March 30, 2013

Classical Bugs

Everything I learned about classical music I learned from watching Bugs Bunny. Ok that's false, but still I wonder if my earliest exposures to great music came via that cartoon. It seems I recall Rossini's Barber of Seville as background music for some wacky caper. I must hie me to the 'Net and see what a google search reveals for “classical music” + “bugs bunny”…..
Paydirt!: “I grew up watching Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Popeye cartoons, because they were regularly shown on the independent stations here in St. Louis…Those cartoons helped develop my love of classical music. Rossini’s overtures were popular with cartoonists, as were Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies and Brahms’ Hungarian dances. In cartoon-land, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata became synonymous with quiet, moonlit scenes…”
Paydirt II: “Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once observed that his entire understanding of high culture / classical music was derived from Bugs Bunny cartoons.”
Proof again that it seems pretty impossible to come up with an independent thought. Anyway, I wonder if today's kids get any of this wonderful taste of Western culture?

God's Shroud?

I've long thought the Shroud of Turin was legit (won over by evidence of plant pollens from Palestine in it), and recent scientific tests now date it to the time of the 1st century A.D. That despite a carbon dating done about 30 years ago that suggested the shroud originated during the Middle Ages. Which I find interesting in numerous ways. One is that if God left some sort of extraordinary proof in the shroud, enough to have convinced Malcolm Muggeridge (or was it Russell Kirk?) of the veracity of Christianity, then it's kind of funny He didn't protect it from the fire that is said to have resulted in the original Middle Ages dating. Certainly it seems very much an extraneous "proof" since for most of the centuries of Christian belief it has not been publicly available or known.

And it's funny how science tends to get things wrong. (If I went by the latest scientific research I'd be afraid to eat anything for fear of cancer, heart disease or irritable bowel syndrome.) So I guess what these events tell us is: take science with a grain of salt and put not your faith even in the Shroud of Turin. Sometimes I think the existence of the Shroud is God forgetting to tidy up some detail that would too nakedly reveal his existence and thus obviate the need for faith, but that's to think of God as capable of error which is hilariously false!

An Unabridged History of My Card Collecting

For reasons unclear it seems important to catalog and categorize my year-by-year youthful intoxication with baseball cards. Simply by googling what the Topps card of a particular year looks like, I can tell, with some degree of certainty, my level of engagement with the hobby of kings.
It's hard to tell how much the design of the cards themselves influenced my degree of enthusiasm: Did I buy fewer cards in 1974 compared to 1973 because the design was weaker? Or was something else going on in my life to take precedence, as shocking as that concept might be.
So, without further ado:
1971: Magic time. I'd just turned eight the summer of '71 when I bought my first packs of the black-bordered cards. Whether the cards were handsomely designed seems a gauche point since I'd fallen in love at first sight and feel. I was instantly transported by the rows of orderly statistics displayed on the card backs, and it nearly a divine revelation to learn how the earned run average was calculated even though I don't think I was capable of doing the math myself. At least I knew, from adult authorities, that higher is not better. It felt a bit counterintuitive at the time. During this early age of baseball card collecting it was all purity, all the time. We had absolutely no concept of monetary value, no idea the cards could be treated as stock instruments.

1972: Arguably THE year of baseball card collecting for me. Nine years old, in the sweet spot, that golden age. The TOPPS design that year was gilt-golden and photographs otherworldly, the cards glittering. The heroes depicted appeared as gods on gleaming fields. Perhaps it's my imagination, but I wonder if even TOPPS itself was blessedly unselfconscious back then, designing cards not as marketable commodities yet but still making packs with the dust of pink gum affixed for…yes… nine year olds. The Frank Robinson and Pete Rose cards still have the ring of myth and truth about them.
1973: Here the TOPPS design suffers a bit or perhaps my interest waned fractionally. Ten years old now, these I collected assiduously and have warm feelings towards but…but the cards don't feel as incandescent as the '71 or '72 sets. There's that tissue-thin difference (that seemingly makes all the difference) between the mystical magical 1972 set and the functional, avuncular 1973 set. The Willie Mays and Matty Alou cards stand out as far as they go, and the backs of the cards are extremely familiar - suggesting I spent a lot of fondling time with them. 
1974: This year's set is filled with mystery. I don't have many of these cards and I'm not sure why. Was it because the Reds had an “off-season” in finishing second to the Dodgers and card-collecting was affected? Was this when I sold most of my cards for $5 to an unscrupulous card dealer and never managed to subsequently restore their numbers?  I The Google images look familiar and warmly received - I recall the “magic” that getting “Washington Nat'l League” error cards. TOPPS had mistakenly assumed the San Diego Padres were moving to the nation's capital and printed a fraction of their cards under that title. These cards never turned out to be worth all that much surprisingly. But at the time they seemed pretty special and highly active “trading bait”. It was probably around this time, at the tender age of 11, that cards took on the notion of having some external value. The notion of rookie cards being worth more than non-rookie cards probably took place in '74 or, for sure by '75 when Boston's Rice and Lynn would look like Mantle and Maris. I remember the Hank Aaron Home Run King card with great affection.
1975: Feel modest affinity for this distinctive and colorful set. Certainly there's no denying I was heavily into cards in this, my 12th summer, even if the cards themselves hold not the magic of '71 or '72. By now I was collecting older cardboard specimens at card shows with paper-route money and trading Mantles and Aaron's garnered from my friend's uncle's collection. 1971 and 1972 had no competing cards – that period of my card-collecting was completely ahistorical. I had only the present moment. But by '75 I was becoming more discerning, more critical. Did I like the gaudy cards at the time? Was I collecting out of a sense of nostalgia, duty or value appreciation?
1976: These cards were certainly collected assiduously but perhaps not as lovingly attended to and cared for. This is the first design of cards that I can't easily recall and I'm not sure that's a reflection of the more prosaic card design or simply that my own interest at begun to wane, inversely with my 13-year old hormones.
1977: This set, while familiar, has some unfamiliar cards popping up on the google image search. At 14 definitely interest in cards was flagging - certainly these cards seem to me “watered down”, not providing much punch at all. Definitely a big fall-off from 1975.
1978: While I have plenty of these cards, it's obvious I bought them in a later collecting interest resurgence because the backs of the cards are way unfamiliar. Almost no bonding with this set. At 15 years old, the summer after my freshman year at high school, it appears collecting baseball cards have reached a nadir.
1979: This “sweet sixteen” set evokes absolutely no emotion. If I collected it at the time and not during the '80s, then it was certainly out of a sense of loyalty to the hobby.
1980: This set is more familiar than '77-'79 and suggests a mild resurgence of the collecting bug at 17 years old, in high school and meeting an English teacher who was a card-ophile (and who looked like a dead ringer of an obscure pitcher for the '72 Rangers).
1981: The summer between high school and college is the first set that looks very unfamiliar. Obviously no collecting of this was done. I think I bussed tables at the Brown Derby restaurant. If not I was definitely not spending time sorting through cards and trying to complete sets. Even the star cards look strange. But then life happens.
1982 - 1984: These sets not collected at all. Perhaps part of it was the Reds were pretty bad, losing over a hundred games in '82. Or because I was feeling too adult to collect cards, seeing how I was a collegian.
1985 - College done. A career begun. A year of interest in that the Reds were much better, finishing in second place and Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb's hit record. A young rookie named Eric Davis was making baseball - and thus baseball cards - more interesting. I collected a few this year (or perhaps retroactively) such that some of the cards, like the Davis, look slightly iconic.
1986 - If I collected any of these it was not with enthusiasm. Seem to have become completely preoccupied. At 23, cards took a nose dive.
1987 - The full-blown renaissance of card-collecting. Here at the age of 24 I was 'coming home' to the hobby. I have a billion of '87 cards and I think at least in part because now I was thinking it fully as a “stock-like investment”.
Complete sets, mint condition, all that jazz. Ironically, the '87 set is almost worthless, in part due to everyone and their brother was saving them under the same illusion that they'd be worth something some day. Supply and demand. Lots of supply in the '87s.
1988-1990 - Collected but rarely looked at these. They were to be salted away like treasures under the sea.
1991 - Here the last scents of recognition linger. Here would be the last set that even looks familiar. At age 28, the card collecting hobby seems to have played out. Fo 21 years, there would be no new buys.

