June 30, 2009

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

The bottom line is that in this [ethical] crisis, we're talking about financial and government pressures forcing compromise for large healthcare systems that include acute care hospitals. Is it time for the Church to look at getting out of the acute care hospital business? Nelson writes:
"The primary role of Catholic health care should be to provide support for the culture of life and to evangelize the secular culture....It is increasingly difficult to perform those roles in the acute care hospital setting. In order to survive financially, Catholic hospitals are entering into complex and nuanced arrangements with non-Catholic providers who are involved in providing reproductive services that are incompatible with Catholic teaching. The cumulative effect of all this activity is to undermine Catholic teaching on abortion, contraception and sterilization. In addition, health care is becoming less personal and more reliant on technology. Perhaps it would be better to divert the resources of Catholic healthcare to alternative ministries. This could be a series of hospices to support the dying or those in a persistent vegetative state. It could include a system of family health centers that would provide Natural Family Planning instructions and birthing facilities, as well as general health care of families, clinics in underserved areas that could focus on preventive care, rehabilitation facilities and centers for the care of the mentally ill and handicapped."
-Amy Welborn commeting on and quoting Dr. Leonard Nelson's book "Diagnosis Still Critical"

Noticed:"Brave New World" now refers to scientific techniques from the novel, rather than its hedonic people and amoral managerial class. - Kevin Jones of Philokalia

[Andrew] Sullivan, who has worn dozens of hats in his lifetime, is truly unique. He stands astride the worlds of politics, journalism, theology, foreign policy, and applied obstetrics like the Colossus of Rhodes. - Christopher Badeaux via Terrence Berres

Every animal offers you a different side of love. Especially dogs. Every class of dog is like a denomination of church. - Andy Griggs via "Sancta Sanctis"

The Gov thought the grass there was greener,
So he gadded to gay Argentina;
But returned from that place
With much egg on his face
And a chastened (if not chaste) demeanor. - Bob of Trousered Ape

Is Penthouse Forum on Twitter? They should post 140 character stories. "I never believed your tweets until last summer when I delivered -" - Phil Albinus

Confession: as I criticize media Jackson overload, I sing "human nature". - Kathryn Lopez of NRO

Grant kids internet access levels based on ability to construct & transliterate passwords from Greek participles - Kevin Jones of Philokalia

Fiction for a Tuesday

I was happy as a pig knee-deep in slop that cold day in April, surrounded as I was by the books of Jude Wanniski.

I held W's modestly-titled The Way the World Works in my hands and trembled with joy for I was a born systematizer and he offered simplicity via complexity (or was it a fix for complexity via simplicity?). I wouldn't feel the same until years later when I discovered Aquinas's Summa at, ironically, a bookstore in St. Augustine, FL.

I wondered if this thirst for order was perhaps excessive. Maybe I was just another closet conspiracist like those who find solace in the Tri-Lateral Commission. Undeniably I was perpetually at war within because my systematizer self constantly fought with personalist side. I was too soft to deal with the hardness of systems while too hard to deal with the softness of contradiction.

I reasoned that the characteristic of a good systematizer was detachment, which the philosopher George Santayana had. Distance, detachment was said to allow one to see clearly but how could one be detached from one's fellow creatures as was said of Santayana? Yet those with a personal stake ended up starting from the desired end and working back, a thing abhorrent to the scientist.

It would be unsystematic for me to leave this novella unfinished, unless I experience the Beatific Vision telling me that it is but straw. It must be wrapped up with a tidy ending, preferably something with the hue of humor. And so I shall try...I am tempted here to the reader as "gentle" but for the fact that I've read too many novels that say, "gentle reader" and it seems patronizing and non-scientific for not all readers are gentle. But let me get back to my story forthwith and not try the gentle reader's patience any longer.

There were clues to this "theory of everything" I was seeking and perhaps a significant one was as close as my refrigerator. I happened across a fellow systematizer from long ago who gave me keen advice. His name, familiar to all, was Benjamin Franklin and to him was attributed the line, "Beer is proof that God wants us to be happy." The theory of everything in a nutshell is that God loves us.

June 29, 2009


It's hard to anticipate the flashes of a lightning bug using a cellphone camera, but here goes:
I believe that wee point of light you see in the lower left quandrant is, in fact, one of the June superstars.

Blog News

For Elena's mother: R.I.P..

Former Anglican Fr. Jeffrey Steel seems to have swum the Tiber:
I am completely confident in my decision to become a Catholic and will happily write what I hope to be encouraging posts about the theology underlying my decision and the joy I experience at being a Catholic and many other topics including issues in apologia of my move.


A National Review parody:

Sorry for the Absence of Late....

...I've been hiking the Appalachian Trail. Governor Sanford was supposed to join me...

Habemus Muttemus

Routine is valued in times of stress, as was experienced when, apropos of nothing we carried our dog on a bedsheet from an upstairs room this week. His time had come. The ticker tocked. The last sand granule in the hourglass had fallen. It was very sad.

Lots of reminders during the week; scriptural mentions of the “good Shepherd”, a locution that previously never recalled those of the German variety. All the sewn-in daily traditions were sundered, even those such as the touching way he barked outrageously when I ran by the front door in his agedness - why did I not take him on the run too? he barked. I thought, but did not tell him, that he was too old now and could not keep up. I preferred to leave him his illusions of youthful grandeur. So now to run by an empty front door was an almost physical pain even while knowing the Church teaches us to direct our greatest sympathy to humans, not animals. The experience seemed to conflict head and heart: heart telling me that this God-made creature had interwoven himself into our lives, head telling me to understand that the big danger these days is moving animals too far up the hierarchy, such as a substitute for children.


My sense is that God likes artful coincidences since they bolster the faith of those already with faith without compelling or forcing it on those who don't. (Then it wouldn't be faith, after all, but knowledge.)

For example, witness the case today in which we go to the animal shelter and boldly choose a dog already 46 in human years and yet we do so because...well, I'll get into that, but the artful coincidence is that we got home and found in the paperwork the dog's birthday also happens to be my own, June 22.

Another example is how my wife saw a rainbow shortly after our dog's death, after being teased for years by her son concerning the "rainbow bridge".

And then the Mass readings Sunday caught my eye: "God did not make death...He fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them."

Our sister-in-law's dog, who'd come to visit us, felt a wave of grief in my wife and cried in telepathic sympathy.

I take from all of this that God cares about what affects us.

So we headed to the Humane society on Sunday and I was trying to work up feeling for Great Dane mix who was a year and a half old but who seemed a bit fragile. They call the breed "heart-breakers" for their short lives and to start off 1.5 years in the hole seemed a lot.

There was another dog there, a shepherd mix named Buddy, purportedly 3 years old which to me was pretty much a deal-killer. My internal pain-minimizer strategizer said that we should buy a young dog, even a puppy, and thus put off the inevitable as long as possible. It's perhaps an accountant's sensibility, somewhat reminiscent of economist Paul Krugman's experation (of which I am sympathetic) at the overkill concerning the Michael Jackson coverage. "Doesn't this country know it has bigger problems?" he asks.

But one of the things I love about my wife is her capacity for optimism which I, as a pessimist, tend to regard as a capacity for self-delusion. Specifically in this case the belief that the next dog death will be easier. So here we are at the Humane society and we soon learn that Buddy, whom we have our heart set on, is six years old. My head immediately said "no". I haven't felt such cognitive dissonance since that Cops episode when the hot young girl turned out to be a guy in drag.

Like a game of chicken, neither Steph or I blinked. I figured if she can take the pain again so soon then so can I, especially since she suffered more pain. Thus pride goeth before the fall. Call it our own version of M.A.D. - mutually assured destruction.

It was irrational but then love is irrational to the self-protective. What is rational, after all, about creating creatures who you know ahead of time will literally crucify you? Ah but it is rational if rationality is defined as throwing away your life in order to save it. God defines rationality...and love.

Steph is the real deal when it comes to animal welfare that I think she was looking at it more dog-centrically. I was looking for the dog to minimize our pain, she was looking for a dog to minimize its. And she thought he wouldn't be adopted due to his age and shortly euthanized. (That he wasn't netured yet seemed to suggest a lack of confidence in his adoptability by the humane society.)

So, in the immortal words of Marty Brennaman, "it is what it is". Or, to paraphrase a famous phrase, Habemus Muttemus.

June 25, 2009

Pope John Paul II on Animals

Recap here:
John Paul II quoting from several verses of Genesis spoke of the Divine creative action of the Holy Spirit and said: "...in the account of the Creation, the way in which man was created suggests a relationship with the spirit or 'breath' of God. And one reads that after having created man from the dust of the earth, the Lord God "breathed life into his nostrils and man became a living soul".

The Holy Scriptures thereby make clear that God intervened by means of His breath of life or Spirit to make man a living soul. In man there is the "breath of life" which came from the "breath" of God Himself. In him lives breath which is similar to the very breath of God.

