March 31, 2006

Week in Review

Sigh...The lava lamp glows, picks up the goldish glitter of the volume's labels. From a certain angle the host of bookshelves look like Permanence itself, standing athwart time yelling “Stop!”. The rosewood hue, carefully applied by a younger self, takes on the garb of sophistication. Inside, the vintage 1940s encyclopedias hold themselves grandly and invariably remind me of my great aunt’s selfsame books, then behind the glass of a barrister’s case. Funny how in my own lifetime encyclopedias have become anachronistic. Video killed the radio star and Google killed the encyclopedia star. And yet they exude the preciousness and dignity that a past age always will. The acceleration of change (see Toffler’s “Future Shock”) means that we become nostalgic before our time.

Yet I'm nostalgic for nostalgia. I recall not too many years ago when an old John Denver song would send me into rhapsodic youthful ecstasies. Now? Well, is it too much to substitute the phrase "feelings and emotions" for war in Springsteen's cover of “War”? Play me an old George Strait song or Patti Loveless’s “Chains”. It’s been too long. Someone once said that art exists to recover sensations and so maybe I’m just shy of art. And sometimes just a stray note or phrase will remind me of the years spent on the plains of a campus where we were scarcely different from safari animals:
“Dry savannahs are the preferred habitat where grasses grow high and water is scarce. Under these conditions, prey animals gather at water holes — ideal hunting situations for cheetahs.”
Indeed, we gathered at watering holes of a different sort and preferred habitat with the privacy of high grass. Even the school's epi-center, the famous study spot called "The Zebra Room", implied a sort of African wilderness. We inhaled tradition from the school's outgoing president Philip Shriver, who honored us lowly Freshman by the passing on of the secrets. Inspired, we repaired to individual carols where we studied like our forebears. On weekends all quad angles led to the open windows of Stanton from which early Beatles' tunes wafted: "She loves you and you know that can't be bad..." - a couple decades after the song first came out.


Sometimes I think my interest in genealogy is sort of socially acceptable nosiness. Certainly the characters draw me in. I want to know if that first kid came sans benefit of marriage. It feels wrong to be poking about the affairs of the long dead when I’m leaving something of a paper trail my own self. (The semi-incriminating stuff I haven’t been able to burn yet.) One person is lately of especially keen interest. There she is in the 1880 census, fresh as life, and doesn’t the very ring of 1880 sound ancient? 1880 sounds like the old West and tintypes, horse & buggies and Jesse James. She was walking around my hometown then, down some of the same streets. Just forty years old and a widow. Not two decades removed from Ireland having survived the famine while still in single digits. There are stories passed about her that are disturbing and which seem to disprove, at least in this instance, the sweet Ireland of saints and scholars. As Mom says, the more you learn the more you want to know. Reading history is the ultimate arm-chair travel but like most arm-chair travel it induces a thirst to visit. We might be disappointed if we could time-travel but its very inaccessibility assures its allure.

Still, I’d like to visit Hamilton of 1880. Is there any resonance of Clan na Gael? What is the state of the Faith there and then? Rousseau applied to religion seeks to go back…back…back to the sources. I'm guessing 1880 isn't back, back, back enough (say like Chris Berman). We're all seeking that pre-Fall purity.

I think the “new celebrities” are the suffering, because Christ is closest to them: Terry Schiavo last year, as well as Pope John Paul II. In our own radius there’s my wife’s aunt Linda who has had an up and down life and now suffers from surreally painful cancer. God must be so close to her. Those are the people I can pray for most passionately, perhaps because they are heroes. My sense is that the ability to pray passionately for someone is proportional to how little they had to do with getting themselves in the mess they are in. Which is disturbing since I get myself in self-inflicted fixes and then pray for extrication.

Read the most remarkable passage from the book of Wisdom. It was like a documentary of Christ’s passion on the cross, written long beforehand. One part was eerily reminiscent of “come down off that Cross if you’re the son of God”. The passage (Wisdom 2:12-24) also reminded me of Dennis Prager’s argument that the reason Jews were persecuted is that they tried to live up to a higher law. Their neighbors didn’t like anyone holier than themselves. And certainly wasn’t that why the prophets got killed? As well as Jesus himself? It seems to suggest a lack of neutrality. But that’s what it’s about: choice. “You are for me or against me”.

...are those Cincinnati Reds. Let's enjoy it while it lasts. Opening Day is Monday and we're hopin' for a 2006 team earned run average under 7.
Peter Kreeft on Hell

Kreeft devotes a long chapter to hell in his book "Handbook of Christian Apologetics". He says he does so because it is the weakest link in Christian doctrine in the sense that it is, of all doctrines, "perhaps the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe and the first to be abandoned." We can hope that hell is empty but cannot believe it doesn't exist. (And I don't think any orthodox Christian really refutes that.) Kreeft thinks of it as a way of upholding God's love since they stand or fall together:
If there is no reason for believing in the detested doctrine of hell, there is also no reason to believe in the most beloved doctrine in Christianity: that God is love. The beloved doctrine is the reason critics most frequently give for disbelieving the detested doctrine; yet the two stand on exactly the same foundation.

Why do we believe that God is love? Not by observation of nature, any more than by philosophical reasoning; "nature red in tooth and claw" does not manifest love.

Not by science. No experiment ever verified divine love, or measured or weighed it or even observed it.

Not by conscience, for conscience is "hard as nails." Conscience tells us what is right and wrong and tells us we are absolutely obliged to do right and not wrong, but it does not tell us we are forgiven...

There is one and only one reason anyone ever came to the idea that God is love, mercy, and forgiveness - and only one good proof that this idea is true. That reason is the character of God revealed in the Bible, culiminating in Jesus Christ. The exact same authority which is our only authority for believing God is love also assures us that there is a hell.
Speaking of Iraq...

It's unfair to compare a newspaper to a book but if "Cobra II" and the Columbus Dispatch were meals, "Cobra II" would have the nutritive value of a full-course dinner while the Dispatch the value of a Twinkie.

To some extent that is unavoidable and understandable. The Dispatch doesn't have the time or contacts that authors Gordon and Trainor had. But the result is that the Dispatch presents a cartoonish view of the war, one dominated by opinion and human interest stories of injured soldiers, while this new book answers the questions we've had and fleshes out where things went awry and where they, less seldom, went right.

"Cobra II" is well foot-noted and seems generally bias-free - which feels almost anachronistic these days. I wonder to what extent bias is simply a product of a lack of information? Once you have access to information, the story itself is so interesting that perhaps you lose the desire to either make up or shape the story? I sound naive, I know.

March 30, 2006

Iraqi Christians

Bad news.   What we can do.
Book Lust

M'Lynn feeds my addiction...
Now That's Class

K-Lo of The Corner fame writes:
I read A Life That Matters : The Legacy of Terri Schiavo -- A Lesson for Us All last night and was struck by how gracious it is. It's written by Terri's mom, dad, sister, and brother. The siblings make clear they were never huge fans of their brother in law but her mother retains a remarkable respect for him (remarkable inasmuch as I wouldn't have been surprised if she simply hated him).

She writes about how in the early years after Terri's accident Michael "fought hard for his wife and was tireless in her care." That changed of course—he would go from fighting for her life to fighting for her death--but even in writing of the later years, Mrs. Schindler doesn't demonize Michael Schiavo, suggesting that he was a bit of a Felos tool (see previous post for some evidence of that from Michael himself). Mrs. Schindler writes: "[w]e believe that it was Felos's strategy, not Michael's, that dictated the course that led to the death of my daughter."
Wow. Amazing. I can't imagine not feeling bitter towards him. They appear to be wonderful examples of the Christian faith.
Randomized Thoughts

I think it was a Roman centurian who said that Jesus need not visit his ill daughter since he knew that Christ could heal from afar. And Jesus applauded the man's faith and his daughter was healed, from a distance. One could say the farther the distance, the more glory redounds to Christ, couldn't you? Isn't it more impressive that there are still Christians now, two thousand years after his death, than five hundred years afterwards? This is not to say we don't all long for the Parousia, but it does seem more glorifying that it's been delayed.

Just read another Crunchy Con parody that was most enjoyable. (He also has an interesting post comparing Bush & Teddy Roosevelt. I think our friend at Irish Elk likes both. I'm not a big TR fan but then I've read precious little about him.)

I love to tease the Crunchies though the obligatory disclaimer applies - they make many excellent points. That said, let's have fun:
To Tune of Village People's "Macho Man":

Crunchy, crunchy con
I've got to be, a crunchy con
Crunchy, crunchy con (yeah, yeah)
I've got to be a crunchy con!

You can tell a crunchy, he has a funky walk
from stooping all the day
to tend organic crop.
You best believe he's crunchy
if he's worried for your soul
'cuz you wouldn't touch that granola
with a ten and a half foot pole!

REF: Crunchy, crunchy con...

Every con ought to be a crunchy con
and never shop at Walmart
cuz you won't find all those foods
that make you have to fart.

REF: Crunchy, crunchy con...

Almost Shakespearian wouldn't you say?

