March 31, 2007

OSU-FLA Rematch?

They say that the stock market "climbs a wall of worry" and that's what it's like for Buckeye fans as they (the players) produce nail-biter after nail-biter, though fortunately with less nail-biting in each passing game.

In Monday's title game, Bill Luse's gatorades (should they beat UCLA) will be highly favored but...

<---the incomparable Mike Conley
Cal Thomas on Tony Snow's Faith
Good Morning Nigeria

Website devoted to scamming the scammers!
The Sacraments

Killjoys one and all
be rationalists and others,
who see God’s gifts to man
and hide beneath the covers.

That long past Passover
is not their type of mission,
for blood o’er the lintel
is merely superstition!

Why should the Jews be saved
through seeming human action,
what merit in lamb’s blood
paint by a tribal faction?

The sacraments denied
then creation was mistaken,
our happiness decried
if God’s Word is thus forsaken.

Why must an act of love –
wheat into God transfigured
be seen as “knock on wood”
as if just bread had lingered?

What scandal must arise
when reading of the one,
who touched His hem of garment
and by relic she was won.

I don’t know why it’s said
that grace comes but invisible
when clearly we are made
by God of something visible.

Many do complain
He forgives us far too quickly
as if our sins erased
suggests that God is sickly.

Some Catholics do suppose
that the sacraments are nice
just don’t treat them like a virtue
or they’ll soon become a vice.

I prefer to hear Pope Pius
a saint and to us leaven
who said Holy Communion
is the shortest way to Heaven.

March 30, 2007


Swift she comes ere Niagra's drop
rapids to ferry the lukewarm,
a smudge of care upon your brow
like some elemental form.

Long those pentitent lines do beg--
not to receive the Christ but dust,
that which we are and shall return
a heedless death to self we must.

“All times the same” is rank presumption
Pray God the holy tithe be kept,
deny no grace that we have coming
this time, this Lent, we do accept.

And as the expiration nears
the soul sings minor chords,
yet if the horse prepares for battle
the victory shall be the Lord’s.

And when the gooseflesh starts to prickle
at the cries of days of yore,
the Holy Wounds assure the fickle
it was our sins that He bore.
Countercultural Reading

Every once in awhile a book comes along that refreshes the palate and serves as a tonic for whatever ills are currently plaguing the body republic.

Back in the Clinton years, the constant ingestation of spinelessness prompted a slow reading of Robertson's magisterial bio of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

It was like spending time in a beautiful dream, reading of that bygone era and of long dead man who stuck to Christ and principle like glue. (I was able to overlook the fundamental error of Jackson's fighting for the wrong side.)

Now at last I've found the biblio-foil for the Bush years. After drinking from a sea of incompetence, at least with respect to Iraq*, how nice to spend some time in the land of competence when things went right in an almost magical way. I'm speaking of the years of Reagan and Thatcher & John Paul II, when there was a healthy suspicion of government and souls (Bush on Putin: "I saw into his soul..."; Reagan: "Trust but verify!"; Vatican curia: ostpolitik;...John Paul II: "Be not afraid!").

John O'Sullivan's The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister is remarkably well-written, a joy to read. If this were a just world it would be a bestseller. O'Sullivan shares released Soviet documents that allow insight into what they were thinking, and how they tried to avoid the fall of their empire.

It's interesting to see that our European allies, who during the '70s were growing increasingly fond of the Soviets compared to the Americans due to their own socially leftward move, unwittingly helped cause the fall. Russia was so pleased by what they hoped would be an eventual complete rift between America and Western Europe that they didn't want to jeopardize that by crushing Poland the way they did with other Eastern European countries in the '50s and '60s.

One realizes in reading this book that good leadership is an aberration. It is certainly not a "right". And reading this fills me with gratitude for them, for the very fact that they existed. If I didn't fully appreciate them at the time I do now.

* - You get one free error. That would be the lack of WMD's. The second error, the lack of postwar planning and/or insufficient troops was the camel that broke this straw's back.
Waiting = Love

From Abraham to Jesus, the waiting is the hardest part. Joe Nichols' latest country hit expresses the "waiting is love" sentiment. It's not surprising that St. Paul began his famous description of love with "Love is patient...". Nichols sings:
He didn't stop all day to eat a bite
And he finally got there around midnight
The doctor said, she's in a better place
She said to give this you this note just in case

And it said, I'll wait for you at Heaven's gate
Oh, I don't care how long it takes
And I'll tell Saint Pete I can't come in
Without my love and my best friend
Oh, this ain't nothin' new
Sweetheart, I'll wait for you
Parody is Therapy... (formerly "News You Can Use") has been updated. Today's feature ranks the most ambitious politicians among the '08 presidential candidates. I don't have to tell you have competitive this competition was.

March 29, 2007

Quick Hits

I did not know this....or this. Romney's looking better all the time.

* * *
You get invited to the Big Dance, then you become sweet, then you become elite, then you become a Finalist then a champion. If all goes well. The Buckeyes are finalists, that is, playing in the Final Four, and next up are the mighty Hoyas of Georgetown, that formerly Catholic institution (intentional sic :-).

March 28, 2007

Science and Authority

I'm currently reading Survival of the Sickest, but found this review to be so true and emblematic of the problem with...well...just about everything from the media to Islam to global warming scientists with agendas - that is, a dearth of impartial and competent authority (surely it's ever been so but it seems especially pronounced these days due to lousy leadership; democracies tend to get bad leadership for reasons explained here):
Now, the book's target audience is clearly educated lay readers such as myself. I know very little about evolutionary aspects on medicine. But when I approach an interesting new field, I don't want to learn the controversial ideas of a fringe maverick. I want to know the current consensus among respected scholars, just like I don't like to turn to maverick plumbers, maverick dentists or maverick auto mechanics for a professional opinion.

Moalem's maverick status means that reading the book feels like walking on thin ice: whenever he says something that surprises me, I wonder, "is this accepted knowledge or a controversial hypothesis? What do non-mavericks in the field think?"

I don't know to whom I might recommend this book. Certainly not to a layperson like myself: too much uncertainty and speculation. And a professional scholar in the field is likely to know most of what Moalem says already. The ideal reader would be someone between these groups as to their level of expertise: perhaps a student of medicine or biology, as optional sweetener for a reading-list otherwise dominated by the stolid views of non-mavericks.
Get Me to a Dictionary!

I mistook "aureole" in the following piece for "areole"! You can imagine my shock and surprise:
St. Thomas, in the 'Supplement,' takes up the question "Whether the Aureole of Virgins Is the Greatest of All" (Q. 96, Art. 12), and concludes that it is not the greatest. John Calvin saw in this very question a perfect example of the sort of inquiry that manifests a hunger for "empty learning" (cf. Institutions, III, 25, 11); seminarians perennially have found in it a subject of much mirth; and contemporary critics of the scholastic method will use the title of this article as the quintessence of the demonstration of its irrelevancy. Do they really imagine that St. Thomas' principal interest lies in determining the material size of the aureoles of virgins in comparison with those of doctors and martyrs? His concern actually bears on identifying the different tests, which these three "classes" of saints must endure for the kingdom of God. One can be confident that St. Thomas is not attempting to downgrade virginity by attributing to it an inferior glory. In fact, St. Thomas's analysis is careful and nuanced: "The martyrs' aureole is only simply the greatest of all … Yet nothing hinders the other aureoles from being more excellent in some particular way." What discretion!
I have to say I was on John Calvin's side on this one until came to the rescue. I had been searching the ol' Petersnet site for William Most's works when I came across the above.
What to Post

I was going to weigh in on this fine link about how modernists and traditionalists are similar. Then I was going to talk about this article concerning Mary: What If She'd Said No?

But then I thought: what is this blog's strength? Is it engaging in theological cunundrums? What (heaven forgive me) is this blog's mission statement? Perhaps: "To edify and entertain to the extent God and Guinness allow" - which has the added benefit of the double alliteration. So with that in mind let's record a slice of daily life as lived in these United States. (I recall submitting something to Reader's Digest's Life in These United States when I was a kid.)

Me, on cell phone to my wife:   "I predict you'll get home at 6:12pm."
She, on cell phone:   "I predict I'll get home at 6:25pm."
Me:   " probably know the time it takes better than I do."
She:   "It varies greatly depending on the traffic on Cemetery road."
Me:   "You know that's why they call it Cemetery road - the cars move so slow they're like stiffs..."
She:   (laughs)
Me:   "Like corpses...Not to beat a dead horse - hey, 'dead'!"
She:   "You're driving this into the ground!"
Me:   "Six feet under!?"

March 27, 2007

Writing that... post earlier today reminds me how Steven Riddle is suffering an excrutiating work stretch. May he come out of it soon and have time to recooperate.

