July 31, 2003

Unruly Biology

There is a scene in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in which the protagonist, in his discomfiture over his wife's barrenness, embarrasses her in front of a crowd. He suggests that she perform a superstition in order that she might become fertile. But he also embarrassed himself in a way, for he could rule everything except biology. We, too, want to rule our biology, be it via gay marriage or gender roles or our genetic tendencies.

I don't understand why it matters whether it's "nature" or "nurture" with respect to how someone becomes gay. Is it any less unfair if, perhaps due to a bad or weak father, someone "becomes" gay? Is it the gay person's fault they are gay? Usually not. If it's "nature", does that mean God made them that way and they can do what they will? Some ethnic groups are genetically disposted to alcoholism - does that mean God doesn't mind if they're always drunk?
Steven Riddle posted something he suggested might be controversial and I readied myself for outrage but found none.

It was interesting to read speculation about where McVeigh (or any soul for that matter) was spiritually at the very end of the line. The more sinners that make it into heaven the more - i.e. to put it crudely - bang the Lord got for his buck - and therefore the more cause there is to rejoice. In dying on the Cross he opened the way to Heaven. Every sinner who takes him up on his offer makes his sacrifice more "worth it" in some sense. How can anyone begrudge that?


Truth be Told

Some Christians trust only their internal gyroscopes...doctrine and dogmas are 'suggestions' or 'theories'. Others trust only the Church, possesing an "I wouldn't belong to a club who would have me as a member" attitude - i.e. I wouldn't believe a truth that occurred only to me.

I was reminded of this when reading this passage by Kenneth Sacks in a book about Ralph W. Emerson:
"Emerson acknowledged understanding derived from observation of external phenomena, but believed that the more important truths are eternal and intuitive, emerging from within. Ostensibly a struggle between the schools of Locke and Kant, after 2200 years it still pretty much came down to Aristotle versus Plato."

July 30, 2003

Verweile Doch went on the road



Given the pluperfect sunshine, my normal Sunday read-a-thon (aka verweile doch) was moved out-of-doors. Spent an hour reading “Lord Have Mercy” by Scott Hahn in a fly-ridden horse stable at the quiet county fairgrounds. The aroma of hay and old resin and manure and sight of the fields in the mid-distance made up for the flies.

Then spent a couple hours at the little industrial lake off Knob Road, surrounded by the shit of Candian geese but also the singular image of the rippled lake, and every time I looked up it rippled still, constant, with the endurance of rock. An image of God’s eternalness. A fisherman sat on the other side of the lake and I fished too - for knowledge. Read Thoreau's "Walden" accompanied by a St. Pauli Girl Dark.

Love the picture above - two boys exploring (or 'sploring as my brother used to say). You gotta know what's beyond the next hill don't you?
July, We Hardly Knew Ye

Summers are to me what New Years Eves’ are to partyers – the high time of the year. And that induces a certain pressure to “live up to".

With July nearly o’er, the question occurs if I’ve lived it fully. But that depends on my definition of “living fully”. If by living I mean getting enough sun and fun and alcohol and sex, then by that definition the Botox-less prostitute standing on West Broad St. “lives” the most. I don’t think so.

By that definition I probably did well enough anyway. But if by “lived enough” I mean “have I made the world a better place” I can be less pleased. Have I helped others? That should be my definition of not only a successful month but a successful life. I get the definitions wrong too often.
Blog Game

Kevin Cherry writes: "Socrates says in the Gorgias, the necessary preconditions for asking serious questions are candor, intelligence, and good will."

Given this daunting trifecta of requirements, perhaps this is the future of blogs!
Brave Man

Bumper sticker sighted: "Bad Cop - No Donut!"
Russell Kirk writes of his travels and the Shroud:
No strong political power endures forever. In those times, when Roman emperors were bred up in the Province of Africa, no man expected that all this splendor would become the abomination of desolation. Only after Alaric's barbarian Goths had taken Rome did St. Augustine see that Roman might, too, was a vanity that must pass; and he wrote The City of God, about the community of souls that endures when the cities of this world have been given up to fire and sword.

