February 28, 2012

Jefferson on Religious Liberty

[Archbishop Niederauer] cited an exchange between an Ursuline sister in New Orleans, who, in the early 1800s, wrote to President Thomas Jefferson to ask whether her community’s property and religious ministries would be safe after the Louisiana Territory came under U.S. rule.

The president replied:
“The principles of the Constitution and the government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules without interference from the civil authorities.”
Archbishop Niederauer questioned whether the Department of Health and Human Services has found a better interpretation of religious liberty than Jefferson.

Read more: here.


Watched another glorious "Downton Abbey" on PBS.  It's a soap opera, but so cinematic. There are scenes suggestive of another war movie/soap opera: "Gone With the Wind". Last night we watched the somber death-bed wedding of a brave soldier and an equally brave soldier of another kind, the diminutive "Daisy" who didn't want to marry him but took one for the team and seemed, in the soldier's ebbing moments, to become truly married after all.  The scarcity of the show - only three episodes remain - is easily overcome since we plan to simply start over and begin again when the second season wraps up.  I don't know how good it'll be the second time around but the visuals, acting, and feeling of being in another world make it worthy of another go-round.  There is something so pure in it, so much purer anyway than the modern novels I so often dabble in. It makes me want to read something Jane Austen-ish. 

Brad Pitt, in a taped interview on the Oscar telecast, said that part of what makes a great movie is to see people doing things you're not sure you could do, to see a certain nobility of spirit and action displayed. How true. That's part of what attracts me to "Downton Abbey".  It's a completely un-ironic show, a tonic in this ironic age, and the chivalry and bravery of the soldiers in WWI is inspiring.  Sure there are bad apples in the bunch, but they have a human side, are not caricatures. 

I can't quite put my finger on what makes the series so good other than the sterling character studies of selflessness, from the kind and good patriarch to the caring wife, to the head butler and others. And then there's Mary, thin and pale but red-blooded as Scarlet O'Hara, someone who occasionally shines translucently, fatally flawed but rising to the occasion. When she's good, she's very good - tending to the wounds of her rejected beau and tending to the physic wounds of her ex-beau's beau.  When she's bad, she's bad to an extent that you would write her off as worthy of anything but contempt.  But that would be premature.  In her and her sister Edith there's the capacity for more darkness and more light than is normally present to the naked eye.

Rick I Hardly Knew Ye

Oh Rick Santorum. Who knew he could be so politically incorrect? He sings my song, airs my beefs, bears my burdens. (Though he is way to the right of me on national security issues and is squishy on torture.) The establishment Republicans see a Santorum nomination as certain death but what a pretty death it would be. This nominating process has been full of tasty morsels, but none quite so satisfying as Santorum's impassioned rhetoric about wanting to "throw up" concerning Kennedy's 1960 Houston speech. Talk about goring sacred cows! Ol' "Shiver Up My Leg", Chris Matthews, had a cow on his show over the takedown of his pretty-by idol. And then too Santorum's calling Obama a snob for wanting everyone to go to college and receive their liberal indoctrination, well, that was priceless too. Taking on the higher education establishment, that massively overpriced wonder of the Western world! Another sacred cow gored! I love it. But I don't think I can vote for him now. He's saying things I love to hear but for that reason I should not vote for him because what is music to my ears is a rude cacophony to the swing voters in the swing state of Ohio. In other words, you can't scare the natives. Got to hold some of those views a bit closer to the vest, Rick and not let everyone see your cards.

Interesting perspective found here:
In the cold calculus of game theory, the expected response to this state of affairs would be to accommodate yourself to the growing strength of the opposing coalition—to persuade pockets of voters on the Democratic margins they might be better served by Republicans. Yet the psychology of decline does not always operate in a straightforward, rational way. A strategy of managing slow decay is unpleasant, and history is replete with instances of leaders who persuaded themselves of the opposite of the obvious conclusion. Rather than adjust themselves to their slowly weakening position, they chose instead to stage a decisive confrontation. If the terms of the fight grow more unfavorable with every passing year, well, all the more reason to have the fight sooner. This was the thought process of the antebellum southern states, sizing up the growing population and industrial might of the North. It was the thinking of the leaders of Austria-Hungary, watching their empire deteriorate and deciding they needed a decisive war with Serbia to save themselves.

At varying levels of conscious and subconscious thought, this is also the reasoning that has driven Republicans in the Obama era. Surveying the landscape, they have concluded that they must strike quickly and decisively at the opposition before all hope is lost.
What's the lesson of Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush and John McCain, all losers in the general election? Was it just that they were beaten by better candidates? Was it that none of them could sufficiently rally the base? Was it that they all were older, and Americans love youth? Or is it simply that the pocketbook issues leaned towards the Democrat in those elections?

