May 29, 2009

George Strait Artist of the Decade

"Lean on the gas and off the clutch" - "Run"
It was like manna from Heaven, a look-what-I-found-rebound, to happen across an oasis in the tundra of television, that is the ACM tribute to George Strait. It was mesmerizing to hear all those hits again by new artists. The show was laid-back enough to seem a throwback to twenty years ago, back before money made everybody uptight. Some artists even seemed to regain their personalities; one performer put “King George” on the back of his guitar and flashed it at the end of his tribute and asked the King to sign it. Another said that Strait didn’t talk to him much the first time he met him, making him think that Strait “didn’t like me very much”. That’s country. Fewer façades.

The band Sugarland led off and dominated “Adelaida”, a spicy cajun number. Lead singer Jennifer Nettles seemed to have the spirit for it and she also has a pretty mouth (can you say that post-Deliverance?).

Tody Keith followed up with the only song I didn’t recognize over the whole show, an old-fashioned kick-ass honky-tonker. “Got a problem I’m gong to drink off my chest,” went the lyrics. Reminds me of that iconic song “Rita Ballou”. Keith, a man’s man offered no wasted motion, holding forth with the armor of a hat slung low protecting slitted eyes.

Rarely did singer meet song so well as the mournful Brooks ‘n Dunn lead on “The Cowboy Rides Again”. Were his hooded eyes and wounded voice mere act? I wondered, if not, where the pathos came from. Today’s stars, unlike ol' George Jones, live bourgeois upper-class lives and don’t usually have time for addictions or bankruptcies or infidelities.

Taylor Swift, dressed like a ‘60s flower child, did “Run”, a song with whippet-like lyrics. Goosebumps attended her rendition; she sounded as innocent and ingenue-ish as did Suzanne Vega in “Luka” back some twenty-something years ago. The song is a gem, as simple and direct as a bullet and fast as a Hereford cattle rush. Even if it doesn’t sound like the typical country song the lyrics have the laconic directness of a lonesome cowboy in a Louis L’Amour novel.

“The Fireman,” an uptempo song, took me straight back like a time machine to a particular period of my life, those fabled early ‘90s that stretched to infinity on Saturday nights in a Newark, Ohio honky-tonk and afterwards in the dew grass of my friend’s house-with-acres, my boots carried off into hiding the next morning by Brent’s rugrats. Those old country songs of loss and self-pity and under-doggedness seemed so consoling when I was an unmarried and unknown writer but less potent now that I’m a married unknown writer. :-)

I’m moved by the smallest things; I could easily tear up at seeing Tim McGraw and Faith Hill still together, let alone Martina McBride or George Strait himself. I was also moved by the fealty and homage paid by the big stars. Even if it’s only an act it’s a sort of virtue paying homage to virtue. The constellation of different performers, male and female, have a precious uniqueness in each as if a sure reflection of God’s intent. Alan Jackson sings and I realize it’s that he’s never changed that makes him charismatic. “The smoke and mirrors were just that,” sang one artist of Strait (and could've of Jackson too).

I was skeptical when I learned Lee Ann Rimes would sing my favorite Strait song, “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind”. But she pulled it off even though they seemed to have cut a verse off.

Of course there’s a sour moment. Garth Brooks was preceded by a one-minute infomercial. Like Jimmy Buffet, these guys know how to market themselves. Or do they? Don’t they know that overkill doesn’t play in the savvy marketed-to-death Gen X’rs? I can imagine GB saying: “I’ll come on if you give me a minute highlighting my incredible contributions to country music, including ‘his voice is the soundtrack of our lives’”(no lie, that was actually in the infomercial). I hope I’m wrong and his record company wouldn’t let him go on without that particular plug. But, Garth’s speech was humble. He said that he was “passing the torch to a man who carried the torch for the last thirty years,” a touching tribute that seemed to move even George Strait himself.

Strait seems to embody the secret to life: to remain hungry even when full. He has all the money, fame, adulation he ever would need but still he records the hits and hits the road...

Celebration as Euphemism for "Funeral"

Our neighbor died after a long, impressive ten-year fight with poor health. I was happy for him that he was able to avoid nursing homes and assisted living. The life squad was over there so often that it began to seem routine and not a cause for concern. It was a touch of class that they asked that in lieu of flowers we donate to that fire squad - it's rare to see gratitude for what can be viewed as an entitlement.

It never dawned on me in a million years that the script wouldn't look like this: that one time the ambulance would come and he would be dead. Instead he died at a local restaurant. Our imagination is poor with respect to death, or perhaps it's just that I didn't realize he ever left the house.

The service was called "A Celebration of Life" as they often are these days and it was held at the funeral, er, Celebration of Life home. (The phrase paradoxically makes me feel depressed. It sounds too forcedly upbeat, a bit too kitschy.) I recall warmly now my wife's aunt's funeral, a daily Mass-going Catholic, and how the rosary was said at the visitation. Due perhaps either to poor catechesis or the headwind of this relativistic age, the Catholic gene can appear to be recessive - from the mixed marriage of my wife's family came six children, all of whom were raised Catholic to varying degrees but none of whom remained Catholic.

The service started with a young woman coming to the stage with an acoustic guitar and singing a song. I felt embarrassed for her, it felt too intimate, just the voice and unamplified folk guitar in this small setting in front of all these strangers. It still seems jarring - to me at least - to have what seems so obviously a performance in the context of a quasi-religious service. But surely my concern for her was misplaced; evangelicals are bold and likely feel called to witness in this way.

Next came a series of talks. The first brought tears to everyone's eyes, a precocious grandchild expressing an unabashed love for her grandfather. I probably underestimate the impact of grandparents in the lives of children, and I found this especially inspiring since I'm on the cusp of grandparentage.

She was followed by a jocular grey-hair'd man who knew the deceased for years as part of the card club. I was really surprised by two things; one was that he said our neighbor was never confrontational. He would ask his opinion on something and just take it in but never try to argue with it. And I recall thinking how different my experience was, how the first and nearly only time I talked to him was when he introduced himself right after we moved in and somewhat presumptuously told me that he didn't want me putting up a fence. He was into the green movement before it was cool, and apparently didn't like fences. He was no shrinking violet and yet he let his card club friend opine on politics or what-not without rebutting.

Then the grey-hair'd man remarked several times how he always wondered how the deceased got his very unusual first name. He said he looked forward to finding out from the next speaker, the son with the same first name. And I wondered why it never occurred to this gent to ask, during all those card games you'd think the subject might come up. It seemed so mysterious.

In the memorial program there were beautiful verses from a good translation of 1st Corinthians 15:50-57 on eternal life. Testimonials continued as to how focussed he was on others. He cared about others. Prayed for them, did anonymous works of kindess. While the modern tendency is to canonize the recently deceased, there is something inspiring about hearing the testimonials in that it makes you want to be a better person yourself. "Just do the best you can," his son said his father had always told him, "it's all you can do."

Bad Cell Phone Art Ain't Kilt No One Yet

I've long said that "bad poetry ain't kilt no one yet" in order to justify my own offerings on this blog, and in that same vein I offer you more Cell Phone Art (trademark pending). All photos were taken last night with my phone using only available light, which was generally the landscaping lights or a new globe light that gives off different colors. (All lights are solar-powered for you greeniacs out there.)

May 27, 2009

Same As It Ever Was

So our pastor gave a good homily Sunday. He mentioned the impact of Christianity on the Roman Empire via forgiveness and mercy. He said the problem with a society based on justice or revenge is that invariably the person or group wronged will see the act as a greater wrong than had actually occurred, and the person or group perpetrating the wrong will see it as a lesser wrong than had occurred. That means that retaliations must always be greater and greater because of this natural amplification. Perpetual war.

A simple concept but a true one. We are not Spocks, emotionless judges of wrongs. And speaking of judges, we see a sample of it in the political discourse today. Whereas a generation ago someone like Sonia Sotomayor might have argued vigorously for equality for women and Hispanics in the legal profession, she overreaches now and says that she's more worthy. (Can you imagine a white man saying today, "I would hope that a wise old white man with the richness of his experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn’t lived that life."?) But there is always overreaching, it's built-in, even among judges who are supposed to be the wisest and most dispassionate among us.

May 26, 2009

Very Thorough List

A local parish is having a rummage sale and included in the bulletin is a list of items NOT to donate. It's an interesting list, including such things as:
Automobile Mats
Bowling Balls
Fabrics less than one yard
Personal Photographs
Screens for doors and windows
Stationery that is personalized
Dentures!?! Ooo, ick. Who would donate dentures? Or personal photographs?