In the amphitheater of Carthage, still to be seen, Saint Perpetua and Saint Felicia (after whom Kirk's third daughter would be named) and many other Christians gave up the ghost...
*
If by the end of the twentieth century the modern age's priests, who are called scientists, should certify that the Shourd [of Turin] appears to have been Jesus' winding sheet and that the image upon it is inexplicable in physical science's laws of matter - why, then an Age of Faith might return.
Peter Kreeft writes that Perfect Fear Casts Out All "Luv"

July 29, 2003

Fear makes me stubborn

Beautiful confessional story about Confession:

I still wanted to chicken out. But I couldn’t leave. I knew He was telling me to be there. So we waited for the priest to arrive. I was on the ball enough to know that I was supposed to be recollecting my sins. That was the easy part. The tough part was trying not to cry and make an even bigger fool of myself. Because at that point I knew I was staying. Fear makes me stubborn. --Lee Ann Morawski
Interesting Post from John Miller on The Corner

Frank Buckley of George Mason University replied with a very smart response, drawn from his review of the Jenkins book in Crisis magazine: "When anti-Catholic prejudice is used to advance a left-liberal agenda, we need whistleblowers like Philip Jenkins. Still, one should not get too upset at the liars, scribes, and hypocrites. Apart from senior Democrats or federal court nominees or natural lawyers seeking a job on a law faculty, the chances that anti-Catholic prejudice will closely affect one are exceedingly small. Nor have Catholics suffered for their faith as Jews have, or anything remotely close thereto. There is also an antiwhining ethic among Catholics, unlike their opponents. 'Stop killing us,' yelled the ACT-UP protestors, before they trampled on the Host. Catholics like to think of themselves as tougher than that, and we may therefore take some pride that books such as The New Anti-Catholicism, though useful, are also rare."
Imposing Order on Chaos

Bill of Summa Minutiae has inspired me to begin categorizing and organzing my books, and I've noticed that I have two (and almost three) eclectic volumes by once obscure author Bruce Feiler. (His latest is a big hit, but I knew him when - sorta like my recognizing the quality of Disputations before many did. I figure if you can't be great, recognizing it is the next best thing.)

But what's interesting is how we're around the same age and we seem to be on the same track interest-wise.

In my mid-20s, I lusted after things ivy.

In my late-20s, early 30s I got interested in country music.

Now I am fixated on matters religious. (Haven't bought this one, although I read parts of it in the library; it seems a bit too ecumenical for my tastes.)

It will be interesting to see where he goes from here. Success tends to taint, so he may not have the same freedom to write about anything now as he did when he was a mid-lister. He may write for the pocketbook instead of from the heart.

July 28, 2003

Drunken Authors for $200 Alex!

* burp *
The Fragility of the Flesh

Sad story of the emotional and spiritual carnage suffered by the nine Western Pennsylvanian miners trapped and rescued last year. One of the rescuers killed himself, apparently in part because of the stress of fame and the bitter anger of many of the miners, who couldn't understand why he was cut in on the movie deal (and receiving $150,000 like they did). The pettiness is surreal, but small towns seem to have this claustrophobic atmosphere that can make small things huge. People in big cities suffer from anomie and isolation, but it's not all sweetness and light in small towns. Many of the miners are now on antidepressants; the one practicing Catholic in the group is still working and seems the most happy.
New country song by Buddy Jewel. If mawkish, I still succumbed to the touching lyrics:

The moment was custom made to order
I was ridin’ with my daughter
On our way back from Monroe
And like children do
She started playing twenty questions
But I never could have guessed one
Would touch me to my soul

She said:

Chorus:
Daddy when we get to heaven
Can I taste the Milky Way
Are we goin' there to visit
Or are we goin’ there to stay
Am I gonna to see my grandpa
Can I have a pair of wings
And do you think that God could use another angel
To help pour out the rain

Well I won't lie, I pulled that car right over
And I sat there on the shoulder, tryin’ to dry my misty eyes
And I whispered, Lord I wanna thank you for my children
Cause your innocence that fills them often takes me by surprise

Well I thought about it later on
And a smile came to my face
And when I tucked her into bed
I got down on my knees and prayed:

Lord when I get to heaven can I taste the Milky Way
I don't want to come to visit cause I'm commin home to stay
And I can't wait to see my family and meet Jesus face to face
And do you think lord you could use just one more angel

To help pour out the rain

Can I help pour out the rain
More Nostalgia

I think back to my bachelorhood, that long-nursed self-sufficiency out of which grew a sense of heroism such that marriage felt feasible. Only a bachelor, ensconsced in his ritual relaxations, would have the confidence to get married. A married man is humble, understands his limitations, and would not be so bold. No wonder it is single men who marry.

