July 31, 2013

From the "You Can't Make It Up" Dep't

Don't have kids so that national parks are less congested!  Oy vey.

In Yosemite, the National Park Service has put forth a wise plan to ease the congestion, particularly in the magnificent Yosemite Valley. Its proposals include closing some horse, bicycle and raft rental facilities in the area — plus shutting swimming pools.

The macro-solution is: sage population policies here and abroad. Though the United States has a fairly low fertility rate, its population, now 314 million, is projected to grow by almost 19 million through 2050. Keeping our birthrates and immigration numbers in check would go far to stem the tide.

July 29, 2013

Reads...

Ah some fine morsels from Moby-Dick
(Sperm Whale).—This whale, among the English of old vaguely known as the Trumpa whale, and the Physeter whale, and the Anvil Headed whale, is the present Cachalot of the French, and the Pottfisch of the Germans, and the Macrocephalus of the Long Words. 
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([Blue Whale aka 'Sulphur Bottom']).—Another retiring gentleman, with a brimstone belly, doubtless got by scraping along the Tartarian tiles in some of his profounder divings. He is seldom seen; at least I have never seen him except in the remoter southern seas, and then always at too great a distance to study his countenance. He is never chased; he would run away with rope-walks of line. Prodigies are told of him. Adieu, Sulphur Bottom! I can say nothing more that is true of ye, nor can the oldest Nantucketer.
 
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Interesting blog from Eric Scheske on science and religion: 

http://www.ericscheske.com/blog/?p=28431

“Just as science can play havoc with metaphysics, metaphysics can play havoc with science.” Etienne Gilson

There is a natural antipathy between the two. Gilson goes on to point out that metaphysics stifled science for centuries, just as science today stifles metaphysics. Empiricism is the belief that only those things that are scientifically verifiable exist . . . or are worth studying or have meaning.

So, science is arguably returning to metaphysics the suppressive abuse that metaphysics dished out to science for such a long time. Thing is, metaphysics never denied science altogether, but merely claimed its (rightful) primacy and often asserted its primacy indelicately, whereas science’s suppression rises to the level of wholesale denial of metaphysics’ existence.

It’s also worth pointing out that two wrongs don’t make a right. Both metaphysics and science–and mankind in general–are best served when both are recognized and respected. Metaphysics’ earlier suppression of science doesn’t justify science’s suppression of metaphysics today.

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Finally got around to my weekly reading of the ever splendid Catechism for the Year of Faith.  There is a firm insistence on the ubiquity of grace, of God's constant efforts on our behalf despite our human experience of constant struggle. The two are not incompatible - Christ lived it, receiving great sustenance from His Father while at the same time bearing under the struggle of the Crucifixion:

The Catechism addresses my friend's Ron's complaint about why doesn't God talk, literally, in his ear:

God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all.

And something from John Muir in First Things blog:

No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dead or dull . . . everything is perfectly clean and pure and full of divine lessons. This quick, inevitable interest attaching to everything seems marvelous until the hand of God becomes visible; then it seems reasonable that what interests Him may well interest us. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.


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Read some of the Dispatch before church as well as some National Review on Margaret Thatcher in this case. It's kind of funny how elites monitor each others' brainpower: one official in the Thatcher cabinet said she was not that smart, and Thatcher herself suggested Reagan wasn't that smart. Sometimes I think character matters more than brains and I think that's been shown in spades by the Nixon and Obama administrations, although having dumb policies (with good intentions) didn't help LBJ who, in many ways, wrecked the country more than Obama and Nixon combined. (Not that LBJ had a pristine character, of course.) But nice to have both brains and character if you can get it.

Read more of Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio. Rich, deep. It's a quasi-interview style like some of the Ratzinger books. Part of me wants to learn if then Cardinal Bergoglio's style and manner was truly effective in staunching the flow of Argentine Catholics to evangelical start-ups, but that need for proof, for confirmation that something will “work”, is my empirical self falsely entering in the picture. As Mother Teresa taught, we are to build heedless of success. God doesn't call us to be successful but faithful.

Something of an “ah ha” moment when I learned how influenced the pope was politically by Communism, faithfully reading a Communist publication called Our Word and Proposals when he was younger. Not the best political formation, perhaps, but then I'm sure he could say the same of me, growing up on National Review.

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Speaking of NR, from the most recent issue in a review of a Robert P. George book on natural law: “Where the family is weak, government is bound to become the great provider. In George's estimation, the libertarian tendency to try to combine limited government with relaxed morals is delusional. The sexual libertinism that underlies most of the support for abortion and "same-sex marriage” is in fact the enemy of liberty, not its friend.“

I read about a poor black woman with five kids trying to live on a McDonald's minimum wage salary. They interviewed her in Forbes magazine and her difficult circumstances stem from the usual suspects: out-of-wedlock births married to a lack of education. Gosh, if you don't take education or sexual intercourse seriously enough you seem to pay an awfully heavy earthly price.

It's perhaps a sign of wisdom to recognize the limits of wisdom, or the limits of what can be done. Pundit Charles Krauthammer says that some problems can't be solved, such as the problems in the Middle East and the collapse of the black family. Both do seem intractable problems. Politicians, at least by their words and actions, seem to have given up on the black family but not quite the Middle East given the strenuous efforts at peace-making of recent administrations. 


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From a Chesteronian blog:

I know for me my time alone enables me to be more kindly disposed toward others. As Chesterton said, "It is in society that men quarrel with their friends; it is in solitude that they forgive them. And before the society-man criticises the saint, let him remember that the man in the desert often had a soul that was like a honey-pot of human kindness, though no man came near to taste it; and the man in the modern salon, in his intellectual hospitality, generally serves out wormwood for wine.”