Some folks scoff at my interest in the writings and words of Pope Benedict, but I do come by it honestly, I think. I was fairly unacquainted with him before his election, was brought up short, in a good way, by the homily he gave at his installation Mass, in which he went through the symbols with which he was being vested (the pallium, etc) and explained each one in this amazingly clear, pastoral and rich way. "There's a teacher," I thought...And for him, the answer is Christ. A recent editorial in the NCR(egister) lays it out: The Key to Benedict - which is not, as some would have you believe, nostalgia, a desire to "roll back" Vatican II, authoritarianism, control, or anything like that. - Amy Welborn

The Middle East situation also ought to be studied and judged on two levels. As a field of action to establish democracies, its resistance manifestly cannot be overcome. All effort to that end is wasted, because the United States cannot muster a force greater than the opposing forces, irresistible when joined, of history and religion — and would not if it could. But as a means of keeping at a distance the struggle with our enemy, Islam, our interference in that region may be justified. The huge immigration from the east into the west makes it plausible that if this enemy assaulted us at home, it would trigger not a united defense, but a quasi-civil war. - Jacques Barzun via Leo Wong's barzun100 blog

I'm scandalized that you'd quote Henri Nouwen.  I kid. - Gregg of "Gregg the Obscure". If I ever quote Richard McBrien or Sister Christer, please shoot me.

The Catholic Telegraph used to publish the rules for Lent in the paper every year. I have them stretching back into the mid-19th century. Sometimes they were harsh, other years they were every less intense than today. My sense is that local bishop had quite a bit of control over the Lenten experience for his flock. - commenter on "Ten Reasons"

The thermometer hit 70 yesterday. My little idiots were all over it. - Eric Scheske, who means that in the best possible sense

Dying to self is never fatal. - via MamaT of Summa Mamas

A few days after her murder commenced, I lost hope, and said so in "Goodbye, Terri". The reasons why are made plain in the article. The Law - is it dead yet? is an inconclusive rumination on the relationship between legality and morality...[There is] a tacit admission that the separation of powers is more important in principle than preventing the murder of a single individual. We musn't lower ourselves to the other side's tactics. They may lose their heads, but we must keep ours. This was the same line taken by a shorter, less legalistically precise offering in Touchstone in July of that year, the claim that judicial activism to save Terri would have been morally equivalent to the kind that gave us Roe v. Wade, to which I responded with a letter of outrage. - Bill of "Apologia" on the second anniversary of Terri Schiavo's death

There are a few books I'd run back into a burning house to rescue. Now the thoughtful folks at the University of Chicago Press have saved me from burning to death by putting online one of the best books I've ever owned: "The Founders' Constitution". It was my near-constant companion for a good part of my early 20s - I daydreamed of the day far in the future, perhaps at age 40, when I could have the entire set on a bookshelf and peruse them at my leisure. And now there they are. I love the internet. - Bill of "Summa Minutiae"

Sacramental grace often comes before the sacrament. This is the case with the Sacrament of Repentance in which our presence at the sacrament is an indication of our having received that grace. Our resistence to Confession is indicationo of the lack of repentance. The sacraments of re-entrance into the City of God, baptism and repentance both involve water; with repentance the water is provided by our tears. Tears are okay, for we are imitating the King, who wept for the sins of Jersualem -- that is our sins. Kings were responsible in ancient times for the irrigation of the city, and if our hearts are hardened against tears then ask the King to soften your soul and irrigate it until compunction arrives. - Fr. Hayes

Perhaps it's obstinacy masquerading as confusion, but I rarely hear from St. John without either massive befuddlement or a faith-killing depression. Neither advances my spiritual growth in any detectable way. Sometimes I find myself considering things like a Lay Dominican chapter, and almost immediately reject it, for fear of what I will have to reveal about myself and/or give up. This certainly tells me that I have things that I need to reveal and/or give up, but it also tells me that below the surface of my life I have things that "happen in Heaven," that need to stop happening here so they won't happen there anymore. So, it's perhaps more than a literary device. But St. John always has the effect of making me think about despair. Real, full on, desolation of the unforgivable sin kind. - JB the (revivified) Kairos Guy on Disputations

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, "Where's the self-help section?" She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose. - joke via email

Thomas Aquinas v. John of the Cross. Winner: Thomas Aquinas by forfeit. John of the Cross went into ecstasy and ceded the game to Thomas. Thomas honored John's better choice by leading the disappointed crowd in a solemn version of "Tantum Ergo Sacramentum". - from Ironic Catholic's "March Madness: The Elite Eight of Catholic Theologians"
Working Theories

Today's topic, work, is prompted by the Merle Haggard "Big City" lyrics I posted the other day.

One joke around the house is to recall Job in the Old Testament. Isn't that why they call them jobs?

But work can't be dismissed simply as a four-letter word you can say on a Catlick blog. Because even God worked, and He pronounced it good. He worked six days before resting and man's first day coincided with the Sabbath ("the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.")

Work is an interesting phenomenon. It seems to be presented both positively and negatively in the book of Genesis. It's presented positively in Genesis 2:15 - "The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it."

Who knew there was work in Paradise?

Care and cultivation is what we do every day in our jobs. All jobs are gardening jobs, that is a bringing forth of order from chaos. Removing weeds, tilling the soil, etc. The housecleaner brings order the chaos. The auto mechanic rearranges the raw materials and derived materials of God's creation in order to produce a working engine. The computer programmer arranges meaningless symbols into meaningful code.

That gentleman farmer imagery seems lovely but after the Fall work seems to become literally a curse: "Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life...By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat."

That was mostly my image of work. It seemed reasonably accurate. Sweat...toil...uncooperative ground. Check...check..check.

When I was young I looked at work completely as a currency. At the tender age of 23, I'd cast a gimlet eye toward any proposed purchase. I'd calculate the future value (20 years at a healthy 13% rate o' return) of the cost of something and announce, "this would delay my retirement by six months! Would I trade this (fill in the blank) for six months of work?" It never occurred to me to look at work as a service performed for God.

In fact, I saw it all in "black helicopter" terms. The government, big business and ad agencies combined to accomplish their end - to get you to work and spend your whole life. The ad agencies tried to lure your money away. The government taxed you such that you'd be working for free until May of every calendar year. Big businesses paid just enough to cover expenses and provide a little spending money but not enough to allow you to radically underspend your income such that you wouldn't need them. The design seemed to be to pay you enough such that you could retire at precisely the point you were of decreased utility to them.

That seems unduly cynical and ignorant of how a free market works. It also surely contains a bit of buck-passing: radical underspending can be accomplished as Ham o' Bone proved. (I think he lived at the YMCA for awhile, or at least considered it; he consistenly spent only 30% his modest starting salary.) And what's wrong with a mobile home?

But one pastor recently said that the key to work is that we must know that we're adding to the common good so that it becomes a way of "praying always". (Didn't St. Benedict say 'work is prayer'? Or maybe not.) If we realize that we are doing God what wants us to do even if our jobs are not inherently "spiritual" in the sense that a priest, minister or rabbi's is, or even a doctor's or nurse's, that leads to contentment.

Our usefulness is often not immediately obvious in a bureaucratic age of specializations and "cogs in a wheel". The homilist said that some of us raise work to an idol status (the overly ambitious), others put up with it as a necessary evil to get a paycheck, others loathe it and want to retire as soon as possible, others see it as a means to an end, i.e. as a way to support charities. He said all of those views are wrong, pointing out how work is intrinsically good (Gen 2:15).

I'm pleased and gratified that I can't get away with nuthin' on the ol' blog. It proves readers are still reading even after 6,423 posts or whatever it is now. I've only repeated myself in about 1,000 of those posts, which ain't too bad.

Yesterday I tried to sneak in a quote from Henri Nouwen. Since I'm suspicious of any man who spells his name the French way, I buried it under a couple other posts. But I've gotten two emails on it already which obviously makes it a VCP ("very controversial post") since they say for every letter you get there are ten people who would've except they figured others would write. So that's twenty emails. Ten in favor of quoting Nouwen, ten against.

Gregg the Obscure came out of obscuirty to write, quite humorously, that he was scandalized by my quote. His email is suitable for framing or STG ("Spanning the Globe"), whichever comes first. Steven Riddle sent me a "TSK, TSK" headline and then welcomed me to the land of Liberalism, even going so far to thank me for my impending support for Hillary.

An attaboy from Steven might well be cause for concern. (I kid.) I'm beginning to feel like George Herbert Walker Bush in need of a Margaret Thatcher to stop me from going wobbly. Elena? Will I be dancing with cats soon?

But seriously, I had no idea Nouwen was considered that liberal. He's no Sister Christer or Richard McBrien.

March 26, 2007

Fr. Hayes Lecture Notes

Lecture titled "Up to Jersualem...The Journey with Jesus":

What made biblical cities, like other ancient cities, a city? Walls. You couldn’t have a town without them. Walls not only defined the city limits but protected the inhabitants from mauraders and invaders. Walls also made punishment of transgressors within possible, since if the watchers in the towers noted a crime they could command "close the gates!" and stop the person from fleeing, and therefore be able to find him within the city confines.