March 29, 2006

The Byzantine Liturgy...

...tends to put things in perspective. Rich and reasonating, the service begins with a chanting of certain Psalms intended to bring the Balm of Gilead: "So that oil may put a gleam upon his face" from Psalm 103 reminds one of the sacrament of Confirmation, or Chrismation in the Eastern church. Later in the same Psalm: "You have made the moon to mark the seasons" and the moon reminds me of Mary, the one who reflects the sun's light, Christ. Mary is a "type" of the Church and so you could say "You have made the Church to mark the seasons" and indeed she does, the liturgical seasons, which are far more important than the natural ones.

Later a prayer is sung:
For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him there is plentiful redemption; and He shall redeem Israel from all its iniquities. Beaten in spirit and robbed of mind, in my wretchedness I fell among thieves who stole away my power to think. My soul has been scourged and I lie on the path of life stripped of all virtue. A priest sees that I suffer from incurable sores, but passes by without a second glance. A Levite, not wanting to share my deadly pain, looks down on me and also passes me by. But You, O Christ, our God, though made flesh from Mary and not from Samaria, grant me healing because of Your love for humanity, and pour the riches of Your mercy upon me...
My wife is a dog-lover who likes to watch Ceaser Millan, the Dog Whisperer who teaches owners how to get their dogs to behave. And he always begins by calming them. He even put one dog on a treadmill! When they are peaceful then they are capable of learning. I think there's a message in there somewhere for us humans, in having to be calmed before God our master can teach us.
Cri de Coeur

I'm engaged in a newspaper war and am slowly becoming one of the cranks that were so entertaining on C-Span prior to 1992 (which is about the time I stopped watching). Back then the sainted Brian Lamb, the ever-patient foil to hysterics and conspiracists, would calmly push buttons and say, "next caller please". But you see I have phantom-limb symptom, since my once-favorite newspaper is lost to me and I keep thinking it's still there.

Some background so you'll understand my long parochial nightmare: When I was a young whippersnapper of two and twenty I'd enjoy lengthy, luxuriating reads til my hands ran black with the newsprint. Bias, lying and bad reasoning were all kept mostly on the editorial page - (gosh am I showing my age!) - and one could deal with them there. Youth's quintessential quality is the failure to appreciate what you have and back then we had a newspaper that kept opinion & slant off the front page and was even center-to-right on the political spectrum editorially. And I failed to appreciate it. Worse, I now somewhat begrudge my liberal brother & sisters their time in the sun. For every conservative now taking blood pressure medicine, there's an elated liberal high-fiving their spouse.

So a few years ago, maybe half a decade ago, the Dispatch changed hands and editors and officially became a liberal newspaper, missing only the declarative masthead "Serving the Democratic Party since 2001". (The magazine Columbus Monthly explained why and how in a lengthy cover story.) Lacking the instinct for the jugular, the Dispatch caved in '04 and supported Bush for president. (The Other Paper, an alternative newspaper in town, made sport of the fact that the Dispatch has spent the last six years hating George Bush except on the day they published the endorsement.)

Reluctantly, I cancelled the paper during the months leading up the '04 election and now get it only on the weekends. But I still find a galley-full of errors of omission and commission (by my lights of course) such that I'm emailing the editor more often than my wife. Crank, I'm telling you. My brother-in-law is encouraging me to start an anti-Dispatch website where we rant and rave. Perhaps call it "". I'm skeptical, thinking the size of the potential audience would require an electron microscope to observe. Besides, John the Piper has a much better attitude than I do. Here he conjures Belloc's lector/auctor convention:
Well, I do something other than criticize newspapers. I read them. Three a day, most days. Not counting weeklies. And, yes, most are in an advanced state of cultural and moral collapse. Maybe they always were. But there's something exciting about newspapers. The first thing I do visiting a city is buy the local papers. It gives you a feel for the place. If you don't understand that, I can't explain it. Anyway, like God and the sinner, one hopes for their conversion rather than their extinction.
Abdul Rahman & the Limits of Islamic Pluralism

The conventional wisdom is that Islam needs either a pope or a reformation but both seem to have the scent of pipe dream about them. Muslims believe the Koran was written by God directly and Mohammed was a mere cypher. Not much room for interpretation, is there? According to the Koran it's a crime to convert to Christianity or any other religion other than Islam. Period. End of story.

Pope Benedict looks presicent when he predicts that Islam can't reform. From Rod Dreher back a few months ago:
The Asia Times Online columnist Spengler notes that Pope Benedict XVI is recently reported to have observed that Islam cannot reform itself along the lines the West is depending on. The reason is very simple: unlike Judaism and Christianity, which take the Bible to be the inspired word of God, mediated through humans and therefore subject to interpretation, Islam believes the Koran is the literal and direct word of God, dictated to the Prophet. If you believe this, then it's easy to see why diverging too far from the plain text of the Koran is blasphemous (and we know what happens to those deemed to have blasphemed against Islam). Spengler is amazed by the silence from the Western media over this remarkable statement attributed to the current Pope.
Bad doctrine has consequences. Other religions have changed in response to societal pressure but Islam seems rare in the belief of a lack of human mediation. Mormons used to believe in polygamy but being a persecuted minority they disavowed that practice. But if a Mormon country - or a whole Mormon region - had established itself shortly after the demise of Joseph Smith, do you think that country/region would still have polygamy? I'm guessing 'yes'.

March 28, 2006

The Accuracy is Uncanny   - via Happy Catholic

And I didn't even have to rig the results...

Okay, we all know Guinness is the best possible score on any "What Kind Of Beer Are You" test, so you can just go on and pat yourself on the back now. Like the world's most famous brew, you're genuine, you've got good taste, and you're sophisticated. What else can I say, except congratulations?

If your friends didn't score the same way, get ready for them to say: Guinness is too heavy; it's an acquired taste; it's too serious--and they probably think those things about you at times. But just brush 'em off. Everybody knows Guinness is the best. Cheers. free online dating
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Link: The If You Were A Beer Test written by gwendolynbooks
Aquinas, Optimism and Grace

Caught the tail end of a Catholic apologist speaking on Karl Keating's radio network. He said (I'm paraphrasing): "St. Thomas wasn't received well because there was pessimism concerning how much one could know about God. This led to a certain spiritual dryness. Look at 'The Imitation of Christ' - a wonderful book [he said that twice] but there's nothing about the Holy Spirit or the operation of God's grace."
King o' Diagrams

Elvis may be the king of rock 'n roll, Juan Carlos I the King of Spain, but Tom is king of cool diagrams.

Normally they look something like this:

But fortunately the one linked is comprehensible. (I think Tom is slipping.)
Two More Quotes

Concerning Bernard Malamud:
"Whatever hunger for faith existed within him," his daughter writes, "he had transformed it into a belief in the sanctity of literature."
Adam Nicolson writes in the Guardian:
Every age has its own heresies, Pelikan says, and ours seems "especially vulnerable to an aestheticism that finds the ultimate mystery of transcendence in the beauty of art and music, which have the magical capacity to transport us into an otherworldly realm without calling us to account for our sins in the presence of the holy God and the righteous Judge of all mankind".

We modern, half-non-believing aesthetes, who ooh and aah over the words of the Bible, gushing over their exquisite beauty, are, he says, like people who stand admiring a shiny set of dentist's instruments. Until, that is, the drills and knives are set to work. "Then all of a sudden the reaction changes from 'How beautiful they are!' to 'Get that damned thing out of my mouth!'"

The contrast between the end of the Inferno, the lowest circle of hell, and the hopefulness of the first glimpse of Purgatory is stunning. The Purgatorio is a poem "rising again from Hell's dead realm."... This yearning for ascent towards heaven begat in me a powerful motivation for turning the next page just to see what comes next. Moreover, the Purgatorio acted as a truly Lenten reflection, provoking myself to self-examination and even minor penance....Reading through the first two books, I've realized a pitfall of any education syllabus that includes Dante. The Inferno is almost always the only work of Dante assigned, so students will only get the Christian dystopia of a hopeless Hell. Even the Purgatorio doesn't portray the Christian ideal, but only those in the journey towards it. A reader won't encounter an encomium to true sanctity until the final book, the Paradiso. Thus, anyone in a "great books" course which tries to cram the whole Western canon into a semester will rarely encounter any depiction of a Biblical hero or Christian saint even if Dante is on the book list! - Kevin Jones of "Philokalia Republic"

The word "apostle" means one who is sent, and all who are called by Christ are also sent by Christ. An apostle is ever so much more trustworthy than a religious genius. A genius may have flashes of insight and come up with a brilliant spiritual scheme, but what he has to say is finally and uniquely his; I cannot enter into it or trust it completely. An apostle's role is much more modest and, therefore, more credible: "I have been told something that I must tell you. Make of it what you will." - Fr. Neuhaus in "Death on a Friday Afternoon"

Is there such a thing as a noble relativism? There are certainly suspicious kinds. I'm incredibly tired of armchair psychoanalysts' admonitions about the dangers of certainty. The self-congratulations of "nuanced moderates" who claim to be above the rough-and-tumble absolutist extremists likewise chafe me. Moderates are just extremists who are in power. - Kevin Jones on Amy Welborn's blog