March 29, 2013


The following, from Pope Benedict's second volume on Jesus, reminds me of how he himself (Benedict) might've put an end to the custom of being pope unto death:
God acts like a good schoolteacher or a doctor. He slowly puts an end to certain customs, allows others to continue, and thus leads man forward. “A departure from time-honored, customary ways is, after all, not easy..."

March 27, 2013

From Cardinal Ratzinger's Co-Workers of the Truth...

The simple faith of simple souls merits the respect, the reverence of the preacher, who has noright simply to pit his intellectual superiority against a faith which has remained simple and which, by its simple and intuitive comprehension of the Faith as a whole, can, in some cases, understand the essence of that Faith more profoundly than is possible for a reflective faith that is fragmented by division into systems and theories. In my view, what is fundamental here is the insight that the transition from the Old to the New Testament actually took place in the faith of simple souls: it was the anawim (“the poor”) who associated themselves neither with the liberalism of the Sadducees nor with the literal orthodoxy of the Pharisees. Because of their simple intuitive comprehension of the Faith, their lives were based on an absolute confidence in its promise and precepts and so became the locale in which the Old Testament could be transformed into the New Testament: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Jesus himself. The “faith of the poor” continues to be the most precious treasure of the Church, about which Jesus spoke these weighty words: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me [that is, destroys his faith by your intellectualism], it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mk 9:42). This text is not (as one might judge from the context in Matthew) about children whose innocence one should not destroy; nor is sexual scandal the immediate theme of these words. The “little ones who believe” are, rather, the simple individuals who believe simply and as simple persons. It is about the faith of these little people, the ordinary people, the poor, that Jesus is speaking.

Beer Facts

Popes and Crosses

Came across the hymn that follows in the Liturgy of the Hours and I thought about how the physical cross was once a tree instead of dead wood, and how that tree was also, in a sense, “resurrected” by Christ in that what was once an anonymous plant became the most famous and sought after wood in all the world. It reminded me again of Christ's saying that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains a grain of wheat.”

There has been speculation over what sort of tree it was, some saying a species of pine common in the Holy Land at the time known as “Aleppo Pine”.
Faithful Cross, above all other,
One and only noble Tree,
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be;
Sweet the wood and sweet the iron,
And the load, most sweet is he.
From the Catechism, I found it interesting that creation speaks not just to the closeness of God but his nearness:
Light and darkness, wind and fire, water and earth, the tree and its fruit speak of God and symbolize both his greatness and his nearness.
Nice! I'd sort of intuitively glommed on to that, so it's nice to see the confirmation.


To paraphrase David Letterman's old saying about Madonna and apply it to this pope, “He loves to shock us!” Indeed, he's a live-wire! Eschewing the papal apartments? He's got guts just to be able to tell his handlers no so easily. Be like the President telling the Secret Service he ain't gonna live in the White House. He's his own man in spades! Refreshing, but then I think Benedict was perfectly his own man as was certainly John Paul II. Just in different ways. Benedict got bold on the intellectual front by trying to dialogue with Muslims in the Regensburg speech. And John Paul II of course was one of a kind. I think Pope Francis reminds me so much of John Paul I except that Francis seems to have a lot more confidence. John Paul the First just felt totally overwhelmed by the job while this pope acts with perfect insouciance. You get the feeling he doesn't overthink things: it cracks me up the Russian Orthodox gift him with a beautiful icon and he re-gifts it three days later. Somehow I don't think gold-laden icons much appeal to this thrifty and down-to-earth man. And with what frugalness does he live! He used to get the paper delivered and it came wrapped in a rubber band. He'd save the rubber bands and each month deliver thirty of them back to the kiosk!

Pope Francis has more freedom than John Paul II might've felt since JP II was the first non-Italian in a billion years and there was no reason to be shake things up unnecessarily and make the Italians nervous. But now everyone's used to the non-Italian popes so the sacred cows have been gored, or are being gored. Say what you want about Francis but he's no stickler for tradition and he certainly seems to understand the parlous state the church is in right now. It ain't business as usual. No time to fiddle while Rome burns. No strolls through the lovely Vatican wings admiring the beautiful art for this papa! It seems a situation where the man is perfectly matched to the moment.

Though he is ruining it for future popes as Lino Rulli pointed out.  How's the next one ever going to be able to say “oh, I think I'll go for 3000-sq foot luxury accommodations.” Certainly the low church Protestants love him.

I can't wait to read a biography of him though I'm averse to reading one too soon. I'd rather read wait and read a quality biography rather than just getting the first rushed one that comes out. And of course the big story is the one that hasn't happened yet, i.e. what will be of his pontificate.

It's kind of inspiring looking at the official portrait of Pope Francis since he's not a particularly handsome or striking-looking man. It sort of plays against the worldly stereotype that our leaders have to be young and vigorous and debonair. Francis is certainly the anti-Obama in more ways than one. 

I felt this passage from a recent article really drives home the impact grandparents can have:

In the book-interview “El Jesuita”, Cardinal Bergoglio had said he kept a folded text written by his grandmother in side the breviary, the two volume prayer book he always carries with him even when he travels. The text is a short testament left to her grandchildren, which reads: “May my grandchildren, to whom I have given my whole heart, have a long and happy life but if pain, sickness or loss of a loved one should fill them with sadness, may they remember that one breath taken at the Tabernacle, where the greatest and august martyr is present and one glance at Mary at the foot of the cross, will act like a balm that is able to heal the deepest and most painful wounds.”
What a beautiful saying of his grandmother. She has the words of a pope! I could do worse than copy those lines somewhere where I can see them often.


Oh how I'd like to have been a fly on the wall listening to when Pope met Pope! 45 minute conversation and it can't have all been small talk. Two holy devout men sharing an office that less than three hundred souls have shared in the history of mankind. Despite all the amazing access we have via the Internet and social media to famous people's thoughts and words, there are some things we still do not have access to. Which is as it should be, of course, but it doesn't stop me from being insatiably curious.

Sundry & Various

Oh who does not love a bookish curmudgeon? There's Joe Queenan's One for the Books but I found another in the dusty archives of Britain's Literary Review, a Henry Hitchens:

“Once upon a time you became a librarian because you fancied a quiet life: 'Catalogue some books, deal with the occasional pedant, write The Whitsum Weddings.' Not anymore.”
He dislikes the way modern libraries have become loud and he sounds unashamedly Mr. Wilson-ish reacting to the modern Dennis the Menace crowd.

