April 30, 2012

Mark Steyn on John Edwards Trial

From latest National Review:
John Edwards lives with the two youngest children of his official government-regulated “family image.” Emma Claire is thirteen and Jack is eleven.

They have no mother. For some reason the United States regards it as a priority to see that they be more comprehensively orphaned.

The great English jurist Lord Moulton considered the most important space in society to be the “middle land” between law and absolute freedom, in which the individual has to be “trusted to obey self-imposed law.” That is, a gentleman should not lie for political advantage about the paternity of his child. When he does so, it is a poor reflection on him and on those who colluded with him — the Democratic party and the media. What it is not is a crime. As bad as Edwards’s behavior is, the Justice Department’s is worse. The urge to ensnare in legalisms every aspect of human existence — including John Edwards’s rutting — will consume American liberty.

24 Hours in Indy: A Trip Log

Delighted to be in the centre of it all, right outside the gaudy service men monument. I took a victory lap around the oval (where a large group of Middle Eastern folk were rallying to 'free Syria') and found, to my surprise, I was inches from the Indiana Symphony and tonight there's Grieg, so I impulsively bought a ticket. Grieg may be a buzz-kill - happy hour has just commenced an hour before the concert starts - but I'd rather error on the side of trying to do too much than too little. Am woefully underdressed but am in the nosebleeds so hope for inconspicuousity.

Was perennially behind time today given the voluptuous delights of the art museum and the grounds surrounding it. The sun shone strongly, which is ever helpful, and so I was loathe to enter the museum, preferring to dilly-dally around the outdoor statuary and hidden fountains. This was originally the summer home of ERF, "extremely rich folk", and their white mansion on the edge of the grounds was something to behold, like out of a fairytale. I momentarily forgot that with mansions and acreage that you eventually become accustomed to whatever initial shock of appreciation. Or so is my working theory, having never lived in a mansion or bought acreage. Still, I do know that despite having attained increasingly bigger back yards over the years they tend to shrink over time, psychically if not physically.

I wasn't sure if I was on museum land in the beginning, so there was the pleasant excitement of potentially trespassing. There's always a thrill in getting to see something "extra", something the natives don't, but I was hoping they didn't sic the dogs on me. The gardens were impossibly delightful, having that aspect of seek and find about them, of hidden vistas suddenly appearing. Fields within fields leading me, inexorably, to the formal gardens and majestic summer home.

Then onto the museum, which happened to be free. Even more shocking was that parking was free. Indiana, reputed to be a lower tax state, still manages to fully fund its museum of art. Kudos.

So I was there over three hours and never made it out of Europe. Beautiful, gorgeous art upon which I engorged myself. Unfortunately I found myself lapsing into the cursed collector/consumerist mindset by trying to snap every other artwork with my camera. Too often instead of enjoying the art in the now, I wanted to capture it in a picture for later.

I came to the museum for escape. I named my fears since that actuates a partial exorcism: that of being a more attentive husband and that of meeting increased challenges at work.

Going through the galleries, I came to one devoted to the sacred, and observed a disciple of Bosch who painted a scene of Christ entering Limbo (although truth be told it looked like Hell). All sorts of body parts were missing, limbs severed, etc. A menacing maw ate people as they entered. But there was Christ, powerful and heroic, beating down the enemies. A fine way to say, "Jesus I Trust in You".

Then there was the very simple painted crucifix of a Spanish king renowned for his personal austerity (hence the simple crucifix). Below the cross was a skull, a symbol of the defeat of Death, and again I'm taught of Christ's power, of how "by death he conquered death".

Later, at St. John the Evangelist, I found a pamphlet describing their sister church in Haiti and found this picture:

Another great: a 17th century panorama of the my favorite Marian apparition, that of Guadalupe. It was quite a stunner and I thought to myself that it was worthwhile to come here just to see this. I sat and drank it in for awhile.

Really there were so many mesmerizing works it was ridiculous. Sometimes a reader needs a solace beyond print. I'm not convinced a picture can say a thousand words, but it has persuasions all it's own.


It's hard to romanticize the view from the ho' (short for 'hotel') but I'm resolved to do so. 90% of it is parking garage, but I can see other things, like a Huntington sign and "SPIRITS" lit up like on the Vegas strip. Signs of life include cars going down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The biggest surprise here in Indianapolis is the love for Benjamin Harrison, x-teenth president of the United States. He must be the only Hoosier president else he'd not be such a big deal (unlike Ohio, which, I say proudly despite having nothing to do with it, has presidents out the wazoo.) There is a plaque and a room in the lobby of the hotel named for him, and there's a museum in or near town. He comes off as something of a cult hero in these parts (I base that on all of a four hour visit).

Went to the Symphony and it was a buzz-killer extraordinaire. Whatever desire for art I had it seemed to have got left in the Art Museum lobby because time till intermission was interminable. I bolt-actioned out right quick after two generous applauses for the guest pianist. He was good, I'm sure, but I guess I felt more like a good blues lick. Or something. All's I know is time moved preternaturally slow during the first movement where "movement" is a generous term. The only thing moving was my ass squirming in my chair.

I felt somewhat vindicated when I read in Saturday's Indianapolis Star that the beginning was indeed slow:
Klas began the program with one of several versions of fellow Estonian Arvo Part's "Fratres." Scored for string orchestra and percussion (which punctuates with taps the points of rest between iterations of the chantlike theme), "Fratres" hauntingly exhibits the spiritual side of minimalism. This performance adopted a slower than ideal tempo; as the strings gradually moved into their lower register and gathered heft, a more credible atmosphere of contemplation was established.
The pianist, Andre Watt, came on next and exhibited a sense of someone at the height of his powers: old enough to play with virtuoso aplomb, young enough to still have the fire. 

It seems like with symphonies they like to put the bad stuff up front so that you'll be so grateful when you hear some better music.  Sort of like fasting during Lent so that you'll be giddy with Easter. 


