July 31, 2008

From Fellow Ohioan "Suburban Banshee" ...

Fine list lives up to Curt Jesterian standards:

10. Demonstrations and marches are good.
Eucharistic and saint-day processions are bad.

9. Incense at home to cover up that marijuana smell is good. Yay, Sanskrit chant!
Incense in church to waft prayers to Heaven is bad. Boo, Gregorian chant!

8. Renovating old houses and antiques to their original condition is good.
Maintaining old churches in their original condition is bad.

7. Indoctrinating children from birth to love peace is good.
Baptizing children soon after birth, and teaching them the Christian faith, is bad.

6. It’s good for kids to learn a second language. Bilingual education is great.
It’s bad for kids to learn Latin. Teaching Mass parts in Latin or Greek is abusive.

5. Early music is good, especially on the original instruments and for its original purposes.
Early music in Mass is bad, especially on the original instruments and for its original purposes.

4. Grassroots movements are good.
Grassroots traditional religious movements are bad.

3. Diversity and experimentation is good.
Diversity within religious tradition is bad.

2. Alternative lifestyle choices are good.
Chaste alternate lifestyle choices are bad.

And the number one contradictory attitude of the Sixties Bunch?

1. All life is sacred, and every person has worth and is good!
Babies we don’t want are bad.
Thoughts Aloud   -alternative title "Thoughts Allowed!"

This just in: Ken Griffey Jr. dealt to the Chicago White Sox, his approval pending.

* * *

Paradox in the spiritual life (i.e. reconciling free will v. God's sovereignty, the presence of evil in a God-made world, etc...) is to be expected. If God were capable of being well understood by us than that would be a god on par with us.

* * *

I have a scapular with St. Michael the Archangel on one side and a Cross on the other with the saying "Conquer by this". It's interesting how I tend to emphasize one or the other as I retrieve it in the morning. I used to emphasize St. Michael ("defend us in battle") but now I mostly just remind myself that we must conquer by the cross. It's odd that it's so either/or, when it should be and/both - i.e. we are being helped and we must cooperate.

* * *

Adulthood sometimes seems primarily a process of undermining faulty assumptions made in youth.

* * *

It's been a source of insatiable curiosity: what did Rev. Richard Neuhaus have against William F. Buckley's theology? There was no elaboration on that subject in the First Things issue after WFB's death, but I have to admit I do wonder. I read WFB's book "Nearer My God" and nothing stood out for me as being "wrong" although obviously my knowledge of theology isn't close to either Buckley's or Neuhaus's so perhaps the differences between them would be lost on me.

* * *

The corporate steeplechase seems a bit like the game of monopoly, only you don't acquire hotels but just try to avoid pitfalls such as downsizings and endure the latest management fads (which are all painful though they differ greatly in intensity).

The hottest new managerial trend must be individual meetings with every employee. Call it mandatory feedback. I've been scheduled for a 15 min meeting with my bosses' bosses' boss (I hate plurals; no emails pls for any grammatic incorrectness). Also a 30 minute with my bosses' boss. Last year I had 30 minutes with another high level dude and now I've heard that my bosses' bosses' bosses' boss is having eight-on-one lunches.

August is a traditionally slow month around here and when management is bored they have things like this. The worst thing is that I have to look presentable and try to be semi-coherent which, depending on the day and time, can be a challenge. *end silly complaint*

* * *

From the ridiculous to the very sad: if you might spare a prayer for my uncle, who was just diagonsed with AML Leukemia, I would appreciate it.

July 30, 2008

New from K-Tel! Only $19.95!  (plus $37.50 shipping & handling)

The Purgometer!

You own a pedometer, speedometer, chronometer, blogometer, but do you have the brand new Purgometer?

At the click of a button, the Purgometer will tell you how much you've increased your stay in Purgatory during a given day or week or month. It catalogs your sins as they are committed (now includes sins of omission!) and instantly your recalibrates the amount of fire necessary.

Of course, unlike a pedometer used for exercise, you'll want to minimize your Purgatometer number. But even if it gets high this can be a prod to increase charity for love "covers a multitude of sins"*.

* - (Loveometer sold separately.)
The Art of the Possible     -- Or 'Tales of the Frugal'

Long-time readers (first time callers) may recall Ham o' Bone and his awe-inspiring frugality.

I thought I'd devote this space in homage to him. He deserves more, say a Money Magazine cover, for he is the fiscal equivalent of a saint. Just as we bemoan our lack of money even though it's usually the result of choices we've made (but will not admit), so often we bemoan our lack of sanctity despite the choices we've made (but will not admit).

And, like most saints, there is an element of craziness. Witness this mention of der Bone as written on this blog back in 2006:
I long to write the Great American Novel tonight between 10 and midnight. It would be sweet and sad and inspiring all at once. Ham o’ Bone will feature prominently of course, as a partially disguised character who frugally uses one square of TP per bowel movement. Ham, in a bid to save money, once decided to use his downstairs toilet for urination only. That way he could flush but once a month, saving water and cash. This came to an abrupt end when his mother-in-law visited and went for a smoke in the downstairs bathroom. Overcome by the smell, she told her daughter that that was ridiculous and must stop if she expected future visits. How many of us can lay claim to a sweet absurdism such as this?
Ham has mellowed in middle age and went so far as to recently purchase a 2000 square foot house that is extremely attractive. With that purchase the monthly budget for his family of six roughly doubled, to $4500 a month.

They home school their children and the unexpected benefit of this is a reduction in peer pressure ("to 25% of its strength" Bone guesses) and this has an effect on expenses because peer pressure almost always translates to material purchases unless the parents are especially resistant to entreaty.

Perhaps the most amazing statistic is Bone's purchase of two Geo Metro cars over the past 16 years. He has spent under $11,000 on those cars during that period of time, which includes maintenance and the initial cost of the cars, but not oil changes or gas. To have spent $687 per year for his transportation over 16 years seems amazing, and that was done mostly on the back of making every other purchase on his GM Card, which offered something like 3% towards the purchase of a new vehicle. Both vehicles were purchased at ridiculously low prices after the rebate was applied.

Clothing purchases have been minimal. The kids get hand-me-downs from relatives, as well as gently used clothing from Goodwill or Salvation Army. A recent example of Bone's ingenuity: when Meijer's offered 10% in-store credit of the value of any gift cards purchased, he bought $2,400 worth of Meijer gift cards (towards groceries, which he would have bought anyway). That gave him $240 of free money to purchase clothes at Meijers.

His four children, ages 13, 9, and twins aged 4 (roughly) are not interested in sports but he does not skimp on funding what they are interested in. He buys a $210 YMCA summer membership. Two of the children take weekly piano lessons ($2,000 a year). The eldest recently went to Boy Scout camp ($200). And there was a recent outlay of $100 for ten group home school lessons ($100 per quarter).

July 29, 2008


He can be infuriating, at times, but Andrew Sullivan's blog without Andrew Sullivan reminds me of something David Letterman once said about decaf coffee: "It's like non-alcoholic Scotch. What is the point?" - Dylan of "More Last than First"

why I envy Augustine...He is so faithful to so many that he met, e.g. Cicero. He never forgets what each one did for him, even if it wasn't enough. With me, a pallor falls on those that I once loved - as if they're all used up. - FPK of "Reconnaissance of the Western Tradition"

One of the old signs of saintliness was always a genuine love for animals coupled with the ability to give them orders, to which even wild animals responded with love and respectful obedience. This reversal of the Fall and return to something like Eden is part of what we are called to do, as co-workers with the New Adam...We can’t separate ourselves from Creation, or pretend that we can treat ourselves like crap, ripping away our own human dignity and oppressing ourselves, and still be able to treat everything else with love and respect. Mystically, too, we are connected to the world. - Suburban Banshee of "Aliens of this World" via Enbrethiliel

Dogs' lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you're going to lose a dog, and there's going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can't support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There's such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love, while always aware it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and for the mistakes we make because of those illusions. - from a Dean Koontz novel via "Sancta Sanctis"

As it is the nature of a seed to grow into a fruitful plant, so it is the nature of a human to grow into a perfect child of God, and forcefully uprooting the weeds in our nature -- weeds, let us not forget, that we ourselves have nurtured -- may also uproot the good plants through which we are to be perfected. - Tom of Disputations

One of my favorite bloggers, Cecily, just got back from the Blogher conference in California. In giving her impressions of the conference she wrote about blogging and about the popular blog writer Dooce: "I've read her blog for almost five years, and I've watched her become more private over that time, less willing to do what they called at BlogHer "naked" blogging. Sure, she's been compensated for her blog, but she's lost a great deal too.I am a "naked" blogger; when Heather said that she doesn't blog about 95% of her life, I thought, wow: I am the total opposite. I don't blog about more like 5%. I really do put it all out here." This was interesting for me to read. I have just been thoroughly chastized (again ) in other parts of the blogosphere for speaking up when other bloggers "blogged naked" and put some of their more controversial stuff out there. I've even read from some mommy bloggers that they consider their blogs to be their personal little spaces on the web, like pretty front porches. - Elena of "My Domestic Church"

