October 31, 2008

Forty-One Years Ago This Week...

...Lt. John McCain was shot out of his A-4 Skyhawk and taken into captivity in Hanoi:
You ache with the knowledge of all that he would undergo from that point forward and you think that if somehow time could be stopped and that somehow he could've been spared the pain, that somehow he could've landed in a place that hadn't drawn attention and escaped. The image shows the pure helplessness of the situation he was in, vulnerable as hell, having fallen into the hands of his enemies - they who look so friendly and helpful.
Sometimes the Paranoids are Right

You could say that I'm going to sound like the liberals complaining about George Bush's record on civil liberties but: is it paranoia to be concerned that under an Obama administration freedom of speech and religion might be curtailed? I'm beginning to think it's not paranoia, and that I might've been naive to think otherwise.

A guest on Al Kresta's show mentioned that freedom of religion might be undermined. Certainly there is a thirst for fascism in liberalism which is more easily exercised in tough times and now - even before the election is over - we already get a taste of it in card check plan (with the Orwellian name "Employee Free Choice Act"), and the Fairness doctrine.

See also Neuhaus today and Henry a while back. Update: and Jeff Culbreath's interesting and enlightening post.

An email from an acquaitance put it this way:
[Obama's] chilling response to his four votes against the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act in the Illinois senate was "what would that [saving the baby] say about the mother's choice?" And for all his talk about reducing the "need" for abortions, he told a crowd that if his daughters were to make a mistake and get pregnant, he would not want them to be "punished with a baby". That tells me everything I need to know about his true feelings.
Let's Play...

Why's My Bookbag (or e-Reader Equivalent) so Heavy?

I think it was Bill of Summa fame who pointed me to the online essays of George Orwell. They will be copiously represented including this on Dickens:
"Marxist writer, Mr. T. A. Jackson, has made spirited efforts to turn Dickens into a blood-thirsty revolutionary. The Marxist claims him as 'almost' a Marxist, the Catholic claims him as 'almost' a Catholic, and both claim him as a champion of the proletariat (or 'the poor', as Chesterton would have put it). On the other hand, Nadezhda Krupskaya, in her little book on Lenin, relates that towards the end of his life Lenin went to see a dramatized version of THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH, and found Dickens's 'middle-class sentimentality' so intolerable that he walked out in the middle of a scene...

Of course it is not necessarily the business of a novelist, or a satirist, to make constructive suggestions, but the point is that Dickens's attitude is at bottom not even destructive. There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it WERE overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as 'human nature'. It would be difficult to point anywhere in his books to a passage suggesting that the economic system is wrong AS A SYSTEM. Nowhere, for instance, does he make any attack on private enterprise or private property...

[The book's] tendency if anything is pro-capitalist, because its whole moral is that capitalists ought to be kind, not that workers ought to be rebellious. Bounder by is a bullying windbag and Gradgrind has been morally blinded, but if they were better men, the system would work well enough that, all through, is the implication. And so far as social criticism goes, one can never extract much more from Dickens than this, unless one deliberately reads meanings into him. His whole 'message' is one that at first glance looks like an enormous platitude: If men would behave decently the world would be decent."
And more...
"The early nineteenth century was not a good time to be a child. In Dickens's youth children were still being 'solemnly tried at a criminal bar, where they were held up to be seen', and it was not so long since boys of thirteen had been hanged for petty theft. The doctrine of 'breaking the child's spirit' was in full vigour, and THE FAIRCHILD FAMILY was a standard book for children till late into the century. This evil book is now issued in pretty-pretty expurgated editions, but it is well worth reading in the original version. It gives one some idea of the lengths to which child-discipline was sometimes carried. Mr. Fairchild, for instance, when he catches his children quarrelling, first thrashes them, reciting Dr. Watts's 'Let dogs delight to bark and bite' between blows of the cane, and then takes them to spend the afternoon beneath a gibbet where the rotting corpse of a murderer is hanging. In the earlier part of the century scores of thousands of children, aged sometimes as young as six, were literally worked to death in the mines or cotton mills, and even at the fashionable public schools boys were flogged till they ran with blood for a mistake in their Latin verses.

...But, as usual, Dickens's criticism is neither creative nor destructive. He sees the idiocy of an educational system founded on the Greek lexicon and the wax-ended cane; on the other hand, he has no use for the new kind of school that is coming up in the fifties and sixties, the 'modern' school, with its gritty insistence on 'facts'. What, then, DOES he want? As always, what he appears to want is a moralized version of the existing thing--the old type of school, but with no caning, no bullying or underfeeding, and not quite so much Greek."
And, to switch gears radically to the present, here is something from a NY Times piece on John McCain:
"Conversely, [McCain] reserves special contempt for those he regards as arrogant phonies. A year after Barack Obama was sworn into the Senate, Salter recalls McCain saying, 'He’s got a future, I’ll reach out to him' — as McCain had to Russ Feingold and John Edwards, and as the liberal Arizona congressman Mo Udall had reached out to McCain as a freshman. McCain invited Obama to attend a bipartisan meeting on ethics reform. Obama gratefully accepted —but then wrote McCain a letter urging him to instead follow a legislative path recommended by Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate. Feeling double-crossed, McCain ordered Salter to 'send him a letter, brush him back a little.' Since that experience, says a Republican who has known McCain for a long time, 'there was certainly disdain and dislike of Obama.' A senior adviser to McCain said: 'The town halls, the ethics bill, immigration reform — all are examples. I think McCain finds it galling that Obama gets credit for his impressive talk about bipartisanship without ever having to bear the risk that is a part of that. It is so much harder to walk the walk in the Senate than to talk the talk.'"
And now a catch-22 from Smick's "The World is Curved":
"U.S. policymakers are left with a particularly difficult dilemma. The U.S. financial services sector has dominated the world precisely because of its cowboy-like approach, always pushing the envelope of risk and reacting to market developments with rapid-fire decision-making. This is a system that in recent decades has contributed to an American entrepreneurial renaissance, a period of economic excitement and prosperity that has faded with today’s economic weakness and crisis of confidence. Yet the nature of this same financial system has terrorized the economic well-being of millions of middle-and-low-income homeowners. The danger will come if today’s class warfare politicians respond with an assault on the financial sector itself with no mention of the downside implications in terms of both job creation and economic opportunity."
And another from Smick, which illustrates the point that democracies only work as long as her people are good (i.e. regulation works only to a point):
"A well-intentioned government bureaucrat is no match for the kind of creative and clever market wizards, and their lawyers, who begin searching for legal means around any regulatory constraint the instant the regulations are put in place. Today a senior Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officer earns between $143,000 and $216,000 per year. Even junior executive decision-makers at Goldman Sachs garner annual compensation packages in the millions of dollars....

The wizards within the financial markets have continually demonstrated an awesome ability to find legal means to skirt regulatory constraints. I suspect that many hedge funds, private equity funds, and other more mobile financial entities will also simply move offshore in the event of a new American regulatory regime where, in order to do a deal or conduct a financial trade, say, Federal Reserve or other government regulatory staffers could be part of a new, cumbersome decision-making process. The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip notes: “The Fed is being asked to do a job that may be beyond anyone’s ability: Identify and avoid a crisis in advance.”
And one more from Orwell, on his sad experience working in a used book store:
But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to and fro. There was a time when I really did love books--loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old. Nothing pleased me quite so much as to buy a job lot of them for a shilling at a country auction. There is a peculiar flavour about the battered unexpected books you pick up in that kind of collection: minor eighteenth-century poets, out-of-date gazeteers, odd volumes of forgotten novels, bound numbers of ladies' magazines of the sixties. For casual reading--in your bath, for instance, or late at night when you are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before lunch --there is nothing to touch a back number of the Girl's Own Paper. But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can't borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles.
God & Lie Detectors

When I was young, maybe ten or eleven years old, I was terrified of lie detectors.

I was afraid of being unjustly accused and knew that there was little chance of passing since I would surely act accused. I feared the pressure of having to control my breathing, heart rate, and sweating in response to questions.

I was unconcerned about the questions themselves because I'd have not committed the crime. So they weren't my focus. It was only my response to the questions that mattered. The police department wouldn't know if I did it, so the truth was irrelevant in an earthly context. What mattered was my response to the external stimuli of the questions.

The parallel in the spiritual life was that I thought Jesus didn't matter so much because He, like the truth, is dependable and sure. I had to worry about my response, not the objective reality. God is Objective Reality but our response is the part that is changeable and subject to failure. And yet to constantly focus on our response is to...focus on us!

