June 30, 2008

Education of Henry Adams Excerpt

Lyrical; like Ray Bradbury in "Dandelion Wine":
Boys are wild animals, rich in the treasures of sense, but the New England boy had a wider range of emotions than boys of more equable climates. He felt his nature crudely, as it was meant. To the boy Henry Adams, summer was drunken. Among senses, smell was the strongest -- smell of hot pine-woods and sweet-fern in the scorching summer noon; of new-mown hay; of ploughed earth; of box hedges; of peaches, lilacs, syringas; of stables, barns,cow-yards; of salt water and low tide on the marshes; nothing came amiss. Next to smell came taste, and the children knew the taste of everything they saw or touched, from pennyroyal and flagroot to the shell of a pignut and the letters of a spelling-book -- the taste of A-B, AB, suddenly revived on the boy's tongue sixty years afterwards. Light, line, and color as sensual pleasures, came later and were as crude as the rest. The New England light is glare, and the atmosphere harshens color.

The boy was a full man before he ever knew what was meant by atmosphere; his idea of pleasure in light was the blaze of a New England sun. His idea of color was a peony, with the dew of early morning on its petals. The intense blue of the sea, as he saw it a mile or two away, from the Quincy hills; the cumuli in a June afternoon sky; the strong reds and greens and purples of colored prints and children's picture-books, as the American colors then ran; these were ideals. The opposites or antipathies, were the cold grays of November evenings, and the thick, muddy thaws of Boston winter. With such standards, the Bostonian could not but develop a double nature. Life was a double thing. After a January blizzard, the boy who could look with pleasure into the violent snow-glare of the cold white sunshine, with its intense light and shade, scarcely knew what was meant by tone. He could reach it only by education.

Winter and summer, then, were two hostile lives, and bred two separate natures. Winter was always the effort to live; summer was tropical license. Whether the children rolled in the grass, or waded in the brook, or swam in the salt ocean, or sailed in the bay, or fished for smelts in the creeks, or netted minnows in the salt-marshes, or took to the pine-woods and the granite quarries, or chased muskrats and hunted snapping-turtles in the swamps, or mushrooms or nuts on the autumn hills, summer and country were always sensual living, while winter was always compulsory learning.

June 28, 2008

Cycles in History

I'd always assumed that life for prehistoric man was Hobbesian - brutish, short & ignorant. I try not to be a chronological snob, but one has his limits, at least I did. I had no idea that the earliest cave art was as sophisticated as it was or that it used "the principles of stenciling and Pointillism" and the use of perspective - "a technique that was not rediscovered until the Athenian Golden Age". A recent The New Yorker refuted "the Darwinian assumption that the most ancient art was the most primitive":
In that respect Chauvet was a bombshell. Its earliest paintings are at least thirty-two thousand years old, yet they are just as sophisticated as much later compositions. What emerged with that revelation was an image of Paleolithic artists transmitting their techniques from generation to generation for twenty-five millennial with almost no innovation or revolt. A profound conservatism in art, Curtis notes, is one of the hallmarks of a "classical civilization." For the conventions of cave painting to have endured four times as long as recorded history, the culture it served, he concludes, must have been "deeply satisfying" - and stable to a degree it is hard for modern humans to imagine.
We move on to the 21st century and see how unstable our civilization is by comparison. From a 2003 Vatican conference on the pastoral and medical aspects of depression:
In reflecting upon the history of Western thought my attention is directed towards the cycles that present themselves: they begin with the presentation of vital questions that can be summarised as belonging to three major poles – God, man, the world. Various thinkers try to provide relevant answers, these answers grow to the point of reaching brilliant solutions when it seems that mankind has attained his high point, and then one has the impression that specifically at that moment, which is not necessarily the culminating point in terms of time of that epoch because this can take place at the same time as strong moments, thought decays and becomes weakened in an almost total way.

In ancient Greece, after the great masters of thought such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, there occurred the decadence of the currents of scepticism, epicureanism and stoicism. During the Middle Ages, after the great thinkers who culminated in the Scholastics, Aberlard, St. Anselm, Duns Scotus, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and others, there came nominalism, led by Occam. Modern thought and its great thinkers – the rationalism of Descartes, the empiricism of Hobbes, Locke and Hume, the idealism of Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel – was followed by the boredom of the Enlightenment, by deism, pietism, the Aufklärung and the Encyclopaedia, which despite their lack of originality could after a certain fashion be considered essays that provided a universal answer to the fundamental questions of God, man and the world. This decline in thought deteriorated during the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century...
So Many Moral Pitfalls, So Little Time

A few weeks ago I moved some of my 401K into an Emerging Market Fund given the lack of viable investment choices, but now I realize the fund invests in China. I think the primary country is Brazil but China is second. I wonder at the morality of this; If anyone has any links on this I'd be interested. I'm thinking I'm going to have to pull out.

On another front, I own a flex-fuel vehicle and from a national security viewpoint ignorantly thought filling the tank with anything other than pure gas would be a good thing. But then I read this...

June 26, 2008

Tips to Survive Torture or Bingo (excuse the redundancy)

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to dissolve the bingo bands that bind us (alliteration alert! (<--hey, that was also alliterative! <-Hey...)) in order to form a more perfect union...er, what I mean to say is that I am hereby declaring my independence from bingo and all its pomps and works.

Kim and I have decided to work part time whereby she takes a month and I take a month. This is euphoria-producing since we're both experiencing an advanced case of Bingo Burnout. (Google produces only 21 hits on "bingo burnout" but surely there ought be more. Heck, fellow blogger Jim is a victim too.)

Earlier this evening I tried to explain to Pat that I was quitting bingo because men are naturally lazy. I pointed to studies done of aboriginal tribes in which the men sit around most of the day and the women do all the work. Pat did recognize the truth in this, saying she does all the work at home. This presages a glimmer of understanding in the war between the sexes - men can't help that they're genetically disposed to being lazy.

But in fairness to myself it's not like I felt that way all night. No, I was rarin' to go at 6:45pm (late due to traffic; that's what we call 'bank error in my favor'). I hit the ground running, my wits sharp, my reflexes lightning. I could count change backward & forward. I could deal instant winners blindfolded.

Hindsight suggests part of this was due to the euphoria of having missed bingo last month for reasons unclear. I'm sure they were valid. Oh, yeah, it was my wedding anniversary! (Another bank error in my favor if'n (say like Smock) you're scoring at home.)

Yes I was fresh. Fresh from vacation and fresh from not having volunteered at bingo last month. I was tanned, rested, and ready as Bob Dole declared himself in '96 before he lost handily to Bill Clinton.

Yet around 7:45pm I noticed a slowing of my reaction time. I was counting tickets with unaccountable leadenness. I was slurring "King of the Mountain". And I couldn't think of a snappy comeback to the smart-aleck woman in the upper left corner (Kim, you surely know of who I'm speaking). I was off my game already and still had two hours to go. It wasn't promising.

But I knew what to do. I followed the instruction that I heard on Regis Philbin's show. Jim Carrey was on this morning and he mentioned how it took three hours every day to apply the make-up for one of his roles. It was so bad that he got advice from a CIA or FBI guy on how to endure torture. Part of the advice involved was never - NEVER - deny oneself food. In fact, anytime you think you're going to go mad you should eat potato chips or whatever food you love.

So I went to the kitchen and ate a brownie. It was so good (say like Kevin on "The Office").

I was also later revived when Carmen and Pat called me back to the kitchen in order to move a heavy coffee pot. This (as well as being called upon to open a jar) is something men love to be asked to do. First, it doesn't take long. Second, it's about the only thing men can do that some women can't. See how the sexes complement each other? There would be no war between the sexes if women did the work except for moving heavy objects or opening jars.

I was also amused by Carmen's outrage at being given a bad mark on her cleanliness report card. It was a bum rap for the popcorn maker had been cleaned and the checker had confused us with a previous Thursday. We floor workers bonded yet again with the kitchen workers (as if any further bonding was necessary) like fellow union workers outraged by some management scam.

After-bingo, like after-prom, was much fun. We prepared the hall for Vacation Bible School by moving a bunch of cut-outs. Matthew carried a Princess cutout and I took a pic with my cell phone but he denied usage of it on this blog, or at least he wouldn't cheerfully say 'yes' despite the fact that I told him he would not be identified by name.