February 26, 2012

Peter the Rock

I was reading about Abraham Lincoln in Atlantic magazine, and a few lines jumped out:
 "Lincoln responded with both humility and determination. The humility came from a sense that whatever ship carried him on life's rough waters, he was not the captain but merely a subject of the divine force...The determination came from a sense that however humble his station, Lincoln was no idle passenger but a sailor on deck with a job to do. In his strange combination of profound deference to divine authority and a willful exercise of his own meager power, Lincoln achieved transcendent wisdom." 
Indeed, there's the rub of it all, isn't it?  Somehow being able to take in one gulp, as it were, God's sovereignty and human effort, seeing them not as opposed but working together.  Too often I ping from fatalism to savlation-by-human-effort and back again.

Of late, I've felt a temptation towards a fatalistic view. I've recently seen the following: a sister-in-law coming to the Church, enticed finally by the carrot of a much shortened RCIA program. I've seen a friend leave the Catholic Church because he didn't like the new pastor and the church renovations. In the more distant past, a girl I was dating offered to convert to Catholicism "for me". ( It's no wonder the Pope once said that he thought the church would become smaller, because I can tell you that anyone who became Catholic for me would surely be sorely tempted to become not Catholic "for me".) It's enough to drive one to despair.

Faith can't be forced, and when there's no "first principle", i.e. belief in the rock of apostolic foundation, it's especially fragile. Many things can bring one to the Catholic church - a spouse, an appreciation of the current pope or parish priest, an appreciation for the beauty of the churches, the saints - but ultimately all of these are sand, in the long run, because if one doesn't believe that Jesus actually founded the Catholic church and intended it as the means to salvation, if one doesn't believe that Jesus gave special powers to apostles and those apostles had authority to name new figures of authority, then, well, you have a thousand denominations and devil-approved division.  Ultimately it seems one has to be convinced of the premise of the Church, not her characteristics. It comes down, ultimately, to the question of authority. Without nailing that down, one gets tossed about by the winds, no matter how long the question lay seemingly dormant. Beauty may save the world yet, but experience seems to render her a fickle suitor.  

G.K. Chesterton said something about how part of atheism involved a certain sterility of intellect, or words to that effect.  In other words, part of the basis of belief seems related to how we use the left-side of our brains (rather than, for example, what our feelings may tell us). A Word Among Us meditation the other day mentioned how we ought rely on memory, trust, and logic (yes logic!) for the conviction that God is in control, will protect us and, to which one might add, gain trust in the Church He founded.

February 23, 2012


20 Beautiful Private and Personal Libraries

Ruin lust: our love affair with decaying buildings.

Hey Wow, a New Corporatism!

A new one for my collection. See if you can spot it:
Dan's first day will be Monday, February 20th and he be reporting to me. Please join me in welcoming Dan!

Feel free to cascade as appropriate.

Fasting, Defined Downwardly

Surprised at how effective the "wee fast" yesterday was in getting my attention. I've become so used to nightly beer followed by cereal & protein shake, dietary accoutrements that seem nearly mandatory while much of the developing world just longs for a full meal. It's shocking how little it takes to go without to remind one of how the rest of the world lives and to share, in a infinitesimally microscopic way, a solidarity with them. Two small meals and one normal-sized is a discipline for me, more so now than a few years ago when I used to skip breakfast and have just two meals a day.

One of the things I like about Ash Wednesday and Good Friday is the solidarity of so many Catholics fasting (to a greater or lesser extent). How true the words of Fulton Sheen!: "The fewer sacrifices a man is required to make, the more loath he will be to make those few."

February 22, 2012

Poetry Wednesday

via Dylan.
by John Frederick Nims

"A dead tradition! Hollow shell!
Outworn, outmoded -- time it fell.
Let's make it new. Rebel! Rebel!"
Said cancer-cell to cancer-cell.

And from E.E. Cummings:
now does our world descend
the path to nothingness
(cruel now cancels kind;
friends turn to enemies)
therefore lament,my dream
and don a doer's doom

create is now contrive;
imagine,merely know
(freedom:what makes a slave)
therefore,my life,lie down
and more by most endure
all that you never were

hide,poor dishonoured mind
who thought yourself so wise;
and much could understand
concerning no and yes:
if they've become the same
it's time you unbecame

where climbing was and bright
is darkness and to fall
(now wrong's the only right
since brave are cowards all)
therefore despair,my heart
and die into the dirt

but from this endless end
of briefer each our bliss--
where seeing eyes go blind
(where lips forget to kiss)
where everything's nothing
--arise,my soul;and sing

A Florida City That Never Was

Interesting article about a tiny Florida island:
Deb Johnson, the wife of one of the park workers, stood outside her house on tiny Adams Key gardening on a postcard-ready day. Butterflies and egrets alighted nearby. Her front yard is the Atlantic Ocean. She has one neighbor, a park ranger. She watches the sunrise from her dock every morning and sits mesmerized by lightning storms in the evenings. Residents here need to be hardy, though. Milk and bread are a boat ride away. Winter is perfect. Summer is not.

