January 31, 2006

Politics & Religion

Here's a master of the obvious statement: writing about political issues is a massive draw in the blogosphere. The heaviest hitters are political scribblers like Instapundit and Little Green Footballs, to name but two. One of the most popular among St. Blog's is the inimitable Kathy Shaidle, whose blog is a mix of religion and right-leaning politics. She writes (they say it ain't braggin' if you're tellin' the truth):
[It] just keeps going and going, btw. As this blog moves into its 6th year, January 2006 turned out to be its busiest month ever, with over 41,000 uniques. That's a 20% increase over the previous month, and more than 100% more traffic than this time last year.
I used to think that it wasn't a good idea to mix politics on a religious blog (though of course I do it -- see my blog title for the explanation). My thinking was that it's not good for a political party, or economic opinions, to become associated in some minds with Christianity since Christianity is apolitical and it will just urinate off all those whose politics are different. No need to turn off a percentage of your audience, right? But sometimes I wonder if it can't be a sort of crude apologetics tool. Curt Jester is a stalwart conservative and a papist while my brother-in-law is a stalwart conservative and a non-believer. I sent my bro-in-law a link to one of Curt Jester's funnier political posts since it cain't hurt to have him (my brother-in-law) nosing around the good Jester's site, can it? If Mr. Jester's site was all religion I wouldn't be able to do that. Who knows if there are conservatives who happen across the ever witty Kathy Shaidle's site and begin to form a more positive view of Catholicism? With her kind of numbers you never know...

Here Cathoholics had waited nine months for the new sheriff in town to put up the wanted poster, or maybe the "No Guns Allowed" signs, or something. Anything. What we got was an insightful, clear, and even moving exposition on Divine love. All to the good, of course; we heartily endorse Divine love. But now what?... What if he wrote Deus Caritas Est, not to pad the footnotes of a barrage of Notices from the CDF he's been preparing for two decades, but to teach the Church about Divine Love? - Tom of Disputations

I thought that iMonk essay was extra good, too. When I understood that I was part of a physical, visible and invisible church, then I also became physical and visible, if that makes sense. I finally realized that my littlest sin affects the entire Body of Christ, once I realized that the Body of Christ was real, now, in real time. Three guesses what I'm praying for regarding iMonk.... -Therese Z on Julie of Happy Catholic's blog

Isn't it odd, I thought the other day. Ironic, let's say. For the past three decades or so, "God is Love" has been shorthand for "Eviscerated catechesis," to the point at which many years ago when I first showed up to teach at Santa Fe in Lakeland, the students joked about my predecessor - a coach who moved on to try his hand at a career in sports agency - saying that for four years, the answer to every question on every test came down to "God is love." Well, the reality is - it actually does. Maybe Benedict will give us the gift of reclaiming the full meaning of what that phrase really means. - Amy Welborn

"Nobody in this story, and no outfit or corporation, thank God, is based upon an actual person or outfit in the real world but I can tell you this, as my journey through the pharmaceutical jungle progressed, I came to realize that, by comparison with the reality, my story was as tame as a holiday postcard." - John Le Carre.... I would add the observation that this tortured sentence contradicts itself on its own terms. First, it disclaims ("thank God") that the film's story has any connection to known reality and then ends by saying that had the author written what the author had actually observed it would have horrified us even more than this fictional account. - Ham o' Bone

Your comment about "God is love" being shorthand catechesis reminded me of something really profound said by the great Anglo-Catholic poet W.H. Auden. In the context of saying that the sacrament and the rituals were for him the truly life-changing aspects of the mass, he pointed out that most of the sermons he ever heard boiled down to sort of warmed over "you must love your neighbor" which, he noted, he already knew. - Commenter responding to Amy's post

Writing the book was by far the hardest project I've ever done. I'm so glad it's over. I used some Dawn Patrol material to get some of the chapters started, but 90% of it is new. Even the Dawn Patrol bits are heavily rewritten. I thought I was pretty sharp at the time I wrote those old entries—now I see that the difference between blog-quality writing and book-quality writing is vast. - Dawn Eden

Christ the King is designated as a charismatic parish, because it was founded for members of a community of participants in the charismatic renewal. As such, there are a number of special features to its liturgy, which is otherwise perhaps the most strictly observant of the Novus Ordo rubrics in the diocese...We also have ten men preparing for the priesthood: four graduate seminarians and two college seminarians for our own diocese, two for a neighboring diocese, and two for religious orders...We really are a community. Not because we have a modernistic sign advertising “The Catholic Community of Christ the King” out front—we are just Christ the King Catholic Church—or because of sentimental prating about “our parish family,” but because we really are one. People from the parish have living, supportive relationships with other members of the parish on the basis of our common Catholic faith...It is possible that a new bishop, advised by a typical batch of curial liberals, will destroy the particular character of Christ the King, I am praying that we can survive this crisis. If anyone is reading this, please pray for us. - Henry of "A Plumbline in the Wind"

[Catholic philosopher] Russ [Hittinger] insists that that our rather mediocre situation is not explained solely by the “politically correct mien” of the academy.. “But here is a hint—the decline of religious life: secular priesthood and those under evangelical vows. Whoever has the intellect, imagination, and patience to think this one through will reach the vicinity of the problem. And it might prove a lot more interesting, cutting in different ways (in cause and effect) than what you first thought.” - Joseph Bottum quoting Russ Hittinger's speculations on why Catholic influence in academia has waned

Serving the poor is a good thing, but so far as I know, no Catholic was ever martyred for feeding the hungry. - Jeff of "Hallowed Ground"

In explaining his views on love and sex in the encyclical, the Pope quotes from biblical writings, encyclicals written by his predecessors and the works of philosophers such as the 17th century French thinker René Descartes...Italian newspapers reported the encyclical as saying that even in "more just societies" Christians should do charitable works, not just for the benefit of others but for their own good. - newspaper report on the papal encyclical
You've Heard Of...

...authentic looking 'distressed' ballcaps, that make you look like you wore it a lot:

Can we be far from 'distressed' bibles that make it look as though they've been read more than they have?


January 30, 2006

More Pics...

  • The sights in Mexico.
  • Two of our dining companions at Jamaica. You might be surprised, but that's not his real hair.
  • Enchantment.
  • Sigh. All that's missing is Gilligan and the Professor & the rest of the gang.

    And...from a Presbyterian church bulletin in the Grand Cayman Islands:
    There will be no Happy Seniors in January.
  • A 1955 Prayer Book

    ...I have is particularly politically incorrect today. I love these glimpses into how dramatically and quickly a culture can change. It contains a line in a prayer for today's saint, St. Martina, that is inconceivable in today's environment where it's an affront to use the word "mankind" instead of "humankind":
    Oh God, Who, among other wonders of Thy might, dost grant even to the weaker sex the victory of martyrdom; mercifully grant that we, who celebrate the heavenly birthday of Blessed Martina, They Virgin and Martyr, may progress, through her example, ever closer unto Thee.
    Post-Trip Thoughts

    I always enjoy posting trip logs in part because I can bury any embarrassing commentary or disclosures in the mass of the thing. It always surprises me that people actually read them since I figure the length will daunt most people, per design. I figure only the hardy soul(s) who appreciates what I write will take the time to read it. It's funny and ironic when a trip log, like the one just posted, gets a larger audience than expected. But of course I'm obviously quite flattered and glad it did. And what a compliment.

    Vacation time affords a time of reflection, a fertile period for assembling a life narrative. That sounded awfully '70s didn't it? Stand by for a quote from Eric Berne or use of the word journal as a verb. My temperament has always been conservative, since it's long been obvious that we live in a fallen world (as anyone growing up in the Lord of the Flies environment of the typical grade/high school ought know). Life is fraught with unintended consequences (see Bush's Iraq policy) and I’ve long been wary of heaping too much on the frame of mind and soul, not wishing to foolishly test their maximum limit. I’ve never been fond of tempting God, of taking on risky adventures without some sort of mandate.

    It’s folly to take Zmirak's “The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Good Life” too seriously but it is funny, and anything humorous usually has the ring of truth. And the point made serially within is that you don’t want to keep too high a profile with God lest you be chosen. And you know who gets chosen right? Prophets, apostles, the Jews, Jesus, etc… And you know what happens when you get chosen don’t you? You suffer outrageously. But it occurred to me that I don’t know how you keep a “low profile” with a God with whom you talk to and receive in the Eucharist. It’s like keeping a low profile with your wife, with whom you talk with and have intercourse with. Nearly impossible. The best you can be is be honest.

    ...this meme, I would've asked the five questions but Curt Jester stole (well, you can't steal if you answer it first) at least two of my questions. So...

    Who are the first five people you'd like to see in Heaven?

    Jesus & Mary obviously. Also:
    St. Thomas Aquinas
    St. Perpetua
    My grandmother Ruth
    My great-grandfather James, whose demise in 1913 or after is a mystery
    My aunt Mary

    January 29, 2006

    Sea Trip Log

    The sea, once it casts its spell, holds on in its net of wonder forever.
        --Jacques Yves Cousteau
    Day 1

    “Buddy of mine told me that. Cracked me up.”