Then I read a bit of the BBC history of the 13th century king, Edward I. A bit on the dry side alas. I like the idea of reading these Brit magazines more than the actuality. Although I was interested to learn from the Literary Review that Anthony Trollope's mother wrote a semi-scathing expose of America in Domestic Manners of Americans (spoiler: the manners deemed not good) which I proceeded to download for free since it was written around 1830. The first chapter caught my attention and my heart given her wonder at the ocean's “indescribable charm”:
Perhaps some may think that the first glance of ocean and of sky shew all they have to offer…but to me, their variety appeared endless, and their beauty unfailing…I may recall with difficulty the blue outline of the Alleghany mountains, never, while I remember any thing, can I forget the first and last hour of light on the Atlantic.
Anyway apparently the book caused quite a row between Britain and America, one Anthony Trollope aimed to mend by writing his own friendlier book on the land of the (somewhat) free and the brave.


Miss and pine
that timber-pined craft,
boards of amusement
professionals all:
musicians and sailors
comedians and chefs
waiters, room cleaners:
oh the live long dram!

The sweet buzz of sea
on mornings unmourned,
glimpses on the balcony
of tireless scenes --
I think I'm in lush with that boat
winds from Castro's land
sail shrug'd of carry or woe
undulations of rhythm
till “It's medicine time!”
the heal of sun and warmth
trivially basic ingredients.


It's interesting and a privilege to see human life at its earliest. I'd more or less had the mistaken notion that we all began as blank slates, as more or less interchangeable. A baby is a baby is a baby, even allowing for physical and psychological differences due to sex.

But seeing the first year or two of both S. and W. I'm intrigued by how different their interests and preferences are almost immediately out of the womb. And it certainly seems like a whole different environment for the second born as compared to the first. At least my own attitude is telling in that I spend 90% of my time and attention on S; when S was W's age I spent 100% of my time and attention on S. So W is being “gypped” in that a 3-year old is just much more fun to play with than a 1-year old. That can work the other way too of course - parents have to give more attention to their newborn just because the feedings are so much more frequent and because the baby won't play on his own. Plus W is fascinated by S and so has a richer and more engaging environment than S had.

As small a thing as the opening and closing of things - drawers or the arm rest of the recliner - seemed much more of interest to one year old S than one year old W.

Dogs too are quite different, witness our Buddy and Obi. I don't know why I should be surprised at any of this. We are all as individual as snowflakes. If God can make snowflakes different, how much more animals and humans?


Oh what joy the Kindle prompts in me! Even though intellectually I realize it's the McDonaldization of reading. McDonald's prides itself on the smooth experience: no matter where you go you'll get the same tasting hamburgers and fries, standardized and homogenized. Similarly the Kindle removes all those barriers to entry such as different font types, font sizes, margins, paper textures. Books on Kindle are so easily consumed using settings that you've chosen as your default. I read more if only because there are no lingering stopovers, no pressing of nose to inked page, no leisurely author bio re-readings, no distractions of font.


I miss the Nigerian scammers
who tell me their tales of woe.
I miss the Nigerian scammers
we'll not see their like till it snow.
They tell us their tales of banking woe
They tell us their tales of woe.
If not for Nigerian scammers,
I'd have no poetry to show.


Was thinking about the poor today because I came across a passage in Co-Workers of the Truth and because of an Atlantic magazine article that tries to understand why the rich are so ungenerous compared to poorer folks (1.3% of rich folks' income versus 3.4% for the poor, and with the rich it's rarely money given for those in distressed situations but instead to museums, universities, etc..).

The Atlantic makes the case that wealth is isolating, which creates an “empathy gap”. The rich don't know any poor people therefore they can't empathize.

A lack of money forces people together more in little ways and big. You have to go to family members for help in repairing things, or in moving, or building something instead of hiring it done. The poor borrow instead of buy.

Some young relatives have almost no money and the suspicion is that what brings them to family gatherings is the free meal. Or what brings them to the Christmas party is the promise of gifts. They are said to totally ignore the family except when they need something. But I wonder if that isn't better than the alternative, i.e. being rich enough to blow off the family completely. I think of this also in connection with spiritual poverty. In religious terms, I am the beggar. I am the one dirt poor coming to God and the saints, perhaps mostly in hope of gifts in the form of prayers, mercy… But at least it brings me to them.

I was reading was a line from National Review about how the diversity folks want not equality of opportunity but “equality of result”. And I thought about how that desire which has taken root in America is also reflected in religion where universalism is the de facto belief: that there will be an equality of eternal result. I long for universalism to be true and we do pray that all be saved, but I guess that's different from believing it to be true. Just as some think it fair and just that homosexuals be married, and some think that it's unfair that blacks are incarcerated at a higher rate than whites despite underlying behaviors, so too do we want Heaven to be independent of earthly behaviors.


Whoa. There are few things more utterly consuming than being on a genealogical super sleuth mission. Got totally obsessed with it.

I found out a very exciting piece of info: exactly where great-grandfather James fell in 1899. Must visit the scene of that crime. Two little girls were with him, surely his daughters who were like 8 and 6 at the time. Via the magic of Google Earth, I was able to find the exact spot (it would seem pretty much unchanged since the houses around that area are all of 1900-vintage). How neat a trick of time travel to be able to go to the exact spot your great-grandfather fell some 114 years ago? And to see a spot apparently little changed.

So my mom got me all excited about Joan supposedly finding the “missing link” in the James saga, the city of his birth. This would be an astonishing breakthrough because generally if you have the city you can find the parents and thus go back a generation or more. But color me dubious. I emailed Joan and she said she someone told her it was “Stafford” but I'm not seeing any census data for a James born in New Jersey under Stafford or Stratford or any variation I could think of. As much as I've researched James, I do find it hard to believe someone could've scooped me. He's Ahab's whale to me, my Moby-Dick. He shows that often sinners fascinate more than saints, that we remember Clark Gable more than Leslie Howard. And of course it helps that his life is infused with mystery: like Melchizedek we don't know where he was born or where he died. We don't know if he died tried to save someone in the 1913 flood or fled to parts west in search of greener pastures. I can't find his marriage license to save my life. He enters the scene as a 26 year old in 1891 with the birth of his first child and disappears suddenly in 1913 at 48. The only thing we know for certain is that he had children and that he passed his y chromosome even unto me. DNA is a crap-shoot, a hit or miss thing shrouded in mystery and garnered from multiplicative sources, but every paternal great-grandfather's Y chromosome is identical to every great-grandson's. It's the one sure thing passed from father to son in an unbroken line.

Oh, and another thing we can be sure is that he's dead now. To be 148 years old would make him famous and I'd surely have heard of him.

No matter how much of a good-for-nothing he may've been, the mere fact that he had found a wife and impregnated her eight times meant that his life bore fruit, literally and figuratively.  How can a person love their life and despise their forebear given that it's only through that ancestor that they have life? They do leave a legacy. And here I wrote earlier of being dismissive of those who care unduly about their legacy! Ha. 


I felt in a ravenously Twitter mood last night. The various social medias complement one another perfectly: tumblr for artistic right-brain'd beauty, twitter for links and madcap one-liners, and Facebook for family color. And the mood varies but Twitter is especially addictive lately because it offers a constant stream of Pope Francis-related items via my follows.