“I have to wear a bug suit,” she said. It looks like a beekeeper’s suit and it keeps out the mosquitoes that swarm. She cannot leave the house without it during the summer.

“It’s not always paradise,” she said, on a balmy, sunny February morning. “Right now it is.”

What I Learned about Whitney Houston from Wendell Berry

From his book "Life is a Miracle", thoughts that are very Steven Riddle-ish it seems to me:
The Bible says that between all creatures and God there is an absolute intimacy. All flesh lives by the spirit and breath of God (Job 34:14-15). We "live, and move, and have our being" in God (Acts 17:28). In the Gospels it is a principle of faith that God's love for the world includes every creature individually, not just races or species...God's love for all things, for each thing for its own sake and not for its category.


Explanation is reductive, not comprehensive; most of the time, when you have explained something, you discover leftovers. An explanation is a bucket, not a well. What can't be explained? I don't think creatures can be explained. I don't think lives can be explained. I don't think pictures or stories or songs or dances can be explained. The arts are indispensable precisely because they are so nearly antithetical to explanation.


The power of art tends to be an individuating power, and that tendency is itself an affirmation of the value of individuals and of individuality...However much these characters may "stand for" us humans in our quests, flights, trials, and follies, they are each also intransigently themselves, and are valued as such. They all come out of the common fund of human experience, and so we recognize them, but not one of them is the same as anybody else.


Blake's lines remind us again of the miraculousness of life. This news has been delivered to us time after time in our long tradition. It cannot be proved. It only can be told or shown.


The better artist a woodworker becomes, the more aware he or she becomes of the individuality of boards and of the differences between them. The increase of art accounts for the increase of perception.


The value of Huckleberry Finn is not in its motive or moral or plot, but in its language. The book is valuable because it is a story told, not a story explained.


A work of criticism is not equivalent to a work of art and cannot replace it. The English departments and the biology departments and all other would-be consilient departments can spend the next millennium interpreting King Lear, and at the end of all that work the interpretation will still be one kind of thing and King Lear will still be a thing of a different kind.

So I've been thinking about the difference between the Bible and the Catechism, and of seeing Whitney Houston's life not as a symbol or an allegory or a "cautionary tale" but as something uniquely individualistic. With Houston I find myself in a reductionist mindset, in wanting to make her life - uniquely hers - into an allegory, into a mere lesson.

Wendell Berry writes that a work of art - a story - cannot be encapsulated in criticism or reductionist few lines. A story needs to be told as it is and not simply reduced to a "moral of the story". Perhaps that's a reason to never see the Bible in competition with the Catechism - so often I think that the Catechism as a distillation of what is an oftentimes confusing library of books into a neat, clean "here's what it all means". But however helpful and wonderful as the Catechism is, by Berry's lights a work is more than a sum of its parts and of course the Bible is a work of art different from all others in that it's God's word.

February 20, 2012

Takes, Seven Give or Take

Oh the joy of having a well-stocked fridge again! I went to Kroger's and found, to my delight, that they are now offering "mix and match" six-packs for $9.99. Now that's what I call earning back my business (after a longterm foray to the arms (wings?) of Giant Eagle, based on the latter's premiere beer selection). I was able to try four new beers along with two old favorites in the six-pack. Also picked up a Sam Adams winter variety pack (which includes a coffee brew), the old favorite Columbus IPA and the even older favorite Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I had been drinking "look what I founds" in the fridge, the last gaspions of the infrequently wanted, the dregs as it were.

Then too I was able to restock my cereal cabinet, which had pretty much devolved to just Grape Nuts. So yes I am pleased I overcome the inertia and traveled to the grocery store. It seems to me that grocery shopping is made 50% more pleasant by the beer hunting it affords, much the way it was back in the '70s when Mom would allow me to get a couple packs of baseball cards. Sometimes the packs had transparent wrapping which would show the first card, so there wold be much deliberation in pack-picking depending on who was showing. On "blind" packs I would run my hand over each and in a sort of telepathic, occultish practice try to discern if it had any Reds in it by virtue of a warmth that could be felt from the vibrations that good Reds cards surely had.