    So said the burly fellow from the East Coast who sat near us at the shipboard restaurant, shortly after telling his wife or girl friend the ancient joke that “it’s noon somewhere” when musing about whether it was too early to start drinking alcohol. And to think I’d always thought guys on the East Coast were ahead of those of us in the middle of the country. Not that I’m above using that old cornball, but I’m just saying.

    After a scant five hours sleep (bring out the violins and let the pity party commence!) we open the door to the cabin, called “stateroom” (because we all know language matters), and collapse on the bed. I wake up an hour or two later, groggy with a slight sore throat. I’d been fighting off colds for three weeks now, with more near misses than George Washington’s army. The pressure was on - I couldn’t get sick on a cruise. So despite eating only three hours ago I knew the cure: more food. My father seems to think that food is the answer to minor illness, which always struck me as quackery, but it really works. Two “free” pieces of cheesecake later (and a ham sandwich) and I feel better than I’d felt in hours. I realize I can either get sick on this cruise or gain weight and I’m betting on the latter. The sheer availability of food is astonishing, all the more so by comparison with its unavailability at our house. Food without cooking (or waiting and paying for it at the point of sale) feels wrong - it’s as though God wills food not be so easily gotten, for the brow must sweat for it.

    I hit the ship’s library early. The sight of the sea from the harbor gave me a hankering for Coleridge's Ancient Mariner or maybe Herman Melville. They don’t have them (what kind of sea library is this? I see no Patrick O'Brian either). I walk out with Murakami’s “After the Quake” and a Bill Bryson travelogue through Europe. My ancestors arrived one hundred and fifty-nine years ago on coffin ships but this is anything but. The unreality of the interior is leavened by the scene from the balcony, the water rushing by. Nature as an antidote for mediocrity. You can’t look at the ocean and be uninspired, its very inexhaustibility is a foretaste of heaven. The bigness of this landscape requires something bigger than Bill Bryson, something more epical, like Belloc’s “Hills and the Sea”.

    Sunday Mass today and the priest didn’t pull any punches. A retired military chaplain who derives his salary from Uncle Sam, he’s a ‘free agent’ who can pretty much say what he wants without any repercussions from peeved parishioners or bishops. And he does. It’s really odd how every time my wife, an evangelical, goes to Mass with me, the priest makes some sort of negative reference to Protestantism (although he admitted that term is almost meaningless since it runs the gamut). It’s odd because on 98% of all Sundays there’s nothing said that any evangelical could possibly take offense. (Later I would overhear my wife refer the ‘Catholic Church’ in a haughty, William F. Buckley voice, during a conversation with her sister.)

    He pointed out his fellow ex-military retiree, an evangelical “Holy Roller” he calls him. And they get along fine. The holy roller accompanies him for meals and sits in the audience at all the daily Masses. Most novel was the ‘Q & A’ period this priest has after homilies. Today he was asked how he reconciled free will with Jonah’s refusal (initially) to serve God. Fr. Jose said that the OT is not the New and that we are in a new dispensation. In the New, God tells us to turn the other cheek while in the Old it was “an eye for an eye”. In the New Testament, God holds his hand out and we can either accept it or not. Free will. Fr. Jose also mentioned that with prayer we have a constant hotline to God – like the Kremlin had to the White House. “No one can do what I do. No one can confect the body of Christ from the elements of bread and wine. Oh there might be a priest or so somewhere amid the 4,000 onboard but none has the jurisdiction to change the bread to the body of the same Jesus who walked on the earth 2000 years ago.” Pointing outside the room, “oh and I don’t care if no one outside this room knows it.”

    At the pool, the downside of capitalism is seen: no dollar is left on the table. That is, every square inch of deck space has a lounge chair, each recliner so close to the other that it feels like a large communal bed where everyone is wearing less clothing than the typical pair of pajamas.

    The sea is remarkably uncapturable in photograph or words. In that way it’s like St. Peter’s in Rome. Bill Bryson says much the same in his trip to Rome of St. Peter’s. He said he’ll never think of any structure in the same way after seeing that one. If pictures of the ocean or St. Peter’s are ineffably puny compared to their actuality, I can’t even begin to imagine how pale my pictures of God are compared to God Himself.

    Day 2

    My favorite moments on a cruise are inevitably the breakfasts, which are, for all practical purposes, breakfasts in bed. You circle what you want on the room service menu the night before and magically it appears within a given half hour specified the next morn. We mark the menu like naughty children, seemingly extravagant in our requests and yet we eat it all. We’re responsible even in our irresponsibility. To waste food because it’s “free” (or pre-paid) is still a foreign concept, though one that is beginning to seem less foreign.

    I pick out a book to read. An early choice is Randy Wayne White’s “Captiva”, and lo and behold just one week after I quote Zippy and say there is no such thing as coincidence I read this sentence from White’s novel: ‘There is no such thing as a coincidence.” Now there’s a coincidence that negates my previous statement.

    Today is Labadee day, a Royal Caribbean beach on the edge of Haiti. Ten minutes after I say the groaner, “it’s hotter than Haiti”, a bastardization of “it’s hotter than Hades”, we overhear a stranger say the same thing. Cliches are us! The couple we’re here with joins us lounging on a sunny part of the beach. The boat looms large in the mid-distance and has about it a benevolent presence, feeding and sheltering us as it does. But feed and shelter it really does to the Haitians in the area.

    Like West Virginia she’s almost heaven, though almost hell to her inhabitants, eighty percent of whom are unemployed. This is a state you so want to succeed – predominantly Catholic and the first black republic. We go on a historic walking tour and the guide was grim about her future. He also mentioned the comeback of voodoo and gives examples of how it kills the local economy by making people afraid to take the jobs of those who have been fired. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, only the old people practiced voodoo. It was dying out. Now many of the young do, perhaps 20%, perhaps even the tour guide himself.

    He was 7 or 8 years old when Royal Caribbean came and leased this beach area from Haiti and nothing was the same after for the little Labadee village. Before they lived in mean mud huts with thatch roofs and no telephone or electricity. Now they have houses made of modern materials and phones and electricity, all compliments of Royal Caribbean (there is no electricity bill in the village, he says, RC takes care of that.) Labadee village is off limits to tourists due to security concerns but it is where the workers come, the tour guides, the musicians, the sellers of cheap folk art. He’s glad there is no way to get to the beach from Labadee village except by boat, there being no paved roads, because it “keeps the bad guys out”. The less accessible the better - “let them swim here,” he says, and we laugh. He speaks excellent English and is obviously grateful for the money and education he’s received thanks to RC. (The money is $12 a day plus tips, which goes extremely far in the Haitian economy, such as it is.)

    His gratitude is touching and I wonder how long it will last. At 28, he’s seen the before and after though his children won’t. He’s a “convert” in a sense and his children will be “cradles” and consider RC a given, an entitlement even though Labadee is among the riches of all Haitian villages. He reminds me I ought be more thankful for blessings both spiritual and material.

    He said Haiti functioned well when it ate what it produced, which is basically the story of Africa. Subsidence farming seems to work better than having just a toe in the industrial world. They don’t want to eat potatoes or fish, they want french fries and trade for it. Perhaps french fries are to Haitians what alcohol was to the Indians. They have to go eight to nine miles off shore to catch fish and then take it far to market in order to buy…french fries. The human tragedy in a nutshell.

    At the Haitian flea market I didn’t see much I wanted. They are tireless pushers of merchandise and I tell one honestly that what I really need is a watch, pointing to my wrist. It had been lost or stolen on yesterday while laying out on the pool deck. Losing stuff is never a question of “if” but “when” which is why I buy $20 watches and $8 sunglasses. I, for one, am grateful for a society that produces disposable things since I manage to lose them anyway. Quality, schmality, that just makes the losing the harder. So the salesman gets the attention of one of his buddies and next thing he’s taking the watch off his wrist. Where, I ask, in America will somebody sell you if not the shirt off his back then the watch off his wrist? Nowhere. And it’s kind of sad it happens here, although I expect he can get one much cheaper than the money I gave him so he made off fine.

    This avuncular host went off his rocker when he began to talk about voodoo. He explained how there are many zombies walking around, and that one of them he hired to tend his garden. Zombies are those raised from the dead by a voodoo priest. He also explained that he doesn’t eat steak because only some people can tell whether it’s the meat of a bovine or meat of a bovine who was changed into a cow but is really a man. Something like that.

    Time waits for no man and the whistle doth blow. The ocean mist gathers about her shore-ish hem as we make way, following the relentless Western ache for adhering to schedules. Haiti leaves us in the gloaming, and leaves us all a little poorer. But I recall the fervor of the tour guide, who stared at me unnervingly during his long soliloquy on voodoo. Very unnervingly. He even pointed to me saying, “You’re a businessman and you hire me and then fire me and then you replace me with someone, I might go to a voodoo priest to have my replacement killed.”

    At dinner tonight Tom told us that he hated cheese due to a traumatic childhood accident. He’d gotten Dominos, or maybe Donatos, and the pizza was very hot and the cheese stuck to the roof of his mouth. Ever since then he has sworn off pizza in particular and cheese in general which seems a shocking lifetime loss. Post traumatic cheese disorder is nothing to laugh about.

