December 30, 2011

Today's Lit Quote

Gotta Meet that DUI Quota

I got a star on my car and one on my chest,
A gun on my hip and the right to arrest
I'm the guy who's the boss on this highway
So watch out what you're doin' when you're drivin' my way
If you break the law, you'll hear from me, I know
I'm a-workin' for the state, I'm The Highway Patrol

- Junior Brown song
So dinner with Bob* last night at "The Levee", a little Cajun cooking hole-in-the-wall praised by the Bass Brothers on the local radio station 610AM.  I shied away from gustatory boldness and got a chicken burrito (which was delicious).

Afterwards we headed to Macs saloon for a couple of beers, literally two for me, but only one for Bob. He of the small bladder went to the bathroom at 7:15 but then finds, on the ride home at 8, that he has to go again. Badly. There is no where to stop. He waits and waits through the hour ride until, 3 minutes from home, he knows he'll have an accident in the car. He takes a side road, pulls over to the shoulder, then finds his car on a decline. He puts the breaks on but the car is still inching forward, at about 1 mile per hour. He ends up in a ditch and can't get out. He goes to pee, then comes back to the car. He calls home and asks his wife to get a tow truck. A local police officer comes by and talks with sympathetically. The state highway patrol apparently hears the local officer calling into the station (apparently monitoring that frequency) and radios the local officer to hold Bob. About an hour later up walks the highway patrolman like he's God's gift to the world. "What happened?" he snarls, and Bone tells him. He says, "I don't believe you. Look at these tire tracks - I think you loss control of the vehicle and drove over the ditch. And I don't believe you had one beer - how come you smell so bad?" So Bob had to go through all the humiliating rituals, hopping on one leg, eye exercises, reciting alphabets, etc. Finally the cop says he'd let him go, but said he still doesn't believe his story. "If there were one scratch on that car I'd have written you up for reckless op." Another law-abiding citizen treated like a common criminal.

* - Name changed to protect the innocent.

This & That

Saw an old black man in deepest Hamilton, Ohio on Christmas Eve, his face like a topographical map of age and wisdom, walking not far from a corner Mom & Pop grocery, his hands clutching a brown paper bag which presumably held a 40-ounce beer or a bottle of vino. It was about 4 pm, and I instantly saw him as alone, but then/now think he could have a wife or son or daughter and was merely buying something to share with them. But somehow I doubt it. Kinda sad.


I like what St. Patrick's does to honor the "already and not yet-ness" of the Advent season: they put up Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and kings but no baby Jesus until the actual day. Next time I'll have to do that although admittedly the baby is hardly noticeable on our mantle. But I would know he's not yet there.  I like the idea of the manger scene being up during Advent because it keeps the goal in mind: the Incarnation. There's no question that Advent & Christmas are my favorite liturgical seasons, by far.  Lent reminds me of suffering, His and my own tiny amount, while Easter seems always of a false cheer quality, a premature celebration given our own lack of resurrected bodies.  Ordinary time is, well, a tad ordinary, albeit there's nothing ordinary about the Mass and Eucharist of course! But Advent and Christmas? Pure bliss.  I think if this season came in January I'd be slightly more a fan of that dastardly cold month! 


Last night saw the movie "The Descendants" starring George Clooney and the Hawaiian land/seascape.  Rather dismal despite the latter and was universally panned by those who saw it, although it did hold our interest.


Today or tomorrow would be a good day to go to Darby Metro Park. I recall walking the long path up to the place where wild deer, once in a blue moon, might be seen, walking those steep-raked hills like ghosts. The surprise of seeing the unexpected in nature recalls the spiritual surprise of seeing God in the quotidian.

Mornings are not broken when it comes to vacation mornings. I enjoy the pacific tendency of early to bed/late to rise. I gather breakfast in a leisurely fashion, sometimes as late as 10:30. Today we had a guy drive down from Cleveland to put in an alarm system.  I found it alarming, to say the least, when every time you open a door you hear a loud "ding, ding!". Fortunately Steph read the owner's manual and was able to soften that down to a dull roar. 


Heather King had a guest blogger yesterday. That's usually English for "you can skip this post." But the priest was so incredibly in my comfort zone talking about comfort zones; I was simultaneously encouraged and discouraged, encouraged that even a priest has such issues but discouraged that my own laziness and love of creature comforts was so nakedly exposed.


So now I listen to more of Josh Groban's hymns of Christmas because I haven't heard any since the morning of the 25th. Like the flip of a switch, the radio stations have determined Christmas season over. They who so assiduously and early announced to us Christmas now announce it done (since no more gifts are being purchased), thus skewing the twelve days of Christmas to Dec. 13-25. Got to go to the iPod as a corrective.