Then the Pontiff spoke of the creation of the animals and said: "In Genesis, Chapter 2, where there is reference to the creation of the animals, there is not given a similar account of their relationship with the divine spirit of God as is given of that relationship with man. From the previous chapter we learn that "Man was created in the image and likeness of God".

"However, other texts state that animals have the breath of life and were given it by God. In this respect man, created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living creatures. And so in Psalm 103* there is no distinction between man and beasts when it reads, addressing God: "...These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat** in due course. That thou givest them, they gather: thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good."

The psalmist continues: "Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth." The existence therefore of all living creatures depends on the living spirit/breath of God that not only creates but also sustains and renews the face of the earth."

This affirmation of the Pontiff has aroused enormous interest the world over and has overjoyed many thousands of Catholics who for many years have been deeply concerned that the Church should reiterate and give back to animals the proper respect and moral dignity due to the animal world which is often discriminated against and long been considered inferior to that of men.

"This discourse by Pope Wojtyla is very important and significant" explains the distinguished theologian Carlo Molari who for many years has been Professor of Theology and Dogma at the University of Urbino. "It is a 'sign of the times' because it demonstrates the Church's desire and deep concern to clarify present confused thinking and attitudes towards the animal kingdom. There should be no need, but the Pontiff in reiterating that the animals came into being because of the direct action of the "breath" of God wanted to say that also these creatures as well as man are possessed of the divine spark of life and that living quality that is the soul. And are therefore not inferior beings or only of a purely material reality."

"If one goes on to contemplate that the word "animal" is derived from that of 'anima' or soul, one understands, as the Pope explains, that animals are indeed "touched" by the first principle of life which is the Holy Spirit. But the intention of the Pope when he defines the animals as being composed of both body and soul is not only meant to convey their value in a metaphysical sense, but above all also in a moral sense specifically that we must respect all the creatures of God. Clearly therefore because the animal possesses the same "breath" of life as man, men must demonstrate proper and total solidarity with the creatures that surround him. He must keep in his mind that there is an animal life around him and at the same time must try to love and respect it. And perhaps the profound and true message of the Pontiff is that we must live in close harmony, and with love towards animals and all of nature surrounding us."

June 23, 2009

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

Some people know they're on vacation when they're spread out on a poolside lounger drinking a pineapple cocktail. I know I'm on vacation when I'm huddled behind some bushes, hiding from my kids, so I can smoke a cigarette in the middle of the day. I like to smoke on vacation because it's the only thing that really distinguishes a vacation from any other day of breaking up fights and wiping bottoms, albeit in a different location. - Betty Duffy

One sometimes speaks of the proper time in life to read certain writers: no Hemingway after twenty, no Proust before forty, that sort of thing. Less attention is given to the best time of day to read a writer. The literarily omnivorous Edmund Wilson said he was unable to read the Marquis de Sade at breakfast. (I shouldn’t think he would go down too smoothly at bedtime, either.) Off and on in recent years, I have found myself reading George Santayana—the eight volumes of his letters, his three volumes of autobiography, his essays, and his one novel, The Last Puritan—directly upon arising in the morning....Not only did the happy anticipation of returning to him serve as a reward for getting out of bed, but Santayana’s detachment, a detachment leading onto serenity, invariably had a calming effect. Reading him in the early morning made the world feel somehow more understandable, even its multiple mysteries, if not penetrable, taking on a tincture of poetry that made the darkest of them seem less menacing. - Joseph Epstein on Santayana via Patrick Kurp via Bill White

[Rita] Dove has the supreme confidence that comes to most people only after a night of binge drinking, when they clamber up on a bar and launch into “Danny Boy.” - Logan's review in "The New Criterion" on Dove's poetry

The tattoos you see on female ankles today started among strippers. The earrings you see on men started among homosexuals cruising the bars. The baggy pants on boys started among prison inmates. So, whereas culture used to flow from the top down, modern culture flows from the bottom up. Trends that had their origins in the sewer end up becoming mainstream. - Jeff of Stoney Creek Digest

The best Catholic authors seem to say, "Yes, God is present, but you will have to find your own way to him." They can give you hints, weave a little story that enigmatically points to God, a lamb in wolf's clothing, but stop short of saying, "I'll take you to him." Leave that job for the clergy. It's what they're trained to do. There have been bold and holy people in my life who said in the bluntest most unveiled ways, "I will lead you to God." But I was also ready to be led. I was asking for it. Begging for it. The most effective Catholic literature when I did not yet know that God was what I needed, did nothing more than suggest that there is an alternative. - Betty Duffy

Cooking is an art, and defending it in utilitarian terms shocks my conscience as much as defending Mozart because it makes your baby have a higher IQ. - Eve Tushnet

Twentieth century American men and women have never been especially puritanical, but before the 1960s, they could be broadly described as being in possession of a bourgeois modesty that the porn industry and Hollywood labored tirelessly--and successfully--to subvert. - "Diogenes", via Terrence Berres

Faith alone triumphs, and faith is hard, dark, stark. To place oneself before what seems to be bread and to say, 'Christ is there, living and true,' is pure faith. But nothing is more nourishing than pure faith, and prayer in faith is real prayer. "There's no pleasure in adoring the Eucharist," one novice used to say to me. But it is precisely this renunciation of all desire to satisfy the senses that makes prayer strong and real. One meets God beyond the senses, beyond the imagination, beyond nature. This is crucial : as long as we pray only when and how we want to, our life of prayer is bound to be unreal. It will run in fits and starts. The slightest upset -- even a toothache -- will be enough to destroy the whole edifice of our prayer-life. - Carlo Carretto (1910-88) from Dylan of "dark speech upon the harp"

Live from the Equinox...

....it's expressionistic Tuesday!

A case of nostalgia takes over when even pictures of rest stops are taken:

...on the way to beach a couple weeks ago, whereupon even the journey there takes on a glow.


Days long and soft as pigeon feathers glisten, listen, offer themselves up so generously like long vaginic legs. Thursday Eve gin'd and tonic'd me with plentiful muscular relaxers and pre-taxers, Guinness and rinse, rinse and repeat. Friday breakfast, then blur'd, frittered time till the short walk with Obi and hurry-scurry home for the 4pm departure to celebrate my sister's latest degree. Fatigue falls on Saturday and I slide into the hammock, vowing not to move come flood or high weather, and yet I do leave it to mulch the side and back beds and then later a dusk-run that filled with expiated stress. Sunday at alma mater church where the heart-softening process of Mass took place, even while it was punctuated with so many cringe-inducing Marty Haagen Dazs songs of such syrupy sweetness that one could feel the cavities cratering. Then a 2-day symposium that of necessity cut to a single day: the history of Miami, and what a joy it was, the sort of cocooning that I imagine philatelists feel. History, from this distance free of angst or woe, of political or religious controversies which soon begat thoughts of a return ala Douglas MacArthur... At 5pm the umbilical cord to mater was cut and on to the Father's Day celebration, one filled with joy and fun and which my sis provided us with great fodder given her seeming tall story of being in Vegas and being invited by the bandmates of Chris of Coldplay to join them for a drink while they waited for the start of a bachelor party. Did I mention, I told her, that I'd ran into his wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, last week? Then saw the movie Pelham. Monday morning I woke early and couldn't resist heading to St. Thomas More's day (and my birthday) at Sacred Heart, although St. Thoms More was, sadly, not even mentioned. Then a little mom & pop breakfast place with Mom & Pop, a place that immediately won my affection by the religious iconography ("Last Supper" pics, Jesus, crucifix, etc...). Then a 15 mile bike ride to the historic old homes on Dayton, then back home...'Twas a full day in a full weekend.

...on the Friday hike, Obi jumped in a lake.

June 19, 2009

He's Not Perfect


(Update: There are already 13,400 Google hits on 'flygate', proving the -gate suffix has jumped the shark.)

The Risin' Cost of Gettin' By

Gasoline`s in short supply
The risin` cost of gettin` by...
- Don Williams song
Well, this post's title is a misnomer because nothing in this post speaks of a necessity, nothing that is needed to "just get by". But one thing I'm surprised by is how we as a society have gotten so used to the idea of monthly charges. It leads to chronic underestimation of the true cost of things like iPhones, cell phones, cable television, satellite radio (although there is a lifetime plan), and other modern technologies. (One of the attractions of the Kindle for me was that there was no monthly charge.)

Monthly charges inflate the cost of your standard of living in a way that one-time purchases don't. They are gate-way drugs to debt. Sure, the monthly fees can be dropped in times of economic distress, but those losses are keenly felt. Who wants to go without internet service or cell phone service these days? And it's only because consumers put up with such plans and reward the purveyors of it, that they exist. And consumers put up with such plans because we can't afford otherwise. We're a nation of spendthrifts.