Woke early, perhaps due to the unusual physical exertion yesterday or because of the exhilaration of being in a strange city.  Either way I slept in anyway, despite a ravenous hunger to read (because I hadn't read anything since Thursday), whereupon I rose and shortly thereafter descended into the bosom of Indianapolis's core. I found my legs a tad recalcitrant; I'm definitely not in good city vacation shape, defined by the desire and ability to walk 5-10 miles a day.  The sedentary lifestyle (except for brief 30 minute elliptical training periods) has a vacation price. 

A friend once called Indianapolis "Columbus West", presumably because they're both state capitols randomly situated amid the cornfields. I did expect a greater density of churches but found only St. John the Evangelist of Catholic persuasion. No Mass till 12:10pm unfortunately. There was a Church of Christ church nearby, and that's the only other Christian church I sighted.  Of course my legs, feeling like lead weights, didn't cooperate beyond an hour stroll amid the concentric streets.  I did alight upon the converted Union Station (it's now a hotel that I'd considered booking).  The marvelous, massive interior space feels strange inasmuch as all this was done for trains?  It definitely gives off the air of a different era.  I tend to associate train travel with utilitarian beds carrying coal and other raw materials, but at one time union stations were the airports of their day.  

Walking around on a cool, rainy morning, I didn't get the feel of the density of a NYC or even Chicago. It's okay but think I probably might've better spent the time walking the Canal Walk. Pictures on the 'net revealed it to be exactly that, a walk along a canal of water. Perhaps not Venice but you gotta dance with the one that brung ya. 

There's something pleasing about just being in the hotel room itself. I open the windows to let in the light.  The sills are nice and deep - you can rest your elbows on them and look out over the scene.  I see an old-timey building with a pleasing stone edifice in near distance.  A faded "First Indiana Savings Bank" sign reminds me I'm not in Ohio anymore. (Which reminds me: yesterday three teenage girls were taking pictures of the War Memorial monument, saying that you "don't see that in Kansas.") 

All-in-all a nice little trip.  The weather cooperated so splendidly - how tailor-made for the lovely garden stroll. I felt like an aristocrat, there walking amid "my" grounds, as if momentarily in a scene from Downtown Abbey. They were definitely difficult to leave, and I'd have liked to brought the Kindle and read there. (At the museum I saw a painting of a man reading in just such a park-like setting.)

Before heading home though I made one last stop, checking out some of the churches in and around Mass Ave., a picturesque street I'd missed. I liked the Deutsche Haus that was renamed the Atheneum during one of the world wars due to anti-German sentiment. The attached Rathskeller looked appealing, reminding me of my days in German class in high school. I looked in on St.Mary's (where many Hispanics were practicing for something) before finding a nearby gigantic temple-like structure irresistible. It looked like a castle cum church, but turned out to be a Shriner's lodge cum theatre.

The drive home proved to be painless. Nothing like excessive walking to make one receptive and grateful towards sitting for 2 1/2 hours. I listened to Dr. Barber's "Sacred Page" podcast followed by the inimitable Brian Lamb interviewing economist Walter E. Williams. Jolly good stuff.

I feel rejuvenated by the immersion in art. Another good thing about vacations: lots of exercise (walking) and better food. I tend to eat less cereal and junk food while, at the same time, exercising tirelessly. And I sleep on clean, allergenic-free, cat-dander-free sheets.

This & That

Last night caught more of the comfortable predictability of Dancing With the (C-List) Stars. One can guarantee there'll be minimal clothing coverage on the females (and sometimes the males), and that the storyline will be aspirational, one of "overcoming". DWTS is mostly a story of overcoming obstacles -- pardon the redundancy since all stories are similarly composed.


Seems that Fr. Corapi has disappeared from view, his infamous Black Sheepdog website taken down. More than a year after the allegations, it seems he's now living in anonymity. Fascinating character he. Larger than life. The whole story seems like something of a different era, a more dramatic one.


Sold the original Kindle DX today. Feels a bit disloyal, seeing how it used to be my go-to reading instrument for a period of time. I'm not sure I should've given up on it so fast. As a backup what could be better? But I think over the past four months I've used it only once. Hard to leave money on the table I guess.


Much enjoyed Lino Rulli's show the other day when Fr. Rob called various other Catholic shows - including Fr. Mitch Pacwa's! - and basically used it to see how long he could talk before being stopped by the host. It was enormously entertaining. Sometimes my jejune-ity shows. It was comedic genius for its line-bending and turns out they got in a bit of trouble for it. The suits don't like those sorts of hijinks. Today's revelation is that Rulli's shrink prescribed some medication for him, something that would give him greater mental clarity with which to make better decisions. Lino says he gets tired often during the day. (Join the club!)


Was semi-traumatized this morn by reading of poor Dom Bettinelli's near MRI experience. Like Dom, I don't think of myself as particularly claustrophobic, but then I haven't found opportunity to be placed in a cage and then in a machine only slightly bigger than myself. It sounds like Geneva and her conventions might want to consider the MRI as an instrument of torture. 45 minutes of doing nothing is enough to drive me crazy. (You mean I can't check my iPhone?) Modern medicine, including actual harrowing treatments like chemo, seem to have heightened expectations of the toughness of the Western humans.


Picked a strong line-up (I think) of Mother's Day gifts. A book by Fr. Groeschel about the afterlife, one by runner Alberto Salazar which I'd like to read, "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible" and, of course, "Bad Religion" by Douthat.


Read about the expanding beer menu on Royal Caribbean cruises on USA Today. Lately I've felt a kind of nostalgia for cruises. I miss the gaudy midways of mid-ship, the cigars on the balcony, the sheer availability of food...