This is an analogy for Judiasm and Christianity with respect to the building of the New Jerusalem (Jerusalem literally means "City of Peace".) The walls define us, protect those within the walls, and allow for punishment of transgressors of those within the walls.

What are “the walls” of Judiasm & Christianity? In the Old Testament it was circumcision. In the New Testament it is baptism. In the Old, circumcision was a shedding of blood, a giving up of part of our member, and appropriately since that part is most notorious for our most unruly desires, a symbol of our concupiscence. In the New Testament St. Paul calls baptism “the circumcision of the heart”, which means that the New Testament addresses the source of our unruly desires – from what comes from within, from our hearts.

Joshua (in Greek 'Yeshua' meaning “Jesus”) was the first to cross into the land promised to Abraham’s descendents. He crossed the Jordan river and the first city he took was Jericho, the ten-thousand year old town that was often represented with Rome and Babylon and others as ‘the devil’s city’. Jericho is the city situated at the lowest point on earth, a way of saying something spiritually through topography.

Joshua didn’t conquer all the Holy Land at once, though he did take many cities. It was left to his descendents to continue to gain the Promised Land. And which was the last city to fall? Jerusalem, by King David. But when David wanted to build the first Temple in Jerusalem, God said no. It was God's plan that a man of peace would build the temple at the "City of Peace", not a man with blood on his hands. David’s son Solomon (name “Shalomo” or ‘peaceful man’) built the Temple, just as another man of peace, Jesus, would build the new Temple.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem the final time why did he go out of his way, choosing an inconvenient route by crossing the Jordan river and going into Jerusalem via the uphill, desert road of Jericho? Because it was the route Joshua took. Jesus was intentional in this in order to show himself as the new Joshua. Why did he cleanse the Temple at Jerusalem when he'd been there before and likely saw the same things (moneychangers) going on? To fulfill the prophecy that zeal for his Father’s house would consume the messiah. The road Jesus took into Jerusalem was straight uphill - a symbol of the spiritual life being compared to climbing a mountain. Jericho is 853 feet below sea level while Jerusalem stands on the crest of a chain of mountains that cross Palestine from north to south, and which is its highest point 2558 feet above sea level. But Jerusalem doesn't lie on any important trade routes, nor is it the highest point, nor is there any natural reason why this city should be one of the most important places in the world for over four thousand years. Why Jerusalem? Because it was God-chosen, not man-chosen.

Bible history begins with Abraham; the first eleven chapters of Genesis are like "algebra" rather than a straight history. The only place in the bible where God asked for an animal sacrifice was when Abraham was told in Genesis 22 to sacrifice a ram caught in the thicket in lieu of his son Isaac on Mount Moria, the future site of the Temple of Jersualem. Abraham never owned any land in the Holy Land other than his grave plot in Hebron, south of Jerusalem. Abraham was basically nomadic. Shem, one of Noah's sons, might have been the mysterious Melchizedek, the "King of Salem" (Jerusalem) who offered Abraham bread and wine. (The word Semite comes from the name 'Shem'.)

The Mount of Olives, just east of the Temple, is where prophecy said the messiah was to arrive (and the sight of the Second Coming) and so the Jews' graves just outside the city all faced that mountain. Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to great praise and fanfair from that mountain only to be killed soon after. The Garden of Gethsemani is also there.

Another example of God using geology as a prop was when Jesus took Peter up to Ceasari-Phillipi. The most prominent rock in the Holy Land is the one around which the Temple in Jerusalem was built. The second is the massive wall of rock at Caesarea Philippi, where there were pagan altars above and below it. That was the rock upon which Jesus would build his church against which the gates of hell would not prevail.

The Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the commandments given to Moses and some of the manna given by God in the desert. The new Ark of the Covenant became the Blessed Mother, with Jesus's new Law of love and himself as manna in the Eucharist. Faced with the ark, David said, "Who am I that the ark of the Lord should come to me?" (2 Sam 6:9) Elizabeth tells Mary in almost the same words, "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43) Why is Mary referred to as a "Queen"? Psalm 45 depicts a royal wedding with the line "The queen stands at your right hand, at your right hand arrayed in gold". And yet the queen isn't the person the king is marrying! Polygamy is and was a rich man’s game since the one ironclad rule that makes it work is that every wife gets her own house. So it is the Queen mother who lives with the King, who "stands at his right hand".
The Christian is Never Scandalized

Our pastor quoted the great Blessed Claude de la Colombiere yesterday at Mass in reference to the gospel reading about Jesus and the woman accused of committing adultery.

He quoted Blessed Claude's aphorism: "the Christian is never scandalized." This is due to the recognition that we're all walking on the precipice of sin and disaster and it's the mercy of God that rescues and extricates us. Monsignor said that we lack Christian maturity to the extent we are scandalized. I think the Church scandals and the MacFarlane case have to some extent served as a goad toward my own maturity since I was certainly scandalized.
Mercy & Punishment

The homilist at a recent mass said that to the extent we equate the justice system with revenge and punishment rather than healing then we are harboring profoundly unChristian thoughts. No surprise there; I think most people (other than perhaps the victim's family) see the purpose of our justice system as protecting the safety of society and/or a deterent rather than as revenge or punishment. On the other hand, our society's will to work towards healing and rehabilitation of criminals would admittedly be much weaker of course.

I bring up that part about justice mostly by virtue of its juxtaposition with part of a talk I heard by EWTN's Fr. Corapi, who mentioned purgatory and how our transgressions must be paid to the last penny (quoting Luke 12:59). It seems here that Purgatory is depicted more as punishment than as healing, although the paying back of a debt can be seen as distinct from punishment for punishment's sake.

A day or two earlier I'd read one of the Lenten devotions by Fr. Henri Nouwen given out to the parish. He writes: "It is so important that you really try to understand the heart of God. God does not condemn you, does not judge you, does not want to punish you. Those images exist in the Old Testament and even in the New Testament, but they are images that say more about the limitations of our expression than about the heart of God. From some of those readings and from our teachers we have come to think that God is only full of love for those who are good, but not for those who are bad…and yet 'God makes the rain to fall on the wicked as well as on the righteous.'"

March 25, 2007

National Review Review of Tocqueville Bio

But it was precisely one of Tocqueville’s greatest insights that although human beings are not determined creatures, we are conditioned ones. The astonishing intellectual-moral achievement of Tocqueville, as Jacques Barzun has pointed out, was to understand the human person as having not only a conditioned free will but a conditional one. (Dostoevsky’s depiction of this moral-epistemological fact in fiction puts him in a class of genius far beyond any 19th-century French novelist.) Tocqueville’s love of liberty, like that of Burke, the Federalists, and Lincoln, asserts the existence of human liberty in a moral universe, within a providential, theistic framework. Tocqueville avoids the extremes of both determinism/fatalism (Islam, Spinoza, Cabanis, Gobineau, and their many modern successors, especially Marxist and Darwinian) and a radical, post-moral libertinism or self-will that was growing in his age and was promoted intellectually by such post-Christian thinkers as Carlyle, Emerson, Whitman, and Nietzsche, as well as by the gross, unregenerate class and individual selfishness for which the French use the phrase “l’homme moyen sensuel.” His profound insight on these issues makes him a permanent treasure of civic wisdom and self-knowledge, one of the great orthodox writers of the modern era.

As André Jardin correctly and luminously says in his biography, Tocqueville’s conception of liberty “was something more sacred than Benjamin Constant’s individualism and much closer to the Pauline freedom of the children of God.” As Tocqueville’s mentor Burke put it in Reflections on the Revolution in France, “What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils.” In Tocqueville’s own words, “Freedom is, in truth, a sacred thing. There is only one thing else that better deserves the name: That is virtue. But what is virtue if not the free choice of what is good?” (Emphases in the original.)

If this long-time reader of Tocqueville has any quarrel with Brogan’s painstakingly detailed depiction of Tocqueville’s life and thought, it is with his condescending dismissal of Tocqueville’s discussion of the tendency for democracy to breed pantheism in Part II of Democracy in America: “What Makes the Mind of Democratic Peoples Lean Toward Pantheism.” Scholars of Romanticism and popular culture from Irving Babbitt to Jacques Barzun, Quentin Anderson, E. D. Hirsch, Daniel Bell, and Allan Bloom have remarked upon the promiscuous, pantheistic spirituality whose forefathers were Rousseau and Whitman and whose progeny is our ubiquitous “rock culture.” Very much in Tocqueville’s manner, Anderson saw Whitman’s demotic cultural campaign as “a rejection of Christianity on behalf of an emotional egalitarianism” that was rooted in Whitman’s “rejection of the idea that the self is internally structured by conscience.” In The Closing of the American Mind, Bloom discerned the key pantheistic-spiritual role that rock music pervasively plays in the sensibility of our young. Bell sees an anarchic aesthetic paganism undermining the otherwise successful operation of the American polity and economy. Barzun has noted the increasing vulgarity of our culture, and quoted Tocqueville’s comments on the dark side of egalitarianism: “Low emotions and ignoble instincts . . . are the products of equality.” Writing in 1986, Barzun argued that “leveling down” may take us far below “comfortable mediocrity” and reduce our “social surface to the plane of the deliberately sordid.”