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Cardinal Ratzinger in Co-Workers of the Truth:

"Some years ago, there appeared a volume of photographs by a well-known master photographer that bore the title “The Image of God”. It contained photographs of human beings, whom it pictured in all their potentialities and lack of potentialities: poor and rich, young and old, well and ill, ordinary, intimidated, tormented, exultant, proud, important. But when one leafed through the book, always with the title “The Image of God”, “The Image of God”, in heart and mind, one became very uneasy; one set the book aside in deep depression and asked oneself: What kind of God looks at me from these pictures? At the very least, a God who is self-contradictory, or one who is powerless, or even one in whom an evil power resides unseen. But when one regarded the photographs more closely, it became clear: God cannot be photographed, not even by photographing human beings. The human being is the image of God; but photographs of human beings are not photographs of God. He is not so easily seen."

July 28, 2013

Getting Around a Site's Feed Settings: a Bleg

Is "bleg" even used anymore or am I hopelessly dating myself?

Often - like on vacations or while working out - I like to read RSS feeds while offline.  Thanks to a tip from Jennifer of Conversion Diary, I am really, really enjoying Feedly in place of Google Reader.

The problem being, alas, many sites only do partial feeds in order to drive traffic to their website, which makes reading RSS offline pretty much of a waste and a tease.

I wonder if there is an application out there that pre-downloads the full posts for offline reading purposes.  That would be pretty slick, to save all your feed URLS and the posts behind them.  Probably asking a bit much of a brower or app. I know I could go through my feeds while online and save them for later, but that's obviously a cumbersome process.

July 25, 2013

Desserts in the Desert

Angel roof of church of Debre Birhan Selassie, Gondar, Ethiopia (17th cent.)

I found the psalm from Mass moving yesterday:
They even spoke against God.
  They said: ‘Is it possible for God
  to prepare a table in the desert?
....especially in light of reading this post on the desert from Jennifer (almost wrote 'St. Jennifer') of Conversion Diary

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Today is the feast of St. James.  Even though Jesus said that those who choose mother or brother ahead of Him are not worthy of Him, it's intriguing that he included two sets of brothers among the Twelve.  (Poor St. Andrew he got left out when his brother Peter, and brothers James and John, were singled out for the Transfiguration.)  From a human perspective, I like how Our Lord kept intact some partial family units when calling the apostles.

July 24, 2013

Random Observations and Perambulations

Flies sure seem to have better flying capabilities this time of year as this one showed surprising agility in swat-eluding. Eventually I got him and left him on the windowsill as a warning to other flies. (Who am I kidding? I was too lazy to throw him away.)

The other light domestic chore involved putting away the winter coats still hanging on the hooks of the family room entrance way. I wondered briefly what the over/under was as far as when it would make sense to put them away. I counted the months till we'd need them: half of July, August, September… Eight weeks. Right on the borderline of effort versus payoff, but I elected to go for it and put them away. Now the entrance way looks a bit forlorn.

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In the wonderful summers of my youth it wouldn't matter if I got bit by mosquitoes or ticks - back then, like much else, there was no threat. No West Nile, no Lyme disease, no skin cancer worries due to sunburn.  No mortal sin worries either.  Ah yes, those were the good old days. Certainly the natural world feels more threatening, even if the threats are vanishingly small in the big scheme of things.  No sleep apnea back then, no AIDS, much less autism… Why does it feel like we're collecting new problems without dispatching many of the old ones? The great medical breakthroughs (such as polio vaccine) came before my time in the '50s and '60s but in my day, the late '60s and '70s, I can't think of many. Sure, heart disease, but that's more for older folks.

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At a wedding Saturday night a 73-year old devout Christian (non-Catholic) man, who knowing I was Catholic, asked, “Do you read the Pope's blog?”

Took me a second to realize what he meant and then another second to realize how he knew of it.

“You mean his twitter account?”

“Oh, yes.”

I didn't “go there” but am positive that he learned of the Pope's Twitter account from those cringe-inducing headlines: “Pope offers time off Purgatory for those who read his tweets”. Which really is an all-time, all-star loss in the perceptions business, a sort of ignorance trifecta. Not only does it misrepresent the nuances of what the pope meant, but it makes the pope look like an egomaniac: “pay attention to me and I'll get you some time off Purgatory.” As a public relations move it seems pretty disastrous, and it reminds me of what I believe Flannery O'Connor once said, i.e. that voluntary conversions are miracles.

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"St. Mary Magdalen,
You come with springing tears
To the spring of mercy, Christ...
What can I say, how can I find words to tell
About the burning love with which you sought Him
Weeping at the sepulchre
And wept for Him in your seeking?...
For the sweetness of love He shows Himself
Who would not for the bitterness of tears."
— St. Anselm of Canterbury

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I've read how we are “being played” media-wise. Exhibit is the Rolling Stone cover prettifying the Boston bomber.

Relying on the auspices of good folks' outrage for publicity purposes appears to be working better now than in the past, or maybe it's just that manufacturers of outrage know how to accurately hit that line where something is wrong but not to the point where it will hit their sales. 

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The Columbus Dispatch recently had a front page article on out-of-control college tuition costs. It somehow seems "wrong" for a cost to go up higher than the rate of inflation, year after year after year. And yet a market is about supply and demand, it's not about adhering to an inflation rate.

It appears there's an “arms race” as far as giving your kids the best, or even the good.  The best, and good, go up at a greater rate than inflation in part because others recognize that best or that good.  Education and health care costs seem to skyrocket in part because there's a universal recognition that these things are among the most important things money can buy.  

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Went to Jazz & Ribs fest this weekend.  Ah bliss. The smooth jazz in the background doesn't hurt, nor does the surprisingly pleasant smell of air-diluted cigarette smoke. I pinch myself as I savor Joe Queenan's One for the Books. I have all my creature-comforts: beer, Kindle, iPad, bike.  Food! Beer! Music! Sun & warmth. This is my own sort Disney World. The adult equivalent of rides and lines and cotton candy is this: ribs, beer, sun and music.
I see a high-rise in the near distance with greater circular balconies and it makes me wistful for the sea, for that is what I associate with grand, sweeping balconies. The hint of ocean makes me prone to nostalgia; it's no wonder the wistful and sentimental Brandy: You're a Fine Girl appeals when I'm thinking of coastal vacations.