Now the assumption or reality in the case of the lie detector test was that I was innocent, while with God I stand guilty. That is freeing. And the judge is not a cold piece of fallible equipment, but a loving, infallible God. Thank God!!


I recall a friend in junior high. I used to come over to his house all the time. I also secretly had a crush on his sister. But that wasn't why I came over to his house - I wanted to trade baseball cards with him and such. But when it came to light that I had a crush on his sister, I was too embarrassed to come over again. It's hard to remember exactly why. Was I simply embarrassed? Did I feel like I'd betrayed him, as if our sisters were off-limits because they were our sisters? Or was it that I thought he thought that I might've been using his friendship in order to get closer to his sister? To be thought of as inauthentic was unbearable to me and, as in the case of the lie detector case, even though I knew I was not visiting him for that reason (we rarely if ever saw his sister) I thought I would not bear up under imagined additional scrutiny. (The funny and sad thing is, it was all likely a non-issue for him.) But I saw it as a situation where I was unjustly accused and was sure I would not be able convince my friend otherwise, just as I would not be able to convince the lie detector otherwise.

Certainly as a kid, having a lack of control over "inappropriate emotions" can't be a rare thing. It's because you have to respond in a certain way that makes it almost impossible to respond in that way. It's a skill we improve upon as adults, but the most egregious example was one time when I was a server at Mass. The one rule is to never giggle during Mass let alone a funeral Mass. And yet somehow my fellow server and I found ourselves in fits of uncontrollable laughter.

Recalling that, I probably had good reason to fear a lie detector!

October 30, 2008


Excerpt from "The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection" by St. Alphonsus Liguori:
I really cannot see how a Christian can fulfill the precept of hope -- hoping, as he ought, with sure confidence for salvation from God, and for the graces necessary for its attainment -- unless he holds it as an infallible truth that God commonly gives to every individual the grace actually to pray, if he chooses, without need of a further special assistance...

Our hope of salvation, and of receiving the means necessary for its attainment, must be certain on God's part. The motives on which this certainty are founded, as we have seen, are the power, the mercy, and the truth of God; and of these the strongest and most certain motive is God's infallible faithfulness to the promise which he has made to us, through the merits of Jesus Christ, to save us, and to give us the graces necessary for salvation; because, though we might believe God to be infinite in power and mercy, nevertheless, as Giovenino well observes, we could not feel confident expectation of God's saving us, unless he had surely promised to do so. But this promise is conditional, if we actively correspond to God's grace and pray, as is clear from the Scriptures: "Ask and ye shall receive; if ye ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you..." For this cause the Fathers and theologians, maintain that prayer is a necessary means of salvation...

It cannot be denied that God can easily, with his omnipotence, incline and move men's hearts freely to will that which he wills, as the Scriptures teach: "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord; whithersoever He will, He shall turn it;", "I will put My Spirit in the midst of you, and I will cause you to walk in My commandments;"...

And it cannot be denied that St. Augustine and St. Thomas have taught the opinion of the efficaciousness of grace in itself, by its own nature...On the other hand, our opinion is quite consonant to the doctrine of truly sufficient grace being given to all, by corresponding to which a man will gain efficacious grace; while by not corresponding, but resisting, he will deservedly be refused this efficacious grace. And thus all excuse is taken away from those sinners who say that they have not strength to overcome their temptations; because if they had prayed, and made use of the ordinary grace, by which every one is enabled at least to pray (without needing a further special and unusual grace), and by prayer to obtain further assistance to enable him to fulfill the law. I do not know how he can explain all those texts of the Scripture, in which souls are exhorted to return to God, to overcome temptation, and to correspond to the divine call: "Return, ye transgressors, to the heart;", "Return and live, Be converted and do penance"...

I cannot tell, I say, supposing it were true that the grace of prayer were not given to all, to enable them thereby to obtain the further assistance necessary for salvation, how these texts could be explained, and how the sacred writers could so forcibly exhort all men, without any exception, to be converted, to resist the enemy, to walk in the way of virtue, and, for this end, to pray with confidence and perseverance--if the grace of doing well, or at least of praying, were not granted to all, but only to those who have the gift of efficacious grace.
Parody is Therapy updated...

with Obama's plan to buy time on the Disney and Nickoledeon networks.
Must Read Bible with Newspapers & Bestsellers

It's hard to read the news without a corresponding influx of Scripture. Because the news induces helplessness while Scripture induces trust in God. When we are helpless, we are strongest, because we will pray and read the Word.

So now we're faced with the rollback of years of pro-life efforts by a potential president who, stunningly, thinks it's pretty much a non-issue.

We have an economy that is undergoing necessary pain, but a pain that will be prolonged by a congress & president who don't see pain as ever necessary and thus will make it worse.

* * *

I always get disturbed by popular fiction that espouses anti-Catholicism, such as "The DaVinci Code" or Andrew Greeley's books. (I kid about Greeley...that was for Sancta Sanctis's sake). It's pretty rare for a NY Times bestseller (even Christian bestseller) to be friendly to organized religion. It's like a Republican candidate getting a fair shake from the media. I wish I could adopt more of the attitude of one McCain campaign manager who said that a liberal media is part of the landscape and that complaining about it is like complaining about the rain.

I don't like anti-Catholicism, subtle or otherwise, not only because it's false but also because it works against Christian unity. Christian unity is personal for me, having a non-Catholic wife, but the better reason to care about Christian unity is for Christ's sake. The irenic Julie Davis puts it beautifully in her review:
The book suddenly takes a turn into an almost New Age mentality and I'm not just talking about the night scene where Mack is given the gift of "true sight." There is a repeated disdain expressed especially by Jesus for churches and religion as "institutions" and "buildings." Jesus tells Mack at one point of his love for his bride, the Church. He then explains that he isn't talking about what people call "church" but about every person who believes and has a relationship with him ... including Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus. While I am on board with the idea that other faiths have relationships with God (as is the Catholic Church), as a Catholic I know that we have Jesus present with us in the Eucharist. This is not simply symbolism but true presence, body and blood, soul and divinity. That is the entire reason for the Church and for any Catholic church building in the first place ... as a meeting place with Jesus in physical form. Even taken from the Protestant understanding (as I am aware of it) this is a clear disdain for the church as "community," which is what God has been talking about for a good portion of the book.
I-Monk likes the book, which is not surprising since he is a sensitive soul and the book is said to emphasize mercy and forgiveness. I can relate to I-Monk, so I would likely profit from it too. Less favorable reviews are here and here.
From Dispatch book blog:
On the surface, George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh don't appear to have much in common. Orwell was an atheist and a socialist who lived much of his adult life on the fringes of poverty; Waugh was a devout Catholic (a convert to Rome) and a conservative who lived his adult life amongst Lords and Ladies.

Yet nonfiction writer David Lebedoff (Cleaning Up, The Uncivil War) claims in his new work of literary criticism that the duo -- titans of early 20th century literature both -- were nearly The Same Man:
"They saw in modern life a terrible enemy. It was not only totalitarianism that they loathed but virtually everything that would come even if totalitarianism was defeated. They say an end to common sense and common purpose. They saw the futility of life without roots or faith. They saw the emptiness of an existence whose only point was material consumption. And in the great work of their lives, which was to warn us of what was to come, they came to be, improbably enough, in many ways the same man."
Elizabeth Kantor on C-Span

Politics are a sort of fait accompli in the sense that they rest on basic assumptions. Elizabeth Kantor, author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature", mentioned how there are at least seven key questions that liberals and conservatives will differ on:
1) Is human history essentially the story of the liberation of one group after another from prejudice and repression?

2) Can we anticipate a time of no war?

3) Are the differences between men and women merely a cultural construct?

4) Is crime caused by unjust social structures?

5) Is poverty caused by wealth?

6) Is it acceptable to do evil that good may come from it?

7) Is Christianity a bad influence on humanity?
She said we will lose the cultural war if we lose sight that the wars over abortion and marriage are the tip of the iceberg, which is the pending loss of Western culture (a paraphrase): "We don't learn traditional Western culture by accident or osmosis. High culture is what is behind a lot of what we take for granted as American culture. Which is why our college professors are such a complete disaster. Those are the people that we have trusted to transmit that culture to the next generation. Many actively prevent that culture from being transmitted."
It's Hard to Believe Jeff Bezos is Married

...else how could he report his biggest surprise associated with Amazon's non-book sales as:
"If you asked me, 'What product category has surprised you the most?' I would tell you shoes. I can't believe how many shoes we sell."