Went to the Byzantine church I frequent and the homily was dominated by a letter from the bishop, read to us by the pastor, that said there would be a gathering of the Eastern rite head honchos in 2013 to try, it seems, to figure out how to have a revival. I can only imagine how much trouble they're in: they seem like a fragile hothouse flower that only thrive in an age of faith. Pastor quoted the Deacon as asking if we were going to get tents for the revival. Part of the concern is that children don't stay with the Faith, a common lament that certainly afflicts just about all churches but especially, perhaps, these canary-in-the-coalmine churches that don't offer a huge banquet of extraneous services.


LIN-seed oil! The oil of excellent Asian NBA point guards!


Read more of Ian Ker's magisterial Chesterton bio. "Don't look a gift universe in the mouth," was Chesterton's motto more or less. He said that if we look askance at the cosmos the cosmos might well say something like, "let's take away your existence and then we'll discuss."


The latest game for me is "Words With Friends", an online Scrabble game. Fun and entertaining, although compromised in its integrity by allowing you to submit fake words without penalty until one may happen across a real one, like "fiar" or "habu". Seems to make vocabulary less determinative.


Read a fascinating article from the Atlantic magazine about how a parasite found in cat feces may have infected 20-30% of the population and how the parasite attacks the brain. It tends to make men more introverted, withdrawn, suspicious, while women tend towards the opposite. What's really interesting is how so much of our situation is determined by environment, disease, or genetics: it seems the window in which we choose and act is getting smaller and smaller. I'm always momentarily surprised - although I shouldn't be - that this is a fallen world and not as God intended it.


Read the Pope's Lenten message for this year. So, so, so challenging. He even talks up fraternal correction, which a thing almost repugnant to me given the beam in my own eye and my distaste of conflict.


Had a two hour afternoon-killing meeting Friday starring the ever effervescent H.S. A cavalcade of corporate stars ascended the virtual podium and gave their spiels. Perhaps it's just the disagreeable subject matter, but G. seemed to embody that corporate cheerfulness I find so wearisome. Who could be enthused on engagement and all that crap? Not me, evidently; the feelings weren't contagious. M. gave a good no-nonsense talk as did A. (A. arguably holds the record for most variability in appearance in a given week. On Monday mornings she can look exhausted and spent, while at other times appears the poster child of Irish twinkle-eye'd exuberance.)


Sammy's second birthday today. He was in fine form, enjoying life and the drum set we got him. He was a tilt-a-whirl, going from settee to settee (poetic license). He found his way to such favorite "toys" as the fly swatter and my rosary. Amazing how much more involved he was in this birthday than his first. This time he could open presents, even seemed to know the tradition if inadequately actuated, of blowing out the candles of his cake. Of course the eating part he had down on his first birthday, enjoying in wonderment this rare (for him) taste: refined sugar.

February 17, 2012

Three Steps Ahead?

I wonder if Obama pre-thought the whole contraception thing through, knew he would compromise, knew how it would rally liberal women while leaving the Repubs holding the (unpopular) bag of seeming to work against contraception (rather than for religious liberty).

It just seems too neat and clean how he was able to turn defeat into apparent victory seemingly overnight.

Obama's a guy who was able to outplay Bill Clinton, no slouch as far as politics go, by drawing him into saying impolitic things around the time of the SC primary back four years ago. And how Obama survived the Rev. Wright controversy and the Ayers connection and others is beyond me. Sometimes I think all the Republicans are pikers compared to Obama when it comes to politics.

February 16, 2012

Let's Play...Why's My Bookbag or E-Reader Equivalent So Heavy?

Yesterday I started out with a good dollop of my latest novel, "Leaving the Atocha Station" by Ben Lerner. The protagonist is a liar and a schmutz, so there's that irritation, but the language is oft lyrical.

Found a book in the employee business library, "What Would Ben Stein Do?" by Stein and checked it out. He's big on work, that's for sure. Says it builds character, is a "God-given gift" that makes us happy. I dunno. I think he puts a little too much emphasis on money and work. He quotes Ben Franklin quoting Samuel Johnson saying the best things in times of adversity: "an old wife, an old dog, and ready money." Hey what about faith? But the guy can't write an uninteresting paragraph, though it be plain-spun knowledge. He talks about how unhappy the rich are, and I thought of Whitney Houston. Apparently they get caught up in comparing themselves to other rich people and think they don't have enough. "If you are happy, then you are rich, not the other way around," says Stein. He's a good writer in that he seems to write platitudinally, but interestingly nevertheless.

Drinking an Old Rasputin Imperial Stout while reading. Hello! Like drinking liquid liquorish. It's a muscular wake-up call, a Russian Orthodox liturgy of a brew: a lotta smells and bells. Also read more of the absorbing "Weekends at Bellevue" book. Perhaps it will paint a different picture than "One Flew Over" did.