April 23, 2012

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

From Mark Doty's poetry book:
Artless boy, he’s found a system of beauty: he shows us pleasure and what Pleasure resists. The ice cream is delicious. He’s frail beside his relentless standard.
From Ross Douthat's Bad Religion:
The entire media-entertainment complex, meanwhile, was almost shamelessly pro-Catholic. If a stranger to American life had only the movies, television, and popular journalism from which to draw inferences, he probably would have concluded that midcentury America was a Catholic-majority country—its military populated by the sturdy Irishmen of The Fighting 69th (1948) and The Fighting Sullivans (1944); its children educated and its orphans rescued by the heroic priests and nuns celebrated in Boys Town (1938), The Bells of Saint Mary’s (1945), and Fighting Father Dunne (1948); its civic life dominated by urban potentates like Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York and Denis Dougherty of Philadelphia; its everyday life infused with Catholic kitsch, from the 1950s hit single “Our Lady of Fatima” to the “win one for the Gipper” cult of Notre Dame football.


The weaknesses of midcentury religion were manifold, no doubt, but so are the weaknesses of religious culture in any time and place. Judged by the exacting standards of the Gospels, most Christians in the sixth and tenth and sixteenth centuries probably enjoyed only a “veneer” of true religion, and Wills’s critique of American Catholicism on the eve of Vatican II could be applied to the Church of 1880 or 1910 or 1935. It’s easy to recognize the fault lines in an institution after it’s been shattered, easy to declare that a particular dissolution was inevitable once it’s taken place. The more important question isn’t “why?” but “why then?” Why did the churches have a bigger credibility problem in 1978 than in 1958?

From The Map and the Territory by Michael H.:
It must have been very practical, that belief in God; when you could no longer do anything for others—and that was often the case in life, it was basically almost always the case, and particularly concerning his father’s cancer—there remained the resource of praying for them.


“in a sense I’m happy that your mother’s no longer here. She who was so refined, so elegant … she would’ve found physical decline unbearable.”

Diaristic Wanderings Monday

Feel a tinge of nostalgia for an old John Denver song, "Poems, Prayers and Promises". It wasn't as big a seller as most of his others but there's something memorable about it nonetheless. Through the magic of iTunes I can purchase it for .99. Ninety-nine cents to indulge a memory seems like a good deal. (I assume the royalties go to his so out-of -the-spotlight offspring or wife.) Denver died before the era of smartphones and iTunes. I wonder what he'd think about the technology, to be free'd from tapes and discs.

I listen to "My Sweet Lady" as well. It doesn't have the same impact, knowing that the person for whom he wrote it became his ex-wife not too long after. Back in the '70s I thought Denver's romanticism (and not so much God) was the answer to the open infidelity of the heavy rockers. I think after the divorces of so many seminal figures that I eventually realized that romanticism can't be an end in and of itself and that it's not enough. God alone, as Amy Welborn's husband used to say, and even with God it's rough (i.e. the failed marriage of uber-Catholics the MacFarlanes).

My modus operandi for life in general was less of a give-it-to-God/pray like hell philosophy and more of a systematic observation of successful people and copying their tendencies and characteristics. But what I failed to realize was how complicated people are. How we can't be reduced to machines such that if I do x, y will result. As they say with mutual fund prospectuses, "past results don't guarantee future performance." Not to mention that you can seldom draw a straight line between cause and effect in a multi-variable world.


Ross Douthat in "Bad Religion" proposes that heresies prop up orthodoxy like the flying buttresses prop up medieval Gothic churches. Orthodoxy suffers like nobody's business if state-sponsored, which is perhaps why the Catholic faith is (paradoxically) stronger in heretical America these days than Catholic Europe. Orthodoxy is at its strongest when it's slightly rebellious.


I got to do a little surreptitious traveling yesterday. Got to observe people who, on the surface at least, are different than me. I'm pumping gas at an inner city neighborhood and a woman out of the blue starts yelling something (it seems the disadvantaged are often not afraid of decibels). I thought it was directed to me but it turns out to be at a guy slumped against the wall of the gas station. She was very critical of him and seemed something of a harpy, although when he started urinating against the wall I felt more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. Anyway it was like watching a real-life COPS episode without the cops.


Saw two mothers walking their kids on leashes. Hyp-mo-tizing to see that. Understandable given how one of the kids seemed hellbent on racing into the busy four-laner.


Almost instinctively I reach for the lame beers like Budweiser when the drinking day is almost done. Expired Budweiser beer tastes strangely like circus peanuts. But it matters less at that point, which reminds me of just how modern ancient Israel sounds when the Bible says that at the wedding of Cana the cheap stuff is held till the end!


Stopped by the market for more of the world's greatest product (beer) and was graced by the woman in front of me allowing me to go in front of her since I had so little. A very nice gesture! Still I had to wait for what felt like forever while the lady already being checked out dithered and dathered with the usual I've-got-all-the-time-in-the-world attitude of those free from social media addictions. There's nothing quite so white knuckly for me as grocery shopping lines. At the risk (okay, the risk approaches 100%) of sounding ridiculous given that complaints in the first world would be dreams of third worlders, I don't much like that there's no line for "15 items or less". You're now expected, apparently, to check small numbers of items out yourself, and I have bad luck operating those. Hie me from now on to the beer drive thrus! (An old joke: "The problem with instant gratification is it's not quick enough.)


Amazing piece by Matthew Lickona on the Mel Gibson situation as linked by Darwin Catholic and Bill White. Of course I have to take issue with the hopeless ending since even Mel can be saved, though given that he's a radical Traddie, you'd think Mel would have a bit more fear of judgment.

April 19, 2012

A Rhyme....

...spotted on Dylan's semi-private blog:
Catullus wrote an epigram or two:
Well-read he was, but could get rather blue.
That one about Aurelius, for starters:
Not for those who blush at the sight of garters!