October 29, 2008

Wilde & Greene

It's interesting to me is how the writers Oscar Wilde and Graham Greene had the opportunity to meet God personally. Well almost: they had the opportunity to meet his sacraments, Cardinal Newman and Padre Pio respectively. What an opportunity! "No thanks" the writers said. They had the opportunity to meet those who most closely resembled God and yet declined. They likely feared what Pio & Newman (i.e. God) would ask of them. It's not an unwarranted fear given that Greene & Wilde, unlike the apostles, were well aware of the fact of the cross.

The apostles were asked to give up their occupations and homes and apparently did so without blinking an eye. Surely this was a miraculous, a predestination on the order of St. Paul. "Follow me," Jesus said, and they did without thinking. Even at the time of the crucifixion I don't recall Jesus mandating his apostles be there. He only requested that they be with Him an hour in the garden. The fact that they didn't remain awake with Him certainly didn't bode well for their chances of sticking by him during His death, although John did. There was perhaps an implicit assumption that they would be there with Him during his death given all that he had done for them. Would Jesus even have to ask that? Wouldn't that be like my wife forcing me I had to remember her birthday? Or being at her side while she's in the hospital?

It's a reasonable assumption. And yet I'm afraid, like Greene & Wilde, of what God may ask even though anyone of "good will" would give back what someone has given them. The gospel, after all, is targeted at "men of good will". Which begs the question of course of how to be in that number.
Work/Life Balance

"It's time to clean the furnace filter," my wife says. She said something about it sparking from all the gunk in it, and that it's supposed to be cleaned once a month. As I was on my hands and knees fighting and pleading for it to come out, I thought: "What sane American cleans their filter once a month?"

I told my wife that man has not evolved to work five day weeks. Nay, the hunter-gatherers hunted or gathered an average of 15 hours a week, a schedule I could live with. I must be ahead or behind my time. She asked if I would like to time travel back to the hunter/gatherer age and I said I would as long as I could take my Kindle.

I tend to think men are lazier than women. Studies of tribal cultures show this to be true. Of course I don't know if it's that men are stronger and that in primitive societies men therefore are able to get away with working less. That would make evolutionary-induced male laziness somewhat tawdry.

The latest buzzphrase to be bandied about by my superiors at work has been "work/life balance". (Meaning 90%/10%.) It probably sends the wrong message, as if our work is not part of our life. The boss says he's not the best one to bring the message since he works 70-80 hours a week, but that despite that he "gets it": work/life balance is important to us. Although we're not to let work/life balance get in the way of our work. Of course.

(found here)
Sure it's an Oversimplification, But...

There are two things that neither party ever seems to learn despite repeated experience:

Republicans: Ideas matter, not résumé (see Bush in '92, Dole in '96 and McCain in '08).

Democrats: You can elect a liberal, just as long as he's not from the Northeast (see Dukakis, Kerry).
Are Catholics Really Politically Homeless?

From John Allen's column:
Here's a thought exercise: In the abstract, what would the political fortunes be in America of a candidate who actually embodied the full range of Catholic social concerns? What would happen if a serious candidate came along who's pro-life, pro-family, anti-war, pro-immigrant, anti-death penalty, pro-sustainable development, and a multi-lateralist in foreign policy concerned with religious freedom and a robust role for believers in public life? My hunch is that such a candidate could be attractive to a broad cross-section of moderates and independents. The machinery of both major parties, however, appears almost designed to prevent such a person from ever being nominated.
It's very helpful that Allen fleshes out what he considers Catholic issues although the devil would appear to be in the details:

  • Pro-life, pro-family: The Republican party still seems operative here. From a resistance to gay marriage to tax breaks for families to the pro-life judges Bush apppointed, I'm not sure how much more you could reasonably expect though McCain's support of embryonic stem cell research is obviously a significant blemish.

  • anti-war: Allen quotes a young theologian: "I can't help thinking that both parties are addicted to preemptive strikes," he told me, "whether it's in the womb or on the battlefield." The Iraq War wasn't a preemptive strike since it was a product of Saddam Hussein's flouting of the Gulf War ceasefire, but the general talk and tenor of the Republican side is discomfiting. And while torture, a preemptive strike of sorts, isn't going on now, waterboarding has gone on in the past. But it's something the current nominee has repudiated.

  • pro-immigrant: Sigh. Does this mean pro-open border? Does it mean not erecting a fence along the southern border? The Republican party is of course pro-immigrant. Does Allen mean pro-illegal immigrant? I suppose what he might mean is greatly increased immigration quotas. If so, I wish he'd said it.

  • anti-death penalty: True enough. I'm not sure this issue deserves to be in the same group as the other issues listed given the magnitude of the other issues and given that the death penalty is not an intrinsic evil. There were 42 executions in the U.S. in 2007.

  • pro-sustainable development: the defintion is development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This is a big umbrella involving a lot of issues economic and environmental and I think it's a structural problem, perhaps inherent in a democracy, since our representatives will think short-term in order to keep their job. In an instant gratification culture this is going to be a tough sell. There's very little natural consistency for either balanced budgets or alternative energy unless gas is $5 a gallon.

  • multi-lateralist in foreign policy concerned with religious freedom: The clause "concerned with religious freedom" is a big one, and it does seem that the current incarnations of the Democrat & Republican parties are not acting with other countries in a concerted effort to combat religious persecution.

  • a robust role for believers in public life: Republican party still arguably fits. George W. Bush by all accounts is a fervent Christian who also had a robust role in that he led the country.

    So, in my opinion (worth what you paid) of Allen's four issues that are neither utopian nor relatively minor nor a non-sequitor, the Republicans are good on two of them (pro-life and role for believers) and perhaps not so good on two (religious freedom and anti-war, although with the latter I'm basing that mostly on rhetoric).

    But of course this begs the question: how could those who are to be "in the world but not of it" even expect a political party to perfectly match up to their beliefs and aspirations?
  • October 28, 2008

    Will the Supremes Hear It?

    If this is true, Barack Obama might simultaneously become the first African-American as well as foreign-born POTUS. Imagine Gov. Schwarzneggar's chagrin! (If true it only proves what we already knew, that a different set of rules apply to Republicans. You know that if the tables were reversed this wouldn't fly.)
    McCain's Health Care Plan

    See this link. It looks like McCain's health care plan is better than I'd originally thought, since it begins to wean us from the government teat. The problem with a forward-looking, incentivized progressive system that could slow the path to financial ruin is that it's politically untenable since it would lessen government's control over our lives and thus imperil the careers of Sen. Obama's colleagues. Darn the luck! I hate when that happens. :-)
    England [in Chaucer's day] was divided between good Catholics and bad Catholics. There were no non-Catholics (or at least non-Catholics were so few in number and influence that they can be safely ignored). The good Catholics, knowing that if something is worth doing at all it is worth doing well, were growing in holiness and were destined for heaven; the bad Catholics, knowing, as Chesterton knew, that if something is worth doing at all it is worth doing badly, were probably on their way to purgatory. And, paradoxically, the good Catholics were sometimes bad Catholics, and the bad Catholics were sometimes good Catholics, because purgatory, whether it be on this side or the other side of the grave, is part of everyone's path to heaven. And, of course, there were those who were such bad Catholics that, knowing that the thing was worth doing but choosing not to do it, were probably destined for hell. The wicked, like the poor, are always with us, at least until and unless we get to heaven. - Joseph Pearce in preface to "The Coasts of the Country: A Treasury of Medieval English Devotional Literature"

    The spirit of the age is: Ask not what your country can do for you, demand it. - Mark Steyn via TB

    The coming of the sixth child has been the harshest for us to accept. We finished the addition to our house a year ago, and we consider the house absolutely perfect for our seven-person family. On a scale of one-to-ten, with all things considered (including the virtues of simplicity and humility), it’s a ten. With this baby, it will no longer be a ten, though it will still be an eight or so. My eldest daughter Abbie—always accommodating and a downright charmer who loves people and especially babies—has told us that she’d love to share her room with a new baby or with her little sister Meg (who is 21-months-old and a terror in Abbie’s room). In addition, we will also need to buy a bigger car because our van only seats seven, but we had (is there Providence at work here?) already set the wheels in motion to borrow extra money when we re-financed our home to take advantage of lower interest rates, so the money will be there for a big vehicle. In any event, the baby will be welcomed and loved. We have a happy family and I firmly believe (actually, it’s a fact) that a large family continually takes a person out of himself, with the result that my children will be more inclined to be outwardly centered and therefore better positioned for happiness. - Eric of "The Daily Eudemon"

