of the ways that we learn how best to cooperate with one another—competition is a means to the higher end of social cooperation.

*

The size and complexity of our brains evolved in parallel to the size and complexity of our social groups. The argument for cooperative human action is not just economics, but biology. Our social institutions are just as much a product of evolutionary processes as our bodies are. And it is through our social institutions, not through our individual brains, that we learn to deal with the problem of complexity.

*

So, how do private companies know what to produce for public use?... How do we learn how to cooperate? As Read noted about his beloved No. 2 pencil, nobody is in charge of the process, which is the result of a spontaneous order. The CEO of the pencil company understands only a small part of how his business works, and the pencil company collectively understands only a small part of the process. The system works because the underlying spontaneous order, even though its vast complexity is beyond our understanding, has a built-in mechanism for getting less wrong over time, mostly through trial and error—which is to say, mostly through failure.

*

The radical advances in quality of life that have characterized human society since the Industrial Revolution are by no means limited to profit-seeking enterprises: There was nothing like Wikipedia even a few years ago, and that extraordinarily valuable collection of knowledge was assembled independent of the profit motive...The people who contribute to Wikipedia have little or no conventional profit-oriented motive for methodically working to improve one another’s work, yet they’ve discovered that the value of cooperating is greater than the cost... similarly banks, car loan companies, and other consumer finance businesses universally share consumer credit information across the industry at considerable cost to themselves, even though each individual bank would be better off simply cutting off its bad-risk borrowers in the hope that they would go down the street to a competitor and cause them losses...Scientists and entrepreneurs may be individually arrogant, but both of their underlying models of operation depend upon openness to discovering that one’s beliefs are wrong and taking action to correct them.

Friday Mysteries

Teach me mortality, frighten me into the present. Help me to find the heft of these days. --Jack Gilbert
My favorite of the rosary mysteries are the sorrowful ones because of the love displayed for us.  I read the passages in Scripture that refer to each of the mysteries and was struck by Jesus quoting Psalm  31 when He said, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” I hadn't realized that, and it made me hunger for more commentary on the Psalms. It  seems like Scripture rarely stands alone for me, I need to hear what everyone else and their brother has to say about it.

It was the first time I realized  that Jesus not only had a reed stuck in his hand to mock him as king, but they  struck him with it as well. A little detail perhaps, but it seems important to remember exactly when he went through for our salvation. And hopefully to realize his sacrifice was “powerful enough” to take away my sins and, conversely, that my sin was painful to Him. I thought also about how He sweat blood for us. I guess the text doesn't actually say that; it says drops like blood fell. But I always imagine, romantically  perhaps, as Christ wanting so much to free us from our sins that his blood was  already escaping from his body in anticipation of its saving power. Kind of as if his body couldn't contain the blood with which he would seal the new covenant.

During the fourth mystery I looked at a picture of that particular mystery on  my iPhone app as many times before. I always tend to mistake Jesus in the  picture as the strong man carrying the cross (actually Simeon) rather than the figure bent below it. How challenging not to overlook Christ in the poor or weak!  My eyes naturally gravitate towards strength and vigor when Christ, like Paul  later, would find his greatest power in weakness.

May 09, 2013

Seven or So Short Friday Thingies

As my favorite Dispatch columnist John Switzer, the important herald of the obvious who reports on the changing of the guard season-wise, wrote: “We're suddenly in May, the fat part of spring. A very good time of year.” Indeed. One of spring's charisms is that it's the only habitable season of the year without mosquitoes, ticks & flies, and that's a rather nice outdoor feature. A check of the 'net reveals that the skeeters could be here any day. When the temperature consistently stays above 50 the buggers come out. I hear that southwest Florida is due for a swarm of giant mosquitoes the size of quarters this year! Everything's bigger and stranger in Florida.

I look out over the refreshing vista of our trees in full green, our patio chairs standing like knights awaiting our arrival at the property edge. The air temp was a splendiferous 80 at one point today but now, at 8:20pm, has cooled down considerably. The sky is a benign shade of robin egg blue with harmless white clouds intermixed. Just a hint of pink; the sun will be setting shortlivedly. The cumulative effect of the cumulus clouds is atmospheric.