(A telling anecdote of our total inability to save: a twenty-something in town asked his girlfriend to co-sign on her own engagement ring. He failed to pay for the ring and now she's left with the debt. They've broken up.)

I remember how reluctant I was to sign up for the Internet because I was annoyed by the fact that you get charged every month for time immemorial. That is a very expensive proposition compared to a one-time fee. Paying only $30 a month for what was once free adds up to over $18,000 over a lifetime. That's one helluva expensive TV.

As this piece on the iPhone says:
"The phone cost is the least significant factor. Whether the 8GB iPhone sells for $200 or $400 subsidized or $400 or $800 unsubsidized only minimally affects your other out of pocket costs over two years."
Indeed the cost of a minimal plan over 2 years is $1440, not counting taxes and incidentals like a case, charger, etc...Pretty soon that adds up to real money. Just like with the federal government a billion here, a billion there starts to add up.

June 18, 2009

Random Thoughts

So, I tried to down more of the saccharine biography of St. Edward Kennedy. I collected a few groaners for review purposes even knowing it’s not worth to worry about it. The title is Last Lion after all, resonating as it does with Churchill. It's not the author's fault; it probably takes a hundred years after the death of the subject before biographies have a chance of being fair-minded. So I switched to the New Criterion article on the life and journals of Santayana and another on recent biographies of the fascinating Dr. Johnson and whether the cryptic “m.” in his journals refer to his bowel movements or masturbation. Tis all a bit unsavory, isn’t it? I should’ve stuck to fiction, such as Drood by Dan Simmons which I’ve now read as far as the free Kindle chapter will allow. Also read as far as The Rite: the Making of an Exorcist would allow, so those two are burning a hole in my proverbial reading wallet.

Walking about the pretty June streets today, I see Obama supporters calling for a grassroots energy plan. A paradox: a leader-supported-grassroots plan. The one pitching me gushed about Obama (I thought it sweet she’d thought that would sell me) and, Moonie-like, invoked his campaign saying “Yes we can!”. Certainly such enthusiasm for wind I’ve not seen since the last time I rolled down a window upon smelling a gaseous emission. I asked the tall pretty black girl if her group was for nuclear energy and she frowned and said “no!”, which, fairly or not, is my personal litmus test to tell if someone is serious about alternatives to fossil fuels.

But then I smile and think “utopians we’ll always have with us, and what is youth but idealism?” Illusions increase happiness. Sweetly they stand in the heat for hours, catching the eyes of passerbys and hoping for a fertile harvest of names and email addresses. It’s easy to see that man’s reason is fallen and compass astray given that a million unborn killed in the womb isn’t our greatest priority and that.even our dreamers don't have the imagination to see our youngest selves as worthy of protection. As the baseball philosopher/Reds broadcaster Marty B. says, "it is what it is."

The Hungry League

Occasionally (only occasionally), baseball is played when it's meant to be played - during the day - and sometimes I'll wander over to the ol' ball orchard on those days and take in a few innings of our minor league club the Columbus Clippers.

Watching from the outfield, I inevitably bond with the nearest outfielder given our similar vantage points. And inevitably this heretofore unknown player on the opposing squad ends up having an interesting story, in this case one filled with pathos and yet a sort of success despite the seeming failure.

Reading Dickens in Multiple Formats

From Ann Kirschner:

I decided to read Little Dorrit four ways: paperback, audiobook, Kindle, and iPhone.

It was often maddening to keep finding and losing my place as I switched from format to format. But as an experiment, it taught me a great deal about my reading habits, and about how a text reveals itself differently as the reading context changes. Along the way, I also began to make some predictions about winners and losers in the evolution of books.

Little Dorrit was an accidental choice, but I could hardly have done better. Its length, multiple story lines, 19th-century allusions, and teeming cast of characters helped me to test the functionality of different formats. Beyond the artifice of my reading experiment, though, please don't think that technology compromised my ability to appreciate this beloved novel, written in 1857 at the height of Dickens's power and popularity. Just the opposite.

I started with the paperback, reading in bed. "Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun. ..." As soon as I opened the book, there I was, encountering my name and my own marginal notations — "Sunshine that illuminates or blinds?" — from decades ago. That and the $2.45 price marked on the back made me more than a little nostalgic about my graduate-school days, when I first fell in love with the Victorian novel. In a book about how the present is haunted by the past, I was confronting my old self through the medium of the physical book, still in great condition, still fitting perfectly in my hands. How dare we think that anything could replace it? Impossible to imagine that any of these newfangled devices could last nearly 40 years. The perfume of old paper filled the air.

I could've stopped there.

...and Alan Jacobs:

It’s been about ten years since I’ve read Middlemarch — one of the two greatest English novels, the other being Bleak House, if you want to know — which means that it’s time to re-read it. All I had to do was decide what the delivery vehicle would be.

  • I have a Penguin Classics paperback, with a nice font and good notes.

  • I have a recent Everyman’s Library edition, which seems to be photo-offset from an old two-volume edition. Nice hard covers and a silk bookmark.

  • I have an old Oxford World’s Classics hardcover — small (4x6 inches) and blue, with very slightly yellowed pages — I picked up in Hay-on-Wye some years ago.

  • I had a Project Gutenberg version on my Kindle until I lost my Kindle, but I still have it available on my iPhone. (I could use the Kindle iPhone app or Stanza.)

  • And I could read it on my laptop, say with the Gutenberg text and Readability.

    This was actually an easy call for me. Want to guess which one I chose?
  • June 17, 2009

    Relapsing Synapses

    Looking out the window of a tall corporate-type building upon a roof undulating with held-rain shimmerimg under the influence of sun and wind and reminding me, in that puddle, of last week's ocean...

    Then the drive home from work today - alive, alive, oh! - with the good timey Ernest Tubbs-y music playing just as it did through the Carolinas on Saturday when time had been suspended and I could've driven forever, gobbling up highway and old songs like a glutton.

    "Every nation has evolved its own kind of relaxation. Germany's relaxation is packed with trips, drinking, and regrets. America's doesn't exist. In the States, they even invented rocking chairs, so you can keep moving while you're sitting still. France's relaxation is languid. Britain's is deceptive. There are always minds at work in the English and Scottish countryside, even if there is no Wodehouse or Waugh to describe them...

    A beach in Italy is not just a prelude to the sea...it is a catwalk, a gallery, a gym, a track, a restaurant, a market, a workshop, a sauna, a reading room, a place of meditation...It's a crowded space where some people go to be on their own. It's a theater of familial self-sufficiency." - Beppe Severgnini "La Bella Figura"

    Fiction for a Wednesday

    I want to start a novel in a meeting just to say I started a novel in a meeting. And what better time could there be? It's an environment made for all sorts of projects: novel-writing, novel-gazing, improving ones penmanship, sketching the skyline of New York, checking the tread on your shoes.

    Meetings offer a boredom level rarely seen in daily life. It's a flavor of boredom that is extraordinarly rich but, paradoxically, not in the least excrutiating. Indeed it is almost pleasant. Like love, it is a place where reason can rest.

    Various satisfactions attend me, like coffee, warm as a woman's bosom, along with the familiar rising and falling of familiar voices. There is even inspiration.

    "Any questions?" our moderator asks after each speaker despite the fact that there's never been a question in any staff meeting, at least that I can recall, except for the ones I throw in for comic relief. Frankly, the lack of questions bothers me, seeming as it does an unanswered call, a missed opportunity.

    "Who won the Belmont?" I ask Nancy, and after receiving the answer from Brian I apologize for the question's non-relevance.

    The moderator smiles and forgives me and later again asks the question "Any questions?" (which I figure ought count as a question). Time after time, he asks it, with the patience of Job. It's a God-like expression of hope, that this time there will be a question, that this time someone was actually listening. I walk away a new man.

    June 16, 2009

    Eau, You Have Cats!

    Funny, though if it were real to actually buy this stuff seems just somehow wrong, like making love to a mannequin:
    Click to enlarge. Source here.

    Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

    [Simone] Weil .. tragic, complex, cerebral, old school Euro intellectual militant and ideologically driven ideals needing to impose the world with conscience. Weil is a top down humanist.. Flannery O'Connor's a bottoms up perspective.. looking up for guidance and from grace. IMHO two very different perspectives.. but merge on perhaps a shared disregard for self. - Commenter on 'If Flannery Had a Blog"

    ...this is part of the problem I have with protesters of any kind. Part of me is offended that anyone thinks I will change my mind just because a few dozen, or even a few million, people are holding signs. This is true even if I agree with the position of the protesters. All the signs do is to tell me the protesters hold an opinion, like I should care; the signs are not capable of making a rational argument. - commenter Howard on Disputations

    The modern professional work environment often makes it much easier to intersperse work and leisure in a nearly seamless fashion. The same technology which makes it easy for me to answer questions from fellow employees in India at 11PM also makes it easy for me to pop up a web browser when my computer is taking to long to run a complex query and read an article from First Things, or to type out a blog post in the fifteen minute chunk of time I have before going to a meeting. As well as making our work more efficient, computers also give us more chances to recreate while we're working. - Darwin Catholic

    [In]The Choices We Made, women tell their stories of back-alley abortions before legalization...waxing eloquent... about the marvels of medical technology which moves abortion from a sordid, back-alley business to a efficient, sterile procedure...This "human face", this "beating heart", these "waving hands" were on the receiving end of that syringe of Lysol, or the gleaming scalpel. We must never lose sight of this fact. Clean or dirty, abortion has the same outcome: a woman is bleeding and a child is dead. - Mrs. Darwin

    "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man." -JFK, Pelagian - - Kevin Jones tweet

    A letter in today's Washington Post shows what we're up against. Note your reflexive reactions as you read it:
    Please tell me it's not true that President Obama ordered foie gras in Paris. I voted for him because he seemed like a smart, compassionate, down-to-earth man with impressive leadership and motivational skills.

    Eating a product that is produced by force-feeding birds until their livers expand to as much as 10 times their normal size is anything but kind and classy, and it sets a poor example for the American people, who are becoming increasingly concerned about animal welfare. I'm counting on the president to make America a kinder, more enlightened place, not a crueler one. This starts by supporting humane practices. -KATIE MOORE
    My own reflexive reaction was along the lines of, "Please tell me it's not true that someone wrote a letter to the Post complaining about President Obama ordering foie gras in Paris." - Tom of Disputations, full post here

    But no, it must be funny, because David is funny and hip. Right? Or maybe not; maybe he's actually a brackish, hermetically-souled guy who's spend the last twenty years going from table to table with a giant wooden grinder, asking anyone if they want some fresh-ground scorn with that. Say when. Or maybe he's about as edgy as a soccer ball, and exists only to remind people they were Edgy once, and hence must be ever-blessed with the gift of Wryness and Irony. With those shields we can never grow old, you know. - Lilkes on Letterman, via Terrence Berres

    The problem is that people really do care about nipples. They care so much about nipples that the Huffington Post devotes pages and pages of photographs to them when women accidentally (or, you know, against their will) reveal them to the public. In that way, there's no difference between the religious conservative who is scandalized by a bare breast popping up in the middle of his football game and a liberal Web site which devotes its resources to naked chicks. A woman's body part is a priority. Real women's issues, not so much. - Amanda Hess, also via TB

    Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money. - Jules Renard

    Writing is like a disease, you either have it or you don't. - Anne Groell (editor at Bantam Dell)

    I've been craving my grandma's ham loaf, with peanut butter and sliced pineapple on top for about fifteen years now. - Betty Duffy

    June 15, 2009

    Livin' on Hilton Time

    "Ospreys slept with their feathered plummeting dreamselves screaming through deep, slow-motion dives toward herring."- Pat Conroy


    It was irresistible not to seek out Jim Curley and his family while driving down in the steamy nether regions of the Old South. There is something other-worldly about farms in out of the way places, and even more so when headed up by counter-cultural Catholics like Jim. (I've wanted to meet Mr. Culbreath too.) It was humbling to meet him and his family; it almost feels like a Meeting-Better-Catholics-Than-Me Tour (last visit was with the Darwins). Or perhaps the "Catholic All-Star Tour".

    Jim's sense of place is so keen he named his blog "Bethune Catholic". It never would've occurred to me to name my website partially after my town. (Perhaps he started his blog soon after he moved there and so it was in his "frontal lobe".) If I moved to Manhattan tomorrow I might've named the blog NYC Catholic or something. As it is, I (obviously) didn't give the name or URL much thought, never imagining the blog would get more than a couple hits.

    Dinner at the Curley's was delightful. Both the food and company were good; it was very Waltonesque, and I think about how hard it must be to be counter-cultural without lapsing into cultishness and yet the Curleys seem so wonderfully normal and hospitable. Mrs Curley makes her own bread, mentioning "milling the flour" which sounds almost like a foreign language. The Curley visit inspired my wife to cook like she'd never cooked before. It could only be termed a conversion experience. During the ensuing seven days, we only went out to eat once all week, and that was my idea.


    I mentioned to the Curleys the uber-frugal Ham o' Bone, who has four young children and yet channeled his restlessness into hard work and hard savings towards the goal of retiring in a year at the age of about 45. That I'm willing to buy time off work, as I do, pretty much testifies to how the goal of retirement seems too distant for me to engage in too heavily. Sure I save in the 401k, but do no Ham o' Bone heroics.

    How will he pay for health care? Let Obama pay for it, or go without it (as we all did for centuries) are the answers I suspect he'd give. Whether he does or not, to even be able to entertain the possibility of retiring at 45 is a shocking thing these days.

    But then he's full of surprises. (How many Mary Karr fans are also huge fans of Rush Limbaugh?) He's working on David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest", a book I got half-way through during a six-year period ending about eight years ago. Now he's discovered Wallace's former girlfriend, poet and Catholic convert Mary Karr. Ham is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll find. (Which reminds me that a group of surly teenagers yelled at me as I ran past: 'Run Forrest, run!". Proving kids today are so movie literate as opposed to literary-literate. That movie came out fifteen years ago; they were probably three or four years old at the time!)

    Bone strikes me as someone too carnal, as in incarnational, to be a proper Protestant. The Real Presence seems a doctrine attractively visceral for someone so un-gnostic. He's not the type to be satisfied with less, and in that reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkins. But then Bone's rebellious streak, which I personally find delightful, is so pronounced that I can see how he'd have difficulty with the papacy. But the relation between the teachings can be seen from this excerpt from the Hopkins biography:
    "Doubt the Real Presence in the breaking of the bread - doubt that - and he would 'become an atheist the next day.' Yet, such a belief would be 'gross superstition unless guaranteed by infallibility.' One could debate a lifetime, he concedes, whether the Anglican or the Roman Catholic Church had the better claim to be called the Church of Christ. But surely God had to have made His Church attractive and convincing to the unlearned as well as the learned. In any event, Hopkins knows that he at least has looked hard at both sides of the controversy."


    The first thought as I returned to the supernatural clean sweep of sand and sea and sky of Hilton Head was to sigh and say, "what took so long?". Two years as the crow flies but such distance in travel time can seem longer.

    I wanted to run long with the perfect song playing in my head and three beers in me, all at the same time if possible.(I've heard of marathoners having a beer during the race, the four-hour marathoners that is.)

    Our odyssey normally begins, officially, after groceries Sunday which is after 10am Mass, which means maybe 1pm. We brought enough groceries this time to get us to Monday and so it's to the beach by 3pm Sunday - we've never got so much vacation in so soon! From seeing Jim & family and eating at his house, to stalking William F. Buckley's brother Reid Buckley. Er, well we tried to stalk his house at least without success. (He looked to be listed in the local directory but his house was ill-marked.)

    It's three pm Sunday and I'm a half-beat behind the beat, trying to catch up to the jazz ocean who'd been playing for long before I'd arrived. So needy I am, or spoiled, that the decade plus I've been coming here almost seems a part of my wiring, or rather a natural part of the unwiring I need to palliate the unpurged soul so full of the Indoors.

    Vacation means never having to say you're sorry for consuming beer, and so I suck down three fine brews in short order. From this vantage waves wrinkle up like a million dimples. The grasses on the humps of sand stand straight as altar boys while visions of Annie Dillard's prose dances in my head.

    "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" goes one of the best titles in recent literature and in a scandalously trivial sense I want to bury myself amid these sandy embankments from which the tall altar boy grasses grow and in which I can rest. I recall my Field of Dreams dream in which my suburban half-acre is covered not with Augusta grasses but run full with tall Gurney-hybrid corn, Jack & the Beanstalk tall, from which I would cut rabbit-like paths through the Robinson Crusoe vegetation.

    "Can you re-create it?" is the computer programmer's refrain when meeting an unexpected error (and, aren't they all unexpected?) and yet, in this context, "can you re-create it?" applies to a grandeur no artist can recreate, this being no error but its opposite. No painter's brush can communicate the breath of air, the gasp of brine, the clasp of sun. It's too wide for any canvas.

    Immediately it all comes back, that of reading the Pearce biography of Oscar Wilde under the influence of ceaseless waves. How rare do book and moment so perfectly meet, all the variables coming together like three cherries at the ten dollar slots. Fears shrink like frozen testicles under the glam lights of the Carolina sun - indeed with such assurety are civil wars begun. ("It'll be done in six weeks," I imagine them saying in Columbia.)

    In the foreground grows a profusion of waxy-leafed plants eroded to a foot or three in height. They undulate before the sparse grasses which lie before the heaping Sahara sands. Rabbits emerge from their warrens only to re-submerge in the opaque hidey-holes in the thicket. Occasionally a palm will just from the surrounding vegetation like a beleaguered school master, trunks covered by the brush version of island ankle-biters. The sky is painted with white clouds and dotted with animated white seagulls. Did I mention the sun? He beams even at 6pm with a generous benevolence.