That Burke and Tocqueville were profoundly concerned with manners and mores is a sign of their wisdom, and Tocqueville’s worries about egalitarianism, democratic culture, and pantheism are far from misplaced or irrelevant to our condition and that of our current cultural effluvia. The pantheistic, democratic sensibility from Rousseau and Whitman to Allen Ginsberg, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and Madonna is a lethal toxin, a form of cultural bacteria that may rot from within a prosperous civilization that has defeated its most dangerous external foes.

Plato expressed such suspicions long ago. Tocqueville had over 2,000 more years of historical experience on which to draw to make his case against the pantheistic perversions of democracy and equality, and in favor of their noble and positive features. As Hugh Brogan’s fine biography shows, Tocqueville was a rare thing: an aristocrat who was really noble, in thought, word, and deed, and whose liberality was never libertine.

March 24, 2007

The New Yorker Poems

I like how New Yorker poems look on the page
      their crisp lines well-margined and dense-furnished,
with words that reside only in dictionaries
      but could double as wall-hangings for the sage.

They talk of serious things like death and taxes
      but mostly I like the broken-up text,
with abrupt        -    and surprising!    -        indentations,
      and with the gib-cut of words like "remex".

Sometimes we see poetry as the antidote
      to the snakebite of a surfeit of journalism,
while other times we like the idea of it
      more than the fact of its actualism*.

So let the New Yorker poems wash o'er you,
      like mood music on a a Sunday afternoon,
Study them like the Times daily crossword,
      or gaze at them like books on the moon!

* - As if they were refuge areas in far-flung places where no one ever goes except the caribou.

* * *

Tale of Two Cats

Two little fur’d denizens of the house,
lay next to each other and grouse,
Irritated by proximities only one chose
They'll sleep the sleep of family foes.

I wait and watch for tonight’s big fight,
since Sam’s tail is too close to the other’s nose tonight,
But time heals all wounds or at the very least
induces sleep in these feline beasts.


What would we do without blogs? The world would be a poorer. Because where in the MSM would you find Man on a Mission, a site devoted to mission statements? And the hat tip goes to reader Kevin.

Also, kudos to those cardiac-causin' kids, the OSU Buckeyes, on their Final Four birth.

March 23, 2007

Ah Yes...

Smockmama brings back memories with her country song lyric post. Always loved George Strait's All My Ex's too. Brings back another of my favorite Strait lines:
"Cold Fort Worth beer just ain't no good for jealous,
I try it night after night."
I also recall a Merle Haggard song:
"Down through the ages men have died for their women
And they've done so, so many times
But each time I loved one I always lost one
And I guess the right one is so hard to find.

So I'm shoppin' for dresses with no one to wear them
One in each color and one in each style
Maybe some day I'll find me a lady to wear them
Then my shoppin' will be done for a while

I bet somewhere a lady is shoppin' for britches
Comparing the values and apprasing each pair
Maybe someday the good Lord will get us together
And we'll both have a new wardrobe to wear."
"Big City" was one of my favorite Haggard songs when I was twenty years old, a fact that is downright hilarious given the lyrics:
I'm tired of this dirty old city.
Entirely too much work and never enough play.
And I'm tired of these dirty old sidewalks.
Think I'll walk off my steady job today.

Turn me loose, set me free, somewhere in the middle of Montanna.
And gimme all I got comin' to me,
And keep your retirement and your so called Social Security.
Big City turn me loose and set me free.

Been working everyday since I was twenty.
Haven't got a thing to show for anything I've done.
There's folks who never work and they've got plenty.
Think it's time some guys like me had some fun.

Turn me loose, set me free, somewhere in the middle of Montanna.
And gimme all I got comin' to me,
And keep your retirement and your so called social security.
Big City turn me loose and set me free.
A Randy Travis number:
On one hand I count the reasons I could stay with you
And hold you close to me, all night long.
So many lover's games I could play with you
And on that hand I see no reason why it's wrong

But on the other hand, there's a golden band
To remind of someone who would not understand
On one hand I could stay and be your loving man
But the reason I must go is on the other hand.
I also like this Randy Travis duet with oldtimer George Jones, in which Jones compares the young Travis to a train:
From the smoke it's hard to tell
What's coming down the line
We heard you were a fast train
Coming out of Caroline
We wondered what you were haulin'
When you rolled on into town
Say it's good to know there's still
A few ol' country boys around.
Feel free to google for complete lyrics to any o' these songs.
Interesting National Review Article Reviewing Joan Didion's Work
Didion might seem to be wasting her considerable talents writing about an already oft-explored figure like Howard Hughes. But her sharply discerning essay, with shades of James, not only hints at what the Master might have made of Hughes. It explains the American mind, even today:
That we have made a hero of Howard Hughes tells us something interesting about ourselves, something only dimly remembered, tells us that the secret point of money and power in America is neither the things that money can buy nor power for power’s sake (Americans are uneasy with their possessions, guilty about power, all of which is difficult for Europeans to perceive because they are themselves so truly materialistic, so versed in the uses of power), but absolute personal freedom, mobility, privacy. It is the instinct which drove America to the Pacific, all through the nineteenth century, the desire to be able to find a restaurant open in case you want a sandwich, to be a free agent, live by one’s own rules.
In the age of blogs, cellphone cameras, and reality TV, Didion’s last sentence is hauntingly prescient: “He is the last private man, the dream we no longer admit.”
Bingo: Not Quite a Spiritual Work of Mercy

They're only happy when they're complaining. When they stop complaining I know something's wrong.

-- administrator at West Point on the cadets
It’s Thursday night bingo and I have Rednecks. Let me ‘splain. Rednecks is an instant winning lotto game which is very popular and they’ve just become available in the back room, the ‘sacristy’ of the bingo hall if you will. For the next twenty minutes I’ll be the most popular guy in the joint and, knowing this, I walk softly while carrying this big stick.

I whisper it to the first few people. “Tell no one!” I’d like to say, because things tend to avalanche quickly. If word gets around too quickly four will yell “Rednecks!” simultaneously and then three will be disappointed, provoking a stream of muttered swear words. They’re sure that I just sold the winner to the person in front of me. They must have psychic powers because even I don’t know which tickets are winners even though they hold me accountable.

They take it personally when they lose. “You didn’t sell me any winners!”. Once in a great while I’ll hear, “you sold me a winner!”. It might be because there are so many more losers than winners, or else it's due to the ingratitude inherent in fallen human nature.

I am scrupulous about serving everyone equally in the order my ears hear them. One woman was bitter that I’d ignored her. “I’m deaf,” I said to console her. “You sure are!” she agreed. I tend to pick up some voices better than others and hers happens to be high-pitched enough that only dogs can hear. I tell her that (though not the dog part) and she tries on a real low gravelly voice. "Better."

Apart from the simple fairness of serving all equally, all players have value since all are building up the Kingdom indirectly via financially building up our church and school. Call it indirectly building something up that indirectly builds up God’s Kingdom. In the spiritual realm God serves everyone equally and knowing that makes me feel good. He’s as happy with the sinner’s mite as the saint’s millions. I go around collecting little bits of worthless earthly currency and He goes around collecting little bits of priceless spiritual currency and he finds my pittance as charming as I do the elderly lady's three stacks of four quarters.

Bingo is sort of come-as-you-are with no dress code. Co-worker Kim humorously quipped, “No bra, no teeth, no problem.” I hadn’t noticed any lack of bras. I think there’s some sort of ironclad law: women are more likely than men to notice the lack of bra worn by an unattractive woman whereas men are more likely than women (or at least more quick) to notice the lack of bra worn by an attractive woman. Do we see what we want to see? I’d just noticed, for the first time, an amazingly large amulet a guy was wearing. He was older but with the jet black hair that implied the liberal use of hair dye. Around his neck there was some sort of Star Trek-like fake gemstone, light blue and about three inches in diameter. Gaudy as the day is long. I was momentarily hypnotized. Kim’s mom said she’d seen it long ago, at bingo months ago. “I miss nothing; I notice everything” she says. There’s the eye of a true writer. I told her that by contrast I miss nothing that I shouldn’t notice. I've sued my eyes for custody but the case is pending.