    The new commandments of global warming allow one to be a moralistic scold and fashionable at the same time. - Richard J. Neuhaus, "Causes Beyond Left or Right", The Public Square column, First Things (November 2008) via Terrence Berres

    This is not Compton scattering in a non-homogeneous fluid, people. This is not that complicated. Why can't people who do this for a living get it right? - the communications coordinator of a national Catholic social justice lobby miscommunicating Catholic doctrine concerning abortion

    If you hear a purported absolute truth and it doesn’t involve a paradox, you can assume you hear heresy...Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Holmes, I think. And he’s right, of course. Consistent application of paradoxes means inconsistency...There is objective morality. Some might say, “Such an assertion doesn’t involve a paradox and therefore, by your own number one rule, it cannot be true.” But the unraveling of the statement does involve a paradox. My inability to deal objectively with objective morality, for instance, is a paradox. - Eric of "The Daily Eudemon"

    I realized that this post [on Dick Cheney], written in a state of post-debate lethargic, self-indulgent wrath, broke at least two of the rules for not being awful on the Internets: 1) Don't psychoanalyze anyone, especially but not exclusively people you don't know, especially if you think your take on them is so very clever; and 2) Don't tell people you "genuinely don't understand how" they believe what they do. Nothing's more frustrating than being told you're not merely wrong but unimaginable. I don't find any defenses of a Christian abortion-neutral perspective even remotely persuasive given the events of the Gospels, but yeah, I'm not so desperately ingrown that I can't imagine why someone would believe otherwise, and I shouldn't've affected that intellectual naivete.- Eve Tushnet

    "Roe v. Wade probably hangs in the balance"...So says Barack Obama, in the third and final presidential debate, speaking about the importance of the Supreme Court nominations to be made by the next administration. "Pro-life pro-Obama"-ites: Are you listening? Disaffected third-party quixotic voters: Are you listening? How far back will an Obama administration set us? How long until we get this close again? - - Jimmy Akin's blog

    A definition of "Commonweal Catholic": Someone who is more offended by the use of the term "pro-abortion" than by the fact that their political party and candidate are pro-abortion. - devastatingly witty line from Tom of Disputations

    I’m angry with myself. I had 8 years to work at stemming the tide of secularism & socialism by prayer and by educating my friends, but I got complacent. I took for granted the freedoms we have. I discounted the difference that I could have made. - commenter Keith on Jeff Culbreath's blog about the coming Democrat party hegemony

    In beholding old stones we may feel our anxieties about our achievements–and lack of them–slacken . . . Vast landscapes [and seascapes] can have an anxiety–reducing effect similar to ruins, for they are the representatives of infinite space, as ruins are the representatives of infinite time, against which our weak, short-lived bodies seem no less inconsequential than those of moths or spiders. - Alain de Botton in "Status Anxiety"

    October 26, 2008

    Homilies Heard

    At the Byzantine rite parish:
    “Vote! You must vote. You are called to engage with the world, not hide your light under a bushel basket. So go and ask God what to do, how to vote. Go to an extra liturgy. Fast. Set aside time to pray."
    And during the dismissal, concerning the bad financial news:
    “Lighten up! All the best movies were made during the Depression. They knew how to lighten things up…Christians should be most cheerful when things are dark.”
    At the Roman rite parish our pastor quoted Karl Rahner, saying that for Christianity to survive Christians must be mystics, not self-indentifying or dividing oneself on the basis of one's stand on ethical/political issues:
    ”Mystics not in the sense of seeing visions, but understanding that the core of it all is not an ethical system but that man is made in the image of God and that God is within. The politicization of Christianity, the attempt to make it merely an ethical system – has been going on for centuries. It is in one sense right that we should become, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has written, a smaller church. To believe that man is made in the image of God means we won’t hate those with disagree with us, that we will perceive all life as sacred and that we won’t have the sense that something belongs to us, when in reality everything is God’s.”
    Twenty-Four Hours in Lex-Vegas

    It was 2pm on a Friday in late October when, to quote the Boss in “Thunder Road”, we took those two lanes that’ll take us anywhere. Or to Lexington, Kentucky, whichever came first.

    Everyone knows that life on the road is tough so we prepared by packing tiny Butterfinger bars stolen from the stash set aside for the carpet climbers on Halloween. I added a jar of peanut butter, a spoon, and one of the few remaining Pop Tarts still in the foil wrapper. (Surprisingly, Pop Tarts stay fresh outside the wrapper for at least a month or three. Your mileage may vary.)

    I was experiencing the natural buoyancy that two consecutive days without a workout confers yet I deferred to my wife for driving purposes. It’s not that I’m Jesuitical when it comes to these matters….oh, okay who am I kidding? Of course I am. I drive when the event involves my family or friends and she drives when it involves her family or friends. Although in practice how it actually works is this: I drive the whole way when it involves my side, and she drives part of the way when it involves hers. This is a sort of corollary to the old wive’s saying that goes: “What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is also mine.” But we love them anyway.

    So I reveled in the unnatural event of having to drive only the last ninety minutes of the 3 ½ hour trip and thus being able to relax while traveling. It makes a trip far remarkably less trying. I took a nap in between reading aloud to her a memoir by Josh Hamilton, the ex-Reds star who found cocaine before eventually finding Christ, and “The World is Curved”, which Robert Novak calls the best book of 2008.

    I drove south through Northern Kentucky and the wet weather combined with the green hills reminded me of Ireland. I tried to take in the fine fall foliage without getting in a wreck. Though we’d luckily managed to avoid Cincinnati’s rush hour by a matter of minutes (we listened with some degree of schadenfreude, or at least indifference to others’ pain, as the traffic reports grew more ominous just after we’d passed) we hit Lexington’s. But eventually we reached our destination, the home of “Sissy & Randy”, the folks we’d gone to New York with back in June.

    Randy has a sloe gin fizz sort of speech that grows on you. Perhaps it’s Northerners who, like the siblings of a large family who eat quickly in order to secure the most food, tend to talk quickly in order to secure the most conversation. Or, to put it more charitably, don't want to bore the listener. But a Southerner like Randy takes his own sweet time. And it’s relaxing.

    He’s a Democrat but is likable because he doesn’t seem obsessed by politics. He’d thought about going to law school but his wife said he’d never have made any money at it because he’d take every case pro-bono, always fighting for justice she said. I didn’t want to ruin the mood – though I was honestly curious – how he squares the biggest injustice of our era, the killing of the unborn, with his support of Obama.

    I suppose I’m too often interested in cause & effect and systems when it comes to matters of the heart. As a Systems Analysis major in college I come by it naturally. I’m fascinated, for example, how a Catholic can vote for Obama. But it’s only because it’s not my sin. All sin is, by its very nature, irrational and inexplicable and fascinating in that sense. Yet I’m familiar with my sins, or at least a subset of them, and so they aren’t all that surprising. But show me my neighbor’s sin, something I would never commit, and I’m shocked!

    Part of that systems mentality I have is to look for clues on how to avoid sin when it’s not really subject to technique. Years ago a famous Catholic Republican strategist was caught in an indiscretion with a college student and my first impulse wasn’t to pray for him or to pray that I don’t behave similarly. No, my first impulse was to look in the memoir he’d written that was sitting on my shelf in order to try to see what tendencies he had that might’ve predicted what followed. As if I could tell in his prose or word choice that he was a near-adulterer. The only answer to sin, both before and after it, is Christ. It’s that simple.

    We had dinner at a restaurant in the shadow of what Randy called the Mecca of Lexington – Rupp Arena – after having passed the second Mecca, UK's football stadium. I was starving despite the Butterfingers, so can’t be sure if that hamburger I got there was the best I’d ever had or whether it was merely the hunger talking. Randy & Sissy had happened at this place by accident and were so impressed by the burgers that they had their wedding rehearsal dinner there. Since then they’ve gone here every Friday for the past 19 months of married life. They’re so familiar to the waitress that she greeted them by name and gave menus to only my wife and me. I had been vaguely discombobulated by all the architecturally fabulous looking Irish pubs we’d passed, but I have to say again that that might’ve been the best bacon cheeseburger I’d ever had. After dinner we walked by the lit fountains outside Rupp Arena, or Lexington Center as is more formally called. In warmer weather they said people jump in.

