September 27, 2012

German Bishops Issue

Interesting to hear Lino Rulli and Fr. Rob on The Catholic Guy show skewer the German bishops for how they are handling Catholics who are trying to avoid a church tax in their country.

Jimmy Akin opines on the issue as well.


Fr. Barron quoted a Bob Dylan lyric recently that was galvanizing and memorable. It went like, "what good is freedom bein' so near when the truth is so far away?"

Stray thoughts of seeming relevance:


Wouldn't it be weird to go to a Hollywood party back during the silent film era and hear Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford and such talking? Or wouldn't it be funny if they came to a party and just started moving their mouths without any sound coming out?


A fond wish, as a child, was to travel to the end of a rainbow. Not for imaginary gold - i didn't believe that any more than i believed there was a man on the moon- but simply to substantiate and locate what seemed ephemeral and elusive. I've tried the same with God and had similar results.

I couldn't enjoy the rainbow simply as it was - I needed to travel to it, touch it, make it more tangible.


I search the Internet for welcome confirmation that I'm not the only perverted individual who thinks's logo looks like a long penis.


If beer didn't already exitst, it would have to have been invented.


I can't believe I've become one of THOSE people.

You know, the type that celebrate the announcement of gadget upgrade like it's a national holiday. The sort that follows press conferences from Apple or Amazon. It's unsettling given my proud heritage as not being prone to merchandising. Ultimately it's artificially stimulative. All the sensations of excitement but without the substance.

So I wait with great anticipation for the first reviews to get posted on's website for the new Paperwhite despite the fact that it's basically the same as an other Kindle but for the light! Since the dawn of literacy we've managed to produce light of some sort. It wouldn't seem a big deal to simply sit next to a light source when reading the Kindle.

Admittedly the e-reader concept is cool: a papyrus-like look that holds thousands of books in an instrument the size of a small page. And it was definitely cool to get one. But there's a sense that the upgrades - be it for the iPhone 5 or the Kindle Paperwhite - have a huge diminishing utility compared to the earliest version. Maybe we want to get the new gadgets because we want to re-experience that "gee whiz" moment of wonder when we first carried a smartphone or an e-reader.

Late to confession, I felt appreciative that the priest was so long-toiling. The hours for confession read: "12:15-until done. Yes "until done". Now that's priestly vocation in action. I thanked Fr. afterward for his availability. He said happily, "No problem. Gets me out of the office!" I was thankful also for the mercy of Christ. It seems too good to be true, that you can go into the confessional and come out as if if nothing had happened between you and God. It's a weird feeling: it's like if I did something bad to my wife and then asked forgiveness and then I just carried on like we we could go back to the way things were before I did something bad to her.

It's not like anything in my experience which is more or less predicated on "once burned, twice shy." We burn Christ and yet he doesn't seem the shyer for it. And so must we be. It should, theoretically, be easier for us to forgive others when we see how we are forgiven but Jesus told a parable that refuted that notion.

I remember a Protestant friend back in the late '80s named Jeff who said that the rap on Catholics was they sinned like crazy all week then went to confession, only to sin again. That potential for abuse was completely foreign to me at the time but now I see how it could be a problem. Of course the firm purpose of amendment is a critical issue. But really Confession is a sort of amazing thing (well, amazing Person) in that you can instantly become undefined by your sins. The definition of ourselves is what God sees. His view of us is the only one that counts. So it's no wonder that Catholics in the '50s, back when there were actually self-admitted "bad Catholics", had the confession lines were hummin'.

There's always the temptation to treat God as an ATM teller or a machine in some way simply because He is so consistent (unlike human beings). His love is unvarying, uncomplicated. The way I, a computer programmer, tell the difference between machines and humans is that humans are the ones who make errors. A machine never does. So naturally I am tempted to think of God, who never makes a mistake, as machine-like.

The morning feels downright morningly. Neighborly. Civilized sixty degrees, first time in a week. Able to sit out on the front porch as the light INCREASES for once. The air is alive with the glory of God, graced with the scent of water from a recent rain. I'll so miss the outdoors this winter, even the "pseudo" out-of-doors of a suburban front porch and its ceiling overhang.

September 26, 2012

Citizens United Case & Money in Politics

The MSM is outraged over money in politics and I suspect part of that is because it erodes their role. They don't want candidates going around their vetting process, running ads instead of talking to them. Media types naturally want as much power as they can get, pretty much like everybody else.

There are those on the political right and left who make George Soros or the Koch brothers out to be bogeymen. I don't do that, but I do tend to sometimes arrogantly question the "premise of democracy", as explicated by Antonin Scalia. He told Brian Lamb in response to a question concerning fear of money in politics and consequent undue influence:
"If you believe that we ought to go back to monarchy. That the people are such sheep, that they just swallow whatever they see on television or read in the newspapers. No, the premise of democracy is that people are intelligent and can discern the true from the false, at least when, as the campaign laws require, you know who is speaking."

A P.S.A.

September 24, 2012

Murray Rothbard's View

Interesting post on Catholic political thought via a Jewish atheist: (found on American Catholic - I'm a sucker for these "Catholics are from Venus, Protestants from Mars" type views):
Traditionalist Catholics are typically not fans of Murray Rothbard. And yet as I read more of his work, I find more reasons to appreciate Rothbard’s insights into political theory, which I believe were shaped by a deeper appreciation for the Catholic political and philosophical tradition than some are willing to admit. It is easy to see Rothbard as nothing more than a secular Jewish atheist who opposed “the Old Order” and supported unrestricted personal liberty. And yet he spent his final years advocating for Pat Buchanan’s presidential run and his socially conservative platform.