    Day 3

    The sea forms a bright clear line at the horizon, neat as geometry, as ordered as a chess set. The clouds hang like poignancies, phantasms of unreachable nostalgia, the kind that induces a sort of physical thirst. Wind whipping on the balcony, I wonder if this is how it felt to be on watch on one of Buckley’s sailing trips across the Atlantic.

    The cruise director and I are at cross purposes. I want to be bored, to have time to stop and recharge the batteries, to gaze out at the full sea like a lover, to paraphrase the Little River Band. Our cruise director wants to distract us, make time fly and make it less of a “nature vacation” to the extent one can make a trip with 4,000 others a nature vacation.

    The worst time on this cruise might’ve been the short episode at the Casino Royale, where the crowds were so thick you couldn’t move and where the master of ceremonies was supposed to draw winning tickets but was taking his time about it, first having us look under stools for some free gaming coupons. Getting over-stuffed people of a certain age to squat on a rocking boat looking for gaming coupons is a tough sell, and he complained about how so few were found. It’s funny that gambling is so popular and yet I relish it so little. Would I were a Baptist I could start off 33% righteous.

    The shows on board are generally cotton candy entertainment. Jugglers, magicians, flashy dancers. But tonight this man seems a cut above. He produces a thrill-chill moment when he sings “Mr. Bojangles”. He set it up by explaining how Sammy Davis Jr. changed his life. Said he saw one performance and quit his moderately successful rock band, the one that took him all over Europe. For the first time in his life he was hungry, with no source of income except the joy of impersonating Sammy’s music. Probably not the most paying gig in the world. Eventually he opened for Bill Cosby and before the very first performance he had a special guest. Sammy Davis Jr. himself.

    My reading list has expanded. New entrants include Arroyo’s “Mother Angelica”, baseball manager Jack McKeon’s autobiography, and Martin Dugard’s “The Last Voyage of Columbus”. McKeon is a lover of cigars, a former manager of my beloved Cincinnati Reds and a daily Mass goer devoted to St. Therese of Lisieux. How can I not read his autobiography?

    Stories of saints, or near saints like Mother A., are oft perfumed with the scent of predestination such that one is tempted to say, “oh they were saints because they’re supposed to be saints” as if that charism is limited to them and others like them. And yet God must go to extreme measures to show that we are nothing without Him – such as in the Old Testament where the Israelites’ army was about to go into battle and Yahweh had only a tenth of them go in. An impossible situation made possible only by God. Renewal in the Church has to come about similarly, through a great saint whose actions can only be ascribed to God. God is a ‘credit mon’ in our household parlance, and rightfully so, being not just the source of love but Love itself.

    We live in an odd grace/free will atmosphere, that impossible admixture, where sinners prove free will exists and saints prove that grace exists. It’s sort of disturbing that there’s more sinners than saints around though it’s not as binary as I make it out to be since it’s a journey and we’re in a contiuum. Sometimes I think the tragic-comedy is the saint and the sinner meeting and each immediately thinks of the other: ‘your life is so hard’. Sanctity is hard but then so is sinfulness, at least in the long run.

    Saints are good for despair and for presumption. For despair because they offer hope. The apostles, seemingly picked at random, were average sinners who became saints. For presumption, they offer unnerving acts. Like St. Augustine, who sometimes didn’t take the Eucharist due to a sense of personal unworthiness, and who, on his death bed, recited the penitential psalms with tears. Saints are *really* sorry for their sins, which is the opposite of presumption.

    Day 4 (if you’re scoring at home)

    It’s 11 am and somewhere Jerry (not his real name) is drinking. He is a happy drinker and he certainly knows what he’s here for – drinking and gambling. He’s not getting distracted by musical shows or ice dancing or rock climbing. He closed down the casino – 2:30 am – which is the time of night I haven’t seen since I was 26, other than waking up in the middle of the night due to insomnia. You gotta say he’s getting his money’s worth, except you have to pay for the drinks and the slots. He’s subsidizing the rest of us, keeping the cruise price down. And I’ll drink to that.

    Financially speaking, there are levels here, starting with the crew, who come from second and third world nations and who are able to send home serious money to support their families (serious money at least in terms of their respective economies; they work extremely hard, but grumbled only about next week, when the ship would be chartered by group of all homosexual men). One level up are those who don’t drink and gamble, and who thus support the crew members. Another level up are those who do drink and gamble who support those who don’t.

    Went to “Stingray City” today, which isn’t a real city but a spot off the Grand Caymans. (It seems you can tell the wealth of a Caribbean island by its degree of flatness, and the Grand Caymans are very flat and very rich.) Forty years ago fishermen used to come to this shallow sand bar to clean their fish. Stingrays came in great numbers to feed off the entrails. And a tradition was born that continues to this very day in the form of tourists feeding them.

    We were on a tour with a large extended family from Philadelphia. The 40-something man with graying hair at the temples is sitting next to his mom and has a tattoo just above his ankle that says “Mom”. Sweet. The men in the group are very talkative and funny, which seems a common trait among large Philadelphia-area families.

    We were passed to increasingly rough-looking characters. Levon was a baby-faced man with a wispy mustache and Spanish features. Then we went to an old bus driver and a woman who, by way of emphasizing a need for tips, told us she is struggling to feed her baby. We were then taken to a fishing boat where two lean and weather-beaten dudes promised us a “three hour tour, a three hour tour”. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Miguel and Manuel were both missing a distracting number of teeth. They did a good job, their dark skin and wiry frames perfectly suited to the task.

    We get out into the three and four-foot high water and the guide holds a stingray for us to kiss as a photo op. He also gets a picture of us with a stingray behind us, horizontal and belly side up, looking in size and shape like the the cartoon character the Tasmanian devil.

    Day 5

    God is good. I’d marked 8:30-9:00am as breakfast, per my wife’s preference, though it meant I’d not be able to receive Communion at Mass due to the hour fast. Yet, inexplicably, breakfast came not only in the 8-8:30 half-hour but early in that half hour. I looked at my watch after that last sip of coffee: 8:28. Later, I looked at my watch as the priest began to distribute Communion to the fifteen souls: 9:28. Wonderful!!

    Fr. Jose is a curious mix of “conservative” and “liberal” tendencies and thus pleasingly unpredictable. He emphasizes that God is just, that he can’t imagine serving a God who is not just, and that no repented sin goes unforgiven but that all sin must be “paid for”. “You have to pay,” he repeats in his Cuban accent. The story of David illustrates this, he says, in that David’s child with Bathsheeba was stillborn and that his dream of building the Temple would not be fulfilled, but would be by his heir. He goes on to say that criminals ought to have to work each day instead of enjoying three squares and a television and such. Fr. Jose also shows a softer side. He says that mortal sin is extremely difficult to achieve.You have to basically say to God, “to hell with you!”. He said in the early church only three sins were considered what we would call ‘mortal’: killing someone, committing adultery and blaspheming (apostasy). He said it was the Middle Ages when monks got carried away with imagining that falling asleep during the Divine Office was a mortal sin and this lead to scrupulosity. He said back in the ‘40s the Dominican brothers taught him that you could steal $4.99 from your parents and it not be mortal, but $5 was. So he got to thinking you could just keep stealing $4.99 indefinitely. It would seem the Church pre-Vatican II was not as spiritually healthy as many children of the ‘70s might think.

    The 35-minute ferry ride today to the Mexican mainland from Cozumel was almost like a glimpse into Purgatory. The waves were tremendous and the seasickness fierce. Within ten minutes people were wailing and within twenty perhaps a third were vomiting. A man handed out plastic bags to everyone saying “just in case”. The crew was ready for this even if we weren’t.

    My wife closed her eyes and tried to block out the noises and sights of the sick, the power of suggestion being what it is. In the beginning it all had seemed almost funny, like a ride at an amusement part. Soon I had to loosen my belt and unbutton my pants and I began to perspire, the precursor to your basic vomitation. I managed to make it without throwing up, though I could’ve kissed the terra firma of Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

    We went to the ruins at Tuluum, the site of the Mayan temple and city. Afterwards, a child of nine or ten tried to sell an embroidered handkerchief for ten pesos. That’s a dollar, which I knew, but I had some sort of brain fade and I thought that was ten cents. I kept offering her a quarter, and to make matters worse I offered to take multiple kerchiefs since I thought I’d offended her pride by overpaying. For dumb American tourists I’d wished she’d have said “One dollar”.

    Day 6

    The ship is replete with little undiscovered nooks and crannies. This was our second cruise and I didn’t realize there was a little cigar haven, with lots of leather chairs and a calming, rich décor, a refuge from the frenzy of the promenade. It’s full of dark polished marble and Aztec imagery, which reminds of how ironic it is to be going to Mass at the Ixtapa Theatre, with its statues of Indian gods. It’s like how David made pagan Jerusalem the Holy Land and how Christians made pagan Rome the seat of Peter.

    Earlier I’d relaxed in the hot tub – the early bird gets the worm and the hottub – listening to a Chieftains tune and watching the ocean beyond, like a vast blue moving sidewalk. It reminds me of spring break Ft. Lauderdale circa 1986, an age of constant drinking and no detectable inner life. One moment resounds with absurd clarity; standing by a pool that overlooked the ocean, the bright blue of the pool segueing to the deeper blue beyond. I had, not surprisingly, a beer in hand and Marty was nearby with the camera, ready to record for posterity my holding it aloft, like the Statue of Liberty carrying her torch, and the subsequent fall into the warm bosom of the still waters. To this day the sight of a pool next to the ocean awakens that memory. Sin was in the spring break air and I was pulled in equal and opposite directions like a wishbone. I wanted, naturally, to have it both ways.