From a Whitney Houston-related article:
I once heard drug addiction described as nostalgia. Chasing the perfection and the abandon of that first time.
And another:
The tragedy here — in addition to the loss of a talent and the apparent illness of a once-healthy woman — is the way that loss and illness have sucked dry our well of respect for someone who made an artistic and social impact.

Excerpt from poem in Mark Doty's "Fire to Fire":
Cold April and the neighbor girl —our plumber’s daughter—
comes up the wet street from the harbor carrying, in a nest she’s made
of her pink parka, a loon. It’s so sick, she says when I ask.

Foolish kid, does she think she can keep this emissary of air?
Is it trust or illness that allows the head —sleek tulip—to bow
on its bent stem across her arm?

From "Leaving the Atocha Station" by Ben Lerner:
It often occurred to me that my upbringing would have been changed beyond all recognition if kissing had been common; such a dispersion of the erotic into general social circulation would have had unpredictable effects...in Spain I was guilty of abusing the kissing thing, or of at least investing it with a libidinal charge it wasn’t supposed to contain, and when you were drunk or high and foreign, you could reasonably slip up and catch the corner of the mouth.


It was early dusk by the time we reached the cathedral, and in a Spanish cathedral it always felt like dusk, dull gold and gray stone and indeterminate distances, so I had the feeling less of going indoors than of entering a differently structured but nonetheless exterior space.

This is what I felt, if it wasn’t what I thought, as I smoked and listened to the rain on the roof and turned the pages and smelled the wet stone smell of Madrid through the windows I kept cracked.

I wondered if the incommensurability of language and experience was new, if my experience of my experience issued from a damaged life of pornography and privilege, if there were happy ages when the starry sky was the map of all possible paths, or if this division of experience into what could not be named and what could not be lived just was experience, for all people for all time.

And if we never slept together or otherwise “realized” our relationship, I would leave Spain with this gorgeous possibility intact, and in my memory could always ponder the relationship I might have had in the flattering light of the subjunctive.

When we reached the colonnade, we sat on the cool steps not far from a circle of drummers and she began to roll a spliff. I looked at her and she was aureate in the failing light and humming something to go with the drums and the prospect of her not being at least a little in love with me was crushing.

February 15, 2012


Zero Hedge zeroes in on how Krugman must be loving all the destruction in Greece:
There is a silver lining to Athens’ ever uglier transition to a third world country: the massive GDP boost that awaits it as it sets off to fix broken windows and burned down buildings. In fact, we eagerly await Krugman’s OpEd praising some of the more recent developments out of Greece in the past 48 hours. Granted, the country will need to get even more bailout funding from the Troika for said GDP boost to occur, but who cares about details anymore.

February 14, 2012

Berry on Barry

I was reading Wendell Berry contra biologist E. O. Wilson, and the following line kind of reminded me of Obama's "compromise": "Like a naive politician, Mr. Wilson thinks he has found a way to reconcile two sides without realizing that his way is one of the sides." Later: "One cannot, in honesty, propose to reconcile Heaven and Earth by denying the existence of Heaven."


Donald McClarey at American Catholic opines:
In regard to the Bishops they did fight hard for the Stupak amendment and they were aghast when it was defeated, but, in general, the Bishops loved the idea of national health care, with a restriction against funding abortions, even with a gang of anti-Catholics like the Obama administration at its helm. What the Obama administration has done in regard to contraceptives and abortifacients was as predictable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. I hope the Bishops have learned a lesson now about the dangers of the Church getting into bed with the Welfare State, but I doubt it. I praise the Bishops for standing up to the Mandate and not being gulled by the “compromise” , but I think most of them still do not grasp that giving this type of power to Caesar inevitably will cause the Church to become a target of that power sooner or later, for modern liberalism is a vastly intolerant secular religion, and where they have the power, modern liberals will use the power of the State to enforce their orthodoxy.

More Wendell Berry:
"People follow religion, he says, because it is 'easier' than empiricism (p. 262), the lab evidently being harder to bear than the cross."

"whatever proposes to invalidate or abolish religion (and this is what consilience pretty openly proposes) is in fact attempting to put itself in religion's place. Science-as-religion is clearly a potent threat to freedom."

February 13, 2012

Thoughts Sacred & Profane

Neither Mark Steyn nor George Will are Catholic, nor are particularly close friends to the Catholic Church, so I suppose it isn't surprising that both gave a stinging retort to the Church for more or less going on with Obamacare and now being shocked at the results, i.e. that Obama would send down this sort of ruling.


