January 31, 2011

More Christoper Hitchens....

Quotes from Hitch-22:
I’ve lost count of the number of memoirs by old comrades or ex-comrades that have titles like “Against the Stream,” “Against the Current,” “Minority of One,” “Breaking Ranks” and so forth—all of them lending point to Harold Rosenberg’s withering remark about “the herd of independent minds.”

* * *

William Morris wrote in The Dream of John Ball that men fight for things and then lose the battle, only to win it again in a shape and form that they had not expected, and then be compelled again to defend it under another name.

* * *

The fragility of love is what is most at stake here—humanity’s most crucial three-word avowal is often uttered only to find itself suddenly embarrassing or orphaned or isolated or ill-timed—but strangely enough it can work better as a literal or reassuring statement than a transcendent or numinous or ecstatic one. Ian McEwan wrote a morally faultless essay just after the atrocities of 11 September 2001, noting that almost all voicemail messages from those on the doomed aircraft had ended with this very common trinity of words, and adding (in an almost but not quite supererogatory fashion) that by this means the murder victims had outdone and outlived their butchers.

* * *

Yet almost every time I go to a TV studio, I feel faintly guilty. This is pre-eminently the “soft” world of dream and illusion and “perception”: it has only a surrogate relationship to the “hard” world of printed words and written-down...
And, a few lines of Hitchens on Orwell concerning the patriotism of the young:
He cursed his own cynicism and disillusionment when he wrote:
For the fly-blown words that make me spew
Still in his ears were holy,
And he was born knowing what I had learned
Out of books and slowly.

HSA/FSA Coverage

What's covered and what's not for HSAs makes for semi-interesting reading. For example, sperm storage is covered, although here I thought that was free via the human body. Certainly is true for me. Toilet seat covers are covered, surprisingly. The most personally disappointing line is: A trip or vacation taken for a change in environment, improvement of morale or general improvement of health, is not reimbursable. Spoil sports.

January 28, 2011

Memoir II

I see that my memoir did not begin chronologically but skipped ahead a decade. So let me start at the beginning.

My family line begins with Adam and Eve who lived happily in a garden drinking beer and schnapps when...

* fast forward *

Great-grandfather James H. O'Rama, like all sons of a Irishmen, was at the races when the tornado hit.

He was waiting in line at the betting ring at the Fairgrounds in St. Louis, waiting to cash a winning ticket in the fifth race, when a great crash was heard. It was the sound of the roof of the grandstand being blown off and destroyed, thus quickly ending James's rare win streak. Bookmakers and bettors ran in panic in all directions and as the wind continued to blow, several hundred thought it only a matter of time that every shelter would be destroyed so they ran out across the track and into the center field.

But James was not among them. He wanted his money and kept yelling for the cashiers to come back. He had three children to feed, one just two weeks old on this 26th day of May in 1896, and he wasn't a man who found the alternative - work - too congenial.

For the purpose of the census he called himself a laborer like his daddy, who was born in Ireland in 1837 and escaped the famine at the tender age of 10, arriving in Massachusetts with his uncle before finally settling in New Jersey. James the younger was born there a month after Appomattox ended the Civil War, a war which saw ten O'Ramas from New Jersey participate in, including one James O'Rama Sr., a blacksmith by trade from Patterson who enlisted with the 2nd Infantry, Company B of Massachusetts when the war was almost over, in May of 1864. The 28-year old got wounded though not seriously, healthy enough was he such that his furlough in November of '64 had born fruit in the form of a son and namesake.

* fast forward *

And then I started blogging, around November of 2001, and ...

* rewind! *

I was born a middle-class white boy, shucking the amniotic fluid for what is colloquially known as "air" but which, more exactly, contains a mixture of various gases contributing to the earth's atmosphere. To flagrantly generalize, air consists of molecular nitrogen (N2) with a volume count of 78%, molecular oxygen (O2) with a volume count of 20%. There are also small amounts of Argon (Ar) with a volume of 1.9%, Neon (Ne), Helium (He), Methane (CH4), Krypton (Kr), Hydrogen (H), Nitrous Oxide (N2O) and Xenon (Xe). Other gases and elements like water vapour (H2O), Ozone (O3), Carbon-dioxide (CO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are found in variable concentration. The ammonia and hydrogen sulphide are also common constituent of air. Stratosphere and is an effective absorber and emitter of infrared radiation.

* (Hard getting the hang of this memoir thing...)


I'm a bit late to the memoir party, seeing that it's mostly a '90s phenomenon, but I don't want to deny my readers my life story. The bug has bitten me too.

Hence I will strive over a period of posts to produce (please note the alliteration) my story for the benefit of first-time readers. So, without further ado:

* * * *

One of the most memorable non-memorable incidents of my early years was the word "scraps", meaning the detritus left behind after folding and rubber-banding our newspapers (my sister and I were paper carriers).