I stare up dreamily at the balconies lining McFerson's Commons. How sweet it would be to walk out your door during jazzfest and have the best seat in the house reserved for you? As much as I love our house, its semi-fatal flaw is the absence of a balcony.

Another band comes up to the stage and it's a whole lot of hollerin',  all pop-rock, or rock-pop. Anita Baker-wanna be up there, but I perked up when she said she was going to play a tune by blues great Big Mama Thornton ("can you believe I hadn't heard of her until recently?" she said, and I could believe it given her previous song selection). I felt in-the-know when an ancient black man applauded near me when she said, "y'all heard of Big Mama Thornton?" Indeed I felt more black than the singer since I'd heard of Big Mama longer. But then she said the organizers told her one more song given the imminent storm so she played her semi-milquetoast "testimony song" instead of the classic "Ball 'n Chain". 
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I wonder what the relationship between extroversion/introversion and love of reading. I've always thought it a measure, crude perhaps but...

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So last night we noticed this gushing of water despite an absence of rain - never a good sign unless you're neighbor is watering. Turns out boatloads of water were unable to get from the foundation out to the street, with predictably deleterious effects. We've since decided to never get our basement finished since you can never truly have confidence that your basement will remain dry.  Now we have to preemptively unclog our lines to the street, and it cost a whopping $258 just to have this guy snake the line for fifteen minutes.

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"I distribute the virtues quite diversely; I do not give all of them to each person, but some to one, some to others.… I shall give principally charity to one; justice to another; humility to this one, a living faith to that one.… And so I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to practice charity towards one another.… I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me."  - St. Catherine quote in the Catechism

Lit of the Hours morning prayer often has a sort of bipolar personality: where else can you pray: "Have you cast off Judah completely? Is Zion loathesome to you?" and then suddenly "Cry out with joy to The Lord!"

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Jazz fest commons

July 17, 2013

Excerpts Wednesday! (trademark pending)

From Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

 ...bouncing towards Batumi in a cold drizzly dusk—into the unknown, a place I’d never been. Its very dreariness and decrepitude were a consolation. I could see from the border, the roadside, Sergei in his old car, and the men laboring with pushcarts that this was a benighted place, not expensive, and slightly creepy—wonderful, really, because I was alone and had all the time in the world. No sign of any other tourist or traveler; I had walked across the frontier into this wolfish landscape. And if Sergei was correct in saying that there was a night train to Tbilisi, it would be perfect. It seemed to me that this was the whole point of traveling—to arrive alone, like a specter, in a strange country at nightfall, not in the brightly lit capital but by the back door, in the wooded countryside, hundreds of miles from the metropolis, where, typically, people didn’t see many strangers and were hospitable and did not instantly think of me as money on two legs. 
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Even on the outskirts of the capital the full moon lighted the huts in the hills, giving it all the look of a Gothic landscape, darkness and blunted shadow, and rooftops and hilltops bluey white from the cold moon. 
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Why don’t you take the plane? the Georgian had asked me. Because—I thought when I was in the corner seat of my railway compartment—airplanes are a distortion of time and space. And you get frisked. 
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The predictable regularity of humdrum domesticity is perfect for writing: monotony is the writer’s friend. People said to me, “You’re always away!” But it wasn’t true. I loved being home, waking in my own bed beside my wife, watching the news on TV, spending half the day writing, and then cooking, reading, swimming, riding my bike, seeing friends. Home is bliss. 
 
Travel means living among strangers, their characteristic stinks and sour perfumes, eating their food, listening to their dramas, enduring their opinions, often with no language in common, being always on the move towards an uncertain destination, creating an itinerary that is continually shifting, sleeping alone, inventing the trip...

And behind the tower the sea began, the utterly faceless, leaden, unfathomable Caspian Sea, and beyond, the desert — jagged rocks and scrub: still, mute, unconquerable, the most beautiful landscape in the world.’” 
          *

I reached the conclusion that Turkmenistan, perhaps because of its tyrannous history, was one of the most superstition-prone cultures I’d ever seen. 
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all travelers on Turkmenistan’s roads were subject to numerous roadblocks and the arbitrary search-and-seizure rules of the security forces, train travelers were blameless and carefree—another instance of railway passengers regarded as being beneath notice. 
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It was a lesson in rural Turkmen economics and paternal love: this man who’d just had a fitful night of sleep on the train would crouch in the darkness and cold of Mary Station and wait for three hours, wrapped in his cloak, to save 30 cents to divide among his four kids.

July 16, 2013

Diaristic Wanderings

A single day off from exercising and my blood pressure bolted upwards and I was starving for the roads. Did a thirty minute run over lunch. Ran like the wind despite the heat - really shocked the heat didn't bother me given how insufferable it was Monday night, such that I elected to read inside rather than on the front porch.

Enjoyed the savor of quietude, the glory of books. Gosh this Neil Peart travelogue through Alaska, the “final frontier”, is a helluva good read. It's hard not to read the whole thing aloud to my Alaska-loving wife. I tend to think the reason so many books appeal to me nowadays is simply because it's my generation doing the writing. I share similar cultural influences with the 40-50 year old writers and thus they speak to me especially keenly.

A little rainstorm - oh so pleasant! - just ended. I read the Dispatch and avoid the Zimmerman stuff like the plague but find a delightful story of an experiment in which the famed  novelist J.K. Rowling was published incognito for a few weeks a novel under a fictitious name. How fun! It's sort of like how a king dresses like a peasant and visited the village to see what the folks really thought of him. Seems someone outed her via a tweet, after which he destroyed his/her account. Alas, secrets never last too long unless they're God's.

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Also came across an interesting couple paragraphs from columnist Froma Harrop:
But plenty of design, writing, computer programming and form-shuffling positions don’t require many hours in an office. And very competent employees often can do their real work in four hours. They sit around another four because … it’s an eight-hour job.
So they spend afternoons bored at their desks, playing video games or tooling around the Internet. They waste their time while providing no additional benefit for the employer.
She goes on to argue that the 40-hour work week is an anachronism and we would have more flexible work schedules if health care wasn't inextricably linked to full-time jobs.