It's not widely known, but December 26th is also known as "National Introvert Recovery Day".

One of the great ways to pass long drives is to listen to downloaded Brian Lamb's C-Span podcasts. Enjoyed the author Simon Winchester's hour-long interview, he of "The Professor and the Madman" fame, a book I've long thought about reading.

They Almost Fell On Their Swords

I was amused by the abrupt about-face down by the Boehner's crew. Even I, a political novice, knew that protesting a two-month extension of the payroll tax isn't a good place to spend your political capital.

I'm thinking the House Republicans wouldn't make good poker players. They'd raise the pot while holding a pair of deuces. God love 'em, they go around looking for Pickett charges: places to die politically. I don't get why they wanted to make their stand in what is a short-term conservative victory (two months extension of payroll tax cut, I think - I don't much follow politics closely enough but still feel the need to holler.) What makes the tea party particularly fascinating is the political tone-deafness. It's their nemesis and their saving grace all at once. They show it's not "business as usual" by never having read a political science book. They don't play the "gotcha" games of D.C, so they get had by the Dems nearly every time. They don't want to be good at both politics AND policy, as if the two are mutually exclusive.

December 27, 2011

Power and the Flesh

There's a liberal priest who blogs and who is avidly followed by a family member. The priest recently criticized the pope obliquely by comparing him, unfavorably, with the average CEO. Our numbers aren't improving - Christians make up only about 17% of the world's population - therefore our "CEO" isn't doing his job. This is false on so many levels, beginning with the fact that we look without when we should be looking within, but even given that I don't think we can measure our success with numbers. And I think it's because we are confused about power, as said so eloquently by far and away the best priest blogger I'm aware of, the Friar Minor:

Reflecting on Christmas, and especially our Holy Father's Christmas homily in which St. Francis plays such a part, I've been thinking about contemporary disbelief in God and how maybe it relates to our wrong ideas of power.

Perhaps part of what makes it so hard for folks to believe in God--and even for us religious folks, sometimes, to act as if he exists--is that we are confused about power. God is the Almighty; he is the infinite creative power that made the heavens and the earth and sustains all things in being. And yet, when the Almighty God is revealed to us, what do we get? First, a baby born not only in an obscure place but away from home, to plain parents, and into an ethnic group that was--at least at that time--historically important by no accepted standard. Second, a tortured and convicted criminal being executed on the cross. Christ crucified could not even move his hands and feet, much less control anything or make anybody do anything. And yet these are the privileged revelations of the all-powerful, Almighty God.

Perhaps when we talk about power we are too often talking about what is really the abuse of power, the leverage or ability to manipulate and coerce, to make others conform to our will, to co-opt others into the disorders of our hearts and the futility of our sins.

In Jesus Christ the highest power is revealed as self-emptying humility. If we were to come to really understand and practice our own wills to power in this way, maybe it would be easier to believe in God. Indeed, perhaps God would become as self-evident as he necessarily must be.

Not that it's easy. To embrace the true power revealed in humility is hard on the flesh, which has lusted for the violent domination of others ever since Cain killed his own brother. The crown of thorns cuts and digs when we put it on. But is the crown of the true royalty of this world, of those who bear the real power that is the only source of peace.

December 22, 2011

Books & Authors

Writers and their personal libraries for $200 Alex!

Jonathan Lethem:
"People sometimes act as though owning books you haven't read constitutes a charade or pretense, but for me, there's a lovely mystery and pregnancy about a book that hasn't given itself over to you yet—sometimes I'm the most inspired by imagining what the contents of an unread book might be."


It seems to me one of the "x-ray machines" of a political party's soul is to see how, when in power, they apportion legislative districts. The Republicans in control of the Ohio have gotten hilariously creative in drawing districts and this, to me, is a sign of corruption. It's a graphic - literally - display of the dearth of fairness and common sense versus their own self-interest. Ridiculous gerrymandering is the last refuge of a political scoundrel and like pornography you know it when you see it.

The other sign of corruption is that the Bush Derangement Syndrome of yesteryear seems to have its corollary with Obama Derangement Syndrome. How else to explain the rise of Herman Cain, Donald Trump, and Newt Gingrich in the Republican primary polls? This desperation bespeaks less a desire to win the election than to beat Obama up in the debates. Anger makes one less than politically astute, among other things.