For one brief, shining moment Obama managed to unite the liberal and conservative Catholics, from Chris Matthews to John Kerry to George Weigel, all arm-in-arm. Alas the unity couldn't last. I can't recall in my lifetime another instance of such togetherness.

I'm often intrigued by two exchanges between Jesus and his mother at two junctures: the fifth joyful mystery ("finding in the Temple") and the second luminous mystery ("the wedding at Cana"). These are bookended in my mind, in how Jesus and Mary seem to change roles with respect to his ministry. In the first instance, it's as if Jesus is ready to start his public ministry and thus is found in the Temple preaching, as it were, to the holy men there. But Mary and Joseph find him and bring him home and he obeys. Then the opposite thing occurs at the wedding: Mary is ready for Him to begin his ministry, while He is reluctant. But again Jesus follows her lead and begins it. I think this sheds light on how Mary had pondered the incident at the Temple, all those years before, and had prepared herself for having to eventually let him go (most dramatically and sadly at having to let him go to the Cross). It also gives me a sense of the holiness of Mary that Jesus made himself so subject to her.


We've always had a lot of squirrels, but now there seems to have been bred a new super squirrel or squirrels, because they've been able to surmount the bird feeder despite the anti-squirrel guard. They've also managed to build a nest in the truck and, not so helpfully, chew the ignition wires. The buggers are becoming quite a trial. I long for the days when squirrels were dumber.


Religion & depression post via T. Borchard.


Finished the lively and word-fond James Wolcott memoir. Surely the mark of a talented writer is shown by the fact he compelled me to read things not of especial interest to me, like that of the career of Pauline Kael. His is a sort of exuberant, fire-hose prose and I'll miss it. A few provocative lines that I'm not sure are necessarily true but very interesting:

Alfred Chester, who wrote in a review of John Updike’s Pigeon Feathers, “Despite the currency of the phrase, we really don’t want writers to say anything because, as soon as they do, we get bored. What we do want is for them to feel something, and to make us feel something.”... “Teach us, O Artists, not to settle for guilts and anxieties, for twitches and embarrassments! Teach us, O Artists, to feel again! Because emotions are the only thing that artists have to say—and emotion can make us gigantic and tragic. (Ideas never can; they can only follow, like dogs. Ideas, however pertinent, however great, tend to remove us from reality; feelings always bring us back again. Ideas never explain experience; feelings are experience.)”

Writing as deskbound craft, profession, and calling already comes pre-outfitted with so many diaphanous veils of solitariness that word-delight alone—the pleasure of all the billiard balls clicking and emptying into the pockets—doesn’t compensate for an audience that doesn’t answer no matter how nicely you call. I never felt this way writing about television for the Voice, even though television watching was considered then (less so now) a sedentary, light-bleached act of inanition that The New Yorker’s former TV critic Michael Arlen once compared to masturbation.

There's sometimes a case of reconciling earthly gifts and the cross. Perhaps it's easy to become imbued entirely with one mindset or the other: life is a cross, a sad valley to be endured and offered up, or life is a gift, a pleasurable thing for which we ought to be grateful to the Giver. Christian discipleship doesn't seem to be about accruing earthly pleasures even towards the laudable goal of thanking the Maker though. Luke Timothy Johnson writes in Living Jesus:
"We find nowhere in the New Testament an understanding of Christian discipleship compatible with a life devoted to one's own success, pleasure, comfort, freedom from suffering...The imitation of Christ in his life of service and suffering - not as an act of masochism for the sake of suppressing one's own life but as an act of love for the enhancement of others' life - is not an optional version of Christianity."

Newsweek, of all magazines, has a cover story about Christian persecution, actually using the term "Christophobe" in place of the familiar "Islamophobe". Very heartening to see Newsweek address the issue, but disheartening to read the article and see how little I can do. Pray, of course. Our government could also start leveraging foreign aid to incentivize better Muslim behavior, but that's not real likely to happen.



What a tranquil effect have the words of Dinesen's classic Out of Africa. I read, and it melts the distance to that airy 600-acre coffee farm in the African highlands. My eyes involuntarily close, my breathing slows, and I am in the epic. Of young plants, protected from the sun, she writes, "obscurity is the privilege of young things." And how like my latest trip to Sanibel feel her words of airy Africa: "Up in this high air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart."

Kindle Meme

Via the Curt Jester there's a new meme that consists of:
So, here are the rules. You post the rules and a link back to the person who tagged you. You also tell them that they’ve been tagged on their own blog, rather than just hoping they’ll discover it for themselves. Then you decide what three books are essential reading for anyone with a Kindle. Reasons would be good, but not essential. Then you tag five people.
"Essential" is a rather strong word but I can do three books that I really, really liked (I'll assume the Bible is out of scope):
Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton: GKC seems to have that rare quality of providing a sense of hopefulness and great cheer without relaxing the standard.