Oprah: Stealing pears was your most base moment? How can you possibly argue that? For cripes sake, you're sleeping with every other woman in the book in your teenage years. And they were just...pears. Augustine: It was about motive. I had no need for the pears and no appreciation for the pears. I could have seen them as beautiful objects of God's creation, but I didn't. - blogger at "Ironic Catholic" imagining St. Augustine on Oprah

I'm not, by nature, "a joiner" of many things. However, Maslow must be given some cred and I must exercise my belongingness needs somehow. Might as well do it this way. After all, said B-Team has many stellar B-Teamers, who blog on all manner of important and weighty subjects, from many different perspectives (including--gasp!--some with which I agree) and do so passionately, elegantly and brilliantly. Obviously, they need me to balance things out. This, obviously, is an Electronic Work of Mercy (wait for Vatican 3, I'm just ahead of the curve in this regard) on my part. In fact, I consider it a ministry.- Joe of AMDG

Dreher at times strike me as a guy who hasn’t been living the crunchy con game long enough. It’s hard to describe, but he occasionally comes off as a little too excited about the crunchy con lifestyle, like a young man who thinks he has found his dream job, but hasn’t been doing it long enough to realize all its hassles. - Eric of "The Daily Eudemon"

We can distinguish between the man who obeys the law because of the benefits of being law abiding and the man who obeys the law as a discipline for developing the virtue of justice. If you want to love-and-do-what-you-will, but you know you don't love well enough to trust that what you will will be loving, then you obey the law as a means of training, of developing the habit of doing the right thing so that you will in time desire to do it apart from any question of law. - Tom of Dispuations

The reason the novel ends as it does with the priest only saying "yes" he does have something to tell Lancelot, but not with the actual message, is that Percy as an artist and novelist does not think that he has the authority appropriate to communicating the truth that saves. Notice again the parallel with the end of both The Last Gentleman and The Second Coming . Percy's conviction here is Kierkegaardian, most forcefully expressed in Kierkegaard's "The Difference Between a Genius and An Apostle." Percy the novelist is not an apostle. If there is genius in his work, it is merely immanent in its ability to diagnose the pathology of modern man. Thus Lancelot's confession. The message in the bottle that saves must come from the transcendent authority that the priest participates in. -John O'Callaghan on Amy's blog concerning the Walker Percy novel "Lancelot"

Playboy was launched in 1953, and this female image managed to draw, simultaneously, on two opposing trends that have since come to dominate American mass culture: on the one hand, our country’s idea of its Huck Finn innocence; on the other, the enthusiastic lewdness of our advertising and entertainment. We are now accustomed to seeing the two tendencies combined—witness Britney Spears—but when Hefner was a young man they still seemed like opposites. Hence the surprise and the popularity of Playboy. The magazine proposed that wanton sex, sex for sex’s sake, was wholesome, good for you: a novel idea in the nineteen-fifties. - New Yorker article, via Eric of "Daily Eudemon"

Human beings will ritualize. They just will...We will invest places and things and even garb with symbolism and meaning. And in the context of the Catholic Church, what all of this does - this rich, layered ritual and ceremony - is keep everything steady. It embodies 2000 years of people believing in Christ and trying to express what that means. Some of us snicker at those who are positively enraptured with the minutiae of ecclesiastical garb and ritual, and some of that interest can get rather weird and off-subject, but I think one of the reasons people do get so intrigued in it all is because of the meaning those gestures, pieces of metal and stone, and even fabric, folded just so and bearing this or that color - bear. Forgive me, but it is like a code. Or, like a treasure box, perhaps? The more you dig, the more you see what things mean, and how, in the context of say, the 14th century, this gesture or vestment or ceremony evolved as an expression of faith, and keeping it going, hanging on to it, is a sign of continuity with that same faith. Not that it doesn't need to be cleaned out at times. Not that it can't ever get in the way. But when you think about the alternatives - Ritual-As-You-Go that runs just as much risk, and perhaps even more - of pointing to us rather than God, of physical objects that communicate nothing more than here and now, of a bunch of fellows in suits, perhaps, coming forward to get - what - a pen holder?...This is better. It says a lot more, and it speaks loudly, not just of the present, but of where we're rooted. - Amy Welborn

Derbyshire: "We all know, of course, that humor is perishable, and that what made our parents -- or even our younger selves -- laugh can leave us stone faced. There are degrees of perishability, though, and the very best humor can stay funny for decades. I thought Sellers was in that league. Nope." Warren Bell: "I think I've written here before about the disaster that is viewing Blazing Saddles at age 42, after having wallowed in its glory at age 13. I think our memories tend to put a rosy glow around things we laugh at, and then in revisiting, the reality destroys the glow...So how much is the fault of memory, and how much is our own evolution in life? Is Sellers less funny, Derb, or are you?" - The Corner

I agree with Dreher that the Chartres Cathedral is more conducive to spirituality than a shopping-mall megachurch, but there is a reason why Chartres is full of tourists and the megachurches are full of worshippers. What if this is as good as it gets? - Spengler of "Crunchy Con"

Thank God for the blogworld, always there to inspire me, or to irritate me, or to make me look up an answer, to provoke me to think. And thank God for Sundays, when we are required to pay Him a little attention. Without that anchor coming around once a week, I don't know how many Christians keep their feet on the path, on the Way. I'm lucky; I can go to near-daily Mass, which is a little cycle of love and life. The bigger weekly cycle of Love and life is absolutely essential to a Christian life. - ThereseZ of "Exultet"
Christian Accepts Cross Momentarily
Newark, NJ--A local Christian momentarily "died to self" yesterday, whereupon he leaped high in the air and performed a karate chop. He then did a small endzone celebration dance before realizing that self-congratulations were ruining the moment and that he was supposed to carry his cross.

March 27, 2006

One of the chief duties which he [the Christian] will punctually and carefully fulfill is the duty of prayer. You will remember in the Book of Acts, when Saul the persecutor was converted by a special miracle, the sign given of his conversion was this: "Behold he prayeth." (Acts 9:11). Prayer is the breath of the soul. Just as breathing is the sign of life, prayer is the sign of the life of the soul. - Cardinal Manning

I really like my King James Version with the words of Christ in red, so I was looking for a words-in-red in the New Revised Standard Version and came across the above.
Various & Sundry

March came in like a lion, stayed like a lion, and seems to have every intention of leaving one.

I taped "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" last night in order to see what I was influenced by before I knew that television was influencing.

Sad commentary, but an agnostic liberal professor out-Catholic'd me. In our weekly debate he said that Pope John Paul II championed Pope Pius IX's canonization cause. I had no idea Pope Pius IX was being considered for canonization and said that he probably meant Pius XII. But he's right and I should have my Catholic blogger's license revoked or something. Anyway, I wanted to post this about Pius IX's sense of humor.

From the I's-so-confuzed Dep't: It seemed that when Catholic priests were the sex offenders, everyone agreed you can't change their stripes - i.e. treatment doesn't work. Well, now that Bill O'Reilly has mounted a crusade against a local judge who put a sex offender on parole, the Columbus Dispatch suddenly lets us in on a little secret: that pedophiles are treatable. "Recidivism rates for sex offenders are lower than for the general criminal population." (Center for Sex Offender Management in the Dept Of Justice). Sigh. Whatever the truth, it sometimes seems almost impossible to get good information these days.

Lest this post be too negative I'll share what a friend sent me. He goes to every service that our Byzantine Catholic Church offers (i.e. vespers, holy days that aren't obligatory, etc...) and emails a paraphrase of the sermon to those of us not in attendence:
"No matter how dark or how bad it is or seems, we have to have faith...we have to have faith! The rejoicing always has to be there. Jesus came to love the world, not condemn it. We have to be in the rejoicing spirit.

He then told of a funeral where he was the priest...when it came time to close the casket, people were wailing and climbing on top it. The cantor said to Father...they forget to rejoice. (what a story!)

It's the middle of Lent, we recognize our sins...however it is the Annunciation and we to rejoice! To rejoice or not rejoice is the difference between a Christian and an unbeliever. Many Christians find no rejoice. We have been commanded by an Angel...we must take it seriously.
Iraq Book

Well, at 45% off at Sam's Club, I had to buy "Cobra II", the inside story of the invasion of Iraq. My impression from the first few chapters is this: Former corporate exec comes in as Sec. of Defense. Sees military as bloated and overly bureaucratic. Tired of huge armies that take forever to mobilize, ala Gulf War. Long mobilization and large troop levels eliminates all element of surprise and antagonizes allies and their restless citizenries. Sec. of Def. sees Afghanistan war of example of success. Negotiates with Tommy Franks over troop levels, arguing him down from near 400K to initial 150K. Can win war with those levels but not win peace. Doesn't think about occupation because idea was there would be no occupation. Get the hell out of Dodge!