Oh what can surpass the beauty of a warm, spring day? Life comes back - I spy a struggling worm on our stone patio and I wish him well, hope he means to be there. Life is precious; yesterday my commute was longer than normal due to an accident. Little did I know that behind me two people would lose their lives when a huge semi wasn't ready for the sudden braking action the accident caused. In other words the second accident happened because of the first. The poor lady who died had her dog with her; it escaped unharmed and was lost for a day until found on the road that goes past my house. It all is gift and the body can be taken as away in an instant. If I'd left the house later, or the truck driver came through earlier, it could've been me.

How quiet and peaceful it is tonight! No mowers of lawn, no insisters of clipping, hedging, gnawing, ringing or blowing. And I can see the lighter-colored grass beyond ours gleaming in the distance. Natural beauty is democratic, isn't it? Every place, left to its own devices, can be beautiful, be it desert, mountain, valley, plain, forest, or sea. Even some of the glaciers of the Arctic consist of gem-like shades of blue. God knows what He's doing is what I'm thinking.

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Oh myyyy but how aliiiive I felt running down those picturesque Short North streets! It's stimulating to the senses: the beautiful spring weather, the  handsome old brick buildings (some probably dating to the 1800s),  the wall-less coffee joints abutting the street, art in  the gallery windows,  the pretty gals, the big black arches over High Street harking back to when  Columbus was known as “Arch City”….Feels downright SoHo-ian. It's such a joy to  do a strong run in this urban setting, especially since I run north-south and  the cross streets rarely have green lights so I can run without stopping. It's  funny that I spent many years avoiding High Street and ducking towards the sylvan parkland of Goodale. (Though, on second thought, for most of those years  the Short North was an ugly stepchild of its present version.) I guess I see  enough of my own park-like backyard such that I don't want to see trees and  grass nor pond but the big city glitter.
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Am concerned about our diocese website being down. I've never seen that happen before. I go there on Thursdays sometimes to read the newly hatched diocesan newspaper. But tonight no go and I wonder if perhaps it got hacked by haters. The National Catholic Register recently had an article on Bishop Campbell's  rather surprisingly firm stand. I'm sure he's aware of how Catholic schools too easily devolve into CINO schools.

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Kind of interesting to see the school board sold property to the school's arch-nemesis (developers) and now are taking heat for being hypocritical. It's kind of interesting call to see whether the district should've taken the money or stand on principle and refuse the developer's money. It's kind of symbolic, and symbols seem to inspire stupidity or nobility depending on the circumstance. Of course one man's nobility may be another's stupidity, witness St. Thomas More. (Not to compare, in any way, something as trivial as a school district decision with the great Thomas More's.)

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Started reading Kevin Williamson's fascinating The End is Near. He writes for National Review and yet he disavows the simplistic notion that “the market will solve everything.” No it won't, and he recognizes this. Anyway his heart seems in the right place. He writes of jobs as a “means to an end” not an end in itself. But a means to what end?  I suppose that we not starve. He points out that we could easily achieve full employment by drafting the entire population into the army but then we'd all starve to death.

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I love a parade (of books) / A waterfall of books, a meme of surprising looks, a verbal babel of brooks / For I love a parade….of books!

So difficult to choose but Daria Sockey's Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours seems indispensable. (C.S. Lewis said of the praise that by “commanding us to glorify him, God is inviting us to enjoy him.”) Then too there's NR's Kevin Williamson's new book on the future of American government (it's bright, because it'll be broke!).

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Voted in the Repub primary Tuesday.  Something like 7% voting rate, sad. Five candidates seeking four positions for  city council. I only voted for two lest I unduly encourage the bastards. I don't  have confidence in any of them really, but was okay with voting for the one the  Republican Central Committee didn't like.