I cry wolf to Matt, our almost robotically friendly (but not effusively so) co-worker. He seems a sort of southern gentleman sans accent, a Riddle-ish sort. Always smiling and peaceful, he shakes my hand when he sees me and seems glad to do so. I say I cried wolf because I tell him I’m still interested in joining his Knights of Columbus. It was a reflex reaction to his warm handshake and it’s not untrue; I’d been considering it just the other day though I’d been considering it in the way one considers going to the art museum – that it'd be nice to do some day, a pseudo-mythical day when the law of inertia had been overcome or in my retirement, whichever came first. The Knights must really need new members so I should’ve just kept my thoughts to myself until I was serious. The organization seems a bit too fraternal but it seems a good thing to hang around serious Christian dudes on the theory it could rub off. But then that would make it about me and not helping the Knights and their mission right?

Changes come around real soon at bingo, to paraphrase Mellencamp. Like, for example, the no-smoking ban that recently got enforced. And like how we don’t get free pizza anymore after bingo or the annual summer bingo volunteer picnic. The Ohio no-smoking ordinance means lower revenues for bingo, which means belt-tightening for us. We did, however, get a mission statement. I forgot to ask Joe whose idea it was to craft a bingo mission statement - something about as useful as a three dollar bill. I read it only because I love the perfect banality of mission statements. There is great beauty in banality if only we had eyes to see, and I am a connoisseur of them much as I am of spam and Nigerian scammer emails. This one states the obvious: we want to make money to support the church and school in a friendly environment. I hope they didn’t spend too long on it. Because time is money ya know.

I believe ninety percent of our bingo clients don’t have a gambling problem. That’s my guess based on body language. The ones who worry me are those who stammer a “give me ten” between pursed lips, their hands clasped in fists of rage over the audacity of those previous ten tickets revealing no winners. But fortunately those not enjoying the instant winner buying experience seem relatively few. Gambling is entertainment and if they’re not having fun doing it then something is amiss.

I felt great solidarity with our customers at 7:05pm. Normally I don’t even notice what time we start but they were angry and I was too because it’s supposed to start promptly at seven and the Buckeyes play tonight. There’s a Sweet Sixteen NCAA tournament game beginning at 9:35 (turned out it was 10:15 tipoff) and time was of the essence.

7:01…7:02…by 7:04 I was shrugging my shoulders and gesticulating wildly, like an Italian on a hot August night. I was ginned up by the crowd and playing it up for the crowd. I hear you. I am here for you. As Bill Luse used to say, delusions of grandeur keep me going.

One lady smiled at me knowing that her prayers had been answered. I could do what they couldn't and I did. I stalked into the bingo sacristy room as if heads were going to roll and asked “what’s going on? Why aren’t we starting?” This was met with no response other than disinterested shrugs, and even the shrugs were imperceptible to the naked eye. Then I noticed the bingo caller walking towards his podium. How could a Buckeye fan not start this thing on time? I sigh: it’s gonna be a long one.

March 21, 2007

The Great Pascha Debate

Well, today, fresh off the press is a four-page type-written reply addressed to that third of the Byzantine parish who asked that Easter be celebrated not at 10pm Saturday night but on Easter Sunday morning. It's to be printed in Sunday's bulletin.

I spilt many pixels on this subject to my interlocutor, and these are pixels that I can never get back again. He called it "the Great Debate"; I suggested our next debate be: "Do debates ever change anyone's mind, or simply lock each in their opinion more firmly?" Now there's a worthwhile debate.

I got the four-page letter surreptiously from a friend of a friend who's on the parish council and who asked that this not be forwarded to anyone outside the continental U.S.. I told him other than a quick forward to Drudge, mum's the word.

I was disappointed by the lack of invective in Father's letter. A quick word search revealed no hits for "crybabies", "whining" or "wussies". I could never be a pastor.

Instead he talked about the bishop's directive that unity be preserved by having only one Easter service for those whose church buildings can accommodate the full parish, and by the dramatic symbolism of candles in the dark which recall the first chapter of the gospel of John. There was mention made that no registered parishioner had expressed concerns about the 10pm liturgy to him. (It looks like "The Letter" was the first hint.)

But all's fair in love and Pascha liturgies. I say next year we get protest signs and march up Cleveland Avenue and then set up a picket outside the rectory. After all, Americans have the right to life, liberty and Easter Sunday services.

UPDATE: Matt spilled the beans:

Kudos to Dateline

Well my wife and I sat down to watch Dateline's "Catch a Nigerian Scammer" show and there was a shot of an email mailbox full of scammer emails and she asked, "Any of your friends there?"

Didn't recognize anyone (though I forget the name of that Nigerian scammer to whom I sent my Aunt Pixel offer), but kudos to Chris Hanson, who made daily calls over two and a half months to win the confidence of one 419 scammer. The mind reels; most men didn't try that hard to woo their wives.

Still I think the real story was lost. Scammers, like the poor, will always be with us. What fascinates me is the scammees, those folks who send $10K, $15k, up to $120,000 to them. What is the demographic of these folks? Do they lack the cynical gene? Wouldn't the poor grammar, all caps and misspellings give them pause?

Their naievty naturally fascinates me (the "great Other"), but it's also interesting how they represent the outer limits of "word of mouth" - that oral (or emailed) tradition of warning others against scammers. Presumably, you'd get your first Nigerian scammer email and before sending your life savings you might bounce that idea off, well, anyone. A spouse, a child, a friend, your dog. And they would naturally set you straight of course, because the odds against any two people together being duped are astronomical.

So my assumption was that nearly everyone knows about Nigerian scammers by now but obviously there are a lot of people who don't, otherwise it wouldn't be a $1 billion (yes, with a 'b' according to Chris Hanson) industry.

I keep thinking that scammers will reach a point of diminishing returns but year after year it seems the top of the bell curve has yet to be reached. Barnum, phone your office.
Have to Get This in my Archives

Police dogs recognized Christ in the Eucharist?

...via Apologia.
Talk Shows

Thomas Sowell talks about talk:
Talk shows began to fascinate me when I was a teenager, many years ago...Over the years I also began to listen to Meet the Press, and to watch David Susskind’s television roundtable program, Open End, and many others.

In more recent years, I can’t bear to watch most of the talk shows on television, and on radio I listen only to Rush Limbaugh and a couple of others. What has happened? Is it just my becoming ornery in my old age or have the programs themselves changed?
I used to listen to a lot of talk shows. Crossfire, Meet the Press, This Week with David Brinkley. Maybe I'm in a post-political phase of life, in the way women become post-menopausal, or maybe they've changed.

I might watch five minutes of This Week and maybe a little bit of O'Reilly from time to time. As a consequence I'm surely much less politically informed than in the past but given the minutiae that the shows indulge in - i.e. such as the Albert Gonzalez situation, the whole Plame joke, etc... - it means there's little apparent loss yet. And I figure the book Cobra II, concerning the Iraq War, is equivalent to listening to 1.2 million talking head hours.
Short Story Tuesday - an Imagined Spiritual Conversation

Larry: "I can’t say I often feel the power of the Holy Spirit during times of temptation, even those few times when I invoke the Spirit in the midst of it. Often I am angry or prideful or lustful and there is no immediate relief from those feelings. So I white-knuckle it. To what extent is our freedom is limited by our native psychology, say a tendency towards depression or "Fightin' Irish" anger? I suppose that's a moot point since because we don't know how much our freedom is impaired, it can't be of any objective use."

Moe: "Oh but we already have power, we already have the Spirit by virtue of our baptism and faith in Christ. A power unfelt at times but---"

Larry: "At Pentecost the power was felt - isn't that the model?"

Moe: "No, the Spirit prefers to work modestly, invisibly, humbly, without a big show, seeking the lowest ground, that is humble ground. Besides, the bigger the show, the bigger the cross. Pentecost was a preparation for their martyrdom."

Larry: "Yeah I can see that. I guess prayer for me is a great perspective-builder. Going to Mass or saying the rosary or reading Scripture will slowly turn things around such that I see the bigger picture. That, for example, no anger is worth holding on to in the light of Christ. He makes me feel good again, lucky sometimes, or at least lucky to have another chance to please Him. Or else I'll recognize that I simply have no choice - that I can't hold a grudge against my neighbor and receive at the Eucharistic banquet and I am at peace in that choicelessness."

Curly: "My notion of the spiritual life is that it's like a lotto game. People play the lottery in order to get a chance to win the big jackpot and prayer is the spiritual equivalent. Every day you pray and every day you fail – you scratch off a ticket that says you lost. And you ask for forgiveness and the next day you get up and you pray and then scratch off that day’s ticket with new hopefulness. To win the spiritual lottery is to win that sudden influx of love into your heart. That you become on fire for love of God and feel a great zeal and, to switch analogies, to become a champion, a saint, a Babe Ruth in love of God and neighbor. And, then the ultimate sense the spiritual lottery is, of course, Heaven, literally the heavenly jackpot."

Larry: "Interesting Curly I've never looked at it that way before. [gives a noogie.] I tend to look down lottery participation, thinking it a tax on people who are bad at math. Money doesn’t make people happy, and besides they should save that money in a bank since the odds are so poor."