December 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Interpretations

Angel appearing to Zechariah

Interesting to hear the differing takes of two priests at the downtown Dominican parish concerning the visits of the angel to Mary at the Annunciation and the visit to Zechariah. (And given, of course, on different days.) One priest said that the reactions of Mary and Zechariah were similar, so why the difference? Because the difference in condition. Mary was treated differently, he argues, because she *was* different - she was conceived without sin and had no original or other sin on her soul. This is one of the biblical clues we have that Mary was uniquely created.

The other priest there said that there was a difference in response and intention: Mary was asking - purely as a practical matter - how this could happen (i.e. give birth without losing her virginity), while with Zechariah, it was obvious how it would come about and it wasn't something that hadn't already happened before in salvation history (see Abraham and Sarah). Plus the priest said Zechariah's tone was different, which doesn't come through in the English so well but was more of a more scoffing attitude.

The first priest's interpretation seems to favor one of predestination. His homilies are big on praising God and not looking at ourselves so much, not trying to take credit for any improvements or become discouraged with lack thereof. The second priest's emphasizes human response and tends to emphasize our role in salvation. So in retrospect it's no wonder that they look at the same biblical story in different ways.

UPDATE: The Friar Minor has worthwhile thoughts on the same subject.

December 19, 2011

This & That Monday

Two reads:
" lose physical sight, it is thought, is to gain second sight. One door closes and another, greater one, opens. Homer’s blindness, many believe, is a kind of spiritual channel, a shortcut to the gifts of memory and of prophecy."
- from novel "Open City"

"O God who wished Blessed Margaret be blind from birth so that the eyes of her soul enlightened by your grace, might more clearly see the value of spiritual realities..."
- from novena prayer to Blessed Margaret of Castello.


From Betty Duffy:
My brother-in-law discovered that he could create a musical communion in the bar from his I-phone, by sending a virtual request to the I-tunes jukebox to play any song he chose, without ever getting up from the booth. No one would know who requested the song. He selected Andrea Bocelli singing Ave Maria.

From the very first notes, the other patrons of the bar were alarmed. The bartender went to the jukebox to see what was playing. Another patron went with him, and together they tried to override the song. But it couldn't be done. The bartender tried to comfort his customer saying, "Well, it's sort of a pretty song."

To which the patron replied, "I'm going to throw up."

This is one of those very rare cases where technology thrills me: you could potentially request an I-jukebox song from your I-phone, without ever even entering the bar. If you want the pool-hall patrons to spend the evening listening to Gregorian Chant, sit in your car, and request (for a small fee) all the songs you desire, from your phone.


Pray that Maureen secure employment!


It's funny that the last mortal thoughts of Christopher Hitchens might well be on that most Catholic of English writers, GK Chesterton.

Amazon Search Results

Unlikely juxtaposition of results:

December 16, 2011

Christendom Review Up

Striking Christendom Review images:

Translating Cheers

High school jeer/cheer that will apparently forever be lodged in my head went:
"Go Back! Go Back! Go back to the woods! Your coach is a farmer and your team is no good!"
Alternative renderings include:
"Retreat! Retreat! Retreat to the pines. Your coach is a rancher and your team is not exceptional."
Dylan has some much better ones:
Unto the woods convey yourselves with haste; for, as your coach is adept at nothing save tillage of the soil, your team, O hapless foe, is of truly mean estate.
No laurel of victory shall come your way, O wretched contestants of the gridiron! It would seem that your athletic director is incapable of anything but making the earth yield produce in abundance; therefore, O team, return with all due haste to the rural atmosphere; indeed, go back to the bucolic spot which gave you sustenance.

Links & Thoughts

OP Reach likes Isaiah too.


Pope Speaks of Something Greater Than Answered Prayers


Being of a conservative, risk-adverse bent, it took me many years to accept the notion that alcohol had been tested by humans long enough in order for me to indulge, and so it's odd I'm so willing to being part of this on-the-grid experiment.


Been watching a very watchable movie in 30 minute increments: "Crazy Heart" starring Jeff Bridges. It's about an old time country music star finding love and meaning. Really well-acted by Bridges, whose gruffness and frankness sounds authentic, to my ear anyway. It's like a Western, only with no gunplay.


Grey and overcast, greyest overcast. The weather has a charismatic quality simply in its newness, in its freshness and its omnipresence. There's always weather, always some differing quality of light and temperature. I want to find the bright side, pun unintended, of this gray-ly authentic December weather. It's very fashionable, very much "of the minute", very much of the season. The grey-ness is not the artificially static climate of southern California but one capable of donning many disguises, from a dapper "London fog" sort, to a Nome-ian snow blitz, and in summer to an equatorial heat. Meanwhile a second squirrel nest has come to lodge in a nearby maple.