Here we see Matthew obscured by a high-tech digital enhancement lest he be identified:
Fortunately Kim and Pat stood in the breach, offering the image below for our entertainment and again demonstrating the superiority of women. Unfortunately it was very dark in the hall by this time as someone had turned the lights off. Kim is holding a beer which makes it all the more priceless:
Consolation-Seeking: The Spiritual Equivalent of Materialism?

I recently read these comments from a letter written by the German poet Rainer M. Rilke:
"But about Spinoza a request: you know about my plans for a talk on how and whether God reciprocates our love. A note I recently read somewhere brought to mind the wonderful relation about Spinoza (I think) established through his insight that the act of loving God is independent of any reciprocal motion on God's part: so that I might not have to go any farther than this one path would take me."
Later I read an encyclopedia entry on Rilke and it mentioned that he came to the conclusion that because of God's immanence, man and God have need of each other.

This is background to how and whether people feel God's love, called by St. John of the Cross (and many others) as "consolations". If we seek consolations as materialistic women seek expensive shopping trips from their husbands, are we any different from one of the characters in the movie "Sex in the City", which Ross Douthat takes to task in the latest National Review?
[This] is what the movie is: a devotional for conspicuous consumers (“I’ve died and gone to real-estate heaven,” Carrie exhales), with mates and children reduced to mere accessories, flesh-and-blood equivalents of the Right Dress, the Right Purse, and the Right Apartment. “Women come to New York for the two L’s: Labels and Love,” Carrie opines, absurdly, early in the film, but from the shoe-closet scene on it’s clear which L matters most. Save for Nixon, the finest actress in the troupe, who wrings real humanity out of Miranda’s marital struggles, the women treat their men primarily as the means to a material end, whether it’s comfortable domesticity, high-end shopping, or really great sex.
The Sex in the City gals use rich men as a means to a material end; we have a rich God, and there's surely a tendency to want to use Him as a means to consolation.
Cardinal Egan...

...talks about definitions:
No one likes definitions of deeply human realities. For a definition can be cold and remote, or at least seem to be such. When what is defined is deeply human, one feels the need for a bit of poetry in the defining, lest the wonder of the defined be somehow lost.

Marriage is a case in point. It is a permanent, exclusive relationship of a man and a woman who seek fulfillment in acts of love, and especially in that act of love which in the ordinary course of events leads to the procreation of offspring. The definition is accurate, but the poetry is missing. Nor should this be a surprise. A definition of motherhood would never do the reality justice, and the same might be said of a definition of patriotism and so much else that is deeply human and inevitably entangled in feelings and emotions.

Of late, there is in our society a movement to change the definition of marriage. The reason, however, is not a lack of poetry in the timeless and classic definition, as some would suggest, but rather a desire to make marriage into something it is not...I might want to be considered an angel and to be recognized as such. Still, in point of melancholy fact, there are elements of the angelic that are simply not to be found in me.

June 25, 2008

They Named It Twice

Memories of a trip are best written after allowing a period of fermentation, preferably with the help of fermented products, but the whirling dervish of work is so soon upon me that it proves the truth that there's no such thing as too much time off unless it's someone else's. A working definition of someone with too much vacation time is anyone with more than we have, in my case school teachers and pharmacists (I tease uncle Mark).

June in New York is as romantic as April in Paris, the temperatures moderate and the days long. The city that never sleeps is more alert than normal during midsummer night's eve, and the street fairs and frenzied shopping were such that it was hard to tell the natives from the tourists.

On Saturday, for example, in the space of a few blocks there was a commemoration of an obscure Italian (obscure to me), a street festival, and a skateboarder swarm. Near Mott St a dozen or so dignitaries sat on chairs that blocked part of the street while at the microphone a pleasant-sounding woman who looked like she'd never missed a pasta dish sung the praises of an honored forebear. I turned the corner and went a couple blocks north and there's a live band and street cafes and sidewalk sales and swarms of people passing through. I travel down Grand Avenue, going east, and a sudden pestilence descends. Not ten or twenty or thirty skateboarders, but they come in great waves, hundreds, altering the traffic flow as the cars honk and kids respond with emphatic middle fingers. A bystander near me is curious and asks one of them what's going on and she hears that it's "International Skateboarder's Day". This somehow makes sense.


"Sissy" and Randy, deep from the heart of Kentucky, were our travelling companions. They were good ones, possessing Southern charm and impressive equanimity. Sissy, whose real name is Carrie, told an amusing story after we met them at the baggage claim of the Newark airport. They had seats right behind the opposing team's coach at a Lexington, KY arena football game. Carrie was riding the coach on his team's poor performance when he finally yelled back, "Well you need liposuction and he (pointing to Randy) needs to get his teeth fixed." Carrie shot back, "Well you have man tits!"

Carrie & Randy refer to the big city near them as "Lex-vegas" and Carrie once commented "keep 'er to a trot" in response to a co-worker's whisper of "simmer down, simmer down" regarding a high-spirited boss.

Our first stop after checking in at the Doubletree was John's Pizzeria, which offered the unique atmosphere of being located in an old church. It looked Congregationalist perhaps. A balcony wound around the top and we ate near what was formerly the altar, on the ground floor. The stained glass windows in the cupola above us bore no images of saints.

Afterwards we walked over to see about tickets to "Wicked" for Steph and me (C & R already had tickets) but the lines were long and the will weak. Unfortunately we saw the "Naked Cowboy", a dude who stands in the middle of Times Square wearing nothing but underwear and a guitar.

We walked up 5th Avenue and saw Rockefeller Plaza and shopped in the NBC store where I bought a Dundler Mifflin t-shirt of "The Office" fame. Steph later saw what looked to be the actress who plays Meredith on that series walking by. We stopped in St. Patrick's Cathedral and I asked a guide if there was a crypt, and there was, but it was under the high altar which was roped off. I could see down in there though, and was surprised to see that Fulton Sheen, whose cause for canonization is currently on-going, is buried there.

The girls wanted to shop at Tiffany's and so we did and I tried to get a feel of recognition from having seen it in the movie "Breakfast at Tiffanys" but only the large clock on the back wall gave off the feel of familiarity. New York as a backdrop was overshadowed by the lovely Audrey Hepburn in that movie, whose former apartment we would ride by on our Manhattan tour.

Meanwhile back at the ho'...

The hotel was a bit bi-polar; you exited or entered into or out of a river of humanity but turn the corner and there's a sloe gin feel. The river analogy is apt for I never saw a time there wasn't a constant flow of people in front. 47th Street was more neighborly with a beautiful old Episcopalian church named "Saint Mary the Virgin". There was also a homey convenience store and two Irish pubs.

There was a sort of genteel feel to the dinner that night at Langhan's. We sat near a framed print advertising "The King & I", starring Yul Brynner. It was a clean, well-lighted place and felt the sort of place Tony Randall and Felix Unger would feel at home.


Friday morning, pre-coffee, pre-breakfast, we intrepidly head out the door at 8am in order to peer in the windows during the live-taping of "Fox 'n Friends", one of Steph's favorite shows. It felt vaguely like stalking which is why I think the lovely Alisyn avoided me and talked to Steph when she came out just before nine. Through the barely-frosted windows you could see Geraldo (are two names necessary?) Riveria, who was pontificating to Steve, Allisyn and the irreverent Brian.

That morning in the hotel room we'd heard Brian say something that shocked me, his chubby, boy-next-door-face allowing him to get away with bloody murder. Alisyn or Steven made mention of Brittany Spear's sister, who not long ago became pregnant, and Brian remarked that her beau was known for "laying pipe", a euphemism for sex, and the co-hosts appeared shaken, whether an act or not I could not tell. Brian said he meant that he did plumbing. Later Steph asked him what "lay pipe" meant but he didn't hear or at least didn't respond.

At about ten till nine Brian and Alisyn and actor Richard Belzner came outside for a live-spot encouraging people to adopt dogs, and Steph was in her heaven twice-over, since this involved animals and her favorite morning crew. She spoke to Alisyn, who has a Cincinnati connection.

After breakfast at the hotel, Steph & Carrie & Randy went off to the Empire State building, which I'd already seen so could profitably skip. I headed three blocks away, to that famous Manhattan institution with the huge lions named "Patience" and "Fortitude" out front.

The walls in the periodical section of the New York Public Library look like chocolate, like you could eat them. The whole library is like a Willy Wonka factory for bibliophiles. In fact, Willy Wonka would've made a lot more sense had you substituted books for candy since even as a child I thought the kids were going through an awful lot just to own a chocolate factory. Certainly the gal who became a blueberry must've thought so afterward.