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." That may describe something in general, but it's wrong. The best on Notre Dame's commencement day ended up in jail, at least for a while. Hopefully they were all released on their own recognizability as decent human beings. - Bill of Apologia

I'm sure it's been observed elsewhere that Mary Ann Glendon's decision against trying to rebut the pro-abortion position of President Obama... looks deucedly wise in retrospect. Not that the President's commencement address was unanswerable; far from it. But it was well written, and (I suppose) well delivered, and it struck a note that sounded sweet to the ear. Had Professor Glendon somehow failed to answer it -- either by sticking to her own speech as written and leaving his sophistries unchallenged, or by offering an impromptu answer that wasn't both complete and powerful, as spoken and as compared with his speech afterward in transcript -- then she herself would have been dragooned into the service of excusing the enormity of his policies... It would have been said, "See? Even the smartest pro-life Catholics cannot overcome the wisdom, the moderation, the reasonableness of our President." In short, the rest of us would be exactly where we are today, and she would be diminished...had she somehow not failed to answer President Obama, then the media and the anti-anti-abortion Catholics would have set upon her without pity... In short, the rest of us would be exactly where we are today, and she would have been given a lot of misdirected grief. - Tom of Disputations

I'm reading N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope... Wright (in this book) seems guilty of the general sins of which he rightly) holds many contemporary "liberal" scholars for - basically insisting you accept his assumptions and jump with him to various conclusions from there...Ratzinger's Eschatalogy is far more satisfying to me so far, simply because, even in the midst of the techinical scholarly discussions, it is a spiritual treasure house, totally Christocentric, inviting the reader to understand, not only the afterlife and the endtimes, but the whole of Christian life in a new way, in which the content of the Christian life moves beyond an individual's quest to understand and believe and even follow precepts that will get her to a good place after death, but to live in Christ now and forever. [Wright's] book is more polemical and more addressed to correcting what he defines as mistaken ideas and doesn't quite have the inviting spiritual tone that Ratzinger has. - Amy Welborn

I promise not to drink before meeting a class, although sometimes it's hard to see how much it could hurt. For example, I read to one class a story by Guy de Maupassant. I told them to re-read it at home, and gave them some questions to answer. Next class I gave them a test. One of the questions was: in what city does the story take place? The second question was: in what country? Now, aside from the author's at the beginning, certain other names had popped up in the story, things like "the Seine," and "Champs Elysees," and "Rue des Martyr," and denominations of money like "francs," and "sous" and "louis," and terms of address like "Monsieur" and "Madame" and "Madamoiselle," and people with names like "Ramponeaux," "Forrestier," and "Loisel." One girl guessed the city as Rome, which she felt pretty sure was in the country of Italy. All but about three left the questions blank. When I asked what famous river is mentioned in the story, someone answered "the Nile." In the face of this, I don't see why a teacher should be denied the fortification provided by a good whiskey or just about any brand of foreign lager. - Professor Luse of Apologia

The Democratic party [is] historically the political home of those, as David Frum has put it, "who felt themselves in some way marginal to the American experience." That marginality will end only if we...reprise the muscular assimilation policies that worked in the past. - Mark at NRO

The official Notre Dame website has dealt with the circus by featuring a desperately uncontroversial photograph of the school's annual Eucharistic Procession, a kind of pathetic little lie that, really, there's nothing much happening here in South Bend, Indiana: No, sir, no need to worry. No need to worry, at all.... Politics has very little to do with the mess. This isn't a fight about who won the last presidential election and how he's going to deal with abortion. It's a fight about culture--the culture of American Catholicism, and how Notre Dame, still living in a 1970s Catholic world, has suddenly awakened to find itself out of date. - Joseph Bottum in "The Weekly Standard"

I see nothing wrong with swatting flies. Let's say that you have a different opinion. You think the lives of flies are sacred, and therefore you think that swatting flies is grossly immoral. You hold this view with the utmost sincerity. Unfortunately for you, I'm making the rules. And I say:
* You can't refer to fly-swatting as "murder." That would be "hate speech," inciting others to violence.
* You can't interfere when I swat flies.
* You must contribute to the purchase of fly swatters.
Now, with those ground-rules established, let's begin a civil discussion of the morality of swatting flies. There's no need for anger, recrimination, or name-calling. We have a sincere different of opinion. Let's-- oh, wait, excuse me a moment [thwack!]-- find some common ground. - Diogenes via Bill of Summa Minutiae

A fan's perspective [of the new Yankee Stadium]: "The overall impression I got was that this place is a mall featuring a baseball field.".. Us Reds fans have had a brand new park...they tried very hard to capture the spirit of the Cincinnati Reds, and it doesn't feel like a circus. But - they've just put in a massive HD television on an already giant scoreboard, and they've replaced the manual scoreboard in leftfield with more televisions. Televisions everywhere. The drug of the nation. - Daedalus

What appears to be "stable" is always moving in some direction — so, if it's not moving in yours, it's generally moving in the other fellow's. That's what happened in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria: They're not "stable." Across the last 30 years, they've moved in Iran's direction. Nevertheless, the foreign policy "realists" prize "stability" almost as much as David Brooks and Christopher Buckley prize "temperament." - Mark Steyn

What screwed up corporate America…is the chummy nature than often develops between the governing Board, who are supposed to represent the shareholders, and the management, who is supposed to work for the Board. What often happens is the reverse - a successful CEO gains enough influence to control the Board, and the Board for all intents and purposes becomes subordinate to the CEO. This amplified when Board members started awarding themselves big stock options, putting them in the same game as the CEO. - Paul Lambert

During my sophomore year at Orthodox Catholic U, a professor broke up an argument I was having with another Honors student about what we thought each other thought about our current reading selection. "Can either of you back up your position from the text?" he asked. The novel concept of having to confront an author's thought, as opposed to my own washy first impressions of a book, set off electrical connections in my brain that are still sparking today. - Mrs. Darwin of Darwin Catholic

As troubled as I am by the notion that Christians should be unable to judge right and wrong in our lives and in our culture, simply because we are not exempt from sin, I am more troubled by the notion that Christian love is about reminding people of the law that's written on their hearts ad infinitum rather than practicing love that feels impossible, loving those who are most difficult for us to love. "OH! But that's what I'm doing when I admonish!" they say. "I can't let them go to hell! That would be unloving!" What I know about hellfire and damnation is that Jesus has the power to redeem us, and it is questionable how much power we have to save others from hell. What I know of admonishment, from admonishing my children, is that the more I admonish them, the further they run from me, whereas the more I love them, hold them close, show them affection, the closer they stay and the more likely they are to listen to my corrections. - Betty Duffy

Human Nature of Jesus

I've been finding Mother Teresa's Come Be My Light very inspiring. I've been savoring it off and on for like a year now and am only about 3/4ths through it, but it feels more like devotional reading for me than most of the spiritual classics.

Mother Teresa seemed to come to a greater and greater understanding of God's humbleness, and lately I've been mining the theological vein of Christ's earthly journey. One thing that has often bothered me is how the portrayal of Jesus in the gospels differs somewhat from the Church. Chesterton made mention of this in his The Everlasting Man, how the Church depicts a warmer, gentler, more accessible view.

A brother-in-law sometimes says that he thinks the notion of eternal life is a little too neat for a species that recognizes it will die. In other words: wishful thinking. Similarly I've been afflicted by doubt that the Church's portrayal of the universal love of Christ might be a bit of wishful thinking. There was always the sense that maybe, just maybe, Christ loved just the elect, that is only the non-Pharisees and those with much faith. Maybe we are modern-day Pharisees and are thus unloved.

But what's been helpful is that I've become convinced that He did change in his human love over the course of His life. I used to think of Jesus as "fully formed" in love if not by adolescence than certainly by the beginning of his ministry. But now I think his love did grow. Perhaps Mother Teresa's deepening realization of the humility of God led me to a view with a greater emphasis of His humanity.

It cheered me and reminds me we are not self-deluding. While I trust (I hope!) the Church, I feel a whole lot better when there is no cognitive dissonance between the Church and the gospels.

Christ's love for the Pharisees (as a group) seemed a bit obscured in the gospel text during his ministry. But if we see Christ's love as growing during his Passion it's different. One is struck by how few harsh admonishments there were while He underwent His passion. He didn't condemn the bad thief, he merely promised the good paradise. That is...a change, at least from his early ministry days.

Since Jesus was like us in all things but sin and I wonder if He had to grow even in love. While we may take on faith that he loved the Pharisees and those of litle faith, there was little outward expression of that during his active ministry, either verbally or in the form of miracles.

I think the change came in fulfilment of the Scriptures, of how the empty are fed and the rich sent away empty. He was rich, spiritually, until he took on our sins during the Passion. And his love paradoxically grew then, perhaps as the result of feeling empty, of being bereft of the consolations of His Father's love and presence. When he started to feel forsaken he reached out in a way unique - actually needing his apostles. He wanted them to remain awake an hour with him.

