May 28, 2014

Toledo


Sitting in a hotel room in lovely downtown Toledo, Ohio (alas, not Spain). It's a city with a sad reputation from my youth ever since I heard the words to the John Denver song: “Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio is like being nowhere at all” and “I once spent a week one day in Toledo…”. Ouch, not good pub for T city. So unfair.

I'm overlooking the Maumee River (sing to "I'm looking over a four-leaf clover"). It looks a lot like the Great Miami or the Ohio. Midwestern rivers tend to have a similar look and feel. Just now, though, there's excitement: the roadway bridge has become vertical in order to let a big ship through, presumably on its way to the Great Lakes. The ship's name is “Saginaw” and you don't see that in the Great Miami river. The 'net tells me: “The lake freighter Saginaw was commissioned the John J. Boland, in 1953, the third vessel to bear that name.” She's heading due north, towards Lake Erie.

Turns out I'm only a few blocks, maybe a 15 minute walk, from the minor league baseball stadium. I checked and lo and behold the Mudhens are at home, and playing right now. I wanted to find reasons not to go, mostly just out of laziness I suppose. But really the idea of seeing a baseball game isn't overly appealing for whatever reason, despite the serendipitous timing.

On the drive listened to Brian Lamb interview Gregg Easterbrook, who talked about his book about football. Easterbrook brings up interesting points about the greed of those who run football, of how team owners ask taxpayers to pay for stadiums that will enrich the billionaire, how college football teams rake in 40-50 million dollars a year and only 10-15% goes to the school (the rest staying within the football program in order to build ever more palatial workout facilities and jack up already high coaches salaries). More football coaches at Ohio State than teachers at the English department. Over 40 assistant coaches at universities get paid more than the school's president.

Easterbrook also brought up the question of whether football is a cult. He said now that politicians, clergy and CEOs have become disrespected, arguably the only figure still respected and admired in America is the NFL football coach. “They alone show tough love,” he said, "and have become father figures to us.”

And the biggest tragedy he mentions is of course the brain damage suffered by so many high school and pre-high school football players. Forty thousand concussions annually in the high school ranks alone. One of the Supreme Court justices, Elena Kagan, told Easterbrook she was a big football fan but wondered if it she should be.

There's nothing like atmosphere while reading. Reading in comfy digs next to a large window overlooking a city is a pleasure, almost as good as reading in a grand library. Motivating. I had wanted to check the television to see if a baseball game was on but reading got in the way. Always hard to have time for both TV and books. Had stopped by St. Patrick's Historic Church on the way to the hotel but it was locked.

*

Strong a/c in room aids and abets sleep.  Dreams vivid and “funding” the later sleep. Want to see what happens!  After the deliciousness of sleep came the deliciousness of coffee. Lukewarm, but still. I made two cups and poured them into the thermos right before I left last night. Saves the grogginess of trying to figure out the oldfangled coffee makers they have in most hotels. Not the least of which involves moving water from bathroom to table area.

Am glad I didn't walk the mile and a half from hotel to museum given that I was already arrived a half-hour late. I thought it no sweat, figuring the museum would give me at most two hours of intensity. Boy did I misunderestimate this one! Really good stuff. Spent four hours and it went by like a minute, and I didn't even see everything.  John Denver obviously never went to the Toledo Museum of Art. Entering a good art museum is like entering another world. Museums of modern art fail on two counts: one, never any religious art. And two, extremely ahistorical. With the old school art museums there are at least three effects for me:
  1. Awesome devotional material in the form of Christian (almost always Catholic since Catholicism emphasizes the eye while Protestantism the ear) art.
  2. Centuries old images that gives us the only mirror of the world pre-photographs. It feeds my interest in history.
  3. Sheer cussed beauty. A room from a castle transported, jammed with paintings on ceilings, walls. The human form depicted at its best. Evocative natural scenes.
What struck me religiously-speaking include:
  • the humbling humility of Mary in a painting of the Annunciation.
  • the halo around the good thief at the Crucifixion; I thought about how the very first canonization was the best, i.e. being declared a saint in Heaven by Jesus Himself.
  • the fascinating comment of St. Bernard disapproving of the images in marble of beasts and animals in the monastery because it distracted the monks from the Bible. We're just hardwired for art so I'm not surprised the directive from the great saint was not honored (even among his order of the strict Cistercians).
  • the grasping look of joy as Adam reached for the forbidden fruit
  • the stunning tableau of Mary queened in Heaven with the angels and my being reproved by a museum official for being closer than two feet from it! 
  • a quartet of saints, each holding missing limbs or head due to martyrdom or persecution, holding these war wounds as offerings with pride
  • seeing an eleventh-century carving from a Buddhist temple of a mean-looking figure with big teeth, a meanness required, according to the explanation, to assure the temple-goers that this god was tougher than the demonic gods that he expels. Seems we've always wanted/ needed God to be powerful given the obvious power of our foes.
  • the most intense scene of the mocking of Christ that I'd ever seen
On the historical front:
  • seeing an old rail station that struck me as potentially so much like what my town would've looked like around the time it was painted (late 19th century)
  • seeing the marble carvings adorning columns of an early medieval monastery. Animals and centaurs from 1,000 years ago.
  • the face of Martin Luther in a 16th century German painting looking like a chubby Matthew McConaughey. 
  • a gigantic book from the 1700s featuring American birds lushly illustrated with a commentary beside each (a certain type of woodpecker was called the “Lord God Woodpecker” because that's what people said, so stunned were they by the size and color of it).
  • the winsome painting of St. Anthony with a donkey, with the explanation beneath telling of the legend that in order to prove the presence of Christ in the Eucharist to a non-believer, the saint “offers Communion wafers to a starving mule, who immediately kneeled before him.”
  • a transported Swiss chalet from hundreds of years ago! You can't make it up how cool it was in this room. Would be a grand place to write my journal, and sure would've been nice to go inside, to enter beyond the rope line. There was also the oddest oven I ever saw: it was decoratively covered with tiles (with pictures of biblical scenes and patriotic heroes, along with Germanic subtitles).
  • The fascinating tidbit concerning a painting of a huge church stolen by Protestant leaders during the Reformation: all the saints and angels and decorative touches were removed but replaced with military heroes and coats of arms and such! That can't look good to future generations. The other things that amaze me about the Protestant revolt is that it didn't seem to take miracles to get 'er started. Another small thing, and surely superstitious, but just that there are 66 books in the Protestant bible. Shouldn't some of them be a bit squeamish that their version of the Bible has that number 'six' repeated?
And on the beauty front:

Too many to mention, but there was a painting of Ophelia, the tragic Shakespearian character, that was exquisitely rendered beyond words. A flying bluebird nearby added to the magic.

*

All too soon it was 2:30 and I figured I'd better run to the car in order to escape rush hour traffic when I neared Columbus two hours later. Had to drop the idea of visiting the Cathedral of Toledo, Rosary Cathedral. Also no time to explore some vaguely recalled Indian story/memorial from John Switzer's column in the Dispatch a few months back.

Went past the Mudhens stadium and saw, with a pang, that it's open at the street and you can watch a game for free if you want to stand. So I could've soaked in some ballgame ambiance last night free of charge, although the real impediment was the desire to read instead.

Onstar let me down on the way home. I asked for a route to avoid the boring and jammed US 23, a dual-ponc. The advisor then gave me a route that went through 23, at least that's what my display said after we hung up. Called again, same result. I asked her to read the route to me - obviously her computer says one thing mine another. So I smartly used my smart phone to give me the better directions, i.e. through Marysville, Oh, and later - at that proverbial fork in the road - called Onstar a third time just to let them know about the error although really I wanted an “I told you so”. But of course you get different operators each time, a nice gig if you can get it since if you're an operator because you never have to be mistaken. I should've called a few miles before the fork in the road so they could observe in realtime the error. As if it really matters in the big (or even little) scheme of things!

The smart phone app led me through graceful Ohio towns time forgot, like Dunkirk and Kenton. Who knew there was a Dunkirk, Ohio? Picturesque and often interesting, I saw a condemned-looking house with the “Jesus Saves” sign in the yard.

*

Home by 5, I had to immediately do a boring, pointless run through the dull neighborhoods adjoining my house because it's been four days since my last run and I really don't want to be a big, fat idiot. Just being an idiot is enough!

So, alas and alack, my four-day weekend has ended. I could use one more day, just one. last. day… I remember like it was yesterday (because it was!) that crazy five-lane highway that up and went vertical to allow a ship to pass. And I recall like it was yesterday that anticipation of painterly goodness, of a fresh soak in the sea of art.

Gallery of cellphone pics:

















May 20, 2014

Shelby Foote circa 1997

From Shelby Foote 1997 interview in The Paris Review:
I received two hundred and eight books, all in their shiny jackets, published the past year. I found all but two of them barely readable. That’s a shocking thing. It was because of the writing. It’s also because of me. As I get older, I care less and less what happens in a book. What I care about is the writing—how it’s told. I read words and I don’t see a scene going on as if I were at a movie; I want to see how these words are shaped and how they intertwine and what the sounds are next to each other, how they rub up against each other, along with the distribution of commas and semicolons.

Getting old has way more virtues that it has faults, if you leave out the pain you might suffer if you have some serious injury. But I take great pleasure in being able to look back on things. I remember certain little scenes that are almost meaningless, like Thomas Wolfe coming up the library steps while I was coming down, being with William Faulkner and talking to him about his work, all kinds of things. I remember a sky without a jet trail. I remember Joan Crawford dancing. I remember Roosevelt’s fireside chats and people sitting in front of the radio, like warming their hands in front of a stove.

Ulysses S. Grant, for instance, was never willing to accept blame for anything, under any circumstances. He would let no blame attach to him. He always blamed somebody who was alongside him or under him or over him. It becomes a key to understanding the strength of his character. He just didn’t admit the possibility that anything could be his fault. That sounds unattractive, but it’s quite attractive in Grant. It’s so much a part of his character and part of his ability to be a great general.

The real monster of the Civil War was that it cost us God knows what all, not only in young men, blue and gray, but in the recasting of what public life was going to be like. It brought a new cynicism in to us that we’ve lived with ever since. We began to appreciate scamps in politics, which we hadn’t really done before.

A great enthusiasm of American literature for a short period was Thomas Wolfe. How do you explain how everybody loved him with such passion at a certain moment in our history and then suddenly nobody can read him anymore.

The people who read [Thomas Wolfe] with the greatest enthusiasm were young people. We were young when we read him, and when we read him it had a pure zest to it, larger than life.