Speaking of health care, I couldn't resist making a jibe at our new workplace policy. For those of us with a high blood pressure or BMI, we have to get lectured by a “wellness coach” in order to collect our HSA corporate kick-in. One lady said it's “very invasive.”   I chimed in sarcastically on the company Twitter site:

“I'm looking forward to the dental hygienist coaching next year, where we get called every day reminding us to floss.”

Probably didn't go over too well with the Health and Wellness czarina.

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Read a good dollop of Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah, the story of the Iranian hostage crisis. A bit hard to stomach; irritating, but interesting nevertheless. You know how excruciatingly long it will last and wish someone found a way to have avoided it. But this is no novel; these folks who have no clue how long it will last are going to find out, eventually, this wasn't going to be a three-day crisis.

Also read some Grace Slick autobiography. Not the most edifying of reading, although it's kind of interesting simply to see someone (anyone) eschew fame in order to wear “sweatshirts around the house.”

Says she wished the “White Rabbit” lyrics had made more clearly the fact that she thinks it's hypocritical that a generation who drank alcohol shamed those who did pot, acid, etc.. She sounds like a grind at Woodstock; less a party for her than a gig, staying clean. But of course that's probably what makes her performance of “White Rabbit” so mesmerizing, a rising to the moment.

She describes sex with Jim Morrison and I always wonder if he was possessed by the devil. The charisma of the Doors singer seems almost otherworldly, as if a Faustian bargain had been entered. The suicide-by-drugs certainly plays into it too. Morrison mirrors Christ in some respects: great following, charisma, a mystic, died young at the peak of his powers; he was a reverse-mirror in many ways: died for himself only, tried to transcend bodily limitations while Jesus grasped bodily limitations he did not naturally possess. Morrison died in the slumberous euphoria of a heroin overdose, Jesus in the drug-free torture of a Roman crucifixion.

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I'm not sure I understand how God could've gotten across the idea of his love in a better way than the Cross, short of a St. Paul mystical experience for everyone individually.  If you're going to go the “one time for everybody route” then it would seem to have to be a pretty dramatic gesture. For me, the Crucifix is the quintessential emblem of love, and Jesus himself admits this when he says, “No greater love has this: than to lay down one's life for one's friends.”

I'll have to re-read a Heather King post in which she mentioned her loathing of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ because of the blood and gore. (And one could say, with some cheek, that it didn't seem particularly helpful to Gibson's spiritual life). The Cross is the best evidence of all time of God's love for us. What else comes close? God answers every prayer but usually not in a detectable fashion. He's given us the great gift of the Bible, but it's not easy to understand or synthesize given the great diversity within it. Ultimately the giving of His Blood is the greatest miracle of all-time and it's one that everyone can share - it's the one truly inclusive miracle. Not everyone is healed or sees visions, but everyone can participate in the preeminently democratic act of Christ offering Himself to all.

I used to think how awesome it was that Medjugorje, which I believed in rather firmly in 1998-ish and now I'm unsure of, was an on-going miracle. How incredible was it to not be limited to one or a dozen appearances, as was the typical Marian apparition. I felt the same about Our Lady of Guadalupe's tilma, which continues to exist despite being made of material that should have decayed years ago.

These sorts of miracles were very reassuring simply in their stability and dependability and indeed to this day many a morning I'll look at my Guadalupe image and think about how, down in Mexico City, that image which I saw a decade or more ago, still exists.

But now I think how we have a daily miracle, a minute-by-minute miracle, occurring on the church altars of the world in transubstantiation. That reassurance I looked to in miracles was ever before me and I rarely realized it.

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As mediocre as much of Elton John's later work is, there's something to be said for giving the world what he did. Maybe you only have one or two of those songs in you to give through no fault of your own. An artist's decline is as precipitous as the athlete's and as understandable. Performing at the highest level is definitionally self-limiting. Only mediocrity can flourish across the relentless arc of time.

If everything feels anticlimactic after the peak you can say that that's the human condition, that even Jesus left the stage after the impossible-to-follow act of rising from the dead. He showed himself to a certain number of people and then - to avoid anticlimax? - ascended to Heaven where anticlimax doesn't exist, thank God.

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Tonight, the Internet let me down (sing to tune "Tune, the Bottle Let Me Down").

Dad mentioned that when he was a kid they used to say “I finny that!” instead of “I got dibs!”. Basically I took it to mean when you reserve something first. My confidence in my accessory brain, the Internet, is stratospheric but sadly I could find nothing on finny or finney that resembled the meaning of “dibs”. Sad because I'd hoped to track down whether this came from his German or Irish side. I guess that's not of incredible importance but still….