His love for all men seemed to explode during that time. His cry "watch an hour with me" in the Garden was something that the apostles must have been surprised by. And then when He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!", an unconditional love that I can't remember him saying anything like earlier in His ministry (instead there was an exultation in the learned being blind). And rather than scorning Thomas's lack of faith after the Resurrection, he revealed Himself.

May 25, 2009

Remembering Those Who Served

Thanks for all those who gave their lives in the service of our country or who are serving now. The Word Among Us has a ministry for soldiers overseas that seems well worth supporting.

An article from the Columbus Dispatch says:
With veterans who coordinate Memorial Day events dying or becoming unable to march in parades,some worry that Americans are forgetting that Memorial Day wasn’t originally about summer sales, barbecues and opening day at the pool.
Which sounds familiar, sort of like Christmas... and this:
Memorial Day got its start as Decoration Day, a time to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers. Congress changed the date from May 30 to the last Monday of the month in 1971, and some veterans have complained that the three-day weekend has made vacations more important than the fallen.
...reminds me of how Ascension Thursday has become Ascension Sunday for convenience sake.

May 24, 2009

Country Daze

"I look to the hills, from whence cometh my help," always come to my mind in the mountains of Hocking Hills, the land the glaciers forgot. Puffs of cloud hover just above the trees crowns like halos. And how clear the birds sing here! They sing in a foresty, full-throated way as if oblivious to habitat destruction, global warming, and Adam's fall.

For our 10th (there's something relaxing and impressive to me at least about reaching the double-digit milestone), we rented a place with a wrap-around porch on the second-story affording grand views of the forested foothills but also, unfortunately, a highway: "Got an interstate runnin' through their front yard" indeed. One need never feel lonely here, the parade of traffic being more or less constant on Memorial Day weekend. We wish for silence but the view is nice; the interior is fabulous enough to make up for the sins of location.

I must have been more contemplative as a youth (is it sad to be competitive with a former self?) or at least to have had a more Thoreauian boredom threshold for now it amazes me I spent a week in a tent down at a Kentucky state park with my uncle way back when. No TV, no radio, no Internet...."not a single luxury" as the theme from Gilligan's Island goes. Breakfast and dinners must've been repetitious to put it mildly. Could kids today do what I did? Like a muscle I suspect it must be exercised.

But as a two-day trip it's wonderful if a bit Roman: hot-tub in the a.m., breakfast, exercise, followed by long smoke of a cigar for a couple hours afterwards which felt like a couple minutes. Friday night we watched the movie Fireproof which was preachy but at least had a great message. (If I'm going to be preached to I prefer it concern something as important as marriage.) It had an evangelical bent for sure - becoming a child of God was defined only in terms of the personal commitment of the character rather than with Baptism. Pelagianism we have always with us.

Saturday afternoon I headed to the KOA campground to explore. The way there, all uphill, felt like ascending to the ceiling of the world, as if I was visiting Ohio's Tibet. On the road a flat-stomached boy was selling firewood in that uniform peculiar to this area: long jeans sans shirt. I did a cost benefit analysis in my mind concerning the value of a flat stomach and, not surprisingly, it didn't merit further consideration.

There was a high kitsch general store at the foot of the trail. My cheap sunglasses had broken in my pocket requiring new cheap sunglasses. The only semi-decent pair they had looked like something from Elvis's Late Period but beggars can't be choosers.
Afterwards I headed to Old Man's Cave which was as crowded as Disneyworld. How stunning the Smokey Mountain-like green moss, the trickling water, the cool caves with boulders like glacier erratum. Not long on the trail I came across a family huddled around a motionless dog who had apparently fallen from a height, the same height that so enraptures me. Rangers were notified and they said they thought the poor thing has a chance.

I ponder the binaric meaning of the couple hiking past, the man with a Yale t-shirt and the woman with Harvard; it seemed somehow fitting: men are from Yale, women from Harvard...

The waters felt almost Lourdesian, with large crowds of people walking single file down towards the pools, patiently waiting for others when the passageway grew too narrow for two.

Home again in Columbus, I feel the gentle fatigue from hiking up those strength-coming hills, as well as the lingering imagery of the majestic scale of our cabin with the eighteen-foot ceilings and comparable windows which let in such a variety of light. It felt like we were living amid the tree tops and I've always wanted a wrap-around second-story porch, and so I did for a fortnight or two days, whichever is less. The wood panelled walls and floor gleamed amber in the reflected light.

Literary-wise I read deliriously from Dickens's Little Dorrit, so transportive it twas, but ruined the palate with some non-fiction such as Court of the Red Tsar. Dickens can write so lyrically while at the same time create such interesting characters.

I don't think I've read everything from Chesterton and Orwell concerning Chas Dickens yet. Whereas before I would read something like "Thoreau and His Contemporaries" now I'm less interested in what his contemporaries thought than what Orestes Brownson or Fr. Hacker did. Authority for me has become less democratic. But I do want to read more, especially after watching the marvelous PBS production of Little Dorrit. These Masterpiece Theatre shows make me feel sorry for the networks: the set designs, the photography, the actors! - the actors look exactly as the characters, just as the names Dickens gives them so often reflects their inward reality. And of course the writing is grand.

Ohio has warmed up nicely lately. The days' temps now visit the mid-80s and winter's long reach has ended. The last frost date is officially behind us. The air is humid now which gives off pleasant associations of vacation time. Spring is fickle and not to be trusted, while autumn is faithful but is always eventually overcome. Late May is like God: all vigor and loyalty without a scorched earth policy.

I step out the back porch and catch my breath - it's like walking back in time to last summer, or of all summers' past. The sun is warm, the patio stones hot to the foot, and grass, sun, tree and flower greet me like welcome paparazzi. You're a star, they say, the earth affording me the red carpet treatment. There is no discernible wind which makes paper stay in place like magic. Forgetfulness, in the form of not placing weights, is rewarded for once. When the rains came, they came in sheets straight as a young girl's bangs: I could sit under the patio umbrella without getting wet from sidewinders.

Fiction for a Sunday

Fred was a Pabst Blue Ribbon sort of guy, at least before the brand got hot.

For a few uneasy months there was an overlap in sales of PBR between the blue-collar bait-'n-tackle drinker and the metrosexual urbanite. But since Fred didn't label himself by the products he consumed so it didn't much matter.

He lived close to the ground with a healthy lack of self-absorption. To him, the "unexamined life" was the life for him. He'd married into a family of blue-bloods who traced their ancestry to certain ducal personages in medieval England. They had get-togethers so often that he often lacked anecdote to share, not even a new successful car repair. But he liked being with them.

They were always going to "the City", which meant New York City, and they always invited him to MOMA or the latest on Broadway or the Philharmonic. Fred was bored by it and wished Phil and his harmonic would cease and desist. He longed not for the transcendent experiences but for simply his in-law's presence.

May 22, 2009

Le Bike Ride

I turned the corner and rode into a Monet painting, the air suffused with southern France and bewitched with the stray cottonwood wisp here and there, like the ones that softly blew in between the slats of the open stained glass window at Mass. They were like planetary-sized dust motes, I thought at the time, before untracting my distraction back towards the altar.

Oh yes but did the ride feel full of inexplicablilities, of lost youths, of alternate realities, all buffeted by six-foot hedges that bloomed tiny white dimples and gave the air the smell of apricots.

I rode by Lady Britannica's house, the bookseller whose eccentricities I've long meditated on and wondered about, wondered in the sense of "wonder", she who called me all sorts of horrible names including "liar" but whom I felt a great measure of pity towards afterward, the way Christopher Buckley felt when Gore Vidal wrote horrible things about his father almost on the eve of WFB's burial. To hate so fiercely as Vidal becomes a sort of love in its self-sacrificial aspect - sacrificing his dignity, intelligence and part of his sanity for Buckley; perhaps that's why God said it was only the lukewarm he spat from his mouth.

Lady B had a large sign festooned on her front porch that said:
Help Wanted! Strong, intelligent* young man. (* - knows the alphabet!)
I laugh, enrichened by her humor, she who wants a boy of high school age to re-stack books. The alphabet being a low threshold to meet, one would think.

Her side gate has multiple signs that say the same thing:
I won't tell you when I am watching YOU from a window - I will only call the police!
This in a town where crime is not exactly rampant.

I bike on, listening to the otherwordly ballad "My William" by the band Stark Raven. I marvel at the talent it represents; the poetic wordsmithing, the perfect marriage of lyric and tune. Days like these make me long to read Proust, although I figure it's not Proust but some idea I have of him, something he couldn't possibly live up to in print...

May 21, 2009

An Amateur Did it Better

It's probably not especially newsworthy, or blogworthy, when a Catholic blogger produces a better headline than the professionals at the LA Times but...