Faulkner does it by communicating this tremendously complex combination of sensations, Hemingway by honing everything down to the essential pang. Faulkner in his Nobel speech says that you have to write about the heart, otherwise you’re just writing about the glands. He said this with scorn. Yet Faulkner wrote about the glands better than anybody I know.

Artie Shaw once said that what you need to write the blues is no money in the bank and nobody loving you. Maybe writing prose is the same way, at its best...and the reason I wouldn’t go to California was all that weather, all those beautiful women, all that money. I was absolutely certain I would disappear as if into quicksand; I’d be gone. With those three things holding me there, I certainly wasn’t going to do any writing.

But then try to do it again, do it again, and then keep doing it, until you can do it. You may never be able to do it. That’s the gamble. You not only may not be able to make a living, you may not be able to do it at all. But that’s what you put on the line. Every artist has that.

Robert Browning. Browning decided at the age of fourteen, I think, out of the clear blue sky, to become a writer. His father had books all over the house anyway. He said, If I’m going to be a writer, there’s certainly one thing I must do, and then he proceeded to memorize Johnson’s Dictionary—both volumes, cover to cover. He has, next to Shakespeare, the largest vocabulary of any English writer. Now that’s preparation.

Freud says we write for three basic reasons: desire for fame, money, and the love of women.

One of the greatest enemies of happiness, of enjoying life, is the intrusion of loneliness. When you’re most alone is in nausea; when you’re throwing up you are alone on the face of this earth. The moment of orgasm is very lonely too—a little island in the middle of nowhere. There are a lot of paradoxes involved. When you’re working very hard you’re not lonely; you are the whole damn world.

Good writing doesn’t come from inspiration. It may spark you, set you off, but if you write under the influence of inspiration, you will write very badly—probably sentimentally, which is even worse.

Well, obviously I [wrote *The Civil War*] because I enjoyed it. I don’t deserve any credit for working hard. I was doing what I wanted to do. Shakespeare said it best: “The labor we delight in physics pain.” There’s no better feeling in the world than to lay your head on the pillow at night looking forward to getting up in the morning and returning to that desk.

May 19, 2014

New Yorker Piece

Why so busy? (warning: often invokes the liberal's holy saint named Keynes):
Keynes assumed that people work in order to earn enough to buy what they need. And so, he reasoned, as incomes rose, those needs could be fulfilled in ever fewer hours. Workers would knock off earlier and earlier, until eventually they’d be going home by lunchtime.

But that isn’t what people are like. Instead of quitting early, they find new things to need. Many of the new things they’ve found weren’t even around when Keynes was writing—laptops, microwaves, Xboxes, smartphones, smart watches, smart refrigerators, Prada totes, True Religion jeans, battery-powered meat thermometers, those gizmos you stick in the freezer and then into your beer to keep it cold as you drink it.

“Most types of material consumption are strongly habit-forming,”... By Becker and Rayo’s account, this insatiability is hardwired into us. Human beings evolved “so that they have reference points that adjust upwards as their circumstances improve.”

Joseph Stiglitz, of Columbia University, by contrast, takes a constructivist approach. People’s choices, he argues, are molded by society and, over time, become self-reinforcing. We “learn how to consume by consuming,” he writes, and how to “enjoy leisure by enjoying leisure.”

In support of this position, Stiglitz cites the contrasting experiences of Europeans and Americans. In the nineteen-seventies, the British, the French, and the Germans—though notably not the Italians—put in just as many hours at work as Americans. But then, à la Keynes, the Europeans began trading income for leisure. The average employed American now works roughly a hundred and forty hours more per year than the average Englishman and three hundred hours more than the average Frenchman. (Current French law mandates that workers get thirty paid vacation days per year, British law twenty-eight; the corresponding figure in the U.S. is zero.) Stiglitz predicts that Europeans will further reduce their working hours and become even more skilled at taking time off, while Americans, having become such masterful consumers, will continue to work long hours and to buy more stuff. TVs, he notes, “can be put in every room and in both the front and the back of automobiles.”

A third group of economists challenges the Keynesian presumption that leisure is preferable to labor. Work may not set us free, but it lends meaning to our days, and without it we’d be lost. In the view of Edward Phelps, of Columbia University, a career provides “most, if not all, of the attainable self-realization in modern societies.” Richard Freeman, of Harvard, is, if possible, more emphatic. “Hard work is the only way forward,” he writes. “There is so much to learn and produce and improve that we should not spend more than a dribble of time living as if we were in Eden. Grandchildren, keep trucking.”
I sense that Pope Francis is in that last group. He's a bit of a work proponent.
In the future, Keynes imagined, the fruits of capitalism would redeem capitalism. “All kinds of social customs and economic practices . . . which we now maintain at all costs, however distasteful and unjust they may be in themselves, because they are tremendously useful in promoting the accumulation of capital, we shall then be free, at last, to discard,” he wrote.

It is, to say the least, disappointing that things haven’t turned out that way—that inequality has grown, that leisure is scarce, that even the rich complain of being overwhelmed. And yet so much of what we do, collectively and individually, suggests that we still believe more wealth is the answer. Reëxamining this belief would probably be a good idea—that is, if anyone had the time for it.

How Dare You Call It a Warehouse?