Curly: "But why do the poor play the lottery so much more than the middle class let alone the rich? Because living hand-to-mouth, with a constant worry about debt makes the dream of winning so much sweeter than someone with fewer debts. Is it like that in the spiritual realm? If I were virtuous and holy and devout, instead of constantly incurring debt (with a host of demon creditors thinking they own me), then would I be less concerned about the spiritual realm? Would I pray as often? Would I scatch those spiritual tickets? What about you Moe?"

Moe: "Hmm...well I think of the spiritual life as "family life." That is, under normal conditions, you don't "feel" love all the time. Yes, you love your mom and dad and brothers and sisters, but you don't really run an emotional or feeling "high." It simply is. Then in crisis, suddenly, you understand the bond that holds you. Like when mom died. Yes, I missed my mother and knew I loved her, but suddenly, I understood my deep connection with God. I prayed incessantly, in Love with God and feeling it for a short time. I was more certain than ever of His existence, even though these are exactly the times when many begin to doubt--a loved one taken away far too young and all."

March 20, 2007


A few weeks ago I reported on a surprise mystical mass-going experience I had recently had. I had an experience where it seemed to me the Holy Spirit was swirling around what I had previously tagged in my mental catalog of parishes as a den of heresy and post-postmodern mediocrity and spiritual dearth. The kind of place which is probably the norm these days and which the poor, longsuffering, half-assed-but-sensible Catholic with even a modicum of a formation in geometry and theology...suffers in order to participate in the glorious but obscured reality of Christ present there. Having set out in a state of skepticism and doubt, I found when I arrived that the place was strangely alive to me. It wasn't just a matter -- as is so often the case -- of suffering the obstacle course of readings from the less-than-wonderful NAB, a bad homily, and emasculated, watery hymns, in order to get to the glorious mystery of the Eucharist... Something was different. The Holy Spirit, maybe, was brooding over the bent world of this little funnel-shaped parish and effecting a change. Or maybe it was the Holy Spirit smacking me -- judgmental, half-assed, lazy sod of a bad Catholic -- upside the head. In any case, Praise be to God. - Rufus of "Korrektiv"

Humor is a gift that Christians should be filled with. You must laugh at yourself so you are able to take your neighbor's faults with a grain of salt. Give him the privilege of being imperfect -- just like you, sweetheart. - Mother Angelica, via Jeff Miller

Drawn by a deep hunger for the Real Presence that I understood even through my Baptist upbringing, I came into the Church with an enormous amount of fundamentalist protestant and secular liberal baggage. If it hadn't been for those who loved me into the Church I could never have completed the journey. I was completely turned off by the attitude of the apologists who thought they knew it all and who were more seemingly more rigid, unbending, and uncaring than the most rigid Calvinist I had ever encountered. This was my judgment on them and it condemned me; however, there were those who did not argue with me, but gently prayed with me and corrected some of my misapprehensions about the Church. We need the strength of reason, of right doctrine, of correct understanding. Those people support the church in reason and in faith. They are probably instrumental in many conversions. But we also need to have those who meet us at the door, broken, dirty, confused as we are; those who show us to seats beside them and who spoon-feed and pray for us as we are gradually healed by the wisdom of the Church, by Love Himself who comes to those of us who are willing. - Steven of "Flos Carmeli"

The American religion is gnostic -- the believer searches for occult experience of his innermost self, standing in aweful solitude with God. It is not ecclesial. "God in you responds to God without," wrote Emerson, America’s sage. It is therapeutic, sold and bought for results, like tooth-whitener. American Protestants, Episcopalians, Catholics and even Jews are spiritually closer to each other than to their global co-religionists. - Richard Major via Terrence Berres

I consider this essay [of Fr. John Dear, SJ] yet another example of the fundamental unseriousness of Catholic pacifism in the United States today. Sophie Scholl's life and witness were given in opposition to Nazism, and it wasn't ordinary acts of nonviolent resistance that brought Nazism down....What did make a difference, what effected the change Sophie Scholl desired, was that ordinary people kept doing extraordinary acts of brutal violence every day even when there was absolutely no evidence of any positive outcome...What I am looking for Catholic pacifism to do to be serious is, in this case, to acknowledge the irony of, or even just the possibility of someone seeing irony in, claiming Sophie Scholl as a success story for nonviolent resistance. - Tom of Disputations

I see it is now the fashion that St. Patrick's Day celebrations receive condemnation as the opportunity for public drunkenness. That's a new one to me. After all who will promote public drunkenness if not for the good organizers of Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day celebrations? (I, personally, like to keep any celebratory drunkenness to private venues. So much less evidence to be used against me that way.) - Julie of Happy Catholic, who also passed on this high-laire cartoon from "Inherit the Mirth"

If a beer can be dyed green it is not a real beer. - Curt Jester

There are many good reasons for drinking,
One has just entered my head-
If a man doesn't drink when he's living,
How the hell can he drink when he's dead? - via Summa Mamas

Remember Steve Martin’s old stand up routine from the late 1970s?...The chorus of [his] song included the line “I can’t believe I get paid for doing this.” Sometimes I get the same feeling about being a professional philosopher. - Scott Carson of "An Examined Life"

Passion distorts thinking. It’s the “principle of connaturality.” You see it all the time. A lot of self-described Christian men read Playboy or watch porn. If pressed, they’ll justify it somehow. Their justification is simply the overriding of thought with passion. It happens all the time. How rational are you when you lose your temper? Now imagine living your life in a constant state of at least mild emotional agitation, whether it’s sexual, monetary, drunken, violent, or any other inclination. You’re not going to think clearly. - Eric of The Daily Eudemon

The fruits of venting and anger seem awfully lame. - via an email

-image via "The Inn at the End of the World"

CEI's Warren Brookes Fellow Jeremy Lott got a new bumper sticker the other day that reads, "Bumper stickers are not the answer." - a NRO "Corner" post
Dis 'n Dat

David Frum writes about Mark Steyn's book, asking why he would do so if the situation were as hopeless as depicted. (I would've thunk for sales and for the therapy but Frum is more generous, suggesting the book's a wake-up call.) His riff on birth rates is a bit surprising:
I for one would not bet the mortgage money that Europe's low birth rates of today will continue for very much longer. Nor would I place much confidence in the continuance of high birth rates among European immigrant populations. Human reproduction is very influenced by economic incentives, and in Europe today those incentives discourage child-bearing among the educated and encourage it among the least skilled. (For the unskilled immigrant an extra child means extra money from the government; for the middle class family, an extra child means extra expense in a society where the breadwinners must struggle to earn an additional $2 for every $1 they are allowed to keep.)

But what if those incentives change? I think we'd all be surprised at how rapidly behavior changed in response. Think of welfare reform in the United States. Welfare rolls began to shrink even before the welfare laws were changed, as welfare recipients realized: "Oh, they're serious this time. I guess I'd better get a job." Europeans are no less amenable to new realities than the American underclass.
* * *

Dis 'n Dat is a new blog feature which will include unfinished jokes and posts, such as the what follows. Maybe I'll flesh it out later, but until then you'll need to fill in the blanks, like at a filling station where you have to pump your own gas.

I was imagining what if old Superheroes were around today. Superman would be told by a advertising exec that his "Fighting for truth, justice and the American way" would never work unless he put a "my" in front of truth and eliminated "American" since nationhood has become passe... Isis would be asked by a dull TV reporter whether her name was pronounced "Is-Is"...."The Six Million Dollar Man" would be told that's the cost of an appendectomy now... Batman might say to Robin in response to a Riddler riddle: "Robin, have you not read Sacramentum Caritatits yet?". Robin says, "Holy Cow Batman! It just came out last week!"..

* * *

Mr. Luse blogs infrequently enough, and well enough, to make me snap at his line like a trout:

(Picture taken just after I clicked on his post.)

* * *

Thomas Sowell goes all "Andy Rooney" on us here. Nice gig if you can get it, but I do agree with his one-liners:
Whenever I see the kinds of expressions on the faces of people in high-fashion ads, I feel lucky that I never met them.

Where are all the beautiful movie actresses? There are some better looking women on television news programs.

Will those who are dismantling this society from within or those who seek to destroy us from without be the first to achieve their goal? It is too close to call.
Meanwhile, I wasn't aware of how steadily McCain has been growing less conservative over time. (Run Fred, run?)

March 19, 2007

Ov vey...

One of the things I like about large, impersonal churches is the blessed lack of church politics. At least politics I can see.

In our small Byzantine parish there is growing angst over changes to the liturgy that are in the process of being implemented. Some are threatening to go to the Melkites, others are writing Rome.

A woman I hadn't met before called over the weekend. She's from the Byzantine parish and is organizing some sort of protest letter to the pastor and wanted to know if I would put my name to it. (As it turned out, a third of the parish did.)