Woke up and watched a bit of Morning Joe which pretty consistently offers only irritation. Haven't watched in months since I tired (almost instantaneously) of inauguration news, followed by sequestration news. Politics feels so “over”, in the sense that Obama won and thus whatever slim hope we had for governing sanity seems past. Today's show featured blowhard Mike Barnicle piously defending gay marriage and pointing to how surely Justice Roberts will want to be on the “right side of history” by declaring gay marriage valid in a court case being heard today. “Twenty years from now it will tarnish his reputation since everyone will wonder what the fuss was about,” declared Barnicle. I love how the “right side of history” is automagically determined by a historical consensus. (Well, they do say that the victors write the history books. But God keeps the only ledger that matters.) As has been said said elsewhere, Jesus was killed by consensus and Hitler was democratically elected. But Barnicle does have a point inasmuch as the great temptation for public figures is to attend to their “legacy”. For some reason it's crucially important to them to be thought well of after they're dead and so Barnicle is definitely playing the right cards.


Finished the compulsively readable tell-all book on cruise. Seems as though in this “brave new world” where self-publishing sans editor is the rage then there's nothing to stop the sort of nakedly honest sex diary. He said that his wife said she was glad he had sex with all those girls before because without it “he would have always wondered what it would have been like, and that type of curiosity can destroy a marriage.”

I didn't overly appreciate, but am certainly not surprised, by how Americans are universally denigrated by the crews of cruise ships. Americans have the reputation of being “rude, stupid and overweight hamburger-chasers.” In fact, hamburgers were so linked with Americans that the crew refused to eat them.

March 19, 2013

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

Excerpt from a Jack Gilbert poem, sans line breaks:
Often I took care of the baby while she did housework. Changing him and making him laugh. I would say Pittsburgh softly each time before throwing him up. Whisper Pittsburgh with my mouth against the tiny ear and throw him higher. Pittsburgh and happiness high up. The only way to leave even the smallest trace. So that all his life her son would feel gladness unaccountably when anyone spoke of the ruined city of steel in America. Each time almost remembering something maybe important that got lost.

Chabon's "Telegraph Avenue":
The record playing in the background of the dream apartment was a classic collaboration between Maceo Parker and Curtis Mayfield, the soundtrack from a well-known blaxploitation movie called Top Hat and Elbows. He listened to the beautiful music, fat beats, sunshine horns and shadow bass, and talked nonsense to his mom as she would always be. Thank goodness, thought his present-day self, I am having this wonderful dream.


Archy had walked out of the situation, which was a weak-ass way of choosing Plan B, for no good reason at all except some pathetic residual loyalty to the man who had done nothing but squirt some key proteins into his mother’s belly. And because, why not finally admit it, a man like Archy was never likely to go for a plan like Plan A. Come on. He was no better than Luther Stallings, and the theoretical loyalty to his father on display yesterday consisted of nothing more than that. Like so many kinds of masculine loyalty, it was really only a manifestation of cowardice.

* could settle the kid right down by putting on the most Out shit you had on tap, the deepest kind of Sun Ra jazz-as-cosmic-background-radiation. Long as it was playing, little Julius would stop looking like he was about to be audited by the IRS and just sit there, watching the music like a cat watching ghosts.


It was a wild guess, a string of them, charms of rumor and gossip hung from a chain of audacity. Half-remembered talk in the kitchens of his earliest childhood, mingled with the acrid hiss of a hot comb and the chink of ice in glasses of Flavor Aid.


Along with the backyard coops of heirloom laying hens, the collectively owned pizzerias, the venerable Volvos that had rolled off the line at Torslanda before ABBA first went gold, the racks of Dynaco tube amplifiers, the BPA-free glass baby bottles, and the ramshackle wonderland known as the Adventure Playground, one minor component in the patchwork of levees erected by the citizens of Berkeley, California, in their ongoing battle to defend their polder against the capitalist flood tides of consumerist uniformity, was a telephone hanging on the wall of the Jaffe family’s kitchen, a model 554 with a rotary dial, smiley-face yellow, its handset connected to its plastic shell by a snaking twenty-five-foot helix of yellow cord, kinked by old and unsolvable knots.
Taylor Marshall's "The Eternal City":
Christ’s establishment of Rome as the perpetual Apostolic See is not intended as a legalistic mechanism to limit salvation throughout the earth. Moreover, it is certainly not meant to restrict grace. Rather, Rome was established as the perpetual Apostolic See so that full communion might be achieved among Christians.


The Christ that defeats Daniel’s Rome is not a soft and effeminate sage. Rather, He is the conquering King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The spiritual imperialism of Christ was fully appreciated by our Christian forefathers. We, however, have forgotten the ancient feats of strength demonstrated by the monastics of old. For example, the penance of the Desert Fathers would have brought a sense of wonder even to the Roman Stoic Cato. We have forgotten the triumphant Roman martyrs, such as Saint Lawrence who would have kindled awe in the bravest Roman pagan warriors, such as Mucius Scaevolus. As the baptized have forgotten the noble army of martyrs that once fertilized the Eternal City with faith, so also have they lost esteem for Rome’s spiritual dignity.


So Brendan had an interesting post about the Pope Francis phenomena.  He ascribes the general interest to mankind's fascination with  monarchy and to Catholics in particular the excitement of getting to know somebody new.  I agree, though I feel a tiny bit disloyal for feeling so: do we tend to "use up" our leaders, to "consume" their ideas, thoughts, and way of putting things only to want to hear some fresh voice a few years later, as we might similarly tire of those who seem overly familiar to us?

So honestly, would I have paid any attention to Cardinal Bergoglio had he not become pope? The answer is likely no.  It's the office - even the clothing? - that makes the man.* Or maybe it's the charisma of the Holy Spirit. It's as if when Bergoglio became pope that he became infused with something special and incredibly enticing.  I like to think the Holy Spirit was communicating to us through the cardinals in the election of Pope Francis. Perhaps I'm being naive or pious and overly devotional given the bad popes we've had in the mediaeval past.   Being in a church with a history tends to remove rose-colored illusions.  But God can and does use humans to fulfill his will - nothing illusory about that.

Anyway I find the Francismania intriguing.  One of the things being bandied about is that Francis is "humbler" than Benedict because of his clothing and manner and such. But that's to judge by mere appearances; you can kiss feet and be proud - only God knows the heart. I tend to think it'd be as wrong for Pope Benedict to have done public acts like kissing the feet of AIDS patients as it would be for Pope Francis to not do the same. In other words, where in Benedict an action might take on the flavor of a publicity stunt, in Francis it may be the natural outgrowth of his personal spiritual path.  Grace perfects nature, and there's a sense in which the nature of Benedict and Francis are simply different. Which is a-ok.

I've perhaps become over-sensitized to perceived slights against Benedict due to a friend dissing him in an email to me and by Cardinal Mahoney's impressively immature tweets.

* - even Cardinal Dolan said something not totally dissimilar, in that he felt like there was palpable difference between Cardinal Bergoglio being one of the cardinals in the conclave compared to when he became pope.