Scraps would consist mostly, it seems to me now, the plastic band that held the stack of 40-90 newspapers together. It would also seem to include, although memory fails, of broken rubber bands and perhaps a covering newspaper that protected the newspapers themselves. Perhaps too we left on the floor of the garage (which is where our rubber-banding and plastic bagging went on), the rubber band box and/or the plastic bag box.

These scraps had a nasty habit of not disappearing. They say no job is finished until the paperwork is done, well no newspaper job was done until the garage was put back in its original pristine order. Needless to say, it seemed most days the job wasn't finished, and I don't know why because it's not like Mom didn't enforce this. I can't imagine now, with hindsight, what possessed us to leave scraps on the floor in plain view, given the fits it gave my Trappist Mom. (Trappist in the sense of being a neat freak.)

January 27, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Excerpts

From Hitch-22:
I noticed that all my poet and novelist friends possessed at the very least some musical capacity: they could either play a little or could give a decent description of a musical event. Could it be this that marked them off from the mere essayist? I hit one iceberg-size objection right away. Vladimir Nabokov, perhaps the man of all men who could make one feel embarrassed to be employing the same language (English being only his third), detested music: “Music, I regret to say, affects me merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds… The concert piano and all wind instruments bore me in smaller doses and flay me in larger ones.” Ah, but that needn’t mean he wasn’t musical.

* * *

if Saddam Hussein could have been so crazy as to go for broke, and to steal all of Kuwait when he could have had a lucrative chunk of it for the asking, why then he might be such a deranged megalomaniac that he could no longer discern even his own interests.)

* * *

The idea of “Reds for Bush” might seem incongruous, but it was a very great deal more wholesome than “pacifists for Saddam.”

* * *

From time to time I would be asked to sign a petition against the sanctions, which were said to be killing tens of thousands of young and old Iraqis by the denial of medical supplies and food. I couldn’t bring myself to be persuaded by this pseudo-humanitarianism. In the same period, Saddam had built himself a new palace in each of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, while products like infant formula—actually provided to Iraq under the oil-for-food program—were turning up on the black market being sold by Iraqi government agents. More and more, it seemed to me, anyone who really cared for the well-being and survival of Iraqis should be arguing for the removal of the insane despotism that had necessitated the sanctions and that was eating the country alive.

* * *

Anyone who heard an Iraqi radio or television broadcast in the last decade of the regime can readily confirm that the insistent themes were those of “martyrdom” and holy war.

* * *

I think of it whenever I hear some fool say, “All right, we agree that Saddam was a bad guy.” Nobody capable of uttering that commonplace has any conception of radical evil.

* * *

I probably now know more about the impeachable incompetence of the Bush administration than do many of those who would have left Iraq in the hands of Saddam.

* * *

The “WMD” question, as everybody hopes now to forget, was very often a rhetorical tool in the hands of those who wanted to leave Saddam Hussein in power. Attack him, and he would unleash the weapons of horror that he had wielded so promiscuously before.

* * *

Constantine, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, confesses that, yes: “For the sake of my country, and perhaps a little for the sake of my soul, I have given up the deep peace of being in opposition.”

* * *

I saw all the members of the press corps donning gas masks and running to the shelters to avoid the shower of chemical weapons, gases, and nerve-agents which never turned up—and in which they later claimed never to have believed.

Laid-Back Caribbeans are Overstressed

Link here:
"I always try to push them on the way to de-stress because Bahamians are overly stressed."
Go figure!

John Paul II Prayers

Recently I learned of a church group praying for a parishioner who's near death. They are praying for the the intercession of Blessed John Paul II for a miracle. The parishioner has lived a long, fruitful life and everyone knows the late Pope has another miracle coming, so it's understandable people of faith would petition thusly. But does it seem somehow more fitting that a nun with Parkinson's would be healed? Is that merely a crypto-clericalism creeping into my thinking, such that only an obviously holy nun "deserves" a miracle? Why shouldn't we pray to JPII indiscriminately and let God sort out the rest? What more shows the glory of God than a miracle in a non-obvious place, like an average grandfather?

Vacation Holidaze


The alarm sounded especially alarming at 5:30am, after I had fought the pillow till 'round midnight the night before due to the excitement of the trip and the foreknowledge that an early wake-up was called for. It's better than caffeine for keeping one awake - just plan on having to get up early the next day. Caught up with some semi-sleep on the plane and spent some time reading Heather King, musing and perusing her writerly goodness.

I see a lady reading "Vogue", her hair dyed blonde, and I can't help feeling don't let me be part of the jet-set, the shallow rich, the type who go on winter vacations to warm climes...Doh! I console myself that I'm only going for four days. Rationalization r us.

We started off with a wonderful breakfast buffet at Jerry's Restaurant, which was convenient for shopping too. You come to the islands hungry and in need of groceries and at Jerry's you kill two birds with one stone, though don't let the fine-feathered parrots that perch outside the place hear you use that phrase.