A wonderful writer, I think of Christopher Hitchens as the H.G. Wells or George Bernard Shaw of our time, a man of deeply flawed convictions but capable of very loyal friendships. At the end he began to see our weakness in the face of disease and death, or at least see that that which does not kill us does not necessarily make us stronger. Only God can make us stronger, in body and spirit, and I would that he would know that now.

There were more similarities between Christopher Hitchens and William F. Buckley than many think.  Both were boarding school survivors, hedonists, contrarians, great writers, and intellectuals.  Both had an especial talent for friendship and were charismatic.  I can't be alone in being a fan of both and to feel the pain when they left this world.  Advice for the young: don't pick older writers as favorites. They'll die on ya. 

First reading today:
Let no foreigner who has attached himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ Let no eunuch say, ‘And I, I am a dried-up tree.’ Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants – all who observe the sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain.
- Isaiah 56

December 11, 2011

This & That

Above me a blue skylight, or "solatube" casts the dying rays downward. The blue gets deeper and deeper as time passes. Ten feet away stand the stalwart volumes of the 1911 Britannica Encyclopedia, standing athwart history yelling, "Stop!" How gladsome those soldiers make me feel! They seem too distant from my recliner, and so I imagine ways to integrate them more fully into my life without risking that they lose their salt, so to speak. Right now I look more than touch.

So I have a broad margin of time today as I hole up in the "temple of peace", the library, and read the novel "Open City" by Teju Cole which includes the 'graph:
"His reverie took him out of the everyday, away from the blankets and the bag of urine. It was the late thirties again, and he was back in Cambridge, breathing the damp air of the fens, enjoying the tranquility of his youthful scholarship."
Ah how I love that phrase: "the tranquility of his youthful scholarship". How high the stakes seemed, holding to my coveted if meaningless goal of graduating "cum laude", the fruit of having acquired a 3.5 on a 4.0 scale over the years. And how true it was that the scholarship was played out in a tranquil fashion on those long evenings at King Library. I would wander over to the periodicals after studying and feed on some of the vitality of those wondrous, eclectic magazines. Oh how the ache of learning was slaked in those days!

Now I have this dream stretch of time available on the heels of a beer-free Saturday (a chance to spare the liver and cleanse the palate, or vice-versa.) Got the Bengals on the DVR for later, their fate not necessary for current conditions. For now I drink a Two-Hearted Ale, a crisp remnant from vacation bliss, while reading and writing. I finished "The Marriage Plot" yesterday, experienced the dubious ending but can find little fault in a writer that so engages.

On Guadete Sunday I read Pope Paul VI's apostolic exhortation "On Christian Joy", which cleansed me of any irritability. I was filled with joy, appropriately, especially when the pontiff, with exquisite sensitively, said that we need not be discouraged if we're not full of Christian joy just yet. To my mind, we've had a good long run of excellent popes, from John XIII through the present one. It's fitting somehow that Paul VI, so long type-cast as the shepherd who was mournful and depressed, writes on joy such that even some thirty-five years later, a priest at a parish in downtown Columbus takes the time to print off copies for parishioners.

Watched an HBO documentary on a private detective in Calcutta, fascinating on both a human and photographic level. Then COPS ("Ho, Ho, Ho!" about prostitutes -- always figures of interest given that they sell their souls, it seems. It may be the world's oldest profession, but it also seems the most... disturbing.)

On Joy

Paul VI   Apostolic Exhortation
Let us now pause to contemplate the person of Jesus during His earthly life. In His humanity He had experienced our joys. He has manifestly known, appreciated, and celebrated a whole range of human joys, those simple daily joys within the reach of everyone. The depth of His interior life did not blunt His concrete attitude or His sensitivity. He admires the birds of heaven, the lilies of the field. He immediately grasps God’s attitude towards creation at the dawn of history. He willingly extols the joy of the sower and the harvester, the joy of the man who finds a hidden treasure, the joy of the shepherd who recovers his sheep or of the woman who finds her lost coin, the joy of those invited to the feast, the joy of a marriage celebration, the joy of the father who embraces his son returning from a prodigal life, and the joy of the woman who has just brought her child into the world.
It's perhaps of interest that Paul VI wrote that in 1975, when he was in old age and after Humane Vitae's poor reception, when he was said to be downhearted and discouraged. Later he writes:
Here below this joy will always include to a certain extent the painful trial of a woman in travail and a certain apparent abandonment, like that of the orphan: tears and lamentation, while the world parades its gloating satisfaction. But the disciples’ sadness, which is according to God and not according to the world, will be promptly changed into a spiritual joy that no one will be able to take away from them.