    It wasn't long before the Curley eggs called our name. Those lovely light brown eggs, full of the aura of authenticity by their differences in size and color, were fried and scrambled Monday morning. Bacon, eggs, a real breakfast. None of this donut stuff. And dinners were pulled pork with fulsome, winsome salads, breaded shrimp another, jambalaya another... Yum.

    11am turns into 2, a swim, 3:30 a bike ride. The days feel precious, each one as fragile as one of those Russian eggs. I waste the morning reading non-fictional offerings like "One Nation Under Dog" and the politics behind the development of Hilton Head. Beaches call for fiction reading the way Rogers calls for Hammerstein and I've been an idiot not to lead with fiction and poetry since it's those things that always die on impact during work weeks. So I cleanse the palate with a taste of McNabb's more nutritious "The Body of This". A Travis McGee novel would be cool. It's ludicrous, but already on Monday I'm thinking that the Europeans have it right, that a vacation of only one week is an abomination.

    The rains come briefly while I'm biking and I go by the deserted beach camps except for the lifeguard who sings to herself, "all the leaves are gone...and the sky is gray."

    Earlier when it was sunny I rode by a woman standing up and reading a book at the edge of the surf. No bike or chair looked near her.

    I listen to the radio while biking, constantly tuning in new channels during the commercials. I hear a preacher man mention an old woman thanking God for her food and how someone told her that even if God wasn't thanked she'd have food and she replied, "but the food tastes better when I thank Him." Thank God for this vacation.


    I wake up early and watch the pelicans dive into the water and create little nuclear water explosions. The morning is special here, the water is lapidary as it laps on the shore. There is a soothing repetition, the ritual of water meeting shore.

    There is a solace in continuity and I suppose that's especially true for those of a conservative temperament, so there was a solace in seeing again at Mass - did I search even anxiously for them? - the Hahn family. It has an "all's right with the world" feel to it. For the umpteenth year it seems, or more accurately 16 years, the semper fidelis-ness ones were even sitting where they usually sit. While I miss the occasional year and don't attend every Mass when I am here, they seem to be here every year (unless they miss my years) and every Mass (unless they miss my Masses).

    It always feels retroactively "Godidential" (God replacing "prov" though the meaning's the same). I first heard him at this church, in person, after Mass. Later he would lessen my tendency towards clericalism, not to mention teach and edify me through his books. I recall a time, perhaps wistfully now, when a new Hahn book was a time for celebration.

    The parish has grown very traditional over the years and I had to smile when I saw the name of the hymnal was not "Glory and Praise" but "Ritual Song". If "ritual" has gotten a bad name in recent decades you won't find it here in this thriving parish in which even daily Mass garners a decent crowd.

    The priest mentioned that modern man tends to refute the law of contradiction, in trying to have things both ways, and it eerily reminded me of Bill Luse's piece on Terri Schiavo and how her opponents said that she died years before while simultaneously calling for her to "die with dignity", as if she was of the undead, a zombie as it were.


    It's 10am when I head down to the "beach office", my pretend office for the week. Vacations insist on the suspension of disbelief as much as films and novels do and offer the same promise: the return to "real life" with fresh eyes and experiences. You have to forget how brief they are, and forget the world of work and home in order to fully refresh. I've always understood the need of revelers to don masks on Mardi Gras (though without making it a license to sin since that just sets you back). You have to forget who you are in some sense in order to change or grow. Forgiveness, I read recently, is God's greatest gift and it is that which allows us to dare hope to be with Him in Heaven, that is, to dare hope to be saints, sanctity being merely the means to the end of experiencing the Beatific Vision. As Flannery O'Connor wrote, "The meaning of the redemption is precisely that we do not have to be our history."

    I love the smell of pine in the morning, in this case the new pine boards of the condo deck halfway between our place and the ocean. I'd have stayed longer on the balcony but for a/c blaring noise and hot air, though it has its moments. I like the Tuesday morn peace and quiet (except for the occasional crow whose screech wakes me from the start of a nap).

    The sun lends a translucent clarity to the proceedings; the dunescape looks mirage-ish, the greens shiny as emeralds. Despite liberal use of SPF15, my Irish skin has already acquired a sunburn. I switch to SPF30 and read the Gerard Manley Hopkins biography, hoping for some Wildean magic. Last night I'd enjoyed a fine dollop of Updike's "Widows of Eastwick". The author writes about how the Oxfordians in Hopkins's day feared nothing really mattered, while it's my source of concern that everything does.

    I recall a John Denver song that went, "the more people the more scars upon the land." Sounds almost misanthropic, especially in these days when devaluing the dignity and sacredness of human life is in the air and water. The early days of the environmental movement (combined with warnings about a global population boom) struck the wrong note, but today's environmentalists are doing a good job in emphasizing the preservation of the globe for future generations of humans.

    Beer o'clock has been scandalously late the first few days. 5 or 6 instead of the sun-kissed 2 or 3. There's something about a cold beer on a hot beach but I've started the week with brews on the balcony or deck. Location, location, location as they say. Tuesdays are great vacation days - you feel truly relaxed for the first time but still have plenty of time left. I always know I'm relaxed when tunes come to me with new lyrics, like the words to "North to Alaska" as this: "Goin' south to Carolina / Goin' south to Car-o-line."

    Despite Sunday and Monday being two heavy running and biking days I've still got surprising amount of stamina. Sprinting down a stretch of vacant beach to the Fenian's "Black 'n Tans" playing in my ear, I think of another tune, that of the late Jerry Reid singing in "Old Dogs" about "hopin' that my heart don't stop" while hoppin' all over the stage at an advanced age. I wonder how many years I can still do this sort of once-a-year interval training, how many years can I still give into unbridled excess. I think, naturally, of Michael Dubruiel while I do the running equivalent of downing five shots of pure grain. Better to wear out than rust out I figure.

    It's probably that time again, time for the obligatory mention of beach fashion and such. Got to keep the blog ratings up you know, and Ham o' Bone will be displeased without a reference such that he can say, "talk slower". Tender readers may want to advance to Wednesday. Speaking of advancement, human progress seems something of a misnomer since human nature doesn't change, and yet I'm always tempted to become a progressive when I see the continuing inventiveness of the young female in showing off her attributes. In this particular case, there are apparently now "swim" suits that expose the side of the wearer's breast, a sort of side ventilation. Who knew? The white orbs that pop out on both the top-front (breast) and bottom-back (buttock) provide a pleasing symmetry and artistry. God knew what he was doing with the human female. Since the Supreme Court is all about finding rights that don't exist, I'm wishing they'd make themselves useful and declare the right to non-concupiscence.

    At night we watched part of the film Rendition, a $5 DVD, after failing to engage with another five dollarer, "Be Kind, Rewind". "Lost in Austen" is the final offering, set for Thursday night.


    So it's Wednesday and there's still time to properly slow down though I speed up in order to get there. The perfect vacation finishes finally in boredom, which makes you appreciate work again, though I've never quite reached that point. Perhaps a two-week, European-style vacation. Today I'm thinking about how to improve daily life, such as run before work and/or pray better.

    Long bike ride with Steph to Sea Pines. Later I come back to hike the local preserve and to serve as a blood donor for a batch of mosquitoes thick as thieves:

    On the way back I cut through a no-trespassing zone and get a sharp look from a woman on a cell phone. I get paranoid and think she's alerted the authorities - the lifeguards - and so I take off my black hat to throw 'em off the scent.


    It's ALIVE! Went into the ocean and found a curious thing - fish. Like Mexican jumping beans I came across a bunch of fish popping up all around me, little silver flashes too quick to view. I stayed stock still in order that they may surface even closer than the two feet away that they already had, but no matter how hard I concentrate I can't see the little devils, just a flash and a splash. Oh for the pause button. The spectacle quickly attracted a pelican.

    Later I spied a large red-tailed hawk perched in a palm tree about the same level as our balcony. He sat on the branch for about ten minutes or more. Then he either found a dead rabbit or returned to the fresh kill. He lugged it to a shady area like we would a suitcase on rollers, though with more effort. He proceeded to eat it, head first.


    In a book about Samuel Johnson and the art of reading it seems that way back in the 18th century there were predictions of everyone writing and no one reading. I suppose the advent of blogging makes that more prophetic. It certainly seems, sometimes, that more people write poetry than read it.


    You can't walk down the street these days without a mission statement so over a couple beers I came up with this one for the vacation: "Leave no beer behind". Americans drink 22 gallons of beer a year and I want to do my share.

    I've been lately obsessed with Charles Dickens, particularly after watching the BBC production of Little Dorrit. A biography refers to his stuff as poetical with a comic edge which, to me, is the definition of good writing. No wonder he's the best selling English author.