There's nothing like the exhilarating opening moments of a vacation, even when the air is chilled to the temperature of a fine merlot. I hit the beach for a bracing 25-min run (bracing by Florida standards but not by Ohio's). Afterward enjoyed a fine cigar (the male equivalent of aromatherapy) at the pool while Matthew swam. He then had to make the dash in just a swimsuit to the condo, and Dad and I helpfully tried to block him.

We strategically planned our tennis game for 4pm (the rental closes at 4:30 till Monday morning), and told them it was too cold - might we keep the rackets through Sunday? Yes came the agreeable answer, and so this year we could and did play tennis on Sunday after church.

We ate at Sanibel cafe or what used to be, and we still referred to as, Portofinos. Happy hour drinks were surprisingly inexpensive; I had a Bass pale ale for $1.50 which is usually only a downpayment. I splurged with a steak dinner.


The priest at Mass, who'd been a Benedictine monk for a couple decades, gave a stem-winder of a sermon defending the pro-life cause. It's the first time in my life I'd heard a sermon get a bout of applause afterward. An odd experience. Jeannie said it was an example of preaching to the choir, and given the applause there's something to that. But then if Catholics were really enthusiastically pro-life, things would look different in the public and private spheres.

I also thought it odd that he prefaced the homily with a discursion about a play he was in, something about a spelling bee. It was one of those audience participation dramas and he told us he'd been volunteered. But more on that later....

Later I snug'd up to the coast and watched couples, framed by sea oats, walk by. The scene: acres of ocean the color of light sapphire, a gentle wind, and the air redolent of brine. The zigzag of the sand path. The sun gleaming down, the succor of cigar and no where I had to be. I felt a taste of Teachout-ian beach bumming, there on the sands, sockless and shoeless while in deep Ohio the mercury shrinks like the testicles of members of the polar bear club. I read the dulcet prose in "Hitch 22", a blend of fiction ("there is no God") and non-fiction (America as land of the free), of shimmering prose-poetry and craft-like prose-prose. Chapter sentences start off rich with place names: "Nodding Hill has always been my particular London." Hitchens' prose is pleasantly Buckleyesque: he'll use "rebarbative" at the drop of a hat. His vocabulary, to invoke Whtman, contains multitudes.

Just past 4 and the sun's still warm, like a campfire. I hole up 10-20 yards from an older couple sitting together at sea's edge; they looked like a Corona commercial for the elder set. But then: To the sun deck, Batman! As the wind picks up and as the 4 o'clock hour ages, I retire with a Maduro brown ale to the famous deck, lounging in the heat spot where the sun shone through the nearby trees. Listening to the best of Porter Wagoner on iPod, I thought it'd be neat were I were drinking the beer called porter.

I also read a bit of the notes from a conference that featured the inimitable Heather King. The gotcha line, the one that hits the sore spot: "I'll be a bag lady if that's what it takes, and it seems like you never have to if you're willing to."

* * *

Sunday night was "my choice" as to restaurant, although my first three choices were, in fact, vetoed by Jean which tends to suggest the phrase "your choice" had gotten redefined. We ended up, by hook or by crook, at "The Hungry Heron" which boasts a menu longer than most modern novels. Over 280 choices as I recall. The food and atmosphere were functional if mediocre, but then it tends to prove the rule that you can't expect fine dining at a restaurant with "Hungry" in the title.


My earliest reviews of large bodies of water consisted of criteria different than mine. Back then it was simple: height of waves and presence of shells, with the former far more important than the latter. Now it's simply sun, heat and water that takes the eye on a horizon ride. Beautiful little fishes are nice, but it's not determinative for which beaches we frequent. The Great Lakes, I think, have improved given the new criteria, and beer and books are particularly fulsome additions to beach life.

* * *

These are the times that try Dad's soul: we arrive at a breakfast place, get seated inside (where it's warm) and then Jean asks to be seated outside (where it's cool) and then she asks that they fire up the heater for us. High maintenance are us.

* * *

One can easily acclimate to "cool" January in Florida - a simple sweatshirt addition is a painless concession to, say, a 60 degree day with a decent wind. Not being at 10% body fat anymore also helps. Time has suited me, thus far, to any potential global cooling.

The weather is mostly overcast today; the shining moments came during tennis in the pre-noon hour. The games between my sister and me were long enough, or maybe we were old enough, such that two games were enough. We played a few more with Matthew.

Then a bike ride to Periwinkle park, where we saw colorful parrots, ducks and lemurs. Along the way I admired the smooth-bore palms that svelte up to flower in tufts of light green fronds. It's the Trappist neatness of the almost barkless tree that appeals.

The water is ice-cold but it's fun to watch the birds wing an inch from the sea surface. A fine and sprightly variety of sea birds add to the festive line where sea meets sand, an eclectic welcoming party for incoming waves. A sleepy fishing boat hangs off the shore, which lends color to the atmospherics. It's a small ecstasy to be escaping 5-10 degree weather at home.