The latter's headline read (last week), as reprinted in the Columbus Dispatch: "Pope Calls for End to Barrier in West Bank".

Which certainly got me reading. Did he really?

Well what Pope Benedict actually said was: "First, though, it is necessary to remove the walls that we build around our hearts...".

Immaculate Heart of Mary’s Hermitage Report's headline more accurately reflects the reality of what Benedict actually said: "Hostilities That Have Led to Building of Wall Must End".

May 20, 2009

Quote o' the Day

Comes from blogger Paul Lambert:
Should there even be such as thing as public schools - that is, school systems which are funded by taxes, managed by elected officials, and which have near exclusive rights to provide service to assigned geographic areas?

My answer to that question would be "NO!"

If this kind of system works so well, why don't we use it for food distribution? Instead of taking your own cash and going to the supermarket of your choice, everyone would be issued food coupons that could be used only at the government-operated commissary in your local community. You could choose not to use the coupons, and go to a private supermarket and pay cash, but you would be paying for the food coupons anyway. It would be hard for most to pay cash for food at the private supermarket when it seems free at the public commissary.

That is, of course, not what we do. Consumers take their cash and go to the supermarket of their own choice. Supermarkets compete with each other by offering choices in terms of variety, quality, convenience and price. And for those people in our society who cannot afford adequate food, we give them vouchers - called food stamps - which they can spend anywhere they like. The government sticks to the task of making sure everyone can buy food, and the food industry takes care of putting food on the shelves.

Why not the same thing with schools?

Closing in on Summer

Like the other Mae, when May is bad, she's very bad. But when she's good...

Bias Rears Its Familiar Head

It's just so tragic when a self-identified objective reporter finds information that makes the Dems look bad, isn't it? NY Times reporter Stephanie Strom was looking into the Obama-ACORN connection and expressed sadness about where it was leading, writing in an email to a source:
“Am also onto the Obama connection, sadly. Would love the donor lists. As for helping the Repubs, they’re already onto this like white on rice. SIGH!”
Bad Repubs, bad!

It may actually be helpful to have these sorts of comments come out because it provides some sunshine. It's helpful when reporters identify their own bias upfront. We're going the old-fashioned way of broadsheets. My understanding is that in early newspaper history there wasn't much pretence of objectivity. Sort of like now.

Is the "sunshine" (i.e. clarity) that came out of the Notre Dame scandal, specifically the rapturous cheering of the ND students which asserted that ND is a thoroughly secular school now, good or bad? It's good in that it will give impetus and strengthen more orthodox Catholic schools like Stuebenville and Ave Maria; it's bad in that it will make Notre Dame that much less salvageable.

But back to Ms. Strom's sturm and drang: her bosses at the Times killed the story lest it hurt Obama's election chances...

May 19, 2009

Today's Word Among Us Meditation here:
We might wonder how St. Paul was able to turn his prison cell into a place of worship. If you had just been falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned on account of doing God’s work, would you stay up all night singing his praises? You’d be more likely to give God or the jailer a piece of your mind, protest your unfair treatment, and then withdraw to sulk. When our lives take a turn for the worse, it can be difficult to even understand God, let alone praise him!

But Paul responded the way he did because his life had been steeped in prayer. His primary desire was to please the Lord. A few years after this incident, from yet another prison cell, Paul would write, “For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). He had learned how to be content in any circumstance. It was Christ who gave him the strength to endure any situation (4:12-13), and not only to endure it but to rejoice and glorify God in the midst of it.

You may or may not be in jail right now, but each of us has had some situation in our lives where we may feel bound. Illness, unemployment, and unresolved family issues are just a few of the things that can lock us in prisons of anger or frustration. Don’t give up! If you do anything, try your best to praise God for his goodness and his mercy! He can lift you up above your immediate circumstances if you try to release them to him. Remember his promise: “They that hope in the Lord will … soar as with eagles’ wings” (Isaiah 40:31).

“Lord, I lift my heart to you in praise and thanksgiving. Help me to rejoice in you through all of life’s circumstances, good or bad. May I bless you at all times.”

Bruni's Words

Carl Olsen articulates my confusion over Carla Bruni's recent revelation:
Bruni may have been born and baptized Catholic, but her approach to living has been, to use her apt words, profoundly secular, as described in this December 2007 news piece:
Bruni herself says she does not mind her man-eating reputation. "I’d rather be called a predator than an old flea-bag. Predator — it’s not that bad for a woman."

In February this year she remarked: "I’m monogamous occasionally but I prefer polygamy and polyandry. Love lasts a long time but burning desire — two to three weeks."

Nor is she shy of talking about sex. "Sex, very pleasant. It’s one of the advantages of getting older... age increases sensuality and the pleasure," she has said
But, amazingly, not a word about Mass, studying the Catechism, considering life in a convent, or praying the Rosary! Are you as shocked as I am?

So there you have it: a baptized Catholic who seems to have had flings with nearly every famous man she's ever met is saying she is now—just now! only now! just today!—a lapsed Catholic because the Pope's/Church's refusal to condone the use of condoms is going to cause AIDS to spread further in Africa.
Where Christianity always becomes a scandal is exactly at the point - here's a shocker - at which it becomes a cross. I say this only out of a recognition of my own distaste for the cross. In other words "it's all good until somebody gets hurt," meaning the potential, in this case, for self-inflicted physical hurt by promiscuous sex. Spiritual hurt and spiritual death seem completely uninteresting to her. Body uber alles. Better Africans go to Hell than get HIV.

As long as the Pope taught something without seeming repercussion - i.e. preaching chastity while she (or we) enjoy unchastity - "it's all good". But should he wield political influence, in getting in the way of a condom-a-day for everyone, then he's just an awful person.

I suppose it was ever thus. We constantly wish to put Christianity in a separate box, away from the public square. The scary thing is that she self-identified as Catholic until so recently.

Contrasting the example of Bruni-Sarkosy, I was so moved by what Lydia said in the reading from the book of Acts, chapter 16, recently:
And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, she said, come and stay at my house."
Even after Baptism, she doesn't proclaim herself a believer so much as hope the Apostle does. She cedes to him the right to call her what he will. I daresay she's St. Lydia now.

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

A man who came to interview me for a publication the other day pointed out that I was never bored. I hadn’t thought of that before, but it’s true: I’m never bored. I’m appalled, horrified, angered, but never bored. The world appears to me so infinite in its variety that many lifetimes could not exhaust its interest. So long as you can still be surprised, you have something to be thankful for (that is one of the reasons why the false knowingness of street credibility is so destructive of true happiness).- Theodore Dalrymple quoted on "Anecdotal Evidence"

Liebling, like any writer worth his prose, was an inveterate prickly individualist. He lived up to one of his own sentences, now taped to the Cartier-Bresson photograph of Liebling hanging above my desk: `The way you write is well, and how is your own business.’ - Patrick of Anecdotal Evidence

If you think you have nothing at your disposal to do the good works which God is demanding of you, then you might have forgotten your health. It is His Blood in your body--and that is everything you really need. - E. of Sancta Sanctis

I was as distressed as anyone by the rock-star reception by Obama, just as I would if Bush or any other politician were greeted in such a way at a Catholic institution. We've had enough problems with sucking up to civic authority over the last few dozen centuries, haven't we? It was creepy in a "Justice Sunday" kind of way. - Amy Welborn

Of course, the protests are going to embarrass elite university professors, even when those professors are strongly pro-life and disapprove of Notre Dame’s awarding of an honorary degree to a man who, by rescinding the Mexico City Policy, now has American tax dollars funding abortions in foreign countries. The protests began among the ordinary people and they are couched in the vulgate language of ordinary people: Shocking! Loud! Graphic!—how could the sophisticated not find them vulgar? - Joseph Bottum at First Things

Like many pro-choice politicians, Barack Obama says he wants abortion to be safe, legal, and rare, while doing everything in his power to advance it...It would be like Ronald Reagan at Notre Dame saying that he wanted to take down Soviet communism while simultaneously subsidizing it with taxpayer dollars throughout Eastern Europe and the USSR. It would be like Reagan calling on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall while sending in cement trucks and rolls of barbed wire. - Paul Kengor quoted on Ignatius Insight

The few bishops who have stated that their understanding of canon law moves them to declare that abortion-rights supporting Catholic politicians have cut themselves off from the Eucharist are accused of "politicizing the Eucharist." Which never made any sense to me. If a bishop said, "You're a Democrat. You can't receive Communion." That's politicizing the Eucharist. But focusing on a position and support for organizations that provide and promote abortion is not about politics. It's about moral issues that do happen to have a political dimension. It's the same with Obama and Notre Dame. Is the criticism being leveled because Obama is a Democrat? No...does anyone really think that if Rudolph Giulani or Arnold Schwarzenneger were invited to serve in the same role, that those protesting Obama's role would be either silent or cheering? - Amy Welborn