I remember the Friday nights of yore, captainin’ the third seat from the back at Chubby’s, the rural bar in the sticks that could’ve been in a Billy Ray Thornton film. Walking into the joint was an overpowering experience – the mated fragrance of perfume and cigarette smoke, the pulsating crowd living for this very moment, this Friday night, so alive and alert! I claim my seat and frosted beer and the music climbs the walls and rolls the floors and envelopes my ears and women waft about, appealing to my reptile brain, and I sit contented and receptive, yes *receptive*! – not aggressively pulling or pushing or prodding, but captive, captive as the smoke smoulders and music mellows and women waft and the beers cast their benevolence. Chubbys incarnated the rural bar experience. It was like a novel I could sink into but better because I could observe in real-time and even be a character, to be *in* the novel.

July 26, 2003

         The '61 Mick

         

I feel a bit nostalgic just now…perhaps it’s the music playing. Let me ‘splain.

(Is nostalgia a waste of time or does it serve to integrate a past self?)

I’m fortunate enough to have grown up with a best friend who was a second generation German and whose uncle was the leader of a German band orchestra. We grew up listening to them. Lord did I love that Schnitzelbank song!

   Ist das nicht dein schnitzelbank? (Isn't that your carving bench?)
   Ja, das ist mein schnitzelbank. (Yes, that is my carving bench.)
   Ohhhh, du schoene,
   Ohhhh, du schoene,
   Ohhhh, du schoene,
   Schnit-zel-bank! (Oh, you wonderful carving bench!)


I have their CD playing now and it is sort of a time-warp to hear his uncle sing again.

I remember the time we felt entitled to go through his attic – what we were thinking I can’t imagine though perhaps we were given permission – and were shocked to find a couple Playboy magazines amid the boxes of baseball cards. Funny, I remember wanting the cards more than the magazines (that would soon change). Amid the no-name ‘50s cards was a Mickey Mantle. I still recall the awe (and shock)! I was too young to have ever seen the Mick play so he'd taken on mythical proportions, a sort of modern Babe Ruth who'd once hit a ball over 500 feet. My friend was given the card by his uncle, and for years held onto it. But finally I managed to trade for the card (probably giving up Reds cards for it since the currency of Reds was great). I never traded it back. The card was pure class - the Mick a HOF'r, the Yankees royalty, and the card itself a work of art. Baseball cards teach you lust of ownership.

July 25, 2003

Now playing...


We're Not The Jet Set
©Bobby Braddock
(vocals with Iris DeMent)

By a fountain back in Rome I fell in love with you
In a small cafe in Athens You said you loved me too
And it was April in Paris when I first held you close to me
Rome, Georgia, Athens, Texas And Paris, Tennessee

No, we're not the jet set
We're the old Chevro-let set
There's no Riviera
In Festus, Missouri
And you won't find Onassis
In Mullinville, Kansas
No, we're not the jet set
We're the old Chevro-let set
But ain't we got love

No, We're not the jet set
We're the old Chevro-let set
Our steak and martinis
Is draft beer with weenies
Our Bach and Tchaikovsky
Is Haggard and Husky
No, we're not the jet set
We're the old Chevro-let set
But ain't we got love

No, We're not the jet set
We're the old Chevro-let set
The Prine and DeMent set
Ain't the flaming suzette set
Our Bach and Tchaikovsky
Is Haggard and Husky
We're the old Chevro-let set
But ain't we got love
William F. Buckley discusses Edward Klein's book on the Kennedy's:

He takes the reader back to Joseph Kennedy, the founding father, who chiseled his way to the Court of St. James's as ambassador in 1937. On a trip back to the United States, aboard an ocean liner that was also carrying Israel Jacobson, a poor Lubavitcher rabbi, and six of his yeshiva students, who were fleeing the Nazis, Kennedy complained to the ship's captain about the distracting noises caused by the Jewish passengers praying on the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah, demanding that they be forbidden to continue exercises so distracting to fellow passengers. "Rabbi Jacobson put a curse on Kennedy, damning him and all his male offspring to tragic fates."