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to commentary on FOXNews about the [teenage] pregnancy pact…One expert in Gloucester truly connected some dots for me. She surmised that one of the big draws for these teenaged girls--young teenaged girls--was that maternity clothes had become so chic, so totally hip. Let me re-phrase that: high school freshmen and sophomores are eager to get pregnant because they know they'll look pretty darn cute in today's maternity fashions. - blogger at "In the Heart of My Home"

all we need is hard work, fervent prayer, and rifles - Tagline of blogger at "Zero Summer"

In 1987-88, Mary kept me Christian. Not Catholic, but Christian... I found myself drawn to the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where I saw such epithets as "to Jesus through Mary" which puzzled me...I was wondering about Jesus and whether it all really happened. The one thing I couldn't get out of my head was the visit of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She appeared to Juan Diego to tell him: "Am I not here, I who am your mother?"...The skeptic may dismiss a priori any miracles such as this one, but to one who is open and doesn't presume to turn away from anything that claims a reason beyond what can be observed in a laboratory - to one who doesn't set a limit on what can happen, then, Our Lady of Guadalupe doesn't easily reduce to formulas of power and shamanism. To me, it's clear that Our Lady of Guadalupe did appear to Juan Diego...Jesus suffers a thousand competing reductions in the common mentality: Jesus the revolutionary, Jesus the hippie, and the various Jesuses of South Park, the Simpsons, and Family Guy. With all these counterfeits, abstractions, and reductions jumping around, it can be difficult to see Jesus as a person. Mary changed that for me. Mary is the sign of Jesus's humanity. - Frederick of "Deep Furrows"

Joseph and John, as well, are bound to Mary in different ways. In her assent Mary was led by the angel immediately to the Lord, without the intervention of her husband's consent. Joseph, who is warned by the angel that he should not divorce Mary because she has conceived of the Holy Spirit, is bound directly to the human person, Mary, in order to become through this bond a servant of the incarnate Lord. John, however, is first claimed by the Lord for himself and only then brought together with Mary and given over to her. If Joseph attains to God and to holiness only through Mary, God draws John immediately into His friendship and binds him as the Lord's friend to the Mother of the Lord. - From "The Handmaid of the Lord" via "Deep Furrows"
Of Baseball Card Collectors

When we were young there were two sorts of collectors:
those who joy'd in what they had and those who felt the lack.

Some fixated on the Missings saying
"I need your Candiotti
to complete my set."

(As if they'd abandon the 99 for the one!)

Joey and I thought it strange
(their hobby looked like work)
But they got our Candiotti
for their Aaron or Clemente.

We pitied the never satisfied
chasing some never-to-be-completed set,
those who bowed to the external standard
and authority of Topps' Checklist.

Yet imagine our surprise to learn
that joy and need had married
that love and law had hitched
that now and not yet had merged
in Him, through Him and with Him.

July 28, 2008

Festival Procession at St. Margaret's
Shaidle's Revelatory Moment

The path that led Kathy Shaidle from anarchism to conservative began with an odd revelation: Ronald Reagan wasn't the devil because he ate. She was watching a snippet of a state dinner on television, and he was up on the dais listening to a guy at the microphone and...
He held a forkful of food to his mouth, put it in and started chewing. That's when I stopped hating Ronald Reagan. I owned punk rock albums with his face, disfigured, on the cover. I’d been chanting “Ronald Reagan/he's no good/send him back to Hollywood” pretty much every weekend for, what, five years at that point? People made dart boards with his face on it, burned him in effigy, put on Ronald Reagan Halloween masks and did goofy street theatre at our demos. My then-boyfriend was sitting right beside me, muttering something, smoking my cigarettes again. Could he tell? I just stared straight ahead...
Parody Blog updated...

...to spoof the received wisdom that if we see a presidential candidate with other world leaders, that's enough to tip the balance: "Well, by golly I'll vote for them!"

July 26, 2008

Steven Shoots & Scores

When employees are treated worse than disposable diapers, Steven hits back:
I always say, "There are not enough people for that" or "We do not have enough staff to manage that." It's a small way of continuing to point out that people are people and staplers and paper are resources.

I find it endlessly fascinating how it is that women allow themselves to be beaten by their spouse or boyfriend. "But he loves me!" they say, and go back to him despite the beatings. Or perhaps it's that they don't feel they have a lot of other options economically. But then why was Errol Flynn more interesting to most women than someone more unthreatening? Why do so many women put up with men who cheat on them? I can tell you my wife wouldn't.

Similarly I'm fascinated in how it comes that employees allow themselves to be treated like chattel. Free markets are by definition double-sided, yet we employees assume the employer has all the power despite the lack of a slave labor market in this country. It's one of the mysteries of life for me, as one who would polish my resume and send it out if my employer expected even 50 hours a week. I suspect fear is a great motivator and employees on balance have much greater fear than employers. And yet there are plenty of employers in the sea.

It also reminds me of how we complain bitterly of politicians lying while at the same time demanding they lie, as Ave Maria radio host Al Kresta brilliantly pointed out on Friday. He said the fault lies in not just with politicans but with the voters who want politicians to lie because we find the truth so unpalatable. Kresta pointed out how Phil Graham recently spoke the truth and how we are not in a recession but he was excorciated for it. Liberal Michael Kinsley said the same thing in his famous line about how a Washington gaffe is when someone tells the truth.

July 25, 2008

Rocky, Rocky!

Julie Davis liked the film Rocky, but now posts the views of a naysayer:
The boxing choreography is so fake, World Wrestling Federation workers think it could use some work. The gloves clearly do not hit bodies, the exaggerated reactions and head flailings...
This is not an unfamiliar complaint about movies. We moderns crave authenticity and everyone seems to have their own set point at which poor execution forces them to miss the beauty and the larger message. A professional boxer might be more put off by inauthentic boxing scenes than someone with no familiarity of the sport, just as many a historical-critical method scholar is more put off by pious interpretations of Holy Writ than the fervent grandmother in church.

Don't some of Shakespeare's plays have rather amazing "coincidences" and leaps of logic that could prevent the suspension of disbelief, but do we think less of them? Could you could ruin a Shakespeare production of Macbeth by the ghost appearing in a ridiculously inauthentic costume, such as a sheet, such that it lends an almost comic aspect? I suppose.

I suspect many critics like dark, unredemptive films because happy endings seem fake since "real life" is such a mixed bag, nothingwithstanding that in reality death has been defeated and our lives are eternal.

I've certainly been bitten by the "reality bug" to some extent (I've been surprised to learn just how sensitive I am to the culture). But if it's true we're reading far fewer novels, could this be related? For me Rocky was about the human drama, it was about personalities and only very tangentially about sport.

Rocky isn't all sweetness and light. The seedy side of life is not repressed, but neither is it glorified. The wasted lives, the alcoholism, the meaninglessness and poverty is present. To get hung up on the authenticity of the boxing seems to miss the point. It's like hearing the words of the Magnificat and rather than pondering the astonishment of the Incarnation we shrug and say, "those aren't Mary's words, they were lifted by Luke from the Old Testament."
High-larious UK Times Satire

Link here, via Ham:
And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.

When he was twelve years old, they found him in the temple in the City of Chicago, arguing the finer points of community organisation with the Prophet Jeremiah and the Elders. And the Elders were astonished at what they heard and said among themselves: “Verily, who is this Child that he opens our hearts and minds to the audacity of hope?”
Among the Disparate Reads

I like to read a lot of stuff at the same time. Well, not at the exact same time but you know what I mean. It has its pluses and minuses. It is fun to occasionally see a related concepts in unrelated books. For example, I was reading Pete Hamill's "My Downtown" and came across this passage:
Manhattan, Fifth Avenue became the street of social power. The early notion of a powerful native aristocracy was gone—they would not rule democratic New York—but there were more indirect forms of power. The Knickerbockers set social rules that would last for decades, even if the most brutal cruelties could often be expressed, as in James, with a raised eyebrow. They insisted that wealth itself was not a virtue. It was all a question of property versus trade. Wealth derived from the ownership of property, they insisted, was far superior to wealth earned from trade. They were people with property—real estate, distant farmlands—and property was a sign of long residence, of bloodlines that antedated the Revolution, of comfortable, essentially passive security. Trade was grubby, vulgar, active. Trade was forever hungry and voracious. It destroyed all permanence. It devoured the old to make way for the new. Trade must be resisted. Tradesmen must be kept at an immunizing distance.
One might be tempted to call that elitist, but it seems the old Knickerbockers saw things not unlike the Venerable John Henry Newman. In Ker's biography and he quotes the great one:
Not to the poor, the forlorn, the dejected, the afflicted, can the Unitarian doctrine be alluring, but to those who are rich and have need of nothing...Those who have nothing of this world to rely upon need a firm hold of the next, they need a deep religion...