    The next morning Carrie (aka “Sissy”) cooked breakfast for us while we played with their delightful shepherd-husky mix, a dog named “Midnight”. Then we took turns getting ready for the big event, a day at Keeneland racetrack. Sissy’s sister and her boyfriend soon joined us and we all watched some slightly embarrassing television in front of mixed company, about a woman’s quest to dress in a way to best accentuate her figure. There were 3-D photographs taken of her, as if this was something requiring the equivalent of an MRI. Sissy mentioned how a friend of hers said that if she won the lottery she’d only want a bra that fit. Which gave us the opportunity to mention the car dealership that we'd passed on the way that had a huge line of bras hanging instead of the usual flags. What's with that? Buy a car, get a bra?

    I’m not big on betting unless there’s little risk and great reward. Which means I’m not big on betting. The way it usually works is that reward and risk are proportional. After trying for years to find an investment vehicle that offered little risk and great reward I finally gave up. Stock options offered decent reward but I could never seem to find a way to limit the risk. So I suppose the only gambling that interests me now is the lottery which offers very little risk ($2 ticket or so) and great reward ($4 million jackpot minimum which, if you can believe it, discourages some as being ‘too small’). But I don’t play the lottery because it’s too inconvenient. If they’d take just out $5 a pay for the tickets I’d sign up in a heartbeat. To play the lottery, says the writer Gabriel Zaid, "is an attempt to tune in to divine providence, to give God a chance to intervene in my life, to deny that success is due only to my effort, to pit grace against merit." (Quote is from Tony Cohan's “On Mexican Time”.)

    So I’m not a fan of horse racing. In fact, when I saw a sign on the Keeneland grounds that said “Library” I wanted to go there instead. But, as Sissy said, it’s also about people watching. And there was plenty to watch. Randy says at one point, “hey, it’s Jackie O only it doesn’t look like Jackie O”. I’m thinking what? Someone looks like Jackie O only they don’t? But I look over and instantly get it – she’s wearing the largest sunglasses I’ve seen since the Nixon administration. They are Jackie O style though bigger by a half.

    I knew we weren't in Kansas anymore when I saw a "Blood Mary" tent on the grounds. It’s a very catholic event, a great intermingling of people and classes. There were those who looked poor and those who looked rich and those who looked like us, in between. A very democratic institution, like the Catholic Church. There were Mexican immigrant workers standing in the back who, like the Irish, are said to be very fond of horse-racing. And there were green boxes in the front with names on on each one like the boxes in the old Congregationalist pew-rent churches. There were debutantes and red-hat ladies. There were others who looked like participants in the Ascot Opening Day of “My Fair Lady” - as if Halloween had come early. I wasn’t sure how much my assumption that the people in the boxes were rich was what made them look rich, or whether they would’ve been seen as such in any environ.

    So I bet the first couple races without success but became quickly surprised by how different the odds in the program were from the current betting odds. I knew, of course, that the odds derived from the actual bets would be different, but I didn’t think they’d be that much different. There could be a 4-1, a 8-1, a 6-1 and a 12-1 and they’d be 8-1, 5-1, 4-1 and 5-1 respectively on the board. I figured the bettors would pretty much assume the authority of the line in the pgm was gospel but people have their own ideas. I suspected that a lot of the difference was due to names, since I knew my own dear sweet wife was betting on a horse because the jockey was named “Jesus” or because the horse was named euphoniously. (Of course the irony is that she won more than I did.) But the trick, I thought, was to see where the late money was going. I figured the smart money that knew these horses would come in late because they didn’t want to influence the odds against them. Because all people tend to bandwagon, and if they bet early they’ll make people look at the money at that horse and think: “hmm…there must be something to that horse…I’ll bet on him” thus lowering the odds and decreasing the pot for the early bettor.

    But this system didn’t work too well partially because I was far too impatient. I wanted to get my bet in at least ten minutes before the call to the post. I didn’t like the specter of a huge $5 bet hanging over me too long. :-)

    We quit the track early in order to make it back to Columbus for the OSU/PSU game. We walked through the beautifully sylvan parking lot before hitting those "two lanes that would take us anywhere" again. On the way back we found a wonderful mom&pop barbecue restaurant where, at the table next to us, a guy showed his new cellphone ring tone to his group: it was the theme to the Andy Griffith Show. We were almost home.

    Photo credit at top of post: http://jasonpost.net
    Political "Stories" That Aren't

  • Amount of money spent for Sarah Palin's clothes.
  • Whatever Congressman John Murtha has said or will say.
  • Gen. Colin Powell's endorsement. Since he needed, like 1.4 years to make up his mind, how seriously should we take it?
  • Biden's gaffes. I don't care how many letters are in the words "jobs". I'm more disturbed by the fact that his economic policies will make them more rare.

    What Has Surprised Me About This Election

  • That only T. Boone Pickens has a serious energy plan.
  • The reaction against the bailout plan.
  • The collapse of even the pretense of media fairness.
  • My Friends
    Got an email in my in-box from John McCain. To think that I have his personal email address! Very cool though it's strange he referred to himself in the third person in it. He’s got a sort of Muhammed Ali thing going on.

    I got one from Sarah Palin too though I’m surprised she’s using email again after her painful hacking experience. She called me “Supporter”, which I thought was a tad too formal. I’d much rather she call me Tom. Maybe I should send her a reply even though I’m a little shy. What’s odd is that her email address starts with ‘ecampaign’ instead of Sarah or Palin or TheGovinator.

    They both also sent some snail mail. It's sweet how good they are about keeping in touch. Very thoughtful though I must admit they seem a little bit too fixated on money. Or volunteering for something, though I admit I didn't read too closely. It's the thought that counts even though, come to think of it, they could've asked me how work was today or if I was following the World Series or how the weather is in these parts...
    Parody blog updated...

    ... with the familiar case of the man whose love for the seasons grows increasingly theoretical during the winter months.

    October 22, 2008

    American War Casualties (1776 - 2004)

    Each cross-mark represents 50,000 people killed.

    Revolutionary War (25,324) †

    Civil War (498,332) ††††††††††

    World War I (116,708) †††

    World War II (407,316) ††††††††

    Korean War (54,246) †

    Vietnam War (58,655) †

    Gulf War (179)

    Afghanistan/Iraq Wars (1610)

    War on the Unborn (46,000,000)
    (and counting)

    Obama, Joe the Plumber & Catholic Social Teaching
    Feeling Like Lileks

    Ancestry.com is allowing free access to their online collection of high school yearbooks and it's a pretty interesting stroll through the past. The images below were taken from 1921 Ohio annual:

    With a femme fatale name like "Mercedes Marr" how could she be otherwise?

    You can tell a lot about an age in its advertising. Now milk "does a body good". We've retired nationalism and even patriotism for individualism.

    "The paper that...is read." Because only Republicans were apparently readers back then.

    Who knew that "there is witchery in Kodakery!"

    The books cost 45 cents! Outrageous...

    I think Marg could handle a few of the male persuasion too...

    There's a lyricism to the high school entries that would likely be found on a college level now. It's as if, in order to shrink the average career length and thus provide more jobs, a college degree is what a high school degree was back then, and post-grad will soon to be what an undergrad degree was in the '80s.

    October 21, 2008

    Two Links

    Should We Care if Shakespeare was Catholic?

    & George Will on the Episcopalians.
       (Primarily political edition; hopefully not too many more of these.)

    It’s important for Catholics to be people of faith who pursue politics to achieve justice; not people of politics who use and misuse faith to achieve power. I have no doubt that Prof. Kmiec belongs to the former group. But I believe his arguments finally serve the latter. For 35 years I’ve watched thousands of good Catholic laypeople, clergy and religious struggle to recover some form of legal protection for the unborn child. The abortion lobby has fought every compromise and every legal restriction on abortion, every step of the way. Apparently they believe in their convictions more than some of us Catholics believe in ours. And I think that’s an indictment of an entire generation of American Catholic leadership. - Archbishop Chaput

    I don’t want to look like a freak, so I brown-paper it while reading in public and tell acquaintances that I’m looking at porn. - Eric of "The Daily Eudemon" on reading "The Imitation of Christ"

    Thank God for Vatican II! - prayer of petition from 97-year old very orthodox (small 'o') priest

    Our pastor mentioned that we should vote, and not step out of the election - vote for the lesser of two evils. He made mention of abortion, and gave examples of persons throughout history who won elections by ONE vote. In other words, if we step out of this election, the greater “evil” may win, and more children will be killed in the womb. We all got the message without Father mentioning names. - commenter from Virginia on Amy Welborn's blog