Truth in advertising!:

I Yam What I Yam

A city of books / Una ciudad de libros (autor desconocido)

It occurred to me that the new social network at work, Yammer, seems pejoratively named. “To talk in an annoying way usually for a long time” is the definition. Is that what the network is designed to do? Is that meant in a hip, ironic way, or was the name chosen simply because someone didn't know the true definition of “yammer”? Did they look in a thesaurus and pick a name for “talk”? Mysteries ne'er cease.

From the web:
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, one of the judges of the panel on which Yammer launched, commented: 'I really like this company the best.The name is not very corporate. It reminded me of what I’m having for Thanksgiving. Maybe you could use a Yam for a logo.“
Elsewhere, one of the founders says they brainstormed for names: "Chatter” and “huddle” came up - but the only name that folks could remember later was “yammer” and the domain was available. The founder says the connotation they're going after is “persistent communication”.

Having the Internet means having the answer to almost any meaningless question you might wonder about, but without answers to the things that really matter.

*

In 1774 Goethe wrote: "See how nature is a living book, / Misunderstood but not beyond understanding." Interesting to see where author Annie Dillard's quest to see the Creator from creation without a trust of revelation and doctrine ended up. Her eclectic oeuvre and persona reminds me of Heather King's, but fortunately Heather hasn't given up Catholicism as Dillard has. On her website the latter writes that she sees as “absurd” the doctrines of “divine omniscience, divine mercy and divine omnipotence”. What kind of god does that leave you with? A god of limited power, effectiveness and love?

*

Shelby Foote once said, and he's not alone in this I'm sure, that “the more trouble I have learning something, the longer it stays with me; and the easier time I have learning it, the faster it leaves me.”

Couldn't God, the ultimate Teacher, employ the same methods with us? Is that why we learn so slowly of his reality, and his love and benevolence?

John Keats said “a fact is not a truth until you love it”, again applicable to God perhaps, in how the truth of Him comes after faith. “Faith before understanding” is the famous phrase I believe.

*

Read copiously of Rick Barnett's novella Living in the Meantime (so funny) and Kingsley's magisterial Everyday Drinking. Call me shallow, but I'm finding, halfway through, Donna Tartt's Goldfinch to be depressing and well-nigh unreadable. So despite the acclaim it's received and despite I've already invested a lot of time in it I'm thinking it's time to either speed-read or give up the ghost. I wonder if the modern equation is “serious = nihilistic”. Read a bit of National Review but it's so whiney. I grow tired of the endless criticism of liberals, no matter how well-deserved. Why waste a minute of your life reading about the pathetic Harry Reid? I'd say only 20% of any given NR is worth reading, but that's a lot when added up over a whole years' worth of issues.

*

Very surprising was Maureen Mullarkey critique over at First Things. Dang but she was hard on our populist pope. She's also none too fond of the instant sanctity model for recent shepherds. Sounds like that other more famous Maureen, Dowd:
This expedited exercise in saint-making was a premature apotheosis, a pageant of synthetic piety staged for immediate media consumption. With this as a precedent, canonization risks becoming one more pseudo-event, like bread and circus, thrown to a culture besotted with virtual reality.

In our lifetime, we have watched the papacy descend into spectacle. By now, showboating—from kissing feet to a mega-Mass on Copacabana Beach—is an established feature of the modern papacy. As if spectacle itself could cure the malaise that has emptied churches, closed parishes, and turned cathedrals into pay-per-view tourist sites.
….In [Benedict's] last general audience in St. Peter’s, he lapsed into the kind of mutual deception that fans celebrity culture: “The Pope belongs to everyone, and so many people feel very close to him.”

No, the man does not belong to everyone. Any suggestion that he does is a saccharine oblation to consumers of image. That illusion of intimacy, so seductive and so crippling, is the very ground of demagogic populism. It is a dangerous chimera, as lethal to the judgment of a faith community as to electoral politics. Catholics—popes among them—are no less subject than anyone else to the lure of the star system and its crafted emphasis on personality.

It took no time at all for Francis to degrade into a celebrity. And like any politically astute showman, he takes to the camera for carefully designed photo-ops. (Posing with an anti-fracking T-Shirt in November, he conferred on activist filmmakers the kind of endorsement we expect from Yoko Ono and Matt Damon.) Media-conscious symbolic gestures are mirrored in an airy, imprecise rhetoric that is a receptacle for whatever meaning the public drops into it.
Provocative to say the least. I don't know what to make of that but I just read Lino Rulli's adoration of Pope John Paul II and it's hard to see that as mere sentiment.

*

Ch'u Ch'uang I, “A Mountain Spring,” tr. Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese: Love and the Turning Year:

There is a brook in the mountains,
Nobody I ask knows its name.
It shines on the earth like a piece
Of the sky. It falls away
In waterfalls, with a sound
Like rain. It twists between rocks
And makes deep pools. It divides
Into islands. It flows through
Calm reaches. It goes its way
With no one to mind it. The years
Go by, its clear depths never change.

*

Listened to Hugh Hewitt as interviewed by Brian Lamb. Hewitt was a cradle Catholic and converted to Protestant evangelicalism when he couldn't stand left-leaning bishops publishing “dumb things” on nuclear weaponry and economics. He then came back to the Faith when contacted and counseled by Archbishop Chaput, soon to be Cardinal Chaput according to Hewitt.

I can understand Hewitt's frustration but really you can't leave the Church over bishopric political stands.

I was also surprised how good a friend he was to Christopher Hitchens. He says that Hitchens likely never got over the understandable shock of his mother committing suicide. It's a hard thing to believe in a benevolent God after that.