Such is the benefit of poverty; as to wealth, its providential corrective is the relative duties which it involves, as in the case of a landlord; but these do not fall on the trader. He is rank without tangible responsibilities; he has made himself what he is, and becomes self-dependent...If he thinks of religion at all, he will not like from being a great man to become a little one; he bargains for some or other compensation to his self-importance, some little power of judging or managing, some small permission to have his own way. Commerce is free as air; it knows no distinctions; mutual intercourse is its medium of operation. Exclusiveness, separations, rules of life, observance of days, nice scruples of conscience, are odious to it.
Throughout the book the prescience of Newman is often apparent. On the doctrine of papal infallibility he worried that it would make the educated more skeptical and resistant to authority. Newman also writes of the middle class: "A religion that neither irritates their reason nor interferes with their comfort, will be all in all in such a society...Reason teaches them that utter disregard of their Maker is unbecoming, and they determine to be religious, not from love and fear, but from good sense."

July 24, 2008

For Your Files...

From the "unintended consequences" file, from the Times:
"Earlier this decade, two researchers affiliated with Vanderbilt University examined more than 100 studies on the effectiveness of antidrug campaigns and found that, in some cases, viewers’ levels of drug abuse actually increased when commercials were shown, perhaps in part because the ads reminded them about that bag of weed in the sock drawer."
* * *

From the "Signs of an Approaching Apocalypse" file:
* * *

From the "Understatement of the Week" file, via the Times:
"Problems in the Middle East have a bad habit of becoming big problems for the rest of the world. The Middle East isn’t Las Vegas: what happens there doesn’t stay there."
* * *

From the parody file:
Parody is Therapy updated with a look at a new social networking site for social networking once removed.
This Was Something I Had to Read

Love and Economics by Ben Stein:
AS my fine professor of economics at Columbia, C. Lowell Harriss (who just celebrated his 96th birthday) used to tell us, economics is the study of the allocation of scarce goods and services. What could be scarcer or more precious than love? It is rare, hard to come by and often fragile.

My primary life study has been about love. Second comes economics, so here, in the form of a few rules, is a little amalgam of the two fields: the economics of love.

In general, and with rare exceptions, the returns in love situations are roughly proportional to the amount of time and devotion invested. The amount of love you get from an investment in love is correlated, if only roughly, to the amount of yourself you invest in the relationship.

Research pays off. The most appealing and seductive (that word again) exterior can hide the most danger and chance of loss. For most of us, diversification in love, at least beyond a very small number, is impossible, so it’s necessary to do a lot of research on the choice you make. It is a rare man or woman who can resist the outward and the surface. But exteriors can hide far too much.

In every long-term romantic situation, returns are greater when there is a monopoly. If you have to share your love with others, if you have to compete even after a brief while with others, forget the whole thing. You want to have monopoly bonds with your long-term lover. At least most situations work out better this way. ( I am too old to consider short-term romantic events. Those were my life when Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were in the White House.)


Have a dog or many dogs or cats in your life. These are your anchors to windward and your unfailing source of love.

Ben Franklin summed it up well. In times of stress, the three best things to have are an old dog, an old wife and ready money. How right he was.

July 23, 2008

July 23rd - Remembrance of Bishop Vasil Hopko

I had the honor of greeting a relic of Bishop Hopko last night at an enshrinement service at our Byzantine Catholic church. The physicality of any relic brings home the realness of that person but this relic, a bone still green from the arsenic poisoning he received by failing to recant his Byzantine Catholicism, makes him all the more real. One is reminded of how Christ still bore the wounds of the crucifixion after the Resurrection and how that made Reality more real for St. Thomas.

A brief biography:

Fr Vasil' became the newly-appointed Auxiliary Bishop and was ordained on 11 May 1947. He helped the Bishop greatly, preparing the people for hard times on the horizon.

Little by little the Czechoslovakian Communist Party prepared for the violent elimination of the Greek-Catholic Church in its nation. On 28 April 1950, the Communists carried out their work of "liquidation" during the so-called "Council of Presov", held without the presence of Bishops. Here they declared that the Greek-Catholic Church of Czechoslovakia no longer existed and that all its priests, faithful and churches were to be transferred over to the Orthodox Church. Bishops Gojdic and Hopko were arrested.

Following the arrest, Bishop Hopko underwent drastic interrogation and torture so he would deny his faith and confess to fabricated accusations. On 24 October 1951, after more than a year of cruel and diabolic interrogation, he was condemned by the State Court to 15 years in prison and a loss of all civil rights for 10 years. While in prison, in addition to the torture he received, he was given small doses of arsenic which caused a chronic poisoning, which was later verified by an analysis of his bones.

On 12 May 1964 he was released from prison for health reasons. After years of mistreatment, the Bishop suffered from grave physical ailments and mental depression caused by the constant torture and inhuman treatment. Notwithstanding all this, he continued to contribute actively to the resurgence of the Greek-Catholic Church.

On 13 June 1968, the renewal of the Greek-Catholic Church of Czechoslovakia was re-estabilized after 18 years of open persecution. From 1968, Bishop Hopko began living in Presov; on 20 December 1968, Pope Paul VI confirmed his appointment as Auxiliary Bishop for all Greek-Catholic faithful in Czechoslovakia. He carried out this responsibility with great care, encouraging the faithful and ordaining priests.

Bishop Hopko died on 23 July 1976 in Presov.
Our Byzantine pastor said "when I think of Bishop Hopko, I see my parishioners. All of you can identify with him in some way."

The pastor was intriguing regarding suffering, which Bishop Hopko shared in immensely: "No one can tell another person what to do with their suffering. My good Irish mother used to always say 'offer it up, offer it up'. If I hurt my knee she said, 'offer it up'. Which is true and good but now we rightly don't tell children to offer it up anymore. It's something that only comes about when we grow up. No one can make the decision for us."

That strikes me as essentially true because no one has ever grown up by being told to grow up, have they? Growth happens independent even of our willingness to grow, I think. Certainly physical growth does, since although we eat food, we don't eat it for the purpose of growth, we do it because we love food. I think we grow in a mature view of suffering only out of a love for Christ. I tend to feel like I have to have develop a theology of suffering, to explain it and/or dominate it, and then I'll more fully love Christ, when it actually works exactly the opposite.
Habitual Advertising

Advertisers have found another way to manipulate us - through the introduction of habits:
Procter & Gamble introduced Febreze in 1996 as a way to remove odors from smelly clothes. Consumer surveys had shown that people were leaving their jackets and blouses outside after an evening in a smoke-filled bar. P.& G., which at the time already sold products that cleaned one out of every two laundry loads washed in American homes, decided to spend millions to create a spray to remove offensive smells...

But Febreze flopped. In fact, early sales were so disappointing that the company considered canceling the entire project. One of the biggest problems, P.& G.’s researchers discovered, was that bad smells simply didn’t happen often enough in consumers’ lives.

At about the same time, the company’s staff psychologists were beginning to extend their understanding of how habits are formed...The researchers at P.& G. realized that these types of findings had enormous implications for selling Febreze. Because bad smells occurred too infrequently for a Febreze habit to form, marketers started looking for more regular cues on which they could capitalize.

The perfect cue, they eventually realized, was the act of cleaning a room, something studies showed their target audience did almost daily...

Today, Febreze is one of P.& G.’s greatest successes. Customers habitually spray tidied living rooms, clean kitchens, loads of fresh laundry and, according to one of the most recent commercials, spotless minivans. In the most recent fiscal year, consumers in North America alone spent $650 million buying Febreze, according to the company.

Dozens of other companies have also redesigned advertising campaigns around habitual cues. Beer commercials, once filled with busty women in ill-fitting tops, are now more likely to feature groups of buddies, because research shows that groups of friends are one of the strongest habit cues. Candy bar companies, through commercials, have tied their products to low-energy cues, transforming what was once a dessert into a pick-me-up for cubicle dwellers.
There Are Two Kinds of People in the World...

...those able to compartmentalize and those who aren't?: From a Sancta Sanctis post:
I far prefer something my friend Tariel once said to a five-year-old boy who wanted to give up meat because he didn't want to eat animals: "God created some animals to be our friends, but other animals to be our food."
Iraq: a Re-Assessment with the Aid of Hindsight

I try to stay reasonably well-informed on matters political, at least enough to vote effectively, but with Iraq it might be a worthwhile enterprise to see where I went wrong. Of course, any self-assessment will be necessarily biased but...