The tour guide was a calm, unassuming fellow sporting Spock-like eyebrows and three-day old sideburns hanging to his ear lobes. It's 11:10am, the library having opened at 11, and the scheduled tour guide hasn't shown up. He is forced to do it because, as they say on Broadway, the show must go on. I felt sympathetic as he hoped for a reprieve. I can well imagine the difference between the quiet of a cup of coffee and a comfortable desk, and unexpectedly having to give a ninety-minute tour over a building that spans a city block and four floors.

But he was a gamer, a historian who at one point said that no record was kept of the materials we might request at the library because "we're all left-wing here". And I thought it sad that conservatism has been now associated with snooping government bureaucrats when suspicion of big government is rightly our issue. But then both wings have their hypocrisies. Liberals welcome big government when it benefits their pet issues and conservatives the same.
At the NYPL gift shop I saw something ridiculous on the face of it - a "Library Action Figure" complete with "Shushing Action", a toy so anti-cool that it becomes cool in the same way a conservative so right-wing can become indistinguishable from a Communist. It even came with a librarian trading cards, featuring a real live librarian from Seattle.

* * *

With my pocket-sized Manhattan street atlas, I'd thought finding things would be a snap but it still amazes me that something as large as Herald's Square could elude me. I had some time to kill while waiting for the crew to return from their Empire State building tour, which sounded like the fifth circle of Hell. There were lines within lines, the perfect tourist scam, a visitor motel where visitors go in but then can't get out. A 15-minute visit at the top of the building took 2-3 hours. It was like waiting in line for a ride at Cedar Point Amusement Park and I shivered involuntarily at the thought, revolted by lines as I am.

I circled the 5th & 6th avenue blocks of 31st & 32nd streets but the best I could find was a "Herald Square Hotel". A different map showed Herald's Square up around 35th street. Another around 34th street. I'd trusted the wrong street map apparently, or maybe "Herald's Square" floats to different locations from year to year. Ha.

I'd decided I'd wasted enough time on it since I only wanted to see it for the song "remember me to Herald's Square". I headed back down 5th Avenue planning to visit Norman Vincent Peale's old church. I went down W. 29th street and found a large number of black and Middle Eastern men hoovering outside the doorway of a building just west of the church. A mosque apparently. They were having Friday prayer - "jumma" I think the sign said - and they all bent down on their knees bending towards Mecca I presume.

After a quick look at Peale's old place, I crossed the street and briefly took in the old "Church of Transfiguration" during which I got the call from Steph that they were finally done with their Empire State building tour. It took a shorter time to build it, I think.

We bought Grayline tickets for one of those double-decker bus tours where you can hop-on and hop-off. Already legs were giving out and transportation sounded like our friend. But you don't get anywhere quickly. We'd taken it in order to get back to our hotel but it took two-plus hours, a pleasant enough tour of the downtown all the way to Battery Park & back, but enough that Randy didn't get his birthday wish of going to Hooters, for we had to go directly to the Bronx if we were going to make the Reds game.

* * *

To see the Reds and Yanks play at the House that Ruth Built was, literally, a once in a lifetime opportunity. There was a "pinch me" aspect to it, the Reds in their grey road uniforms, a sight as foreign to me as me picking up the check when going out to dinner with my parents. Even rarer was to see a Reds road win, a 4-2 nail-biter that revolved around a close play at the plate. It was magical and I imagined Berra behind the plate, Ruth in left and Ford on the mound, Stengel in the dugout. A family squadron of four Reds fans flanked our right and so our cheers were joined in a modest chorus. But whenever the Yanks hit so much as a long fly, the crowd erupted. They seemed more natively optimistic than Reds fans, perhaps understandably so given the disparate payrolls and recent records. We are more of a "get the tying run on 2nd base and we'll cheer" while Yankee fans are more "get on base and we'll cheer as if we've already got it won".
We left the iconic grand building listening to the booming voice of Frank Sinatra singing an iconic song: "New York, New York". On Friday, the Reds "made it there", as Frank sang.


By Saturday we were all feeling varying degrees of Great Fatigue, the fatigue that occurs with a sudden change from a basically sedentary desk-bound life to one of non-stop walking or standing. At every opportunity we collapsed in benches like soldiers in the Stonewall Jackson brigade during the Valley campaign. The secret is to use the subway, but the street life in NY is so absorbing that it's easier just to walk everywhere. Until it isn't.

We lucked out and managed to avoid an endless line for the Greyline when another bus arrived and promised a non-stop to the Statue of Liberty. You didn't have to ask us twice, since the plan was they go to Ellis Island today while I explore the southern tip of Manhattan on my own. But when we arrived the lines to Ellis daunting and the crew was necessarily line-phobic after the Empire Strikes Back building tour. Instead we would go to Ground Zero.

The area was bigger than I expected even though you expect that two towers would take up a lot of space. Still, television doesn't convey space well, which I suppose is why they say in order to really believe the devastation Hurricane Katrina inflicted on New Orleans, you have to go there.

* * *

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum tour seemed a better idea on paper than in reality. I'd have traded the Met for it, but then hindsight is 20/20.

It got the highest starred rating in Frommer's or Fodor's (who can know the difference?), calling it a "must visit" on par with, say, Ellis Island. And so I waited for over an hour to acquire a ticket to the "Getting By" tour. I'd imagined much more than was offered. Frommer's or Fodor's said the guides were costumed and presumably in character and so I imagined a Williamsburg, Va equivalent of the squalor of 19th century Irish tenement life. Instead it seemed to impart little new information. The primary interest was seeing the size of the tenement, which was small indeed.

After the tour, I had a long way to get to Strand Books, a pilgrimage I was determined to make given how rushed I'd been last time I was in NY and given that the magical Gotham Books had vanished in hin air (the phone number in the Jan '08 phone book was now non-working).

On the way, I stumbled in Old St. Patrick's Church in the Lower East Side since I'm open to anything with the adjective "old" in it. I walked in and found a priest blessing a penitent outside the Confessional. It seemed a private moment and I instinctively turned away. I walked through the Lower East Side to get there, through SoHo and NoHo and I realized at one point that I was the least cool person in this whole area, perhaps a whole square mile, and while not proud of the distinction nevertheless I was glad to be a minority in a culture where minorities are celebrated.

Having not eaten for many an hour, I thought I'd better keep up my energy lest I fall in the Strand and be buried under an avalanche of books. (There are worse ways to go.) I wanted to try something called "Knish", an ethnic food of some sort, but there were fewer outdoor food vendors than ever I can recall. So I was reduced to McDonald's and got a fish & fries to go, but I'd forgotten to wash my hands and this was New York, surely the germ capital of the Western world, so I'm walking up Broadway engaged in the embarrassing act of eating french fries directly from the carton, held directly to my face, as if I were a pig eating from a troth. I felt the visual embodiment of the ugly American and/or the guy in "Fast Food Nation". I shortly found a place to sit in a nook outside Grace Church.

At the Strand I immediately hit the 50%-off review books downstairs and soon books were gathering under my arm like barnacles to a ship hull, or lint in a belly button. A short, unshaven man begged pardon as he tried to squeeze by me in the narrow aisle. Later he came back the same way and offered an unsolicited hymn to reading, saying that it "takes you to another place", then adding, seemingly apropos of nothing, that he was an attorney. I smiled and agreed, with the reading praise that is.

Dog tired by now, I made my way to the counter with my five new books (Reiff's "Triumph of the Therapeutic" for only 98 cents!!) and then made it to Union Square where I thrust up my right arm and a cabbie pulled over and I felt instant sorrow for all those who can't get taxis due to their skin color. Like magic he took me the unwalkable 40 blocks for $8.90 plus tip.


We went to the Church of the Immaculate Conception at 14th and First Avenue and heard Fr. Neuhaus, founder of "First Things" magazine, say Mass. Having read him for years but rarely hearing him, I got a new appreciation for the power not just of words, which we readers tend to over-emphasize, but of delivery and the tangibility of "presence". His homily was consoling both in words and inflection, the deep bass conveying Christ's message that we are not to worry about the morrow and that we are worth more than sparrows.

After Mass I wondered what, if anything, I should say. That I read "First Things"? That I blog about it sometimes? My wife suggested she get a picture of us shaking hands which seemed excessive if appealing. I asked him for a photo and he assented and I told him I've blogged about "First Things" and that I'm from Ohio and he asked where in Ohio and he bore it all better than I would have, had I been in his shoes.