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

...from The Map and the Territory by that Michael H. guy:
The Sushi Warehouse in Roissy 2E offered an exceptional range of Norwegian mineral waters. Jed opted for the Husqvarna, a water from the center of Norway, which sparkled discreetly.

he smiled with that cretinous enthusiasm and optimism which is difficult for non-Americans to counterfeit.


"Do you know why you’re attractive to women?” He muttered an inaudible reply. “I suppose you’ve had the opportunity to notice it. You’re rather cute, but it’s not that, beauty’s almost a detail. No, it’s something else.” “Tell me.” “It’s very simple: it’s because you have an intense look in your eyes. A passionate look. And it’s that, above all, that women are looking for. If they can read in the eyes of a man an energy, a passion, then they find him attractive.”
And City Boy by E. White:
I’d go to the Gotham Book Mart down on Forty-seventh, where I’d slump to the floor and read the books that were too expensive for me to buy. The Gotham was the ideal bookstore with dozens of literary magazines stacked on the counter up close to the front door beside the cash register and, halfway back on the right, a big table full of the newest books of poetry. On the walls were pictures of all the greats who’d read at the Gotham, including Marianne Moore and Cocteau and Dylan Thomas, some of them perched high up on a library ladder, posing above the elegant Frances Steloff (who died at 101 in 1989). Although she sold the “shop,” as she called it, to Andreas Brown in 1967, she was always prowling around, sometimes urging customers to buy.


I still idolized difficult modernist poets such as Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens, and I listened with solemn but uncomprehending seriousness to the music of Schoenberg. Later I would learn to pick and choose my idiosyncratic way through the ranks of canonical writers, composers, artists, and filmmakers, but in my twenties I still had an unquestioning admiration for the Great—who were Great precisely because they were Great. Only later would I begin to see the selling of high art as just one more form of commercialism.

Diaristic Wanderings

Had a strong hankering yesterday for Thomas Mallon's Watergate and consumed about an hour's worth. Surprising, because I'm really not that interested in that dismal presidential period. And yet I must be interested given how many Watergate-related books I've read over the years. Also Mark Steyn's book America Alone is riveting. The guy can write. Especially telling was how England went from an empire to modesty: the U.S. during the Suez Canal crisis threatened to shed Britain's war bonds, which would cause great fiscal consternation. Britain buckled under quick. Similarly we're getting into huge debt and I don't see what good can come of it, mutually assured financial destruction with China aside.


Planning a short trip next week. Sure, I'm tempted to look down my nose at the relatively nouveau Midwestern city, but I looked at pictures of the hotel I'll be staying at and the area seems of pleasing density, with old buildings and a promising plenty of old churches. Also there's the art museum of course.

Cities exhilarate, and if London was so inspirational to the great Samuel Johnson then Indy should be the same to me. If Indy's no London, well, I'm no Samuel Johnson. I shouldn't expect the same level of cultural enrichment as a genius.


It's past time for my annual "State of the Blog" address. Here's my speech:

The era of the blog feels in declination, at least as far as the original stalwarts go.

I blog less frequently and really have only one, called M & M, that feels extant. But I was there, I can tell my grandchildren, at the start of it all! I got linked from National Review once! And was asked by the editor of First Things to write something for the magazine! I was like a lifetime .230 minor-leaguer invited to the majors for a cup of coffee, and I wrote of Norman V. Peale and Pelagianism but lacked the research effort, fatally lapsing into the self-indulgent personal even while knowing I was doing so. And not getting published. I prided myself on my lack of sentiment while at the same time evincing it. I think I got the First Things nod simply on the basis of once saying something like, "maintenance of society is not job one," meaning that our first job is to build the Kingdom. Swiftly closes the window of opportunity! That heady time of so many links and mentions on other blogs, oh the star power we felt in our headstrong blog youth. Such responsibility I felt! For the first time in my life I was acquiring a small patina of fame - call it my fifteen minutes (Warhol was at least 15 minutes ahead of his time on that). I was being taken seriously by strangers in faraway cities and countries by folks far brainier than me.

The once tight community of bloggers included Steven Riddle and Dylan and Tom of Disputations and Amy Welborn and Kathy the Carmelite and Zippy Catholic and Bill Luse and Bill of Summa Minutiae and Mary Herboth and the Summa Mamas and the Philipino Catholic girl whose name escapes me now and The Mighty Barrister and on and on... Most of the original bloggers are doing so in greatly reduced straits. Steven started a literary blog, Amy a travel blog, Zippy and Kathy quit altogether, Tom and Bill L. & Bill W. post very infrequently. Part of me wishes I'd kept the tradition of the weekly "Spanning the Globe" post just for the sake of tradition, for the sake of continuity, to create a tiny island of stability, something seemingly changeless in this change-filled world.

Certainly Facebook picked off some people, especially the bloggers who were there less to write treatises and more for the social aspects. And FB puts the "social" in social media: you broadcast to a public who accepted one friend request. With blogs, at least before the ubiquity of RSS feeds, you weren't really foisting your stuff on anybody because they had to make the effort to go to your website each and every time they wanted to read something you had to say. And because of that you felt less guarded and also felt less guilty for potentially wasting their time. And why post kid and pet photos on your blog when you can more easily post them on FB?

Then too Twitter cut out a lot of the reason for blogging. Blogging is at least 50% linking, and what is Twitter but a far more efficient linking service?

Cut out links and pictures and you've narrowed the thirst for blogging. Mainly for argument, verse and fiction, the latter two not too common in bloglands. And I've become far less interested in argument, be it in politics or theology.

There are of course some diehard bloggers who seem immune to change or burnout. Eve Tushnet comes to mind - I'm not sure I could tell one of her 2004 posts from a 2012 one, although I don't read her enough to make sharp distinctions.

There were mysteries in the Catlick blog world, such as where "Maine Catholic" disappeared to (turns out he went to jail, for what I know not). There was the scandal in the past of the dearly departed Gerard S. which only came to light towards the end of his blogging life but which, oddly, made his blog more interesting. I'd initially taken him for a goody-two shoes who spoke intensely of mercy and love for pious and overly devotional reasons but who turned out to have had a personal experience of mercy and love.