Decision to Go into Iraq

  • Morality?

    I supported GWB's right to go in, which is different than supporting going in. The right to go in was demonstrated for me by the fact that Hussein had thrown out the UN inspectors out and had violated the terms of the Gulf War for years. In other words, there wasn't a Gulf War and an Iraq War, there was only a Gulf War with a decade break.

    Perhaps now that seems a bit flimsy since wars are unpredictable and what is on paper doesn't have to be enforced. To me, the Gulf War ceasefire agreement was like a binding contract and if the terms were violated then it automatically should trigger action even though that sounds a bit like how WW I got started. Of course, some would say that the very fact that we honor some agreements and not others is why Saddam felt free to not take the U.S.'s threats seriously in the first place. So it's complicated. By not backing up your word you end up creating conditions for a greater conflict. But by backing up your word you can also create misery on an unparalleled scale (WW I).

    It's interesting to me that Weigel & Novak seemed more interested in sanctioning the war for the notion of preemptive strike rather than any enforcement of the Gulf War treaty, which means my analysis was likely on thin ground.

  • Prudent?

    I wasn't sure if it was prudent, given the conservative maxim is that culture trumps politics and we conservatives loathe nation-building. I misjudged Bush in thinking he was on the same page concerning nation-building; in fact he said before 9/11 that he wanted a "humble" foreign policy, which obviously meant not saving the world for democracy.

    Bush changed his mind and I think that's because, for better or worse, he is loyal to people, not principles. Loyal to the citizens he leads in having to make sure every threat was responded to, preemptively if necessary. But the loyalty was not abstract but personal: I recall being greatly surprised that he could look into the eye of a Russian leader like Putin and say that he knew his soul. Later he nominated Harriet Myers for Supreme Court and that likewise spoke volumes. Finally, the fact that he constantly stayed far too long with bad appointments and generals suggests that loyalty was more important than performance. Who knew? It's the rarest of attributes in politics since a politician usually only tries to save his own skin. Is Bush the anti-Nixon who abhors "Real Politik"? Certainly the Real Politik'rs, like the Bush I buddies, hated the Iraq policy from the beginning (maybe seeing the friction between Iraq and Iran as keeping the other in line and thus beneficial to the West?).

    I suppose I should've realized that toppling Saddam Hussein automatically meant nation-building, at least according to the Powell doctrine of "you break it, you bought it", though I've heard that Tony Blair advocated the attractive policy of toppling Saddam & sons while leaving the Baathists in charge (i.e. getting out of there immediately). I haven't been able to confirm it via Googling yet. The downside to that would be that naysayers would say "well, they'll just put another Hussein in and you'll have to go back!" but of course how could going back possibly be any more expensive in terms of lives and money than staying there for seven years (and likely 70) as we have now?

    Two people I respected gave me pause. One, Pope John Paul II, and two, Russell Kirk. Kirk was not alive at the start of the Iraq War but he spoke from the grave when I read that he opposed the Gulf War. The Iraq War wouldn't seem prudent or legit if the Gulf War was not. But I couldn't see anything wrong with the Gulf War given that a) Hussein had tried to take over a sovereign nation and b) there was nothing to stop him from taking Saudi Arabia.


    Going in, I didn't think the war would be so obviously imprudent that it meant that for all practical purposes GWB didn't have the right to go in. I think that's primarily because I couldn't imagine that Bush didn't have a plan to get out before the next election. In other words, I completely misread Bush although I can't entirely fault myself since I had no exposure to, nor experience of, another politician quite like him. I'd never seen a politician so accepting of unpopularity. It's usually not in their nature. Ronald Reagan immediately backed the troops out of Lebanon. Not having been around during the FDR/Truman/Eisenhower era, I had no idea a president could be stubborn, patient and impervious to public opinion. So I took it for granted that Bush had an "exit strategy" even though most wars don't have exit strategies. While I'd seen Bush before 2001 as a pragmatist, a "CEO type" who would examine results and react swiftly, it turns out he was something of a dreamer and loyalist who would react slowly to the facts on the ground.


    At the time it was highly controversial, but I wondered why it was so. How could geater force concentration not work? But at the same time I didn't think it would bring the troops home any earlier. In both of these it appears I was right. It appears though that the success of the surge was due mostly to the rather amazing effectiveness of General Petraeus.

    Iraqi Civilians

    This is a mixed bag. It's said that a million children died during the economic sanctions that were put in place to try to get Hussein to honor the Gulf War ceasefire, so the war seemed like a peace compared to that holocaust. Of course, who knows what numbers to trust? There are so many floating around. But it's true that Iraqi Christians have been persecuted and fled, such that there is perhaps only a quarter still in Iraq. Their sad plight and persecution I hadn't anticipated, nor had the media, at least the MSM I'd seen.


    The renewed belligerence of Iran makes sense mostly in hindsight. Hussein feared Iran far more than America and thus covered up the fact that he lacked WMDs and now we realize he wasn't paranoid. Western "experts" I'd read about were optimistic about Iran because they thought that unlike states like Egypt, where the leaders were far more friendly to the West than its citizens, with Iran it was supposedly the opposite.

    I got the impression theirs was a very unstable regime and that not most Iranians were too fond of being ruled by mullahs. Yet now any reversal of the Iranian revolution seems farther away than ever.
  • July 22, 2008

    Reading Seasons?

    An old TIME magazine discusses reading habits:

    Naturally, there are still many constant readers who follow the same schedule all year round, and they seem somehow surprised to discover that everybody's habits are not the same. Says Novelist Peter De Vries, who is on many a vacation book list himself: "I'm always amazed at lists of summer reading. Mine is the same as fall, winter, spring—it doesn't shift gears, throttle down, rev up, or anything."

    Such grandiose lists prompted the Saturday Review several years ago to discontinue polling writers on their reading. Many authors reacted as if they were being given an intelligence test. As Saturday Review Editor Norman Cousins remarked: "A man knows even less about his reading habits than he does about his sex habits."
    That last line certainly gives me pause, but regardless my summer reading seems similar to my winter reading which seems similar to my fall and spring reading. In other words, I'm rather unCatholic when it comes to my reading habits, although Lenten reading is always different because I spend much more time in spiritual reading.

    Eve Tushnet recently blogged:
    Both NFP and (unless I'm an internet-educated moron!) the Jewish laws of sexual behavior create a sort of rhythm of times of sexual fast and times of sexual feast. E.g. it's a mitzvah to have sex with your wife at certain times. Time is sacralized in the marital act.

    And so I wondered--can anything this side of the grave be sacred without some rhythm, without some time-boundaries, some liturgical season? Is liturgy, and its inherent musical shifting between sound and silence, necessary in order for us to apprehend some hint of eternity? This seems like the sort of paradox God always goes in for, where marriage prepares us for the place where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage....

    Coleridge famously divided human beings between Aristolelians and Platonists - that is, between inductive and deductive thinkers, between those who move easily into abstractions and those who prefer dealing with particulars....The creative verbal imagination - most of us agree - is torn between polarities: the polemical and the Dionysian. There is that eximious infatuation with language, the sheer, lush love of the sound for the sound of it, sense be damned. - Reid Buckley, William F. Buckley's brother

    My definition of an expert in any field is a person who knows enough about what's really going on to be scared. - PJ Plauger

    I vacillate between optimistic neo-conservative and throw-in-the-towel 13th-century reactionary, depending largely upon my mood. The only thing clear, the only reliable “tradition”, the only institution left standing is the Catholic Church. The Church isn’t enough to make one feel at home in this world … but maybe that is exactly the point. - Jeff of Stoney Creek Digest

    They die as they lived: imperfect, at times startlingly petty, and seemingly so ill-prepared. Yet the Master works all the while to master them; sometimes we perceive it, most of the time we do not.- Bishop Daniel Flores on "Inside Catholic" concerning the Ron Hansen novel "Exiles"

    There is nothing poetic about the circumstance of Norberta’s or anyone’s death (the Tower of Siloam comes to mind). There is grace, though, in the surrender to the One who comes in it: “And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss.”Hopkins wrote to his mother that “it is our pride to be ready for instant dispatch”(172), and though speaking of the Jesuit vocation, and his own frequent transferrals, he doubtless intended also the transitus toward which all changes of address tend, and which they all foreshadow. We can hope that Norberta knew this as well, and could silently offer it to the “Father and fondler of heart thou has wrung.“ If hope is not enough for us in reading this end — I speak for myself, at any rate — then we are like those whom Hopkins describes as “trenched with tears, carved with cares.”And we are thus shown to be in further need of the Master’s particular touch, coming as of “an anvil-ding.“ - Bishop Flores again on "Inside Catholic"