    I read a bit of McKeon’s book. His idea of exercise isn’t bad. He walks 2-3 miles smoking a cigar while saying the rosary before games. He matter of factly says that he prays and goes to church because it makes him feel good, like he can handle whatever challenges the day brings. His simple spirituality is heavy on petitions and gratitude and how “when God closes a door, he opens a window”.

    I have a theory there’s more creativity and eccentricity in small towns and religious folks than in cities and the more secular. They say that saints are very dissimilar because they are more uniquely themselves, not putting on airs. McKeon seems eccentric in the right ways. Daily Mass is an eccentricity I suppose but more impressive is how nonchalant he is and was with respect to his career. In a profession with little security, he’s not concerned because he knows God will take care of him. He also did other eccentric things, and offers a host of them, like the time he sent a batter to the plate without a bat since the team wasn’t taking enough pitches. Or the time as a minor leaguer when he ran out ground out and continued to the foul pole in right field, climbing half way up. Perhaps eccentricity thrives in small towns and religious people because both possess more feelings of security.

    Day 7

    This is the last day, a drinkin’ day, a day to reflect and visit more parts of the ship. The only time I feel rich is when I’m buying drinks onboard. $4.85 for a Guinness? $6 for a rum runner? I must be rich to afford these prices.

    I started out outside Two Poets Pub, listening to a violin player accompanied by two guitars. They were playing Hungarian waltzes and then “Moon River”, both having the hint of mourn appropriate to the last day of a cruise. A couple of elderly eastern European women happened by and are thrilled to hear the music. I can tell they are probably Hungarian because of their reaction to the music but also by their eyes and shape of their noses. One of them is thrilled to find a young couple dancing to the music of the Olde Sod, and rushes over to instruct but is taken aback when the girl suggests that she show her husband how to dance to this. It’s rare to see a babushka taken aback, and I smile. She says, “No, No, but you dance closer… Closer!” and proceeds with more of the impromptu lesson.

    By 4pm the 25mph winds on the top deck, and the increasingly fragile sun combine to create a climate unfit for swim suits. The guy in front of me actually has a jacket on. A guy with a tall chef’s hat is carving some sort of ice sculpture on the pool deck below us and the crowd is appreciative. Cruises seem like a nice fit for those with obscure, non-utilitarian skills like ice sculpting.

    I’m reading both Dugar’s “The Last Voyage of Columbus” and Bryson’s trip through Europe. While Dugar is sympathetic to Columbus, he takes cheap shots at the church like “luckily for Columbus, the Catholic Church wasn’t burning adulterers.” Bryson also made especial effort to say that the Church has done a tremendous amount of harm. But apparently no good. Dugard uses as his sources Durant and Tuchman, no friends of Christianity.

    Now the sun has dipped under a bank of clouds and I’m freezing but because it’s a Caribbean cruise I really can’t be cold, can I? Never trust your feelings except when they’re right. The wind topples a near full rum runner; earlier I’d lost my FDNY cap to a wind gust while jogging around the outdoor track.

    The end of a cruise is a fine time for multiple listenings of the Irish ballad “Kevin Barry”. It’s five pm – last drink o’ the trip and the ocean looks like a plowed field full of young crops made of sparkle. Or like white steeds galloping to the horizon. The sun rays in the distance emanating from the clouds would look corny in a painting. My head rests against the railing, soaking up the dying rays of this dying Gaul. The waves are lit as if from below, whitecaps tumulous as pregnant bellies constantly regenerating. The main glow is in the distance and I wonder if locals here in the Caribbean or residents of Southern California, where summer is perpetual, suffer a spiritual disadvantage since those in wintry climes understand the sun is to be shared, that her absence means she is giving succor to someone else. Do they lose the advantage of having to adapt to something larger than themselves or will they find it elsewhere?

    It’s been nice to spend consecutive mornings with my wife. How rare! The weekends are the only possibilities and on Saturdays she goes to Weight Watchers and on Sundays to our respective churches. The end of the trip would not be uneventful. We were rushed to leave the cabin since the estimated time that Royal Caribbean would call our group was 8-9am but ended up being around 7:45. I looked in the safe at least twice, saw nothing, but it was at eye level and there’s a ledge and you have to feel inside it. Big mistake. I never use safes in hotels, perhaps trusting too much of the hotel cleaners, but my wife thought it best to have it in the safe. So we went through customs and all the rigamarole and we’re about to board the bus to the airport when I notice my wedding band is M.I.A. We found a busy Royal Caribbean rep and she radioed someone ship board and then she disappears. Ten, fifteen minutes later she came back with the ring and a smile!

    Beautiful isle of the sea, Smile on the brow of the waters.
    --George Cooper

    Iguana at Tuluum

    January 20, 2006

    Posts Will...

    ...be scarce as I'll be traveling this week. Hold down the blogging fort for me.

    Update:  FYI, I added a few posts after this one today but pre-dated them so that this will show at the top.
    Whoda Thunk It?

    A year or so ago the blogging pheonomenon was such that I thought there had to be someone at X corporation, where X = my company, who was a blogger. There was a lot then in the news about bloggers getting fired for saying negative things about their employer and so I was sufficiently curious if anyone was taking their career in their hands at my own workplace. And I found someone and began reading her blog and website. Turns out she not only works for X, but works, or did until a week ago, one floor above me.
    Yer Out!

    Over at the parody blog, Ray Nagin just wants to get thrown out of the national conversation.
    Manna from Ignatius

    My favorite writer of biography - a Joseph Pearce interview!
    Interesting Comments

    Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said something like "you regret 100% of the shots you don't take". Well I end up regretting about 80% of the comments I make. I said something reactionary on Amy's blog, hardly worth the paper it's not printed on, while Henry Dieterich, probably the most underrated commenter around (I suppose he doesn't blog often enough to warrant most underrated blogger) answers commenter Whitcomb, who said in part, "If it's OK to read and study the Vagina Monologues on campus, why is it wrong for the college's theater department to put on a performance of the play?" Henry writes:
    I have some sympathy for Whitcomb's point, but I think it involves a misunderstanding on several levels. First of all, the comparison between the VM and a Nazi rally is apt in that the common element is advocacy...The VDay site demonstrates that the VM is similarly directed toward advocacy, although how identifying women with their sexual organs and deriding self-control could reduce violence toward women baffles me. The other works Whitcomb cites also have their point of view, even The Music Man (whose message--that a profligate fraud can improve the life of a town and win the love of a decent and intelligent young woman--may be the most immoral of all), but it is presented in a context whose purpose is to entertain and to provoke, rather than to direct, thought.

    Secondly, given that a performance of the work is an act of advocacy, it is within the competence of any institution to determine what kinds of advocacy it will permit under its sponsorship. In this present age, it is right that Catholic students should be aware of the views of those who despise Catholic teaching; but it is only responsible exercise of their office that the administrators of Catholic colleges should not permit advocacy of teachings opposed to those of the Catholic Church, whether they are expressed by the VM, the Ku Klux Klan, Bob Jones, or Osama bin Laden.

    In deciding what kind of advocacy to restrict, and in drawing the line between performance and advocacy, those who have responsibility must exercise judgement. That is why they have been put in these positions, and why institutions are run by people, not machines. Different ones may draw the line in different places. I think Fr. Shanley has drawn it in the right place.
    Morose Temperaments Think Alike

    What does it say about me that I'm temperamentally attracted to "doom and gloomish" bloggers (though with the exception of the perennially sunny Steven Riddle)? I like the 'realist' temperament because I share it, but that doesn't mean it's good for me anymore than eating a lot of chocolate is good for me. Many of my favorite bloggers won't ever be confused with the folks in "Up With People" (ouch, that reference shows my age).

    Bloggers like me should counteract that by reading the late Gerard, Steven, and Moneybags. And by reading the encouraging Word Among Us, which has been a great gift for which I am thankful.
    Fictional Friday

    James Michener Meets David Foster Wallace

    It was mid-August at the University of Mississippi when young gun David Foster Wallace, progenitor of the novel “Infinite Jest”, met seasoned hand James Michener, progenitor of single-named historical tomes of infinite length like “Alaska” and “Texas” and “Madgascar”.

    Differences in temperament were reflected in their clothing. Michener wore plaid pants with a shirt that was neither short-sleeved nor long-sleeved but something in between. Wallace wore a red kerchief and a black t-shirt with the words “What’s After Post-Modern?”.

    Michener was old school, doggedly piling up respectable Anglo-Saxon words on his Underwood and winning readers the way Chrissie Evert won tennis matches: with a relentless baseline game. Wallace was new school, showing up on campus with stacks of newly coined words that he served like flashy revolvers under the southern sun.

    Their advance men met and shook hands, followed by Wallace and Michener themselves. James extended his hand and David shook it, saying that he read him when he was just a boy.

    Then they stood twenty paces apart as called for by the script of any good Western. Wallace drew first blood: “Macarism!” he yelled before Michener could say "malapropism".