March 18, 2013

Plato & the Cross

This is pretty interesting that hundreds of year before Christ it was predicted by Plato that there would be a crucified just man:
The Cross is revelation.  It reveals who God is and who man is. There is a curious presentiment of this situation in Greek philosophy: Plato’s image of the crucified “just man”. In the Republic the great philosopher asks what is likely to be the position of a completely just man in this world. He comes to the conclusion that a man’s righteousness is only complete and guaranteed when he takes on the appearance of unrighteousness, for only then is it clear that he does not follow the opinion of men but pursues justice only for its own sake. So according to Plato the truly just man must be misunderstood and persecuted in this world; indeed, Plato goes so far as to write: “They will say that our just man will be scourged, racked, fettered, will have his eyes burnt out, and at last, after all manner of suffering, will be crucified.…” This passage, written four hundred years before Christ, is always bound to move a Christian deeply. Serious philosophical thinking here surmises that the completely just man in this world must be the crucified just man; something is sensed of that revelation of man which comes to pass on the Cross.
The fact that when the perfectly just man appeared he was crucified, delivered up by justice to death, tells us pitilessly who man is: thou art such, man, that thou canst not bear the just man—that he who simply loves becomes a fool, a scourged criminal, an outcast. Thou art such because, unjust thyself, thou dost always need the injustice of the next man in order to feel excused, and thus canst not tolerate the just man who seems to rob thee of this excuse. Such art thou. Saint John summarized all this in the “Ecce homo” (“Look, this is [the] man!”) of Pilate, which means quite fundamentally: this is how it is with man; this is man.
- Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger  from Co-Workers of the Truth

And spotted elsewhere:
Exquisit Corpse

Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised
from the dead. There they made him a supper.
—John 12:1-2

Four days dead and sipping soup, Lazarus
Sits up, grunts, asks, “What’s today?” He reeks
Of tomb, but no one blanches at this banquet.

Sister Martha feeds him, wipes his chin, reminding him
Of time and mass and the unforgiving weight of resuscitation.
There’s that late-charge he thought he was clear of,

And the pruning, and that long look a bar-maid
Once gave him, but that’s all in Lazarus’ moldy brain.
The guests merely gape; the vacuum of the tomb

Has sucked every verb from the house, but Mary
Has an idea. She produces a jar of nard, pure, priceless,
And gloppy as death. She smashes it like some Jeremiah,

Peeling the fractured alabaster, lavishing the ooze
On Jesus’ chapped knees and feet. All stand transfixed,
But Lazarus’ eyes are still on Martha’s spoon,

Hovering a bit out of reach. Slowly he searches the room
For an explanation. There’s Mary, as busy as a Martha,
And Martha, nonplussed, her heart churning envy and disgust.

What kind of household is this, Lazarus wonders,
Where the dead are fed and the living embalmed?
Nothing sealed is safe; nothing at rest left undisturbed

By the merciless provocations of the living.

Source: “Exquisite Corpse” by Scott Dalgarno from America Magazine , Vol. 192
No. 9 (3/14/2005).

March 16, 2013

Good Clean Fun I Suppose

So the whole floor was boppin' over it being National Pi Day the other day. Much overkill if you ask me although I could be a spoilsport. There was loads of sugar-laden treats and someone went to the enormous trouble of printing off about the first two or three hundred numbers to the left of the decimal point of the famous value. A banner of hundreds of 8 ½ by 11 sheets displaying parts the number were posted to the cube walls lining the floor. It seemed to shout: “someone has way too much time on their hands.” There were “Pi” t-shirts on sale and many were wearing them. The fuss seems altogether a bit much although it may be simply that I'm unimpressed by virtue of being in the shadow of a much larger event, that of the papal news.

March 15, 2013

Thoughts Shaken, Not Stirred

So last night was the talk by a Fr. W. O.P. at St. Pat's downtown and I skipped it because I didn't want to drive all the way back downtown. Psychologically it's tough to do it again. But I guess he's pretty renowned: certainly you know “something's up” when all the three priests and one deacon of St. Patrick's concelebrate at weekday masses just to hear the four minute homily of the august Dominican preacher. Turns out high-ranking Cardinal Bertone, a potential pope during this past conclave, talked him into becoming a bishop in his native England but almost at the last moment, after preparations had been made, he changed his mind since being a bishop these days is rather trying. Lots of administration, headaches, closing of churches, etc…


In some ways, the message of Pope Francis won't be that much different from Benedict and Benedict not that much different from John Paul since the gospel is the gospel. And yet the sheep delight in the slightest tweak to the message! Hence I rhapsodize over a slightly different translation of scriptures!

I've been lately thinking that he's not my pope, or your pope, but our pope. I'm getting allergic to this natural human tendency to polarize ourselves by putting ourselves into "camps". As Pope Francis said of his predecessor: "Benedict XVI lit a flame in our hearts." A great thing about the Catholic Church compared to, say, political leadership is that no matter who gets elected we should feel especial closeness because he is, after all, our father! It's the office itself that is crucial, not the man, and not as a vehicle for personality.

And yet....we are human, and we are attracted to some of our spiritual leaders more than others. Grace perfects nature and all...

March 14, 2013


"I must not be scandalized by the fact that the Church is my mother: I must look at its sins and shortcomings as I would look at my mother’s sins and shortcomings. And when I think of her, I remember the good and beautiful things she has achieved, more than her weaknesses and defects. A mother defends herself with a heart filled with love before doing so with words. I wonder whether there is any love for the Church in the hearts of those who pay so much attention to the scandals?" - Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis

March 13, 2013

Conclave Surprise

He was ranked a distant number 31 on the New Advent ranking of most likely candidates. He was a 16-to-1 shot on a Vaticanista blog. And now he wears the white of Holy Father. Even John Allen seems to have mostly missed him, even though Bergoglio was said to have garnered a healthy 40 votes at the last conclave. Sometimes the next pontiff is right under your nose I guess.

How counter-cultural though. He wasn’t really on my radar because I’d thought the electors might go in a totally opposite direction, i.e. get a young “media star” like Dolan. Or at least a smiler like JP the first.

Pretty bold action to again go with a humble, somewhat shy pope like Ratzinger again. Seems like they’re going for the holiest perhaps, imagine that!

And I guess his age didn’t matter, or maybe was a plus. Maybe the cardinals are thinking that since everyone lives longer it’s necessary to have older popes so that the reigns are reasonable.


So many thoughts, but one that sticks out is how Lino Rulli mentioned that assuming this pope didn't get all 115 votes, that meant that different cardinals discerned the will of God differently. It just goes to show how difficult it is to discern God's will even among the princes of the Church! It makes me feel a smidgeon better for the times in my past and future where I will be mistaken in what God's will is. It's a humbling thing in a way.


So today I had a premonition at Mass that it was *the* day even though I'd predicted Thursday as the Habemus Papam day at the Fantasy Conclave last week. I picked the wrong guy (Schrer) on the wrong day (Thursday) taking the wrong name (Paul VII). So much for my prognostication skills. I was amused to see Amy Welborn go "out on a limb" and pick not one but three she thought would be pope, none of whom made it. She picked two papal names but understandably did not come up with Francis. I was surprised no pope has taken that name before.

So given my premonition I made a point of tuning into Sirius/XM radio's The Catholic Channel for the first time during a ballot period and I listened while I worked until that eventful moment when I heard Fr. Dave say the smoke was white. Whitesmoke! Then the long, killer wait for the who (and not the band). Seriously, like the drama was well-nigh unbearable. The work output of Catholics throughout the world surely dropped precipitously.

Then, finally, the name that launched a million Google searches: "Bergoglio". An older guy who humbly asked him to pray for us, which we did, and then granted us a fine gift in the form of an indulgence for receiving his first papal blessing even if we were listening on the radio! Now I really love modern technology. Most good I've ever gotten from it.


It's funny, but I thought how when he went to the Our Father and Hail Mary that he was doing it in order to have something to say. And yet Cokie Roberts on ABC News said she thought it was wonderfully inclusive since every Catholic grade schooler from here to Singapore knew those prayers (though they were reportedly in Italian but…). Anyway interesting how perspectives differ, and perhaps we're both wrong in that he wasn't aiming for inclusivity or to eat some clock but simply to orient us to where we ought be oriented: Our Lord and Our Lady.