    I really, deeply don't believe that ethics are the sum and summit of the Christian life. If I had to pick something, I think I'd pick the Eucharist: the consummation of God's love affair with us. And I think this rejection of ethics-uber-alles is relevant in two ways: 1) Shame is community property--the domain of ethics, the domain of humans negotiating life with humans rather than the domain of humans pouring themselves out in the humiliating, confusing, transcendent love of God; and yet 2) Deus Caritas Est is right that love of others is sturdiest when it's based on the Eucharist. I can't count the times I've finally surrendered and confessed because I had to counsel at the pregnancy center that night. Love beyond ethics strengthens ethics..."Charity" gets a bad rep for condescension. I think for the people for whom it is genuinely the Wedding Feast--the people who can live at all hours within the Mass--there's no condescension. I would rather think about how to live that way than think about how to properly shame one another.... - Eve Tushnet

    I’ve no faith in the power of my prayer.
    Grant me the grace to phrase
    a psalm of thanks and praise
    from one who lists among his sins despair.
         -"First Things" poem "In David’s Line" by Timothy Murphy

    When you’re drawn into the lives of others, you enter their problems, their hopes, their dreams, their families. They whisk you down unimagined corridors, toward possibilities that had been hidden to you before. So resolve to do little things for others. You don’t know where they’re going to lead but then again, you don’t have any idea where your life is going to lead. When I was your age, I had long hair, a beard and thought of myself as a socialist. You are going to pinball all over the place, from experience to experience, job to job. And I want you to remember that you’ve got company. - the late Tony Snow

    When I look at how this issue emerges in the lives of Hopkins and the sisters, it seems that the struggles of every Christian are reflected there. They may be religious -- and further, 19th-century religious, where formation was marked by a suspicion of individuality and an emphasis on obedience -- but we contemporary laity are no more exempt from this paradox if we are trying to follow Christ seriously and totally, in obedience, willing to leave all behind. But neither are we dull, homogenous automatons. God created each of us with various gifts and capabilities . . . but how to use them? I am called to give my best to the Lord, but how can I keep pride at bay? How can I discern when this stops being about God and starts being about me? I may be tempted to pity these religious for that old-fashioned oppressive obedience culture in which they lived, but should I? Do my strivings actually put me under obedience to forces even more oppressive than Mother Superiors and Father Generals? Most importantly, in sorting all of this out, how can I avoid falling into the trap of cheerily and vapidly celebrating my "gifts and talents" as the goal of my spiritual life? And inscribing it all on felt banners? (Or on my blog?) - Amy Welborn

    Thank you so much to all of you who have been praying for me, my family and my beautiful mother. I know that I have done so well so far only because of the enormous grace I have received from the prayers of my friends. I know that there are many hard days to come, but I must say that the day that your mom's obituary appears in the paper must be one of the hardest. It certainly is for me...I cannot see to type through my tears. And I want you all to realize what a precious jewel my Summa compatriot is. Smock came and prayed over my mama when I was too heartbroken to think of anything to say. Ya'll should be so lucky. - Terry of "Summa Mamas"

    July 21, 2008

    Last Week in Review

    I've decided I don’t much like alcohol that comes at me too fast. I like the nice trotting pace of beer. Liquor is be quicker but do we need quicker these days? We need to learn how to slow down. Beer is the slow-down drink, something you can linger with for hours.

    I came home Tuesday to catch a bit of the All-Star game, though it was disheartening to see the Reds ace give up the tying run.

    At the fair, it’s always nice to get in contact with the real, to throw off the versimiltudes of simulcast (don't know what that means, just sounded good). The highlight was seeing the canine sheriff dogs do their thing, albeit not too impressively. It seemed like the handlers basically pointed out drugs or explosives and the dog reacted accordingly. With these dogs, turns out you can hide but you can’t run - they were at least very effective in running down a fleeing suspect.

    photo via Columbus Dispatch...
    It was a tactile experience and we breathed in the varying scents in the barns: the pigs, goats, horses, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, ducks, geese, cows and lambs. We hit ‘em all. Quick word association game with the various animals after seeing them in their pens: Pigs: “brotherly love” (they were always entwined); goats: “alert fellers”, horses: “the Gallant Ones”; turkeys: “Struttin’”, cows: “beached whales”.

    It felt good to use the time, to not let the candle of work burn down the beautiful zenith July days.

    * * *

    Soft! What yonder brackish lighteth breaks! Oh it is Times Square! The sun doth rise o'er the muted lights of the Square. I recall the ghost of Vacations Recently Past (the Cabin Fever victim is always the last to know). Moments most recalled were keenly meditative, like when slumped like a bum off 5th Avenue waiting for the Tiffany appraisers (my wife & her friend). Or the stillness of that wooden Episcopalian church on 29th - such an odd space for a big city. It look like a bit of England transplanted, the rectory and church having a cottage-like, Shire-like feel to it. The dark interior was desolately empty. The only sign of life was a quiet man, staring ahead unnervingly, sits on a bench in front of the church.

    Both vacations, Florida & NY, had a bit of coitus interuptus about them, for their brevity and premature endings. (Reminds me of a joke Col. Peters made on Fox News concerning Iraq - about how men hate premature withdrawal.) To complain about short vacations is likely obscene given how many can't afford a vacation at all, but this merely recognizes the wisdom of Europeans who when they go on vacations take trips of some length.

    * * *

    Parody blog updated ...with local man who is so authentically suburban that he will be of interest to historians two centuries hence.
    The Tale of the Bills: O'Reilly & Joel

    Seeing this Times article about the Long Island roots of Billy Joel reminded me of another Bill from Long Island, Bill O'Reilly.

    I read the selections below to my wife without telling her it was about Billy Joel and asked her who it reminded her of. She immediately said, "Bill O'Reilly":
    The romantic idealism and the yeah-right realism. The quickness to mock and to take offense. The need to prove oneself better than any Upper East Side twit...the worst that they can say is: He forgot where he came from. He’s full of it. A fake...

    He comes from Long Island — and really, the thought goes, what hard-knocks artistry could possibly emerge from the land of suburban tracts?...

    We Long Islanders have an inherent inferiority complex...we use ridicule and sarcasm to show affection.

    “Everything was testing, testing, testing,” he says. “Testing your manhood, testing your humor — really, testing your friendship.”

    Now a bad review doesn’t ruin his life. “I think that was a Long Island thing,” he says. “Someone would take a swipe, and I felt compelled to swing back.”
    You can take the boy out of Long Island, but you can't take the Long Island out of the boy.

    With O'Reilly, being an outsider has been put to good use in his ability to identify with the underdog, particularly with the defenseless: children.

    July 20, 2008

    Fiction for a Sunday...

    It was the summer of '67 when I was invited by a Hollywood writer/acquaintance to a hot-tub party at the Playboy Mansion. I declined for reasons of fastidiousness - I couldn't (or didn't want to) imagine what bodily fluids were in the tub. I figured that hedonists, being of the "eat, drink, for tomorrow we may die!" disposition, wouldn't go to the trouble of changing the water or adding the chemicals.

    I wondered then if the Playboy Mansion was like paradise for Muslims - 76 virgins, well... It seemed Muslims didn't leave anything to chance as far as motivating believers, at least not the male believers. The Christians took it on faith: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard...". If it was beyond human experience perhaps it wasn't beyond the imagination, though the harps and angels and music generally left something to be desired. Christianity being a social religion, I imagined it a very social place, like a large family reunion. Or a place of rest, like the Sabbath rest, although these were competing visions since what if you wanted a rest from the relatives?

    I reasoned that Heaven was like girls though not in the Islamic sense. I figured it got more alluring as you got older or wiser or if you changed, just as girls were yucky until at some indistinct point in early adolescence when they weren't. Before then eye had not seen, ear had not heard...

    At school and during summer jobs my default setting was to work rather than socialize, which set me apart. I found the latter more wearying than the former. It had the unintended effect of making me more interesting to co-workers and schoolmates who shared their exploits while I listened, having nothing to report myself. I learned that girls and concerts and alcohol were the Elysian fields that opened them to transcendence while I found the same through chaste Proustian dreams, at least until people broke the spell.

    I wrote novels in my head while working, composed symphonies while showering. I began each novel lyrically, like a song, not to show off but because it was dreaming-out-loud and dreams were what made life worth living.

    Dreams bled into real life too, like the time I saw a black dog walking in between the rows of a soybean field, his head just above the plants just like he was swimming on land, which is what day-dreaming was like. It was as surreal as the disembodied rabbit at a greyhound track.

    Then, another real dream: I've strung etymologies of obscure words together, sang Hungarian folk songs, wandered amid wildflowers, became intoxicated by hectares but I never saw anything as beautiful as the Sunday I saw that farm sitting still in the sun.

    It was exceptionally windy that day, though oddly not while I was looking at the small but prosperous spread, everything in exquisite order. Entropy was momentarily damned; God was in his heaven.