    Michener answered, “that’s easy. Noun. ‘Pleasure in another’s joy.’”

    Michener then said, “Tathagatagarbha!”

    Wallace paused and said, “A gimme! The eternal and absolute essence of all reality according to Buddhism.”

    “Tachyphylaxis,” said Wallace.

    “Rapid development of immunity to the effects of a drug, especially to those of a poison through previous ingestion of small amount of same,” answered Michener.


    “Engraver of gems.”

    And so it went, each taking their shot, until the sun faded and the bystanders who stood next to facades of old buildings left and only the stars in the heavens witnessed the rest of the exchange.

    "Bull," slurred Wallace.

    "a male bovine," said a very tired Michener.

    Fatigued to the point of drunken stumbling, they hung onto each other's shoulders for balance when Wallace said, "how about we co-write something? Like "Infinite Russia?"

    "Sounds good to me..."

    Update:  Just received a friendly email from a reader who corrected my spelling of "tathagatagarbha" which I'd erroneously gotten from another source as "thagatagarbha". I think I just moved up about eighty places on the list of blogs having the smartest readers. Not that my head is swelling or anything. (Although my wife is getting me an ice pack.)
    A Thin Read

    I'm underimpressed by Frank Gannon's "Midlife Irish", at least with respect of to his view of Catholicism. It seems "Catholic Lite", no more rich and capable of transforming us than a lite beer is able to satisfy the beer afficiando's palate.

    This version appears stripped of the miraculous, indeed of grace itself. Gannon pooh-poohs the idea that St. Patrick performed anything other than "magic", all the stuff of legend, but will he extend that to the apostles in the Book of Acts where a dead man was raised, or to the miracle stories of Christ himself?

    It was Archbishop Sheen who said the systematic weakening of Christianity has occurred in two distinct phases:
  • Denial (at the time of the Reformation) of the miraculous in the current Church, such as with respect to the Real Presence in the Eucharist

  • Denial (with the 19th century German scholars) that the miraculous happened in the early church or in the gospels

  • First undermine the visible Church and then the visible Scriptures. You're left with a pale version of Christ who was merely an itinerant preacher, not the Son of God Himself.

    January 19, 2006

    Belloc Online

    From Hills And The Sea (ht: Mr. Riddle):
    I am far from books; I am up in the Pyrenees...Lord! How dependent is mortal man upon books of reference! An editor or a minister of the Crown with books of reference at his elbow will seem more learned than Erasmus himself in the wilds. But let any man who reads this (and I am certain five out of six have books of reference by them as they read), I say, let any man who reads this ask himself whether he would rather be where he is, in London, on this August day (for it is August), or where I am, which is up in Los Altos, the very high Pyrenees, far from every sort of derivative and secondary thing and close to all things primary?

    They loved each other like brothers, yet they quarrelled like Socialists. They loved each other because they had in common the bond of mankind; they quarrelled because they differed upon nearly all other things. The one was of the Faith, the other most certainly was not. The one sang loudly, the other sweetly. The one was stronger, the other more cunning. The one rode horses with a long stirrup, the other with a short. The one was indifferent to danger, the other forced himself at it. The one could write verse, the other was quite incapable thereof. The one could read and quote Theocritus, the other read and quoted himself alone. The high gods had given to one judgment, to the other valour; but to both that measure of misfortune which is their Gift to those whom they cherish.

    For these ancient places do not change, they permit themselves to stand apart and to repose and—by paying that price—almost alone of all things in England they preserve some historic continuity, and satisfy the memories in one's blood.

    Of the complexity of the sea, and of how it is manifold, and of how it mixes up with a man, and may broaden or perfect him, it would be very tempting to write; but if one once began on this, one would be immeshed and drowned in the metaphysic, which never yet did good to man nor beast. For no one can eat or drink the metaphysic, or take any sustenance out of it, and it has no movement or colour, and it does not give one joy or sorrow; one cannot paint it or hear it, and it is too thin to swim about in. Leaving, then, all these general things, though they haunt me and tempt me, at least I can deal little by little and picture by picture with that sea which is perpetually in my mind, and let those who will draw what philosophies they choose.
    John Derbyshire on Jimmy Carter

    They say if you can't say anything nice about someone then you shouldn't say anything. So Derbyshire has plenty of nice things until...
    As a foreign-born citizen, I have always felt a tad ashamed of my loathing for Jimmy Carter. He is, after all, a very American figure. No other nation but ours could have produced this particular combination of dogged industriousness, earnest religiosity, public spirit, and shameless self-promotion. In externals, there is even something admirable about the man. He served his country, in the military and in public life, very conscientiously. He practiced business with modest success...His rise to the highest levels of office was driven at least in part by an earnest desire to do right by his fellow citizens. He claims adherence to a studious and generous style of Christian belief. His private life has been spotless, his administration down at the low end of the corruption scale. Very American. Yet it often happens that the purest breed of dog, with all the “points” perfectly developed, is sickly and ill-tempered in personality. So with Carter.
    Conservatism Is...?

    George Nash on Jeffrey's Hart's The Making of the American Conservative Mind
    As a corrective to ideological hubris, Hart’s morality tale is instructive. But prudential conservatism teaches more than one lesson. “The politics of reality,” unchecked, can be a snare. Realism itself can become a confining ideology. Adjustment to “actuality” carries its own peril in a too-easy assumption that the future must always resemble the present.

    Hart extols Ronald Reagan as a prudent conservative, and Reagan certainly was not reckless. But he was also an optimistic, proactive, and quintessentially idealistic conservative, determined to alter the reality of the Cold War. And he did.

    American conservatism at its Reaganite best is a combination of impulses — of realism and idealism, of prudence and hope, of worldly sobriety and faith-based aspiration.
    Here in Ordinary Time

    Living in Ordinary time.
    Living in Ordinary time.
    Gonna set my watch back to it
    ’cause you know that I’ve been through it.
    Living in Ordinary time.
       - to tune "Livin' on Tulsa Time"

    Take a look at a Lileks post, full of tales of flu and fury and daily activities with lines like "Well, it’s the middle of the day, and nothing’s happened." and yet also "I already miss the ring; that thing woke not just the dead, but dead Irish poets who died drunk..." I like the look of narrative, I like the cut of its jib and the fine ordering of paragraphs with words of varying length and complexity and humor like the line elsewhere seen of driving "to the limit of unticketability". But reading good prose is not completely dissimilar to watching kids fly towards a Slip 'n Slide - you want to play too. Reading as a kind of participatory sport.

    Indeed self-indulgent posts like this are crucial to defeat the creeping professionalism of blogs. Professionalism in the form of it having to say something of Deep Meaning when sometimes, especially in this our deep winter, we'd rather explore squirrel holes. "Go long!" we used to say when it was our turn to QB, "go deep!". Sometimes there's more depth in play.

    I've always taken pleasure and solace in statistics, where statistically something's always going on and where measurements give a faux sense of control. Old Farmer's Almanac has the goods on Old Man Winter, lays it all out for us, full of funny moon symbols and antique bromides. Winter, the Almanac says, consists of three months with temps averaging thirty-some degrees, Dec-Feb, and two months averaging fifty-some degrees, Nov & March. So it's a five month enterprise which means we are exactly half-way through. (I tend to gain weight over the winter due to a viscious cycle of making up for lack of exercise with increased food intake. Long bike rides past mirage-like farms are long past with only the stubs of two mile runs as replacement, carrying scarce desire for extension. But I find food is just as tasty, if not more so, than at any other time of year.)

    Complaining about winter is unworthy of breath or pen or 1s and 0s. In an age of central heating it would dumb-down the word 'challenge' to use it in connection. A "challenge" is being a soldier in Iraq or a mother of six. Still I am cheered by the calendar, not just in a metaphorical sense as in 'this shall pass' but in its physicality, it's sweet-tempered, saint-dusted presence next to my desk. There are green-dotted days (Ordinary Time), red-dotted days (remembering a martyr) and opaque-dotted days that fall into some sort of "All Other" category: Baptism of the Lord, St. John Bosco, etc... Every day a reason to celebrate.

    Cliches can be the most truthful and may even be the best way to say something, but I care too much for unpredictability. "A foolish consistency..." and don't we love to be surprised? I miss Kathy the Cheerful Carmelite and Dylan the poet, both fresh-voiced as summer-ripe blackberries. Now, trapped in prisons, their absence far from precludes the necessity of prayer but only begs it.

    On the scale of the surprising, we might place Alito-saboteur Teddy Kennedy at one end, who hasn't said anything interesting in twenty years. But is that so bad? Some say the Pope is predictable since he's never going to say "promiscuity is good" or "God doesn't always love us". Yes unpredictability is overrated, rare as it is in this time (like all times) where most live as prisoners of the age, parroting our opinions from Oprah, who incidentally and predictably, far from being embarrassed over the Frey situation, simply avers that if a book moves you, it's got to be true. Call it a defining truth down, or as Shakespeare wrote, "truth's a dog must to kennel".
    An Easier Prayer to Pray   (except it's not either-or but and-both)

    I'll never forget when a family member (not my wife) told me that she never prays that God's will be done but that her own might be done. I asked how she could still pray the The Lord's Prayer (i.e. 'thy will be done'). Maybe she just sort of glosses over that clause like the way I did with a phrase in the hymn "Whatsoever You Do" when I was an easily embarrassed kid, the part where it says "when I was naked you gave me your coat". (Sang as "when I was [cough, cough] you gave me your coat.")