That there is an affinity for Catholicism in Rothbard’s thought is not surprising. He identifies the Catholic countries, above all Austria, as the originators of subjective-utility economics, while Protestant countries such as Britain developed more labor-centric economic theories. The Catholic tradition had identified consumption (in moderation) as a worthwhile activity and goal; the Calvinist tradition emphasized hard labor as the primary good and consumption as a necessary evil at best. He writes:
Conversely, it is no accident that the Austrian School, the major challenge to the Smith-Ricardo vision, arose in a country that was not only solidly Catholic, but whose values and attitudes were still heavily influenced by Aristotelian and Thomist thought. The German precursors of the Austrian School flourished, not in Protestant and anti-Catholic Prussia, but in those German states that were either Catholic or were politically allied to Austria rather than Prussia.
Rothbard did not limit his religious comparisons to economic theory alone. In exploring the history of the United States, he identified two major religious-political tendencies of the 19th century: the evangelical “Yankee” pietism of Protestant New England, and the “liturgism” of Catholic immigrants and some high-church Protestants such as German Lutherans. The Yankee pietists were obsessed with using the power of the state to create God’s kingdom on Earth and aid the individual in his struggle for salvation. The “liturgists”, on the other hand, saw the local parish and the family as primarily responsible for moral life and salvation.
The liturgicals saw the road to salvation in joining the particular church, obeying its rituals, and making use of its sacraments; the individual was not alone with only his emotions and the state to protect him. There was no particular need, then, for the state to take on the functions of the church. Furthermore, the liturgicals had a much more relaxed and rational view of what sin really was; for instance,excessive drinking might be sinful, but liquor per se surely was not.
It seems safe to say that Rothbard, in his efforts to understand the intellectual roots of libertarian thought, found plenty to admire in the Catholic tradition


Read more of N.T. Wright's book on the gospels and the cross.  He says that the Jesus' disciples didn't realize immediately that the Cross was a victory not a defeat.  It looked like defeat after all, just as, I think, we can look on this post-Christian world as something of a defeat for Christ.  But He's already won.  Wright argues that God's plan for dealing with evil was to draw evil to a point, to localize it's massive "power" and then defeat it.  This He did by calling Abraham and the Jews - the scandal of particularity - leading up to the penultimate victory of evil, that of Jesus being arrested and tried.  St. Paul writes that the apogee of evil was not the crucifixion but the arrest.  The crucifixion Paul and N.T.Wright see as the defeat of evil, not its climax. My tendency is to think of the Resurrection as the defeat of Satan but that's merely something that followed the victory, the chance to begin anew now that evil had been defeated. 

Wright is by all appearances a pacifist, and certainly he's done more than anybody in recent memory to make me reconsider things. He was appalled by how Christians treated the death of bin Laden as something to be celebrated (which I agree with) and he rued the fact that the response to 9/11 was guns and bombs (which is much harder for me).

This & That

So the big event of last Thursday was the annual long bike ride. We've decided to permanently start from Spring Valley, Ohio, population 1250 (give or take 250) and travel south towards Oregonia, some 14 miles away.

On the way down I listened to an interview with biographer Robert Caro, who described the remarkably duplicitous LBJ. Johnson would, in the words of Robert F. Kennedy, lie "even when he didn't have to." After the sedentary car ride of an hour and ten minutes, I was ready to roll.

We started out on a surprisingly chipper and sunny day with a temp in the low-ish 70s. It wasn't long before that would change, but there's never a bad day for a bike ride unless it's too cold or too rainy and this would prove to be neither.

We went 12.5 miles and then turned around, planning to possibly do more mileage in Spring Valley but by the time we'd done 25 miles our fannies were sore.

We traveled by hill and dale, tree and farm. We traveled past picturesque houses sitting in resplendent isolation. We fed a shiny brown horse, getting her attention by waving plucked grass. We went on a bathroom tour: once at the ice cream shop in Spring Valley, once in Corwin seven miles later, another when back at Spring Valley. We soaked in the lush greenery, rode over plump acorns, and complained about the m.i.a. sun which appeared briefly only to flame out after about five minutes of riding. We appreciated the utter silence of deep country. We admired dams and diehards. We gazed longingly at white houses on forested hilltops and country porches that wrapped around. We fixed the sound coming from Mom's bike, a chain guard problem. We ate dinner in the same booth at the same place as last year.


Trying to hurry through the stages of the Kübler-Ross list in order to get to a calm acceptance of another four years of Obama. (Of course I should already be through it since didn't we always have an impending sense of doom with the Republican field when first constituted?)

The Columbus Dispatch poll, which is usually impressively accurate, says Obama wins OH 51-47. There's certainly a symmetry to it: eight years of Bush for the Left and now eight years of Obama for the right to swallow. Bush arguably represented the worst of the Right's values (i.e. war fever) and Obama the worst of the Left (spend till you're broke, abort like crazy). So we've gotten the worst of both worlds, not to be unduly negative or anything. But the die was cast when Obama won his healthcare vote.

Sadly, Bill Clinton's biggest lie of all was "the era of big government is over." The Europeans were likely right all along when they scoffed at how America has a huge government though its people were in denial about it. It's just incredulous to me that Ohioans don't see, for example, the huge difference between former governor Ted Strickland and current governor John Kasich. It's just night and day. But Strickland has hopes of regenerating his political career. He may be delusional or he may be reading correctly how poorly informed the republic is.

I just wish Romney or somebody find words persuasive enough to change the minds of some of the Obama leaners. Find some way to reach them. But then one can't, overnight, undo a lacking educational system, one that leans left and is light on economics and ethics.

There's definitely a sense that we're living off the Christian capital and it's getting spent down rapidly and the only (selfish) question is: "Will I get off this earth before things turn to hell?" As the Catholic cardinal of Chicago, Cardinal George famously said: "I expect to die in bed, my successor to die in prison and his successor die as a martyr in the public square."


Read about artist Marc Chagall over the weekend, including this said about him by critic Maurice Raynal: "Chagall interrogates life in the light of a refined, anxious, childlike sensibility, a slightly romantic temperament...a blend of sadness and gaiety characteristic of a grave view of life. His imagination, his temperament, no doubt forbid a Latin severity of composition."

Chagall writes poetically of his travels:
"There, in the south [of France], for the first time in my life, I saw that the rich greenness - the like of which I had never seen in my own country. In Holland I thought I discovered that familiar and throbbing light, light the light between the late afternoon and dusk. In Italy I found that peace of the museums which the sunlight brought to life. In Spain I was happy to find the inspiration of a mystical, if sometimes cruel, past, to find the song of its sky and of its people. And in Palestine I found unexpectedly the Bible and a part of my very being."
In the Holy Land he immersed himself in "the history of the Jews, their trials, prophecies, and disasters." I feel simpatico with that seeing how I grow more fascinated with the OT, especially in and after the time of the Babylonian exile.