July 15, 2013

God at the Beach

Fascinated by Peter Kreeft's thoughts on the sea and natural wonders pointing us to God, which is personally intriguing given my own hyper occupation on reading and deciphering artificial signs, be they in books or computer programs:
Kreeft: The ability to read natural signs has decreased with the increase in the ability to read and decipher artificial signs.
Similarly, the ability of my students to do simple, natural, ordinary-language logic — Aristotelian logic — with its base in the natural signs that are concepts, has decreased proportionately to their ability to do artificial, mathematical logic, with its base in arbitrary propositions — “p” and “q” rather than “men” and “mortals.” Especially, they can no longer understand analogies. The SAT Reasoning Test had to drop the whole section on analogies; Harvard geniuses were flunking them.
This is more significant than it seems, since the whole of creation is a set of analogies, likenesses, similes or metaphors of the Creator. We understand them with right-brain intuition, not with left-brain digital analysis. The analog half of our brain is atrophying as the digital half is exercising.
There is no way to teach sign reading. You just catch the art, as you catch a baseball, or the measles, from someone who has it. Read Black Elk, or St. Bonaventure, or C.S. Lewis.
He also discusses and recusses mystery:
The how question is important only in technology: “Techne” means know-how. It's a distraction elsewhere. Who knows how divine grace works? Who cares, except the professional theologian? It works. Jesus explained nothing, especially himself. He presented everything, especially himself. He gave out meals, not cook books.
Someone said, “Life is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be lived.” That's a hard truth for me as a professional philosopher to swallow, but it's true.
I was also surprised to see how "multi-cultural" Kreeft sounded on oceans:
Kreeft: I have A.D.D. and get bored easily. Yet waves are endlessly fascinating. Why? The Iroquois had a word for it, “orenda,” designating the spiritual magnetic power to draw the human spirit out of itself, a power something like the “te” of the Tao for a Taoist or the “chi” in Tai Chi. It is found especially in mountains, oceans, and forests. As to how it works, that is as mysterious to me as most of the other things in life, including why God invented the face of an ostrich. I remember a Woody Allen line from one of his later films. His son has rejected the family's Jewish faith and become an atheist, and his wife blames him because he can't answer his son's questions about the problem of evil. She tells him, “He wants to know: If there is a God, why are there Nazis?” And Woody replies: “Why are there Nazis? How should I know why there are Nazis? I don't even know how the damned can opener works.”
I remember reading about a Mafia hit man who had a experience of God's unconditional love that reduced him to his knees. A hardened man who felt the abyss of God's mercy.  I thought about how the natural world itself can be seen as a analogy of not only God's bigness but His presents to us after reading this:
We would feel at home, tiny children in our Father's big, beautiful mansion with presents and surprises coming at us like gushing geysers. And that's an exercise in realism, because that's what the world really is, and what we really are, and what God really is.

Zimmerman Trial & MLK

One sees, in the adverse reaction against what appears to be the correct verdict in the Zimmerman trial, a glimmer of the greatness and genius of Rev. Martin Luther King.  In a time of much greater injustice towards blacks he was able to rise about the pettiness and vindictiveness.

Perhaps I didn't truly appreciate, when I was younger, now narrow the path he chose, and how broad the path of bitterness and hatred.

We also see the wisdom in King in that the non-violent, non-bitter way was so effective.  One would think for that reason alone it would be more often applied.

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Hard to take the news media seriously given the cartoonish, over-coverage on the trial. I assume it's designed to serve the anger needs of a public that likes to feel outraged. Certainly the threat of riots doesn't mean the media have to discard their judgement of what's proportionate coverage. Makes me appreciate the refuge of newspapers, which have devoted a relatively small fraction of their daily ink to the overblown trial.

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I like Jim Geraghty's take on the needless polarizations:
In the past few months, we've witnessed news events where the media quickly turned the story into a binary choice between two options:

Do we want to support the Syrian rebels or the Assad regime? Is Snowden a hero or a traitor? Do we stand with Morsi or with the Egyptian military?
Of course, in all of those examples, both antagonists are deeply flawed, perhaps too flawed to be worthy of official U.S. support, or even public-opinion support...
Snowden may have done the public a service by exposing an invasive surveillance system that violated privacy rights and perhaps the Fourth Amendment, but he also broke his oath, the law, and is now playing footsie with some of the world's most repressive regimes.
And now we have the George Zimmerman case. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that so many of our fellow citizens are choosing sides on Team Trayvon or Team Zimmerman, and insisting that the only form of "justice" would be the verdict that they prefer.
Why must we pick a side? Why is there this compulsion to declare one side is the "good guy" here?...

July 11, 2013

Sundry

J.G. Ballard, 1977
Well that doesn't happen every day. We were on the brunt end of a helluva thunderstorm. “It looks like a war zone,” said neighbor Bud, looking at all the trash and downed trees. We weren't entirely spared - we lost the top fifteen feet from our evergreen out front, some of the maple beside it, and gobs and gobs of the maple out back – it now has a gaping whole in the middle of it. The neighbor lady on the corner lost her 40-year old apple tree, the biggest I'd ever seen. The giant rootball was hanging eerily in the air.

We apparently lost electricity because one of neighbor Bud's tree tops snapped off and is sagging the line. Thousands are without power and I'm thinking it's really going to be awhile before we're restored since our particular outage is so localized - all the neighbors on the other side of our street have power. So there's not much incentive to come out to fix the line given that maybe four or five houses are in play. It's slightly discombobulating to be without power even though on paper it shouldn't be problematical at all. I brought home chicken salad, so no microwaving necessary for dinner. Beer's still cold. Ipad and Kindle still work.  Temperatures not too hot so a/c not particularly missed yet. We're really roughing it…not!

 

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The work day passed reasonably speedily. Before work read savorously of the new encyclical, which certainly reads like Benedict. Very, very interesting to see addressed what for many may be taken as THE question: why God doesn't appear to us individually? In other words, for example, why have Moses relay the message? The answer seems to be that shared knowledge is the “knowledge proper to love” and is not appreciated by those with an “individualistic conception of conscience”.

Also liked how Isaac's birth was referred to as “Abraham's Christmas”, a sort of incarnation event.

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Interesting to hear Fr. Rob on Lino Rulli's radio show concerning the Francis tapping of John XXIII. The sainthood thing is something all the last three popes have just gone crazy about. All of them seem to be upping the ante: John Paul II, besides canonizing the most folks ever, waived the first miracle for Juan Diego, Benedict waived the five-year waiting period for Mother Teresa, and now Francis says, “Second miracle, second schmiracle! The guy's a saint! Let's not stand on ceremony here.” What's next, canonization of the still living? Haha.

With Blessed John XXIII, you might be tempted to take the fact that his body is said to be incorrupted as a sign, a second miracle, although I've always kind of wondered if that was due to special embalming.

The secular media is all saying it's because Francis wants a “liberal” and a “conservative” pope together at one ceremony, but I just learned that this month is the 50th anniversary of John XXIII's death, and the Church loves anniversaries. Just loves to mark them. Maybe also some of the Vaticanistas who love John XXIII are getting nervous about his canonization chances given that he's fading from memory now that most of the people who remember Vatican II are getting older. Got to strike while the iron's hot sort of thing.
Anyway, it's fun being Catholic. You get papal encyclicals and a “Hall of Fame” for the all-time Christian greats.