Out of Africa - Isak Dinesen: a transcendentally beautiful writer, Hemingway thought she should've won his Nobel Prize and E.E. Cummings revered her -- said her books were worth more than "all the Flakners in Missouriissippi"!

The Habit of Being : letters of Flannery O'Connor: a treasure trove of wisdom. Honorable mention to The Correspondence of Shelby Foote & Walker Percy.

Tag Steven, Dylan, Fr. Charles, Betty.

February 10, 2012

Morning Joe & NR

Cardinal Wuerl was on "Morning Joe" this morning and made the point of how "health care" has been redefined. Mark Steyn said a similar thing in the latest National Review:
If health care is a “human right” in the debased contemporary sense (i.e., not a restraint upon the state — as in Magna Carta — but a gift of the state), then who gets to define what health care is?

Answer: Commissar Sebelius.
I also loved Cardinal Wuerl's response to Mika B. when she said Catholics use artificial contraceptives. He said something like, "Yes, and do you know there are Catholics in jail?". In other words, failure to live up to a standard does not invalidate the standard.

February 08, 2012

Rise of the New Groupthink

Introverts unite! (Though not all at once, together, physically present, because, you know...).

[Insert here long nostalgic post about those halcyon days of having an office.]

Quicker Takes (70% leaner by volume)

Watched three hours of C-Span's "In Depth" with the inimitable Mark Steyn while devising ways to rid myself of recurrent hiccups when the occasion presented itself. Which was curiously often.


My latest bookish hunger is for the "Quiet", a best-seller about introverts. The author conducted a live Facebook chat via the Columbus library Tuesday at 7, which I "attended".


I just hope hiccups don't keep me up tonight. It's all fun until my sleeping gets hurt, ha.


As usual with Superbowls, I made it through the halftime show before turning the channel. Which is inconvenient in close games - I tend to miss the half that really matters.


Read that W.H. Auden used to pee in the sink during parties (and maybe all the time). He said something like, "it's a male privilege to pee in the sink! Every guy does so!" Those eccentric poets. Reminds me of how Catholic blogger Eric Scheske so enjoys the male privilege of peeing outdoors.


One thing I love about this house is that the family room sits next to a generous full-length, southern-facing window. And thus on sunny days, I can bask in high cotton from around 1pm-4pm, with it being so bright that I can profitably wear shades. For a sun-lover like me, if we decide to move it's going to be to a house with similar features. (That last phrase reminds me of a song from the '80s: "with similar features /but longer hair" or something like that, by Melissa Etheridge. But I digress.)


Is it just me, or did the big "M" behind Madonna when she was starting her routine looked like a Marian symbol? Not that she would ever appropriate Christian symbols...

February 07, 2012

O'Reilly & Hahn

Culture warrior Bill O'Reilly seems - naively? - perplexed as to why Planned Parenthood is responsible for 300,000 abortions a year and only 1,000 adoptions. "Shouldn't it be the other way around?" he asks.

Indeed it should, but then we're not fighting Planned Parenthood as such but principalities and powers. Scott Hahn writes in his latest newsletter:
It's important we take part in the [political] conversation. And it's good for us to be passionate. But we also need to keep perspective. Those of us who have survived a few disappointing elections know that God can draw much good even from the worst outcomes. A sense of history can be helpful.

Still more than history we should turn to Scripture. St. Paul had no trouble speaking out against the evils of Greco-Roman culture, but he knew that the real war was more than cultural. "For we are contending against not flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12). The real battle requires spiritual combat.

February 06, 2012


First there's Amy Welborn's new Wish You Were Here, a kind of memoir/travelogue. It's a surprisingly revealing book for someone self-described as a private person (or perhaps not, given today's tell-all's), but one senses that she wanted to write this book without regrets, without holding back.

There is something haunting about the foreshadowing, of how her husband Michael emphasized the brevity of life, of how one of their parish priests talked about death to the point of parody, of how they used to avidly watch "Six Feet Under".

The line from the Byzantine liturgy comes to mind: "by death He trampled Death!" Often I wish that He'd have conquered death by another way!

There are heart-rending moments, such as when one of her sons forthrightly says, "But I don't want Dad to be invisible!" Those are balanced out by comedic episodes such as finding themselves thousands of miles from home and visiting a park not much different than one in their own hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. The travelogue helps lighten the tone of bereavement and loss. Recomended!