This week was also affected by increasingly odd behavior from our dog Buddy. I headed downstairs after a shower one morning and shockingly found him atop the kitchen table standing taller than me. I helped him down but it bespeaks a sort of quiet desperation that he would go to such lengths seeking something as unpromising as paper. He eats church bulletins, advertisements and occasionally books. The day before yesterday I found he'd demolished Dean Koontz's memoir about his golden retriever titled "A Big Little Life". Likely jealous. Buddy'd eaten through the first ten or twenty pages. He also found an unopened tube of toothpaste and managed to eat some of that. Fortunately it wasn't the kind that has an ingredient dangerous to dogs. I tend to think it's boredom but that may be me projecting. I'd be bored if all I did was sleep all day and have only two small meals to look forward to. He's got the cat, but has no use for him.


To what shall I compare a fall day? In Cloudumbus I compare it to grimness crossed with exhilaration, a leaden sky crossed with a crisp cool wind. God says we're fresh out of the high holidays of summer, out of those mellow days graced with tropical temps and meadow'd expanse. We say goodbye to a sense of entitlement, the sense that we should be able to enter and leave our house or workplace without adding additional clothing. We say goodbye to the ribaldly lighted days on the patio, to the tomato plants growing like weeds. Now, from now on, all is gift. We head into the head wind of history.


A fascinating thing about Christ is how despite knowing human psychology better than anyone, he still represented himself as paradoxical. At times he is harsh and other times gentle. At times admonishing the sinner, other times saying, as he does in a recent gospel that God desires mercy, not sacrifice, despite the parable of the ten virgins and how five ran out of oil and were told at the door, "sorry, bad luck, the door is closed and you should've saved your oil."

The knee-jerk human reaction to hearing conflicting data is to listen to only what you WANT to hear. Thus many Republicans I know spout only polls showing Romney in the lead in the presidential race while with Dems they spout only polls showing Obama in the lead. Our human tendency is to gravitate towards that which makes us feel better. So it's interesting that Jesus knew that tendency and yet still offer a mixed message.


Nothing could be finer than to be in my recliner in the morning! (Or at dusk. Or anytime.) Yes giddy up and read your partner round & round!  It's time for the rich, invigoratin' prose of "The Bartender's Tale" or any and all of my books.  They feel like money to me and if the rich person's dream is to float in bed of money with fifties falling from the sky I feel similarly towards books, greedy for words, wanting to drown in a sea of them, to drink them in, to toss them in the air and let them fall on me.

September 19, 2012

Interview with Novelist Zadie Smith

Found here:

Q: Technology in the novel can act as a portal to fantasy, in Natalie/Keisha’s case, but can also prompt a ‘level of self-awareness literally unknown in the history of human existence’, to borrow a phrase from the book. Does being at such a historical moment signal a potential sea change in human behaviour and what kind of challenge does that pose to a novelist?

A: What it does to the novelist is only of concern to novelists; more interesting is what it does to people. Only two hundred years ago it was physically impossible to see yourself doing something you had done yesterday, that is, to see it in three dimensions, speaking and moving. It’s a miracle! It’s really unprecedented. The ancient myths thought that if we stared at ourselves in this way too long we’d fall in the water and drown. The myth preceded the technological reality (as seems to happen), but now we’re really here, relating to ourselves as objects.
Q: Becoming middle class is both something to aspire to and a poisoned chalice in the novel. For Felix his time working for a film company appears to offer a glimpse of salvation, until he is pulled down by drugs, whilst Leah and Natalie both aim to rise to the middle class by becoming lawyers and in due course feel a sense of betraying their roots. Is there something particularly English about this anxiety over entering a different strata of society?

A: Perhaps, I don’t know. It’s hard certainly to think of a middle class more afflicted by self-contempt. The phrase, in England, is a form of insult. In France, too. But that’s not true in America. I suppose we suspect the bourgeoise of a lack of vitality, and that’s always to be feared, at least a little.

Q: Women are often the timekeepers of this novel. The arc of Leah and Keisha’s lifelong friendship is traced in numbered vignettes, each with their own internal relativities. The fates of many of your people, from Shar, to Felix and his shut-in father Lloyd, are sealed in part by the removal of womanly affections and attentions. Is stretching and contracting time the only power women in the novel possess in their bid to change their circumstances?

A: Well, I think it’s an enormous power and advantage women have, this understanding of time and mortality. It’s only a shame that we often do everything we can to abandon or deny this natural advantage. I always think of the menopause: what a gift it is to women to have, in their own bodies, this piece of time-keeping which allows them to fully understand, in their bodies, that death is coming. Men don’t have that – you see so many men heading towards their deaths in utter shock and incomprehension because right until the final moments they thought they were going to be given some kind of reprieve. Or all those powerful men who make terrible fools of themselves in old age with girls a quarter of their age . . . They’re not very good managers of time, men. So it’s an odd thing that in my generation this female advantage has been so submerged. The menopause never spoken of among young women, hidden like a curse. Everybody trying to look and be twenty-eight forever . . . In Leah and Natalie’s case they both seem to reject a healthy relationship with time. Leah by staying still and Natalie by refusing to understand that it is finite. But I’m not a pessimist about those two: the novel doesn’t end with the end of their lives and they have in front of them the same possibilities for change that we all have all the time.


Excerpt from  The Best American Poetry of 2012

To write poetry, to read it, to go to poetry readings, is a way of being in the world, and there will always be those who get suspicious and feel that maybe Plato was right to exclude the poets from his ideal Republic. Poetry, as they see it, is a form of “divine madness” that can lead you astray like a drug. It may be that all criticism has its origin in this rationalist rejection of the poet’s way of being in the world. Faced with uncomprehending or dismissive criticism, the young poet might take heart from something T. S. Eliot once wrote: “Upon giving the matter a little attention, we perceive that criticism, far from being a simple and orderly field of beneficent activity, from which impostors can be readily ejected, is no better than a Sunday park of contending and contentious orators, who have not even arrived at the articulation of their differences.” To counter the din of contentious oratory, very little of which will help the writer (or reader) in any useful way, I turn instinctively to the rhetorical question that animates Shakespeare’s sonnet sixty-five: “How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, / Whose action is no stronger than a flower?”

Political Thoughts

If Obama could survive his "clinging to guns and religion" comment, seems Romney could survive his 47% comment.

Obama insulted all gun owners and believers in religion, which is certainly more than 47% of the country. 