And of the blogworld one can say there have been new*, bright lights coming to replace some of the oldtimer's: Jennifer of "Conversion Diary", the Darwins, Betty U.S. Duffy and Heather King among others!

* - where "new" is relatively new to me, in that I started following them after my 2002-2007 intense blog period.

April 17, 2012

NR Review

Interesting review in National Review of Ross Douthat's new book Bad Religion:
Douthat concludes his book by expressing hope for a renewal of traditional Christian faith — of an orthodoxy that will chasten not only a rising secular tide, but also the dominant forms of heresy. His practical advice, however, is modest. One of his main recommendations is for Christians to exercise “the Benedict Option,” a monasticism-inspired withdrawal from a dominant culture that appears incapable of correction and that increasingly appears to view orthodox faith with hostility. While this may be a long-term strategy for the restoration of a healthy Christian culture, it might take as many centuries for such a movement to influence the nation as it took the monasteries to foster Christendom following the fall of the Roman Empire. Implicitly, Douthat seems to acknowledge that hope for renewal must be chastened, even minimal.


A further troubling note lurks beneath his efforts to encourage “good religion.” While he attributes the decline of orthodoxy after 1963 to a series of discrete historical causes, ranging from the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution to globalization and rising economic prosperity, on a broader view of American history it might be more correct to note that orthodoxy has always been the exception rather than the rule in the American setting — that America, in a certain sense, has always been a magnet for heresy. After all, the phrase “city upon a hill” was invested with political import by John Winthrop already in 1630, intimating that from the very outset America understood itself to be the New Zion. The heresies of self-creation, moral perfectibility, progressivism, and millenarianism are hardly new on the American scene in the post-Sixties era, but rather are continuations of a longstanding rejection of Christian orthodoxy, expressed variously by American high priests ranging from Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, through Emerson and Whitman, down to John Dewey. America was the child born of rebellion against orthodoxy, and a major national storyline has been one that equates democracy’s advance with liberation from doctrine — from Roger Williams to Dan Brown.

Douthat makes a bold and compelling argument that what is needed on the American scene today is a renewal of good religion. But his book cannot dispel the gnawing worry that, in America, good religion has been the exception, and that the growing dominance of bad religion is not something recent and reversible, but the culmination of a long national story.

April 16, 2012

Kudos to the Committee

Heartened by the stones of the Pulitzer committee in not awarding a prize for fiction. If there were no worthy entrants, and the three works nominated seemed dubious to me, then it's sort of refreshing in the way it's always refreshing to see standards upheld. In our intensely consumeristic society awards tend towards becoming mere marketing tools.  Major league baseball, for example, used to actually have years when no one was inducted in the Hall of Fame.  Now that's pretty much unthinkable. No way they pass up the money and free advertising.  The standard is bent to the talent available, rather than the talent bent to the standard. That, in a nutshell, is the story the last forty years across the board. 

Some are labasting the committee for failing to "do their job" but I say they did their job. To be deadlocked is a judgment in itself and ought be respected. I'd prefer they stand their ground and have a hung jury rather than someone capitulate just for the sake of promoting a book.


My minor obsession Saturday was "Instagram", as mentioned in the Dispatch. It's an app that allows you to take photos and instantly nostalgia-ize them by applying filters that make them black and white or like 1977-era Polaroids, or whatnot. Harkens back to my youth carrying a Kodak instamatic, trying to make art out of the commonplace using a commonplace instrument. The article claimed it made even banal pictures interesting, so I put it to the test by taking random photos of the traffic in front of me on a city road. It did seem to make them a bit more interesting. Modern art-ish, and with modern art you never need apologize for not having a point (or a lack of beauty).

Took pictures in the bookroom, of course, and of Sam, and of the dog. My usual pictorial subjects. "Instagram" could be of the devil, of course, given the inauthenticity. Suddenly modern things get that unearned patina of 1970s-era grace.

Everything looks "serious" and artsy-fartsy in black and white. View from patio.

Testing the limits of picture material. A drive in the rain, a city street, a perfectly banal transportational situation.

This was a picture taken of a picture. From a book on libraries, this one in Rhode Island.

Our dog, through the filter of the '70s imagery.

Cat scratch fever.

The boys in their colors.

In the bookroom.

Sam, arriving.

Wagon pulling.

Indoor wagon racing

Ready for action.

Looking at a book!

Our dog in black & white.

And with that '70s glow.

This & That....

Beautiful, freshly ladled sun streams in through the company lobby window. I'm in that New Grange-ian, equinoxical spot where the sun is at the perfect angle to fully bathe my face and body. Soon it will traverse behind another building and fractionalize. The strong sun (if not cool temps) presages the coming summer, with all its contrasting summery moods. If the summer casts down greater light it also, at the same time, casts greater shadow.... Perhaps a good time for a vacation is when, unbidden, one recalls the previous one with nostalgia and longing. I was thinking today about Sanibel and the meals at Jerry's and the windblown air and the James Wolcott memoir on the sun-glinting beach. I also think about that contractor fellow in Cancun who said he goes for a week at that resort every three months. Now that's a schedule I could live with. It's going on five months since I last had one of those charismatical 7-day beach vacations.


Really liking Fr. Gaitley's Consoling the Heart of Jesus. The Good News is good indeed.  Catch more bees with honey, and so I'm counting it as coming from God despite the risks inherent in emphasizing mercy (i.e. the risk of a lukewarmness towards sin).  It sort of rearranges one's mental furniture: Gaitley argues his case like a efficient lawyer, carefully laying down the principle that Christ, though in Heaven, is still somehow able to receive and even "need" consolation.  Gaitley's brilliant in explaining that it's about Him, about how God really wants our trust. Instead of thinking I must trust God for my own sake, he turns it around and says we should trust God for His!