    Perhaps she was just more honest than most. It's easier praying that we not be led to trial (that closely conforms to my will at least). But it's a legimate request, imprimatured on the best authority: Jesus himself requested we pray thus in the Our Father and in Luke 22:40:
    Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived at the place he said to them, "Pray that you may not undergo the test."
    Early Church Fathers weighed in on this verse, as recorded in the Catena Aurea:
    Bede writes: It is indeed impossible for the soul of man not to be tempted. Therefore he says not, "Pray that ye be not tempted," but, "Pray that ye enter not into temptation," that is, that the temptation do not at last overcome you.
    Theophylact: That is, that they should not be overcome by temptation, for not to be led into temptation is not to be overwhelmed by it. Or He simply bids us pray that our life may be quiet, and we be not cast into trouble of any kind. For it is of the devil and presumptuous, for a man to throw himself into temptation. Therefore James said not, "Cast yourself into temptation," but, "When ye have trials, count it all joy', making a voluntary act out of an involuntary.

    January 18, 2006

    That's Gotta Hurt

    (Title stolen from a line in a Hambonian screen play.)

    Zippy writes...
    One of the biggest tragedies in being over forty is that Guinness, even in small doses, now gives me blinding headaches. Red wine too. "Sulfites" they say, but me I think it is devilry from the sixth circle of Hell, perpetrated on me by my nemesis Asmoday. Can it be coincidence that "sulfite" sounds like the material that paves that particular street of perdition?
    There are no coincidences.
    Re: Hillary's Plantation Comment

    Barrel, meet fish. Fish, meet barrel.
    Narnia & 24

    Camassia enjoyed Narnia, with a few caveats including: "the sacrifice of Aslan is about as subtle as a piano dropped on your head." Funny line. I found the film similarly enjoyable and well worth seeing but I don't recall being as moved as I was by the latest episode of the television show 24. Jack in some ways seems more inspiring and Christ-like than Aslan, even though the show's obviously not intended to be allegorical of anything.

    Unlike Aslan, a Christ figure we can't completely identify with because, well, he's a lion (yes, it's an allegory and not a documentary), Jack Bauer is a flesh and blood human being. In Sunday's show we meet a surly teenage boy who drinks orange juice out of the carton, in direct defiance of his mother's order. In short, a sinner, though more unlikeable in his attitude and demeanor than actual sins. He doesn't trust Jack, doesn't think Jack has his or his mother's best interests in mind. Yet in episode two, while the boy is yet a sinner, Bauer lays down his life and surrenders himself to the bad guys in order to save Derek's life. Though Bauer underwent no passion, nothing close to the experience of Aslan, he did experience helplessness without a "loophole": Bauer is saved only by grace working through another human being, in the form of the completely unexpected arrival of an officious government minder with an eye for detail. Reading Jack's transcripts, he correctly identifies "flank 2" as a sign that Bauer was feeding them bad information under duress. And so CTU was able to get the bad guys. (Okay so it's a stretch...I just wanted to talk about 24 a bit.)
    Giving People What They Want to Hear Since Adam & Eve

    Cults fascinate me, at least the ones that grow big and successful. Perhaps most are diabolic in origin. If a founder of a religious movement was involved in occult practices you'd think that'd be a rather large warning sign ('Danger, Will Robinson!'), and yet many don't care, seeing mysticism as the mark of authenticity.

    That demonic forces helped in the creation of some religions makes sense because the devil can explain heterodoxy better and more pleasingly than most of us can explain orthodoxy. Same as it ever was:
    Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

    And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

    And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. --Gen 3:1-6
    Quin Hillyer in latest NR
    [Fred] Barnes and Bush both credit that mainstream American culture with more wisdom than the elites possess. That’s why it’s disappointing that both of them seem to think the broader culture doesn’t care much about fiscal responsibility. I believe they are wrong. Barnes dismisses “small-government conservatism” as a “theology” and its goals as a “fantasy.” But John McCain, who for better or worse is no slouch at discerning the zeitgeist, has become ever louder in calling for spending restraint, and the fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee is for good reason becoming increasingly powerful on Capitol Hill. The realization is growing that plenty of red-state Americans still believe that the phrase “small-government conservatism” is a redundancy, and “big-government conservatism” not just an oxymoron but an affront.
    Let's play...

    Why's My Bookbag So Damned Heavy?

    That time o' year again, the time I take a look see inside the old bookbag so as to explain why my shoulder is sore and why I'm always listing to the right. As one suffering from a dearth of fiction and poetry (advanced stage), I'm currently heavy on both but not exclusively so:
  • Bleak House - Charlie Dickens
  • Captiva - Randy Wayne White
  • Europe Central - William T. Vollmann
  • Padre Pio and America - Frank Rega
  • Will in the World - Stephen Greenblatt
  • Orthodoxy - GK Chesterton
  • Blogger Ambitiously Climbs Blogger Ladder

    LITTLE ROCK, AR--Taking Machiavelli's The Prince as his guide, Roger Bilderstrung is attempting to climb the ladder of blogger success.

    "I make sure to praise and link those who have bigger blogs. I also give props to 'the little people', smaller blogs who might one day achieve stardom and bring me with them."

    Roger measures his success by the number of hits and comments he receives.

    "Comments are good, because people like to see themselves in print. Even though they can always set up their own blog, comments allow another forum in which to air their opinions. I don't read them of course, I just keep track of the number and spreadsheet the relationship between comments received and the subject matter."

    Bilderstrung reports reading Ayn Rand's books too.

    "She knew lots of shit, man. Production is key, that's what it's all about. Production and marketing."

    Roger's blog currently averages 55 hits a day, though he says adjusting for lower weekend hit rates it's closer to 58.

    January 17, 2006

    ...And the calliope crashed to the ground

    Perhaps sensing that Social Security and Medicare are going to bankrupt us anyway so there's no point in fiscal restraint, Republicans are pork barrelling - during a war no less - with a vengeance. It looks like a key moment is coming up with the replacement of Tom Delay. My representive, Rep. Deborah Pryce has been reported as sitting on the fence between Blunt and Boehner which frankly surprised me. I don't see how Blunt can even be an option, unless friendships made in Congress override everything.

    Robert Novak writes,
    "Blunt has been complicit in the epidemic of earmarks, where Republican lawmakers far exceeded their Democratic predecessors in the amount of special projects inserted in spending bills without authorization or even a hearing. He also has been vigorous in obtaining earmarks for his Missouri district and uninterested in restricting the practice. He was among the party leaders who last year privately spanked Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the study committee’s chairman, for trying to cut back earmarks."
    Personally, I don't give a fig about travel, dinners on lobbyists, or even much on Abrahamhoff, Schambramhoff. The worst sin seems to be the constant taking money from the treasury without an honest vote. If Blunt makes it, it looks like Republicans will deserve to be in the minority again.

    Who gets to meet with the Pope these days[?] Answer: hardly anyone...(And to be honest, I find this totally understandable. The Pope is almost 79 years old and he knows it. Can you imagine being elected Pope when you're 79? Can you even conceive of it? This is a man who knows his gifts, seems to be intent on honestly discerning how God can best use him in the time he has, and knows how to reserve his energy. I think it also shows, to the haters of various types, how this Pope understand the office - as being, essentially, not about him, but about Christ, and that indeed, the business of the Church, while it finds an important unifying anchor in the Papacy, is broadly based. I like it.) - Amy Welborn

    This morning I was talking with a friend and it occurred to me that she had been spending too much time with the "heady" saints--the Dominicans, Benedictines, and Jesuits. Now, to say that these are "heady" Saints is to in no way demean them or to suggest that they are somehow inferior to those I'll call the "hearty" Saints. Rather it is to imply an initial focus and predominant means of access. St. Thomas Aquinas loved God very much, there can be no doubt. He loved God primarily through the work of his mind and the assent of his will to what intellect told it. I mentioned to her that she needed to read the "hearty" Saints. In my mind, the Carmelites and the Franciscans (of the major Orders). [These] writings tend not to be treatises and arguments, a la Summa, but rather distillations of personal experience and encounters with God. - Steven of "Flos Carmeli"

    Jesus said to me, "my daughter you have not offered Me that which is really yours." I probed deeply within myself...unable to see what it was that I had not given to the Lord. I said, "Jesus tell me what it is and I will give it to You at once with a generous heart." Jesus said to me with kindness "Daughter give Me your misery, because it is your exclusive property." At that moment, a ray of light illuminated my soul and I saw the whole abyss of my misery. In the same moment I nestled close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus with so much trust that even if I had the sins of all the damned weighing on my conscience, I would not have doubted God's mercy but, with a heart crushed to dust, I would have thrown myself into the abyss of Your mercy. I believe, O Jesus, that you would not reject me, but would absolve me through the hand of your representative. - St. Faustina of Heaven, where misery=sin

    Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading. - St. Isidore via Gregg the Obscure