After we took the subway to the Central Park Zoo where Steph delighted in the penguin feeding and then enjoyed the antics of a polar bear. A humongous polar bear, if that's not redundant. Seemingly hundreds of photos later, we were back to the tour bus.

We board the Greyline and a woman with red-ish hair soon follows, along with (presumably) her son. She looks to be in her 60s and likely from Italy, based on the bits of language that I picked up. In Italy, all rules are subject to personal exegesis and are flaunted with regularity. (Only beauty matters there; rules are too utilitarian.) Our initial tour guide is a Type-A 40-something native New Yorker. Red-haired lady decided to get up, a no-no since while the bus is moving tree limbs and stop lights regularly cruise inches above our heads. The tour guide remonstrates Mz. Red Hair to sit down, twice, once in Italian. The lady sits down, unbowed and unrepentant. At the next stop we have to change buses. We wait in line to board the next one, as all good Anglo-Saxons will, when the lady and her son unaccountably cut in line. Steph can't believe it. It's surely proof that rudeness is not something you do once, but is habitual, like most vices.

But where it really got interesting was the titanic match-up under the new tour guide.

Max and his German accent took us on the upper loop of Manhattan (Harlem, the Upper West Side, etc...) . Small and wiry, he had that Germanic attention to detail. Unlike previous guides, we would always know which building he was referring to and he never mixed right from left from our view point despite facing us most of the time. He was, in short, the BMW of tour guides. As Sissy said earlier, stereotypes are there for a reason. And though bias is possible, my wife has a smile that is to smiles what the Louvre is to art museums. This draws attention from tour guides and neighbors, so it felt like Max was making eye contact only with us. He feels visibly hurt when a joke falls flat, and apologizes.

So we are going down the avenue when it begins to rain slightly, and this is when Mz. Red Hair decides it's time to go to the lower deck where it's dry. I could see this developing since she was behind Max - the perfect blending of the rule-lover versus the rule-breaker. A clash of European civilizations.

Max sported a look of great shock and displeasure when Mz. Red Hair attempted to get by him. It was satisfyingly dramatic, and I went in with high expectations concerning his outrage. He physically escorted her back to her seat, re-telling the rules of this gig, as if that mattered to her. Red Hair was not the least bit sheepish; you get the sense that sheephishness has never dawned on her brow, much like it has never dawned on a Clinton's.

Home Again, Home Again

The power of association is such that I can look at this Planet Hollywood souvenir shotglass with pleasure. In the list of NYC restaurants I'd have prefer to have gone, PH would have ranked 2nd-to-last (Hard Rock Cafe being last). But despite the obnoxiously loud music and distracting music videos, the shotglass has pleasant memories attached because of food and drink and company and, of course, vacation atmosphere.

I'm not too disappointed that a couple activities were left off due to time and body constraints and thus are left in the imagination fermenting for another trip. We didn't rent bikes or rowbaots at Central Park and explore an interior as unknown to me as Dark Africa was to a young Dr. Livingston. Nor did I taste the seemingly infinite fruit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, nor the Natural History Museum. There was no time to walk the Brooklyn Bridge either. But to see the Reds & Yanks play...


The phallic buildings a trick,
an illusion,
Wall Street they call you
though the whole city is a wall
when viewed from across the river,
like a walled womb from which
no one longs to escape.
* * *

An off-off-off Broadway play
so real it WAS real,
the perspiring man
arguing with the lady in the
subway cage,
passion without hostility,
conflict without tears.
* * *

All other cities play New York,
while New York has leisure to play itself.
The city removes artifice,
like water through coal
reducing impurities
through impurity
like Christ being made sin
to remove it.
* * *

The oceans of soak'd print
like the 3-day bearded guy
in the stacks of the Strand who said
"Books put you in another place!"
Like entering the Jack Finney novel.

Smeared in newsprint
in the happy cellars,
they ferment the wine of yesteryear,
waiting the rush of the tube
announcing the next request.

There librarians get high
on the slow breakdown of paper
in the stacks,
a quiver seen by the outsider
through lanky windows,
a corked bottle of books.

The Stacks!
Stacked upon the sheets of rock
upon which the island is build,
where Times (Square) stands for no man,
the little island within an island,
where Broadway comes hurtling towards 7th
the febrileness of it, the
shock of more in the middle of much.

* * *

The womb imagery above symbolizes a return to privacy and solitude in the wake of the stripping of our offices at work and my neighbor's cutthroat friendliness at home. (A guy who came over to detail our car reported afterwards that she had "talked his ear off". I have dark fantasies of telling her I'd converted to Mormonism and attempt to prostylize her at every visit. Though she probably wouldn't mind.) Crowded New York, ironically, offered pristine privacy. I think Manhattan would be a decent place to be a bum, though the weather is poor. There should be a "Sponsor a Bum" charity whereby we can vicariously live their life. "Bum trading cards" would be cool too. Maybe offer them free lap-tops for live-blogging purposes....

While closing down the Newark airport (our plane was delayed till 11pm & we didn't get home till almost 2am), I was looking for something far from politics or even history per se, something "New York-y" - that is, something full of the past but fully contemporary, something literate and dense, something passionate as those two subway workers at the station near 14th & 1st. There near the bottom of the shelf with the spine at the joint is "Rilke and Andreas-Salome: A Love Story in Letters", the correspondence between the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salome. A letter from Rilke: "My room was full of last June..."; "Provincial France always has a soothing effect on me; so many of the old houses there I imagine living in as I pass them by-- and then when I stop and take a good look, most of them are actually for rent..."

And now, back home, the unexpectedly great weather continues, the sun missing the clouds like a soccer player through a defender, like we so often missed the "Don't Walk" signals in the Manhattan grid, and the sun is centered between two clouds acting as goalposts signalling a field goal, a touchdown, while the lake in front of me glints like Irish eyes. Even my boss calling me on my day off and unloading his problems is small peanuts: "he can't help hisself" goes country mercy, which I know, deep down, applies to my neighbors, both literal and figurative.


June 17, 2008

Corpus Christi

"Too close!" the Mohammedans say
of that Incarnation folly
don't you know that Christ
was just a prophet?

"Too close!" the Calvinists say
of Body & Blood ingested,
don't you know the depraved
deserve nothing more than symbol?

Too close, it would seem
for God come to man,
Easier it be for man to sin
accept the distance
and do our own thing.

And still He did
and yet He does,
Blood & Flesh to initiate
the healing.

* * *

Inspired by this:

Let's try to be impartial in our reasoning: Could God go further in His stooping down, in His drawing near to man, thereby expanding the possibilities of our knowing Him? In truth, it seems that He has gone as far as possible. He could not go further. In a certain sense God has gone too far! Didn't Christ perhaps become "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor 1:23)? Precisely because He called God His Father, because He revealed Him so openly in Himself, He could not but elicit the impression that it was too much....Man was no longer able to tolerate such closeness, and thus the protests began.

This great protest has precise names-first it is called the Synagogue, and then Islam. Neither can accept a God who is so human. "It is not suitable to speak of God in this way," they protest. "He must remain absolutely transcendent; He must remain pure Majesty. Majesty full of mercy, certainly, but not to the point of paying for the faults of His own creatures, for their sins." - Pope John Paul II
He Had Me at Carbona Dioxida

Bob of "Trousered Ape" imaginatively offers a sneak preview of the opera "An Inconvenient Truth", or Tragedy. Here's the cast to whet your appetite:


Cast of Characters






a Titan




an ambitious Spirit


Carbona Dioxida


an airy Spirit




an Oriental Sorcerer, servant to Algor




a Seeress




a Judge




God of the Sun




a Golem


Three Citizens


A Troupe of Polar Bears


A Figure representing Unnatural Heat


The great difficulty in raising a son is making him feel he is loved while at the same time not giving him a sense of entitlement. - Tim Russert

While I completely understand [Anne] Rice's decision never to visit any of her dark sub-created universes again, I think that her Vampire Chronicles are as ad maiorem dei gloriam as her new novels. There may not be any redemption for her characters or any hope for readers, but the same can be said of Dante's Inferno. Rice's Interview with the Vampire is as devoid of faith as it is full of passion, but its message is that a world without light--a world without answers--indeed, a world without God, is hell. - Sancta Sanctis

The Marian dogmas may well “look” late to us, but in fact, as far as we know, we are still in the “early” days of the Church. In the fourth century, many considered the homoousion of Athanasius to be an innovation and novelty and rejected it on that basis...Put aside, for the moment, the alleged novelty of the Catholic dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. Consider, rather, the novelty of Protestant rejection of Marian veneration. Consider the novelty of Protestant rejection of the “practical” sinlessness of Mary and of her perpetual virginity. Consider the novelty of a form of Christianity in which the person of the Theotokos is absent in Protestant preaching, worship, and devotion. And all of this is justified in the name of the plain reading of Scripture, yet who before the 16th and 17th centuries ever read the Scriptures so as to reduce Mary to one sinner among many? How many Protestants are happy to say with St Augustine: “Every personal sin must be excluded from the Blessed Virgin Mary for the sake of the honor of God.” When the “direct” reading of the Bible leads to such drastic reduction of the faith catholic, then I suggest that it is time to stop reading the Bible with one’s “brain on” and start reading it in faith *with* the Church...Or as Stanley Hauerwas provocatively puts it: “No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America.” - Al Kimel of "Pontifications" comment on Internet Monk's blog

Try to find someone who has gone a similar journey and follow their lead as far as sprituality and spiritual reading. In spiritual reading, accept what is useful to you, reject what is not. -Rev. Hayes O.P.