    Fields flanked the structures like the seas flank the earth. There was a white house on the left with a perfectly manicured yard in front (as if done by hand with barber scissors & clippers), a long white barn that was neither too high nor too short next to it, and a plump silo surrounded by gravel.

    The house had the patische of age without the neglect. The silo had a tall scaffolding of equipment attached that appeared - from the surrounding circle of gravel - to spin around the silo when the equipment was in motion.

    Such profundities and peace this odd machinery produced in me! Not knowing what it was was its pleasure. I longed not to know for that would kill it, as certainly as it I figured it had killed it for the farmer then absent, who was presumably looking with longing at a Manhattan brownstone.

    The gravel shown white under the sun, like beach sand, tasting of freedom and the Platonic ideal of the rural for in all my memories only rural estates had gravel drives and so I associated them with the plenary privacy in front of me. It was like Heaven, or so I imagined in the time before spiritual puberty...
    What if Candidates Pandered to Economists?

    Even though economists famously disagree about effects of many public policies, there are some things they agree on:
    On many issues, from universal health insurance to increased taxes on the rich, economists do not speak with a single voice. But on some issues we do. Here is an eight-plank platform designed to attract a majority of economists. It is based on discussions I have had with my colleagues — call them focus groups, if you’d like — and polls of my profession:

    SUPPORT FREE TRADE Economists are nearly unanimous in their support of an unfettered system of world trade. Here, Senator Obama lags behind Senator McCain. Senator Obama’s bad-mouthing of Nafta and his opposition to free-trade pacts with Colombia and South Korea make most economists cringe.

    Many economists would go even further than Senator McCain has suggested by, for example, repealing antidumping laws. The ostensible purpose of these laws is to prevent foreign companies from selling in the United States at prices below fair value, but the law’s notion of “fair” rarely makes sense. In practice, these laws are little more than an excuse for special interests to shield themselves from competition.

    OPPOSE FARM SUBSIDIES Economists like free markets, a principle that applies to agriculture as much as any good or service. Again, Senator McCain has the lead. Senator Obama’s endorsement of the recent $300 billion farm bill, his support for domestic ethanol subsidies and his opposition to imported sugar ethanol may bring votes from farmers, but economists view these policies as a burden on taxpayers and consumers.

    LEAVE OIL COMPANIES AND SPECULATORS ALONE With the stunning rise in oil prices, both presidential candidates have been tempted to demonize market participants. Senator McCain has complained about the “obscene profits” of oil companies and called for a “thorough and complete investigation of speculators.” By contrast, most economists see nothing more sinister than the forces of global supply and demand at work. There is little benefit, and potentially much harm, in the candidates’ populist finger-pointing.

    TAX THE USE OF ENERGY Senator Obama wins a point by opposing a summer gas tax holiday, a McCain proposal that economists greeted with derision. Most economists advocate increased taxes on energy products. The recent response of consumers to higher gas prices — including the increased use of mass transit and greater purchases of small cars, scooters, and even bicycles — demonstrates that the price mechanism is the most reliable way to reduce energy consumption and to curtail a variety of driving-related problems.

    RAISE THE RETIREMENT AGE Like both presidential candidates, most economists recognize that Social Security faces a long-term problem. Senator Obama says he wants to fix it by extending the payroll tax to high incomes. Senator McCain opposes tax increases and wants the Social Security system to include personal accounts, but he has avoided proposing specific benefit cuts needed to make the numbers add up.

    Some economists endorse Senator Obama’s tax hike, and some endorse Senator McCain’s personal accounts, but a much greater number would increase the age of eligibility for benefits. As Americans live longer, we need to redefine old age — a theme that should resonate with Mr. McCain, who is 71.

    INVITE MORE SKILLED IMMIGRANTS As part of their embrace of globalization, economists are more open to immigration than is the general public. Admittedly, unskilled immigrants raise some potential problems: They may depress wages for Americans at the bottom of the economic ladder, exacerbating the rise in inequality, and they may overburden the social safety net. By contrast, skilled immigrants promote economic growth, especially among poorer Americans, and pay more in taxes than they get in government benefits. The more, the merrier.

    On this issue, economists very clearly practice what they preach. Many of the best economists at top American universities were born abroad.

    LIBERALIZE DRUG POLICY Many economists marry their support of economic freedom with a similar support of personal freedom. Drug policy is a case in point. A 2006 poll of professional economists asked whether the United States should legalize marijuana. Those in favor outnumbered those opposed more than three to one.
    The Great New Yorker Controversy
    The reaction to the satirical New Yorker cover depicting Obama in a turbin and Mz. Obama in guerilla wear was far more amusing than the cover itself. To see liberals targeting other liberals over the correct words to their hymns of victimology triggered a bit of schadenfreude in me. Hoisted by their own pretard has been a common enough experience this primary season, as I'd written before. (And to see Al Gore answer to the charge of hypocrisy on Meet the Press for his ten thousand square-foot home was priceless if only because for liberals the only sin besides intolerance is hypocrisy.) We're seeing things we've hardly ever seen before, and I think it's mostly a testament to the utter lack of fear liberals feel in this extremely favorable political environment. They can afford to attack their own magazines & candidates.

    The downside is that enjoying the show is the purview of those out of power, as the Republicans are now (GWB is a lame duck). But you take your pleasure where you can.

    Bush routinely received far worse cartoon covers than the latest from the New Yorker, but at least the dust-up has served as a barometer of who lacks a sense of humor and proportion (is it any surprise that Al Gore failed the test during today's Meet the Press appearance?). Just like with the primary race of a black versus a woman led to preference pyrotechnics, here we have freedom of the press versus liberal piety.

    It all screams out for parody but I kept procastinating despite having a blog called Parody is Therapy. Thankfully, procastination often works to our advantage and it did this time when I saw the cartoon above, which was funnier than anything I could've come up with.

    It was penned by a Glenn McCoy and published in the Columbus Dispatch and restores my faith in the comic ability of this fine nation. It's one job we won't have to outsource...

    July 18, 2008

    Story and Sacrament

    For sacraments, the material and the signifier are necessary. It's interesting to look at good fiction in the same way: the material is the story itself, the signifier is that which sets it apart for the believer.

    St. Ambrose writes of sacrament:
    I see the water I used to see every day; does this water in which I have often bathed without being sanctified really have the power to sanctify me? Learn from this that water does not sanctify without the Holy Spirit...The catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord with which he too is signed, but unless he is baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit he cannot receive the forgiveness of sins or the gift of spiritual grace.
    Bishop Flores writes of fiction:
    The author allows us to hear the thoughts of the sisters as they die...I suppose a non-believer would read those thoughts and be content to say, "Well, at least they had the consolation of their faith, though whether it is true or not is another issue." A believer, reading the same thoughts of the sisters laid bare, would likely recognize in them the signifying words that point to the reality embracing the sisters. If that sounds like a description devised out of deference to the Catholic Tradition of the Sacraments, it should. For I think sacramental signification is relevant here.

    Thomas Aquinas says somewhere in his treatise on the Sacraments that the matter itself of a Sacrament is not sufficiently specific to signify the purposes to which the Lord, in instituting them, wills to put them. (He is elaborating Augustine here.) Thus, the words the Lord uses in instituting the Sacraments, the words the Church has custody over, are necessary in order sufficiently to signify the intended use of the matter.

    Hence, in the Sacraments, if the matter is corrupted, even the addition of the words cannot supply for it; and if the form of the specifying words is so botched that the specification is lost, then the sign fails to signify, and the sacrament is invalid... Remember also that every deliberately conceived combination of event and word has an intended audience, for who signifies meaning into the air?

    In any event, a Catholic author works in the world of things and events that signify in themselves, but not sufficiently clearly for us to catch their full intended significance. So the words an author uses are at the service of signifying the intentionality of life as guided providentially by God. But without the event, there is nothing for the word to specify, and without the word, the event flounders as a vehicle of meaning.

    All this is simply to say that Catholic fiction is in some sense a work that participates in the dynamic of matter and form, thing and word. And the success or failure of a work of Catholic fiction depends on how well, how fluidly and effortlessly, the combination of event and word conspire to lead the reader to ponder the meaning of the intended sign.
    This & That

    This may be too cynical by a half, but a few weeks ago I began receiving Newsweek magazine despite not having subscribed to it. I'm wondering if this is a free 6-month subscription such that it would run till... drumroll... November. Which is to say that I wonder if Newsweek is providing free magazines to some of us in electorally-important states in order to try to swing the election towards Obama. After all, politics is the religion of the secular set and why wouldn't they want to prostyletize? On the other hand, I admit that does sound a bit conspiratorial.