    "I lift up my eyes to the hills./From whence does my help come?" We've seen it, seemingly millions of times, decorating greeting cards that invariably have pictures of Judean hills bathed in the warm glow of sunset. The sentiment seems to be that we can "draw strength" from contemplating the beauty of nature in the mountains etc. etc. That is a lovely sentiment and a perfect reflection of the notions of Romantic poets like Wordsworth or John Denver. Unfortunately, it has less than nothing to do with the actual meaning of Psalm 121. In fact, it is close to the opposite of what the Psalmist intended. For him, the hills were not sources of strength but sites of idolatry. When he lifted up his eyes to the hills he saw "high places" where idols to Baal, Asherah, or Moloch were erected and their rites of worship were carried out. Thus, today's verse, so far from being an expression of squishy sentimentality, is an act of brazen defiance against the culture of death that surrounded the ancient Israelite faithful to the LORD. - Catholic Exchange, via Julie of Happy Catholic

    I have no idea what goes on in hell. Maybe Atta was sent to 'time-out.' - Bill Luse, speculating on terrorist Muhammed Atta's afterlife

    While I'm away, the guests' Douay - Terrence Berres, who quoted the Douay Rheims copiously before leaving

    Read the old Catholic Encyclopedia article on limbo at newadvent.org. It seems clear to me that the concept of Limbo arose as an amelioration of the doctrine that all the unbaptized are damned. It was seen as a *merciful* doctrine. The Church seems to have moved from saying that all are damned unless saved by baptism to saying that all are saved unless damned by actual mortal sin. - commenter on Amy's blog

    My first posting on a blog was November 1, 2002. Since then I've posted on things big and small, wrote many silly things, often made a grammatical fool of myself, angered more than a few readers, encouraged others, and hammered out ideas and opinions that sometimes turned into articles or columns (a big benefit of blogs, IMHO). At times I tired of blogging, but I noticed that it was usually because (pick one) 1) I was too anxious to get dozens of comments and was depressed when I kept seeing "0 Comments", 2) too concerned about the number of visitors to the blog, or 3) someone had carefully and thoroughly demolished one of my perfectly written, cogently argued, and utterly balanced posts. Put another way, pride not only goes before the fall, it often goes public on the blog. Which is not to say I no longer struggle with those problems, but I'm far more mellow (no, really!) about blogging than I once was just three years ago (which, in computer time, is 285 years). - Carl Olson of "Ignatius Insight"

    When you find a good mortification let me know. I've been looking for a harsh mortification that will help bring me mastery over my body and passions but not really hurt. - Rick Lugari

    Saw a bumper sticker that said "Exercising my right to piss off the religious right!" and got really annoyed. I guess her bumper sticker certainly worked. - Pansy of "Peony & Pansy"

    January 16, 2006

    Defending Fiction

    ...from Patry at Simply Wait:
    One of the most disturbing thing about the whole James Frey brouhaha this week is that the book that sold 3.5 million copies was turned down by nearly every major publisher when it was offered as fiction.

    Why? Because readers like you and me wouldn't buy it if it didn't have the imprimatur of TRUTH on it. At least, that's how the editors at 17 publishing houses saw it. I'd like to say they were wrong, that A Million Little Pieces would have sold just as well as a novel, but somehow I doubt it.

    For the same reason that no one would watch a show about a bunch of college kids sitting around in their underwear whining or twenty-five women competing for a limp rose on THE BACHELOR if they thought (knew?) it was scripted, no one would have been willing to hold Frey's hand through 438 pages of vomit and bathos and teary redemption if they didn't believe it really happened.

    As a fiction writer, I'm rather proud that a book with no claims to factual accuracy is held to a higher standard. If it's not "true," then it damn well better be well written--and believable. Kind of ironic, isn't it?
    Novak at First Things:

    One cannot act merely the fair-weather friend, trusting in Providence when things go sunnily, despairing when the skies fill up with ominous clouds.
    The village atheist usually challenges believers in Providence to answer a couple of devastating questions. One of them is: “Well, if two opposing armies pray to the same God, how can Providence be faithful to both if it answers one, but not the other?”

    It was to such a village atheist that Abraham Lincoln directed his famous lines in his Second Inaugural, in which he conceded, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God.; and each invokes his aid against the other.” Lincoln then went on to provide the profound traditional reply: “The prayers of both could not be answered; the prayers of neither have been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes.” And then, to show the ageless continuity of orthodoxy he added: “shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?”
    A Plu-Perfect '70s Photograph

    As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past...
    I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
    where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
    a dance whose name we can only guess.

    - Billy Collins
    A New Mission

    Catholic Relief Services is introspective after the tragedy in Rwanda and is setting out a new course:

    [I]n April 1994, the genocide began – upwards of a million people murdered over a scant three months. All of our carefully cultivated development programs were destroyed. Peace had not been part of our mission.

    We took a hard look at ourselves. In the end, all the good work we did – the silos and schools we built, the children we fed, the farms we planted – wasn’t enough. After much reflection, CRS resolved to address not just the symptoms of crisis – the burned out houses, food shortages and refugee movements. We also had to attack the systems and structures that underlie oppression and poverty in so much of the developing world.

    We began incorporating a justice-centered focus in all of our programming. And we rediscovered a jewel in our Catholic tradition that has enabled us to do this effectively: Catholic Social Teaching.

    Catholic Social Teaching places the dignity of the human person at the center of all we do. With Catholic Social Teaching as our guide, we adopted a new strategy. We started to re-examine all of our work – our programs, our policies, how we relate to the people we serve, how we relate to the Catholic community in the United States, how we relate to one another as fellow employees of CRS – and evaluate our relationships in terms of whether they help to build a culture of justice, peace and reconciliation.

    For us, relationships count. Providing assistance can foster harmonious relations or reinforce imbalances in societies.We come for the long term. And we work with local people and organizations, soliciting their input and quickly putting them in charge of their own destinies. We also assess the possible negative impact that our aid might bring so we don’t inadvertently reinforce inequalities or distort the local economy. And we try to identify opportunities for building just and peaceful relationships among groups in the places we serve.

    We now know it’s important to consider not only the type of relief that is delivered, but also how it is delivered. CRS wants to avoid making the people we serve become dependent on the aid they receive. Catholic Social Teaching stresses the importance of upholding dignity as well as promoting self-sufficiency. We can’t do the work alone, nor should we.We work and respect local agencies, which are either already our partners or have the potential to become our partners. This is the true meaning of solidarity – not just writing a check, but concrete action on behalf of the suffering.

    January 15, 2006

    How Jack Bauer led me to St. Bridget of Sweden

    Tonight begins season 5 of the television show "24", starring Jack Bauer, a show I never much cared for until I got hooked on it. The premiere is more of a mini-series with two hours tonight and two new hours on Monday, which suggested I'd have to do some housekeeping on Tivo in order to make space. And that meant watching & deleting an old History Channel special on the Black Death.

    HC's The Plague presented the pope of the time, Pope Clement VI, in as awful light as they could possibly manage. They also errored on the side of doing religion absolutely no favors (though Christianity was not fingered as having actually caused the Plague, fleas & rats doing the dirty business, for which we can be grateful). In Pope Clement's case, his efforts to save Jews from unfairly being targeted was apparently much less interesting than the fact that he'd holed up, uncourageously for sure, in order to avoid the Plague. But we're used to this sort of stuff on the History Channel (see The Crusades, where after watching I learned to stop worrying and love Islam).

    But one of the joys of a home library is the ease of available information and the ability to follow your nose wherever it goes. So I read the alternative view of the history of the period via Johan Huizinga's books, Crocker's Triumph, various papal biographies, and Warren Carroll's books on the history of Christendom. And the range of opinion was interesting and provided a far more multi-dimensional view of the Pope and Church during the time of the Plague than I'd encountered in the cartoonish presentation on the History Channel.

    I grew curious at what the saints - credible sources since they are closest to the Most Credible Source - who lived during that time had to say. And in one of the books there was a mention of St. Bridget of Sweden, who moved to plague-ridden Rome in 1350. Having the name, I googled for her feast day and read about her at length in the marvelous 4-volume "Lives of Saints" set I'm blessed to have. (I also consulted the "Bad Catholic's Guide to the Good Life" but she didn't make the cut there.)

    St. Bridget's story strongly recalled St. Catherine's of Sienna's, who was a fellow mystic and contemporary who also wrote outspoken letters to popes in Avignon urging them to return to Rome. St. Bridget also did her darndest to convert King Magnus II of Sweden, which sparked a curiousity about King Magnus's life that my home library was unable to satisfy. Not a great loss.

    According to Butler's "Lives of Saints", the convents St. Bridget started (the Order would later be called the Bridgettines) were austere but had a pleasing loophole:
    All surplus income had every year to be given to the poor, and ostentatious buildings were forbidden; but each religious could have as many books for study as he or she pleased.
    Nice. My kind of religious order.

    January 14, 2006

    The Beer Drinkin' Dog

    Our dog loves beer. I can’t tell if he likes Beck’s or Guinness better though I suspect he’s more of a quantity man than quality. The best chance for him to catch a swill is at the very end or beginning of a bottle since this is when I’m most likely to notice his presence. Yet he sits expectantly throughout, eyes unblinking, not missing a move I make. He’s never unaware of my presence. I sometimes suspect he knows me better than myself, and in his watching me more closely than I do my master his raptness carries with it the hint of reproachment.