I love a good iconic film moment as much as anyone else (and I love iconic 80s films even more), but let's not be distracted. There's something wrong about that adorable rubbery alien from the sky turning out to be Elliot's saviour. Those stupid scientists treating E.T. like a lab experiment were bad enough and blind enough: the only revelations they wanted out of our little hero were scientific data. That's as bad as someone traveling back to Palestine to meet Jesus, only to ask him whether it's a sin to watch Pushing Daisies. The resulting questions would be just as nitpickingly brainless as any that the Pharisees might have asked him...Not that E.T. makes much of a messiah. I mean, what are we supposed to make of his coming? What does this tell us about the universe? How are we to let it influence the way we live? - Sancta Sanctis

The yellow rose that just bloomed today in my garden brings me a repeated and sustained pleasure that verse, especially on the page, is not likely to match. - poet Heidi Staples on the charisma of the real

Hillary Clinton's professed favourite film is Out Of Africa. Interesting. Out Of Africa is... a recollection of a pastoral Eden, where a benign aristocracy treats both nature and natives with misty reverence. It suggests that everything would still be nifty on the Dark Continent if the Dutch, British and Germans had just applied a sterner degree of courtliness. - The Guardian

If you want to know what the United States will be like under Barack Obama, look at Canada. If you want to know what Canada is like, consider the case of Mark Steyn and the Human Rights Commission. Be afraid. Be very afraid. - Henry of "A Plumbline in the Wind"

A couple of days ago, walking through the parking garage in the morning, it crossed my mind to pray for patience. I recalled a conversation from the night before where a friend said that he didn't pray for patience because he didn't want to be sent occasions to practice. So he would pray for the other people, the ones who were causing him grief. We shouted with laughter over this idea that he had found a loophole...Then I went on to have one heckuva day. Holy Moly, did it test my patience repeatedly...As I wearily returned to my car, much later than usual, the morning's thought came back to me. I told God, "Look, it was a stray thought. Not an actual prayer!" And then had a hearty laugh at myself for my silliness. Later I realized that perhaps that had been a nudge because I was going to need patience and a prayer for help would have given me some extra grace. Oh so foolish as we are to think that we can outsmart God. - Julie of "Happy Catholic"

America says to foreign producers: We prefer not to pump our oil, so please pump more of yours, thereby lowering its value, for our benefit. Let it not be said that America has no energy policy. - George Will, via Elena of "My Domestic Church"

I have run into confusion in the past about the name of our publishing business: Requiem Press. Most people recognize that "requiem" has something to do with those who have died. In fact someone once said, "Requiem Press? Dead Press? What's that supposed mean?" (I could have replied, "It means you don't know Latin.")...First, "requiem" literally means rest; as in the prayer:
Requiem (rest) aeternam (eternal) dona (give/grant) eis (to them) Domine (Lord).
Because "requiem" is the first word of the prayer, it has become associated with the departed: Requiems are Masses said for the dead. In the same sense we use the word requiem (as in Requiem Press); it was selected to bring this prayer to mind (so more people would say it). We have a special devotion to praying for the holy souls in purgatory. - Jim of "Bethune Catholic"
Remembering Border Checkpoints
When I answered that I came from 'far away',
The policeman at the roadblock snapped, 'Where's that?'
He'd only half-heard what I said and thought
It was the name of some place up the country.

And now it is - both where I have been living
And where I left - a distance still to go
Like starlight that is light years on the go
From far away and takes light year arriving.

--from "The Flight Path" by Seamus Heaney
Circa 1985, sectarian strife seemed so silly and so romantic because the hatred was fascinating merely for the novelty of seeing a people with a historical memory -- at least from the perspective of someone living in an amnesiac society. In childhood we'd create a backstory that didn't exist and play-act an imaginary war between Kentucky and Ohio, with a checkpoint barge in the middle of the Ohio River (called 'The Kentucky River' by those south).

Brimming with the invisibility and confidence that America conferred, we imagined visiting Belfast and walking her streets unafraid, full of the power and naivety of the non-combatant, our clothes giving us away as tourists, as guests, inducing that famous Irish hospitality as if involuntarily on their part even if due partially to crass commercialism.

True borders can be figures of romance. The clarity of difference in an age of confusion and mixed loyalties, the meaningfulness of here we believe X and there they believe Y. One pines for the clarity of a Checkpoint Charlie in a terrorist age, for the days when the enemy made exaggerated arm thrusts and marched a high-step. "May we know them by their limp," goes the Irish proverb concerning our enemies, but now we know them only after their homicide/suicide act, an enemy that makes the old Soviets look rational and reasoned.

June 16, 2008

The Popularity of Vamps

Sancta Sanctis from Antarctica (she jests) reminds me of a young Nolan Ryan, he of that unruly 100mph fastball and shy smile. No pedestrian control pitcher she, she either walks or K's (slays) you. She is capable of surprise and has the audacity of being willing to limb-travel (that is go out on a limb, though I recognize I ruin it in explaining it).

She has an intriguing couple of posts lately on the popularity of vampirism in movies and television these days.

I think the vampire myth resonates with people because we are them. It's not our fault either, but rather Adam & Eve's, who "turned us" as they say on the only vampire show I watch ("Moonlight"). They gave us the gift of concupiscence, the gift that keeps on giving.

That lust for blood is symbolic of concupiscence and just like vampires we are left damaged and not in our intended state, and without the power to undue what has been done to us - though we do have the choice of being symbolically a Forbearer (vampires who do not drink from the flesh and choose to feed on animals) or one of the Horde (vampires who, having sucked a human to death, have gone insane with bloodlust). (Choice is a strong word though, since it ignores the action of grace given that it is not entirely ourselves who control our passions.)

On Moonlight, the forebear/horde types are represented by Mick St. John, the saintly one who drinks blood only from the local blood bank though not as satisfying, and others who indulge in "freshies", that is, they take their blood from live human necks.

June 14, 2008

The Craic is Grand Tonight

Fr. Benedict Groeschel asked for prayers last week that Ireland might defeat the Lisbon treaty since it would further the cause of secularism in Europe. It was defeated; way to go Ireland!
Psychology of Saints

I'm reading Henri Joly's "The Psychology of Saints", written a century ago and currently published by RC press and there's a crux of a line near the end:
A superficial psychology, or one which deals only with persons very far removed in character from the saints, would have us believe that pleasure stimulates action and that pain dulls it. Pain dulls action when it saps the strength, when it is dreaded and the person either cannot or will not turn it to good account, or when effort would only end in creating irreparable evil. But this is never the case with the saints. With them sufferings ...do not weaken the soul, for they are the fruit of the vigor of a soul which loves and is desirous of self-sacrifice. (emphasis mine)
The "cannot or will not" is a key difference it seems. How does one know whether one is dealing with cannot or will not, seeing how the latter is culpable and the former not? We know now that pain in the psychic sense that dulls action can be of at least two types: one, simply a chemical deficiency, a deficiency of the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. It could also be, as Joly mentions, related to sensuality which "destroys constancy and renders the heart narrow" or "is brought on by Satan, who, endeavors to excite 'trouble, disgust, sadness and scruples of conscience.'"

Joly mentions elsewhere that the saints were not indifferent to innocent pleasures, "which, according to Alfred de Musset, help us to enjoy life, or at any rate, make the burden of it easier to bear. They do not seek them for themselves, but they endeavor to procure them for others, especially for the young, or the sick and afflicted."