* * *

Our last night on the island, Monday, we decided to go to a play at the local theatre, a musical production titled "The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee". I knew ahead of time that four people would be drawn from the audience, so I was busy jockeying for a worse seat, so as to not get chosen. But funny thing is, they'd already asked some folks as they were entering the building, and unbeknowst to Mom & Dad and I, nephew Matthew was asked. He said yes, and shortly after the play began he was called up to the stage to our shock and delight. It was definitely the highlight of the play and arguably the trip, seeing Matthew up there. And here I'd felt sorry for him since I was under the illusion that he was called without his foreknowledge.

After being asked to spell "cow" he delivered his lines perfectly: "Could you provide a definition?" and "Can you use it in a sentence?" And yes, he spelled it correctly.

At intermission, a lady came over to ask me how old my "son" was. I said nine years old because, in fact, he was nine years old three years ago and I find the nieces and nephews have ages that constantly fluctuate such that it's hard for me to keep track. I didn't think it necessary to disabuse the lady of the fact that I was an uncle, especially given Matthew's impressive star turn. Mom immediately said "he's twelve" which was embarrassing to say the least.

The play itself ran the gamut from excruciating to occasionally almost pleasant. I wondered how a musical about spelling bees could be funny or interesting, and I'm still wondering. Perhaps I'm humor-challenged, but I don't find the familiar tropes like the flagrant gay guy entertaining, and I certainly hope I can get the erection song out of my head. (Yes, there's actually a song about erections in a play about a spelling bee.) There were many rave reviews of it (the play, not the erection song) on the 'net, which made me wonder in amazement at the diversity of human opinion.

These are the times that try Dad's soul, take two: just getting there was a problem. Having already purchased tickets we were pushing the envelope as far as having time to get dinner beforehand. The hour was tick-tocking away while we rejected eating places due to either a menu not to our liking, a menu not to our wallet's liking, or insufficient time given the wait to get seated. In the end we made it to something like the "Corner Cafe", which featured large colorful paintings that could be bid on, beginning at princely sums.


Sitting by the sea, I'm astonished again by modern technology. An obscure sea song comes to mind, "No Tie-ups" by the Irish band Wolfstone, and after a bit of iPod searching I conjure that very song up while watching the waves.

Later on the sun deck - smaller than I recall it - there's a bronzed middle-aged man who makes Speaker Boehner look wan as a vampire. Not far away there's a teen, pale as Victoria, reading the Bible while her lounge mate attempts to direct/orchestrate the sun away from approaching clouds.

The clouds eventually win and send the deck denizens scurrying away. I sip a beer as the waning moments of the vacation appear before me. The cooling wind, the faint smell of chlorine from the pool below, the hint of rain in the air, the '70s aquamarine-painted shutters of the next-door condos, the high above-it-all perch, all of these conspire to remind me of some elusive childhood longing, some archaic thirst for bravery. Or maybe for another beer, which I have at the condo just before enjoying a farewell dinner at Jerry's with Mom and Dad, since Jeannie and Matthew had taken an earlier flight home. And so endeth my last breath of summer in winter...

January 19, 2011

Excerpts from Recent Reads

From the Bush memoir:
AIDS had taken her father, too. Yet the little girl was smiling. Her grandmother explained that Catholic Relief Services had been paying for the girl to receive treatment at the PEPFAR clinic. “As a Muslim,” the elderly woman said, “I never imagined that a Catholic group would help me like that. I am so grateful to the American people.”
Hitchens' memoir:
I had an early exposure to the great conundrum that has occupied me since: How is the United States at once the most conservative and commercial AND the most revolutionary society on Earth?
From Heretics by Chesterton:
There is more simplicity in the man who eats caviar on impulse than in the man who eats grape-nuts on principle. The chief error of these people is to be found in the very phrase to which they are most attached—"plain living and high thinking." These people do not stand in need of, will not be improved by, plain living and high thinking. They stand in need of the contrary. They would be improved by high living and plain thinking. A little high living (I say, having a full sense of responsibility, a little high living) would teach them the force and meaning of the human festivities, of the banquet that has gone on from the beginning of the world. It would teach them the historic fact that the artificial is, if anything, older than the natural. It would teach them that the loving-cup is as old as any hunger.

The only simplicity that matters is the simplicity of the heart. If that be gone, it can be brought back by no turnips or cellular clothing; but only by tears and terror and the fires that are not quenched. If that remain, it matters very little if a few Early Victorian armchairs remain along with it. Let us put a complex entree into a simple old gentleman; let us not put a simple entree into a complex old gentleman. So long as human society will leave my spiritual inside alone, I will allow it, with a comparative submission, to work its wild will with my physical interior. I will submit to cigars. I will meekly embrace a bottle of Burgundy. I will humble myself to a hansom cab. If only by this means I may preserve to myself the virginity of the spirit, which enjoys with astonishment and fear. I do not say that these are the only methods of preserving it. I incline to the belief that there are others. But I will have nothing to do with simplicity which lacks the fear, the astonishment, and the joy alike. I will have nothing to do with the devilish vision of a child who is too simple to like toys.