Hewitt also is unapologetically a fan of Richard Nixon (not his presidency, but his friendship). And Mitt Romney as well. Calls those two geniuses in the sense that they'd read everything, knew everything, were always one step ahead of you or knew what you were going to say.  I could do well to recognize Nixon had good qualities as well.

*

So Monday went to a social justice rally, where 3,500 were said to have shown up. The issues were two and very nicely clear-focused: more care/funding for the mentally ill (with specific agenda items) and requiring Columbus police to recognize Mexican consulate-issued idcards as other cities like Chicago and Dayton do so that illegals don't have to live in fear of the police and so that they'll report crimes committed on them.

There was some hard-corn (short for corniness) to the event - every time a speaker said “Bread” (the group's name) we were all to shout, “rises!”. And there were women with placards up front who held up signs saying, “Care, not crisis!” when we were supposed to say those words (meaning to provide care for the mentally ill before it gets to crisis/emergency room). It seemed a bit overkill, as if we were memory-challenged, as we were told to say “Care, not crisis” in the beginning of the meeting and repeated it a couple of times for the preacher emcee.

It had sort of a PBS feel to it. Lots of good-natured liberals who look like they appreciated Peter, Paul and Mary back in the day. A curious gathering of interfaith and non-faith, including the United Universalist Unitarians. I think. The opening song was Down by the Riverside and opening prayer made no reference to God, but substituted "Love". My stepson, the rare white male under 40, definitely added to the diversity quotient.

We got a taste of black preaching, or at least forceful teaching that gives the flavor. Immaculately dressed with a bow tie, one looked like a member of Farrakahn's group. He gave a rousing address and invoked the Old Testament prophets often as well he might given the focus of the meeting was justice. Justice was given its due, and I got to thinking of how interchangeable those OT prophets seem to me (though admittedly I'm not exactly well-read in the prophetic literature.) But those prophets seemed often very hard on their own while African-American preachers tend, understandably, to preach on behalf of their own. Repentance doesn't mean simply saying your sorry, one said, it means reform, restitution and reparations. Surely that last a word familiar in the black community in connection with slavery. Speaking truth to power, they say, but not too many people want to speak truth to themselves, in this case that you shouldn't be given money just because you had oppressed ancestors. There's an element of self-pity that is perhaps inescapable to avoid in these types of movements.

The Catholics on the list were mostly Latinos talking about the situation where they become a magnet for crime because others know they won't call the police because they're deathly afraid of being deported. It's sad to think that police would deport someone if they'd done nothing wrong. I say if illegals aren't doing anything wrong, let them be. And certainly allow them to report crimes made against them.

*

My inner Judger came to the fore today. I've been moderately obsessed since yesterday with family members thrilled to go to the anti-Mormon, anti-Christian Broadway musical Book of Mormon. Terry Teachout, I think it was, said it's not particularly brave to pick on Mormons - try that with Muslims, was what one columnist mentioned. Second, there's the infamous part where they sing “$!%^ God”.

May 13, 2014

The Santa Maria Discovery

Too cool -- Columbus's La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción was apparently found just ten feet or so down on "a coral reef off of the northern coast of Hispaniola, or near Cap Haitien in Haiti."

I pass by a replica of the Santa Maria docked in the Scioto River every day home from work and just three months ago I visited Labadee, which is only about 2-5 miles away from shipwreck.

From Wikipedia:
The Santa María had a single deck and three masts. She was the slowest of Columbus's vessels but performed well in the Atlantic crossing. After engaging in festivities and drinking, Columbus ordered that the crew continue sailing to Cuba late into the night. One-by-one the crew kept falling asleep until only a cabin boy was steering the ship which caused the ship to run aground off the present-day site ofCap-Haïtien, Haiti on December 25, 1492, and was lost. Realizing that the ship was beyond repair, Columbus ordered his men to strip the timbers from the ship. The timbers from the ship were later used to build a fort which he called La Navidad (Christmas) because the wreck occurred on Christmas Day, north from the modern town of Limonade, Haiti.

And from author Arthur Fournier:

 

Another Interesting Bible Translation

From a guest poster on Catholic Bibles blog:
When I found a hardcover edition of the New English Bible with the "Apocrypha" at a used bookstore some years ago, I picked it up because it was inexpensive (I paid less than ten dollars for it) and of high quality...

I spent a little time in the text and really liked most of the translation, in spite of some very unusual renderings--- some bordering on weird, and a couple even jarringly laughable (take Joshua 15:18, and Judges 1:14, for example). Most of the text flows with a certain cadence that I find exquisite. Take for example this rendering of Paul: "For if we have become incorporate with him in a death like his, we shall also be one with him in a resurrection like his. We know that the man we once were has been crucified with Christ, for the destruction of the sinful self, so that we may no longer be slaves of sin, since a dead man is no longer answerable for his sin" (Ro. 6:5-7). It gets even better, but you can read it for yourself.

Even some of the more unusual renderings I find wonderfully fresh and lively. For instance, Matthew 5:3: "How blest are those who know their need of God," substitutes for the more literal and traditional, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." And Matthew 5:48: "There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father's goodness knows know bounds." (Love it, but better still is the first printing of the New Jerusalem Bible, which rendered this as "you must therefore set no bounds to your love, just as your heavenly Father sets none to his.")