July 10, 2013

Ye Blogs Be a Rich Repast

Really enjoying Rush drummer Neil Peart's book. Surprisingly! Who would've thunk it? I don't much care for the band Rush, I don't care for motorcycles (it's a travelogue of a motorcycle trip, thus far into Alaska) and he's said to be an atheist. But there's the common humanity and his prose is at times lyrical. He talks about his bereavement, which is affecting, and I'm interested in Alaska after watching so many Alaska television shows.

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Well-put, this argument in the second paragraph on sex below from our diocesan newsletter, buttressed by quoting, of all folks, Freud:
Many of us have probably heard single women talking among themselves about men, with one of them ending up saying, “That guy, he’s just a pervert. He’s only interested in sex.” When women detect that a man’s focus has become the pursuit of pleasure, and that unbridled sex has become an end in itself, they tend instinctively to back away. Women often intuitively understand that sex can’t be reduced to mere pleasure without hurting both individuals involved and negating other important goods such as love, family, children, and marriage.
It becomes a “perversion” when we attempt to re- direct sex into something of our own specifications, refocusing it into a form of worldly pleasure-seeking and self-satisfaction. Sigmund Freud, whom no one could accuse of prudery, recognized the basic features of a perversion in the sexual realm when he declared, “The common characteristic of all perversions … is that they have abandoned reproduction as their aim. We term sexual activity perverse when it has renounced the aim of reproduction and follows the pursuit of pleasure as an independent goal.”


Brandon at Darwin Catholic also has an interesting post on the subject of sex:
This Atlantic piece (which from what I can tell is written from what it terms the progressive point of view on sex) argues that sexual traditionalists and progressives in our culture have fundamentally different ideas about what sex is and what it's for.
Trad View:  As religious conservatives see it, the great mistake we make when we masturbate is to claim our sexuality as ours alone. All sexual activity must be about “mutual self-giving” between a husband and a wife, the church claims, arguing that masturbation is “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”
Prog View: In The Ethical Slut, perhaps the best-known “catechism” of progressive sexual morality, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy make the case that “the fundamental sexual unit is one person; adding more people to that unit may be intimate, fun, and companionable, but it does not complete anybody.” Masturbation matters, they argue, not merely because it helps you learn what you want sexually from a partner, but because it helps bring “your locus of control into yourself.”
Especially given the source, this struck me as surprisingly perceptive. Moreover, it suggests that if one's sexuality is fundamentally one's own, defined by oneself and limited only by the commitments one makes oneself, there's nothing necessarily wrong in engaging in “depraved” expressions of sexuality, whether ironically or seriously.
I've long thought that masturbation is the linchpin given that it's equivalent to gay sex. If masturbation is okay, then gay sex is and vice-versa.

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So it's crazy how good the blogs have been lately. This from Eric Sheske caught my eye:
Perhaps my favorite Voegelin quote: “No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crisis of a society; on the contrary, everyone is obliged to avoid this folly and live his life in order.” Science, Politics, and Gnosticism.
This, of course, is easier said than done. Unless your TV only gets EWTN, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the spiritual crisis since, as Max Picard pointed out fifty years ago, modern society is mass society: its spiritual disorder is pushed upon everyone everywhere through the popular media and everyday living.
Does one become a hermit, like Plato suggested (in his analogy that a man in a corrupt society must live like a man taking shelter in a cave during a snow storm)? I don’t think so, though it’s a respectable position. I’m more inclined to think that every person needs to carve out as much quiet time as possible, whether the quiet time is called “prayer,” “contemplation,” “mental training,” “communing with nature,” “sitting on the dock of the bay like Otis Redding,” or “healthy boozing.” To each lies a different path. Just try not to swim with the diseased tide … even dead things, GKC liked to point out, can do that.
Postscript: I used to spend one week vacationing in a run-down cottage that sat about two blocks from Michigan’s largest inland lake. The cottage sat among other crappy little houses, a redneck-type paradise, I suppose. I spent a lot of time in the little cottage, just reading and thinking and being bored… and watching the guy who lived next door. Every day at about 10:00 AM, he would walk out to his picnic table with a case of cheap beer (Milwaukee’s Best, I think). He’d sit on the picnic table, drinking his beer and smoking cigarettes, staring out at the traffic on M-55 (which ran about 50 yards from his house; an unpaved parking lot divided his hard-scrabble yard from the highway). With the exception of a stray visitor that would pop by to see him (whom he would receive warmly), that’s all he did. Ten years later, I remember the guy clearly. His was hardly a productive life, I know, but there was something there. And I sometimes wonder if Voegelin’s quote above has something to do with it. Voegelin taught it was an act of courage for a man to live a life attuned to the “transcendent” (one of V’s favorite words). The man on the picnic table’s daily life was hardly transcendentally-tuned, but the beer perhaps served a similar purpose, allowing him a sense of ersatz transcendence. He certainly looked peaceful enough.
Betty Duffy has a post asserting that St Maria Goretti is a saint for boys:
We cannot take as the moral of Saint Maria Goretti’s story that it is preferable to die rather experience an offense against one’s own chastity, without also concluding that it is preferable to die rather than offend someone else’s chastity.
Elena of "My Domestic Church" says Maria's feast day is also an important one for young girls:
Here is a saint who thought her purity was important enough to die for, and yet how many women just throw theirs away on less than worthwhile suitors?
Alan Jacobs opined thusly concerning a Rod Dreher essay:
Rod’s right about how deeply Stoicism saturates the culture of the South — the Old South, anyway: the homogenization of America has diluted this mix significantly for recent generations. But even when it was at the height of its influence, this Stoic-Christian synthesis — Bertram Wyatt-Brown’s Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South describes it well — was pretty class-specific. It was among the aristocracy and those who aspired to enter it that the Stoic traits, especially the uncomplaining acceptance of suffering, were most highly valued and consistently practiced.
As Aunt Emily hints, among the lower classes — white and black alike — the story was and is different. Consider for instance the typical poor or working-class attitude towards funerals: the burial of a loved one is a time to weep, to mourn, and to do these things if necessary in a loud voice. Those of a Stoic disposition are of course appalled at such exhibitions, but it makes as much sense to be appalled by those who can bear the loss of a dear friend or family member with an unmoved countenance.
The big problem with Stoics, as I have known them anyway, in the Midwestern as well as the Southern variety, is that they tend to demand that others become as uncomplaining as they are and can be pretty unsympathetic to those whom they believe to have fallen short. I hold no brief for Binx at that moment of his life, but I have to say that I don’t care much for Aunt Emily either. Maybe Binx really does need a good dressing-down, but maybe some basic compassion wouldn’t go amiss either.
When my wife was seriously ill some time ago, people from our church contacted me to ask if we needed anything. When I replied that it was nice of people to offer meals but that Teri’s chief problem was simple loneliness — no one to talk to, as she lay in her sickbed, except a very busy husband — people were, not to put too fine a point on it, shocked. I had said something unexpectedly shameful. One person even commiserated with Teri: how difficult it must have been for her to have a husband who so openly admitted that she had personal needs in her illness. (To be sure, there were also deeply sympathetic friends, though not as many as we had expected to find.)
Of course, this whole situation speaks of more than Stoicism: it speaks perhaps most eloquently of a way of middle-class American life so consistently hectic that the one thing you simply cannot ask from other people is their time. But it was nevertheless clear that what we were supposed to do was to say that we were doing just fine and didn’t need a thing, though under considerable pressure we might consent to receiving a meal or two. To admit that illness is worsened by loneliness was several steps beyond the socially acceptable. So says the Stoic Creed, and most of the time what I say in return is: To hell with it.
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I've also been hyp-mo-tized by the circular firing squad of the USCCB shooting down Brandon Vogt's seemingly innocuous offer to provide ebooks of the Francis encyclical. Jeff Miller's been particularly interesting and clear-eyed about the matter.