A crucial point Joly mentions is that the motive for all action must come out of a love for God, rather then self, which means that "those who have charge of a soul [must] have seen what the object of its love is to be...for we must not forget that 'it is the property of love to change the soul into the thing which it loves'". But is the object of our love so unvarying as this line suggests, as if we love only self at all times, or only God at all times when in practice it seems more irregular? (Or does the irregularity suggest, by definition, the object is self?)

(Feel free to email me your response to the question. A free Guinness to the first person with the correct answer. *grin*)

I guess such complexities highlight the wisdom of St. Pio's line: "Pray, hope, and don't worry."
Schall on Hilaire Belloc

Interesting link:
"It is hard to accept mysteries, and to be humble," Belloc wrote. "We are tost as the great schoolmen were tost, and we dare not neglect the duty of that wrestling. But the hardest thing of all is that it leads us away, as by a command, from all that banquet of the intellect than which there is no keener joy known to man. I went slowly up the village place in the dusk thinking of this deplorable weakness in men that faith is too great for them...."

The wrestling, the command, no keener joy, the deplorable weakness -- the restlessness goes on, along the paths that lead to Rome.

Revelation is itself designed to make us, rather to incite us, to think about what does not originate within us. The very last discovery I ever want to make in this universe of Karl Popper's First, Second, and Third Worlds, is the discovery that I have created what there is. That, I think, would be the ultimate despair.

And so, rather, I believe in newness, in an infinity which does not originate within myself. Popper, in his own way, also caught some of this: "We may gain more knowledge from our children or from our theories than we ever imparted to them." Indeed, we receive more than we give, mostly. This is why, again, the only temptation worth worrying about is the one that would allow us to live only in our own world, closed off, perhaps forever, from a newness of which we are not the origin, but only the pale, yet sparkling images.

* * *

Belloc observes, "people always think that great wealth indicates something: Intelligence at the lowest and courtesy or some other virtue at the highest." But of itself great wealth neither indicates intelligence our courtesy. Belloc adds, that the Church soberly warns us about wealth: "Unless you use it with the greatest care and worry yourself to death about it, you are doing a direct injury to your fellow citizens." Belloc calls this simply "sound economics."

Then Belloc adds, in an example that probably does not follow, "Every time you (Baring) and I drink champagne, we are ultimately depriving some poor man of beer, and don't you forget it." This quip of Belloc, however, is not "sound economics." It is best forgotten. In a market economy, we are more likely to deprive a poor man of his beer if we do not drink champagne. But of course, Belloc adds, with some playfulness, that in fact, at that moment, at least, he does not like champagne. So on his own terms there is no danger in his drinking it and upsetting the flow of beer to the poor man, which beer, be it noted, Belloc thinks he has a perfect right to. Belloc's stomach is upset. Thus, he does not think that he likes any "wine" except "Herefordshire Cyder." Just why he calls "cyder", "wine", I am not sure, for surely Belloc of all people, with both French and English blood in his veins, knew the difference. He did not, consolingly, seem to worry about whether the champagne that he and Baring might drink would deprive the poor man of "Herefordshire Cyder."

"What is all of this leading up to?" you might ask. So far we see little of the devil here. But he is hanging around fuzzy ideas. Belloc continues, "As for the Church saying 'Don't exist,' that is the last of the series and is absolutely plumb flat contradictory." The Church cannot approve of something that is "absolutely plumb flat contradictory." Faith does not contradict reason, as Aquinas often put it. If you want to get Belloc's point, try to command something before it exists, not to exist. We do not have the power of existence as such in our arsenal. This is the great Thomist truth, the truth of existence. Existence is the Gift we do not give ourselves, but only receive it. This is why, from our side, to recall Belloc's friend Chesterton, gratitude is the first response to being.

Belloc sums up these teachings: "The Church does say definitely 'Don't kill'. She certainly thinks sex dangerous, she regards riches with the utmost suspicion. But existence she delights in and it is Catholic civilisation only that ever produces a strong sense of individual existence." This is the most marvelous of sentences. To delight in existence itself, this is the highest mark of sanity and reality. If we can delight in existence itself, we can, even more, delight in the tiny particular being that exists -- the "strong sense of individual existence."

In conclusion, Belloc gives us in 1911 a criterion against which to test his thesis: "Let a nation lose the Church, and it is bound to fall in time into Pantheism, or a denial of spiritual continuity, and the immortality of the soul." We no longer bury our dead. We kill our kind before they are born and hasten their ends when they are useless. We deny that past generations can bind us to anything, no Constitution, no natural law. We subsume all back into Earth and judge individual existence merely as a function of or threat to the Environment. We can no longer, it seems, smoke indoors or out of doors. We have reinvented prohibition and made killing the tiniest of our kind a "right."

Thus, with regard to economics, I do not see why the rich and the poor both cannot have either champagne, beer, or Herefordshire Cyder. And with regard to the Devil-worship, that Belloc worried about in Baring's letter, what Belloc caught was a rancid smell of the idea that existence itself is not good, and hence that life is not good, that sex is not good, that material things are not good. In the affirmation that the Church "delights in existence," he knew that, however gingerly we must sometimes treat them, because of what they are, all things, as it says in Genesis, are good. And we are to delight in them in their proper order.

June 13, 2008

Called to a Greater Election

Despite the constant evidence that life on earth is fragile and momentary, it's still shocking that Tim Russert died. Those are words I never expected to hear - at least not now in the middle of a big election - and yet so often death reveals a failure of imagination. This is not the storybook finish we'd anticipated for such a happy journalistic warrior. Something like this ought happen after the presidential election year given how much he relished them, just as the baseball star Roberto Clemente died only after his 3,000th hit. On the other hand perhaps it's fitting that his death remind everyone that there are things far more important than presidential elections.

Eminently likeable with that great toothy grin, he was in his element when surrounded by pundits on Sunday mornings. It's hard to believe that the Meet the Press I have on tape from last week will be the last one. For me, Meet the Press and Tim Russert are as inseparable as Johnny Carson was from The Tonight Show.

Ohio blogger Rich Leonardi mentions an encounter between Russert and his father:
Ten or so years ago, my late father happened to be seated next to Tim Russert on a flight for a business trip. They talked for an hour about a range of topics: politics ('natch), family, life on the road, growing up in western New York. It must have been an interesting conversation. My father was non-ideological but temperamentally conservative; Russert was ideological but curious and fair.
Though born and bred a Democrat, he was about as fair as one could hope for. His respect for history, as shown by his airing flashbacks from Meet the Press from forty to sixty years ago, is something that is increasingly rare. Combining toughness with great humanity, ten years from now we'll look back and he'll look like a quite a friend to conservatives by comparison to what we'll have then.

His mantra during the last election was "Ohio, Ohio, Ohio!", but what I'll remember most about him was how thrilled he was at meeting Pope John Paul II and having his son blessed by him.
Feast of St. Anthony of Padua

"Happy the man whose words come from the Holy Spirit and not from himself."

Saint Anthony of Padua

Go here
to read more about St. Anthony

The German words mean this:
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."

-- Taken from Holy Cards for Your Inspiration
A Hodge-Podge Post (aka "Various & Sundry")

It was a dark and stormy evening (not really, but it adds to the suspense). Actually it was sunny and 8 pm and I was jealous at my wife's sleeping ability. There she was on the couch, blissfully unaware of an annoyingly high-pitched alarm going off in the basement. Something sump-pump related, surely, as we'd just gotten torential rains. (Later I watched O'Reilly and the weather guy says we're heading for the cyclical change in weather unrelated to global warming - cue "Bad Moon Arisin'").

I get down there and water is gushing in the basement window like a Harvey Wallbanger (don't know what that means, just liked the sound of it. I'm terrible with analogies.)

Ye ol' sump pump was workin' over time without avail. Like bailin' the Titanic. The pump is successfully pumping the water outside, but the outside ain't helping as apparently the line to the sewer was clogged up.

I rouse my wife. She finds the "snake", a long coiled wire that you use to unclog drains, something I am well familiar with from my days as a toilet warrior, as the Darwins may recall.

This time it's an outside line and I can't say I'm surprised that it didn't work. The whole length of that snake went in without visible effect.

Fortunately my wife thought of a creative interim solution by turning off the sump pump and using a spare pump with a long hose - we threaded it through the basement window and pumped the water farther away from the house. Then she found more long hose that she'd thought she'd returned to the store - it was the wrong size or something - and by attaching it to the spare pump hose we were able to get the water to the point where it would roll downhill, to the sewer. Procastination in the form of not returning something can be your friend.