You have to wonder what Pope Emeritus Benedict (if I write it enough I'll surely get used to it) was thinking. Maybe something like, “I step down and you elect someone almost as old as me?” However much Pope John Paul II was respected and admired, it does seem like the electors are allergic to long papacies now. One time, okay, but twice is a trend. Maybe they are more concerned, I think, over a long pontificate than the vigor and verve of the pontiff himself. It could be a healthy concession to the fact that popes live much longer these days.


A friend wrote me about how Benedict was a “dire disappointment”. Which is disappointing and irritating but I just said that if you wait long enough you'll get a pope that pleases you and I hope Pope Francis fits the bill.

Almost wrote “St. Francis”. Be awhile before I connect “Pope” and “Francis” given that they've never been connected before in a couple thousand years (although I believe the Dominicans refer to St. Francis as their “holy Father Francis”).


I'm sort of glad now I didn't overindulge in the great sea of pre-conclave commentary and exegesis given how 95% of it didn't focus on the man who would be pope. I did a search on the Catholic Blogsearch site and there were a pitiful 11 references to Bergoglio in the month up till yesterday. And most of those hits were just one liners at the end of a posts about him as a possibility, almost like a CYA thing.

I did find a translation of the Cardinal's Lenten homily on a Catholic blog and tweeted it. The sermon is old school through and through, a call to hard sacrifice in a bad age. Lip service not needed - rend not your garments but your heart. Say not the prayers but with your heart. He rather boldly suggests the “fasts” we do as a church are a bit tepid, especially if we do so in a spirit of compliance un-affecting the heart.


So an exciting day. The adrenalin was pumping overtime, that's for sure. Not every day you hear those immortal words, “Habemus Papam!” and the very rarity and historicity of the event concentrates the mind.

It was inspiring to read of his bio, of how he eschewed the limo service to the cathedral as well as the fancy digs. Lived in a simple apartment and took the bus to work! I crave new-old teaching in the form of coming talks and encyclicals. He's the ultimate blank slate - he wrote a book, it has an electronic version, but it's in Spanish and so I can't immediately gratify that urge to read him.


It seems like there's been a premium on sheer, high-wattage intelligence combined with devoutness lately in the papacy. JP II and Benedict were world class intellects and this Bergoglio guy is said to have some serious wattage. All the better to fight for faith and reason in a world gone somewhat faithless and mad.

Pope Francis!

From John Allen a few days ago:
The case for Bergoglio in 2013 rests on four points.

First and most basically, he had strong support last time around, and some cardinals may think that they're getting another bite at the apple now.

Second, Bergoglio is a candidates who brings together the first world and the developing world in his own person. He's a Latin American with Italian roots, who studied in Germany. As a Jesuit he's a member of a truly international religious community, and his ties to Comunione e Liberazione make him part of another global network.

Third, Bergoglio still has appeal across the usual divides in the church, drawing respect from both conservatives and moderates for his keen pastoral sense, his intelligence, and his personal modesty. He's also seen as a genuinely spiritual soul, and a man of deep prayer.

"Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord," Bergoglio said in 2001. "I beg the theologians who are present not to turn me in to the Sant'Uffizio or the Inquisition; however, forcing things a bit, I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin."

Fourth, he's also seen as a successful evangelist.

"We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church," Bergoglio said recently. "It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former." Italian writer quoted an anonymous cardinal on March 2 as saying, "Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things."

March 12, 2013

Cdl Dolan's Novena Prayer to Saint Joseph

On Reading Multiple Books at a Time

Delightful excerpts from Joe Qeenan on his book habits:
“No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library,” wrote Samuel Johnson; “for who can see the wall crowded on every side by mighty volumes, the works of laborious meditations and accurate inquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue.”


Somewhere along the line, I got into the habit of reading several books simultaneously. “Several” soon became “many,” and “many” soon became “too many.” A few of my female friends read one or two books at a time; my closest male friends insist that they are always reading at least one, though I believe this figure may embody the triumph of hope over truth. In my adult life I cannot remember a single time when I was reading fewer than fifteen books, though at certain points this figure has spiraled far higher.


My reading habits are unusual, perhaps counterproductive. Sometimes I think that I am reluctant to finish books because I want to let the joy of reading them go on and on forever. Other times I believe that I get a particular kind of thrill out of starting books that I do not get from finishing them. Another possibility is that, at any given moment, I am distracted from the subject I am reading about—the life and times of Mata Hari—by a far more pressing concern—the neutral-zone trap employed with such great success by the New Jersey Devils. Friends say that I suffer from a short attention span, an inability to stay focused, but I think exactly the opposite is true. If anything, I have too long an attention span, one that allows me to read dozens of books simultaneously without losing interest in any of them. Moreover, I have an excellent memory that permits me to suspend reading, pick up a book six months later, and not miss a beat.

Most books written by journalists open with two reasonably good chapters, followed by loads of padding, then regather a bit of momentum for the big roundup. This is because editors encourage writers to front-load the merchandise, jamming the best material into the first two chapters, the only ones that will ever get read.


Well, I do get back to them later. I started Lord Jim in high school and finished it when I was fifty-two. Better late than never. No matter how good the book I am currently reading—be it The Aeneid, War and Peace, or The Red and the Black—I am always ready to drop everything and crack open a forty-year-old book about the 1954 Viet Cong triumph at Dien Bien Phu.

When I look at that stack and try to imagine the order in which I might read them, I always arrive at the same conclusion: Middlemarch is the last book I will ever finish. I’m not going down without a fight. I have started it six times; I am now 312 pages into it; but it is much like the mandolin or snooker or tantric sex: something I would dearly love to master without ever believing for one second that I would actually enjoy the experience...

Middlemarch is one of those books that I long ago enshrined at the very top of my desert-island reading list, that compendium of elusive, difficult, fundamentally unreadable books I have always wanted to finish or at least start, if I only had the time to do so. But I know that if I were shipwrecked and somehow managed to stay afloat by clutching the splintered, though jagged, remnants of the mainmast and started paddling through shark-infested waters toward a distant shore and then, just as I was dragging my battered, bruised, waterlogged body out of the surf, spotted a pile of desert-island reading books that included Mrs. Dalloway, Finnegans Wake, and Middlemarch, I’d turn around, plunge right back into the surf, and start paddling toward another island.

I used to think that I kept stopping and starting books because I could never find the right one. Untrue. Virtually all the books I start are the right one. It’s the fact that all these books are so good that makes me stop reading them, as I am in no hurry to finish; the bad ones I could whip through in a few hours.

Sundry & Various

I find a disturbing tendency in myself to marginalize any good work by thinking it's not going to have any “real impact”. This despite Mother Teresa's instruction that we “build anyway” despite what we are building will likely be destroyed.

This thought came to mind when I read a study of the program Head Start, and how there are no statistical benefits to it discernible by the time the participants reach the third grade. When even something as noble as Head Start doesn't work, something that is much more along the lines of “teaching someone to fish” rather than giving them a meal, you have to shake your head.


It's amusing that these modern day iPad journal apps have “reminders” available in order to make you into write. Kind of hilarious given how much I write without any need of reminders. It's also sort of amazing to me how frustrating keeping my first diary was, how much I loathed it after the first week or two. That was at age 12, where I kept it up for 3 months and it felt a remarkably onerous duty. Now I write, each day, much more than at that time and without having to coerce myself.