Gaitley doesn't ignore the cross, but sees it as more bittersweet than simply bitter (with trust in God and his help). We need not be petrified of suffering. Certainly he "sells" Christianity much more than, say, Flannery O'Connor, who scoffed about those who look at Christianity as an "insurance policy". I am very much attracted to the Divine Mercy and so I should go with that, just as before I was more attracted to a certain tough-minded Christianity exemplified by Cardinal Ratzinger and Flannery O'Connor.


The Byzantine liturgy Sunday was pretty long, given a Baptism. A moment that lingers was the rolling out of the Shroud of Turin, actual-size, which is very big indeed. You look at the whole thing and think, "this really isn't of this earth, is it?"  Who would design such a thing? Especially given this? The pastor is a special fan of the Shroud and reminds us to remember it if we ever doubt like Doubting Thomas.  Seeing it, I recalled how Jesus said even if a man should rise some won't believe.  Even with this miraculous material cloth (like that of the Guadalupe tilma), some materialists won't believe. 


Oh it's been so long since I've been to what is infelicitously called a "brick and mortar" bookstore, as if what distinguished those marvelous places were the bricks and not the books.  Went to the Village Bookshop in quaint Linworth, where I drank in the restful atmospherics for an hour while tasting of a Samuel Johnson biography and ended up buying "Library: The Drama Within". It felt vacation-y to be among those rich stacks. Despite my conversion to the e-reading, I was determined to buy a couple and do my microscopic part to keep these sorts of bookstores in business. 

April 13, 2012

Excerpts from The Map and the Territory

...by Michael Houellebecq:
Jed catalogued them as semimodern gays who were careful to avoid the excesses and errors in taste classically associated with their community, but who all the same let themselves go a bit from time to time.


It was a [job] transfer that she could in no way refuse: in the eyes of top management, a refusal would have been not only incomprehensible but even criminal. A manager of a certain level has obligations not only in relation to the company but also to himself. He must look after and cherish his career like Christ does for the Church, or the wife for her husband.


Jed wasn’t young—strictly speaking he never had been—but he was a relatively inexperienced man.


to be an artist, in his view, was above all to be someone submissive. Someone who submitted himself to mysterious, unpredictable messages, that you would be led, for want of a better word and in the absence of any religious belief, to describe as intuitions, messages which nonetheless commanded you in an imperious and categorical manner, without leaving the slightest possibility of escape—except by losing any notion of integrity and self-respect.


“I read in an article that, since the end of the Second World War, eighty percent of the cafés have disappeared in France,” remarked Franz while looking around the place. Not far from them, four pensioners were silently pushing cards around on the Formica table, according to incomprehensible rules that seemed to belong to the prehistory of card games (belote? piquet?). Farther away, a fat woman with broken veins on her face downed her pastis in a single gulp. “People have begun to spend half an hour over lunch, to drink less alcohol as well; and then the coup de grâce was the smoking ban.” “I think it’ll come back, in different forms,” Jed said. “There has been a long historical phase of increased productivity, which is reaching an end, at least in the West.”

There's Gotta Be a Post In Here Somewhere

Sifting through the leavings of my private blog, I feel like there's a post in there somewhere, echoing the old story of the optimistic boy who wanted a horse for Christmas and found only manure but sifted through it, figuring where there's manure, there's got to be a hoss.


Driving into work this morning the downtown skyscrapers seemed protected by a bubble-wrap of clouds, with regularly positioned pinprick rays of light glinting from the eastern sun. At one point traffic slowed to a halt, so I closed my eyes while listening to the strains of Weber and basked in the heat of the seat warmer.

Later - beautiful, freshly ladled sun streams in through the company lobby window. I find that New Grange-ian, equinoxical spot where the sun is at the perfect angle to fully bathe my face and body. Soon it will traverse behind another building and fractionalize.


Read over the Easter vigil again today. I think part of the magic of the night was knowing its length one did not strain at gnats. There was no sense of hurry which is sort of counter-intuitive. But it seemed like we were outside time in the same way on a retreat you're not hustling anywhere. Another part of the magic was the deft handling of the readings and psalms. They had different readers for each and different instrumentation on the music.

Two things jumped out at me during the readings: one was how Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac and Isaac was given back to him. I've always tended to think that God didn't do the same with his Son - he sacrificed Christ. But the words to one of the prayers said the truth, that just as Isaac was given back to Abraham, Jesus was given back to God, whole and entire. I never looked at it that way before even though it should've been obvious. God didn't "lose" his Son. Christ's death was real but ineffective and so in that sense not real. Too often I tend to look at the Crucifixion as a tragedy when, in reality, it has a happy ending.

The second thing I noticed was how often I see we sinners in the role of Isaiah 54 and yet it could be about Christ, who took on our sin: "For a brief moment I abandoned you / but with great tenderness I will take you back." Isn't that the story of the Cross and Resurrection?

Finally these verses seem to apply well to the Resurrection: "O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled, I lay your pavements in carnelians, and your foundations in sapphires; I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of carbuncles, and all your walls of precious stones." That last clause, about your walls being made of precious stones, reminds me of how the temple of Christ's body, his walls being his body and blood, have become as precious stones for us.

I also loved the inclusion of verses from some of the great chapters in Isaiah as well as the more obscure book of Baruch. It was like a "greatest hits" collection of Scripture.


A post from another blog prompts this reverie: I wonder if it's presumptuous to presume that if I'm aware of the possibility of presumption then I'm not presumptuous.


Beginning of Donald Miller book:
"I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened."

April 10, 2012

Shades of Love in the Ruins...