The other day I was watching "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, and Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, came on from Washington to talk about health care. A reporter on the set, Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times, asked a few clear and direct questions: What is President Obama's health-care plan, how would it work, what would it look like? I leaned forward. Finally I will understand. Ms. Sebelius began to answer in that dead and deadening governmental language that does not reveal or clarify but instead wraps legitimate queries in clouds of words and sends them on their way. I think I heard "accessing affordable quality health care," "single payer plan vis-à-vis private multiparty insurers" and "key component of quality improvement." In any case, she didn't answer the question, which was a disappointment but not a surprise. No one answers the question anymore. - Peggy Noonan

The easiest way for your children to learn about money is for you not to have any. - Katharine Whitehorn

May 18, 2009

From Ham of Bone on ND

From Ham, mentioning how Obama's message was Orwellian:
"The message that President Obama delivered in his speech at Notre Dame was: morality is immoral. Pro-life is the extremist position, not a moral position. Yet we should compromise and work to reduce abortions. Where's the compromise between life and death -- and why work to reduce the number of them occurring if there's nothing wrong with them?" -Rush Limbaugh
Ham continues:
Also, while riding on the train into NYC today, I saw the following headline in the New York Post referring to Obama at ND: "Into the Lions' Den." Which is about as evil a phrase as I've ever come across.

For My Bro-in-Law Who's Always Callin' "Hoax"

Snope Dog E.

If you're tired of the scams then Snope is the name
'Cuz I don't play those lame old email games
I get five a day and they tell me that it's real
but it turns out they're not and it makes me wanna squeal.

CHOR: 'Cuz you know I'm the Snope dog
and I'm always callin' "Hoax!"
'cuz my homies don't stay real
and I gotta correct the folks.

Let me set it to you strait y'all
Cuz you make me want to holla
you won't type
Gets me hot unner the colla'


'Lizbeth is the queen of the chain email
she hits the Forward button like she's gettin' out of jail
Won't go to for love or money
so I holla's HOAX, oh it's just too funny.


"Don't dial 876!", "You gotta see this"
"Forward to your friends" and don't nobody miss
But the Snope Dawg's on the watch and I'm gonna holla Hoax
if you don't check your facts and get yer butt out to Snopes.

In Praise of Rain

There's something ineffably homey about a rainy day.

It makes me crave homemade soup and a comfy chair on the protected front porch that offers a front row seat for nature's drama.

I especially love the very beginnings of rain, its imminent threat. The world becomes hushed and calm. No one's outside but the birds. There are no lawn mowers or leaf blowers or any of the detritus of modern audial life.

It's not unlike a very minor illness which gives you leave to spend your time in sedentary pursuits like reading and introspection. It gives introverts an even playing field since even extroverts must be more introspective when the rains come.

I like that the dream-state rain begets, the sort of healing, disassociative state. I like the dark purply clouds, the rustling wind with the smell of water in the air and the first tiny droplets of rain. I like the way it makes you feel hungry for poetry and solitude. When it pours, there is nothing nicer than reading in the bookroom while the rain pelts the roof.

Because No One Else Is Talking About It...

...I'll talk about Obama at ND. (Joke.) A few thoughts....

  • Seemed to go according to script, with the exception that the crowd was a bit more friendly than I expected (almost a Democratic National Convention type of crowd although I was relieved when they started chanting "We Are...ND" and not "Yes We Can!" or "Obama!").

  • Didn't catch the whole intro, but Jenkins more effusive concnerning Obama than I thought he would be. I think Catholic university presidents are generally incapable of feeling chastised except by the Magisterium of Newsweek and the New York Times. But they do want to avoid hassle & potential alum dissatisfaction...

  • Where the students are concerned, if it was a teaching moment, the teaching seemed to come mainly from President.

  • First time I've heard of conservative protesters interrupting someone's speech. High ground = lost?

  • The big uproar made was probably the right thing despite the fact that in the short run it's not pretty. Every media outlet covered the speech whereas without the controversy no one but C-Span would. Unlike the State of the Union, there is no rebuttal or response. In an age where reading is dead and only pictures matter, the pictures sadly say: "Magnanimous reasonable-sounding president" and "unreasonable mean protesters". The only way to won in this situation is not to have invited Obama in the first place. American Catholic Church big on circular firing squad concept. But in the long run it seems likely Catholic universities won't want the headaches involved in honoring pro-choice politicians.
  • May 15, 2009

    Concentratus Interruptus

    One of the things that's been true about the work world as I've experienced it is that concentration is not something highly valued, if at all. Not by ourselves and not by our bosses. It’s broken more often the $10 Rolex I bought on 34th & 5th Ave last summer.

    It is what it is, and I notice the tendency in myself. When I’m walking out and about, those in their cubicles seem quaint with their furrowed brows and low centers of gravity. They can’t possibly be doing anything important. Easy marks. You almost want to interrupt them. At the very least you want to give a shout out to your psuedo-homies.

    But when you’re actually trying to do something it’s sort of annoying, be it work-related or not. Especially when you realize the interruption is so unimportant that it simply must be a masked cry for help from the bored or socially deprived. Then you feel bad for your abruptness. Because you can't hide body language.

    An example occurred recently when two strangers who work for a company acquired by ours were laid off. Apparently our bosses were involved in this, and no doubt it was a tough decision for them even if it was about five years overdue in strictly business terms given the redundancies. Surely there was a “writing on the wall” aspect to it for those unfortunate fellows.

    My boss came over to tell me about it yesterday and it meant about as much to me as Pelosi’s flap with the CIA. It was interesting for about the first two to five seconds.

    Then today we get an email from a higher-up expressing regret that these two-folks-whom-I-don’t-know-from-Adam were let go. But here’s the kicker: my boss comes over again and and asks if I have any questions about the note sent out. I thought it had to be a trick question. Did he forget we talked about it yesterday?

    Let's recap: two strangers working three hundred miles away are let go and it results in no less than three communications. These are the times that I feel like I live in an alternative universe, as if I'm missing some fantabulous "caring gene" that my boss carries but I lack. I overheard him asking the same question of a co-worker who (soothingly to my ear) also said "no".

    In the words of Yogi Berra "you can't make it up". (If Yogi didn't say it he should have.) And, of course, I recognize the inanity of being irritated about a thing so minor as to defy description.

    Bishop of Columbus Diocese Weighs In

    I was a bit surprised to see our bishop weigh in on the ND controversy, in part because of his illness and in part because he seems pretty laid back about these matters, but he did so in his typically irenic and fair way:

    The Concern at the University of Notre Dame
    By The Most Reverend Frederick F. Campbell, D.D., Ph.D.
    Bishop of Columbus

    Undoubtedly, you have heard or read about the controversy surrounding the decision of the administration at the University of Notre Dame to invite President Barack Obama to give the commencement address and to confer upon him an honorary degree.

    It is important to understand why such a decision has occasioned such controversy. As a Catholic institution, Notre Dame lives its academic life within a particular context. It seeks to pursue truth, in its many and various disciplines, with the understanding that all truth ultimately derives from God and is oriented toward the enhancement of human dignity from conception to natural death and beyond. Every human person possesses a destiny that stretches into eternity.

    President Obama, in his political career, has repeatedly voiced his support for abortion “rights” and for embryonic stem cell research, both offenses against human dignity. The Catholic Church opposes such offenses, not because of some special revelation or particular creed, but because these things are matters of basic natural justice. In 2004, the Catholic bishops of the United States agreed that no institution that claims the name Catholic should honor proponents of such activity by inviting them to speak on prestigious occasions or to confer upon them honorary degrees. President Obama was not invited to an academic seminar or a simple discussion on moral questions. The invitation to give a commencement address is often a privileged occasion to propose policy or to encourage certain principles. An honorary degree is given to individuals, not only to recognize their achievements, but also to indicate that their lives and work exemplify the ideals of the institution.

    The Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, John D’Arcy, in whose diocese the University of Notre Dame lies, has cogently reminded the university of how its invitation to President Obama undermines its responsibility to its Catholic identity. I believe that Bishop D’Arcy’s decision not to attend the commencement (for the first time in years) is a proper one and morally courageous. I pray that Our Blessed Lady, under whose patronage the University of Notre Dame was founded, will assist by her prayers the university’s more authentic understanding of its identity as a Catholic institution.
    As someone has said on Fr. Z's blog, "He is not only on the right side of the issue: he has the right arguments and he strikes the right tone. This letter is proof positive that it is possible to be both pastoral and firm, clear and yet nuanced, strong and yet not strident."

    Some on Fr. Z's blog recommend writing thank you letters, which, I don't know, strikes me as a tad presumptuous. He's the shepherd. I'm not sure it's my job to try to influence him one way or another in a disciplinary matter that I'm not directly involved in, or to thank him in what cynically looks like a ploy to "reward good behavior".