The child is, indeed, in these, and many other matters, the best guide. And in nothing is the child so righteously childlike, in nothing does he exhibit more accurately the sounder order of simplicity, than in the fact that he sees everything with a simple pleasure, even the complex things. The false type of naturalness harps always on the distinction between the natural and the artificial. The higher kind of naturalness ignores that distinction. To the child the tree and the lamp-post are as natural and as artificial as each other; or rather, neither of them are natural but both supernatural. For both are splendid and unexplained. The flower with which God crowns the one, and the flame with which Sam the lamplighter crowns the other, are equally of the gold of fairy-tales. In the middle of the wildest fields the most rustic child is, ten to one, playing at steam-engines. And the only spiritual or philosophical objection to steam-engines is not that men pay for them or work at them, or make them very ugly, or even that men are killed by them; but merely that men do not play at them. The evil is that the childish poetry of clockwork does not remain. The wrong is not that engines are too much admired, but that they are not admired enough. The sin is not that engines are mechanical, but that men are mechanical.

January Lentenization

One of the phenomenons we're used to is how Christmas music, sales, decorations begin as early as the day after Halloween. What's interesting is how a similar dynamic appears to be happening in Catholic shops. Just two weeks after the end of Christmas season I received an email from Word Among Us with the title "Books to Prepare Your Heart During Lent". Lent is, what, 6-7 weeks away? (I'm still waiting for the email, "Prepare Your Heart During Ordinary Time").

January 18, 2011

Parody blog updated...

...chronicling events like the last living American to join Facebook, and whether there should be a national conversation on whether there should be a moratorium on the phrase "teachable moment".

Bookshelf Porn

Looks like a must-view website:

And while on the subject, here are libraries of the rich & famous.

January 17, 2011

Various & Sundry

Gems from Donald Hall; you can tell the guy's a poet:
While they bloom we hover above them, taking deep and startling breaths, for their odor is all the perfumes of Arabia, ambergris of all whales of all Pacifics, wave unpon wave of velvety sensuous sweetness.


I tried feeling grumpy about it, but the pleasure of watching pleasure - all these skinny daughters - won me grudgingly over.


The longest day is the best day, when June twenty-second's pale light lasts into evening. In New Hampshire we are north enough to believe rumors from Scandinavia and Shakespeare about the madness of midsummer night's eve. Even contemporary England turns wild. I lived for a while in an East Anglian village where the morris men performed the Abbotts Bromley Horn Dance on midsummer night's eve. They... wend down Stony Lane past beetling medieval cottages that stonemasons working on the church inhabited for five generations.


All Winter I sense Jane's silent presence in the dining room where she stands many-sweatered in the gloom, peering out into the back garden where bench and swan and sundial stick up through the snow. She daydreams Summer, daydreams seeds and plants she will order and tend; her mind blooms with bright petals in gray February.

Also read a bit of Chesterton's "Heretics" and a dab of Bush's "Decision Points". In parts GWB paints himself as St. George, and in parts it reads like a infomercial for his legacy, but he does make some good points. The key point in the book is made, I think, when he says he didn't come to the office to play "small ball" like Clinton did with school uniforms and such. He wanted to do big things. And that sort of ambition isn't particularly conservative and is often a sign of hubris. Government is limited in what it can do and "small ball" is a tacit recognition of that. That said, his commitment to fight AIDS in Africa seems a noble undertaking and worth the possibility of government doing it badly.

Listened to a bit of Catholic radio today and heard someone saying that Iraq will soon have only a small remnant of Christians. I've heard elsewhere that being blamed on Bush. Still, if the Christian's best friend in Iraq was Saddam Hussein, one has to question the long term viability of that model. The bigger issue is that Iraq is in the Middle East and most of the Middle East (except for Israel) is not a safe place for any Christian. It is sad that people can't live in their own country due to persecution of their religion, but that's a product of Muslim intolerance. It's sad, especially since in the Middle East they are more tribal, more family-oriented, often less mobile (due to poverty).

* * *

Amanpour is nearly unwatchable on ABC's "This Week" when she sets up these trite, twee "national conversations". Personally I think we should have a national conversation on whether to have national conversations. My mood improved when I saw that Meet the Press actually had a real show (it certainly helped that David Brooks and Peggy Noonan were guests).

The sun came out today, hallelujah, and I got my fair share of it. Read on the couch under the big picture window with my sunglasses on and then took the dog for a half-hour walk at the park. I like the feel of boots in snow, the feeling of invulnerability to wetness or cold. One wants prophylactics in footwear but not in sex. Fun to go off trail through the baseball fields with their blinding sheen of white and remember how full of people and games they were in summer.