    But what about his own life? In 1865 he was in a horrific train accident and I wonder if his writing was ever the same. It's as if his writing comes almost to a halt, a sort of reverse of St. Thomas Aquinas whose writing ended after seeing a scene of great good (a vision of God) instead of the great evil Dickens witnessed. Dickens died on the fifth anniversary of the accident, one of those little Victorian ironies that seemed to happen more then than now.


    Vacations are weight-bearing pillars in which you don't want to put too much stress on them even while recognizing that it can't be any other way. It's in my DNA, I think I come by it from my great-grandfather and Uncle Bob. Eric Weiner writes that beaches, palm trees and sunshine come with their "own inherent pressures," that they scream: "Be happy, God damn it!" A good vacation is a piling up of instances of wonder, such as I felt while gazing up at the tall canopies at Sea Pines or while tooling around the beautiful gardens outside Lawton Stables.

    There's no need to run Roomba on the beach, cleaned each night by the agents of wind and waves. Wiping the slate. A signor crest of green land abides the shoreline in careful fealty. The sands, in-breath, the sea-surf runs at angles: rush, sea, rush, calm the battering heart. The sun in the '90s, the equatorial sun, melts the newspapers, leaves print in my hands like dreams.

    A country song comes on the radio:
    "So girl I can't buy you a big diamond ring
    No house on the hill full of life's finer things...
    But baby don't think that I don't love you."

    And I thought it an answer to prayer, as God's song to us. Though he is infinitely rich we can't have our appetites satiated in this life.

    Jesus was not a rugged individualist however. In the garden of Gethsemane,
    What if -
    after His blood-sweat -
    He told the angels, "no sweat
    Hey I'm God,
    don't you know?
    I don't need your
    I can do it alone."?
    Jesus was not a stoic.

    The waves are calm today, and it's only at rare times so far that you can body surf. The ocean is omni-present but retains the right to provide nice wave action. It's amazing in June how much quality beach time you can get even as late as starting at 4 or 5pm. Chalk it up to the nearness of the summer equinox.

    On a whim we decide to go out to an 8PM dinner, a steak dinner at Alexander's. Great view of a local waterway and even better food.

    Finally a robust dream life appears, like a coral reef restored after the algae of work has been destroyed. Yes, Europeans have it right. A week off is a travesty, an insult to body and mind. You need one week to relax and de-charge and a second week to restart the batteries. Earlier days' off seem frittered away as long weekends, as helpful as those are. The exercise level is great down here and I do wonder if the modest amount of exercise at home, ought be doubled or trebled back at home.

    I would I had a greater sense of gratitude. Psalm 98 says let us "sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done wondrous deeds!" How often do I do the opposite and instead sing the same old song to Him while expecting Him to perform new wondrous deeds?


    Ominous, this day, standing in such close proximity to that former ally but now cruel foe: Friday, our last day down here.

    We begin with Fox 'n Friends, which reminds me of our trip to New York last year, cereal, and the relaxation of limbs still pleasantly stiff from yesterday's riding and swimming.

    To Pickney Island today, and early, before the temps do us in. A day of sheer happiness, reminding me of our trip to the green spaces of hot Busch Gardens. We see the "Ibis pond", a rookery of hundreds of the white alb'd birds. We see a gator and other wild things before heading back to the car and visiting the Coast Museum, a restored plantation. At the store inside, the New Testament in Gullah!

    Back at our plantation, I see workers digging holes in the noonday sun. Madmen, Englishmen, and bearded 40-something blue-collar guys. At least the latter gets paid. One carefully places no less than eleven orange warning flags around a hole probably a foot diameter. Four flags at least. Six flags, good. But 11? That's what God does for us in warning us from danger. You'd have to be blind to step in that hole, which is probably what God must think.

    On a recent bike ride I came to a Baptist church and looked inside. There was a large bible open half-way through with a large gold cross in front of it. It looked like the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. It's not either/or of course; the Mass is the liturgy of word and sacrament. In the Byzantine liturgy it's made more explicit; the priest circles the church with the bible before which the people bow and then later the gifts, before which they again bow.

    It's 4PM and still firecracker-hot. Of hot weather we would not be cheated. Steph has had a wonderful time and exclaims, to my surprise, "I'm so glad we bought this place!" Quite a gift indeed. I feel as if in suspended animation here, as if time has stopped and in such an agreeably pleasant place.


    One day to read a thousand novels, encapsulate a year's days, ride the wind, learn her song, rediscover the meaning of life, outrun assailants, and in general, to leave it all on the beach.

    One day to fossilize the brine, incentivize the enterprise, particularize and sanitize, and return to sense through nonsense...

    One day in seven, one week in a deck of 52, Lady Luck smilin', an imprint of a Bass bottle bottom on sand, like landing on the lucky square in a game of Monopoly, like an accident of time, like a lottery winning: "you've got a one in 52 chance of being on vacation."


    He swoons
    like he's never seen the ocean
    like he's never seen the dawn break
    the black back of night.


    Leave no run behind
    I say and so submit
    my land-lubbing, bellied frame
    to the cursive shoreline.


    Perched (unlike perch)
    in the high-top can-vas
    tree house palmed with
    slanting sun restoring
    the slim but crucial
    silver of promise.

    Creation v. Redemption and Freedom

    In the '80s song by Tears for Fears, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World", one line expresses the goal of making "the most of freedom and pleasure." I sense the lyricist's version of freedom is different from the Christian's since true freedom is doing God's will, which involves self-denial.

    St. Paul writes that "perfect love casts out all fear," which one could read in a couple ways. One is simply read to "perfect love" as God and say that God casts out all fear, including our own. The other is that only perfect lovers are free from fear. which means none of us are (either perfect lovers or free from fear).

    Only the lover can truly appreciate freedom. For the rest of us, it may represent anxiety. It is only through God living in us that the gap can be bridged. If for the non-perfect lover freedom equals anxiety, for the lover, freedom is the only way to express love, maybe the only way to love. Without freedom there is no love, hence for the lover freedom is an unqualified good.

    Our creation is irreversible, our salvation not. The latter is false on a macro level of course: Jesus died for our sins and made Heaven a possibility for us. I think sometimes perhaps we should celebrate our creation more, that He knew us even in the womb and lovingly created us - it's a way to dwell and love Him more.

    But the answer seemed to come at Mass on Sunday, in the homily. In the Old Testament there was the proscription against blood, some of which continues to this day in the kosher laws. Every bit of blood has to be disposed of. Jews of that time believed blood was the life-force and to consume an amimal's blood would give you an animalistic life force, which was dehumanizing. Christ was aware of that, obviously, since He was a Jew, and intentionally made reception of his blood a way of giving us the divine life-force. The reception of his blood makes us, paradoxically, MORE human since we were designed to have God within us. (Made in the image and likeness of God.) To be distant from God is to make us less human since we weren't designed that way. It's not as though something foreign comes to us in redemption and salvation, but something intended in the original design. Creation and redemption are not so different.

    June 10, 2009

    Blog Posts Will Be Scarce The Rest of This Week...

    ...as I will be offline for awhile for vacationary purposes... :-)

    June 09, 2009


    Interesting photographs from Susana Raab. The little boy in the upper right looks a bit like Amy W's youngest. And from her blog, one interesting view on the way Americans are being perceived.

    No Spanning the Globe This Week...

    ...stay tuned for one next week... Through the miracle of modern technology, this post has been pre-recorded on Friday June 5th.

    June 08, 2009

    Strangely Addicting Site...

    Catty blog about Washington interns, commenter writes:
    I get a kick when hill staffers refer to what they do as, "the nation's business." If anyone ran an actual business like this it would go bankrupt...quickly. Oh wait, we are bankrupt. Carry on.

    On the plus side, this site is rich with unintended humor. Keep up the good work!

    June 05, 2009

    Iceland v. Greenland

    Iceland and Greenland are locked in a tie on Friday 6/5 as far as the number of donations to Zenit. (Who says one donation doesn't make a difference?)

    Impressive display by France. And Canada's kickin' ass! Singapore over the Phillipines was a bit of a surprise. What we need is a map that shows the number of donations relative to Catholic population. Not that it's a competition or anything... (i.e. please, no wagering).

    Clippings from Readings....

    A few offerings found lately from my read pile:

    From the New York Times:
    George Orwell took up a similar question in 1937. In “The Road to Wigan Pier,” he explains why unemployed folks reject the sort of frugality you prescribe — here, a wholesome, inexpensive diet in favor of 1930s junk food: “When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty.’ There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll all have a nice cup of tea! . . . Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the Englishman’s opium.”

