June 24, 2014

Shortish Takes

Listened to a bit of Brian Lamb's podcast with Bernard Tate, the British chap who's worked for CSPAN for 25+ years and is retiring. He was C-Span's man in London and talked about British distinctives, like the eccentric House of Commons guy who hollers out a snarky line every year when the Queen “demands” (as the script goes) that the House of Commons go to the House of Lords in order to meet with the Queen. No fan of royalty, he'll make a complaint about royal expenses, like the Jubilee celebration coming on the heels of the Great Recession. Oh those crazy Britons.

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On Saturday made the drive to Cincy and we rode bikes along the Ohio River for a mile or so till we hit the stadium. I hadn't been to a Reds game in years, maybe five? - and the length and width and breadth sort of the baseball cathedral sort of took my breath away. I'd gotten so used to the small confines of our minor league park in Columbus that it was sort of astonishing to see how big everything was here, and how packed the sold-out game was. Everything first class - the tall stacks, the craft beer choices, the nooks and crannies of alternate entertainment options within the ballpark (such as a small astroturf'd whiffle ball field for kids). Just outside the park they had a rose garden with a white rose marking the exact spot Pete Rose's 4192 hit came. Pretty impressive all around.

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A spit in the eye of utilitarianism came from a book review of a book on reading offering the following:
You must conclude [her reading] stunt useless - and wonderfully so. There is something freeing in that uselessness, particularly at this moment, when so manny act as though reading were a civic duty, good only for its power to teach empathy or improve job performance.
The New Yorker piece continues:
It is a decidedly contemporary feeling, this feeling of missing out (FOMO)…And what about the books right in front of you? My own bookshelves are filled with books I haven't read, and books I read so long ago that they look at me like strangers. Can you have FOMO about your own life? Reading more books begins at home.
It occurred to me to wonder why it is that perfectly wasteful occupations seemed such a salutary pursuit when I was a boy, pursuits that either paid or unpaid were almost designed not to make a splash?  My habit of collecting things illustrated that.  What is more useless than collecting colored pieces of paper (stamps and baseball cards)?  Why did steady, low-profile occupations also attract me?  I tend to think partially due to weak faith - I didn't feel worthy of being called to something greater and (also indicative of weak faith), I desired financial security.

I think part of it was a reaction to the folly of ambition, of all the "dress for success" books out then, of the whole gamesmanship part of it.  I wanted to opt out and be judged objectively on merits, not on personal presentation, hence I hated the idea of schmoozing but loved the idea of accountancy or being a mailman. The numbers add up - or they don't.  The mail gets delivered - or it doesn't.  Part of the reason I changed my major in college was I began to understand that the green eye-shade bookkeepers of yesteryear were becoming a figment of our imagination, that even accountants had to present an image, had to be outgoing, had to, at least at some firms, move up or move out.

I always liked those stories of eccentric men in Ripley's Believe It or Not! who collected every newspaper from the last thirty years.  Or who diligently collected on tape the birdsongs of two hundred calls.  There seemed something of a spit in the eye of pragmatism.  Surely part of the appeal was my own introverted tendencies.  I liked nothing more than the thought of long nights in a carrel of a library; I wanted, in essence, to be a "professional student".

Even the great Samuel Johnson spent years on a dictionary which seems, perhaps in retrospect, slight use of his prodigious talents.  How many lives were changed by a dictionary?  How many people said, "I read the dictionary back when I was twenty and it changed my life."  Life-change is where the action is, and it's certainly right where the gospel is.  Metanoia is everything in the NT.

There's a continuum of course - the man collecting newspapers is a less worthy enterprise, it would seem, than Samuel Johnson's quest, which is less worthwhile than Ronald Knox's translation of the Bible, which is arguably less worthy than a papal encyclical.

What I'm getting at is wondering how you can waste time without injuring eternity. We are called to be junior St. Paul's and so it seems kind of crazy to spend time in philately.  Better than fellatio I suppose.  But it is sort of remarkable how few saints were collectors of anything save "treasure in Heaven" as the gospel from today went.  (Who, I wonder, is the patron saint of philately? Surely no one but I will google it -- well, omg as the kids say.  St Gabriel the Archangel is supposedly the patron saint of stamp collectors, presumably on the strength of his being sent, like a letter.)