* * *

In Sunday's homily, our pastor said that when we're asked to do anything new we feel both excitement and anxiety. We both want and don't want to do it. Thus when King Arthur asked his knights who wanted to go on a very dangerous mission, all raised their hands. The king decided that a feather dropped from a height would float atop the head of the selected knight. As the feather wafted to and fro, the knights would lightly blow the feather away from them!

January 15, 2011

Diary Dump

We've had a cavalcade of grimy, overcast days; I look at the skies and feel a twinge of the premature sentiment, "enough already!" The ghastly pall reminds me of a Victorian novel sans the jolts of dread. At midday the sun is steeped in sepia and trundled in clouds such that you can scarcely tell it from twilight. This is the cost of June weather, the bill that must be paid.

But there are always books, even though the fiction is dispiriting. At 72% into "Russian Debutante" , it's gotten to be a bit of slog, too "modern", too cynical, not redolent enough of beauty. (Ah, I forgot! I have more of "Seasons at Eagle Pond"!) Read the beginning of "Too Big to Fail" by Andrew Ross Sorkin. Engaging but not nearly as profitable as a big dab of "Verbum Domini". Rich, alluvial soil, and perfect diagnostics. Am still somewhat hungry for Betty Duffy's recommended novel ("Death of an Adversary") even though I suspect it's grim enough to match the weather.

So worked out at Urban Active gym while overlooking a grey industrial complex. I didn't think, but now do, of those magic days along the beach, working out in a gym with a constellation of waves and sun glint-lets. How long ago it seems now, perhaps because I didn't carry it around me with me as I might have. But how thrilling it was to bring my word 'puter to the pool and live the life (ever so briefly) of an ex-pat American author, in my mind's eye. It felt at once child-like (a wonder at the natural world) and seeming adult (the pleasure and blessing of leisure).

Not too long after breakfast I found my sea legs and traveled to far away Easton (25 minute drive) where a card dealer promised to buy baseball cards. I brought him seven or eight good ones, ones I was attached to primarily because of their value in others' eyes rather than for sentimental reasons. The pieces of art - like the grand old portrait of Whitey Ford* on the '61 Topps - were safely tucked away in their card berth while the rather prosaic Mike Schmidt rookie card came out with me. The only truly memorable card was the Rose rookie, which although I didn't have too much sentimental value (Rose's gambling and truthfulness troubles somewhat soured me on the Hit King) still hurt a tinge to sell. But then I'd not bought it romantically - that is in a pack of cards and treasuring it like a family heirloom - but much later in my collecting career when I had a job and money and began to look at the hobby in more investment terms. But it was nice to acquire some hard currency from pieces of cardboard I hadn't looked at in years.

* - I am far too young to have gotten the '61 Ford by buying it in a pack, but did get it at a relatively young age from a friend's uncle, which lent it sufficient sentiment. Ford looks like the grand mariner in it and yet he couldn't have been but in his 30s, which reminds me how anyone in their 30s was ancient to my thirteen-year old self. I could make no real distinctions between Whitey Ford in 1961 and Connie Mack in 1920. They were both old as dirt!

January 13, 2011

Riveting Thread...

Darwin Catholic post on Genesis and original sin:
A Philosopher said...
I've always thought the obvious position for Catholics to hold on this matter is the following: the Fall is an event whose causal ramifications extend backward and forward in time. As a result, the entire history of the universe is altered via the Fall -- we switch from a universe which has always been faultless, to a universe which has always been fallen. In the new timeline, death has always been a part of the natural order, and life develops through the evolutionary mechanism. There is, as the standard scientific story holds, no clear point at which the human species begins. But that's not a problem, because we've already located the unique moment of the Fall on the original, unfallen, timeline. As a side benefit, you get a better answer to the problem of evil, too -- the ultimate redemption of creation is also an event whose causal ramifications extend backward and forward in time, and the fully redeemed creation will be not only without evil, but without ever having had evil, so there's no evil to be explained.

Can't say I've ever seen that answer adopted by anyone, though. I'm not sure there's a coherent theory of time that allows it to avoid contradictions, but I suspect with a bit of work and metaphysical cleverness, something could be rigged up.

Darwin said...
Hmmm, kind of a Schrodinger's Fall solution, eh?

It strikes me as at least as ingenious a solution, with a modern flavor, as Aquinas' attempt to deal with the problem of how things could have changed their natures from immortal to mortal because of the fall.

Which also serves to emphasize, I guess, that reconciling the early chapters of Genesis with informed opinion (whether now, Aquinas' time, or in Augustine's) has always been hard.

Current Read

I'm pleasantly surprised by how good Walking with God: A Journey through the Bible by Jeff Cavins & Dr. Tim Gray is. Makes some of the more inexplicable parts of the Scripture explicable. It deserves a wide audience!

Diaristic Wanderings

Oh for the simple, decadent pleasure of a roundhouse right of a breakfast: a chocolate donut with sprinkles and a satisfying sausage, egg and cheese sandwich. Yum! So often I adhere to my traditional hard-boiled egg and cereal combo; it's nice to break the routine now and then, especially when I'm 'gry (short for hungry).