    From Bill Luse in the latest Christendom Review:
    Even if, by the end, [Terri Schiavo] was blind (as we are told she must have been) and the shadows gone, they came to her daily and kissed her on the cheek, stroked her hair, and spoke to her, and maybe she heard them from afar, as a baby in the womb hears mother’s voice, and knew they were her friends because we all know when a thing intends good to us. There was no agony of waiting because time meant nothing. Time was her friend, too, the fluid in which she swam, as do we in our dreams. The soul, no matter the state of its temple, needs love, which is its life. I like to think that God reached down into the womb of her unawareness and fed her daily, bathed her in it every night, while you and I pursued the things of this world, wrung our hands over her pitiable fate, and, glorying in our own ‘awareness’, wondered if she should really be here.

    From "Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II's Theology of the Body (Granados and Anderson):

    Where love is missing, the question of meaning lacks the air it needs to catch fire. Later on, when Andrew asks for Teresa's hand, this harmony of mutual understanding restores the balance she lacked on that nighttime hike. It makes her receptive to the signal of love, which is even stronger than the signals nature broadcasts to us through the silent majesty of the mountains at night. In a word, the experience of love is the birthplace of wonder, the first step along a new journey toward the fullness of meaning. If we had to choose a scene that captures the essence of wonder, we might pick the moment when a child discovers the presents his parents have laid under the Christmas tree for him. Or the face of the
    mother who holds her newborn child in her arms for the very first time. No matter which picture we choose, though, the point is always the same: Wonder can be born only in the matrix of love. Even the amazement that fills us when we behold the marvels of creation makes sense only in light of the experience of love, as we will try to show in the following chapters of this book...John Paul's message to us, then, is that the source of wonder is not far from our everyday experience, but that it reveals its presence in the experience of love that accompanies every person from the cradle to the grave...Let's go back for a moment to John Paul II's warning against separating faith and life. All too often Christians have reinforced this separation by treating their own religious experience as a foreign body alien to everyday life. Some critics of Christianity have mistaken this caricature for the real thing and have complained that the Christian religion destroys happiness and spoils the enjoyment of life by teaching man to seek fulfillment in some faraway heaven. This objection overlooks the truth that man's quest for his identity starts from the experience of love. If love is the starting point of the human quest, then man depends on a revelation—the revelation of love—in order to find happiness. Because man's quest itself begins in love, this revelation does not blindside him like a thunderbolt out of the blue. Rather human experience is open to this revelation, tends toward it, and is an expectation of it—not in some future Beyond, but in the midst of our everyday involvement with the world around us. We don't need to escape mundane human life in order to experience love's radiance and light; we can bathe in its warmth right in the midst of our humdrum daily occupations. Now, Christianity, like love, is a revelation that man can't contrive on his own. Moreover, Christian revelation, like love, happens right in the midst of our earthly space and time: “And the Word became flesh..."

    From a NY Times review of the novel "Brooklyn":
    During a long-ago solo trip to Rome — a self-­assigned distraction after a difficult breakup — I remember opening George Eliot’s “Silas Marner” while sitting at the window of a high room in a cold albergo (once a nuns’ cloister) as strains of conversation floated up from the courtyard. Describing her protagonist’s new start in a new town, Eliot wrote of the relief that “minds that have been unhinged from their old faith and love” may feel on finding themselves in a “new land, where the beings around them know nothing of their history, and share none of their ideas — where their mother earth shows another lap.” In such a setting, she wrote, “The past becomes dreamy because its symbols have all vanished, and the present too is dreamy because it is linked with no memories.” For Silas Marner, this “exile” was self-sought. But for Eilis Lacey, the biddable daughter at the center of Colm Toibin’s new novel, “Brooklyn,” her leave-taking from Enniscorthy, in Ireland’s County Wexford, and her resettlement in New York in the fall of 1951 are imposed on her by her energetic, well-meaning older sister, Rose. Young, docile and incurious, unscarred by heartbreak or reversals of fortune, Eilis has no desire or need to quit her widowed mother, her friends, her familiar surroundings. Her “old faith and love” are intact, and she seeks no distance from her memories.

    From "Little Dorrit" by Charles Dickens:

    There was no wind to make a ripple on the foul water within the harbour, or on the beautiful sea without. The line of demarcation between the two colours, black and blue, showed the point which the pure sea would not pass; but it lay as quiet as the abominable pool, with which it never mixed. Boats without awnings were too hot to touch; ships blistered at their moorings; the stones of the quays had not cooled, night or day, for months. Hindoos, Russians, Chinese, Spaniards, Portuguese, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Genoese, Neapolitans, Venetians, Greeks, Turks, descendants from all the builders of Babel, come to trade at Marseilles, sought the shade alike--taking refuge in any hiding-place from a sea too intensely blue to be looked at, and a sky of purple, set with one great flaming jewel of fire. The universal stare made the eyes ache. Towards the distant line of Italian coast, indeed, it was a little relieved by light clouds of mist, slowly rising from the evaporation of the sea, but it softened nowhere else. Far away the staring roads, deep in dust, stared from the hill-side, stared from the hollow, stared from the interminable plain. Far away the dusty vines overhanging wayside cottages, and the monotonous wayside avenues of parched trees without shade, drooped beneath the stare of earth and sky. So did the horses with drowsy bells, in long files of carts, creeping slowly towards the interior...

    From "The Yankee Years" by Joe Torre:

    The game [baseball] that depended largely on washed-up former players and reassigned company men to build a 25-man roster became a multibillion-dollar business that attracted well-educated minds to build organizations, even systems. When Beane, for instance, promoted David Forst, another Harvard grad with a sociology degree, to replace DePodesta, he posted an opening for Forst’s former position as an assistant general manager. He received 1,500 résumés, including one from a chap who wrote, “I apologize, but I won’t be available until June because I am completing my astrophysics degree from Oxford.” Beane wound up hiring Farhan Zaidi, a PhD in economics from Cal Berkeley who earned an undergraduate degree in behavioral economics. “Guys that maybe 15 years ago spent four years at Goldman Sachs and then moved on to private equity are applying for jobs with baseball teams,” Beane said. “I remember when I sheepishly had to inform Farhan wasting his time on things I don’t have time to waste my energy on. Factions are starting up again.” Said the Indians’ Shapiro, “Don’t make the mistake, whatever is happening now, to think those teams with resources don’t have a distinct advantage, particularly with how the Yankees were for a brief period of time and how the Red Sox are now.” Teams moved beyond the popular conception of Moneyball long ago essentially because on-base percentage was no longer an inefficient market. So if all teams now recognize on-base percentage as well as the value of young players, what is the next inefficient market to exploit in order to make up the ground on the Yankees’ growing edge in resources? Beane laughed and said, “Just saying that gives me a headache. Every part of the game is measured now versus the dollar investment. It’s about turning over every rock. It’s more and more difficult. I think that’s a good thing. I have no chip on my shoulder about being antiquated.” The race is always on.

    Catholics on the Court

    The NY Times has a report on Sotomayor...:
    There are indications that Judge Sotomayor is more like the majority of American Catholics: those who were raised in the faith and shaped by its values, but who do not attend Mass regularly and are not particularly active in religious life. Like many Americans, Judge Sotomayor may be what religion scholars call a “cultural Catholic” — a category that could say something about her political and social attitudes.
    A majority of American Catholics? Ouch that seems hard to believe.

    Hour at the Arts Fest

    Sat I under the combustible sun on a bench away from the crowds and through the foliage I spy a bronze-green steeple far in the distance. I felt for a moment like I was in old Europe, marveling at the sight of a German cathedral. It was more thrilling than what I saw in the rows of tents at the art festival. I briefly wondered why it is that had I seen the same exact scene in a photograph for sale in one of the booths it would feel like a cliche, like it was "too sweet". Perhaps merely that I'd think the artist was lazy, not creating so much as reflecting.

    I'm perenially surprised at how so little inspires me at these fests. So much of it seems not worth a first glance let alone a second which I attribute in good part to my being, primarily, into music and books and not art. Most pieces seem cloying, either in their Rockwellesque earnestness or post-modern self-consciousness or meaningless strangeness. But every once in awhile I find a jewel, a little tent holding filling paintings, such as I did today with the work of John Cheng.

    Cheng, from a marketing standpoint, seems at a loss. He looks down, is always fiddling, has no website, posts no bills listing his resume or awards. He's quite unlike the other artists who stand or sit with eyes boring, unaware of the laser impact of an artists' eyes on the public: Don't they know I know they can see right through me! I think to myself.

    Instead Cheng seemed a quiet, humble sort with mixed media offerings of carp and birds and Japanese women and mermaids, sometimes depicting nakedness but with a purity that is a subject of interest to me. I seek to disarm the flesh with a pure flesh, as in the way an inoculation works. Always I think, when I see a Bouguereau or a Cheng depicting female nudity and innocence that here, at last, is the secret. Cheng's portraits of mermaids curled like nautilus's on distant banks hits some nerve within me, lighting up the part of me that so likes borders (such as that of between purity and impurity) and danger (that of shipwreck by mariners smitten).