    * * *

    My left-of-center brother-in-law becomes incensed when he reads of corporate ill-doing. Which seems odd; I'm always surprised by his surprise. Companies are run by individuals. Individuals are fallen. Why isn't he outraged by other news, including everything from shoplifting statistics to murder rates?

    Economic systems often come under fire when human nature is truly to blame. Every economic system on earth is subject to some sort of particular abuse, has some sort of particular 'besetting sin', which is ameliorable only by a culture of life inspired by God.

    * * *

    Last night I was reading about 1920s/30s writer Jim Tully and how when he was a starving artist the socialist Upton Sinclair ignored him and returned his manuscript unread, while Rupert Hughes, a "reactionary" helped him turn his 100,000 word single paragraph into Tully's first novel.

    * * *

    Interesting excerpt from a highly respected scientific journal: :-)
    Varieties of Physiological Stimuli Triggering Male Sexual Response

    1) Change of Season
    2) Stability of Season
    3) Shapely female in immodest clothing
    4) Shapely female in modest clothing
    5) Happiness
    6) Sadness
    7) Low-fat diet
    8) High-fat diet
    * * *

    Speaking of sex, least likely Jeopardy! category may well be: Lust & Religion. Be funny to hear Alex say it. The latter just came available on Gutenberg. (By the way, you can get an RSS feed and learn of new online books.)

    * * *

    You've heard of the Lives of the Saints...Well, Parody is Therapy examines the Lies of the Saints.

    * * *

    God is often revealed in small actions. I was touched when while riding my bike yesterday someone down the street pulling out of their driveway with loud rap music playing. The sound decreased as I neared and then increased after I went by. He'd thoughtfully turned down the noise for my sake.

    * * *

    The Spanish blogger at Compostela writes of having recently seen My Night at Maud's, a film I remember seeing about a decade ago. I remember it having made a big impression at the time but ought watch it again since our reaction to art changes over time as Angel mentions.

    He writes of how he would have viewed it differently before his conversion (colorfully termed "Copernicano turn" via the ever interesting Babelfish translation service).
    Update: I sent this email to Ham o' Bone:

    After a second viewing, I was amazed by how much lying the main charater, Jean-Louise, did. I don't recall the deception in the first viewing, perhaps because I was inclined to be sympathetic given he was the believer amid unbelievers. Don't you think Maud and the Marxist friend of Jean-Louise were more likable that Jean-L & Francoise, the blonde? I wonder if that was the director's intention. Maud & the Marxist just seemed more other-directed and less self-involved. A detail is that when Maud was telling Jean-L of the death of her lover, Jean-L seems to have moved off disinterestedly towards the window and expressed no sorrow.

    The other thing that blew me away was the mention on a movie review site that his blonde wife, Francoise, was a fundamentally unhappy person. She didn't seem so at all to me; the only time she appeared otherwise was when she thought he'd found out about her affair. At film's end they go off happily for a swim. Anyway, well worth another viewing!
    Governed by Emotion, Not Reason?

    Inside Catholic has a poll question1 which asks:
    Putting aside your own political preferences, who do you think will win the U.S. Presidential election in November?
    The audience of Inside Catholic is presumably skewed far to the right. Hence the importance of the "putting aside your own political preferences" disclaimer.

    Now what's interesting is that we all go in with the information that McCain has never led in the polls despite a long primary fight between the Democrat candidates. And that it's a heavily Democratic year. And that the national media has swooned over Obama and will paint things to his advantage. (Although there's the possibility of backlash given the low prestige of the media.)

    But Inside Catholic readers are unpreturbed. About 52% say McCain will win, about 45% say Obama will:
    There's no way, obviously, to quantify how many are voting out of emotion and not reason. Certainly some might say Obama out of a native pessimism, just as others might say McCain out of a native optimism. Both are based on emotion.

    But the right has the reputation of being more rational than the left2, and so one might expect a 50-50 Obama/McCain split at this point in the race from this crowd. And yet how predictable is it that this poll would skew towards McCain in this forum? It's as predictable as Obama leading on the Huntington Post. And this despite the crucial disclaimer "Leaving aside your own political preferences...".

    If the results are disappointing it at least proves we are humans and not robots. And it's always possible that Inside Catholic readers are more politically astute, pending the election results in November.

    (This brings to mind a poll in which Democrats and Republicans both errored in their recall of the inflation rate in various presidential administrations (always erroring in their party's favor of course). Republicans errored less, but it still shows the Right certainly doesn't have a lock on rationality. But do we want a bunch of Spocks? Isn't our ability to love somewhat predicated on irrationality by which we see and emphasize the qualities of our family, country and self and missing or downplaying the negatives?)

    This interests me in part because my friend Ham o' Bone has a deep faith in rationality combined with a deep faith in his own judgment of what is rational, seeing the two as equivalent. Which we all tend towards, of course, but it gets difficult not only in imagining our own irrationality (think John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind") but in also imagining our neighbor's irrationality. Years ago, when he lost thousands in stock options, Ham said this was the fault of the market and that it points to the prevalence of ignorance bad opinion. I say this not to be critical, as I fiercely admire Ham's confidence because that's how so many wonderful inventions and businesses came to be. But either he was directly wrong, or he had failed to account for the irrationality of others. It happens.

    Or, as a liberal famously said after Nixon beat McGovern, "Nixon couldn't have won - I don't even know anyone who voted for Nixon!"

    Of course, all of this assumes voting is a rational process when actually it's mostly a crapshoot and always the choice of the lesser of two evils given that we are all flawed human beings. The crapshoot nature is illustrated in recent history by the fact that our best president was a former actor and the one with the most experience (LBJ) was a complete dud.

    1- link also contains great thoughts from Amy & gang on Catholic literature.

    2- i.e. someone on the left, Chris Matthews, refers to the Republicans as the "Daddy" party and the Democrats as the "Mommy" party. (This was before the Republicans became spendaholics during recent years.) The parties often separate between head versus heart, though with notable exceptions like protecting the unborn.

    July 17, 2008


    'Each summer the last summer.'
    -Denise Levertov, 'Living'
    Each summer the summer
    it did not rain so
    much the summer before
    because Then is turning
    to accommodate Now
    with small movements like
    the fluttering of birds' wings
    & every night the world
    the way scientists warned us it would;
    what is it about
    that is so evanescent?
    each summer
    the last summer.   ---ryan blood
    Watching COPS with the Sound Turned Down

    I've found, over time, that this dialogue works for most episodes of COPS.

    (Head shot of officer talking):"I've been with the [insert city name] police force for [X] years. I love being a police officer. Every day, every call is different. We get to get the bad guys off the street. The main thing is to come back home safely.”

    (Pulls up behind suspect acting suspiciously): “Don't reach in your pocket! Got any ID?"

    (Suspect runs and is caught):

    Officer breathlessly: "Why'd you run?"

    Suspect: "I was scared."

    Officer: "Scared of the police? Why would you be scared of the police? Got a warant?"

    Suspect: "No, no warrants."

    Officer: "You sellin'?"

    Suspect: "I don't do drugs. Don't have any drugs."

    Officer: "What'd you toss out the window?"

    Suspect: "I didn't toss anything."

    (Officer picks up drugs tossed from window & then searches car, finds more drugs.)

    Officer: "What's this?"

    Suspect: "They ain't mine."

    Officer: "Is this your car?"

    Suspect: "Yes."

    Officer: "Then how'd they get there?"

    Suspect: "I don't know but they ain't mine."

    COPS Laws

    1) Oddly, cops act surprised when someone who likely just committed a crime lies to them. Police expect criminals to incriminate themselves by confessing.

    2) It's been said that few in jail admit guilt. Similarly, almost no one caught admits guilt no matter how far-fetched the story (i.e. "someone just let me borrow their car - don't know their name or why"). "I didn't do nuthin'" is the most heard line on COPS.

    3) Amazingly, cops are suspicious of people who act nervous when pulled over, even though being nervous is the natural reaction for someone who just got pulled over even if unaware of doing anything wrong.

    4) Based on COPS, if there weren't drugs or domestic abuse they'd have little to do but drive around.
    In Praise of Bad Art

    If you want to make God laugh
    mention "create" after a personal pronoun.
    (Ex nihilo is the better trick.)

    For Him everything is cloying,
    mere sentiment and cliché
    were he were not Simplicity and Lover
    of the immature and unlovable.

    Critical eyes dimiss and disparage
    but the Authentic One mocks not
    our derivative attempts.
    Tractor Pull at the County Fair

    First the pitch of engine froth
    a jet black plume of smoke,
    darks the edges of Old Glory
    in the fumes she soaks.

    "Two-hundred ninety feet!" he cries
    just aft the Deere did halt,
    "Two-hundred ninety feet!" was said
    of the tractor that had no fault.

    "Not a good place for the flag,"
    I say while walking to the truck,
    but tis true, I guess, that God and flags
    don't mind getting in the muck.