It's obvious and apparent that there was a early need for popes given the rampant heresy in the early church but it's unseemly, reading about it now, that the date of when Easter would be celebrated was so rancorous. There needs to be a standard, one seemingly possible to find in this world except by apostolic credential. At least that's what Christian history has taught us - the way the early Christian churches could come together is by appealing to the authority of an apostolic succession.


The rarest coincidence of confluent events: good spring weather on a weekend. Sunday it reached 71 degrees, a gaudy enough number, and I prepared by bringing out the back and front patio furniture. When nature rewards, I aim to take advantage of it.

Such delicious weather - what to do with it? We lost an hour due to Daylight Savings Time, the scheme which giveth in fall and taketh away in spring. I sat out in the sun and read, constantly fighting off the urge to sleep. Read some of a $1.99 book by Ivan Doig on Kindle, a sort of old-fashioned yarn set in Montana around the turn of the 20th century. Nice, fragrant images that are a fine complement to Michael Chabon's ultra-modern stylings. Things like, “Our father's pungent coffee, so strong it was almost ambulatory, which he gulped down from suppertime until bedtime and then slept serenely as a sphinx.”

It feels an eon since I'd last sat on the back patio. I would guess maybe October sometime. Four months or so. They say time flies but it sure feels like a long time since I've had the annex of the back patio available.


I look at my threadbare clothes, specifically a favorite work shirt that now has the dreaded rip along the elbow (which didn't prevent me from wearing it Friday anyway), and realize that having lame clothes is somewhat of a necessary tradeoff towards the goal of taking plenty of vacations. Books, vacations, charity - these uses of money “make sense” to me. But clothing not so much. Nor do expensive meals, cars, or houses.

March 08, 2013

Into Each Life a Little Interregnum Must Fall

Exciting time, this interregnum period. Surprised today no one prayed for the cardinal electors at the Liturgy of the Hours tonight at church. I guess I should've piped up (the deacon asked if anyone had any intentions).

It's hard to consume all the stories and I feel like if I should read one I should read them all so I haven't read any yet. I saw where the New York Times has one on Cardinal Dolan, a figure of keen interest to me given my familiarity via his show on Sirius/XM radio. (He recently “boycotted” the media silence that was requested of the cardinals, figuring that only applied to press conferences. That sort of boldness would be pope-like?)

National Catholic Reporter's one saving grace is John Allen, and he has a boatload of stories on that website. There's also an app called “Concave Alert” that provides a twitter feed of conclave-related tweets, ranked by number of retweets. It's awfully stimulating though again I feel a compulsion to read everything. Let no tweet go unread. Then too there's this new book that Jeff Miller and Julie Davis mentioned about the Vatican that appears a must-read.

I've heard it said that this atmosphere hearkens back to last year with the presidential election but one thing is almost certainly different - the new Holy Father will be holier, more inspiring and more truthful than any of the political leaders we've had in recent years or likely in years to come.

But what a tough seat to fill after giants like John Paul II and Benedict. A commenter on Sirius/XM said that what the Church needs is a way to appeal to young people without changing the message. To find a way to deliver the message better. But wow you got to feel if the charisma of John Paul II couldn't reach them, or the intelligent frankness and clarity of a Benedict, then it's a daunting task. It's hard to picture a new guy, even a Cardinal Dolan, as making inroads there. It's like how if at work there's a computer problem and the sharpest guy there can't fix it then I think, “wow, what chance do I have?” But then with God all things are possible, especially in matters spiritual. See David v. Goliath.


So a beautiful change of pace: instead of going to Eucharistic Adoration while hungry for supper and tense due to traffic, I went straight home, ate, and then went back. And it seemed to make all the difference though I wondered if I should've taken advantage of the “fasting” part of Lent by trying to go without food another hour. But the combination of an early lunch and a late dismissal from work made it look a bridge too far.

Got there at around 6:20 and, unfortunately, was initially in the mood to “get it done”, to say a few prayers and bolt around 6:35. But as thankfully often happens with prayer, I became engrossed and entranced and enchanted by God's love. I wound down. I said a Rosary, yesterday's Glorious mysteries. I felt the light of hope from Our Lady, a trust in her despite my failings.

Our deacon shuffled by with his distinctive gait (old-sounding and deliberate despite his relatively young age) and handed me, at 6:50, a pamphlet of the Liturgy of the Hours for this Thursday night. I accepted it and said “Thanks”. And it felt bad form to leave right after that so figured I'd stay a little longer. I was transfixed, anyway, by a possible rendering of James 4:8 as, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” I just couldn't get over that idea of God yearning for us instead of the other way around. It also made a certain sense: God is spirit, God made our spirit, God wants our spirit with Him. It sort of fits.


So what else? Simcha Fisher, in the tradition of many other fine bloggers like Betty Duffy and Amy Welborn and Tom of Disputations, has that holy boldness of saying the unsayable. Of going there, where “there” is that vulnerability that needs to be addressed even if I want to sweep it under a rug. It's that “blogesty” (“blog” + “honesty”), that is the raison de etra for blogs. Posts like that make me a bit wistful inasmuch as it shows the shallowness of my own posts.

March 07, 2013

Santo Subito!

Via Dylan, excerpts of a poem from Czeslaw Milosz:
Foreigners could not guess from whence came the hidden strength
Of a novice from Wadowice. The prayers and prophecies
Of poets, whom money and progress scorned,
Even though they were the equals of kings, waited for you
So that you, not they, could announce, urbi et orbi,
That the centuries are not absurd but a vast order.


Then, suddenly, like the clear sound of the bell for matins,
Your sign of dissent, which is like a miracle.
People ask, not comprehending how it's possible,
That the young of the unbelieving countries
Gather in public squares, shoulder to shoulder,
Waiting for news from two thousand years ago
And throw themselves at the feet of the Vicar
Who embraced with his love the whole human tribe.

Czeslaw Milosz, from "Ode for the Eightieth Birthday of Pope John Paul II"

Ohio Dissed

I can't be too happy about this....

This & That Edition 4,211

Gleaned some posts from my Google Reader feeds yesterday. (Bolding of the previous sentence inspired by Brandon Vogt's blog.) Came across a handsome post from one Curt of Jester on a Vatican website tribute to Pope Benedict XVI, a surprisingly beautiful tableau in e-bookish form. Sixty-two pages of pictures and painful teaser quotes containing links to his talks or encyclicals or homilies (I say 'painful' because there's no way to absorb even half of the content of all the links). And who knew our own Jeff Miller had been tapped by the Library of Congress as one of the prime sources of papal material? He self-deprecatingly referred to it as possible spam. I await my spam any day now, Libe o' Congress!


Our dog is absurdly polite. When we first got him (he was 6 years old at the time), it took him a couple weeks before he would soil our backyard (he insisted on going on other people's property).  And now he'll wait until I get up from the recliner for some reason before standing quietly by the door. I let him out he'll pee for ten minutes. He's the opposite of our cat, who will scratch the door loudly in ten minute increments in order to gain access to the house or yard. 


Still some cardinals not in Rome, but I'm not in a hurry to have a new pope. It seems fitting that there not be an immediate successor. Sort of like how its unseemly to marry right after the death of a spouse? Am slowly processing things and I'm grateful for the chance to pray for the electors. Lino Rulli thinks we shouldn't be without a pope this long even. I suppose. As Catholics we're supposed to have a shepherd but what's the all fire hurry?  Though at least the cardinals ought to have been all there by now. I'm not a big fan of meetings but really now, twelve cardinals hadn't made it to Rome by Tuesday and even today there's a straggler? I think it's safe to say that they've taken themselves out of the running. No way anybody will vote for a dude who can't say goodbye to Pope Benedict or get there for the initial meetings. Seems indicative of a cleave in Christianity between theory and actuality: in theory the cardinals wear red to show that they'd be willing to be martyrs, but in actuality some aren't even willing to make it to the conclave on time.