    I now have reports from four different dioceses in various parts of the country on how the bishops' document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" is being used to clear the way for Catholics to support Obama. The most egregious "teaching" of the document goes like this: Democrats agree with 90% of the Church's social teaching, Republican's 10%. So the fact that the GOP is pro-life is offset by the weight of the many other issues --minimum wage, national health insurance, etc. -- supported by the Democrats. Conclusion: Catholics can ignore the pro-life and marriage issues." No surprise here that the same people who turned the documents of Vatican II into some nebulous Spirit of Vatican II would do the same to the USCCB's document. When you use the hermeneutic of "I am going to vote for Sen. Obama anyway" it is amazing what documents can then yield. Kind of like National Catholic Reporter's new editor who wrote this year that he would rather have the bishops go to Hell than for him not to vote Democrat.- Jeff Miller at Curt Jester quoting Deal Hudson
    Supporting a Democrat such as Obama may mean compromising on the abortion issue (while hoping that the economic miracle that will spontaneously occur when a Democratic posterior inhabits the chair in the oval office may in fact do a better job of “decreasing the incidence of abortion” than actual restrictions)... - DC at "American Catholic"

    Barack Obama...the Christian who won't acknowledge that Mary was not pro-choice. - Eve Tushnet

    I like my boss and indeed his boss as well -- but is there any more idiotic example of a Hallmark holiday that "Boss's Day"? At least with the other celebrations like Mothers' Day and Secretaries' Day and Peasants' Day and Political Prisoners' Day we celebrate those whom we forget, neglect or otherwise abuse the rest of the time. But Boss's Day? - Darwin Catholic

    As we were driving in, another woman was supervising workers who were stuffing huge plastic bags full of plastic pumpkin-shaped trick-or-treat baskets into the back of her station wagon - I assumed she was picking them up for a school or charity drive or some such. But the sight of the dozens of pumpkin baskets being claimed by one person clearly bothered Little Michael. He kept mentioning it while we shopped and at one point burst out with, “I think that was a bad woman.” I kept telling him I’m sure there were some left in the store, but the simple task of providing proof was denied us because Michael, torn between his newfound terror of Halloween displays and his concern about the baskets, ultimately let the former win out. - Amy Welborn

    Obama may win this election. Obama may lose this election. McCain may win this election. McCain may lose this election. No matter what happens, we are entering a new era, and I believe everyone knows it. With the prayer and fasting, I am “in training” making myself ready for whatever comes, because whatever comes is going to be very different; it will jar us from all of our complacencies. So, yes, I feel very peaceful right now, and my prayer and fasting continues. I hope you’ll consider joining me in this training, in whatever measure you may. - Anchoress

    You have to pinch yourself – a Marxisant radical who all his life has been mentored by, sat at the feet of, worshipped with, befriended, endorsed the philosophy of, funded and been in turn funded, politically promoted and supported by a nexus comprising black power anti-white racists, Jew-haters, revolutionary Marxists, unrepentant former terrorists and Chicago mobsters, is on the verge of becoming President of the United States. And apparently it’s considered impolite to say so. - Melanie Philips at the Standard via Irish Elk

    Each day for decades, Doc Hite walked, stood, sat and eventually slumped outside a Portland abortion clinic, urging adoption over abortion. His mission was persistent testimony to what he considered a slaughter of innocents. Hite, a member of Holy Rosary Parish, kept up his protest until he was 100. He died Oct. 4 at age 102, after several years of sickness thwarted his mission... Hite, who according to the article had many nieces and nephews, never had any children of his own, and said two years ago that it might have been nice to have had children. But he did have children--the women he helped, the babies he saved, they will be the children who know him someday, God willing. - via blogger at "And Sometimes Tea"

    From the look of the observers
    the boy was dead, lifeless, but
    resuscitation efforts continued,
    succeeding only as the Giver
    exhaled His last.

    * * *

    "Yes, our God is a merciful God, a character trait for which we should give thanks each day. Consider if God were not merciful. What if he demanded honor and worship without offering fellowship? What if he demanded perfection without providing a means for us to achieve it? What if he demanded that we serve him without his Spirit to guide us? We are so blessed because our God is a merciful God...

    As you spend time pondering God’s mercy in prayer today, gaze especially at the cross. This one act of love reveals mercy at its ultimate: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered up his own life for your salvation. How can we look upon this image and not be drawn deeper to our awesome God? How can we possibly hide behind our sins or unworthiness?" - today's Word Among Us meditation
    And now, get ready for everybody's favorite politically dysfunctional family...:
    The Matalin-Carville Family Sitcom! ("That's Carville-Matalin, Honey!") (cue laugh track)

    * * *
    Mary: "Honey, the kids missed the bus. Can you take them?"

    James: "That's the third time in two weeks! Think of our carbon footprint!"

    Mary: "Have you forgotten that liberals don't believe in personal responsibility but in government mandates?"

    James: "Oh that's right. Just another reason I love being a Democrat!" (cue laugh track)

    (Eleven hours later)

    James: "Honey, I'm home!"

    Mary: "Hi, my cute little snake-eyed, bald-headed socialist! How was your day?"

    James: "Hey did you just call me a socialist?" (cue laugh track)

    Mary: "Only as a term of endearment sweetie."

    James: "Well your gun-totin', God-fearin', pro-life, patriotic Republican friends have the nerve to call Obama a socialist!"

    Mary: "Well y'all should've nominated Hillary then."

    James: "You'd be calling Hillary a socialist by now too."

    Mary: "Except that wouldn't fly since everyone knows Hillary's a Hillaryist. She's for anything that would get her elected!" (cue laugh track)

    (Later that evening)

    James: "Let's snuggle up and whisper sweet capital gains hikes in each others ears!"

    Mary: "You meant cuts honey, and you know I can't resist it you when you talk dirty." (cue laugh track)
    Oy Vey...Submitted Without Comment

    "Today, there are more than 60 million American Catholics, and each one has a unique relationship with the religion. That's because it's complicated and emotional. Other kids were very intense, intimidated by Catholic teaching, but not the bold, fresh guy. I embraced the good stuff - like the outstanding Christmas rituals and the fun of St. Patrick's Day - and took the bad stuff - like hell - in stride." - Bill O'Reilly in "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity"

    October 20, 2008

    Columbus Dispatch Endorses John McCain

    Ohio, like Whitman wrote, contains multitudes. At least politically. There's the liberal (Cleveland), the conservative (Cincinnati) and the in-between though trending liberal (Columbus).

    So it was interesting to see that the Columbus Dispatch endorsed McCain. It would seem to cost them something since the blueness of Michigan is cascading down Ohio in a north-to-south fashion and it doesn't take a seer to see Franklin county as next to go liberal. McCain's pro-life record played no role in the endorsement, as the Dispatch is no friend to social conservatives, but the paper shows guts in bucking the newspaper fraternity and the endorsement trend. But then Ohio has seen, up close and personal, how horrible one-party government is...
    The Amazing Human Indifference to Pain

    One of the more amazing observations I've been privy to over the past half-decade is the seemingly uselessness of the power of the punitive. It seems I've always had a vague faith in the power of suffering or embarrassment to change behavior; perhaps it's a conservative characteristic to think that punishment works - when it most certainly doesn't in most cases. (Think of the high recidivism rate in our prisons and the fact that almost all inmates maintain their innocence. I'm beginning to think there is no such thing as deterrence.)

    But this has been brought home more fully in various and sundry ways from the minor to the major. I think partially this is due to the fact that we tend to think others are mostly the same as ourselves. As someone extremely averse to pain and humiliation, I'm always almost impressed by those who seem absolutely immune to it. Bill Clinton and Barney Frank, for example, are folks who seem to have a self-confidence such that they have no embarrassment gene and cannot be brought low by punishment because they will never see it as legitimate. It's a right-wing conspiracy. And to observe a family member buying an expensive 2008 car and paying an exorbitant interest rate due to already having ruined their credit is to create slack-jaw'd awe. The punishment of the bank in the form of a punitive rate did not curb their spending appetite.

    Bruce Springsteen is an example of the untameable spirit, someone who hated the nuns in his '50s grade school would not reform no matter the pain they inflicted. And with Saddam Hussein, the unthinkable thing was that he didn't take the U.S. seriously. There were no-fly zones, U.N. sanctions, the Gulf War. And yet - remarkably! - he didn't take George Bush's threat seriously even though every European nation was. And so were the protesters on our streets. The West thought Bush was giving Hussein an ultimatum simply as a pretext for war, while Hussein never thought that Bush would come to Baghdad and so apparently thought the ultimatum was mere bluster. You gain an appreciation for just how difficult it is to parent. I used to naively think that merely "laying down the law" works.