Riveting read in the NYT about the junglelands of parts of post-Katrina New Orleans:
To visualize how the Lower Ninth looked in September — before the city’s most recent campaign to reclaim the neighborhood — you have to understand that it no longer resembled an urban, or even suburban environment. Where once there stood orderly rows of single-family homes with driveways and front yards, there was jungle. The vegetation had all sprouted since Katrina. Trees that did not exist before the storm are now 30 feet high.


In the race between nature and man, nature has jumped out to an early lead. But the pattern of growth has been bizarre. The Lower Ninth has been besieged by a flora feeding frenzy. A chaotic mix of plant species, many of which have never existed on that land, are battling for dominance. Before the area was cleared for plantations in the mid-1700s, the Lower Ninth was divided into three ecosystems, depending on elevation. The riverfront was lined with reeds and brambles; behind that was a dense hardwood forest; and farthest back, where Mary Brock and Pee Wee live, lay a cypress swamp populated by stands of palmettos. Today there are very few species native to the land, other than several kinds of sedge and aquatic grass. Only a handful of palm, live oak, pine and bald cypress trees survived the storm.

A variety of species, some exotic, have moved in, among them crepe myrtle, black willow and golden rain trees laced with vines. The undergrowth is a chaotic mix of weeds as high as basketball hoops and flowering shrubs like lantana, oleander and oxalis. Invasive species have infiltrated the neighborhood from the major avenues, the seeds transported by the flatbed trucks that drive to the city. The plant and animal life varies quixotically from plot to plot, as the new species entrench themselves, mustering strength, before fighting for additional territory.

The ecological composition of the neighborhood may be diverse, but it is also extremely unstable. “It’s a very odd mix, one that you wouldn’t other­wise see in nature,” Blum says. “It’s a Frankenstein community.” Ecologically speaking, Katrina has created a monster.

Diaristic Wanderings

The highlight of Good Friday was going on pilgrimage in the bright sun to the old stone cathedral downtown and seeing our august bishop, successor to the apostles, presiding. I felt mixed emotions at feeling such pleasure during such a somber occasion, the pleasure of listening to the incredible singers and musicians. They were almost too good. The haunting, unearthly refrain, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" is to be heard to be believed. I felt as though I were witnessing the event of Jesus taking leave of his body. Certainly the quality of music and polyphonies stand so far above my own humble parish as to not seem to be in the same league.

The bishop mentioned in the brief homily about St. Bernard saying that there were any number of ways that God could've chosen to save us, but by sending his only Son to die He was, in fact, giving us hope by showing that our greatest sin as a race could be redeemed.

Earlier, there was an interesting payday-Friday radio show that featured the company archivist. She has a nice gig. She makes dioramas from old newsletters and enthusiastically propounds on company history. She's all of, say, 27. I guess the job was created around 2006. I wasn't informed nor asked to apply. I'm wondering if there's a job as a beer writer that I don't know about. I got a mention on the radio show (and a chuckle) when I IM'd: "What a cool job - making dioramas." Something like that. She agreed with my assessment. I also snuck in a question asking if it were true there's a camera in the infamous meditation room, due to the reports of amorous couplings in there. No reply on that one.


Disconcerted to hear that my sister-in-law's RCIA program (she became a Catholic on Easter weekend! Yay!) had a teacher who apparently digressed and went on so many tangents that he didn't have time to get to the Eucharist. Ay-yi-yi. "The source and summit" didn't get a mention.


Wonderful Easter Vigil, my first, slaking a thirst for life that was triggered by seeing so much death at the grim Pompeii exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Seeing skeletons in disarray due to being instantly killed due to something like a 5000-degree cloud of gaseous ash is depressing, notwithstanding the fact of eternal life. What's occasionally disconcerting about the exhibit is how modern these people seem. If ancient Egypt seems so foreign, ancient Rome feels so familiar. The faces on busts are so recognizably modern that one wouldn't look twice if you passed them on the street today. The accoutrements of ancient life look familiar as well - they too played dice, and with remarkably similar looking dice. Gambling seems almost like sex - ingrained in us. And cheating wasn't unheard of since these were loaded dice. None of these strange Mayan temples here. They had pots and kettles, round coins and familiar jewelry. They loved wine, they had little Hindu-ish shrines to their gods, a favorite apparently being Bacchus, the deity of wine. Their homes were nicely decorated with beautiful frescoes. The architecture of many Pompeii houses was just splendid, pleasing to the modern eye, with gardens and pools of water.

On the Easter Vigil: First, I was surprised at how awake I felt. I'd worried I'd fall asleep, given the late hour and the general somnolence that prayer can trigger in me. But I was on the edge of my seat, constantly wondering what was next. It was a sort of "Catholic Disneyworld", with the shock of the new around every corner. When would they light the Easter candle? What was the ancient "Exsultet"? When would the adult baptisms happen? What would the next reading be? What Psalm would be paired with it and why?

I like the readings and Psalms the best, not surprising given how much I've grown to appreciate the Bible in recent years. But also part of the thrill was figuring how much thought went into it, how these readings weren't picked out of a hat but I assume were the result of eons of Catholic evolution aided and abetted by saints and pontiffs from long ago. And of course Scripture itself is the result of a centuries-long vetting, having been slowly determined by the early church.

Some people are more appreciative and attuned to material symbols than me. The Easter candle, the incense, the darkened church (fire laws spoil the effect) and the individual candles in everyone's hand - these things don't have as big an impact on me as does religious art (be it in the forms of statues, stained glass windows, vaulting gothic architecture, paintings, etc..) - or simply words, be they in the form of prayers or Scripture, which is not surprising in a lover of language. And music too, yes. But the other symbols that make the Easter Vigil special in many hearts - the flames and candles - don't do much for me. But then that's part of what makes the church catholic with the small 'c': the reaching out to everyone and to every sense, be it taste, smell, touch, sight and sound. God gave us five senses and the Church is wise to exploit them all in worship.


"Inspiration by Dylan," sayeth my muse
all these lines without benefit of booze.