Now it isn't entirely said in just that language, that Klein believes that curse to have taken effect. But he encourages something of the sort as he recounts the macabre fate of the Kennedys.

July 24, 2003

Wanted to briefly share a meditation from our outgoing Dominican father. He pointed out the fact that the miracle of the loaves and the fishes was a re-creation of the Old Testament manna and quail from heaven. The manna and quail came from the sky, from God - not Moses. Who gave us the loaves and fish? Jesus, showing himself to be God. And rather than feeding his people himself, who did he direct to distribute the food? His apostles. In one miracle there is an analogy of everything.
Lie not in wait against the home of the just man, ravage not his dwelling place;
For the just man falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble to ruin.
Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and when he stumbles, let not your heart exult,
Lest the LORD see it, be displeased with you, and withdraw his wrath from your enemy. [Proverbs 24:15-18]

Tom writes, Although it's usual to interpret falling and stumbling as sinning, the NAB interprets the just man falling seven [i.e., many] times as meaning he "overcomes every misfortune which oppresses him," which I suppose means the just man hopes while the wicked despairs.
Uday, Uday, Uday Gonna Pray For?

The Bell Curve may be the normal distribution, but isn't it surprising that Tom's blog could draw, simultaneously, two outlyers so far from the mass of consensus? I'm speaking of his commenters, which include (arguably, ha) the most polite and least polite persons in St. Blogdom. Interestingly, the presence of the former seemed to impact the style of the latter.

The thread in question draws much from the seemingly mundane question of whether to pray for Saddam's sons.

Mr D'Hippolto writes persuasively: The implication in your questions is "there but for the grace of God go I." That not only smacks of fatalism but of a kind of false humility that Catholicism has promoted to keep the faithful pliant and quiet through unnecessary guilt....Consider this as you pray your rosary, and don't criticize yourself for "not doing enough". That kind of self-doubt is the work of Satan, who wants that self-doubt to overwhelm your prayers.

St. Philip Neri's prayer was "Jesus, watch over me always, especially today, or I shall betray you like Judas."

Really St. Philip? Are saints guilty of pious exaggeration when they proclaim their unworthiness, or do they actually see themselves more accurately than we do ourselves?

It seems to me the trick is to incarnate the truth that without God I can do nothing without letting that devolve into my doing nothing except pray, i.e. letting God do the heavy lifting. On the other hand, too much confidence in self can lead to disunity and a lack of obedience. Americans, inculcated by democratic values and used to getting their own way, are expert at this.

The stark differences of the thread writers remind me of what Tom wrote about during the lead up to the Iraq war. To paraphrase, he suggested that perhaps in making up the Body of Christ it is necessary to have both pacifists and JWT's, and for the individual to attempt to become both is not what God desires.

But isn't it necessary that we strive towards the opposite pole? If St. Augustine was accused of being too hard on the sin of lust, was this not in part a reaction against his own battles? Is the Golden Mean to be achieved by individuals or by the Body of Christ composite? Or is that "nuny'all" - none of my business, but God's?

Keepers

KTC writes,
Since when does "prayer" consist of setting aside a block of time to sit down with a list of names, then composing words to say on their behalf?

That's not the ONLY way to pray, O esteemed Dominican! John of the Cross says that a simple thought (not necessarily even a clarified one) to heaven about someone is a form of prayer. John goes on to say, the Holy Spirit does not lie. If you've got a special love, intensity, or "burden" on your heart for something or someone, it's put there by the Lord.

On the other hand, if someone makes a request of you to pray and you are indifferent, just offer up a brief prayer on the spot and be done with it. You need feel no condemnation for not praying every day for that need.

The Lord, in short, puts each of us into a different sphere of influence.