    * * *

    St. Ambrose, from today's Office of Readings:
    Wearing the garments given her in the rebirth by water, the Church says, in the words of the Song of Songs: I am black but beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem. Black because of the frailty of humanity, beautiful through grace; black because she is made up of sinners, beautiful through the sacrament of faith. When they see these garments the daughters of Jerusalem cry out in wonder: Who is this who comes up, all in white? She was black, how is she suddenly made white? When Christ sees his Church clothed in white – for her sake he himself had put on filthy clothing, as you may read in the prophecy of Zechariah – when he sees the soul washed clean by the waters of rebirth, he cries out: How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful you are...

    July 16, 2008

    Interesting Post...

    Too long to condense for "Span the Globe"...from Amy Welborn, a review of “In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar: A History of Money and American Protestantism.“:
    The questions about stewardship bounced all over the place and reemerged in different forms every generation. Should stewardship be understood as primarily being about money or about a Christian’s whole life? Were fundraising efforts that depended on entertaining the giver or from which the giver derived some benefit legitimate, or were they manipulative and ultimately spiritually destructive?

    And at every stage, church people are constantly, unfailingly frustrated at low levels of giving. As Americans became more prosperous, Protestant ministers fell in both status and income level, and church leaders could not help but notice that as Americans bought more and more stuff, they never seemed to manage to give any more to church.

    Some..things..never change...

    I do think, if there’s anyone out there involved in stewardship, in any Christian denomination, it’s worth it to take a look at this book. So often, we tend to look at the past through those blasted rose-colored glasses, thinking that in the past, Christians were so generous, while today, they’re so cheap. We also tend to look at the models we have for these things - what a church is and how its members should financially support it - as something that just is. Examining and thinking about how and why these models developed, and realizing that the conversations we’re having now and the concerns and frustrations are not at all new, it seems to me, is very important. Especially for Catholics who not only suffer from historical blindness, but from deep Protestant envy when it comes to giving and stewardship.

    July 15, 2008

    Links I Haven't Read

    This is a new feature in which I link to things I haven't actually read...hopefully I'll remember to but in the meantime...

    First off, here's an old TIME magazine piece in praise of uselessness.

    This is a Zenit article that I cut & pasted in but can't recall what it was.

    Here's a recommendation for one of E. Michael Jones's books.

    And finally, Bill of Summa points us to a Nigerian email writing class that I'd likewise envisioned.
    Making the World Safe for Memeology

    Fred has done me the honor of meme'ing me with a quirky one: name six of your quirks.

    Hhmmm.... how about:
  • I sometimes make up words in journal entries and posts.
  • I will likely develop back/shoulder troubles from foolishly carrying books with me everywhere I go. (Kindle should help.)
  • I named my cat "Motorboat Jones" after a Reds phenom but it was too long so I began calling him "Sam".
  • My wife and I add "-age" to many words in order to create our own language-age.
  • I used to think elite rhymed with "light".
  • I eat cereal while driving (I used to read while driving, but now I'm (hopefully) wiser.
  • By the power invested in me by the state of Blogdom, I hereby meme six people who want to play. You know who you are.

    [Hitler's] degraded ethics were all too well-suited to modern man. If you don’t believe me, think about this: How many retarded children have you seen on the street lately? They used to be rather common—before the free, Christian peoples of the West discovered amniocentesis. Which side really won World War II? - Zmirak, via Eric Scheske

    He never lived in Texas. - Mama T of "Summa Mamas" regarding Chekhov's quote that "People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy." [Note: Mama T's mother died a couple days ago. Please offer a prayer for her and Terry.]

    Jesus' public mission was to reveal His Father...What would have happened if, long before the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles ("and Mary the mother of Jesus") at Pentecost, long before the Apostles even knew that Jesus was the Messiah?...It seems to me that would have only muddled His revelation and confused His disciples. The honor due to the Mother of God is a direct corollary of Jesus' self-revelation; to bring up the corollary before the primary lesson is known ill-befits the wise teacher. So it's not just that Jesus didn't happen to respond in these situations in a manner that makes it easy to demonstrate the scriptural basis for veneration of Mary. It's that He shouldn't have responded that way. He wasn't composing a catechism. He was revealing His Father, and He left it to those to whom He revealed the Father to discover that the light of the Father reveals the light of the mother. Catholics shouldn't try to paper over the development of Marian doctrine that can be found even within the New Testament...We should recognize that the very development that has occurred -- which I'd say Catholics must admit was intended by God to occur over time and not simply be given by Jesus as an explicit teaching -- teaches us important lessons about both the place of Mary (i.e., both logically and historically, distinctly after Jesus) and the nature of Jesus' revelation (i.e., completed but unfolding in time). - Tom of Disputations

    We seem to aim at so little today, to have such small interests in mind. No wonder the biotech visionaries have gained a hearing: They claim to be going somewhere. Where they want to go is the destruction of human nature, but at least they are calling us to something beyond ourselves. To be a religious believer is to know that the hungers of the human heart will not find fulfillment without God, but even religious believers benefit from goals short of the ecstatic vision of the divine. A people without any temporal horizons—without any historical purpose or vision of the future—grow enervated and decadent, and they begin to follow strange gods, who promise them meaning. The science-fiction writers had it better: Space is the obvious next horizon for human beings. Want to diminish the biotech revolution to its proper role as a curer of disease? Offer a more exciting goal. Build a rocket ship, and fly it to Mars. - Jody Bottum of "First Things"

    I just finished reading Steven Greydanus' fine review of Disney/Pixar's WALL-E, and it reminded me of this post about futurist David Zach. It reminded me specifically of the fascinating talk he gave at the recent annual G.K. Chesterton Conference, because it sounds like in the WALL-E movie, the writers make a common mistake that people make when thinking about the future; that is, they look at recent trends and follow them into the future in a straight line...Now, I call this a "mistake" on the part of the creators of WALL-E, but I don't think it was, really. If they were seriously presenting their ideas of what the future will be like, then it might be a mistake, but what they are doing is actually fine and good for storytellers. They are just exploring recent trends in our society and are using the future to pull them apart and show them to us... using the future as a kind of mirror on our lives. - Tim Jones on Jimmy Akins' blog

    Gramm is right when he talks about the psychological toll of relentless recession talk. I have a steady job and I still freak when I see the price of everything go up. But calling people who have lost their jobs or foreclosed on a shoddy motrgage — even one they kinda knew they could not afford — is not the time to call them “whiners.” - Phil Albinus; though if not now, when?

    Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy. - Frank Sinatra, via Forbes.com

    There is no future for e-books because they are not books...E-books smell like burned fuel. - author Ray Bradbury via "Blog Kindle"

    "Look! Aretha Franklin, when she sings 'I Say a Little Prayer', you can sense the power, the range she has available to her, but she keeps it all tightly controlled, in service of the SONG. If she sang in service of her SELF, you'd hear all kinds of crazy flourishes and crescendos and huge long sustained notes; she'd gyrate and bellow and distort the song to suit her own purpose.'

    'That is the essence of my argument, that the artist serves the the song.'

    'Celebrity is secondary, it is of no importance. It is a matter of integrity."

    ...."I think that you got no balls, is what...and I think you can appreciate a song without caring what it is 'about'. You have the classic, very classic, North American attitiude toward art, that it's only there for our consumption. You are also cursed, I think, with seeking the meaning to life through art."

    "What's wrong with that?"

    "Your own experience comes first." - blogger at "A Fortnight at SevenOaks"

    You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure.... I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture. - Christopher Hitchens, after being waterboarded (he voluneteered)

    As a person who battles despairing, intrusive thoughts during many of her alert (caffeinated and non-caffeinated) hours, I found great consolation in the personal writings of Mother Teresa included in a compilation entitled "Come Be My Light," edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C. And I wept many times throughout the book, mostly at her graciousness toward God in her suffering. "I want to smile even at Jesus and so hide if possible the pain and the darkness of my soul even from Him," she wrote. I spent a week with Mother Teresa and her Sisters the winter of 1994. I stood beside her for about two hours as we distributed Christmas gifts to orphaned children. I sensed a sadness in her. But her light overshadowed it. Unlike a person wrapped in severe depression, wearing the expression of despair, she exuded light and hope. When she prayed, her deep love for God was visible, even contagious. This saint of darkness has much to teach me about how to live with inner anguish. - Therese Borchard on "Beliefnet"

    Usually, I think, sinners are said to be those who aren't on the paths of the LORD at all, [but] we might infer from Hosea one reason sinners usually avoid the paths of the LORD: When they're on them, they stumble. Walking along the constricted road is painful and humiliating. Who wants that? No one, really, but if you have an idea of where the path leads, then you're willing to put up with falling seven times, because you can rise again and not stumble to ruin. - Tom of Disputations