So that was our excitement last night. I'm about ready for a Harvey Wallbanger.

* * *

This just in: I find fatigue very fatiguing.

* * *

McCain's awful green backdrop reminds me fondly of the first car I drove. It was a Chevy Chevette, aka the "pea green penis machine". But I digress...

The backdrop is so bad that McCain should use it to his favor. It could be a brilliant anti-Obama marketing ploy - McCain should be INTENTIONALLY post-modern as a response to Obama's slickness. Think of it as the equivalent to the homeowner who puts out pink flamingos purely as irony.

Now admittedly the only way you can tell between irony and non-irony is announcing it*, so McCain has to point to the backdrop and say something like, "this is the kickoff of my anti-marketing routine. With my opponent you'll get slickness without substance, with me you'll get substance without slickness." Only they should add a few retro figures on the backdrop, the kind Smock loves. Sheesh I ought to send this to the McCain election campaign, all three of them.

* - Flannery O’Connor wrote that she would name her dog 'Spot’ as irony, her mother would w/out irony. FO said she figured it didn't matter much in the end.
* * *

Peggy Noonan is to columnists what -- oh, there I go, walking into an analogy I can't finish. Feel free to supply your own. She's certainly my favorite columnist such that there is no second. It's amazing how consistently interesting she is. Her latest well describes the difference between the old and the new America (I wish I was more firmly old America):
In the Old America, love of country was natural. You breathed it in. You either loved it or knew you should.

In the New America, love of country is a decision. It's one you make after weighing the pros and cons. What you breathe in is skepticism and a heightened appreciation of the global view.

Old America: Tradition is a guide in human affairs. New America: Tradition is a challenge, a barrier, or a lovely antique.

The Old America had big families. You married and had children. Life happened to you. You didn't decide, it decided. Now it's all on you. Old America, when life didn't work out: "Luck of the draw!" New America when life doesn't work: "I made bad choices!" Old America: "I had faith, and trust." New America: "You had limited autonomy!"

Old America: "We've been here three generations." New America: "You're still here?"

Old America: We have to have a government, but that doesn't mean I have to love it. New America: We have to have a government and I am desperate to love it. Old America: Politics is a duty. New America: Politics is life.

The Old America: Religion is good. The New America: Religion is problematic. The Old: Smoke 'em if you got 'em. The New: I'll sue.

Mr. McCain is the old world of concepts like "personal honor," of a manliness that was a style of being, of an attachment to the fact of higher principles.

Mr. Obama is the new world, which is marked in part by doubt as to the excellence of the old. It prizes ambivalence as proof of thoughtfulness, as evidence of a textured seriousness.

Both Old and New America honor sacrifice, but in the Old America it was more essential, more needed for survival both personally (don't buy today, save for tomorrow) and in larger ways.

The Old and New define sacrifice differently. An Old America opinion: Abjuring a life as a corporate lawyer and choosing instead community organizing, a job that does not pay you in money but will, if you have political ambitions, provide a base and help you win office, is not precisely a sacrifice. Political office will pay you in power and fame, which will be followed in time by money (see Clinton, Bill). This has more to do with timing than sacrifice. In fact, it's less a sacrifice than a strategy.

A New America answer: He didn't become a rich lawyer like everyone else—and that was a sacrifice! Old America: Five years in a cage—that's a sacrifice!

* * *

A "hodge-podge" post seems the proper place to complain about something that concerns no one outside Central Ohio but... Once upon a time we had a local classical radio station (we also once had a symphony, but that's a whole nudder story). And this local radio station, 89.7 on our dial, decided to put air National Propaganda Radio during drive time despite the presence of the exact same NPR news on 90.5, a few flicks to the right. You can't make it up.

I've decided to suspend all the contributions I've never made* until this outrage is rectified and Mozart is returned to the airwaves. (Road rage incidents up 20% since this introduction - related?)

* - partially due to fear that if I contribute $25 I figure I'll be saddled with a metric ton of junk mail from liberal organizations.

* * *

Still Vain But... Hidden in the crevice of a bookshelf, I see that “Hollywood Best Writer” award statue. I hadn’t seen that in years; I’d forgotten about it and it melted a part of the past and made it newly accessible. How I longed then for the vanity of a byline! The point was to get published as if there were more merit in that than in having something meaningful to say. In fact, what I wrote was completely irrelevant; it was all about acquiring the souvenir of my name under a heading. I wonder now if the two aren’t mutually exclusive, that you can’t say anything meaningful if the byline is the point.

* * *

I liked this post from Terrence Berres as it's both funny and meaningful (hit the link to get the full benefit), which is a rare combination:
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan in the "Herald of Hope" column in "our" Milwaukee Catholic Herald, May 29, 2008, takes his theme from the previous Sunday's "feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Our Lord". He celebrated at rural St. Lawrence Church with a Mass and procession.
We processed through the parish cemetery, and even the cows in the adjacent pasture sensed something unique.

The uncaused cows, for you Thomists. Our Archbishop takes an apparent detour from his theme.
Last week, as you know, I was in Ethiopia with a delegation to celebrate 50 years of efforts by Catholic Relief Services in that aching country of East Africa.

I didn't know.
The highlight was a visit to the center in the poorest area of Addis Ababa served by the Missionaries of Charity of Blessed Mother Theresa. When Missionary of Charity Sr. Benedicta, called to invite us, I told her I was eager to visit their kitchen which served 6,000 hungry a day, their orphanage where they cared for babies with HIV/AIDS, their center for the dying, their nursery preparing abandoned infants for adoption, and their dispensary for the sick, one of the only ones in that teeming metropolis.

I say apparent detour because,
"Oh good," Sister replied. "But we are more eager to have you celebrate Mass with us."
Uncharacteristically, I was speechless.

Me too.
Me too.

June 12, 2008

Too Fun...

Via Mrs. Darwin:

Generate a Barack Obama Quote!

"I think it's time we had a national conversation about winter. We need to get past all the bloggers and recognize that we are our own best hope for overcoming snow. We need flowers, not companies. Flowers are our summer. And we need to have change in winter."
Generate your Barack Obama quote at Buttafly.com

Two mo'!:

"These people haven't had clothes lines for fifty years. So you can't be surprised if they get bitter and cling to their heartburn and their cubicles and their tomatoes. That's what my campaign is about. Teaching all the little people in this country that they can have dark beers."

"I think it's time we had a national conversation about weight gain. We need to get past all the bran cereals and recognize that we are our own best hope for overcoming Rice Krispies treats. We need Wheaties, not Fruity Pebbles. Wheaties is our harmony and understanding. And we need to have change in weight gain."
Evolution of One Man's Disillusionment with Obama

pre-2007: I'd heard of him because of The Speech, of course. Not the race speech at Philadelphia, but the one he gave in '04 at the Democratic Convention that was refreshingly bipartisan. It's no small matter for anyone to be firmly ideological and yet cool in their rhetoric, yet this fellow with the odd name pulled it off remarkably well. He seemed to have admirable self-control and a gracefulness, but most of all he was a Democrat who liked and respected religion. Here was the Democrat who might have a great and positive influence on an increasingly secular party. He also looked to be a fearsome opponent for conservatives down the road.

Dec 2007: All things being equal between two candidates, a good proportion of white voters would choose a black over a white. Why? Simply because if you can make 20% of the population elated while not having to give up a thing (i.e. the candidates are equal) why wouldn't you? In this election we had a black candidate running against a woman, a man inexperienced but seemingly of good character against a woman of more experience but weak character - so perhaps they were roughly equal (depending, of course, on your weighting of character versus experience). I never thought women "needed" a woman president as much as blacks needed a black president since blacks feel more aggrieved and - I thought - tended to vote more monolithically for blacks than women do for a woman.

I learned recently that blacks don't vote monolithically for blacks unless they are Democrats - see Lynn Swann and Ken Blackwell elections as proof. I'd also thought the reason the media never cared that a black women (Condi Rice) ascended to a job of great power was due to anti-conservative bias, but now I see it could also be simply that blacks themselves don't care. At least since the LBJ administration (and despite Lincoln), the Democrat party seems to be for blacks what Catholicism was for many Irish Catholics in the old days: more about loyalty and self-identification than an understanding of what they identified with. Ireland was Catholic because England was not and because the Church was their ally in the past; blacks are liberal because the majority of whites are not and because in 1964 a liberal Democrat was in power when the Voting Rights Act passed -- all this despite the irony that the Democratic party has done more to hurt blacks than any institution during the last forty years. (Aside: is Ireland rapidly becoming pagan in part because peace with Britain in Northern Ireland has taken away some of the allure of cultural Catholicism?)

late-Jan 2008: I was taken aback - and sharply to task - by black writer Shelby Steele who said that he would be "disappointed with the American people" if they elected Obama because of his race.