Not sure how I feel about party institutions. Next time the Republican Nat'l  Committee calls I may say, “I'm not a Republican, I'm a conservative.” I don't  trust the party apparatus all that much although admittedly in many elections  the RNC was right. For example, that awful Christine O'Donnell candidacy, and  the less-than-stellar Sharron Angle nomination. There have been others who've  practiced political malpractice, such as Todd Akin – he who managed to think it was  a good idea to opine on the rape and pregnancy. Even junior high school  candidates are politically smarter than that guy. So perhaps the RNC isn't that  bad after all….

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Interesting to read about how much Tim of the Catholic Bible blog loves the Knox. He argues, convincingly, that the NRSV, NAB and RSV are pretty much the same in terms of being on the literalist and less dynamic scale while the Knox and Jerusalem are freshly rendered. Says he can understand why many like the New Jerusalem. The only downside to the Knox, he says, is the distraction of archaic renderings - but the New Testament reads really well.

May 07, 2013

MJ of Logos Forum Fame

Occasionally I'll wander to the Logos Bible Forum and look for posts by the inimitable MJ Smith, she who stands amid the forum contents like a colossus of catholic civility. 

Here are a few of her recent thoughts/replies:
I have a basic preference for believing we constantly overestimate the quality of our [biblical] scholarship just as our predecessors did. Of course, my measure of language competency is that you don't know a language until it becomes bathroom reading. More seriously, as long as we use dual language dictionaries, I am uncomfortable saying we know a language. And, to the best of my knowledge, Logos is short of completely Hebrew (or Greek, Aramaic, Syriac, Latin, Ugaritic, Coptic ...) dictionaries. There is a big difference between reading a foreign language to translate it into your native tongue and reading a foreign language and understanding it in that language ... what we nicknamed the dream test.

I don't disagree that multiple translations serve as pointers towards the original language meaning as each translation gives us additional clues of the constraints on the original text. Another thread offered a link to a journal article that I find apropos - BaxterBiblicalWords.pdf

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My translation pet peeve is people having a pet peeve rather than recognizing translators have to make compromises in order to best meet the need of their ideal intended audience which I not me. I much prefer to have my pet translations such as Psalm 4 in the Jerusalem Bible ... I measure all other translations against it even though i know the grammatical argument against the translation.

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David A: Textual Criticism ASSUMES that all versions have the same chances of being found.

MJ Smith: Really? That is odd because it is so unlikely to be true. It could only be a simplifying assumption to make the data manageable. How many ancient manuscripts do we have from the Mar Thoma church in India? [Trick question - use of banana leaves as a writing surface has seriously limited the number of old manuscripts in a bug infested environment.]

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Dean053: ...with the moral brigade always trying to shut down legitimate questions or concerns about the product.
MJ Smith: While I have seen this accusation made frequently, I have seen the shutting down of legitimate questions only occasionally. As in a face-to-face community, there are particular people who by reasons of upbringing, culture, age or mental health need to be given a broader leeway than others.


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There are also many excellent graphics for the liturgical year. My (very simple) favorite also captures the sense of a spiral i.e. movement towards the end of time:


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I'd set two rules for myself when I offered to create the [following] list - non-Catholic Logos resources. As you can see, I ignored the Logos part when I tried to tailor the list to what L.S. seemed to need - enjoyable, non-confrontational reading that raises the important issues. Getting people to ask the question is more important than giving an answer to a question not asked.

  • Prayer by Richard Foster - a good introduction to liturgical prayer
  • Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster - a good introduction to spiritual disciplines
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - a good introduction to logic and what words mean
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - a study in social ethics
  • The Way of the Pilgrim by Olga Savin and Father Thomas Hopko - a study in Christian growth
  • The Psalms through Three Thousand Years by William Holliday - use of psalms in worship, Jewish and Christian
  • To Pray As A Jew: A Guide To The Prayer Book by Hayim H. Donin - liturgy as way of life
  • Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture and Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture by Jaroslav Pelikan- church history made enjoyable
  • Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality by Alan W. Jones - not really introductory but presents a very catholic spirituality in a contemporary way
and cheating to add one Catholic convert book:
  • The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn to explore the heavenly liturgy as described in Revelation