For all the angst over the loss of presidential elections to Clinton and Obama, at least the Republicans are nominating reasonably competitive candidates.  I know close only counts in horseshoes, but Bill Clinton famously never got to 50% and although Obama won handily in '08 it wasn't a romp. I believe he only got 53% of the vote.

Tom of Disputations, by the way, once said something along the lines that it's hard to expect much of a Church that baptizes infants. Similarly it's hard to expect much of an electorate with a similar low barrier to entry.

They say that McCain would've won if he'd had Reagan's demographics, which suggests the real problem may be not attracting minorities and Hispanics in great enough numbers. But sometimes you just can't - witness Boston after the influx of Irish and New York after the age of the Knickerbockers. I don't think there was anything a Boston non-Democrat in 1880 could've done to attract Irish votes. 

September 15, 2012

From Another Post

And via Brandon Field's blog:
St. John's con­stant theme was God's inex­haustible mercy. He often coaxed sin­ners to repent, as he does here:
"Sup­pose that a believ­er who once was pleas­ing to God becomes full of wicked­ness and com­mits griev­ous sins that exclude him from the king­dom. I will not allow even a per­son like that to despair, although he may have grown old prac­tic­ing his unspeak­able wicked­ness.

"Now if the wrath of God were a pas­sion, a per­son might well despair of quench­ing the flame that his many sins kin­dled. How­ev­er, because the divine nature is pas­sion­less, God never pun­ish­es nor takes vengeance with wrath, but with ten­der care and much lov­ingkind­ness. So we must be of much good courage and trust in the power of repen­tance.

God does not pun­ish for his own sake even those who have sinned against him, for noth­ing can harm that divine nature. Rather, to our advan­tage he acts to pre­vent our per­verse­ness from wors­en­ing by our habit­u­al­ly neglect­ing him. Even a per­son who places him­self out­side the light inflicts no loss on the light. But shut up in dark­ness, he suf­fers the great­est loss him­self. Sim­i­lar­ly, he who habit­u­al­ly despis­es that almighty power, does no injury to the power, but inflicts the great­est pos­si­ble injury on him­self. And for this rea­son God threat­ens us with pun­ish­ments—and often inflicts them—not as aveng­ing him­self, but by way of draw­ing us to him­self."

Good Comment on Steve Gershom's Blog

"Victim souls aren't victim souls for the sake of being so - if they are really victim souls, it is because they have a very particular relationship with the Lord who has asked them to share in his cup of suffering. (Just like some people seem to get a special dose of His joy.) I completely agree that the amount of suffering one has is not a good gauge for holiness or life in general at all. That is like a reverse prosperity gospel...

the OT Jews had to work through all of this over centuries of prayer and grumbling and suffering and victory and defeat. And the only consistent answer they got was, "I will be with you." Jesus came. He is still here. Sometimes it's a wedding feast, and sometimes it's a death bed. Often all at the same time."

September 14, 2012

You Never Forget Your First (Or Even Third) Free Book

Ten and a half years of blogging has not gone unrewarded - I was just offered my third free book. I snagged a review copy of "Vatican II: The Essential Texts" though the book feels slightly tainted by the introduction by infamous Catholic liberal James Carrol, but that is mitigated by another intro from Pope Benedict (hopefully there's no conflation going on there). Anyway it 's good to have the documents of Vatican II in this handsomely designed book.

That's One Pious Clock


Beer Dinner


I was kind of surprised by how much angst over Egypt there was despite the fact that no one was killed there. Anti-American demonstrations and flag burnings and the whatnot, who cares? Everybody knows there's a good dollop of anti-Americanism in that country.

But I was really taken aback by the news of the killing of the U.S. Libyan ambassador. You got to figure being the ambassador to a radical Middle Eastern country is risky but not that risky. It's surprising that we didn't take better pains to protect him given the former.


Thinking back to the weekend and how we drank the water at a little city festival in southwestern Ohio. They're selling it now (though it was free at the festival), on the theory it's exceptionally good. A guy poured me some from a tap and it was fine but that might've just been because it was nice and cold. It just sort of tasted like water to me. I suppose if I had another city's water and (as long as they were the exact same temperature) maybe I might discern a difference. Although maybe not; my water palate may be no better than Ham of Bone's beer palate.


Sometimes, like Frank Sinatra, I feel bad for teetotalers. I think of the sum pleasure beer has brought to my life and I feel a bit chagrined that my great aunt Mary was unable to partake due to her diabetes. I wish I could talk to her now, wish I'd been able to speak to her adult-to-adult. I would love, even more, to be privy to the conversations between her and Mom back in those old days. I can't remember a single fragment of a conversation, only of being there.

The past inevitably develops a patina of charisma about it; it's the reason we have all these sentimental television shows about times two decades' past. Part of it is that we were young (or younger) and that is potent, but time passage itself seems to make the past more interesting: what was it like before the Internet and computers, before cell phones and the like? Isn't it interesting that gas was under a dollar a gallon? And more importantly, what were those family gatherings like, the ones that seemed like permanent fixtures at the time - sturdy as good furniture - even though somewhere in the recesses of your mind you knew, of course, that time changes everything via the deaths it brings. So how does one make the present as interesting and charismatic as the past? How does one appreciate what you have while you still have it?

September 12, 2012

Couple Snippets from a Online Read

Found Sven Birkerts, bibliophile::
Here in my house I am surrounded by books, books I have read and books I intend to read, many of which have been in the same spot on the shelf for years, my gaze sweeping over them day after day until they metamorphose into a kind of protruding wallpaper. They recede, becoming what they were before they were first singled out: possibilities. They need to be singled out again in order to be seen. They need to be touched, stirred, their narrow profiles turned to full face. It takes so little. A few minutes of shelf reorganization can create a sudden surprise abundance. Look! I’ll make for one book and walk away with three. Or some wires will cross somewhere in the life and create a happy inadvertency, one of those charmed short-circuitings we file under “chance.” Association brushes against need. It remains mysterious, how a book slowly amasses urgency and at the right moment pounces, finding one of its intended readers, who feels as though there are no others.