        Not Cheng's work, but a nautical theme

    June 04, 2009

    Inside the White House

    On the news consumption front, Brian Williams looked stiff and awkward - nervous as a suitor? - during NBC's pornful look at the White House under the messiah. To call it a puff piece would be to insult puffs everywhere. It was especially painful to see the fixation on the new White House dog, with Williams playing the part of the jilted beau (no pun intended) of Cap'n von Trapp. Ah well, kids and dogs have their own minds.

    But who can blame Obama? He's reacted with gracious modesty to the sycophant and lovelorn media. BHO is far more likable than Bill Clinton if only for the reason Mike Barnicle mentioned - that much of the Clinton hatred was driven by how utterly contrived he was, the whole school uniform ruse and how he had to have a poll to decide even where to go on vacation. It was that uber calculation that was a huge turn-off. Obama may be as calculated but at least the seams don't show. The story may go thusly: with Clinton a competent job was done despite his personal faults, while Obama will ruin the country but with such likability that you hardly notice. A spoonful of sugar makes the decline go down easier.

    It sounds like the Cairo speech was a good one. Speeches overseas and meetings with foes sounds like a good idea to me. I'd rather he use his likability towards trying to influencing the Muslim world than in his trying to win Catholic friends and influence Catholic voters as he did at Notre Dame. It's still odd to see such a sublime temperament and personal self-discipline as his write executive orders that fund the murdering of the unborn. Cognitive dissonance, or at least some sort of dissonance.

    Fiction for a Thursday

    Wyatt was a logophile who saw words as things of beauty and considered their communicatory function as crassly utilitarian.

    He sprinkled the finest foreign words into his speech and pleasured himself by making up new ones that he felt were more descriptive and assonant. He was thought by neighbors as eccentric and unintelligible but regarded himself as an Emersonian individualist, not dependent on the Magisterium that is a language.

    Before he became completely incomprehensible, he once argued that to re-use words in speech would devalue them, would cause people to take them for granted. Better not make them into mere coinage with which to swap gossip or business talk. He couldn't bear to see his beauties prostituted for such uses, and yet he holed himself up for long hours staring at a Scrabble-like screen of shapely offerings disconnected from their context or etymology or personal virtue. Constantly he left behind old words behind for new ones, treating them as they satisfied him.

    The Biggest Danger

    It ought go without saying that pro-lifers need not feel blame for the murder of Dr. Tiller. But Bill O'Reilly still felt the need to defend himself on a couple segments on his show. Kudos to Bill for not being cowed by the mau mau'rs. And to Fr. Frank Pavone as well, who says the biggest danger comes from within:
    The biggest danger right now to our movement, in the light of the killing of Dr. Tiller, is the enemy within. I'm talking about the fear, the self-doubt, the little voice inside of us that makes us feel guilty now for saying that abortion is murder, that might make some people feel guilty for being too aggressive in the effort to stop the killing of children, maybe make them afraid of going out in front of the abortion facilities to intervene peacefully for the lives of those children. The enemy within that would make some people believe what the other side is trying to say, that somehow we in the pro-life movement are responsible for this violence because of our violent rhetoric and because of our decades of efforts to expose the reality of what abortion is.

    But the fact of the matter is, as the Gospel of Life written by Pope John Paul II says, that we have to look evil in the eye and call it by its proper name. Abortion is a holocaust, it is the killing of children, it is murder and it's happening on a massive scale precisely because so many of our fellow citizens are blind to it.

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the letter from the Birmingham jail in response to a group of clergy who told him that his tactics were too extreme, and that, in fact, he and his colleagues were responsible for fomenting violence. And he said that's a ridiculous argument; it's like saying the fact that someone possesses money is inciting the robber to commit an act of robbery; or that Jesus preaching that He was God is what provoked the crucifixion, that He is somehow responsible for that.

    Brothers and sisters, we are not responsible for the violence that is done. We are a movement of non-violence and as Dr. King and, as Gandhi before him, taught and as we teach: non-violence is neither passivity nor obscurity. It does not sit back in the face of evil and it doesn't try to cover up the face of evil. Non-violence is a force that confronts violence in whatever form it takes. And it does so courageously and boldly and unapologetically.
    Ann Coulter has a good take on the issue as well:
    In the wake of the shooting of late-term abortionist George Tiller, President Barack Obama sent out a welcome message that this nation would not tolerate attacks on pro-lifers or any other Americans because of their religion or beliefs.

    Ha ha! Just kidding. That was the lead sentence -- with minor edits -- of a New York Times editorial warning about theoretical hate crimes against Muslims published eight months after 9/11. Can pro-lifers get a hate crimes bill passed and oceans of ink devoted to assuring Americans that "most pro-lifers are peaceful"?
    Since I'm quoting the Intemperate One, she also makes a good point in Human Events about how different this imaginary right to abortion found in the Constitution is from other rights actually in the document:
    The right to bear arms is honored in 21-gun salutes, turkey shoots, Civil War re-enactments, firearms demonstrations and, occasionally, at Phil Spector's house.

    The right to petition the government for redress of grievances is celebrated at political rallies, tea parties, marches, protests and whenever Keith Olbermann has a fight with his cat.

    The free exercise clause is observed in church services, missionary work, peyote-smoking Indian rituals, and for a few days after every time Bill Clinton gets caught having an extramarital affair.

    So instead of inviting a constitutional lawyer to yammer on about this purported constitutional right, why not show it being practiced?

    Thoughts 'n Quotes

    I once relayed, approvingly, an anecdote to a family member about how one ex-Nazi - Rudolf Hess was it? - who confessed his crimes to a priest just before his death and how presumably he is on his way to Heaven now. This relative was not impressed with mercy here but provoked and even repulsed by it. Hess in Heaven? I like stories of mercy, selfishly figuring it gives me a better chance to go to Heaven, while my interlocuter favors justice. People are different.

    Pope Benedict in Spe Salvi asserts that justice will happen: "In the end evildoers will not sit at table in the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as if nothing happened."

    Richard J. Neuhaus comments in American Babylon on the Pope's thought:
    That would be another injustice, an intolerable one. And yet, the God of justice is also a God of love and mercy. It is not as though justice is "balanced" or "tempered" by mercy, as might be the case in a human court. Rather, the judgment of God - which infinitely surpasses but does not contradict our understanding of justice and mercy - does not only include both justice and mercy, but is both justice and mercy.

    Admittedly this explanation does not answer all our questions. But that is the way it is with realities that surpass our human understanding. Despite centuries of arduous effort by the greatest of minds, there is finally no intellectually satisfying answer to the question of theodicy - the question of how to justify to man the ways of God.

    I'm really, really liking "Morning Joe", the MSNBC show. And Scarborough's really, really tired of presidents not making choices and how they are driven "by ideology and not arithmetic." They don't believe in math. Specifically, Bush & Obama have earned the ire of Joe S. by their failure to create a credible budget. Of course there are things I would like to say, such as "since when is out-year accounting ever a great yarn". But then aren't we entitled to a little truth-in-budgeting? Why should we be consistently lied to? I think it was Cheney who said that deficits don't matter, which I agree with up to a point. I often carry a small balance on my VISA as a (mostly imaginary) curb against further spending. The balance is small enough that it doesn't matter. But, as we all know, large balances matter. Big time. And anytime that merely paying the interest on a debt is a significant expense well, Houston we have a problem.

    Jim Cramer said the GM takeover is a jobs program, something straight out of FDR's make-work New Deal. Mike Barnicle buys it. Someone else said that unions are all about collecting dues and not protecting workers. The government will choose inflation over high unemployment because the latter is more politically poisonous. "Name one successful unionized company," said Jim Cramer, and the crowd was silent. Which is disturbing since how can we recognize the legitimate value of unions when they end up routinely killing companies? Pope Paul VI once wrote (printed it off, forgot to save the link!):
    The important role of union organizations must be admitted....Their activity, however, is not without its difficulties. Here and there the temptation can arise of profiting from a position of force to impose, particularly by strikes - the right to which as a final means of defense remains certainly recognized - conditions which are too burdensome for the overall economy and for the social body, or to desire to obtain in this way demands of a directly political nature.
    And yet without unions how do workers protect their rights?

    Came across this private revelation passage in Mary of Agreda's "City of God" concerning the fifth Joyful mystery:

    In order that thou mayest understand better this sacrament of the Lord, remember, that the Infinite Wisdom made men capable of His Eternal Felicity and placed them on the way to this happiness, but left them in doubt of its attainment, as long as they have not yet acquired it and thus filled them with joyful hope and sorrowful fear of its final acquisition. This anxiety engenders in men a lifelong fear and abhorrence of sin, by which alone they can be deprived of beatitude and thus prevent them from being ensnared and misled by the corporeal and visible things of this earth. This anxiety the Creator assists by adding to the natural reasoning powers, faith and hope, which are the spurs of their love toward seeking and finding their last end.