What I don't get - but haven't explored at all and so will likely misrepresent his position totally - is why some think Cardinal Burke will be pope while at the same time subscribing to St. Malachi's prophecy that this is the pope who will apostatize. Are they saying they expect Cardinal Burke to be Judas? 


Monday of this week went lightning fast though due to enjoying a CNBC special about Google. Yes I got paid to watch an entertaining and compelling news show. It was a meeting notice sent to the whole company, so I made an executive decision to accept the meeting and trundle off to the big auditorium. Learned about the environment of Google, about some of the key players, how they distinguished themselves from other search engines, how fantabulously successful they are as a company (“the most successful of all time”) and about how we don't use a search engine for free - we give up our privacy in exchange for information. All that data is stored and can be used against you. “We tell search engines things we wouldn't tell our doctor, our priest, our spouse.”


Been looking at The Vatican Diaries, a book that Julie Davis on Facebook said she wanted to read. It looks like yet another must read for me. An inside look at the Vatican, and how loose a federation it is.
“I appreciate that…at the end of the day, the Vatican is marked more by human flair and fallibility than ruthless efficiency…The Vatican remains predominantly a world of individuals, most of whom have a surprising amount of freedom to operate…there's a significant population of minor officials, consultants, adjuncts and experts who see themselves as protagonists in their own right.”
I like that “protagonists in their own right”.


In the '80s I saw our culture as flawed primarily because I couldn't find a girlfriend and had career worries. Certainly any culture that couldn't provide me a girlfriend or a stress-free income had insurmountable difficulties as compared to, say, the arranged marriages in Asia and the “15-hour work weeks” of the typical hunter-gatherer “society” of 17,000 B.C. I had grievances, let's just say.


It's just crazy how fast weeknights go by these days, even if admittedly often drink-aided. I'm under-read, under-led and underbred but not underfed or under-wed. I'm popeless but not hopeless. I'm in reading arrears but compensated via beers. “He wasn't cheated on beers,” is not the most edifying of epitaphs but surely accurate.

Drank something different last night, a Magic Hat Pistil made from dandelion petals. A nice change-of-pace beer from the more bitter, more hoppy and higher alcohol beers I'm used to. And who can resist a spring seasonal in early March?  (As you can plainly see, I didn't give up beer for Lent.) 


Libraries. Reading a nostalgia-tinged piece made me want to write about my own libraric experiences. I remember borrowing books and reading them by candlelight under the staircase in our house. How beautiful that book on St. Peter's Basilica was; many years later I bought it and well, it wasn't as beautiful as I'd recalled. Books have changed over the years - better quality photographs particularly. Still, though, the ease of buying used books online makes me want to try to find old volumes of my past library, like the 1953 (I think?) edition of my mom's favorite, Terhune's Lad a Dog. But I'd probably never look at them even if I could track them down. How many times do I look at my baseball cards these days? Close enough to never, although cleaning out my desk at work I found some old basketball cards. The USA “Dream Team” from '92. Worth something like $2. The card market has tanked.


I was bemused to hear the play-by-play of the Pope emeritus's first free day: some piano playing, watched television, did a lot of walking. God bless him, he's certainly entitled. He finally reached the level of authority where he could fire himself. Sure different than the way the secular world works!


It was also interesting to see how Jesus interpreted the famous passage, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” In Matthew 21 it seems like the “stone rejected” was the Gentiles. I've always thought of it as referring to Christ, which of course it also does, but in this context it's interesting Jesus says immediately after, “Therefore…the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” And the fruit of Christianity seems to have been borne mostly by the Gentiles despite the Apostles all being Jewish.


 Really liking this iPad app called Day One for journal-writing purposes:

March 04, 2013

Saintly Pope Scoreboard

Quick run-through of centuries and papal saints:
1st-5th centuries = 49 saints, one uncanonized.

6th-9th centuries = 26 saints, 41 uncanonized

10th-13th centuries = 3 saints, 68 uncanonized and a half-dozen Blesseds.

14th-17th centuries = 1 saint, 45 uncanonized, about 3 Blesseds

18th-19th centuries = 1 Blessed, 13 uncanonized

20th century = 1 saint, 2 blessed, 2 venerables, 1 servants of God, 2 uncanonized

March 03, 2013

The "S" Word

Happened across a line from Flannery O'Connor recently: " essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purpose, and so far disconnects it from its meaning in life as to make it an experience for its own sake." (From "The Church and the Fiction Writer", America Magazine, 1957.)

"Sentimental" must have very negative associations for O'Connor to be used in that context. I wonder if you could almost replace "pornography" with "cross-less Christianity": "Cross-less Christianity is essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of the Crucifixion with its hard purpose, and so far disconnects it from its meaning in life as to make it an experience (of suffering) for its own sake."

March 02, 2013


Hey, wow, it was a line begging to be said and I'm glad it's finally has an audience.

Back a couple years ago I wrote on this blog: "I think we should have a national conversation on whether to have national conversations." And I see in the latest National Review James Lileks wrote, "We need to have a national conversation about national conversations."

March 01, 2013

The Limits of Highlighting

I'm reading the Catechism & the daily meditations of Co-Workers of the Truth (my dog ate my Fr. Barron Lenten meditation booklet, so I'm back to Co-Workers -- Kim if you're reading, any way I can get a fresh copy of Fr. Barron's pamphlet?) and I've found that highlighting has become something of a joke. When you highlight 80% of the passages you are, essentially, highlighting none. But I do anyway (see my blog title). Here's the latest from Co-Workers:
...God appears everywhere as the Being who is all eyes, as sight itself. This archaic concept has been preserved in the portrayal of the eye of God with which we are familiar from Christian art. Behind the concept, we recognize a primitive human feeling—men know that they are known. They know that there is ultimately no hiding place for them, that their lives are everywhere exposed to a sight from which there is no concealment, no escape; that for them to live is to be seen—and they react in a variety of ways to this knowledge. They can sense danger and feel that their lives are circumscribed. In that case, the feeling may leave them embittered, can become a passionate struggle against the unseen witness who is thought to be envious of their freedom, of the uninhibited quality of their will and actions. But the opposite can also happen: men, who are made for love, can find in this presence that is everywhere around them the security for which their whole being cries out. They can see therein a victory over the loneliness that no human individual can ever banish even though it is in direct contradiction to our being, which cries out for a You, for someone to share our life. In this secret presence, men can find a reason for the confidence that makes life possible for them. At this point, their response to the question of God’s existence acquires critical proportions. Whether they want to remain hidden; whether they want to be totally alone—“You will be like God”; or whether, despite their insufficiencies and precisely because of them, they are grateful to the one who supports and bears all their loneliness—all this depends on how they have regarded their life from the beginning. There are many reasons why one or other of these responses may be given; it depends on their formative relationship with the You—whether it appeared as love or as threat. It makes a difference also under what aspect they first encountered God—as the fear-inspiring Watcher who is implacable in his demands for punishment, or as the creative Love that awaits them. Everything depends ultimately on the decisions by which, in the course of their lives, they have accepted or transformed their earlier experiences.

From: Cardinal Ratzinger's Co-Workers of the Truth (quoting Der Gott Jesu Christi, pp. 13–14).