December 09, 2011

"I Dare Not Risk the Sweetness of the Title"

Ha, I've said something similar to this in the past on my blog:
I remember the buying of my "Anatomy of Melancholy" (that I have never read, nor ever mean to—I dare not risk the sweetness of the title); two big beautiful volumes, with a paper label on the back of each, they stood imperious on the shelves.

Robust Low-Hanging Fruit Leveraging Outside the Box Thinking

Most hated buzzwords...

December 06, 2011

Back to Back Tweets in the Twitter Feed

Whoda thunk these back-to-backers?:

I'm sure they don't follow each other.

How Doctors Die

Interesting link via Elena on how doctors die. (Hint: they're not keen on chemotherapy.)

Book Quotes

Found from various & sundry places...this first quote is an argument against nominating Newt Gingrich for president.
Shakespeare seems to have sensed very early—what the world at large has still to learn—that he who cannot rule himself is not entitled to rule a city, still less a nation. - Goddard's "The Meaning of Shakespeare"

After the birth of a human being his early years are obscurely spent in the toils or pleasures of childhood. As he grows up the world receives him, when his manhood begins, and he enters into contact with his fellows. He is then studied for the first time, and it is imagined that the germ of the vices and the virtues of his maturer years is then formed. This, if I am not mistaken, is a great error. We must begin higher up; we must watch the infant in its mother's arms; we must see the first images which the external world casts upon the dark mirror of his mind; the first occurrences which he witnesses; we must hear the first words which awaken the sleeping powers of thought, and stand by his earliest efforts, if we would understand the prejudices, the habits, and the passions which will rule his life. The entire man is, so to speak, to be seen in the cradle of the child. - Tocqueville's "Democracy in America"

Unlike every other famous tourist sight Mitchell had seen in his life, the Acropolis was more impressive in reality; no postcard or photograph could do it justice. The Parthenon was both bigger and more beautiful, more heroically conceived and constructed, than he’d imagined. - Eugenides's "The Marriage Plot"

a snapping turtle lumbered down the center of the asphalt like an ambulatory helmet. His long tail dragged, blunt head jutting out of the lapidary prehistoric sleep of shell.

the drowned boy blurred as much by memory as by water, molded toward an essential, remote ideal. Longing, of course, become its own object, the way that desire can make anything into a god. - Doty's "Fire to Fire"

If Thinking With the Church Were Easy, Everybody Would Do It

Here's National Review's take on the new translation:

December 02, 2011

On Looking Forward to Friday (in this case, today)

There's a thin line between passion and pathology, goes Heather King's motto, and similarly there's a thin line between looking forward to some earthly good and looking TOO much forward to it. "Seek first the kingdom of God and all else will be added," is gospel truth.

There's a catch-22 nature to addiction and/or looking too forward: something has to be really good for it to be looked forward to too much. By striving to find transcendent experience one is unwittingly striving to find addiction. You can't really have one without the other, it would seem. Drug addicts have found the most obvious and seemingly dependable source of pleasurable experiences while simultaneously finding the most addictive and destructive. And, of course, the thrill wears off even as the need for the the substance doesn't.

I suspect one reason to not to look forward so much is because by definition you're not living in the moment. By definition you are, in a sense, "wishing your life away" and we know how precious life is. It's not particularly helpful or conducive to gratitude, to be bummed that it's Monday instead of Friday, say, and gratitude is arguably the mark of true religion.

Happened across a Psychology Today link:
The circuitry connecting the orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum is a beautifully crafted machine for learning what you like and pursuing it with single-minded purpose. Its fuel is dopamine. And this machine sends messages directly to the premotor and motor cortex. It guides behavior, action, in pursuit of the good things in life...We can learn to go after anything, full bore, if it attracts us. And that's how we get ahead in life.

But it's also how we get addicted. The goal-pursuit circuit is a bit too flexible. Cocaine high. Oh yeah. That feels good. Want more. Got to get it. That drink at the end of the day. Feels good. Want it. Stop at the liquor store on the way home. These tendencies eventually cause us a lot of suffering, but they are simply byproducts of a brain that evolved to seek rewards, based on their attractiveness, and to pursue them with almost relentless energy.

When your back-ache gets bad enough, you start doing physio or yoga, so that you can use your upright spine to its best advantage. When your addiction gets bad enough, you'd best figure out how to use the goal-pursuit circuit for what it's designed for: to be successful and happy, to avoid suffering, and—of course—to feed the little ones back at the cave.