*
It just seems odd that our knowledge of the past proscribes God's ability to have acted in the past based on our prayers in the present. And how dare we presume to watch television when there are unprayed-for souls who died in the Tartar invasions? To me, it simply sounds like a soft-hearted theory unsupported by historical Catholic witness.

The question of whether a notoriously evil non-Christian halfway around the world needs my prayers even more than my wife does is kind of interesting. Granting his objective need is greater, that he requires "more" grace to be saved, does it follow in justice that I must pray for him more than, or before, I pray for my wife? I don't think so, for much the same reason that I don't think I have to make sure no one in the world is starving before I feed my wife.
-Tom

July 23, 2003

Summer of '03

Bone, having more time on his hands these days, is now a regular reader of ye olde blog so I gotta keep the Protestant gibes to a minimum. Maybe just to tease him I'll link a Chesterton quote from a fellow Bellocphiliac. Bad, Tom bad!

(There is not one Google hit on 'Bellocphiliac'. Western civilization is in a steep decline if I have to coin that term.)

Anyway, here is the news from Lake Woebegon (literally, 'woe be gone'!):
   Bone's wife: "I've never seen you so happy....how will you come down from this if the screenplay doesn't sell?"
   Bone replies, "The saying goes 'we'll always have Paris', well we'll always have the summer of 2003".

His agent is positively giddy because another producer is interesting in reading his script. You have to admit, he's getting a heckuva ride out of this thing. If my mantra in the past was "I just want to be onto something", Bone is certainly on to something. He added a cameo appearance for us in the screenplay and he's going to insist the studio allow us to act as extras. The latte better be there an hour before shooting and I'll need a body double for any nude scenes - I haven't been running enough lately. Been pavin' too many patios!

His agent finally read his screenplay and wrote "The first act, about 35 pages, is hilarious, in fact, I'd have to say outstanding. Good work..." He goes on to suggest the rest needs some work but then ends with "Anyway, if this is what you had for me months ago, it would have led me to sign you. I believe it can be successfully toned and then presented to the trade."

Well that's about all the news that is fit to print. The late night golf outing apparently has squandered the good will engendered by my providing material for his second screenplay - his wife is hinting that any Dublin Irishfest activity in August is now verboten. Oh where's the humanity? Bad, Bone, bad!
Nancy wrote asking why, in relation to the Christian Bookseller's Association, everything is a knock-off of popular culture. Christian hip-hop music, Christian alternative music, "the ya-ya sisterhood begets the yada-yada prayer group".

I think that Christians are on the defensive now and our faith is weak. The great works of Christendom came when everyone was Christian - not enough good writers and artists are Christian now to get the "synergy" going to create good art.

Kids grow up in nominally Christian homes, so they learn to like hip-hop & nihilistic music before their conversions. And they still like the music, post-conversion, if not the lyrics. Asking kids (or anyone) not to be conformists is asking a lot.

If serious Christianity became mainstream, we'd have more risk-takers, with better art as a byproduct.
Amy is back from the surreal land of the Christian Bookseller's Association and all I got was this t-shirt reportage.

   Apparition booklet: $4
   Contemporary Christian music CD: $20
   Getting your picture taken with Tammy Faye? PRICELESS!

Amy's a bad influence on me...I'm now wondering where the "celebrity kitsch" line is, such that pictures taken with them are taken as irony. Probably the cast of Gilligan's Island would qualify but not that of Little House on the Prarie. Eight is Enough but not the Brady Bunch. Your mileage may vary. Hal Lindsey was right on the kitsch buoy for me but blew it with the tropical shirt...a nice suit can put you above the line.
_ _ _

Amy also mentioned the unholy alliance between marketing and evangelization. I can see it now....(fade to dream sequence):

Stay tuned for FOX's newest reality television program - "Joe Christian"!
Joe is a born-again Christian who attempts to convert Wiccans. He will receive $5,000 per convertee...
The Unbearable Beauty of Summer

Nancy cryptically writes, "Ah, summer. What will I do when the light leaves? (Answer: This year, reach for the medicine chest. 2002 -- never again.)"