I did not rush out to read everything else of Sebald’s. I was afraid to dilute the wisdom, my sense of discovery, with more work that might be similar. Maybe for that reason, The Rings of Saturn became one of the books that is still charged with electricity for me. While I walk past most of my books daily without really registering them, there are like this one a few exceptions. Books that I notice because they confirm me; that extend a promise of futurity that I don’t think I could ever explain to anyone. Benjamin’s Illuminations, Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark, Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, some of the novels of Javier Marías, Nabokov’s Speak, Memory . . . But I’d best not start on lists. Only say that these are the books I relate to via the gestures of private ritual. It is enough for me to pick out their spines as I walk through the room to my desk.


No matter—I had the book. What a satisfaction. Within minutes I had pushed the rest of the irrelevant world aside and settled myself into my favorite chair with the good lamp switched on bright. I remember reading somewhere how animals will obsessively lick their fresh-killed prey, making it fully their own before they take it apart with fangs and claws. I was like that now, inspecting the author photo, blurbs, copyright page, epigraphs or dedications (none of either), all that random eye-grazing which is just my way of tuning up to read.


The Russian writer Viktor Shklovsky said that art exists ‘to make the stone stony.’”


How do we decide after just a few pages of prose whether or not to invest ourselves? I have turned away from so many books that I know are important and beautifully written because the prose was not then suiting me—too this, too that, rhythmically jarring, discursive when that was not what I was looking for, too terse for my melancholy, too serious for my whimsies . . . It seems the older I get, the greater are the odds against a ready mesh. Have I really become so finicky? What I increasingly want is an experience so customized I will finally have no choice but to create it myself, though there is no more joy in reading your own prose than in kissing the side of your hand and pretending it’s your beloved.

September 11, 2012

Blog Stars and Other Shiny Subjects

The sky is a painterly indigo with the branches of shadow-hue'd trees dominating the scene. The air smells good, an autumnal scent, and I relish this space of fallish summer or summerish fall. The colors of the two season bleed together like yellow and blue into a fulsome green and into perhaps the best of both seasons, when entwined like lovers.

I have a striking quench for a third beer. The first went slowly and almost reluctantly while the second, by contrast, took me by surprise with its zip and pep. The ol' Sierra Nevada Pale is one that never loses its appeal. It's a go to beer.

My mind goes back, in this black summer eve, to that book that I never finished, the one by a poet detailing all the facts and figures about the nighttime. I might have to check that out again.

* <- Asterisk take me, high upon a hillside, high up where the stallion meets the sun.

Two of the hottest stars in bloggerdom are apparently Jennifer Fuliwer of "Conversion Diary" and Brandon Field of a blog whose name escapes me despite frequently reading. It's interesting to see how blogs have evolved, and there's a lot in common between these two stars: both are unfailingly positive and never blog about controversial or thorny moral or theological issues. They're not into controversy, which is sort of the way old time rock & roll bloggers made their bread and butter.

Brandon and Jennifer also put A LOT of pictures of themselves on their respective blogs. Pictures of themselves with other people, but still, they're not retiring violets when it comes to posting their smiling faces. It's so interesting in part because in the old days people hardly ever posted their picture on their blogs. Sometimes, yes, but it seems like blog evolution is making them even more personal, more pictorial.

Brandon, confirmed Catholic junkie that he is, traveled to Central Illinois for Bishop Sheen's veneration mass. Impressive. You don't get to central Illinois by accident. And he posted an entry prominently featuring the song "Lift High the Cross", which was sang at the mass, and how that was appropriate. Inspiring the post was, and I felt the gleam of spiritual ambition.


Went through my voluminous blog feeds today, to the dismay of my novel (who wants to be read). Too many mouths to feed, I tell it. One interesting read was a Protestant blogger, a biblical scholar-type, who is a Wesleyan who makes the argument that they are pretty close to Catholics. He's reading our Catechism and saying where he disagrees and where he agrees. Obviously he's not big on the Pope being singled out as having any authority. I often recall Bishop Sheen's comment that first they (the devil and secular types) attacked the Church, then the Scriptures, and it does seem to have followed in that order, understandably. As a strategy it's been pretty effective unfortunately.


The thought occurred to me while running today that libertarians wouldn't be doing the poor any favors by legalizing drugs. It would eliminate the black market, the underground economy that I suspect keeps the poor flush with big screen tvs, smart phones and all the like (items that many have, as a social worker recently told me). Govmint income statistics don't measure the underground economy, which no doubt is a HUGE industry and, conveniently, tax free. If all drugs were legalized and available via a pharmacy, drug prices would crash and dealers would be out of business.


Got a little rivulet of pleasure over seeing someone post a video of themselves opening the latest basic Kindle (the cheapest version). All the dopamine dumping with none of the buyer's remorse or wallet hurtage. The new one is sharper with more contrast but I don't think I like the black casing. I like my distinguished grey molding.


“Do you realize that all great literature is all about what a bummer it is to be a human being? Isn’t it such a relief to have somebody say that?” — Kurt Vonnegut, "A Man Without A Country"

Fascinating statement which, if true, seems something of an indictment of great literature given how unlike the gospel message that seems to be.

We are supposed to "rejoice always" as St. Paul says, and see life as "a romance" as Chesterton wrote. Gratitude and "count your blessings" seems to be the mark of a mature Christian (unfortunately often not my mark!), while with artists it seems to be "say how it sucks to be human".

September 10, 2012

Out in Africa

Went to the Wilds on a gloriously beautiful late summer day, a safari-park associated with the Columbus Zoo about two hours east of Columbus. There in 10,000 acres of reclaimed strip-mining land roamed all sorts of exotic animals, most of which I'd never seen before nor could pronounce or write their names. We took a 2 1/2 hour open air bus tour after admiring the breathtaking vistas from the visitor's center. It looked like an African savannah, this vast stretch of rolling hills, lakes, trees and bush. It's sort of an Ohio version of Busch Gardens and the couple across from us was visiting from California (surely not just for this safari, but still it seemed impressive to find visitors from so far away).