One line from the book perfectly expressed my pre-war thoughts: "While British officers were worried about the state of the U.S. planning, the civilians in Blair's cabinent were more assured. It was a faith-based confidence grounded on the assurance that Bush wold not stake his presidency on a war with Iraq unless he knew what he was doing." In other words, no one could have a blind spot that big. Securing the Iraqi border alone would take a lot of troops, wouldn't it? But Rumsfeld was an "enthusiast", a reformer, and reformers often make mistakes. As a CEO, you often can't achieve change without the hubris of thinking yourself more knowledgeable than your subordinates, and yet that very hubris is the cause of many a downfall. A catch-22.

So the short answer is they thought there'd be no occupation. And why? Because sometimes when you desire something very much - such as Rumfeld's desire for a modern, more nimble army - blinded him to realities.

March 26, 2006

What He Said

Jonah Goldberg writes what I've long wondered at too:
For reasons that still baffle me, the WMD threat — never the sole reason to invade Iraq — not only became the only argument, it became a thoroughly legalistic one, as if foreign policy has rules of evidence and procedural due process...The fact that Hussein turned out to be bluffing about WMDs isn't a mark against Bush's decision. If you're a cop and a man pulls out a gun and points it at you, you're within your rights to shoot him, particularly if the man in question is a known criminal who's shot people before. If it turns out afterward that the gun wasn't loaded, that's not the cop's fault.

Hussein had a 30-year track record of pursuing WMDs. He dealt with Islamic terrorists. The sanctions regime fell apart thanks to Iraqi bribery and 30 years of spineless U.N. accommodation. In the 1990s, Hussein tried to kill a former U.S. president and tried to shoot down British and American planes enforcing the "no-fly" zone. The Clinton administration — not the George W. Bush administration — established "regime change" as our policy toward Iraq. In the years that followed, the Iraqi regime openly celebrated the 9/11 attack. And when we tried to get Hussein to come clean about a weapons program we (and his own generals!) had every reason to believe existed, he played games. After 9/11, calling that bluff wasn't a "choice," it was an obligation.

March 25, 2006

Compliments & Criticisms

It's interesting how some people are very free with compliments and others very sparing. There is a remarkable range. And so I thought: how free or sparing was Jesus? I looked at Luke's gospel and counted. I didn't include any references to groups of people as a criticism but was looking at words spoken to or about individuals. I examined situations where he either praised or condemned but soon noticed I needed a third category that fit neither: words of encouragement.

I counted four compliments, such as concerning the widow who contributed all she had. (The others were mostly situations where great faith was exhibited.)

I counted nine criticisms, mostly directed at the usual suspects - lawyers, Pharisees, scribes.

And finally the number of occasions of encouragement came to eight. (A couple of times words that might be construed as discouraging figured in (though as St. Ignatius said, "discouragement is not from God" and so can't be taken as such), like when He said that the rich have little chance to enter the Kingdom though with God anything is possible. Thank God for the "with God all things are possible" part 'eh?)

A very unscientific, anecdotal study, but there you have it.
Are Mormons Christians?

Brad Haas sounds like a stand up guy (sheesh, I've been watching too much O'Reilly). (HT: Julie).
In all my experience, I’ve concluded that the answer to that question is: it depends on who’s asking and who’s answering. They vigorously claim to be Christians, and if one considers “Christian” to mean “one who loves and serves God the Father and Christ His Son,” without concern for right doctrine, LDS definitely fall into that category. But if one considers “Christian” to include following the teachings of God as revealed through Christ and handed on through the Church, then they are definitely not.

The problem is that in one sense or another, anyone can be called non-Christian, both in the sense of right faith and of right moral living. I was non-Christian today when I broke the speed limit. I could claim that anyone who doesn’t fully submit to the Magisterium is non-Christian. This would encompass everything from paganism to the Orthodox churches. While most would agree with me on the former, few would on the latter. The fact is, for any given person, the meaning of the name “Christian” depends on what that person believes....The subject of who can be called “Christian” is not a fruitful subject of debate with members of any other communion. Therefore, my answer to the question “Are Mormons Christian?” is not “yes” or “no,” because the question is not as simple as that. My answer is, “They believe in Christ, but they believe some very different things about Him than most Christians do.”

March 24, 2006

Today is...

..the feast day of St. Bridget of Sweden.

Week in Review

Tis mid-Lent and there’s always a sense of urgency. This is a time of not leaving anything on the table, a time one suspects there’s more of a chance of change and grace. This is one season that, oddly enough, I don’t want to see end. There’s an excitement in the air, isn’t there? It’s the holiest time and I’m a bit flummoxed that the Easter season doesn't seem to be more of a similar nature. Shouldn’t it be? Easter lasts longer than Lent and yet Lents are far more memorable aren’t they? Doesn't this mimic the gospels where the Passion narratives are generally more arresting than the post-Resurrection stories?

I long to write the Great American Novel tonight between 10 and midnight. It would be sweet and sad and inspiring all at once. Ham o’ Bone will feature prominently of course, as a disguised character who frugally uses one square of TP per bowel movement. Ham, in a bid to save money, once decided to use his downstairs toilet for urination only. That way he could flush but once a month, saving water and cash. This came to an abrupt end when his mother-in-law visited and went for a smoke in the downstairs bathroom. Overcome by the smell, she told her daughter that that was ridiculous and must stop if she expected future visits. How many of us can lay claim to a sweet absurdism such as this? Ham is the pearl that produces fertile writing. But age and marriage and children conform us, and he inclines away from childish preoccupations. It seems a million years ago he was listening to Pearl Jam and producing music on his electric guitar. The creative impulse flourishes in your 20s and early 30s…by 40…? Eric Scheske was accurate in describing a “literary clock”. (Still, I can’t help believing that Amy Welborn’s debunking of the Da Vinci Code is more useful for the Kingdom than her fiction will be, given the sad market for decent fiction these days. But that is a base utilitarian speaking. Get thee away from me, Satan!)

Humans are the most interesting subject in the natural world. Sharon (not her real name) is one of the sweetest, most thoughtful, generous and patient persons I know. And you wouldn’t think those characteristics would be able to sit so comfortably side-by-side with anger, resentment and hatred of her husband. It reveals itself in odd ways, such as support for Hillary Clinton whom she sees as a kindred spirit, as well as her sudden freezing up when you ask how her husband's cancer treatments are going. She comes from the hollers of Kentucky and her stubbornness and holding to grudges is cliché-ish in the way bullfights are to Spain. Faced with this, I begin to consider that free will is much more circumscribed than we Americans think. St. Therese of Liseux had holy parents, but so do many who don’t become saints. I suppose the natural way is that we become our parents; it’s only grace that makes a difference. But how would justice be served if God held parents unaccountable? Since we have to live with our bad decisions, it’s easy to imagine that children have to live, to some extent, with the way their parents molded them. For good or for ill.


Red Skeleton was on the b & w
television in the hospital room
when the nurse brought me sherbert,
for a throat newly tonsil-free.

I was nostalgic even then
for nostalgic movies
like the “Summer of ‘42”
but this was the summer of ‘72
and West Elementary school
had some sort of festival
and you could pluck ducks from
moaty water and see if
you won by looking underneath.
I liked it since it was
much easier than the ring toss
where the circumference of the ring
matched the circumference of the target.

Much later I can almost hear
the characters of “Eureka Street”
nails-on-chalkboard now
but grist then for another self,
an Irish-fetishist
jejune jujituist
for whom now truth be told I now feel-

Irish Song Friday

by Michael Joseph McCann, c. 1843
Proudly the note of the trumpet is sounding
Loudly the war-cries arise on the gale
Fleetly the steed by Lough Sweighly is bounding
To join the six squadrons on Saimier's green vale!
On every mountaineer! Strangers to flight or fear!
Rush to the standard of dauntless Red Hugh!
Bonnaught and gallowglass, throng from each mountain pass!
Onward for Erin! O'Donnell Abu!

Princely O'Neill to our aid is advancing
With many a chieftain and warrior clan!
A thousand proud steeds in his vanguard are prancing
'Neath the Borderers brave from the banks of the Ban!
Many a heart shall quail under his coat-of-mail,
Deeply the merciless foeman shall rue
When on his ear shall ring, borne on the breeze's wing
Tyr Connell's dread war cry: O'Donnell Abu!
Complaints, We Have a Few...

The situation is hopeless, but not serious. - old Italian saying
Found poetry:
High up,
where the mountains meet the sky,
Starbucks journeys to find the best
coffee beans in the world.
So reads my coffee cup. And you know, I'm not expecting Yeats, but couldn't they do a little bit better? Heck I could've written that one in my sleep and I'm not a professional poet.

An administrator West Point says that the cadets are "only happy when they're complaining". He says he knows something's wrong when they're not complaining.

From the mail bag: "Can there possibly be stronger evidence of self-love than constantly telling others you're worried you're self-loving?"

In order to prioritize prayer for the dearly departed, don't we make assumptions (judgments) as to the likelihood they are in Heaven, Hell or Pugatory? I tend to pray for those who I think most in need of it. Thus it behooves us to present ourselves in the least favorable light - though that sentiment shows a measure of calculation that makes no further proof needed. Commence prayer!