What I do with really "out there" renderings in the NEB, such as the above mentioned Joshua 5:18, that seem to obscure the meaning or even make one blush, is pencil in corrections or alternate translations from the RSV or NABRE to the side of the text (for example: in Psalm 22 I penciled in the NABRE's "pierced" for the NEB's "hacked" the persecuted's hands and feet)...
It has its faults (what translation doesn't?), but on the dust jacket of my hardcover edition I am reminded that no less a literary figure than Walker Percy said, "It is is a beautiful job--- first rate scholarship which does not sacrifice the language." Thomas Howard, quoted there as well, spoke highly of the NEB: "The great thing to be praised, from the layman's point of view, about this translation, is the clarity and simplicity of the prose. It is an epochal achievement." And Sheldon Vanauken wrote, "What I want in a translation of the Bible is, first of all clarity of meaning and, next, easy, graceful English. The New English Bible is the best I've found in both respects." Of course, it has also been said that the Venerable Fulton Sheen enjoyed the NEB quite a lot. If it's good enough for the likes of these greats, it's good enough for me.

Logos-philia

I'm not worthy to have access to this Logos.com library that speaks and considers Scripture from many views. See this on John 6:62, where mysteriously Jesus says of those disclined to believe in his body as real food and real drink, "what if they were to see me ascending?".

Here are three different views:
But the passage (John 6) as a whole certainly reflects also the crisis (present for all Christian centuries) of John’s own community, the difficulty involved in accepting Jesus as the sacramental bread of life. To this difficulty will be added the scandal of the ascent of the Son of Man “to where he was before” (v. 62). The first step of that ascent will be Jesus’ elevation onto a cross on top of a hill.

*

The elliptic question: ‘If then you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before …?’ is intended, not as Maldonatus thought, to increase the scandal, but to rectify what was simply a cannibalistic interpretation. The ascension will perhaps surprise the recalcitrants more, but it will eliminate their chief difficulty about eating the flesh of One who in celestial glory takes his place where he was from eternity.

*

Some suggest that if the disciples were to see Jesus ascend to where he was before, their difficulties would be greater. Others say that the use of anabainein refers to the cross, and similarly suggest that the offense would be greater. A third group claims that if they were to see him ascend where he was before their problems would be diminished, as they would know that he had authority to make such statements. The above interpretation is a development of this third option, linking it to Jewish speculation that surrounded the ascensions of the great revealers of Israel (cf. notes on 1:18 and 3:13). If the disciples were to see Jesus ascend—just as they believed the greater revealers from Israel’s sacred history, and especially Moses, had ascended—then would they be prepared to accept his “hard word”?

May 08, 2014

Along the Bike Path....

Zoo Zoology

It's kind of fascinating to me how one of the most popular institutions in Ohio, the Columbus Zoo, lost a new levy Tuesday by a lopsided 70-30% margin.

As is often the case in a lopsided result, there's probably multiple factors at play. A perfect storm if you will.

The part that surprised me is that it displayed "the politics of envy": Franklin County voters resent that the zoo is in Delaware County and that Delaware doesn't pay property taxes to support the zoo. But that's the deal that's been in effect for many decades. What is it about our current political climate that is so disturbed about this? Is it a reflection of the bitterness of so many Americans that someone, somewhere has more than they do (i.e. dismay over the 1%)?

It also didn't help that the levy was continuous instead of the usual ten-year duration. Understandably voters don't like losing power or control.

But I think part of what doomed the levy was people not realizing the new downtown zoo made up only 9% of the total outlay, and that a lot of the money for the levy was replacing lost state money.

We're not a math-oriented society (i.e. look at our "skill" at federal budget-balancing or the ignorance of the fact that our entitlement culture is unsustainable). We're story-oriented, and the story that we were adding another small zoo downtown was probably way too much to take. It was taken by some to be a place for innercity kids to go - which, sadly, doesn't appear to inspire many voters, and by others to entertain out-of-town visitors, also a non-starter.

A comment on the Dispatch website was interesting: "The political leaders on the zoo Board should play a role to buffer citizens and taxpayers from the ambitions of a tax-funded agency, but they turn into cheerleaders for those ambitions instead."

If you think about it, that's what's going on all the time. Boards don't want to push back or represent the average Joe. Corporate boards rubber stamp CEO policies and pay extravagant CEO salaries and bonuses. School boards have become captive to school administrators and the unions instead of representing the taxpayer. Bank and corporate regulators rarely push back against or prevent abuses. It's sort of a "don't rock the boat" mentality and it's because these groups are often made up of former members of "the club". Corporate boards are former CEOs and lobbyists are former Congress members. It's a culture in which most leaders are unwilling to be unpopular and are more interested in preserving their jobs. Which is why in the rare case when a leader is willing to be unpopular, like Chris Christie before BridgeGate, some folks appreciate it.

Diaristic Wanderings



One of the things that unsettles me, to put it mildly, is that life arcs. You're weak, fragile, powerless, dependent when you're newly hatched and you're the same just before you're dispatched. It's a bell-shaped curve, and this applies to one's artistic and charitable powers as well. It's much harder, for example, for an elderly person to perform some service to someone (with the notable exception of prayer). There's a diminishing aspect to our ability to build up the Church or civilization. We see this most dramatically in soldiers, who can defend our nation for maybe only a fourth of their life, 20 of 80 years.

I think this unsettles me in part because I don't like limits. I don't like being creaturely. I want to be God-like and this is pride, pure unadulterated pride.