Some of the animals were endangered species, and especially vivid were the wild Mongolian horses which were never domesticated (and even Genghis Kahn tried). You have to tip your hat with respect to a horse never domesticated. There were lots of species of deer and antelope, odd creatures such as one with horns two feet long that went back instead of up and thus functioned as fine back scratchers (the Scimitar-horned Oryx, native to North Africa). We saw the "Dhole" an endangered canine that looks like a fox on steroids. There were also some familiar animals like giraffes, rhinos, bison and cheetahs. The big cats weighed over a hundred pounds and lay yawning under the shade, their distinctive "tear-drop" black vertical lines under their eyes which helps them cut the glare of the sun. Their story is a fascinating one - they can go from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds - which just seems otherworldly. But the energy draw from just a quarter mile sprint is such that they have to nap after catching their prey and that leaves them vulnerable to other animals stealing their catch. In fact they end up with only about 20% of what they catch! That's the sort of animal story that is almost funny and is hard to make up. It shows the sort of creativity of God's creation. "Let's make an animal that can sprint at 60-70mph but only up to a quarter mile, after which they are exhausted and thus end up inadvertently providing food for other species." If cheetahs didn't exist, we think their story was too far-fetched to be believed: Yeah, right, a little sprint makes them have to take a nap just when dinner is being served.

The Bactrian camels, native to Mongolia, were certainly fine specimens. With those huge humps and hairy manes they were a sight to see. There were also the "desert ghosts", a species of deer I believe, that were the color of sand.

One of the things I liked about the open air safari is that you see animal life not in cages or small fake-looking set-ups, but actually out in a kind of wild (hence the name, "The Wilds", I suppose). Though even the Wilds isn't truly wild of course. There are lots of fences and gates designed to keeping the carnivores from doing what comes naturally. I'm sure the cheetahs don't have occasion to use that 70mph speed, unfortunately, but then neither do I have to catch my food (short of going to the grocery market.) In a sense the Wilds is sort of a hybrid between a zoo and the wilds.

A funny thing was how the tour driver -- who obviously doesn't have a shy bone in her body having worked for 29 years in a male-dominated factory ("You can take it out in trade!" she said when Steph gave me a quarter for feed for the swan and catfish) -- kept saying "material" instead of "sperm" for the male, uh, material. Steph kind of teased her by calling it material with a laugh at one point.)

After the tour we ate dinner out on the overlook. We had the place to ourselves, and it was so quiet there that it really made you feel like where you were - out in the country, far from civilization or roads (like the Indian reservation at the Grand Canyon, they bus you into the "Holy of Holies" so that there's an unearthly silence there, in part due to the lack of car engines).

After eating we headed off to adventure number two, which was kayaking on a lake at AEP's "Re-Creation" land. It's something like 60,000 acres of reclaimed strip-mining land (over 63 million trees were planted with supposedly six hundred lakes). It was getting late, so we had to find a lake fast. "Hook Lake" seemed a likely suspect since it was at a nearby campground. We got there and it proved to be a disappointment, a glorified pond. But I kayaked around it despite the noise of campers cussing every third word from back in the woods.

On the way home we made an emergency stop at Walmart to replace broken wiper blades. Through the magic of technology, we could see via weather radar that there was rain directly ahead, clinging to I-70, so it seemed we could either go to Walmart or have to pull over by the side of the highway when the rains came. We chose the Walmart route, which worked out with a minimum of pain, and technology helped again, by telling us via smart phone exactly where the Zanesville Walmart was.

Not me, but a traveler from California and, in the far distance, one from Africa

September 08, 2012

Staycation in the Rear View Mirror

The buzz in the e-reading world is that a couple new Kindles have been announced.  One is called "paperwhite" and it is said to further approximate the book-reading experience.  Kindles presently have a gray-ish background, more newspaper than paper book.  Additionally, the new one comes with a light which is handy for us readers-in-bed-without-wanting-to-disturb-our-spouse.  But I'm not going to buy it.  I'm happy with the current one.  As Jesus said in today's gospel, "and no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says 'the old is good'." The old Kindle is good in this case.

Speaking of Scripture, interesting first reading the other day. St. Paul is usually pretty negative towards the Corinthian behavior which is what makes this twist all the more surprising: "...For God will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hears, and then everyone will receive praise from God" (emphasis mine). I'm not one to look a gift verse in the mouth. Not surprisingly the hope-filled "Word Among Us" goes right after it in its daily meditation: "Sometimes we picture a scowling God...but today's first reading paints a very different picture. God the Father is indeed biding his time.  But what he's waiting for is his opportunity to praise every one of his children..". 


So had brunch after a baby dedication day. Wish I'd gotten a chance to talk to the brother of my evangelical daughter-in-law and given him the "secret handshake" (joke) on his having become a member of the One Truth Church (copyright pending). He's now a Catholic, having converted after studying Catholic theology at the University of Dayton.  


I fish out the season's last cigar, attempting to light the fat stub in the windy air.  I'd been good this year, having had only 2 or 3 cigars.  I read "The Bartender's Tale" by Ivan Doig while smoking.  Doig's book, along with "The Darlings", seem to be the last contenders for the next novel up. It takes a certain amount of effort to find a readable novel.  

So it feels the end of an era, the era of my weeklong vacation that is. [Insert sob here.] Of the 9 days off it looks like we had 4.5 sunshiny days, which isn't overly or overtly impressive, at least for the first week of September. Cloudumbus strikes again!  

Wednesday was a nice, hard manual labor type of day. Much different than my white collar norm. Two plus hours of biking and a half-hour or hour of tossin' dirt into the crevices of our backyard. (Our backyard topography is not always even.) I support being supportive, where possible and especially where demands on me are minimal. The 45 minutes of dirt moving was as pleasant as could be expected under the circumstances.

Earlier there was the glorious 2.5 hours on my steed, my bike, under a perfectly distilled September sun. Time in which to do nothing but become mesmerized by the passing fields, the dry corn stalks, the green and yellow soy fields, the resolute asphalt and the alert 'hoppers. And enjoy the sun. I've been a craver of rays at least since the day of Denver's song about sunshine on his shoulders.  

Under the sail of that morning sun, I took my time and tried to resist the adrenalin and exhilaration I felt riding on a summer morning.  So, so rare! I wondered why, of course, why I don't do this more often and the answer I came up with is that it's never, ever the same on a weekend morning. It just isn't. There are crowds of people breaking my dissociative abilities and the air just feels different, worse that is, on weekends.  There's a calmness and imperturbability to late summer weekdays that really doesn't exist any other time of year.  By this late in the season, most people have "moved on" and are occupied with tasks foreign and domestic, back to school and whatnot.  