Speaking of treasure in Heaven, the deacon-homilist at St. Pat's is awesomely gentle.  He boldly interpreted our Lord's words in rather surprising fashion, saying that by "treasure in Heaven" it's not helpful to think of it as a pile of good deeds, a big pile of merit, that we either cumulate or not (with bad deeds subtracting from the pile) and with our Heavenly place depending on the size of our cache.  No, he said we should look at it as something we already have, that the "treasure in Heaven" is within you and me by virtue of the  gift of our Baptism. Very hope-inspiring.

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It's still slightly surreal to see "Pride" banners around town.  Odd times we live in.  Our company went so far as to actually have a "Pride" table in the entrance to cafeteria, with two people there presumably to answer questions about the Pride club.

It's interesting to see the 180 degree turn from when I was a kid.  Then gays in school were persecuted.  Now they're celebrated -- the Columbus Library tweeted today a list of gay books for toddlers, of the "Heather Has Two Mommies" variety. We swing from extreme to extreme.

I think you see the tendency to overdo past wrongs not only with the election of Obama, a candidate with nothing going for him but skin color and a decent way with words, and also to some extent in fathers.  Back in the day, fathers had it easy.  Now - presumably because a lot of present-day-parents felt bereft of fatherly interaction - they are going to the other extreme such that missing Jimmy's 28th ballgame of the month is seen as bad parenting.

Balance seems to be something we human beings have real difficulty with.

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There's the famous saying that “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer”. And I've certainly seen it in action. But how much of this is simply the result, for good or ill, of the power of compounding?

Compounding means that those in debt will tend to get more in debt due to spending on debt servicing, and those with assets will tend to acquire more assets since assets often generate wealth. Shouldn't the phrase “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” be always followed with “so don't get into any more debt than you have to.”  Easier said than done of course.

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Good FB comment on the wonderful Cat Hodge's feed:
Do you feel guilty when you have a negative reaction to something a saint wrote or said? I used to but it's happened so often that I don't anymore… I figure that either I am seeing something out of context and can't evaluate it, or that it's good in itself (the Church says so) but not meant for me because of my personality or situation in life.
I was kind of glad to see that several on her feed aren't attracted to St. Jose Escriva; I do fall into that camp. Which is why I sold my “Escriva Bible”, the Navarre, a few months ago. Cat mentions how she's put off by St. Pio after hearing that he scolded a woman for going to Confession immodestly dressed. Interesting how people react to different saints. But understandable given we're all different, with different sensitive areas. Different paths to our heart and conscience.

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Last night was elated to find that Garry Wills wrote a book on Chesterton. As much as I loathe Garry Wills' heterodoxies, I can't help but be impressed over his erudition. A formidable foe. I half-fear reading it since it might undermine my appreciation for Gilbert, but on the other hand there's this feeling that I've got to know what the opposition thinks or else I'm, in some sense, blind in one eye.

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So you know you have too many books if you end up buying a book you already have. A tell-tale sign as it were. In this case I was about to pick up Peter Brown's biography of St. Augustine when I thought I'd just better check that invaluable website, LibraryThing.com, where all my books are cataloged. And I was pleased to find it, and even more pleased to actually locate the physical copy after some bookroom searching. Found not one but three biographies of Augustine, which is a bit much given I haven't read any yet. I've read a biography of Aquinas; I owe it to myself to read Augustine, seeing how these are the two giants that go a large part of what Catholicism is. And they complement one another; Augustinian pessimism and Aquinas optimism. I can't find much of what Chesterton wrote on Augustine. I wonder if the optimist GKC leaned towards the optimist Aquinas over the pessimist Augustine.

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And in the secret way
If human hearts, where in the sordid street
The modern slave, and master dumbly meet
And in the other's eyes
Each, unaware, beholds the eyes of God,
That ever after burn and scrutinize…

-Percy MacKaye

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