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Oh so many good things to read. Scott Hahn's book, the new papal encyclical… And I just read a review by one of my all-time favorite priests, Fr. John McCloskey, of the book The Catholic Guide to Depression.  Cardinal Dolan put out a $1.99 ebook which I immediately snapped up. I've also had a hankering for some Jack London, recommended by Neil Peart in his Alaskan travelogue. How can I ever prioritize books when I can't even with blogs?

Lamentations and Exaggerations


OR



Perhaps too few blogs complain about the weather, so I'm here to exploit the niche. 

This just in: we are officially getting ripped off weather-wise. The overcast and chill'd showers of July 3rd and 4th were tolerable, even if the weather from the 6/23 to 7/3 was likewise lame. This feels like weather we're never really going to get back; we've effectively shortened summer.  It's rending the fabric of what makes summer so special: that series, seemingly unending, of beautiful sunny days, one after another which coax one into a beautiful sense of denial that bad things, or bad weather, happen.

It's always the cumulative effect that tries one's patience, and the cumulative effect has really been effective in this case. It was bad enough to spend Memorial Day weekend in the 50 degree rains but then to have July 4th weekend destroyed by chill & rains?

The killer, as always, is a sense of feeling entitled. And in July, hell yes I feel entitled to good weather.

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Back to Work
 
Grunting at sleep's descent
the bear brunt of gravity's fall
shaking the remnants of ashy dreams
before the mirror of thankless tasks:
shave, floss, shower, brush,
rinse and repeat,
the overhead costs of civilization.
Motivation spare, I pick up Inspiration
Song of Songs chapter three
tryin' to get that feeling again
to borrow from Barry.

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Colonoscopies are kind of interesting. Not the procedure itself, which looks from the outside to be hideously invasive, but the risk/reward ratio.  The chances of getting colon cancer are about 4%, and the chances of a colonoscopy "working" is about 50%.  So the 2% effective rate is an interesting over/under line - how much pain and inconvenience is worth avoiding a 2% risk? I've heard the procedure involves something like a 24-hour liquid fast and the downing laxatives like they were hotdogs at a hotdog eating contest.  Even the Church doesn't require any fasting for those over, what 55?  I kind of wonder if folks would put up with this back in the 1940s or '50s.

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They drank more back then. And speaking of alcohol, some fun quotes from Kingsley Amis:
THE FIRST, INDEED the only, requirement of a diet is that it should lose you weight without reducing your alcoholic intake by the smallest degree. Well, and it should be simple: no charts, tables, menus, recipes. None of those pages of fusspottery which normally end—end, after you have wasted minutes ploughing your way through—“and, of course, no alcohol” in tones of fatuous apology for laying tongue to something so pikestaff-plain. Of course? No alcohol? What kind of people do they think we are?
Nearly all diets start with the exclusion of bread, potatoes and sugar. This one goes on to exclude vegetables and fruit as well, or nearly. But remember, remember that drink is in.
Alcohol science is full of crap. It will tell you, for instance, that drink does not really warm you up, it only makes you feel warm—oh, I see; and it will go on about alcohol being not a stimulant but a depressant, which turns out to mean that it depresses qualities like shyness and self-criticism, and so makes you behave as if you had been stimulated—thanks.
          Alcohol gives you energy, or, what is hard to distinguish from it, the illusion of energy. 

          Such power hath Beer.
The heart which grief hath canker’d
Hath one unfailing remedy—the Tankard.

—CHARLES STUART CALVERLEY

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I felt connected, in communion, with my fellow Americans via communal rituals of parades and fireworks on Thursday. This was magnified by the thought of so many soldiers having given their lives for the freedom we now enjoy. I don't normally feel this way on Memorial Day, when there are no public, communal rituals. Some patriotic souls go to cemeteries to remember the fallen in battle, but July the 4th seems different because of the spectacle, the ritual.

And I thought of how wise it was for Jesus to institute a ritual, the Eucharist, in which we might feel similarly connected, and also via a sacrifice, in this case His on the Cross.