    It does look like the force that will unite the bishops is an overstepping by the less-than-orthodox community. Fr. Jenkins certainly provided a text book case of overstepping.

    Sowell's Latest

    Thomas Sowell has always struck me as a very wise man, but his latest book Housing Boom & Bust has signs of bust about it.

    I searched the book on and got no hits on "securitized", "CDO" and nothing about Wall Street or leverage that mentions the huge bets made on that housing industry.

    Perhaps I'm looking for something the book title doesn't promise. He wanted to write about the housing boom & bust and not about what happened with it and because of it. But my point is this: who cares if house prices boomed and busted? That's part of what happens to every asset in every age since the first economic cycle east of Eden. What makes this one killer is the huge leverage that brought down banks and economies from here to Iceland, instead of just causing foreclosures in the 5% of American households who couldn't afford their house payment.

    I hope that Sowell, who is one of the biggest truthtellers around, isn't letting his desire to (understandably) scorch those who brought on the housing bust - such as Fannie, Freddie, easy credit - obscure larger, more important issue. We've learned about the dangers of trying to put everyone in a house and so that is, now at least, relatively uninteresting. We haven't learned how to label and market securitized assets.

    Maybe I should check out Meltdown by Thomas Woods at the library and see what he has to say...

    May 14, 2009

    Diamond of the Green

    He carried the bat like a cross,
    heavy balsamic wood
    the tool of the trade
    keeper of the livelihood
    and you could tell by the way
    he checked his swing
    he wasn't one to be messed with.

    Like Shane he came to town alone,
    unlettered, without fancy men
    or body guards
    public relations operatives
    or press secretaries.
    He looked the rugged individualist
    as if carrying the burden that all men
    must go to the plate alone.

    He of tall socks and tall timber
    was cool as a young Lou Brock
    strong as an old Frank Howard,
    the village smithy from the Lehigh Valley
    playing outfield for the IronPigs.

    The pitcher writhes after
    ball meets bat: igniting, soaring,
    carrying beyond the bounds of respectability
    over the 405 sign,
    a sure sign of authenticity.


    John Mayberry

    "He’s got a lot of potential,” This is a good time for him to take off as far as making the major leagues. With the talent he’s got, there’s no reason he can’t play in the big leagues.” – Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, March 6, 2007. More here.

    Tale of Two Divas

    Camille Paglia opines:
    Having followed Madonna's career with enthusiasm and then disappointment for the past 25 years, it's difficult for me to avoid making comparisons. Madonna and Daniela (seven years younger) are both theatrical Leos who were born in provincial obscurity, began their careers as dancers and became singers and major impresarios of their own troupes. Madonna remains the most visible performer on the planet, as well as one of the wealthiest, but would anyone seriously say that artistic self-development is her primary motivating principle? She is too busy with Kabbalah, fashion merchandising, adoption melodramas, the gym, and ill-starred horseback riding to study art. Madonna can still produce a catchy pop song, but she hasn't expanded her artistic vocabulary since the 1990s. Her concerts are glitzy extravaganzas of special effects overkill. She leaves little space in them for emotional depth or unscripted rapport with the audience.

    Compare the two photos, above. Daniela, holding her 2007 Latin Grammy award, is, despite her excitement, warm, open and observant. Guess what: Daniela, unlike Madonna, actually recognizes the existence of human beings in the real world outside her ego. She has a graceful, natural, ripe womanliness (she has two grown children and recently became a grandmother), but there is often an undercurrent of something boyish, mischievous and subversive. Energy, spontaneity, humor, candor and hospitality are leading values for Daniela onstage and off...

    Now behold Madonna, arriving muscular and veiny-armed at the Vanity Fair party after this year's Oscars in Los Angeles. Trying to be fair, I am not posting the horror candids of a skeletal Madonna in gym rags, nor am I showing her glassy-eyed at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Awards last year, when she was reeling through a bad pre-divorce patch. But Madonna, like Joan Crawford or the late Marlene Dietrich, has become a mask whose eyes see nothing but itself. Her life, for all her globe-hopping, has become rigid, predetermined, suspicious and claustrophobic. Despite her spiritual talk, Madonna is a voracious materialist and status-monger who is as addicted as Leni Riefenstahl to her triumph of the will. Persons have become mere instruments to her -- which is why she cannot communicate with them heart-to-heart. And it is why Madonna's creativity has tragically withered.

    Zippy Declares Pax

    Some of the torture posts are actually pretty interesting. I especially found Zippy's thread so, coming a day or two before he declared a Pax Zippata.

    What's interesting to me in the torture debate is to see how a hermeneutic of continuity can be maintained between different church eras. I suppose it's just the development of doctrine at work, a form of which we've seen elsewhere.

    In a case of Prot v. Prot (the term 'Prot' meant endearingly), we have these two comments:
    Speaking as a Protestant, it seems to me that the so-called "purification of memory" has been carefully attended to in the case of Catholic-Jewish relations, where the Church was _far_ less directly involved, and has been rather neglected in Catholic-Protestant relations.
    ... to which came the response:
    As a self identified Protestant, and as a matter of both courtesy and charity, I respectfully request that you read Catholic documents before you criticize the Catholic Church's history. Both before and after the publication of this Bull every Pope, Council, Doctor of the Church or Saint who explicitly taught the faithful on morality of torture taught that torture is immoral.
    (Now to parse the difference between "Speaking as a Protestant" and "As a self-identified Protestant"...)

    I was amused by Lydia McGrew's "You think the way they got robbers and thieves to confess was by playing loud music to them in the middle of the night?" It's hard not to see the 1300s as a rougher age, though Richard C. attempts to make the case:
    The unvarnished truth is that neither you or I know hardly anything about Innocent IV and 13th Century Lombardy. We do know that this Papal Bull is being used by some Catholics to morally justify torture and to call into question the validity of Vatican II and the Post Conciliar Popes. We also know that it is being used by anti-Catholic bigots to justify their hatred of the Church.
    Commenter Billy cut to the chase:
    My personal opinion is that the Church is indicating acts of torture are immoral, and there are indeed acts of coercion that are immoral, and therefore (surprise: apparently new formulation of doctrine) some past practices were damnable and ought to be damned. And at the same time the recent teaching is not YET trying to indicate that all forms of coercion are of themselves, of their very nature, intrinsically immoral , (as, for starters, some acts that would not normally rise to the degree of harshness that we associate with the term torture) - the new position is trying to leave some space for further development, further elucidation as time goes on. That is, while She may indeed wish to condemn as evil all torture, She does not at this time wish to declare as intrinsically evil all forms of coercion because the subject needs more development.

    As a result, She treads somewhat lightly on dealing with a broad category that includes torture but also includes acts that do not arise to "torture". Calling the entire category "intrinsically evil" without distinction seems beyond what the Church wishes to teach at this time.

    May 13, 2009


    Amy Welborn shoots & scores in illuminating the double standard in which if you are pro-life you are dismissed as being "political" while if you favor Democratic policy positions you are in tune with Catholic social teaching. She says what we already knew but articulates it so well.

    Why Danielle Bean wears a brown scapular.

    Disco Hayes, the blog of a MLB pitching prospect:
    I am called Disco because I throw in the 70s.

    I gave myself the nickname, which is a true sign you have "arrived". I've done some extensive research and the demographics are really showing people are liking the nickname. 42 to 58-year-old males associate with the era and think it adds a cool-factor to an unassuming white guy with not a whole lot of "wow-factor". The most alarming news and perhaps the best sign the nickname is working is with 21 to 34-year-old females. Prior to my nickname, only 0.3% of this demographic had heard of me...

    Hopkins in New Yorker

    I lapped up an article in The New Yorker about Gerard Manley Hopkins. It was crack-cocaine-ish in seeing Hopkins portrayed outside the friendly confines, in a stridently secular publication. (Of course the modern lie of objectivity is to think only the enthusiasts are biased. And because agnostics aren't enthusiasts, they assume the Olympian heights by default. R.R. Reno wrote about something similar recently in the context of the academic world.)

    I’ll say this for article, they do cut to the chase. The things we wanted to know about Hopkins – the things of intense interest – they deal with. No sidelong glances at minutiae they recognize the telling and memorable anecdote.

    One in particular was that Hopkins recognizes in himself a similarity to Walt Whitman in sensibility which sort of gave him the willies: "I always knew in my heart Walt Whitman's mind to be more like my own than any other man's living. As he is a very great scoundrel this is not a pleasant confession."

    Without having yet read the book, Hopkins may seem to prove the rule that the good die young, having sacrificed his happiness for the pains of a clergydom he never quite fit.