Today is the inaugural introduction of my new Green Mountain coffee thermos. It keeps coffee hot much, much longer which is good for my slow-sip style. It's been an hour and the coffee is still nice and hot. Sort of like a coffee time machine:

January 11, 2011

Lightning Round

Kudos to Mike Barnicle on Morning Joe for not politicizing AZ shooting.
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Universities Ohio State and Miami U named "best values" by Kiplinger's Personal Finance.
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Great to hear of moderate Muslims rising against jihadists: Egypt's Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as "human shields".
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Unlikely Bumper Sticker: This vehicle stops for large obstacles in the road.
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Terry Teachout: "I'm rethinking my longstanding opposition to giving up writing and becoming a full-time beach bum." (Mrs. Darwin probably thinks I already am one!)
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You can't keep markets down: Incandescent light bulbs as "heat balls."
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Title of spam email I received...."Your dream come true, Government Grants!" Not the taxpayer's dream exactly...
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Be cool to read one of these "Chronological Bibles".
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Josh Groban's Noel, an album of Christmas hymns: two thumbs up.
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The Spirit is not a "consolation prize" for the souls who lived after the time Jesus was alive but is a true person who stands on his own.

Donald Hall's A Season at Eagle Pond

So recently I spent an hour, wasted it in all honesty, trying to advance to the next level in an iPod game called "Bubble Popper". I finally did so but ever afterward when I closed my eyes all I could see was those colored bubbles drifting relentlessly downward.

I needed a game change. I needed refreshment. I needed something contemplative. I needed...yes, "Seasons at Eagle Pond".

Oh what a joy to read something so fresh and un-ironic! Tis a tonic I say, a refuge from the world. Am into Spring now, just past that glorious description of Oxford and Cambridge in June. Oh to be young and in Oxford! Which reminds me of a memoir I could write:
Oh how I recall those days in Oxford (Ohio), where I studied the classics (of comp sci lit)...
Anyway I think my favorite so far is the oddly fascinating account of saving ice in winter for use during the long, hot summer. I can get drunk off a single word or phrase of Donald Hall's: like "moon-cold". I haven't felt this since the Arthur Philips' "The Song is You" some months ago.

Sample passage:
I was amazed every time we dug through the wet sawdust in the cool shade of the ice-house to find cold Winter again - packed silvery slab of Eagle Pond preserved against Summer, just as we hayed to preserve Summer's grass for the Winter cattle.
Read a jot of Chesterton in "Generally Speaking" and a medicinal dose of the Hall book and the readings from the Roman liturgy since I went to St. John's Byzantine. The one downside of the Byzantine church is the lack of feasts, including, apparently, the Baptism of Our Lord. The liturgical seasons are so watered down there that only Easter leaps out as qualitatively different.

I may or may not miss the climatory seasons, but I do miss the liturgical ones.

Gospel Thoughts

Reading the gospel the other day it seems many thought John was the messiah, thought maybe this holy man was the promised one. And it dawned on me that perhaps the purpose of John was to live a harsh, ascetic life in order to have the street cred to testify that Jesus was the one for whom they waited. Perhaps this was necessary for those who would see Jesus eating with tax collectors and prostitutes and otherwise exercising mercy. Perhaps some of the devout followers of Jesus needed the imprimatur of the extremely strict John before they could accept Jesus. Or...not.

The other thing I took away from today's Psalm was "the Lord takes delight in his people", which is something that one could ponder for a long time in wonderment, in the miraculous truth that God not only takes note of us but delights and cherishes us. "We therefore grossly deceive ourselves in not allotting more time to the study of divine truths." said St. Apollinaris.

In the first reading what struck me was the verse: "We know that the whole world is under the power of the Evil One," which would seem to explain the presence of death after Christ. Jesus showed in his life and on the cross that he would defeat Satan not with power but with humility and seeming weakness, which is why we must die as well. Our battles with Satan are minor echoes of the main battle.

January 09, 2011

Sad Commentary

I expect nothing from lefty blogger Markos and his fans, but ABC'S "This Week"? The entire sixty minutes of the "news" show was devoted to the AZ shooting. I smell a rat, a way for the liberal moderator of the show to slam the tea party. And indeed why was tea party activist Dick Armey invited on the show if not to show him up? What has the tea party got to do with this tragedy? It's a non-sequitor. Really sad how This Week has devolved from its days of Brinkley.