There's something especially winsome about the 11:30am-1pm period, maybe even earlier. The day still has some legs left in it.  And so I clambered aboard the bike and set out at an easy pace, finding myself off path almost immediately when I came across a diversion in the form of a wide grass path through a local park.  It was flanked by goldenrods and bushes growing up to six feet tall.  I couldn't resist the spin around it even though it was harder going.  

Back on the trail I headed towards my goal, Plain City, founded 1818.  But then another detour.  I came across the House of White on the Prairie, that beautiful gem that sits in steady splendor for so many years.  I've always liked the house and have rode by it at least once a summer for the past ten, so did so again, admiring from afar the breath of country living, the pristine grounds and clean, well-cared for barns.  

On towards Plain City I rode, with dancing grasshoppers nipping at my wheels.  They come out in fall and sit on the path like toy figurines, like noble inch-high GI Joe soldiers of yore.  The asphalt passes under me until I come to the horse farm and where the trail is sided with stones.  On into Plain City I insouciantly rode, despite the miles piling up and despite the chores I'd have later in the day (namely spreading top soil over the backyard to try to level the topography).  On past the cemetery and the elementary school, new life and old death, and past the new city sign announcing its presence. 

Then back, back down the grooving path where old songs come to mind and religious questions as well, like "Whose life is it anyway?" (Answer: God's. I had surprisingly little to do with my own creation.)  I think of the Founding Fathers and how they fought for liberty and how it's not "they fought for liberty so we don't have to" but "they fought for liberty and so must we. Eternal vigilance, etc.).  This goes along with the tension concerning the controversial "treasury of merit" within the Church and how there's that tension between individual imitative and corporate help. 

The old '60s song "One Tin Soldier" came to mind and I realized how when I was young it seemed like the treasure in the song was a joke. They fought and died for something that said "Peace on earth".  But now I recognize that it's both ironic as well as true, that Peace on earth, with its reverberations of Jesus as our peace, is indeed the treasure. The song wasn't joking. 


I guess the 18.5 miler did its work. I'm ready to remain in a prone and laid-back position for the rest of the day. Hammock, don't fail me now!  

I seem to get more and more 'meta" about vacations. I spend so much time analyzing the time off, writing about it, fretting about it, that I can't enjoy the time itself as well.  Even this, of course, is "meta", so apparently I haven't learned my lesson.  Partially I think this is due to the failure of a good week-at-home vacation, i.e. to get bored, which leads not only to a healthy desire to go back to work.  To have a space of time in which you go to the edge of pain - i.e. boredom - is a good thing at least once a year. But no such luck this time.  We've been pedal to the medal with activities and it fills a day just to prayvalanche ('prayer' + 'avalanche'), read, drink, and exercise. 

September 04, 2012

Apostle of Hope

"Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us, Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile." - Caryll Houselander

Ed Abbey Before He Eds You

Labor Day highlights include: grandson dumping a full glass of water all over me (and my iPad). No iPads were harmed during that little experiment. Another was him writing on one of the pages in my "Diaries of Edward Abbey", a beautiful multi-hued design (signs of early genius...see above). Funny since it opened me up to start reading this Abbey book (I'd bought it ages ago because it was cheap at a sale but never read it. How many books I have in a similar situation!)
Compulsively readable, here are some random comments:
"Inbreeding. My Gawd, even the country-western singers are singing songs about country-western songs. Just like the highbrow literati, writing their novels about writing novels. (E.g., Garp, etc..)"
"I must tell what I think to be the truth in this Journal, no matter what the cost. No matter whom it hurts or how much. For if I don't tell the honest truth, this book will not be worth a damn to me in the future.
Why should the truth be painful? Because I lead a double life. Because there is a part of me that wants to be good, to be kind and generous and gnelte with others...Because there is that other part or faculty or demon, my cynic self sitting on my left shoulder, seeing into myself or others, or merely observing unpleasant externalities, and reporting harshly and directly what is under observation.
Why cannot the two be combined? Insight and candor should not, ultimately, be the enemies of love. Right. But the key word is "ultimately." Time, depth, intensity. At some point in the heart of the object the two - analysis and sympathy - converage and meet."
"I must write my travel piece. Boredom! Writing for 'National Geographic' is liek trying to jerk off while wearing ski mitts."
"Censorship and pornography: the cure is worse than the disease. Why is porn so popular? Why this immense sex frustatration among men? The boredom of life in an industrial society."
"Old bod breaking down. Hubris. My debauchery and arrogance have finally overtaken me. Thought I had the wolrd by the balls; now Fate has a hard grasp on my balls. Character and fate: A man's fate is his character (Heraclitus). By the age of forty, a man is responsible for his face (Abbey) , AND his fate. I think." (1985)
"I do not want to become a grouchy, growling, grumpy old man. Do not want to become crankly and quarrelsome. Would rather be like some Zen saint, cheerful and careless and reckless and foolish and generous and patient and somewhat detached and comical and ironical and imical (not inimical) and spry and relaxed...."
"It's his work that makes the artist interesting to us. But then why, after a while, do we begin to find the artist more interesting than his work?"
"We're all going to die anyhow. Each of us owes the Earth a life, a body. Every little bit helps."
"No wonder I can't sleep some nights. I suffer too - from guilt. And regret. And bitterness. And petty resentments. And all the other little miserable sins the flesh is heir to. I envy the Catholics with their confessionals, though they show no sign of being happier, or less evil, than any others. How can I free myself from the bondage of these passions?"
"The tragic fallacy of 'Joy of Sex' and all other such training manuals is that what a man really desires is not 144 different positions, but 144 different women."
"Drinking too much again: insulting cell tissues, all them brain cells rotting away, cirrhosis of the liver, kidney stones, the shakes - Jesus Christ! Gimme a drink!"
"...'Playboy' and 'Penthouse' ... [are] exploiters of men."

Ngong Dreams

My Ngong Hills

With certain Catholic punidts, if I can borrow a car driving analogy, and that is if you're really, really elderly and driving a car you usually get away with it until you're in an accident. Then it's time to put away the keys. Similarly it seems like if you're a public pundit and elderly, perhaps it's time to go private when you make that big a gaffe.

Can't feel displeased by OU's stunning defeat of Penn State. It somehow seems of a "just desserts" given PSU's tarnish. Of course I suppose one has to tread lightly on that subject, given how much egg is on the face of the Catholic Church in that regard.