Instead of feeling doom and gloomy about the arc of life, why not see it as a sine wave? Why not see the bell-shaped curve not as it looks from this side of life but from the eternal side? Why not see the curve will merely dip in our old age before reaching to the stars?

I think sometimes of ol' Fr. Benedict Groeschel with a mixture of puzzlement and sympathy. Sympathy because of the troubles he's gone through, accidents in which a tiny moment of carelessness resulted in first, nearly the loss of his life when he was run over, and second, the loss of his television apostolate and, to some extent, his reputation.

Puzzlement for sure because I ask myself what is meant, if anything, that God allowed such devastating and damaging events to happen. It's likely part of the mystery of God, whether He be more or less active. Whether a certain amount of randomness is allowed. It just feels strange that a near-saint like Fr. G would experience such traumas. Questions far beyond my capacity obviously. Shades of Thomas Merton's death.

*

My favorite interview of all time may well be one from 1996 featuring David Halberstam, Shelby Foote and Peggy Noonan with Brian Lamb as the interviewer. Just crack-cocaine to me, and it holds up well all these years later. I listened again why my computer worked, running large queries (“my computer works so I don't have to!”)



*


“There is one act par excellence which profanes money by going directly against the law of money, an act for which money is not made. That act is giving.” — Jacques Ellul, Money and Power, p.110

*

Am standing guard over cat food, i.e. baby rabbits, for my wife's sake. Not only the cat but our dog Buddy is unduly interested. I'd mowed around a nest of tiny, new-born rabbits that I would've run over had not Steph discovered it while cleaning up dog poop. Now elaborate measures are taking place to ensure their safety rather than nature's course.

*

Went to Columbus Folk Festival this past weekend where I heard and watched an interesting and eclectic group of young women perform a wide variety of songs - from dirges to up-tempo favorites. They sounded good but the lead female singer had a distracting habit of talking and sometimes singing out of the side of her mouth. It almost looked like she was being ironical.

The fest was over by 4, so I headed nearby and walked those oh-so-familiar woods at Darby, nature's art museum. Nice spring atmosphere, wildflowers of yellow, white and purple. Over the course of the walk the trees and flowers begin to take on personalities or become “humanized” . You can see why the psalmist wrote of sun and moon declaring God's praise not inertly, but somehow animately.

The weather was flighty, prone to moods of wild ambient temperature swings: from sunny and windless 75 degree felt-temps, to cloudy, 20mph winds that produced felt-temps of 55.

There are times there's no greater pleasure than reading my handpicked anthology of web articles delivered to my Kindle. They are from disparate sources: Catholic magazines, Vanity Fair, the New York Times, The Atlantic and blogs. And today I was really in the mood for it and so I sat and read about the supposed demise of Twitter, how OSU bball superstar Greg Oden went from number 1 pick in NBA draft to playing only a few games as pro over the past five years, an article on John O'Hara's 1932 novel set on the edge of the Great Depression, and a long piece on Salman Rushdie's life living under a death sentence (an almost Chestertonian sentiment from Salman Rushdie: “The fact of being alive compensated for what life did to one.”). Feel a greater sympathy and appreciation for Christopher Hitchens, for his beautiful and inspiring loyalty. His great friendship with Rushdie, I think, is the hermeneutic for subsequently brave if misguided stands, specifically his turn towards a more militant atheism and his support for the Iraq War.

*

I always think carrying my cross as a noble and meaningful thing until I'm actually in the moment carrying my cross. Then it seems utterly uninspiring and un-meaningful. Alas.

*

Dreams of late have been of piss-poor quality for whatever reason. I expect better production values and better storytelling in my night theatre. Or, at the very least, not to recall anything at all. Dreams should be seen and heard but not remembered in the morning.

*

I like going through my books and finding a dozen or so to sell to Half-Price Books. This time I went with a strong line-up of worthy also-rans:

1. Noonan's *The Case Against Hillary Clinton*
2. *Fried Green Tomatoes* novel
3. Maranis biography of Bill Clinton
4. Bob Greene book on Michael Jordan
5. Roth's *Portnoy's Complaint*
6. Mario Puzo's *The Scillian*
7. Bob Woodward's *Shadow*
8. Peter Robinson's *It's My Party*
9. Frommer's 2003 Guide to New Orleans

I like finding weak books in my library because it does four things:
1. Makes the library stronger by removing waste
2. Saves me space
3. Earns me an extravagantly small sum of money $2-4 from Half-Price
4. Gives me an excuse to go to Half-Price, which has not a bad selection.

*

Impressed by the wisdom of Gamaliel in the Book of Acts who said if Christianity came from God, "you will not be able to destroy it", which is similar to God promising that the gates of Hell would not triumph over His Church. Gamaliel added: "you may even find yourselves fighting against God" which suggests God and His Church are one body. Fight the Church, you fight God.

*

Puppy palooza at the local ball orchard!:



May 07, 2014

Sex

Alain de Botton via NRO's Jim Geraghty:
Only religions still take sex seriously, in the sense of properly respecting its power to turn us away from our priorities. Only religions see it as something potentially dangerous and needing to be guarded against. Perhaps only after killing many hours online at youporn.com can we appreciate that on this one point religions have got it right: Sex and sexual images can overwhelm our higher rational faculties with depressing ease. Religions are often mocked for being prudish, but they wouldn't judge sex to be quite so bad if they didn't also understand that it could be rather wonderful.