    This all was triggered by Darwin Catholic beginning a post with:
    Children seem to show a near immunity, at times, to the power of negative example.
    True enough, but what amazes me more is that we adults show immunity, much of the time, to the power of negative experience.
    Thoughts from the Past

    Nostalgia produces wonder. It's a sort of licit pornography in the sense of allowing you to escape the confines of the familiar via, in this case, time-travel. It’s similarly jaw-dropping if not in the same way. *grin*

    To see Olivia Newton-John again in 1978 via YouTube is to be shocked by the lapse of time, not just in her but in me. It’s to see oneself as “other” almost, and sometimes I wonder if the “hermuentic of discontinuity” that some apply to Vatican II applies to me. YouTube is to nostalgia what marijuana is to the munchies. (Or so I've been told, as I've never inhaled or imbibed.)

    Sounds and smells and sights are the common triggers of nostalgia. Taste and touch less so. The smell that most takes me back is my undergrad apartment complex, the smell of bleach from the downstairs laundry and the stale-smelling hallway carpets. There's also some additional undefinable quantity that perhaps is imaginary, in the same way a fourth generation Irish-American still thinks there is part of him would recognize his ancestral home via his senses if it appeared before him.

    Sound-wise, the sassy opening chords of Olivia Newton-John’s “Let Me Be There” take me there. Just four notes seem to trigger some memory in the distant past, as if a distant me was unwittingly giving the current me some signal simply due to the fact that at some moment in my past I was surreally present during those four notes.

    * * *

    One of the bigger surprises about growing older is to learn that that what you thought was utterly evanescent in the past has lingered, in an almost material way, into the future. And often not the moments you anticipated. They can be almost banal.

    It can occur with respect to people, in a way that becomes almost mythical. When I was in the hospital for a week at the age of seven, I recall mostly only a miasma of pain, misery and boredom interrupted by terror. I don’t recall that my childless great aunt came and visited me almost every day while I was there. And yet I was told this by my Mom and that made Mary my favorite aunt. Mary’s actions may not have been remembered at the time but when relayed to me later, they had a big impact. I felt loved and accepted when I needed it. (It may be sort of like photographs in a vacation album – you begin to confuse whether you actually remember events or you’re remembering photos from the event.) But I learned that actions have consequences beyond the moment. The things you do today will resonate beyond you. It also suggests our mutual dependence: without Mary’s visits, Mom could not have told me about them. (That is, Mom would not lie.) And yet without Mom, Mary’s visits would’ve had no lasting value. It was only this “community of saints”, this combination of Mom and Mary, that helped give the hospital visit some meaning beyond seemingly useless suffering.

    During childhood, a million words run by and over you and surprisingly few stick. Words have to be received at a certain moment to be effective. They must be received either for the first time, or be particularly dramatic in an insulting or flattering way, or must be received in a receptive (usually vulnerable) situation. One of the few words I recall from the hospital visit was the first time I heard the utterly foreign concept of someone offering to take my place. I was undergoing this torture when Dad said that he would take my place if he could. At the time it seemed simultaneously the most ludicrous and yet most wonderful thing I’d ever heard. The ludicrous part was: doesn’t he know how horrible this is? He must be insane! But the words were beautiful because I believed them. And now, after the passage of years, I see that it was something a father would do for his child. It’s not as shocking now as it was then; I can imagine myself going through something like that if my kid didn’t have to. But then I couldn’t imagine it. That is ultimately, of course, the way we must see God. That He’s simultaneously ludicrous and wonderful.

    Maybe the way to use pleasure, rather than having pleasure use you, is to give thanks to God for each instance of it. To mentally associate the source of pleasure with God, as is self-evidentally the case since our senses would not exist without God! This will result in being able to give up pleasure when called for, for God out of gratitude. If one only associates suffering with God and pleasure with self, then it seems you’ll be bass-ackwards.

    There's a post that Eve Tushnet linked to, from the Cigarette Smoking blogger. She includes this on a piece about Oscar Wilde:
    The similarities between imitation of Christ as a moral figure and imitation of art as an aesthetic ideal can be recognized by any moralist, religious or secular, but to render Wilde’s praise of the critical temperament applicable to life requires a more distinctly Christian perspective. “People sometimes say that actors give us their own Hamlets, and not Shakespeare’s,” Gilbert says, but “there is no such thing as Shakespeare’s Hamlet” apart from an actor’s singular interpretation. “When Rubinstein plays to us the Sonata Appassionata of Beethoven, he gives us not merely Beethoven, but also himself, and so gives us Beethoven absolutely.” The similarity between this idea and Matthew 10:19 is partial but significant: “But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.” Far more essential to a Christian interpretation of Intentions is the theology of God’s ownership of each human life. Man is not his own Creator, nor is he even the author of his own life story.
    Deep waters, for me anyway. But I wonder if this "Christ as art", or Christ as a model to imitate inadvertantly minimizes the action of the Holy Spirit. Someone interpreting Beethoven is bringing their experiences (mental, emotional), intellect and physicality (the technical playing, their sense of rhythm, etc..). These are God-given things but still completely natural. Whereas in our "playing Christ" we have not just our own resources.

    October 17, 2008


    Amy Welborn shoots & scores with this:
    It’s one thing to agonize because you are torn between two candidates whose victories might result in positive or negative consequences of proportionate value, or because your vote might (realistically) contribute to a particular moral or immoral result, but to treat this as if we’re voting on a canonization case, your vote on which somehow shows the world something about you is silly...

    It seems to me that some of our conversations about political life in Catholic circles ask far more from government than it is able to give.
    Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan says:
    There is now something infantilizing about this election. Mr. Obama continued to claim he will remove wasteful spending by sitting down with the federal budget and going through it "line by line." This is absurd, and he must know it. Mr. McCain continued to vow he will "balance the budget" in the next four years. Who believes that? Does even he?
    The infantilization, if more pronounced (and I tend to doubt that since every election is that way), is likely due to pandering due to the economic crisis.
    Bethune Candidate

    Go, Jim, Go!
    Miraculous Soxus
    Like Mark of Irish Elk, I turned off the television during the seventh inning. My eyelids were getting heavy. Even as I fipped the switch I cursed the baseball god (i.e. Money) for scheduling games late in the day. I'd made an implicit bet that the Sox wouldn't come back, but to routintely make that bet is to deny yourself the whole purpose of sport - to live "the thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat" as the famous ABC's Wide World of Sports tagline goes. By definition, once-in-a-lifetime comebacks will come only late in the game and only when hope is gone. So I feel like I'm in the not unusual situation of not having heeded my own words when I said that baseball is a game without clock and that anything can happen!
    Parody Blog updated...

    ...with something from my bro-in-law on honor killings, as well as a story about postal workers celebrating Columbus Day, & the happy story of the cockeyed optimist who lost $50,000 in his 401k but is thrilled the price of gasoline is under three bucks a gallon.
    (Ameri)Canniest of them All?

    There was, in the whiteness of her teeth and slight overbite, the quintessential quality of Americanness. Leaving aside her prodigious energy and can-do spirit and lively Protestantism -- that she was an American's American was revealed in her teeth alone.

    Too "w.t." to be taken seriously by coastal elites, she was from a land empty, which they translated to mean intellectually barren. What America was to Europe she was to the Lower Forty-Eight, and despite possessing a sharp intelligence and sharper survival skills many underestimated her, as if jadedness was the mark of greatness.

    She was not educated to the point where it led to paralysis as it had with the French. If at first glance she appeared a flower in bloom that might be easily harmed by too much rain or sun, it was merely a surface impression for she was the hardiest of the garden and would survive even an education. Though she might've been patronizing to the patronizing, she mostly held her fire. Disastrous interviews with media royalty were like the failures of etiquette shown by colonists toward Queen Elizabeth.

    She was of healthier stock in the way a mixed breed is healthier than a purebred, in the way Churchill wouldn't have been Churchill had he not had the steel supplied by an American mother. You could imagine her in thirty years on the cover of a newsweekly with the title "The Lionness of Winter", or maybe pictured holding a pitchfork while standing by her husband in an Arctic version of American Gothic.