Ran a 3-miler earlier in the day followed up by sumptuous rest and some goodly, even godly, reading. N.T. Wright's "How God Became King" is an eye-opener because it addresses so particularly that Christian sore, that one that asks how it is that Jesus came to establish a kingdom on earth when the kingdom appears somewhat deflated. Wright says that because Jesus didn't produce a revolutionary kingdom or the immediate end of the world, so most seem to see the coming of His Kingdom as sort of not applicable to daily life in these United States (or Britain, or Africa, or...). He says this has been brought on by Christians accepting Voltaire's (and the "Enlightenment" view) that Christianity failed and is part of the problem rather than the solution. That Jesus is fine as a moral teacher but the true hinge of history was not Christ's life and death and resurrection but the throwing off of superstition and non-scientific ways of thinking. Even Christians seem to have bought into this meme that the world really isn't better off for Christ having entered this world, despite the claim in Matt 28 where Jesus said that all power in heaven AND on earth is His. Wright scoffs at the view that Jesus didn't change the world. He says that is a major historical error.

Wright says that for centuries now we've divided ourselves into "Kingdom" Christians and "Cross" Christians, one bent on making this world heaven and the other bent on embracing the cross in hopes of seeing something better in the next life. Wright says that in the gospels cross and kingdom are not divided but interwoven and connected.

So I took my dog on a one mile hike amid the four acre field in back of our house. Or actually, the four acre field behind the 4-acre field in back of our house. There sublimity reigns. I'm always astonished with what one can do with just a few acres, and these arranged in a seemingly inauspicious rectangle. There's little width, but plenty of length, and yet it has a pleasing maze-like quality full of a variety of maple, bush, evergreen, hickory and more, all with trees of a variety of ages. It's a wonder that grass grows under the trees but it does, and I can't help but compare it to uncle Mark's (or my own) and wonder why his backyard is, comparatively, so unlively. He has a similar random mixture of trees, evergreen and deciduous, and yet there's something lacking. Maybe simply because his trees are mostly all older or, much more likely, his backyard is square and small. There's no real sense of mystery in most backyards, certainly not in mine where the trees are all arranged in rigid straight lines along the edge lines for privacy purposes. But there's magic heading into my neighbor's acres, and it's there I most often feel a keening to own country land. I wonder why it's not enough, it would seem, for me to gaze along its borders - no I want to OWN the trees, in their electric pattern. I'm curious who designed it: the original owner? a landscape consultant for the original owner? Nature itself? Regardless, I rarely see such a beautiful variety of plantings like I do there. In some ways it's better than walks in state parks.

I hiked using the "Map My Run" GPS app and afterward enjoyed the surrealistic design showing the path as one big plate of spaghetti in the middle of nowhere. One mile covered in a small spit of land.


So now, for vacation's sake, I carry my chair, a drink, this iPad and a table out just past the tree line which marks the end of our back yard. I set up camp on the high slope and look over a copse of trees, this open tableau, and wonder: why do I so little avail myself of the treats just beyond my own backyard, namely the vacant lot behind it and the swirling patch of trees behind it? Why do I drive to a lake? I suppose it takes a vacation, a sense of frisson produced by the anticipation of a string of days off.


I feel all Isak Dinesen-ish, here on my Ngong hill. (Delusions of grandeur keep me going, as they say.) It's humorous that the whole summer passed (and many others previous) without my pulling up a chair and "setting a spell" in order to become entranced by the music of this open, private space. It seems I can run three miles but not walk fifty feet.


I have a tweak in my left instep. A pain when I walk. Lately, after every run, I can feel the groan issuing forth via either my instep or heel and it's a feeling I oddly cherish. It means I made an effort. It means I struck a blow against the ravages of aging. It means I struck a blow against the greater ravages of laziness. I like the feeling of weekend warrioring, of feeling the gimp of step through which the body admits, "you did a decent run today".

Funny youtube clip about the secret society of inebriates, those who have just under 2 drinks permanently in their system. Three drinks, the world is toast. No drinks, the same. So the steady drip of 1.5 drinks keeps war, hunger, etc.. at bay. And I heard via Tom of Disputations a verse in scripture supporting use of wine! From the book of Wisdom (Sir 31:27). Buzz-kill from my Collegeville commentary which says that that chapter is hardly revelation but just simple human practicalities. Collegeville is a dud! They need to drink up.

I'm always impressed by how 99.9% of Americans 99.9% of the time are fully clothed.  Randy Travis notwithstanding, it still seems to me a minor miracle - and an indicator of the power of culture - that the dream about going to a meeting at work naked never happens.  Sure it's a relatively simple thing to put on clothes.  But you'd think in the heat of summer there'd be more non-conformists, more people who just don't have the time to put up with the bother.  People wouldn't cuss if it were more frowned upon I suppose. Even the most hardcore criminals in the middle of the 'hood have clothes on, albeit with jeans sagging to their thighs.  In all the time I've been outside, I've never once seen a naked person. That should say something, perhaps that where there's a will, there's a way.  While it's against the law to go around naked, it's a very light misdemeanor.  It seems that taboos in society, in this case against public nakedness, are pretty effective. 

Starting the great American novel search.  Downloaded about fifteen promising novels and eliminated all but 5 quickly.  Now got to whittle down these to one.  I'm finding "The Darlings", one of the finalists, to be a very readable storyline but without the lyrical, poetic writing I crave.

September 01, 2012

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

Cheered by a stereotype-defying visitor.  Late teens, maybe 21 max. Four or five silver doodads embedded in various spots in her face.  Carrying a clipboard.  Wants money for a liberal cause, I think.  Asks if our dog (who is barking) would bite and I said "I don't think so." She's taken aback, naturally (and literally) by that. Fortunately he didn't bite her. Wouldn't have made for a happy ending. 

Instead of soliciting funds to save the climate or generate wind power (beyond what is already produced in the form of tremendous hot air from the POTUS), she's asking for donations for soldiers, care packages for those at risk for suicide.  She asked if I kept up with the news and I said yes and she mentioned all the suicides among soldiers and lamentably I told her I was aware of that. Perhaps somewhat patronizingly I told her I was impressed with her, surprised that she was doing this for such a good cause.  By virtue of reductionist demographics, I'm supposed to be conservative and she liberal. If liberal, she's not supposed to care about soldiers now that her guy's in office. But whatever her politics, here's something every American can support.