Religious education during the '70s was a mixed lot. On the one hand, you would think the complete lack of Catholic apologetics would make me vulnerable to Protestant apologetists. But it didn't seem to be a problem. In school we learned the gospels well and the stories in Genesis and Exodus. The Psalms and the story of David as well. But most of the prophets received no mention. Jeremiah was more associated with the song that begins, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog...da duh da..." than a book in the bible. Same with Elijah. But when we studied the Transfiguration, my curosity for Elijah grew, though not to the point of actually reading about him. Moses, okay. But Elijah? How'd he get there before, oh say, Abraham or David or even Solomon. So now, lo these years later, I read more about Elijah and try to discern his undoubted importance for the Hebrews. Certainly he was one of the holier dudes in all of the OT. To him would be given the honor, after all, of coming before the Christ. One of the most affecting scenes on just a human level was how Elisha had such large shoes to follow and how he would know whether he would fill them by whether he saw Elijah's glory. Elisha does, and the result is the estatic cry: "My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!"

Excerpt of The Golfer's Protest, poem written in 1917, during WWI:
We hear of parties going round,
Aided by local War-Committees,
To violate our sacred ground
By planting veg. along our "pretties."

If there be truth in that report,
Then have we reached the limit, viz.:—
The ruin of that manly sport
Which made our country what it is;

The ravages we soon restore
By conies wrought or hoofs of mutton,
But centuries must pass before
A turnip-patch is fit to putt on.

What! Shall we sacrifice the scenes
On which our higher natures thrive
Just to provide the vulgar means
To keep our lower selves alive?

Better to starve (or, better still,
Up hands and kiss the Hun peace-makers)
Than suffer PROTHERO to till
The British golfer's holy acres.

March 23, 2006

A Reader...

...sent this cool searchable history link, which mainly records the happenings of 19th century Catholic figures.

Rev. Mégret

Came across this fellow, who wrote pungently and said of the fellow French priest for whom my high school was named for (note: the style of the time was apparently to refer to yourself in the third person):
He is fully the man Blanc described. Mégret does not know whether he would be more annoying than useful in a parish. Mégret cannot help but admire his fervor which is that of a newly ordained priest.
And later,
He is very pious but his habits could keep a whole household busy.
Unsafe At Any Speed?

I feel a bit gunshy about blogging after reading Eric Scheske's piece. (Though it could be worse - I could be an attorney. Just teasin' Eric. :-) Others have also wondered about the sinfulness of blogging.What does it mean that saints are mostly allergic to autobiography? St. Therese was pressed into it and even Chesterton did so with great reluctance. And the line between this blog and autobiography sometimes doesn't seem overly thick. A blog that simply links to news items, or one that just quotes Newman (ala Donna Lewis) would seem to have a much better chance of not engendering pride.

I have mixed emotions because I think that blogging can replace, to some extent, the ol' barbershop conversations with like-minded individuals in a society that affords precious few opportunities to converse with like-minded individuals. In the area of art, a defense of the amateur can be made and was well made by G.K. Chesterton. (Of course, publishing that art on the 'net is another matter.) Blogging has humbled me intellectually, since Tom of Disputations and Tom of ER will do that without meaning to (I like it when God lets me down gently). Still, there's no question that blogging has a questionable smell about it. One priest told me that he thinks it's okay, but the test is whether I would have any problem with it if my blog were completely ignored. Hmm...

Blogging is basically a "vanity press". I've always suspected that that was a term coined by professionals who have a vested interest in not seeing amateurs succeed. So I looked up what Wikipedia says:
The term “vanity press” is generally derogatory, and is often used to imply that an author using such a service is only publishing out of vanity, and that his or her work could not be commercially successful....On the other hand, such services can be a viable way for an author to self-publish without owning printing equipment. This is particularly attractive to an author of a work with a limited, specialized appeal which may not interest mainstream publishers, or to the author who intends to promote his or her work personally. Scholarly journals often ask authors to pay page charges but use peer review to keep a high scientific standard. Poets often self-publish, as their work is generally of extremely specialized appeal, and therefore risky to mainstream publishers.
Of vanity, Wikipedia has:
Vanity (compare Pride) is the excessive belief in one's own abilities or attractiveness to others. In some religious teachings vanity is considered a form of self-idolatry, in which one rejects God for sake of their own image, and thereby becomes separated from the graces of God.
By the first definition since only .001% of blogs get serious hits one might one could say it's harder to have an excessive belief in one's own abilities. But as far as rejecting God for the sake of their own image, perhaps there's some of that in being too attached to the joy of spouting my own opinion. St. Thomas writes of discord and contention here.

Finally, the Catholic Encyclopedia on humility:
To guard against an erroneous idea of humility, it is necessary to explain the manner in which we ought to esteem our own gifts in reference to the gifts of others, if called upon to make a comparison. Humility does not require us to esteem the gifts and graces which God has granted us, in the supernatural order, less than similar gifts and graces which appear in others. No one should esteem less in himself than in others these gifts of God which are to be valued above all things according to the words of St. Paul: "That we may know the things that are given us from God." (1 Corinthians 2:12). Neither does humility require us in our own estimation to think less of the natural gifts we possess than of similar, or of inferior, gifts in our neighbours; otherwise, as St. Thomas teaches, it would behove everyone to consider himself a greater sinner or a greater fool than his neighbour; for the Apostle without any prejudice to humility was able to say: "We by nature are Jews, and not of the Gentiles sinners" (Galatians 2:15). A man, however, may generally esteem some good in his neighbour which he does not himself possess, or acknowledge some defect or evil in himself which he does not perceive in his neighbour, so that, whenever anyone subjects himself out of humility to an equal or to an inferior he does so because he takes that equal or inferior to be his superior in some respect. Thus we may interpret the humble expressions of the saints as true and sincere.
Contra Blogging

Eric Scheske scribes a sobering meditation 'gainst blogging. HT: Mr. Curley.

March 22, 2006


...considers ecclesiology and baptism:
One perpetual question I have, which I have sometimes brought up here, is: what is the true church? This an important question for a lot of reasons. For one thing, although the baptismal question of whether I accept Jesus as my lord and savior (or however Mennonites put it) seems like a straightforward yes-or-no option, the underlying question is exactly who this Jesus is that I commit myself to. Since I don’t know him personally, and since the Bible is too sketchy and weird to form a complete picture (sorry, sola scriptura fans), I need the help of some interpretive tradition. And this seems to be the way Jesus meant for it to be. As Lesslie Newbigin pointed out: “Jesus in his ministry took no steps to provide a written body of teaching. He created a community which would be enabled by the Spirit, after his death and resurrection, to grow into an ever fuller understanding of him and his message, and so to live as children in his Father’s house.”
When Smart People Do Dumb Things  

I'm trying to curb personal spending, especially "frivolous" spending on things like books, but this one, on how the war in Iraq went awry, is really tempting. This book was excerpted in the NY Times, with a piece on how Hussein was more worried about Iran than the U.S. and so he wanted the world to think he had WMDs. He was surprised right up until our troops were just outside Baghdad. That shocked me. Even though the world believed the U.S. was serious, to the point of setting off a thousand peace rallies in scores of European capitals, Saddam was content to imagine otherwise. What we have here is a failure to communicate. Still, Bush's was different from previous administrations. When you have a fundamentally unserious president like Clinton followed by the very aggressive post-9/11 Bush, you're bound to send mixed signals. You mean you want to enforce U.N. resolutions now? Given that they had been resolutely ignored for years by Hussein meant it was no surpise that #1441 was just radio static.

Back in 2000 Bush's cabinent seemed like the '27 Yankees, the best crew since JFK's. There was a good mix of experienced hands like Cheney and younger academics like Condi Rice, and there were folks who had served in the private sector. Even the mainstream press was impressed, referring often to Dick Cheney's "gravitas". Rumsfeld, briefly, became a media darling.

But then the war came, and the best you can say is that the Administration didn't prepare us for the slog it would become. How could they have not done better with the post-war planning? I guess I'm mesmerized when the "best and brightest" get it so wrong. Reminds me how John McCain, who seems like a smart enough fellow, fought a pyrric battle for the abysmally ineffective McCain-Feingold bill which was made instantly obsolete by the 527s. It's just amazing sometimes what can't be foreseen. But on the other hand, I can't understand why I'm surprised given that brains are no guarantee of anything. Karl Marx was brilliant.

Pundit Jeff Greenfield sees the lack of postwar planning as a continual pattern in American foreign policy, which is the tendency to imagine that other cultures and peoples are no different than our own and hence liberating Iraq would be like liberating Green Bay, Wisconsin. And certainly in a multicultural society like America, the great "melting pot", it's no wonder that we have trouble imagining foreign countries as truly foreign.

March 21, 2006

The Middle of Europe's End

In the latest National Review, Ross Douthat reviews Michael Burleigh's Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe from the French Revolution to the Great War :
There is a tendency to view the European 19th century as a period of vanished tranquility — a hundred years of peace, optimism, and progress between the chaos of the French Revolution and the charnel house of World War I. Burleigh’s book is an antidote to such nostalgia, and a reminder that the 1800s were the period when the ideas unleashed in 1789 — the enthronement of political religion, in particular, and the deification of the nation and the state — worked themselves deep into the soil of continental politics, whence the poisoned fruit of 20th-century totalitarianism would spring.