Wondering at the deaths of celebrities two
Mike Wallace himself and Thomas Kincaide too.


Alliteration with alacrity towards which I strive,
I'd better behave if I touch a beehive.


Alma mater dreams begot in the spring,
Red Georgian buildings are my kind of bling.


Hunger not I, for the "Hunger Games" hype,
Nor does my hair look very good on Skype.


Irish austerity plan seems not to be working,
sometimes my inner Keynes seems to be lurking.


All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,
All play and no work makes Jack not a real joy.


My brain be tired from Words With Friends,
If I rise too fast I'll get the bends.


I shun the Daily Mail, one of those papers,
I don't need to see those bikini-clad gapers.

April 09, 2012

Weekend Pictures

Dusk in Cincy

Light and Dark

Roman fresco at the Pompeii Exhibit

View from Cincinnati Museum Center Parking Lot

Sam & Kite

April 03, 2012

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

From Coming Apart by Charles Murray:
IN 1825, FRANCIS Grund wrote...
The American Constitution is remarkable for its simplicity; but it can only suffice a people habitually correct in their actions, and would be utterly inadequate to the wants of a different nation. Change the domestic habits of the Americans, their religious devotion, and their high respect for morality, and it will not be necessary to change a single letter of the Constitution in order to vary the whole form of their government.
Near the end of Democracy in America, [de Tocqueville] summarized his position with a remarkable passage. “If I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply—to the superiority of their women.”

From the novel The Map and the Territory:
...you might think that the need to express yourself, to leave a trace in the world, is a powerful force, yet in general that’s not enough. What works best, what pushes people most violently to surpass themselves, is still the pure and simple need for money.


Geneviève was Malagasy, and had explained to him the curious exhumation customs practiced in her country. One week after the death, the corpse was dug up, the shroud was undone, and a meal was eaten in its presence, in the family’s dining room; then it was buried again. This was repeated after a month, then after three;...
This system of accepting death, and the physical reality of the corpse, went precisely against the modern Western sensibility.


Art should perhaps be like that, he occasionally told himself, an innocent and joyful, almost animalistic pastime; there had been opinions like that, “stupid like a painter” or “he paints like the bird sings,” and so on; perhaps that’s how art would be once man had got beyond the question of death, or maybe it had already been that way, in certain periods—for example, in the work of Fra Angelico, so close to paradise, so full of the idea that one’s time on earth was just a temporary and obscure preparation for eternal life by the side of Jesus the Lord. And now I am with you, every day, until the end of the world.

Kennedy's Dilemma

I can't think of a Supreme Court justice who, starting off a tad left of center, edged rightward over the course of a few terms. The reverse is often true of course, which makes one ask why. Perhaps after book and dinner parties with the liberal Georgetown set and media elite you start to take on the coloration of your companions' politics, unless you already have a reputation as firmly conservative. It's human nature. Thus it's going to be really, really tough for Justice Kennedy to reject Obamacare. It's such a high-profile case that Kennedy's legacy with the writers of history, mostly liberal academics, would be in jeopardy. What is needed is for the dinosaur media to come down hard on Kennedy, to overplay their hand (as they did with Justice Thomas). They need to be so heavy-handed that it pisses Kennedy off. Not likely to happen, as the wooing of moderate Republicans by the media is legendary.

Almost by definition if a case has reached the Supreme Court then it's a tough call. And Supreme Court justices are humans, not judicial robots. Some justices see themselves as independent, non-ideological judges -- beware the case that threatens to dismantle that reputation. And this time around, unlike with Bush v. Gore, Kennedy doesn't have O'Connor to give him non-ideological cover. It's going to be interesting.

Diaristic Wanderings from Sunday

Am becoming mildly obsessed with finding new Bible study accessories, which is sort of funny and ironic given my lack of holiness. Tempted by Eerdman's Bible Dictionary and the Harper Collins NSRV Study Bible. Found a website with samples of the NSRV study bible but I really think I'm overkilling with the study bibles. Ex-nay on it. I have copious notes already via the NABRE. So it's down to Eerdman's Bible Dictionary, 25% off this week at OliveTree.


Sunday morn I was off to church followed by eine kleine reading ("Coming Apart", presenting the present dystopia), followed by the unexpectedly early arrival of company and so instant flexibility was called for and the utopia of reading about dystopia was canned for a couple hours. I resumed the book later in the sunburn-capable sun. A 20-minute workout and a beer followed, after which an anchoring in the hammock. So now I recline, cocooned by a rural coventry of varied trees, of fine dark green pines and parrot-green shrubs. It's a good place to be, especially with a beer.

And the day is downright summery. The perfect blend of weekend is a blah-humbug chill Saturday followed by a sunny and effervescent Sunday. The best of both worlds. Surrendered to the peace and quiet, I look over the sun-spackled greens and feel a nostalgia for things I never experienced. Or maybe it's for half-experiences, for time spent in the haze of only semi-awareness, of only semi-presence.


Too often I think the key to life is to love reading, as if reading will save me. I look at it as a savior and crutch from boredom and loss. As a fine accompaniment to old age when you can't do anything else. And yet even reading can't be depended on - only God. God alone. Do I forget?


I love the dappled sun against the fence. If the fence serves little purpose now - no longer a hedge against the nosy neighbor who's since moved - it still serves as a fine backdrop on the occasion of tree-filtered sun. It still serves, like a Donald Hall book, as a delimiter of beauty.

A solitary beer sits in the prefiguring sun and I wonder how fast I must consume to avoid it getting warm. I overlook the svelte curve of the landscape bend, the rich allusive nature of the hammock strings, the craggy bark of the poplar. The grass is freshly mown, giving it an especial attractiveness, a gleamy Greenness. The hammock swings slightly, representing the siren song of comfort. No wonder Jesus often said, "Awake!", for we long to rest, to sleep instead of pilgrimage, to bend the elbow rather than the knee.