    An excerpt from the article:
    But [Hopkins] is always concerned that this love of nature might turn into pantheism, that we might forget the Creator in the creation. That is why, in "God's Grandeur," Hopkins moves directly from praise to chastisement: "Why do men then now not reck his rod?" In "The Starlight Night," he magically evokes the stars - "The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!" - before reminding us that heavens are not Heaven: "Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize," which we must buy with "Prayer, patience, alms, vows."....

    For the poet, life is multiple, pied and dappled, endlessly various and alluring; for the priest, life is dualistic, the stage on which good and evil do combat for our eternal soul. Ultimately, Hopkins has no doubt which of these visions must prevail: the poem ends by invoking the "rack" where "thoughts in groans grind," the punishment awaiting the damned....Hopkins was aware of the gulf between his artistic vision and his religious one, and of its costs. That is why he was so ambivalent about writing and publishing his poetry, to an extent that seemed masochistic to his friends.

    May 12, 2009

    Belmont Abbey College Mag

    Most college magazines - especially for non-alumni - are about as interesting as the omni-present torture discussions going on in the Catlick blogosphere, so imagine my surprise when I couldn't put my free copy of Crossroads down, the magazine of Belmont Abbey College. Darn them, but I'm going to have to donate now just out of appreciation for the quality of the material and effort that went into it. In this Spring '09 issue, Jody Bottum and Michael Novak are interviewed and it's all very interesting. It doesn't appear to be online unfortunately.

    Fiction for a Tuesday

    Because it's been, what, almost a week? You know what they say, "use it or lose it":
    In school, Claude managed the trick of feeling like the most special person in class and the most unremarkable.

    Perhaps the paradox could be understood in light of the specialness of his extreme unremarkability although at the time he thought surely his unremarkableness was caused by an undiscovered exceptionalism, rather than deserved. It was only with time that he began to see that the undiscovered could be fictional.

    He was transfixed and enraptured by stories of underachieving and comforted by the mere existence of other underachievers. (They didn't have to do anything but exist. To have company is to not feel alone.) While his classmates read of great football heroes or scientists, Claude combed the scant literature on the non-doers.

    There were, of course, the great ones like Scott Putoff, Julie Harbor, and Jonas Reboot. Cap "Sleepy" Ralston and Kurt Bedwetter. Rick Hobo, Bob Denver, and "Lazy John" Littleton.

    But his great love was baseball, especially lifetime .220 hitters. They were the truly hungry, they who lived on the edge line between life and death, between the majors and the minors. Many of them could well have been overachievers although he could never tell for sure since no one is born with ".220 hitter" birthmark.

    AAD Strikes Again

    You can't go to Drudge today without noting the criticism of Pope Benedict in Jerusalem. It seems a particular virulent outbreak of AAD so please don your masks, stay indoors, and limit travel....

    Apology Addiction Disorder Spreading in Israel

    JERUSALEM--A recent outbreak of the modern affliction AAD or "Apology Addiction Disorder" has been noted in Israel during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

    Researchers say Pope Benedict triggered the latest manifestation of the disease by failing to apologize for deciding to be born in Germany. This despite the fact there is more anti-Semitism in France now than Germany.

    AAD is a malady that is not restored by an apology but in fact "feeds" the condition, making the aggrieved party desirous of further, more intense apologies not unlike the sex addict desires increasingly risque encounters.

    In the late stages the disease shows itself by a desire that people even distantly related to some past crime show fealty by crawling on all fours and singing Brenda Lee's hit I'm Sorry.

    Some say the apology of Pope John Paul II in 2000 made things harder for Pope Benedict, since expectations ran high.

    Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

    There are, perhaps, two main and very different intellectual fears. The first is a fear of opportunities squandered, of truths unnecessarily missed. The second is a fear of deception, of falsehoods wrongly cherished. It is crushingly obvious that the present dictatorship of relativism is profoundly motivated by the second fear. Aside from the natural sciences, we give students little more than training in critique. Loyal to our critical principles, we can barely squeak out the slenderest of affirmations. Fearful of living in dreams and falling under the sway of ideologies, we have committed ourselves to disenchantment... No philosophy or faith worth its salt endorses a witting love of illusions. It’s the truth we want, not fantasies. Yet, there is something desperate and loveless in the triumph of suspicion. Love falls. As the urgent, searching bridge in the Song of Songs reminds us, love risks the dangers of deception and betrayal. We cannot fall into the embrace of truth by way of cool, dispassionate critique. If we fear that truth will elude us, then we must search and seek with reckless desire... A pedagogy dominated by the critical spirit of our age will invariably make faith seem scandalously committed. What we need, therefore, is to rethink our educational self-image and subordinate the critical moment to a pedagogy that encourages the risks of love’s desire. - R. R. Reno on First Things

    I prefer to call it the Holy Flu......if it causes changes like this: "Jenky also suggested that the Sign of Peace should temporarily take on a new expression. Instead of a handshake or an embrace, parishioners are advised to interact with a 'nod of the head or a smile.'" LET THERE BE SUNG TE DEUM! - Bill of Summa Minutiae

    One of the major problems with cancer treatment is that the treatment itself is generally harmful to at least some extent. That changes the whole complexion of the case, to my mind. The term "side effects" can begin to sound like a euphemism if we're talking about chemo with a very high level of toxicity. More like, "Am I obligated to take poison--real poison--in the hope that it will kill the disease before it kills me?" I can think of plenty of cases where the answer would be clearly, no, though it might not be wrong to accept the highly toxic treatment, either. - Lydia McGrew on Apologia concerning the moral obligation of treatments

    For me, frankly, it depends on how much the treatment is going to cost. If it is expensive cancer treatment that is going to leave my husband tens of thousands of dollars in debt - then no. I don't think so. Give me the pain meds though! - Elena of "My Domestic Church" on the topic above

    "I'm just asking, and I'm not equating this with choosing torture, but when we sin, aren't we by definition choosing evil that some good may come?" Yes. My impression is that this fact is what motivates comments like the Anchoress's. "I risk hell every day for paltry goods, and I'm supposed to feel bad about saving the lives of millions?" - Q & A on Tom of Disputations

    Right -- we have all sinned, and need to work to repair our relationship with God afterwards. That is one thing. It is another thing to sit comfortably here at my computer and declare that should a certain circumstance arise, I WILL sin, and to oppose legal restritcions against that sin on that basis. Sin is a human failing, and we trust that God will forgive us our sins. We profess that every week. That doesn't mean we plan to sin. - commenter responding to previous Tom K comment

    I've read a number of secular commentators say that "Islam needs a Martin Luther" -- though I suspect that what they actually mean is, "Islam needs a Bishop Spong" -- and it is certainly the case that both for political stability in the Middle East and for Christian missionaries to have more of a chance to reach that part of the world, it would be of great help to us as outsiders if a much more "liberal" and "moderate" form of Islam were to take hold. And yet it grates against me to wish against others modernizing trends which I oppose when applied to my own faith. Though I do not think that the Koran is the word of God, it hardly seems right to encourage people to take what they believe to be the word of God and change it in order to make it fit the spirit of the age. - Darwin Cathlic

    If the President really wanted to reduce the abortion rate, while keeping the thing in question legal, he could take a lesson from success in reducing the rate of cigarette smoking: massive taxes on it at the federal, state and local levels...combined with carpet-bombing media outlets with PSAs demonizing the product. If you tax something, you get less of it. If you subsidize it, you get more. But guess which is the actual policy of this administration? - commenter on Amy Welborn's blog

    Who the hell pays any attention to Michelle Obama's arms and are these people going to get an actual life any time soon?... And the caption to the photograph - in the Washington Post: "The first lady's much-discussed preference for bare arms has proved to be a transformational cultural symbol." Show of hands. Are you guys discussing Michelle's preference for bare arms? As you walk about the culture these days, are you detecting the transformation? I'm up for noting any transformative cultural symbolism of an African-American First Couple, or the generational shift and such, (although I'd rather talk about policy) but really. This is embarrassing. Or should be. - Amy Welborn

    I was working hard, hard, hard on confronting myself with this faith, with the whole thing, and asking myself over and over, "Do you believe this?" and answering myself yes and then answering myself back again, "Well, then..." The pastor preached powerfully about the love of God. He wandered a bit before he got there, but when he arrived, he would not let us turn from it. How much God loves us. Do you know? Do you see? Look at the Cross. Look at this gift he gives of himself in the Eucharist. Let the Good Shepherd love you and care for you.Let him. - Amy of "Via Media"

    The Power of the Non-Sequitor

    In debate, the most common (and seemingly effective) technique seems to be to attribute to your opponent to something he doesn't support.

    For example, those who supported the bank bailout are accused by some of being pro-bank, in favor of the greed and the errors they made, instead of simply not wishing bank mistakes to death-spiral the whole economy.