Reading Earthly Powers will make any Catholic thankful for the likes of Benedict XVI and John Paul II — as opposed to the succession of 19th-century Popes who clung, hopelessly but doggedly, to temporal power and a throne-and-altar world gone by. With the honorable exception of Leo XIII, who did much to reconcile the Church to the realities of democracy and the industrial age, the occupants of the see of Peter were either pious incompetents like Gregory XVI — “motionless in the thick darkness that surrounds him,” Lamennais wrote, “he weeps and prays” — or stiff-necked blunderers like Pius IX, who lost the Papal States and penned the Syllabus of Errors, a document whose prescient warnings about nationalism were lost amid a cascade of venom. (“Rhetorical moderation, sensitivity, and subtlety were alien to him,” Burleigh remarks.)

Many of the Protestant churches were, if anything, even worse — less nostalgic than the Holy See for a vanished age of absolutism, but more vulnerable to the siren song of ideologies that promised heaven on earth, or substituted the nation-state for God. In Germany, in particular, the Protestant willingness to uncritically embrace Teutonic nationalism anticipated the tragedies of the following century. The “Hegelian strain in liberal Protestant theology,” Burleigh points out, “in which whatever one felt powerfully enough was indicative of the developing presence of God,” lent itself easily to the deification of nationalist enthusiasms — culminating in August 1914, when a German pastor could argue unselfconsciously that “God is what the god-inspired people do.”

What if there were no hypothetical questions? - tagline of blog

Those walking in the crypt of St. Peter's where there are countless Popes buried probably for the most part are unaware that below them is another graveyard even more ancient...The bones of Peter were discovered wrapped in royal purple cloth in a tomb built by Constantine under the altar of the first church. What was missing? His feet, the rationale that when Peter was crucified upside down that those who removed his body just cut his feet off in order to remove him from the cross. - Michael Dubruiel on his Scavi tour of St. Peter's in Rome

If you read Amy [Welborn]'s blog, you know she has literary aspirations in the vein of Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor. She’s also a mother with young children. Yet she spends valuable time and energy dealing with a fraud like Dan Brown, who refuses–even now that he has made his tens of millions–to admit that the book is just a piece of fiction. Granted, Amy didn’t have to undertake the job, but she’s well-qualified and obviously feels a responsibility to do so. She’s not getting rich off her efforts. She’s just losing valuable, valuable time–a thing writers crave more than anything–dealing with a smarmy individual who has made millions by selling lies. When Amy says it’s “depressing,” she means it, and she’s not talking about being depressed because of the adverse effects the book is having on others (though that might be part of it). She’s depressed because she’s being personally afflicted by this Da Vinci demon and the minions who don’t know a shred of medieval history but are convinced this book has to be true. “It’s just so, you know, detailed, and it has lots of pictures. It hasta be true.” Amy spends time swatting at the idiocy as her literary clock ticks away. - Eric Scheske of "Eudemon"

This is the highest excellence to which we ordinarily attain: to understand our own hypocrisy, insincerity, and shallowness of mind - to own that, while we pray, we cannot pray aright, to repent of our repentings, and to submit ourselves wholly to his judgment, who could indeed be extreme with us, but has already shown his loving kindness in bidding us to pray. - the Venerable John Henry Newman

There's a scale of credulity, and everyone believes he occupies just the right spot between blind superstition and blind incredulity. But how do the incredulous tell us from the superstitious, and vice versa? Let me make three suggestions. First, we see by faith...Second, I may not be shown everything you see, nor you everything I see. The subtle messages, the gentle whisper God so often speaks to us in, may not be intended to be overheard. Third, we should not become attached to seeing God, even as our vision of Him becomes more acute, or we might be caught blind in a dark night. - Tom of Disputations

The Friday abstinence that remains is little more than a totem for more Catholics than we would like to admit. It's something, and good. But I've known couples who were cohabitating who would be extra careful to abstain from meat on Fridays of Lent. What? As I said, it's something, and who among us is perfect? Not one. We all persist in our sinful ways, making the small gesture. Which works, in that small way, to pull us back, to give us a bit more discipline to confront the big things. To understand that if we can make this small sacrifice, maybe - just maybe - we can make a greater one. The problem, though, is that in the absence of a penitential sensibility, it does indeed devolve into not much more than a Catholic Identity Badge, especially when this blasted Corned Beef business comes into it.... it an indult only for Corned Beef? Or do chicken wings count too? (See where this leads? As my husband, who usually shrugs about these matters, and still does on this, I think, muttered last you think the Orthodox are fiddling with their Lenten fasts and hankering for their indults...Not by half.) - Amy Welborn

For the Catholic, the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the decision to accept the authority of the Church is one decision. They cannot be separated, for the risen Christ will not be separated from his mystical body... I do not ask her, must not ask her, to accept my views; she asks me to accept her views. One enters the Catholic Church in order to change; one enters the Catholic Church to be changed. - Al Kimel of "Pontifications" via Curt Jester

So, by grace, for the moment, the comment boxes remain closed, but I can see that just that small action fired up a mercenary group of devils (or a lot of psychotropic chemicals) to run an assault against me. Every time we take the smallest step in the direction of obedience, you can anticipate that three thousand very good reasons for not doing what is required will surface. Pray and let them pass by you...The cross is not to be loved, or even to be examined, and only just barely is it to be borne, and then, often, only with ill grace...While wearing braces, a person does not love them, but afterwards, for years of straight teeth and good service, the love of them grows. Leg braces are nothing great to wear, causing the owner pain and humiliation, but without them there is no motion of one's own. - Steven of "Flos Carmeli"

If the choice is between a careful reevaluation of what is really worth pursuing with our “moral imagination” as Kirk called it, even at the risk of being called a narcissist, a romantic, pretentious, intellectually immodest, sentimental, a puritan, a jerk, or even quirky, on the one hand, and adopting the false sophistication of the cultural nihilists on the other, it seems clear which road, bumpy as it might be, provides a possibility of recovery. - Caleb of "Crunchy Con"

I don't want to be the guy who drives a truck around to various places emptying the port-o-potties. - Bill Luse on Summa Mamas, on least preferable job

Smockolicious's sleeping twins

Whoever wants to learn the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game. - Jacques Barzun via Leo Wong

The Storm Queen made her First Penance in December, and, though a little nervous in the days leading up to it, got through with flying colors. If there is one thing that I can give my children that I, for whatever reason, didn't have in my childhood, it will be a love for and regular practice of the Sacrament of Penance. I do not want them, as I did, to fear and avoid it, and spend many years without. - Bob of "Trousered Ape"

Then the sick and handicapped are brought in wheelchairs before [the Pope], pushed by nuns for the most part, and he gives each of them a blessing. I'm not sure what the history of this is or for how long this has been done, but I found it to be one of the most poignant moments of the audience. There was a long parade of these crucified memembers of the Body of Christ and they evoked from the Marian prayer "do you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, in this valley of tears." The wisdom of giving these souls the privileged position at the audience and the primacy of a personal meeting with the pope was incredibly Christian--a great witness. Would that all in attendance learn to see in those marginalized the truly important. - Michael Dubruiel on the Papal General Audience
Tale of Two Irish Clubs

I'm hyp-mo-tized - as Letterman used to say, and which has now officially become my crutch (what else could be used? 'fascinated'? 'interested'? Watson, get me a thesaurus!) - by the difference between the two Irish groups in town, and how one is sort of pre-Vatican II-ish and the other more post-Vatican II-ish, to the extent, of course, you can compare St. Peter's net to Central Ohio Irish clubs.

Still, the Ancient Order of Hiberians is old school. Like the Latin Mass or the requirement of doctrinal assent, there are barriers to entry for the would-be convert to AOH: You have to be of Irish heritage and you have to be a practicing Catholic. (I practice, I'm just not very good at it. rimshot!) They also emphasize tradition and have that clannish old world feel to them. They used to stand cheek to jowl with (appropriately) St. Patrick's Church - Ah, but for the days of Tara Hall, the AOH'rs social hall which was also St. Pat's social hall, the thatched hut decor, the elegiac rooms with that "old building smell" and the tall ceiling'd dance hall where first the Irish dancers beguiled with their high-kicking black-tarded legs and where we first saw, from the windows behind the bar, our Dickensian work mill and we toasted Guinnesses to Friday freedom. All that was cruelly taken away when a new pastor at St. Patrick's apparently didn't like all that drinking on church property. Cue Loretta:
"Don't come to church a drinkin', with prayin' not on your mind."
But I digress.

AOH and their better-half counterpart "The Daughters of Erin", nominate anonymous saints in human garb for their respective Irishmen & Irishwomen of the year awards. These folks usually homeschool eight children while starting a food pantry for the homeless and taking the 3am slot for Eucharistic Adoration.