3-year old Sam memorably got up close and personal and asked if that was hair I had in my nose and I said yes and he wanted to “get it for me”. “Not necessary Sam”, ha! Reminds me I ought groom better before he comes over. We enjoyed the early afternoon in the hottub and little kiddie pool, then the eye-pad in the later afternoon (it rained again;  the sun is starting to feel revelatory). Sam watched cartoons and we rented Scooby Doo. Will was charming as the day is long, fascinated by my remote controls and a happy-go-lucky fellow who can go under in the pool and still not be afraid of the water. Nice quality to have!

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My brother-in-law's nephew Luke and his retiring Japanese wife were at the party on the Fourth. An odd-seeming match, this blue collar worker at the beer plant and this rail-thin, shy but friendly Asian. Stereotypes usually have some bit of truth to them and the stereotype of Asian women as being very compliant seems to hold in this case.  She's pregnant, but offered her chair (the last available) to her husband! He laughed and said something like only she would offer her chair despite being pregnant.

I forget how they met, but their wedding in Japan a couple years ago turned into a mini-disaster. He noticed symptoms of H1N1 flu just as he arrived in the country and at a pre-wedding party ended up giving the flu to one of her co-workers. Japanese government workers locked him into quarantine, forbidding he leave where they were staying and following up with visits to check on compliance and symptoms.

At the party I asked what Japan was like and he was at a loss until saying, "lots of Japanese people" which sounds similar to how I described Mexico City ("lots of Mexicans").  It's impossible to get the feel of a country or a people when you're there a short time and you don't understand the language. So sounds like he didn't spend a lot of time indulging in Japanese cultural activities, ha.  Something tells me I'd be really bored in Japan. None of the cultural tropes interest me, not sushi or samurais or sumo wrestling. Not their art or music or sports, with the exception of baseball. The language barrier wouldn't help and I don't know that people go to Japan for the scenery or the sights too much, though I could be mistaken.  Countries I would like to visit come in one of two flavors: either they are industrially modernized but are culturally similar enough to America for me to be able to grasp, or they are in not quite fully modernized (China, old Soviet republics) and thus are interesting even with the language barrier and lack of a shared culture.   It still feels crazy I haven't been to Germany yet, a land of half my forebears.
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More Kingsley Amis:
Reading must be combined with as much drinking experience as pocket and liver will allow.

It is the unbroken testimony of all history that alcoholic liquors have been used by the strongest, wisest, handomest, and in every way best races of all times.’ George Saintsbury.

I think Saintsbury must've been sloshed when he wrote that.

July 03, 2013

On the Cusp of Vacation Greatness

Tried something new at the cafeteria given the lack of choices and it was startlingly good: a sampler plate of Greek food with Greek-sounding names and authentically accented people serving it up with authentically big noses. Definitely the new cafeteria vendor is more adventurous than the old one. Internationally simpatico.

Hit the pavement for a thirty minute run down High Street past the variegated people and the variegated signs. Felt a bit sensucht for the city, the excitement of the fireworks later, the Gallery Hop on the weekend, the electricity in the air on the cusp of this all-American holiday.

Today, July 3rd, is a fine time to hear the “bombs bursting in air” or the firework facsimiles. I can smell the smoke of a half-dozen backyard hobbyists (or maybe it's the Cutter) and it makes me momentarily wish I'd bought some. Surely by now I can buy them on the internet and not have to travel to Indiana or Tim Buc Tu; before the Internet, state government was our in loco parentis, which was more than trying.

I'm (lamely) currently taping the big downtown Columbus fireworks on the television. Fireworks really don't translate to the small screen, in my opinion, but I always tape them as if this year will be different, as if this year I'll be awed without the hassle of driving to impossibly congested downtown venues. My real awe is saved for those stalwart souls who were camped out along Spring Street in the 2pm heat, preparing to wait another seven hours for the 20-minute show. I suppose in these days of iPhones and iPads it's a less impressive, given the screen distractions, but still. There's something almost religious about their devotion.

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Am often delighted by what I find in the RSS feeds. Today a quote from Kenneth Clark on the famous eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica:

It must be the last encyclopedia in the tradition of Diderot which assumes that information can be made memorable only when it is slightly coloured by prejudice. When T.S. Eliot wrote 'Soul curled up on the window seat reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica' he was certainly thinking of the eleventh edition, and he accurately describes my condition.

I definitely feel more gratitude reading my blog feeds than the Drudge Report.
I'm grateful to Bill of Summa Minutiae, who recommended an interesting memoir ("Ghost Rider") and posted an Annie Dilliard excerpt -- although I tend to think a life of reading is a life of sensation and by no means an indication of a 'good life':

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?

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My news feed, as opposed to my blog feed, is at times mind-numbingly tedious. Apparently some pro-abortion protester chanted “Hail Satan” in the Texas capital. I was resentful for even having taken the time to read the headline. There's five seconds I'll never get back.

It was interesting to read Cardinal Dolan's thoughts in real-time when Pope Benedict was resigning:

On Feb. 11, the day that Benedict XVI announced his resignation, Cardinal Dolan was just finishing his morning prayers by reading “Jesus of Nazareth.”

“Every time I’d read a paragraph, I’d say to myself, 'This guy (Benedict XVI) just keeps getting better.'”

LJust then, Cardinal Dolan’s communication director, Joseph Zwiller, called to inform him of “rumors” that the Holy Father had announced his resignation.

“We both had a chuckle,” Cardinal Dolan wrote, “agreed that the news was highly improbable, and I told him, ‘Go get a Bloody Mary and go back to bed.’ I returned to my prayers.”

Minutes later, Zwiller called the cardinal to confirm that the rumors were in fact true. “It’s been confirmed. The Holy Father has resigned,” he said.

To which the cardinal’s response was, “OK, Dolan, better get going. This is going to be a big day.”


Speaking of Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth, I think his first book of the trilogy was inferior to his second and third volumes. In other words, don't judge the other two if the first wasn't your cup o' tea.