    October 16, 2008

    Gerson quoted on the Corner:
    The diverging political fortunes of Barack Obama and McCain can be traced to a single moment. In the middle of September, the net favorable rating for each candidate was about the same. By Oct. 7, Obama was ahead on this measure by about 16 points. Did McCain suddenly become a stumbling failure? No, the world suddenly went into an economic slide. Americans blamed the party with executive power, which is also the party most closely tied in the public mind to bankers and Wall Street. None of this was fair to McCain, who has never been the Wall Street type. But party images are vivid, durable and almost impossible to shift on short notice.
    I think regardless of Wall Street it's impressive the Republican cycle lasted as long as it did. Bush won by a shoestring in '00 and won in '04 only because incumbents have a huge advantage during wartime. The demographics are running hugely against Republicans, both before and after, since the party can't attract blacks or Latinos in great numbers. Even McCain, who is very open to immigration, is going to get trounced in the Hispanic vote. Given that climate, it's not surprising Dems are going to control everything. Even if McCain ran the perfect campaign it's doubtful to see how he could've won.
    You Can't Say the A-Word

    ...if you're the MSM.
    Random Autumnal Thoughts at the House
    "Caution: you are about to enter the self-indulgent post zone!"
    I remember time au gratin, the yellow-skirt of the maple's crown, the reaping of sunny prunes from the peach tree. I remember when we first moved here, the mystery - was the place haunted? - the expanse of of field beyond the boundary trees near which, I anticipated, I would surely perch for hours upon the precipice reading some old tome like War and Peace.

    It's still mild enough to sit out and I move my chair a bit closer to the boundary line. Trees like '70s mood rings have begun to change color, all at different times even on the same branch. I can smell the ground-up leaves and their dusty, dried-up leaf spores and feel the ache of old fires and hear the crack of song coming from the ice cream truck.

    I perch and o'erlook the majestic pine I'd tortuously labored at a July ago. His base makes a grand throne - I remembered how we'd heaped so much soil as if to make a four foot tree six, instantly, just by adding dirt. It didn't work that way but has a nice cut of gib, and nearing six now.

    I have a hankering for Frank Sinatra songs while I watch the shrub leaves turn a radiant red, the color of poinsettias. I turn slowly to take it all in, like the yellow of the neighbor's maple, its dark ribbed undercarriage showing like the corset beneath a pretty woman's dress. Stray thoughts come to mind, like the fact that if there isn't a book about the TV show "I Dream of Jeannie" then there should be. Favorite words from the past are recalled - "azure" from the Tennyson poem and "zephyr" from a television show theme song: "Oh Zephyr winds that blow on high!"

    Pinus Laborious is festooned with ornaments in the form of colored leaves from its deciduous neighbors. The stately forty-foot firs against the back never felt like our own, so far from the house, so tall that where the cones cling in the upper reaches it feels like another zip code, as much ours as the moon. Speaking of, Tuesday night's looked poignantly full, shedding its dusky, husky light on the patio stones. It was powerfully affecting, even vacational, like brandy and marble floors. I lingered awhile, drunkenly imagining prelate interventions at the bishopric conferences involving quotes of Schiller or Hopkins.

    * * *

    Dream time over, scurrilous left-brain thoughts enter. Like whether leadership and creativity are mutually exclusive these days. Banks offer us derivatives, hardly more real than an Irish faeries though far more destructive. It's a sign of the bereftness of corporate life that for all the self-pep talks about "thinking outside the box" few if any did, all the institutions buying into something they didn't understand because the other guy was doing it.

    The only risks we take we take because others have, just so we don't have to explain ourselves.

    October 15, 2008

    Free Jeff Culbreath!
    Say It Ain't So, Sox... 
    I've had warm regards for the red-garbed Sox since that fateful day in 1987 when, straight off the plane, I illegally immigrated into the land of the Fens.

    I'd cabbed there directly, the game already in the 7th inning, and let myself in. Call it gratis or grace, gracie, but it inbuilt a kind of loyalty. I never forget a flavor. Surrounded by the comforting green walls, properly earth-toned in a place as grounded as this, I floated above the diamond for a couple of star-crossed innings.

    So I have a minor rooting interest in the Sox (and the Phils for the sake of Dominican Tom) and so was disturbed by last night's stinging defeat suffered at the serrations of the Devil Rays. The Sox are down 3-1, and it's hard to see the joy in Fenville. The camera panned those exiting after the 8th inning and since leaving early is a walk of shame for the baseball fan, some did hang their heads, Tom Dooley-style. No matter the score baseball is a game without clock and therefore with hope. But it is a game not without innings and the ninth came and went and now the storied team finds itself immersed in its dark night of soul.

    The jaunty Rays possess a plucky joie de vivre, most precisely embodied by one B.J. Upton, a crisp-looking player with an appetite for (Sox) destruction. Then too there's the "What, me worry?" look of Longoria and the rest, now all playing with a lead. See the power of compounding in action. America loves a Cinderella team, and the Rays certainly fit that cartilaginous bill.
    The '08 Debate That Never Happened

    Perhaps tonight's debate will be different, but the most surprising thing about McCain specifically and Republican leaders in general is their utter inability to defend themselves.

    Back a million years ago, in May, I thought this race would be decided by the debates. I thought that this would be the time in which our headlong rush to embrace change for the sake of change would be impeded.

    I thought, in other words, a debate would break out during the debates.

    But over the past seven years, Bush was almost amazing in how he refused to go directly to the American people and use the bully pulpit (a phrase originally coined by Teddy Roosevelt back when "bully" meant wonderful or excellent). This lack of communication has been devasting.

    And now McCain doesn't seem to be able to get beyond soundbytes like "taxes...baaad!" and in his commercials "Ayres....baad!". To watch McCain go on, eunuch-like, The View was painful. (Of course I'm engaging here in blatant backseat-quarterbacking...it's easy to say "Go down like Goldwater!" when the race is over.)

    Rep. John Boehner says that the reason for Republican inarticulateness and poor self-defense is because most Democrats have a background of being an activist, or they come from the union halls, and so they are used to fighting. Most Republicans come from the Rotary Club. They've spent their lives above the fray.

    This makes a lot of sense. Democrats are by nature more contrarian, and they reflexively see government as the primary solution. By definition they are going to be better at conflict and more motivated to wield power.

    October 14, 2008

    A Political History of Stem Cells

    It's irritating when politicians act like politicians. But it's infuriating when scientists act like politicians. They are supposed to be the truth-seekers. Now that the stem-cell wars have ended ("the stem-cell wars came to a sharp and sudden end when leading scientists announced that they had discovered ways to create pluripotent stem cells without using - much less killing - human embryos"), First Things looks at what we've learned:
    For six years, from 2001 through 2007, embryonic stem cells seemed almost the sole topic of popular science. Front-page stories hyped the most minor of breakthroughs, newspaper editorials raged against any luddite who suggested even the slightest moral doubts, and television shows made stars of the scientists and biotech spokesmen who promised that embryonic stem cells would deliver extraordinary medical advances...

    "A decade from now, this will be just a funny historical footnote," the famed stem-cell scientist James Thomson said shortly after the new research was announced. He may be right, but he shouldn't be. We need to remember the events of 2001 to 2007, for the history of the stem-cell debate forms a classic study of what happens when politics and science find each other useful.


    Since that breakthrough, stem cells have barely made the news. Interesting and exciting work is still going on, but what's changed is the immediate impact of stem cells - the political salience, in other words. For six years, from 2001 to 2007, embryonic stem cells were a weapon in a political battle. And, as in all political battles, usefulness trumps truth, even for the scientists who willingly made themselves into partisans during the debate.


    Abortion politics had helped create the situation. A related hostility to the role of religion had added its share. And the big money of modern science had encouraged the alignments that made stem cells seem central to our political debates....

    The politicians were guilty, but the scientists were more guilty, for they allowed - no they encouraged - politicians to make stem-cell research a tool in the public fights over abortion, public religion, and high finance...And with this history in mind, who will believe America's scientists the next time they tell us something that bears on an election?
    Update, just to flesh this out a bit more:

    Nancy Pelosi said that "the National Institutes of Health and Science hold the biblical power of a cure for us." The hopes of many were cruelly raised in scenes reminiscent of the old snake oil salesmen. Presidential candidate John Edwards pointed to paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve and proclaimed that a vote for the Democrats would mean that people like Reeve "are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

    There were some scientists, particularly in the period just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and before the presidential election of 2004 when the politics of stem cells had receded, who tried to pull back from the hype. A science writer for the New York Times admitted: "For all the handwringing by scientists, you might think that therapeutic cloning is on the verge of curing a disease or two...Almost all researchers, when questioned, confess that such accomplishments are more dream than reality."

    Despite that, the scientific community invested a great deal of its prestige in a public account of stem cells that is now discredited. If we've learned anything, it's that politically useful science is always suspect.