I know less about the Shamrock Club, but one can tell something from the name. Which is the more inoffensive, welcoming and non-traditional: the "Ancient Order of Hibernians", which sounds like a Masonic group of sleeping bears, or the "Shamrock Club", a bit fey, sounding of kitschy green bowlers, watery beer and members who don't know St. Patrick from St. Nick and don't much care?

Barriers to entry to the Shamrock Club are low; it's an egalitarian world after all. You don't have to be Irish or Catholic, in fact a third of the members aren't Irish at all. You could be an orange-wearing, Cromwell-loving Ulsterite. Like St. Peter's net, you can make the net big or you can make it small and you'll catch varying numbers of fish. AOH is a small and shrinking group while the Shamrockers are, well, rockin'.

But don't you suffer in quality? The Shamrock's Irishman of the Year this year is a hack politician, a lenient judge, and, of course, we all want lenient judges for ourselves if not for others. He's also been arrested eight times for DUI and knows himself to be a chastened sinner. He therefore does what chastened sinners often do: he lowers punishments and loosens standards for other sinners where he can, sometimes at the risk of public safety. "He has a disease - just like I do," he said about a pedophile who raped two children and received only probation.

So this judge is the Shamrock's "Irishman of the Year". Draw your own conclusions. As Tom of Disputations famously said, "No Church that practices infant baptism can expect very much from its members." I suppose no Irish club with no barriers to entry can expect much from its members either?

March 20, 2006

Shakespeare Quote

The passage that struck me: "The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill, together; our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not, and our crimes would despair if they were not cherished by our virtues." --Richard Brookhiser on the Corner
Rome Interactive Walking Map

Wanted to get this into my archives (via Amy Welborn).
St. Joseph's Day

Fr. Benedict Groeschel has a wonderful devotion to St. Joseph, about whom he says: "how would you like to live with two perfect people?" Indeed if there's disharmony in the house you'll know the cause. But St. Joseph was obviously an extremely holy man and in an age where the number of stepfathers has increased exponentially devotion to the foster father of Jesus ought proceed apace.

I used to wonder why Matthew's genealogy traced the lineage to Jesus through Joseph (given the lack of blood ties), but now I understand it as a good way of saying that the line didn't end with Joseph but continued on, since the promises to Abraham now come via faith in Christ and not via Semitic blood (small 'b').
Jonah Goldberg's Q & A

Endlessly entertaining G-File:
Q: “Whatever happened to the Old G-File? You know, the one with all the tasteful nudity, conversations with your couch, and indiscriminate bashing of libertarians, Alec Baldwin, Cynthia McKinney and the Holodeck?...

A: In part, the question answers itself. Married life, fatherhood, rank careerism, age, maturity: all of these things conspired — like the members of the Pentaveret conspire to make you crave Kentucky Fried Chicken — to make me write less like a whacky twenty-something with nothing to lose. Writing a book, particularly one that involved a vast amount of historical research (at least by my lights), militates against the kind of G-Filing which relies on a lot of free time. More important, I really hate being pigeonholed [“Isn’t that something they do after those Oscar parties?” — The Couch]. You’ll note that the second I became quasi-famous for the French-bashing stuff, I all but stopped the French-bashing. Similarly, I cut wayyyy back on quoting The Simpsons once that became sort of my official shtick. It’s not like I suddenly admired the French for their valor and clean living — they could use a bidet on their filthy Gallic souls! — or stopped liking The Simpsons; it’s just that I think such gimmicks can become the crutch of bad writing. I’m no artiste, but I think one should not only avoid clichés like the plague like bargains at a Haitian brothel, but one should also avoid gimmicks when they become substitutes for creativity [“Oh, look who thinks he’s frick’n James Joyce!” — The Couch].


Question: Who are the decent and fair-minded liberal pundits you’d recommend to a conservative trying to hear the other side of the argument?

Answer: There are a lot of liberals I read and respect — which is different from saying I agree with them. Peter Beinart, Will Saletan, Michael Tomasky, Kevin Drum, Jeffrey Rosen, and Jonathan Rauch come to mind (though Rauch is less of a liberal and more like a gay Vulcan). But there are lots of others. I really dislike the tendency on both sides of the aisle to claim that people who are wrong about this or that are stupid or dishonest. To be sure, stupid and dishonest people will be wrong a lot, but that doesn’t mean that people who are wrong are stupid and dishonest. I really think conservatives must read those they disagree with as much as possible.

Here’s some advice, for what it’s worth. The way to tell if a liberal — or a conservative — is to be trusted is to see how fairly he or she deals with the other side’s arguments. Obviously, you can’t give a full airing to the other side’s point of view or you’d be spending all your time making the other side’s case. And not every column has to be a on the one-hand, on-the-other-hand affair. But, over the long haul, you can tell which liberals actually have the intellectual self-confidence to engage with the other side’s best arguments and not just their worst ones.
Goldberg's truism about how to trust a liberal (or conservative) reminds me of how thorough and respectful St. Thomas Aquinas was in making the other side's arguments in his Summa Theologia. The fact that I'm not familiar with any of the liberals Goldberg respects probably explains why I don't fairly air the arguments on the other side -- I guess I'm ignorant of their best arguments. The moral I suppose is read less Dionne and more Beinart.
Income & Politics

E.J. Dionne rebuts Michael Barone's "trustfunder left" column. Dionne's column makes the unstated assumption that the rich and poor are equally ignorant of economics - which may or may not be true - but I do find it interesing that a relatively high percentage of university economics professors are conservative or libertarian. My stepson was politically liberal until he changed his major to Econ. The fact that the planned economy of the former Soviet Union collapsed and that European economies have been beset by long-term high unemployment rates seems to play little role in the Left's judgment of the Right, where the latter are taken to be either selfish or stupid. Still the stereotypes have a basis in reality; by Dionne's definition of rich, Republicans are wealthier and Democrats are more secular (using regular church attendance as the criteria).
The Annunication

We are hers by begetful love,
her 'yes' lacking pain of sin*,
since Love, like Faith, goes beyond reason.


* - In contrast to Eve's 'no', Mary's 'yes' wasn't under the law (i.e. threat of sin). Theologians say that had Mary turned down the angel Gabriel's request it wouldn't even have been a venial sin.

March 19, 2006

Speaking of DFW...

Wallace in his collection of essays Consider the Lobster, demolishes John Updike, saying that he (DFW) enjoys reading him and admires his descriptive prose but sees his work as surreally solipsistic. Of the Campion Award winner, Wallace writes:
I'm guessing that for the young educated adults of the sixties and seventies, for whom the ultimate horror was the hypocritical conformity and repression of their own parents' generation, Updike's evection of the libidinous self appeared refreshing and even heroic. But young adults of the nineties - many of whom are, of course, the children of all the impassioned infidelities and divorces Updike wrote about so beautifully, and who got to watch all this brave new individualism and sexual freedom deteriorate into the joyless and anomic self-indulgence of the Me Generation - today's subforties have very different horrors...
In another essay, he quotes a passage from Dostoevsky's The Idiot, a passage concerning individual charity versus public charity, and laments the dismal state of modern fiction:
Can you imagine any of our own major novelists allowing a character to say stuff like this?...The straight presentation of such a speech in a Serious Novel today would provoke not outrage or invective, but worse - one raised eyebrow and a very cool smile. Maybe, if the novelist was really major, a dry bit of mockery in The New Yorker. The novelist would be (and this is our own age's truest vision of hell) laughed out of town...Given this (and it is a given), who is to blame for the unseriousness of our serious fiction? The culture, the laughers? But they wouldn't (could not) laugh if a piece of morally passionate, passionately moral fiction was also ingenious and radiantly human fiction. But how to make it that? How - for a writer today, even a talent writer today - to get up the guts to try?

...was an interesting read concerning the novelist David Foster Wallace. I liked the comments, especially this line:
Mencken...was as much a prisoner of his class and historical moment as anyone i can think of.
Even though...

...Andrew Greeley is often irritating in his pronouncements, his blog-like book Everything You Wanted to Know About the Catholic Church But Were Too Pious To Ask is entertaining and surprisingly traditional, given the author. Written in 1970, I think he was trying to buck the Zeitgeist just as now he tries to buck the "conservative" Zeitgeist. (You can see his contrariness in the form of asking, in '99, whether voting for Bush was a mortal sin - he's traditional enough to mention mortal sin but liberal enough to ask the question concerning voting for a GOP candidate.)

Anyway, he writes with regard to fasting:
We used to do it grimly, protestingly, unhappily, and badly during Lent. We don't do it much any more. The idea was that we fasted to expiate our sins. A lot of people today do not believe in either sin or expiation, but they still fast, often throughout the year, for reasons of physical health or attractiveness. We have, in other words, more dieting and less fasting, which may be a paradox but which is probably a contradiction. Might not Lent and Advent be appropriate times for dieting, times when one takes care of both one's spiritual nad physical health by demonstrating resourcefulness, self-discipline, and self-control? Could it be that we have blown a very useful idea on this one?

March 17, 2006

Translator Really Needed?