    A slow leak of saliva develops from the side his mouth but he is oblivious; he doesn’t wipe it with the cuff of his shirt or his paw-hand as a human might. He holds his ears at half-mast and I marvel he can do so seemingly indefinitely without fatigue. If there are muscles in those ears they are well trained. This is half-mast syndrome is known around our house as the “Flying Nun" look, for obvious reasons.

    January 13, 2006

    History Series

    Video Meliora aims to be a full-service blog but often lacks the gravitas to add to the national conversation. To remedy this I'll begin a series of historical posts, the result of copious research spent in archives previously unexamined due to excessive dust (previous researchers had allergies that are now treatable thanks to modern drugs like Allegra.*)

    Here is the first in the series:

    A Short History of the Irish Race


    After not finishing Seumas MacManus's classic "The Story of the Irish Race" it became obvious there was a need for a shorter history of Ireland. MacManus's opus spans over eight hundred pages, which no one with a life could possibly read. Iff possible, Eire's history should be condensed to a single post, and what follows is that 'umble attempt...


    The Irish race began under the cloud of myth, though this would not be the first cloud Ireland would experience. We think that Cuchulain founded the nation at Maynooth on May 12, 2313 B.C., with the help of the Milesians and the Tuatha De Danann.

    Pre-Industrial Revolution Ireland

    Everything about the Irish can be deduced from the weather on this sainted isle, which consists of winter days of extremely short duration followed by summer days constantly threatened by rain. These facts - augmented by a British nation whose mission was to make Irish life miserable - have produced a national pessimism that has been alleviated only (albeit temporarily) by wars.

    During the winters Ireland suffered from a nationwide seasonal affective disorder so severe that even wars were cancelled due to apathy and a craving for starchy foods. In the Time Before Fluorescent Lights the despair was so great that most people slept while it was dark and woke only when it was light. This was before the Industrial Revolution, after which the British outlawed sleep in order to keep the volume of English exports high.

    Post-Industrial Revolution Ireland

    The Irish coped during this period mostly by bumping serontonin levels, the chemical that makes the brain happy. This was done by upping carbohydrates in the form of alcohol, which was perfected in such a short time that it made the British suspicious. "If they are so good at inventing good beers and whiskeys then why can't they invent other stuff and grow more potatoes?" asked many a British prime minister.

    Ireland also dealt with unfavorable conditions by creating great works of art, primarily in the areas of storytelling and poetry. There are few Irish artists on canvas because every time someone set up their easel to paint a landscape it would begin to rain, and the rain mixed with the oil and canvas and ruined it. And so to compensate they imagined in words what they couldn't produce in paint. But far more importantly the fiddle could be played in wet weather, so Ireland became a land of great music, giving the world tunes such as "Finnegan's Wake" and "Risin' of the Moon".

    In 1916 the bulk of the British yoke was thrown off and the southern counties became the Republic of Ireland. Yet in the late 1970s a bill was passed by the Irish Parliament declaring that Ireland ought to become just like any other Western nation, and by 2000 this was achieved with the help of the European Union and a growing economy.
    * - Full disclosure: I was compensated for this endorsement.


    Exhibit from "Hall of Great Irish Inventions"
    Links, Using 80s Lyrics As Titles

  • On the politics of dancing. (or "Come Dancing" after the Kinks song.)

  • Video killed the radio star - from Kevin Jones on the propaganda aspect of film

  • Just call me angel of the morning - Central Ohioans spread the word!

  • Is There Something I Should Know? - Joseph Epstein on newspapers via Eric Scheske

  • We Built This City - pope praises quick Vatican remodel:
    "I had a small house built for me in Germany once," the pope told the workmen. "I'm convinced that anywhere else this project would have taken a year or perhaps longer."

    From a German pope to his Italian makeover team, it was a high compliment.
  • Books at the Library

    Our local public library has been regularly featuring titles concerning the new pope. Unfortunately most of them are either mixed or negative concerning the Holy Father. (The best they could do was John Allen's '99 biography of Cardinal Ratzinger, which was written when Allen was far more progressive than he seems to be now.)

    My current read is the wonderful "God's Choice" by George Weigel and I can't help but wish it would be featured in the New Non-Fiction section. There's almost no chance it will though and the needlessly provocative title doesn't help. Why Weigel chose a triumphalistic title I don't know unless he's playing to "his base".

    ...it's like shooting fish in a barrel. And sure, it's a form of comedy growing a bit long in the tooth but I still have the itch to reply to Nigerian scammers
    Blog Reader Sues Over Scissors Accident

    Portland, MA-- John Richardson, a reader of the blog Disputations, has filed a lawsuit against the blog owner, John da Fiesole, for suggesting that Richardson clip and save some of the sayings offered on the site. Richardson was injured while attempting to physically cut the computer screen.

       a crude re-enactment - please don't try this

    Attorneys for da Fielsole claim that it is common knowledge you can't cut a computer screen and that 'clip and save' was not meant literally. But Richardson insists that da Fiesole should've known that "somebody would try it" and should pay his medical bills and compensate him for accompanying mental anguish. The case is pending and is scheduled to be presented on NBC's television show, The Blogger's Court.

    the bloody aftermath
    Quick Quote

    "The same thing that brings you in the ministry can bring you out of it. If you're going to stand in front of group of people, you have to believe you know something they don't. And yet if you start thinking you know too much it will destroy you."
    - said by a pastor to young man considering the ministry, on last night's Country Boys
    From National Review

    Charles Murray on Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions:
    The policy arguments between liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, do not arise just from differences in priorities regarding freedom, equality, and security. At root, they draw from different conceptions of the nature of man. The Left holds an unconstrained vision: Given the right political and economic arrangements, human beings can be improved, even perfected. Success is defined by what people have the potential of becoming, not by people as they are. The Right holds a constrained vision: People come to society with innate characteristics that cannot be reshaped and must instead be accommodated. Success in political and economic policy must be defined in light of those innate characteristics.

    The difference between the Left of the 1960s and that of 2005 is that the politicians of the Left no longer believe in human malleability. The last two decades have refuted every basis for that belief, from the failure of Communism to the accumulating science of innate human nature. And so we end up with a politics of the Left stripped of the idealism that used to dignify even its most wrongheaded positions. The Left used to say that people were driven to crime by poverty and that the real crime was to punish them. Now the Left complains about too many people in prison, but it’s a cost/efficiency issue. The Left used to say that greater equality of income would lead to a happier society for everyone. Now the Left tries to play the envy card, but without the egalitarian idealism. On issue after issue, mainstream politicians of the Left no longer even try to appeal to the prospect of changing human beings for the better. Liberalism has become reactionary, trying to hold on to terrain it occupied in the Thirties and Sixties. Using Sowell’s language, we are watching what happens when Democrats have lost faith in the unconstrained vision of the nature of man and have not found anything to replace it.

    Then, during the 1990s, we discovered how much the vigor of the constrained vision depended on competition. With the Left intellectually moribund, politicians of the Right began to take the easy way out. It is understandable, because advocating the policies of limited government is psychologically uncomfortable. It requires a politician to say he wants to do things that will cause pain — cut benefits for young women with babies, scrub regulations that putatively protect the environment, or end affirmative action. A decent person can endorse such actions only if he believes that they are essential for the ultimate good, and that means being steeped in the wisdom of the constrained vision of the nature of man. In the aftermath of the Reagan ascendancy, when running and winning as a Republican became so much easier, we got more and more Republicans who wanted to be nice guys.

    January 12, 2006

    The Call

    The voice sounded like vintage
    wine poured from an old oak barrel.

    "Won't you contribute
    to the Grand Old Party?

    My heart hardened.
    "No," I said, fed up
    by a party abdicating
    reason and responsibility
    and having about them only
    the whiff of flaccitude.
    "Best they spend some time
    in the wilderness
    and lose so that the
    lesson might sink in."

    I hung up
    but the thought nagged:
    how can I wish wilderness on others
    and not myself?
    Old Missal/Breviary Page Bleg

    (click to enlarge - flip side here)

    Anybody know what this says? I'm thinking maybe Psalm 21 or 22? I purchased it on the Internet for only $30, so you know it's authentic. :) According to the documentation, "This leaf is from an imperfectly identified Roman Missal printed at Christopher Plantin’s press in Antwerp, Belgium, circa 1570." Who knows how many monk's hands this passed through? Pretty neat.

    Update: The very smart Henry of "Plumbline" comes to the rescue: The long scripture reading, which is continued on the other side, is the story of Jacob deceiving Isaac from Genesis 27: “In those days, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘I heard your father speaking to your brother Esau, and saying to him, ‘Bring me something from your hunting, and make food, that I may eat, and bless you before the Lord before I die’…” The psalm at the end of the first column is from Ps. 18: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is faithful, making children wise. The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament announces the work of His hands.” The rest are various liturgical prayers.

    Another emailer writes: The page from the Old Plantin Missal you have on your blog seems to have the Mass for the Saturday after the second Sunday in Lent. The Masses of Lent are amongst the most ancient in the Roman Missal.