It was not that I was going to vote for Obama, given the Senator's heartless position on abortion, but the positive feelings I had towards him seemed naive at best after watching Steele's series on NRO television. (Links here and here.)

Feb 2008: Michelle Obama made comments, twice in different speeches, about how this was the first time she was ever proud of her country. That took me aback, perhaps disproportionately so given that Dylan saw it as no big deal. But for me it seemed to reflect the typical congenital liberal defect: the lack of gratitude. If she actually meant it, it seemed a stunning lack of thankfulness for all that is good in this country, including the fact that poverty in America would be called wealth in most of the world. We all lack gratitude of course, but I thought you'd at least have the good sense to fake it if you're going to run for office. Hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue and all that.

Apr 2008: Reverend Wright controversy erupts. I'd already heard B.O. had a controversial pastor, but it didn't matter to me until the details became clear. Twenty years there. Spiritual father. Baptized the children. This wasn't just a casual connection in the way many Catholics have with their parish.

And then the specificity of the controversial statements was jarring. The worst was hearing that the U.S. government was involved in creating H.I.V. in order to kill blacks. This was a potent combination of ignorance and paranoia, and Obama was exposing his children to this? Why not firebomb the White House if it was doing such a thing? Not unlike most people, the Wright controversy was the turning point in my disillusionment with Obama. Ayres, his wife, and then Rev. Wright - Obama seemed to surround himself with people who were on the continuum between dislike and hatred of America.

May 2008: The worst was over now even as Obama dug himself a deeper hole. The fact that twenty years could go by without Obama being repulsed by Wright's rhetoric is reminiscent of the famous scene in Casablanca: "I'm shocked, shocked! that there is gambling going on in this establishment." Similarly Obama's "surprise" at Wright's antics have a similar level of disingenuousness.

Then too Obama's response to the Wright controversy was political and nakedly ambitious. His white grandmother's comments were held up as some sort of equivalent to Wright's racism. Obama left Trinity UCC in stages, more in response to political heat and personal pique than principle.

So if you're going to dance with the devil in order to make it in Chicago politics then don't you have to pay the piper if you try to go national? On the other hand, all politicians who aspire to be president are embarrassingly ambitious, so it's hard to discount Obama merely because of where he grew up, in a place where you had to "play the game" by attending a Wright-like church. But Obama simply doesn't have a long enough record in the national arena to know how much radicalism is indigenously his and how much was simply a temporary front. Based on his associates, his voting record, his first book (which sounds socialistic/communistic) one could say that much of it is indigenous. Peggy Noonan notwithstanding, my head & gut tells me Hillary would've made a better president.

June 11, 2008

Texas, FL, NY, CA: Y'all Can Relax

I'm a bit surprised that three months out from Election Day, the networks have already called it in something like 45 states.

The pollsters say it comes down to just a few states "in play" even though I thought no one would dare make any predictions (even on a state level) until, say, after the first debate.

From what I've seen - I think it was Meet the Depress or perhaps This Week for Obama or maybe it was Keith Übermensch - that it all comes down to Ohio (I know you all are tired of Ohioans deciding things and I cain't blame ya), Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia and possibly Missouri.

This means that the voters who are really deciding things around here include Henry & Roz, Elena, myself, Maureen, TB, Eric, Fred, Ham and I believe Tribal man. I'm sure I've forgotten more than a few. Don't hesitate to lobby us. Free Guinness works for me.

I know I've complained about Ohio's milquetoastiness, but I'm suddenly grateful for that quality since I don't think there's any way Ohio will vote for someone as liberal and inexperienced as Obama. But I could be wrong.

It's interesting that this is the first election in recent memory with the candidates flipped, more or less, on Christianity. Usually a Democrat talking about faith is like nails on chalkboard while the Republican seems to have an easier time of it; this time it's the reverse.

June 10, 2008


Day 1 was really hard on us...Every time he would get going, he would just stop pedaling, for some reason, and then fall over, not seeming to grasp the concept that Feet Off Pedals = Fall Over. Day 2 was a little better and Day 3 was magic... It’s all about their little inner selves being okay with the prospect of this new thing and believing that it can be done and that really - not only is it better than the status quo, it’s for the best. Hmm. Life does not change so much, I’m thinking. - Amy Welborn on teaching her son how to ride a bike.

The phenomenon of our need - whatever it may be - calls us back to our dependence, and this is the cue for deepening our awareness of our dependence on God [and so we beg!] - Don Giussani via Fred of "Deep Furrows"

Glory be to God for breaded things—
Catfish, steak finger, pork chop, chicken thigh,
Sliced green tomatoes, pots full to the brim
With french fries, fritters, life-float onion rings,
Hushpuppies, okra golden to the eye,
That in all oils, corn or canola, swim - R.S. Gywnn via "For Keats' Sake"

I'm... Hilary, no, not Hillary of "It Takes A Village" I'm Hilary who MADE a village!!! - blogger at "Long-Skirts" and mother of ten

What is the most overrated social custom? Shaking hands at the Kiss of Peace. Like, either kiss, or leave me alone! LOL BOURGEOIS CHRISTIANITY. - Eve Tushnet

Senator [Obama] then went on to tell reporters that he is currently in the hunt for a new church to attend. "I am currently leaning towards an Amish or any Anabapist congregation. I really like the idea of them not using electricity, especially in their churches. No cell phone cameras, no live streaming of church services and events, no greatest sermons DVDs, and no possibility of something showing up on YouTube seems to be a definite plus for me. Though I am open to other options. So if you are a pastor of a totally non-controversial church please contact my staff." - parody from Jeff of "Curt Jester"

Traducianism, as you know, is the false doctrine that the human soul is produced through generation by the parents rather than directly by God...Almost all of us posit a kind of absence of God where God is indeed present. Whatever we think God is indifferent to, whenever we say, "God doesn't care," whatever we pretend He won't notice -- all that says, "God is not here. God is not involved." All that savors of Traducianism. - Tom of Disputations

Because power corrupts. First of all, get it out of your system: Insert snark about current administration here. I'll likely agree. But this is one basis of my remaining feathers of libertarianism. I see people on the Left correctly identifying various loci of power in the private sector, like corporations, and attempting to use the government to limit that power. First off, I hope we can all keep in mind that corporations give us butter and disco, and for this we should be grateful. But also, isn’t this strategy a bit like the old woman who swallowed the fly? It’s not great to have a fly inside you, but that doesn't mean swallowing a spider is the right response…[And]…because traditions give meaning and beauty to necessary suffering... Tradition, like constraint, is based in relationship. So it should come as no surprise that ideologies of choice and reflexive suspicion of tradition dissolve the social forms that sustain relationships, and leave freedom, relief from the previous form of suffering, banality, and alienation in their place. It's also one of the really insightful points in The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, which is my current reading--I'm on chapter three. The guy's critique of modern alienation is about four hundred times better than his proposed fluffy, "Believe in whatever!" solution, but I still really appreciate that he understands that meaninglessness is worse than pain. - Eve Tushnet, on why she's a conservative

I turn office water coolers into happy hour wine. I actually used that line in a cover letter. - blogger at "Church of Baseball", who lacks not chutzpah

I’d like to see UST’s side of the argument (”We’ve had a lot of problems with these ACS people. Why, last year Dale Ahlquist stripped down into a Speedo, jumped on a table, sang “Mack the Knife,” then smash dishes like he was Johnny Cash circa 1967″). - an unfortunate image from Eric of "The Daily Eudemon", on the University of St. Thomas's decision to crack down on the festivities at a GK Chesterton conference

As I got older, I was never embarrassed to go down the age group ladder. A new Dr. Seuss title? I'm checking it out! A new Beverly Cleary? I'm on it! I think my parents might have been embarrassed, or perhaps just puzzled. "But you're a good reader!" they'd say. "You shouldn't be reading children's books. You could go on the adult side of the library." The problem was that I'd already been there. And the books in the general fiction area seemed pretty uninteresting. Judging from their novels, it seemed that adults were only interested in sex and money. Boring! (I realize now that I was probably just unlucky in my selections.) - Catholic Bibliophagist