Sad to learn that the U.S. lost in the baseball world games. A tip o' the cap to the fine Mexican team. In the article linked above we find:
"We came here to win, and that is how we performed this evening," Mexico manager Paquin Estrada said through a translator.
Baseball cliches are such that I don't think a translator is required.
Mattingly's Article on Lack of Penitence

"She's always late to chapel, but her penitence is real."
So go the words of the Sound of Music tune, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?"

And how do you solve the problem of modern Catholicism, i.e. the lack of penitence? Maria's situation is unbearable for the modern Catholic in which there can be no serial sin since there are no "bad Catholics". To identify oneself as a serial sinner in the modern culture is so difficult because we are taught to embrace and love what we are good at. If we're not "good at" Christianity, we tend to either reject it completely or lower the standards to the point where we are superficially good at it.

So many sins of our time are of a chronic nature and those don't lend themselves to repentance. A person caught in a pornography addiction or in a gay relationship or co-habitating will repent with great difficulty simply because to admit it would mean drastic, life-altering change, change that is nearly unimaginable since it would involving living without either the crutch of pornography or the companionship of another person. Anger, by contrast, is a sin that is easily repented because our imagination allows us to believe we will not be angry in the future. But to confess a sin in which we have no plans of avoiding is, to put it mildly, problematical. Yet everyone of us can probably relate to Maria's plight - trying to repent of a sin we are unwilling to give up.
Parade Thoughts

Twas a crisp, sunny St. Patrick's Day, perfect for a parade, but I'd lost track of the time and hustled there late and missed about half of it. The most grevious loss was the beloved Ancient Order of Hibernians, Patrick Pearse Division. I'm not a joiner by nature, but if asked they would prove the exception. The other Columbus area Irish group is the Shamrock Club, and I was surprised to hear that their "Irishman of the Year" was Judge John Connor, a judge who has been arrested for DUI eight times and convicted thrice. He also made the O'Reilly show (Bill called him "America's worst judge", which, if you think about it, is really saying something) because he allowed a man who raped two children off with only probation. Connor excused the man by saying "had a disease" like himself.

In contrast, the Ancient Order of Hiberians usually pick some soul devoted to charitable causes while, at the same time, taking care of his eight or nine children. I kid thee not, some of these Irishmen or Irishwomen of the year get more done before 9am than I do in a year.

So I took my place on the parade route next to a large group of children, eyeing the competition. I had size on them if not speed. Shortly thereafter the local firemen came by throwing out candy and we were off! One threw chocolate wrapped in gold paper and I dove, ala Pete Rose, head first in order to beat a young ruffian bent on the same object. I came up battered and bruised but a chocolate coin richer. (Of course I jest, I made no mad scrambles for any candy but was amused by the kids.)

It's interesting that politicians are so prevalent in the parade. They apparently think this use of their time is worthwhile, which means that they believe that some people vote based simply on the fact that they saw this person in the parade. Certainly doesn't give democracy a good name, does it? I was amused that none of them identified their party affliliation on their placards. No need to turn off a potential voter, 'eh?
St. Patrick's Day

We of Irish descent today celebrate God's use of St. Patrick to deliver us (mostly) from our pagan waywardness. A fun exercise, for cradle Catholics, is to try to figure your "spiritual genealogy" - who passed the Faith to your ancestors (assuming they weren't converts). For the Irish, it's a pretty good bet that it's traceable to St. Patrick. Rarely is it that clear. But I have a couple great-grandparents from Baden, in Germany, so I went to the Catholic Encyclopedia and found the following:
The southern part of the country received the Faith about 610 from St. Columbanus and his pupil St. Gall, who were followed a hundred years later by St. Pirminius. St. Trudpert labored in the Breisgau, and St. Kilian in the north-eastern part of the territory.
In other words, Irish missionaries were responsible. St. Columbanus and St. Gall went to a religious school begun by St. Finian of Clonard. St. Finian had been placed, from an early age, under the care of St. Fortchern. St. Fortchern was the Bishop of Trim, Ireland who had been converted by St. Loman. St. Loman was a nephew of St. Patrick, and was consecrated bishop by today's saint.

March 16, 2006

Interesting Excerpts...

...from Philbrick's "The Heart of the Sea". He writes of the effects of a lack of food, such as lethargy and irritability. Concerning a 1945 experiment in food deprivation he quoted one chronicler of the study who said, "Many of the so-called American characteristics - abounding energy, generosity, optimism - become intelligible as the expected behavior response of a well-fed people."

Philbrick writes that many participants were shocked at how coarse they became during the study:
A majority of the volunteers were members of the Church of the Brethren..."they marveled at how thin their moral and social veneers seemed to be."
I'm surprised that they were surprised. Fasting, if nothing else, teaches how much of our "goodness" is simply bodily satisfaction mistaken as such.
In the Latest NRODT....

Rich Lowry sounds awfully adult:
[Y]ou can already hear people thinking “never again.” Not just never again fight a war for democracy in the Middle East, but never again fight an insurgency.

This replicates almost exactly the reaction to Vietnam. The post-Vietnam Powell doctrine — calling for simple political objectives and the mustering of overwhelming force before launching a war — was meant to keep the U.S. from getting embroiled in another Vietnam-like insurgency. Who wouldn’t prefer to avoid that? But this is where “to hell with them” hawks suffer from their own naivety. Wars rarely line up with your preferences. The first Gulf War met the specifications of the Powell doctrine. No subsequent American war has, from Somalia, to Bosnia and Kosovo, through the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq...Insurgencies can be beaten, and it can be worth it to fight against them. To say “never again” is to give our enemies a road map to deterring us by threatening guerrilla war. It would limit unnecessarily our options in the world. Not all insurgencies look like Iraq. We defeated one by proxy in El Salvador during the Cold War. We are more than holding our own against one in Afghanistan right now.

First, the contention that Islam is a religion of peace. Even if this seems a polite fiction, it is an important one. Influential Muslims believe it to be true, and it is crucial that they prevail in the Muslim struggle for self-definition. Rather than scorning them, we should be doing what we can to support the likes of King Abdullah of Jordan, who has launched an anti-terror initiative, and Iraq’s Ayatollah Sistani, who has been consistent in condemning terrorism. Whatever the theological niceties of Islam, religious cultures take on different colorations across time....We should want to do all we reasonably can to create the conditions in which the positive elements within Islam flower.

Remembering the heroic qualities of Pope JP II, there is one often missed: his simple ability to listen, ad nauseum. There is perhaps no more impressive feat than his chairing interminable bishopric synods and enduring thousands of speeches (ala the senators at the Alito hearings, though the bishops hopefully exercise more intelligence, tact and holiness.) But I say "Santo Subito!" just for his patience in meetings! Make him the patron saint of business men and women?

The Crunchy Con debate is as fascinating as it is no-holds-barred; I haven't been this entertained since the old SNL skit with the tagline, "Jane, you ignorant slut!". The subject is serious though, and what makes this interesting is that there are people I respect on both sides which is an increasingly rare occurrence. The only honesty you see in debate nowadays is intra-party. Despite my contra-Crunchy Con general disposition, the retorts and responses from the Crunchies are often potent - it's like two really good lawyers on opposite sides well-arguing their case. Was it a low blow for Maggie Gallagher to bring Rod Dreher's religious conversion into it?

From a Christian perspective, grace builds on nature so I'm sympathetic to Rod's desire to "build up nature" by promoting more beauty in the physical environment and delivering good food to the ol' physical plant. If I'm eating pork rinds and elephant ears all day, I can hardly expect grace, i.e. God, to overcome the psychic ills which I am perpetuating on myself, can I?

Our neighbor's choices obviously affect us, and not just in the obvious situations of, say, an increased need for health care or, architecturally-speaking, pink front doors. It's sad that my buddy Ham o' Bone cannot buy the 60 m.p.g. Geo Metro he so adores, the stripped down model for $6,000 that he has driven for over fifteen years. An economy predicated on two incomes means that prices for near-necessities like cars may not be easily purchased by a single-incomer with four kids who wants to retire at 45 or write the Great American Novel - whichever comes first.

Amy "Emmy Lou" Welborn pointed out how irrational Garry Wills is when it comes to the subject of things papal, writing that he seems to consider there is a "total disjunction between 'Popes' and 'People of God' as if both exist in a vacuum." Cardinal Newman was certainly right when he said men govern themselves by their sympathies, not their intellect. Even in someone as smart as Wills! How counterintuitive, like a great athlete who refuses to rely on his athletic prowess when encountering a physical obstacle. And speaking of popes, an article asks: "Does Islam need a Luther or a Pope?"

What bibliophile worthy of the name would not experience a sharp intake of breath when first encountering this lovely site?
Objectifying Pretty Women

Lascivious, they were,
brutes who compared the curves
of cars to those of girls and
would she innocently
bend to pick something up
their minds raced like the
revved-up cars they worshipped.

Different, he thought himself,
in his reverence for a maiden's eyes
and long, straight, beckoning hair
eyelashes and lipstick and
bangs of a different sort even
though, in the end,
were they not still his idol?