Finished "A Sense of Ending" by Julian Barnes. Meh, as the blogger lingo goes. Really a novella, it started strong but the last two-thirds were less lyrical and led to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Twenty pages left in the Wolcott memoir "Lucking Out". He quotes Pauline Kael at one point (saying something I think Steven Riddle might agree with): "I don't trust critics who say they care only for the highest and best; it's an inhuman position, and I don't believe them." Wolcott critiiques the modern novelist speaking of "the aversion of fiction writers to risk bunions and discourtesy at their tender expense to do Dickensian-Balzacian reporting of institutions, status-spheres, and the hidden gear-works of class (an argument strung like Christmas tree lights by Tom Wolfe in his introduction to the anthology The New Journalism); the inadequacy of fiction to keep up with the acceleration and jump-cut transitions of our minds...".

And for you e-reader readers out there, Bill Luse's novel "The Last Good Woman" is now available on Kindle! Bill blogs at Apologia for any relative newcomers.

February 04, 2012


Disappointed but not unduly surprised that the Columbus Dispatch lacked a fair and balanced article on the Komen/Planned Parenthood reversal.

I'm also skeptical of optimists in the blogsophere who think that the reversal really isn't a reversal and that no more new funding will be provided to PP. Even if true, the reversal is damaging on its own - politicians will quake in fear of PP just on the basis of how strong it appeared in making Komen back down so quickly.

In the Dispatch article the pro-Planned Parenthood angle dominated the article - only two paragraphs out of 23 were devoted to those upset over the Komen-Planned Parenthood tie.  And the response from Planned Parenthood didn't include a rebuttal from a right-to-life organization like Ohio Right to Life.

About half of Americans are pro-life, and Planned Parenthood is a major abortion provider, so like it or not this is more controversial than the Dispatch presented it.

More here.

Update:  On second thought, I think one has to pick one's battles, and the real one is the one the bishops are all aligning on: Obama's war on religious freedom. I got bogged down in a distraction, of a charity giving to another "charity", while meanwhile the HHS secretary is telling Catholic hospitals they have to provide abortifacients.

February 03, 2012

A Diary By Any Other Name....

Last night was invigorating reading-wise - I ate up free Kindlic samples of Wendell Berry's "Art of the Commonplace" and "Life is a Miracle". He comes recommended by Betty Duffy and I'm suitably impressionable. Also read beginning of "Diary of a Part-time Monk" about a guy who loves beer and Christianity and combined the two by having a beer-only Lenten fast. Arguably beats a beer-less Lenten fast.

Wendell Berry wrote so poetically, so enrichingly of his native Kentucky, in a way that reminded me of Donald Hall's superb "Seasons at Eagle Pond". He says that those who think they understand life, and want to "control it" are in a sense, giving up on it. The actual sentence I'm thinking of goes:
"A little harder to compass is the danger that we can give up on life also by presuming to 'understand' it - that is by reducing it to the terms of our understanding and by treating it as predictable or mechanical. The most radical influence of reductive science has been the virtually universal adoption of the idea that the world, its creatures, and all the parts of its creatures are machines."

The fun yesterday was consumeristic (ironic in the face of reading Berry, who titled one of his essays, 'Why I Won't Buy a Computer'). I signed up for streaming Netflix, at $7.99 a month. And so I'm still feeling the faux fumes of euphoria over that silliest and yet most dangerous of attachments: entertainment. It's a cornucopia! We immediately watched the first episode of PBS's "Downton Abbey" rather than having to start the season mid-way through its second. "Downton Abbey" is wondrously photographed, with sleek looks of hidebound libraries and regal old oil paintings. It also has the witty cachet of snappy dialogue. I especially enjoyed finding some new potentials and adding them to my quiver, or to what Netflix calls the "instant queue". Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" found its way there, as did something called "Winter's Bone", "Middlemarch" and a documentary on how ancient Greece civilization dissolved.


I can still feel a glimmer of vestigial vacation, a feel of beach and breeze. Moments collected and savored include the night when the tide was low and all sorts of "interesting" sea creatures lay about, like the nearly clear "turds" that resembled either intestines or jellyfish or some combination thereof. My niece and brother and I came across many UBOs - unidentified beach objects - of varying degrees of ugliness. I recall too sunlit mornings of surpassing brevity - the days we hardly knew ye!


Surprisingly, I felt downright chipper for this morning's dental bleed, I mean clean. The hygienist was easy on the eyes if not teeth. It went relatively swiftly ("if it 'twere done, may it be done quickly"). My dentist makes an OCD-sufferer look like Odd Couple character Oscar Madison. He brushes his teeth five times a day, in the morning and at night and after each of his three square meals. Consequently he brings to his dentistry a keen desire to make mountains out of molehills. He seems disappointed and distraught when he can't find anything wrong, as if he let the patient down.