Something for a Sunday

"If a man is compelled, by a sort of social pressure, to ride in the park in the morning or play golf in the afternoon or go out to grand dinners in the evening or finish up at night clubs at night, we describe all those hours of his day as hours of leisure. But they are not hours of leisure at all, in the other sense; as, for instance, on the fanciful supposition that he would like a little time to himself, that he would like to pursue a quite solitary and even unsociable hobby, that he would like really to idle, or, on a more remote hypothesis, that he would like really to think....And as for [this] form of leisure, the most precious, the most consoling, the most pure and holy, the noble habit of doing nothing at all - that is being neglected in a degree which seems to me to threaten the degeneration of the whole race. It is because artists do not practise, patrons do not patronize, crowds do not assemble to reverently worship the great work of Doing Nothing, that the world has lost its philosophy and even failed to invent a new religion."
-- GK Chesterton's Generally Speaking

January 07, 2011

The Collecting Impulse

Most of my early years were predicated on the idea that you could store most anything you needed. Not money, since money was of no interest to the average 9-year old except to the extent it could be converted to real currency: baseball cards. But the storage principle proved a potent and long-lived idea.

Like a farmer filling his grain bins against future famines, I collected rocks, stamps, cards, leaves, my juvenile poems, books, and letters from far-flung penpals.

My rock collection, like all the others, was intended as a safe place to go when life got rocky.

An example is how the nine-year-old's joy of getting to stay over night at your best friend’s house was equaled only by the misery of it being over so soon. But experience showed it could be ameliorated by the new baseball cards you got (via trades that night), and you could savor those when you got back home. Souvenirs are this – ways of getting over the pain of loss. The loss of Paris or New York or London or a visit to your best friend’s house.

It seemed the very definition of prudence –storing up against times of loss. Loss that would be seen as unfair, because loss always seems so despite the example of the Savior.

As opposed to this model, Heather King sees a better way:
I'm talking about a "model"—of writing, of life—that features the victory of love over fear, an "order" where we actually believe that if we ask we will receive, that if we knock, the door will be opened, where we are free to express and act upon our deepest needs and desires to give and receive. Where we are not afraid, with tremulous hope, to climb the sycamore tree, as Zacchaeus did to get a better view of Christ; or to say To tell you the truth, I am open to receiving some spare change and here’s the modern version of a tip jar; where we have the courage to take a risk, make a mistake, or make fools of ourselves for love. In fact, the very reason writing means so much to me is that someone as weak and frightened as me ever left the security, benefits, steady income, and relative prestige of a job as a lawyer and set out at the age of 41 to "write"--with no mentor, no support, no guide other than the absolute, insane, rock-bottom conviction that writing was my calling, is one of the surest signs I know of a loving, ever-astonishing God.

Friday Funny

A blogger identifying himself as Mr. Eliphaz Oldenphat writes:
Mark Shea often blogs about the need for "jolly pride" -- for pudgy and portly types to be "out & stout." This Jolly Pride movement needs an anthem, it occurs to me. So I, Mr Eliphaz Oldenphat, have come up with a song to the tune of "I Am Woman." Here is "I Am Chubby":
I am chubby, see me bounce
Every pound, every ounce
And my belly turns to Jell-O when I laugh
I'm not thin, I'm not skinny
I'm a maxi, not a mini --
I am so big I'm a person and a half!
Oh, yes, I am stout
I am quite the hefty pack
Try to pick me up
You will dislocate your back
If I have to
I can eat anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am chubby!

My Handsome Homepage

When I bring up a browser window I'm greeted with the genteel vision of old leatherbound books:

January 05, 2011

Popularity of Recent Reads...

Here are books I'm reading or have read recently and the number of people on Library Thing.com who have that particular book (author's names left off for convenience' sake):

I would've have had any clue that that would be the ranking....

January 04, 2011

NRO's Mike Potemra recommends Catholic apologetic book.

January 02, 2011

Ego Candidacies

Old email I sent that expresses how I feel about a potential Palin run for president:
Christine O'Donnell shouldn't have run for DE Senate. The Republicans used to be the "adult" party, the responsible party, but between her and the failed NY wannabe governor Paladino, sheesh... Here's the thought process of an adult: "I've run for Delaware senate a couple times before without winning. I have a lot of skeletons in my closet such as all the stuff I said on Bill Mahrer's show. I have a skimpy record. I could run and win the nomination but it would be impossible to win the Delaware general election due to my lack of record and some of my statements in the past. As an adult, I know I have to do the right thing and NOT run for the Senate this time."

Whatever happened to modesty? She's not done anything in her life that I can see that qualifies her to be a state senator let alone a US Senator. That sort of ego is unhealthy, as we saw in Obama (who had no business running for Prez).

Adults put their country first and their party before themselves if the party espouses better ideas than the alternative. O'Donnell put neither first from what I can see. She's glib and attractive - in that sense she's exactly like Obama except she's got the right ideas. I admit that's a great advantage but I don't like the fact that she''s divorced from reality enough to have thought she can win in a liberal state like DE.

The founding fathers didn't want professional politicians, but let's stipulate the Founders themselves weren't "regular folks". They were a very impressive group.

But my beef with O'Donnell is not that she hasn't any political record, it's that she doesn't have any private sector record. If she'd run a business, made a payroll, even had a steady job I'd be more impressed.