Turns out it wasn't about the liturgical changes.

She's upset with the pastor for not offering Easter morning liturgy. It's going to be set for midnight Saturday night. Apparently this is in line with some Eastern traditions. You might say Father is "more Eastern than the Easterns" based on the negative response. Maybe it's that they don't think Father comes by it honestly enough since he's a Roman Catholic transplant.

A friend is a big booster of the letter, saying that many elderly of the parish go to bed early. At first I saw the whole thing as interesting, in the way any sort of conflict/gossip is. Then I became unnecessarily irritated, responding that liturgy is a privilege not a right and if the pastor is in tune with his bishop then it's none of our business. It's pastor/flock as in father/child, not a democracy. Ron accused me of not caring about the elderly and not recognizing that priests are fallible humans. (Did I not recall the pedophile scandal?) I asked him if the late Blessed Mother Teresa, who was elderly, would've put her name on it.

Dissent is the love-song of the devil isn't it? Divide the parish between "signers" and "non-signers" over a trivial matter and then repeat with larger ones...
U.S. Falls Behind in Beer Consumption due to Goldberg

Jonah confesses: "I drink beer less than I used to — which some believe is the cause for the two-percent drop in U.S. domestic beer sales."
Short Story Monday

Benito had a secret room ironically called the "anti-Gnostic" room, or AG for short. "Secret" for him was a nonsense word, like supercalifraglisticespaladocias. Secrets were merely revelations, future or past, that had been forgotten.

Inside were rows of bookshelves that concealed a trapdoor to bliss, an entrance to the laboratory where he created fabulous things by combining combustible words he called "his chemicals". He was constantly mixing them, scribbling away as if for medicinal purposes. In that room he had the perfect privacy of Ed Abbey in his desert, Catullus in his scriptorium, Persius in the arboretum, Euripides at the Atheneum, Drysdale at his bank, Rapunzel in her hair, a cloistered nun in during the third Joyful, Archie in his chair, Virgil at Mantua, Norm at the bar, Sulpicia at his villa, Aeschylus in a dithyramb, a Natufian in the Fertile Crescent, O'Reilly in the no-spin zone, Carson as Carnac, or Paul Lynde in the secret square.

His cousin Juan visited him from Zihuatanejo one June day and Benito led him to the AG. They went through the trapdoor and immediately were transported back to Mexico, where generations of family were celebrating Toraidio's eighth birthday. There was a large pinata front and center and the crowd was chanting as anticipation grew.

"Cuál está adentro!" the crowd yelled, "What's inside?"..."What's he made of?"

His uncles gravely told the boy that the mule was made of coal and switches, and a form of vinegar that was so combustible it might explode and do him harm. His aunts scoffed and told him there was honey and candy and trampolines that would catapult him to the sky!

The blindfolded Toraidio swung and swung and swung, and out of the violence the mule's side split open at last. Everyone was surprised by what came out, even the aunts who'd predicted giant trampolines. (They knew good would come but later said "how could we explain what we only dimly understood ourselves?") The surprise was a sort of magic, since only magic could explain it. Out poured neither honey nor vinegar; each person was touched in the way most needed. Antidote and affliction were married and integrated in a way that left all astonished.

March 18, 2007

MSM: The Pro-Lifer's Newest Best Friend

A new drinking game: drink every time a liberal pundit reminds conservatives that Rudy has been married multiple times and is pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, etc... Because, you know, he's looking out for us. Or just perhaps it's because they don't want a strong candidate like Rudy matched up against their Hillary or O'Bama. I report, you decide.

On the other side of the aisle, some religious conservatives are beating the drums for the current field, as Cal Thomas did recently concerning McCain, Giuliani and Romney:
That substantial numbers of conservative evangelical voters are even considering these candidates as presidential prospects is a sign of their political maturation and of their more pragmatic view of what can be expected from politics and politicians. It is also evidence that many of them are awakening to at least two other realities -- (1) they are not electing a church deacon; and (2) government has limited power to rebuild a crumbling social construct.
Voting-wise, I exercise either political maturity or I stand for principle; I never act cravenly or like a utopian. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. :-)

But seriously, I guess McCain will do this time since he has a conservative record, passes the Ronald Reagan test (i.e. only one divorce) and also has been pro-life longer than Romney (i.e. longer than three weeks). This time the decision will be made before I get to vote in the primary due to the front-loading of big states, so I can relax knowing that my vote will morph from an infintessimally small statement to a null statement. But on the bright side I predict drinking games will abound!
A post-Lent Post for SR

The pastor at our Byzantine church said that all Lents are different. He says that all Christmas's are the same, all Pascha's the same, all Easter's the same, etc.. But every Lent there's a unique character prompting some change in him or something God teaches him, etc... No wonder they call this a season of grace.

I've heard of post-project depression, post-book depressions, and the granddaddy, post-partum depression. Do you or a loved one suffer from post-Lenten depression? Here's an imaginary study done at the University of Miscellaneous Studies:
BALTIMORE, MD--Post-lenten depression can happen anytime within the first eight weeks after Easter. A person may have a number of symptoms such as sadness, lack of energy, trouble concentrating, anxiety, and spiritual hypochondriasis. Post-lenten depression can be treated by "hair of the dog", i.e. prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

March 16, 2007

Battle of the Documentaries

Story on a British documentary that refutes Albert Arnold Gore (that's for Bob), and An Inconvenient Truth.

Mailbag Friday      --now with 2/3rds less gossip by volume!

Tis late in the week and post ideas suffer accordingly, so I'll crib emails, my own or others, and/or other posts, like Jody Bottum's* take on what sort of prose he likes to read, and how rare it is on the 'net. Lileks, who gets a Bottum thumbs up, takes Midwestern mundane and spins it into blogging gold and I suspect that what Shakespeare did for subsequent English playwrights Lileks did for bloggers - set the bar so high that many move to another blogre (blog+genre), such as political musings.

In an email, Steven Riddle discussed Culbreath's sudden re-emergence on the scene. JC has a new, clean, freshly painted blog called "Stony Creek". I like the name and look. Steven said Jeff probably couldn't help himself: he probably tried not blogging but it just "exploded out of him". Reminds me of a Cincy radio talk show host who spoke about the dangers of "FSB" (fatal sperm backup) for teenagers and celibate males. (I think he was kidding.) Steven, by the way, just got back from a retreat held by a liberal** retreat master, which seems a bit contrary to the spirit of Lent. A more pentential act would've been for me to go on his retreat, and he go to a Traditionalist retreat held by someone like Fr. Z (of "for many" fame). No, I take that back. Lent is about self-denial as a means to an end, not purposeless torture.

A correspondentress who wishes to remain anonymous asked a while ago in passing why I've never put my picture on my blog. Originally it was because I thought doing so was self-indulgent and narcissistic until I realized the whole blog was self-indulgent and narcissistic. Now I realize there's nothing wrong with it but I like the 'air of mystery' and being average-looking means that many folks have mental images that are improvements on nature. She replied: "It would definitely change the whole environment of your blog if you started posting glamour shots." Glamour shots, that's high-laire. But I'm no metrosexual. She adds, "I think the most you should ever do is some sort of faceless angle from a distance that reveals little specific of hair or physique or style of dress, or a travelogue photo with your hand or your shoe in it or something."

Speaking of looks, Bill Luse sent me an email with a link to a pic of his lovely daughters, Bern & Liz, in their natural habitat (his home), insouciantly slouching on the couch and wearing those little dark half-moon sort of glasses that are popular with the young these days. I think they should write a book: "The Inner Life of Exceptionally Talented Sisters" even though my hunch is that great athletes are just like us under the skin, except that they're more athletic. Having watched Bern play golf one pristine August morn, it was a pleasure to see that little white satellite consistently track straight ahead for two-hundred and fifty yards. It's a skill, and one that I can duplicate every, oh, say hundred drives. Bill also sent this bon mot on faith & science:
If one says 'theism DOES have scientific support', at the same time as the other side says that it does not, then this is an admission that Darwinism as well is not strictly science but depends for some of its credibility on philosophical assumptions, assumptions that he must consider mistaken....[There] ought to be agitating that these mistakes be made known to the students in science classes in public schools where they are being indoctrinated in pure materialism.
I wrote my bro-in-law yesterday of the difficulties of surpressing surprise in the workplace: "I could be more patient with a computer-illiterate co-worker if I wasn't constantly being surprised by her computer illiteracy. If someone would've told me what to expect I think I'd have been less exasperated. I was having her copy a pgm and she's in 'My Computer' and she copies the pgm. Then waits. 'What are you waiting for?' I ask. 'Waiting for it to copy! [pause] Oh, that's right, I have to paste it.' (I think I got a glimpse of Tom of Disputations's daily life, at least when he reads blogs.) My bro-in-law replied: "Support is one of the hardest jobs. I've noticed that folks that are really good at support are the ones that need it as much as the people they're helping." Which maybe isn't a bad analogy for saints and bishops, who need God just as much as the ones they instruct.