    Another example is that misnomer "choice". Some supporters of a right to an abortion seem to believe what I did at the age of five: that babies just "happen" to a man and woman who spend a lot of time together. There's no sense of acknowledgement from them that's there's a choice to be made before conception.

    A third example is illustrated by a ND law professor:
    To understand what the controversy surrounding Obama's [Notre Dame] invitation is about, it is important to understand what it is not about. Most important, the issue is not, as some commentators have suggested, whether Notre Dame should welcome, engage, debate and explore a wide range of viewpoints.
    Yet another example is the reason Bill Clinton was impeached. Many seem to think it was because he had oral sex in the Oval Office. The word perjury is rarely heard, let alone acknowledged.

    May 11, 2009

    Preach it Rem!

    Heard Rem Rieder of the American Journalism Review say it was unthinkable for newspapers to get any sort of bailout from the government because it would be the "death of credibility" to be partially funded or owned by the government. So true...that's the way I feel about NPR and PBS.

    MacArthur's Park Explained!

    It was the best of songs, it was the worst of songs. It was a song of striving, a song suggesting a pure, unadulterated uphill battle. In this it is not unlike so many of the '60s songs, all minor keys in the age of Pyrrhic victories and Quixotian dreams:
    Spring was never waiting for us, girl
    It ran one step ahead
    As we followed in the dance
    Love is in control, or at least is always one step ahead.
    Between the parted pages and were pressed,
    In love's hot, fevered iron
    Like a striped pair of pants
    The Word was made flesh and was pressed into the confines of skin and word, such that it became as seeming ordinary as a pair of pants.
    MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
    All the sweet, green icing flowing down...
    Someone left the cake out in the rain
    I don't think that I can take it
    'Cause it took so long to bake it
    And I'll never have that recipe again
    Oh, no!
    A depiction of Original Sin. The Garden of Eden has been ruined, seemingly without remedy. Adam and Eve left the cake out in the rain and it feels irredeemable to them ("I'll never have that recipe again.")
    I recall the yellow cotton dress
    Foaming like a wave
    On the ground around your knees
    The birds, like tender babies in your hands
    And the old men playing checkers by the trees
    Adam recalls the idyllicisms of the Garden before the Fall. Man's reason is still intact, shown by the old men playing checkers.
    There will be another song for me
    For I will sing it
    There will be another dream for me
    Someone will bring it
    The first intuitions that there will be a savior, a redeemer, that "someone" from outside the system being Christ.
    I will drink the wine while it is warm
    Foreshadowing of the Cup.
    And never let you catch me looking at the sun
    And after all the loves of my life
    After all the loves of my life
    You'll still be the one.
    The sun here refers to the things of this world. This stanza is about fidelity and faithfulness of Christ to the Father.
    I will take my life into my hands and I will use it
    I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it

    I will have the things that I desire
    And my passion flow like rivers through the sky.
    Could refer to Christ; the things He desires is our love.
    And after all the loves of my life
    After all the loves of my life
    I'll be thinking of you
    And wondering why.
    The "why" referring to our sin and ingratitude?

    May 10, 2009

    A Few Glorious Hours

    Spring was never waiting for us, girl
    It ran one step ahead
    As we followed in the dance...
        --MacArthur's Park

    The dew still clung to the grass as I headed out to bring back Sunday coffee & breakfast, a formality before setting up camp in the still-chill of this spring morning.

    I consumed the Sunday paper with its tasty melange of articles, enjoying the pleasure of progress that paper affords with its separate sections. I had that old desire to cut out the good stuff for collection purposes ("Between the parted pages and were pressed...")

    One of them felt especially winsome and wise to this non-fisherman:
    The lifelong challenge for fishermen, moreover, is not so much to drink the most beer or escape the domestic ball and chain, but to increase knowledge and technique, to become more consistent with the passage of seasons and to earn the satisfaction that comes from mastering a skill.

    Not that beer, great escapes and an occasional trophy are especially toxic byproducts.

    Fishing, even when not catching, offers pleasures.

    Nothing is amiss, for example, with the sight of ospreys and eagles, the feel on the skin of a warm sun on a chilly spring day, the sense of peace that a lazy summer sunset can bring, the pleasure of uninterrupted conversation, the bonds that grow during contented times among buddies, particularly when those buddies call their fishing partners “Mom” and “Dad.”
    Part of what I love about a good Sunday paper is its hint of infinity, that is something that can’t be completely consumed. There is always more of it to read, even if just examining the minutiae of the baseball box scores.

    Soon my wife left for church (I’d gone to a rare Saturday vigil Mass). I relaxed into the stirrups of my lawn chair and smoked a cigar and drank a Sprite. The privacy was of the quality that I didn’t have to go inside to pee and the sun was of the quality to create a pleasing drama of this perfect space. Even kitsch could move me; the fake humingbird figure caught my eye and I retrieved the cellphone camera to take a picture against the vast backdrop of lilac bushes and their resilient green. Oh so fullsome the leaves already!   All that sweet, green icing flowing down...

    Sun-fueled Wanderings

    A Sudden Right-brain Coup

    Songs with tunes that sound so fine
    when lyric matters not, but rhyme.
    And poems with words of dressy bliss,
    who cares if they and meaning kiss?

    * * *

    Missing Sarton Time

    "Die to self" the saying goes
    'tis easier in practice,
    For if in reverie it grows --
    at the time it tastes like catcus.

    May 09, 2009

    May 08, 2009

    It's Early But....

    ...sometimes the paranoids are wrong. At least so far Obama doesn't seem to be interested in limiting freedom of speech or religion.

    Wake the Kids, Phone the Neighbors

    In what might be the first documented case anyone changed their mind about anything after debating it on the Internet, we have this surprising case (in the thread, not the post).

    The general rule in Internet debate is that the vitriol slung against the side you were leaning towards only solidifies that side for you.

    I'd felt sure that Zippy's "Jonathan: This is the part where you say 'OK, that seals it.'" would be sufficient to provoke a negative reaction in Jonathon, but lo & behold the latter had enough humility and respect for the truth that it allowed him to say:
    OK, that seals it, at least with respect to Fr. Harrison's argument, which is all I had in mind. I don't see how his position can be saved if he doesn't make the distinction between ancient practices and medieval practices, because I can't make out any coherent distinction on his account between confession-extracting torture and information-extracting torture... On the Catechism alone, one could make the distinction that I have outlined, but given Fr. Harrison's take on the Catechism, I can't see any consistent way for him to make it out.

    I'm convinced. Fr. Harrison appears to me to be relying on special pleading.
    Humility is sort of charismatic.

    High-larity Ensues

    Examples of editorials masquerading as news items are legion, especially in a left-wing organ like the LA Times, but you have to almost laugh at this piquant bit of bias:
    President Truman signed the first declaration of an annual National Day of Prayer, and President Reagan established it as the first Thursday in May.

    Under Bush, the day was a political event, confirming that religion was a core tenet of Republican politics.
    It reads like parody; I must've missed the headline back in '01 or '02: "Bush Declares National Day of Prayer is Now Political and Confirms that Religion is Core Tenet of Republican Party".

    May 07, 2009

    Say It Is So, Manny!

    [Update: Okay so I feel guilty now in my haughty assumption as to what Manny did or didn't know. Innocent before proven guilty, yada, yada. It's possible that Manny wasn't aware it was a banned drug.]

    I'm always fascinated - in this age of science - how it is that folks like Manny Ramierez, Bill Clinton, Roger Clemens and the like deny culpability when there's a stained dress or a positive drug test.

    It's seems a sign of contempt. It's gotten so it's almost refreshing when someone actually admits they did steroids. You want to praise someone, anyone, for admitting they did anything wrong when caught red-handed, or in this case syrnge-handed.

    Most come up with wild excuses such as "the butler did it!", er, I mean "the doctor did it!", or, in Clinton's case, parsing the word "is".

    Maybe the root of it is the lawyering of America. Rich ballplayers can easily afford to hire agents and lawyers and the mindset of the lawyer begins to rub off (very easy in Clinton's case, being a lawyer himself).

    The attorney mindset - the equivalent of their Boy Scout oath - is this: admit nothing and offer possible explanations other than the truth. Sow reasonable doubt because, you know, in the legal system truth is an ancillary player. If truth were a ballplayer he'd be hitting .202. In double-A. Not exactly an impact player.

    "Doctor error" seems the hot new excuse. Perhaps part of Obama's stimulus package should've been a bail-out of poorly performing sports doctors. Banks and car companies make mistakes and they get all the money.

    It's funny how the doctors never error on the side of hurting the ballplayer's performance. Which might be by prescribing estrogen by mistake. We'd sure hear about that pronto. That doctor would have a lawsuit slapped on him faster than the player could grow breasts.