May 01, 2014

Un-Imprimatur'd Thoughts


Nice May day, the famous world work day (should we get off work for it?)

Charitable interests today included Blessed Margaret fund (fresh, local, authentic as the sign at the North Market says) and Kiva.

Kiva.org was a real pleasure since I found a Catholic group to join and one of the members, a Martha from California, had the goods on worthy loan recipients. Don't know how she found them, but looks like she did a lot of research to find Catholic groups, often recipients with especial charitable attractiveness, such as a widow with eight children. A really smart charitable donation is like making a long basketball shot and ideally should make me want to sacrifice in other areas to be able to increase the donation since as Jesus said the widow who gave the mite was the biggest donator.

*

More delicious Richard Burton prose:
It was not mine intent to prostitute my muse in English, or to divulge secreta Minervae, but to have exposed this more contract in Latin, if I could have got it printed. Any scurrile pamphlet is welcome to our mercenary stationers in English; they print all ———cuduntque libellos In quorum foliis vix simia nuda cacaret; But in Latin they will not deal; which is one of the reasons Nicholas Car, in his oration of the paucity of English writers, gives, that so many flourishing wits are smothered in oblivion...

I had not time to lick [my book] into form, as she doth her young ones, but even so to publish it, as it was first written quicquid in buccam venit, in an extemporean style, as I do commonly all other exercises, effudi quicquid dictavit genius meus, out of a confused company of notes, and writ with as small deliberation as I do ordinarily speak, without all affectation of big words, fustian phrases, jingling terms, tropes, strong lines, that like Acesta’s arrows caught fire as they flew, strains of wit, brave heats, elegies, hyperbolical exornations, elegancies, etc., which many so much affect. I am aquae potor, drink no wine at all, which so much improves our modern wits, a loose, plain, rude writer, ficum, voco ficum et ligonem ligonem and as free, as loose, idem calamo quod in mente, I call a spade a spade, animis haec scribo, non auribus, I respect matter not words; remembering that of Cardan, verba propter res, non res propter verba: and seeking with Seneca, quid scribam, non quemadmodum, rather what than how to write: for as Philo thinks, He that is conversant about matter, neglects words, and those that excel in this art of speaking, have no profound learning.
A lot packed in there: I thought of John Updike, whom many critics say was beautiful with words but without much to say. Also I loved the line, "Acesta's arrows caught fire as they flew." I also found it humorous that he says he writes without affectation of big words and fustian phrases when he does just that, repeatedly, and sprinkled heavily with Latin! Ha.

*

As much as the city of Detroit seems to be in straits, bankrupt and a “dead man walking”, the fact that there are still three major sports franchises centered there suggests Detroit's death/decline is greatly exaggerated? It seems like towns, cities, countries muddle through. Greece was in the news for months but now what do we hear? Little, suggesting Greece is muddling through. Even the fall of the Roman Empire seems exaggerated in that there were many centuries after the sack of Rome when the empire functioned more or less as per usual.

The world tells us that the most important thing is that the next generation have as high or higher standard of living than our parent's generation. But of course the real measure of success is spiritual. It speaks volumes that the media never, ever asks whether this generation will live up to the previous generation spiritually.


Nostalgia Break: A Book I Read Years Ago; you won't want to eat plants ever again after reading
*

I feel both guilty and exhilarated when on the commute to work I'm able to pass a myriad of cars waiting, in error, on a school bus. Ohio law allows you to pass by a stopped bus when it's a four-lane road and you're going the opposite way as the bus, but it seems few drivers seem to know this. So I pass on the shoulder/bike lane and suddenly it's all clear-sailing ahead! I feel a tad guilty because it's like I'm setting a bad example since it looks like law-breaking to them and what if they decided to do the same on, say, a two-lane road? Plus they surely think negative thoughts about me, which is hurtful to their peace-of-mind.

*

This morning I hit “door close” on the elevator because there were other elevators opening up and lo and behold this older gentleman tries to board and the door closes on him and he drops a full cup of coffee on the floor and partially on me! He was apologetic and when I asked if he wanted to get another cup he said that this meant he didn't deserve one. He said he's been working at the company for 30 years and it's the first time he's done something like that.

*

Surprised by the high-ish price of Jennifer Fulwiler's ebook $16.95. I always wonder about Ignatius Press ever since they decided to put out Scott Hahn's bible book-by-book. Seems a gambit to maximize sales, but then that's capitalism. And the demand for Jennifer's book is certainly very high, as can be seen by her being like around number 190 of all amazon books! Wow.  Great to see blogger make good.  [Update: ebook price more traditional $12.99.]

*

So the blogisphere is atwitter over comments supposedly made by Pope Francis to a woman married to a divorced man saying “a little wine and bread won't do any harm”. I was momentarily exhilarated in the Walker Percy sense (Percy always saying that we're only fully alive if we think the Apocalypse is tomorrow) because I thought: “Wow, that Malachian prophecy that the last pope would be a heretic is true and is happening now!”

Fortunately (as my better half would say) this is not the case. Turns out Francis didn't say “a little bread and wine”- that was made up by a British headline writer - and who knows exactly what Francis said to the woman.

So perhaps it's not that important. But worth keeping an eye on ol' Francis since he does seem capable of just about anything. He loves to surprise us, as Letterman said of Madonna.