Regarding my hell post, the anonymous correspondent writes movingly:
Remember the late Joe Strummer, singer, writer, rhythm guitarist and heart and soul of The Clash? I read an interview with him once in which he said he hoped he was on the side of the good, and how he didn't understand rock and rollers "jokingly" or otherwise seeming to use approvingly or glamorizingly imagery of or allusions to the evil or demonic...(I remember he gave an example of being on the side of good that when he was hungry he used to steal so he could eat, but that he wasn't hungry anymore, so he didn't steal.)...I hoped that this was an illustration of someone who'd never really been taught convincingly responding to the conscience written on his heart, and without necessarily being sure that there are evil spirits, not wanting to align himself with such things with even the risk of implying that evil is cool.

I read this interesting thing a while back that I think then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, along the lines of how in the modern West people don't fear evil spirits like more "primitive" people did, or do, but it's because of Christianity that we don't have to fear, and without Christianity we're just not acknowledging how we really get to a place that the devil can't hurt us. The people in pagan societies recognized the existence of evil and didn't have the same protection against it, but so many of us here don't recognize the evil and reject the means to protect ourselves from it. something like that...
Interesting thing about comparing hell to cancer, as I did in my previous post, is that such an analogy implicitly assumes both are completely beyond our control. There are risk factors for cancer and risk factors for hell, but ultimately the teaching of John Paul II is that hell - unlike cancer - is chosen. But I don't even want to get near the grace/free will thing today, concerning which I've already admitted defeat anyway. It's a drinkin' Friday and thorny theological questions disturb the equinamity needed to quaff healthy quantities of Guinness.

Speaking of cancer, I received an email from a 419 scammer who writes plaintive fiction: "Dear Sir/Madam, My name is Raheem Kudus Salem, a merchant in Dubai in U.A.E i have been diagnose with Esophageal cancer which was discovered very late, due to my laxity and incaring for my health." He'd titled the email "My Last Wish" so I replied with "My last wish is that you stop scamming." I've received no reply. But perhaps he's lying and stealing in order to survive, like Joe Strummer once did.

* - (Speaking of Bottum, on a Catlick radio show yesterday I heard the host refer to a "Jody" but wasn't sure it was Bottum until I heard him refer to some obscure Roman or Greek historian; it was as good as if he'd said his full name.)

** - To my shame, I haven't read the liberal's favorite catechism, "A Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church". Tom of Disputations complained about the lack of attention paid to it in a recent post, but a year ago he'd written: "First reaction...Take away introductory matter, footnotes, and indices, and you're left with, like, twenty pages of text. Which is not too surprising, as there's only so many possible variations on, 'Love one another.'" Which means, I suppose, that I've already read the Cliffs Notes version.

March 14, 2007

Hell, Emerson, & Oprah

A few random thoughts and link-sausages...

First, Trousered Ape imagines criminals "Ralpie & Lou" back when the three-named were honored and revered:
WORCESTER, MASS - November 16, 1863: Merchants and bankers throughout New England are breathing more easily today as a period has been put to the lawless career of notorious bandits “Ralphie and Lou.”

The outlawed couple, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 60, and Louisa May Alcott, 31, both of Concord in this State, met their deaths in a hail of lead from the firearms of the Worcester constabulary, assisted by elements of the erstwhile 44th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, home after service in the North Carolina theatre.
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Guinness consumption, like church attendence, is falling in Ireland. 'Nuff said.
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Ellyn's post on Oprah reminded me of a 30 Rock episode I just watched. One of the characters was asked which religion she belonged to and she replied, "I do whatever Oprah tells me."

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I'm sort of surprised by how many people joke about hell. No one jokes about getting cancer and dying a painful death. Maybe because they don't believe in it. Or maybe they see it as an impossibility for themselves. Maybe a defense mechanism - humor to defuse tension. Or perhaps just a dramatic flourish, an attention-getter.

Coming from non-believers, it's to be expected since they don't believe in an afterlife. Thus Cyndi Lauper can say she's going to hell for making fun of Catholicism. Or AC/DC can sing "Highway to Hell". Or the Pogues can sing, with relish, "If I Should Fall From the Grace of God".

The great hobo singer "Boxcar" Willie sang "Ain't Gonna Be My Day" in which he described progressively unfortunate events happening to him, culminating in St. Peter turning him away from the Gates.

Walker Percy joked about it in a letter to Shelby Foote. Mentioned a devout Catholic - I think Flannery O'Connor - and then said that two out of three of them are going to hell, and then implied Flannery wasn't one of the two.

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On a happier note, Miami Redhawk announcers feel the exhilaration. They're not 'homers' are they?
St. Maria Goretti's Killer

It was mezmerizing to see this video of Maria Goretti's murder:

In 1902 at age twelve, Maria Goretti was "attacked by 19-year-old farm-hand Alessandro Serenelli. He tried to rape the girl who fought, yelled that it was a sin, and that he would go to hell. He tried to choke her into submission, then stabbed her fourteen times. She survived in hospital for two days, forgave her attacker, asked God's forgiveness of him, and died holding a crucifix and medal of Our Lady."

More here:
"Immediately after his brutal assault on young Maria Goretti, Alessandro was imprisoned temporarily in Nettuno and then transferred to Regina Coeli prison in Rometo stand trial. After vehemently denying his guilt, he finally broke down in the face of overwhelming testimony. Since he was a minor, he was sentenced to only thirty years hard labor.

A priest came to see him soon afterward, and he turned on the cleric in rage, howling like a maniac and lunging at him.

In the days which followed, Alessandro lost his appetite and grew nervous. After six years of prison, he was near the brink of despair. Then one night, Maria appeared to him in his cell. She smiled at Alessandro and was surrounded by lilies, the flower symbolic of purity.

From that moment, peace invaded Alessandro's heart, and he began to live a constructive life. After serving his sentence, Alessandro took up residence at a Capuchin monastery, working in the garden as a tertiary. He asked pardon of Maria's mother and accompanied her to Christmas Mass in the parish church where he spoke before the hushed congregation, acknowledging his sin and asking God's forgiveness and the pardon of the community."
Modern Fiction...

..worth reading. From the New Yorker, written by Tatyana Tolstaya (say five times fast):
I wander from church to church along with the crowd. I listen to its muffled, multilingual murmur, like the rush of the sea; a slow human whirlpool spins me around, and tired, empty faces flash by—as empty as my own; eyeglasses glint; the pages of guidebooks rustle. I squeeze through the narrow doors of churches, push past my neighbors, trying, like everyone else, to get a better view, trying not to become irritated. After all, I think, if Heaven does exist it’s likely that I’ll enter it with just such a flock of sheep, of people—old, not all that smart, a bit greedy. Because if Heaven isn’t for people like us, then who is it for, I’d like to know? Are there really so many others—special people, people who are noticeably better than us ordinary, statistically average souls? No, there aren’t, so in all likelihood I will have to plod across those green meadows with a herd of American tourists, disgruntled that everything is so ancient and small. And, if that is the case, then Heaven must be awful and boring—which, by definition, seems wrong. Everything in Heaven should be utterly sublime.

“I have never seen anything so sublime (see the other side) in my life!” my father wrote. See the other side. An ordinary paradise. What did he see that I don’t see?

(Make your own cover here; hat tip Summa Mamas).

Bubble quote is from Tom Kreitzberg, who says of the post from which that came: "I'm beginning to think this won't be the post people have in mind when they say to my son, 'I want to shake the hand of the man whose father wrote that.'"
True Confessions - On the Deception of the Appearances

I remembered him sitting next to the altar, concelebrating occasionally with one of the other priests at our local Dominican parish. He seemed a goofy looking guy, maybe a bit slow. He'd come visit from time to time and he didn't hear confessions, despite the long lines, and rarely gave a sermon. I thought he might be considered by the other priests as 'dead weight'. (I always have sympathy for the priests at the parish. They are the James Brown's of the clerical world: the hardest working priests around. There are two or three daily masses and lengthy Confession lines every day of the week, so much so that the pastor recently asked that we limit ourselves to monthly confession assuming no grave sin.)

When he spoke at Mass it was sort of light-hearted and simple, not so grave or serious. I liked that, thinking the overly serious conservatives of the parish needed to lighten up. Of course, I also gave myself credit for being so open-minded as to like his style.

I thought it was charitable the other full-time Dominicans at the parish had him there, like allowing a slightly daft uncle to stay at your house without having him do any chores. Only it turned out this guy wasn't slightly daft. He was brilliant. I went on a retreat and he was the retreat master and realized he had what I lacked, which is a surprisingly effective way to lose any irrational condescension. Not simply book knowledge, he had the ability to see with the eyes of faith. (He teaches in D.C.)

How many times - how many times! - will it take me to not judge by appearances?