Perhaps some Merlot in that medicine chest? Or a full spectrum lamp?

Every year about this time I succumb to great fatigue. I know because I checked my journal. "July 17, 2002: Unbelievably exhausted. Tired beyond belief..." Foolish, I know.

As one too susceptible to the sun's charms, I find it hard to sit still. Not when there's running, hiking, biking and home improvement projects to do. And the rest of the time I stare dumbly at my new paver patio and watch the grass grow around it. Heretofore I'd foolishly imagined watching the grass grow was a euphemism for boredom.

I'd re-graded the area around the patio and the piles of dirt made it look forlorn. I waited impatiently for the grass to grow and lo & behold each day it did: Thicker, lusher and more luxuriant, setting off the white of the patio like the green around an Ostian ruin. Is there a thing as too much beauty? It's nearly impossible to read out there without gazing at the fine Douglas Firs in the distance, birds posing as sentries on the tops, or watching the sheen of the grass at patio's edge.

And backyard home improvements beget more backyard home improvements. I remembered that concrete patch, the place where the previous owner had set a pole for a clothesline. Immediately I've got a small chisel & sledge hammer in hand and two hours later, sweat poring off, I've got a decent sized hole in which to plant....more grass.
Anti-Semitism & the NT

While I'm not sure it's kosher to refer to them as "kibitzers", this article does make a good point about the asininity of calls to re-write the New Testament.

Guns don't kill people, people do. Similarly, the gospels don't cause anti-Semitism, people with warped notions do.

Given that Jesus was a Jew, anti-Semitism among Christians should be an oxymoron. To the extent groups try to become defacto "thought police" they will not only fail, but will be counter-produtive because no one likes to be told what to think.

July 22, 2003

"My Understanding Will Be Forever Shaped..." - K. O'Beirne

On Mel Gibson's The Passion:

"Heartbreaking," Michael Novak told Gibson. "The Exorcist" author William Peter Blatty called the movie "a tremendous depiction of evil." MPAA President Valenti was perhaps the most enthusiastic. "I don't see what the controversy is all about," he told fellow audience members. "This is a compelling piece of art. I just called Kirk Douglas and told him that this is the movie to beat."

From Article in the Washington Post.

Kate O'Beirne weighs in on the film at The Corner:

The movie is intense and riveting, and the time quickly passes as you are completely drawn into the events in biblical Jerusalem. One can’t imagine grabbing a bucket of popcorn with a super-sized diet coke before settling down to witness this graphic depiction of Christ’s passion and crucifixion. My understanding of Christ’s ordeal will be forever shaped by this remarkable movie. Some will unfairly use Gibson’s labor of love to create a controversy, which is wholly unjustified in the case of this masterful film, but hopefully Gibson realizes that this too shall pass.
Interesting excerpt from John O'Donohue's Anam Cara:

God is mysterious and reserved. Patience with this reserve is one of the profound recongitions of the Celtic mind. The world of the soul is secret. The secret and the sacred are sisters. When the secret is not respected, the sacred vanishes. Consequently, reflection should not shine too severe or aggressive a light in on the world of the soul.

There is an unprecedented spiritual hunger in our times. Yet one of the damaging aspects of this hunger is the way it sees everything in such a severe and insistent light. The light of modern consciousness is not gentle or reverent ; it lacks graciousness in the presence of mystery; it wants to unriddle and control the unknown. Modern consciousness is similar to the harsh and brilliant white light of a hospital operating theatre. It is not hospitable to what is reserved and hidden.

It is interesting that the world revelation comes from re-valere, literally 'to veil again'. The world of the soul is glimpsed through the opening of a veil that closes again. There is no direct, permanent or public access to the divine. When the spiritual search is too intense and hungry, the soul stays hidden.
Steven Riddle posts about "Just War" theory and wonders how objective or subjective it is. Clarity is often elusive. Our Dominican friar has said that Church doctrine is a fence on the far edge of the landscape pointing to cliffs that have already been discovered and we can enjoy the diversity of opinion in the field with a certain abandon. But having the freedom to believe wrong things seems a mixed bag.

For example, I'm suspicious when someone says "God told me to do..." XYZ. It is entirely possible that God did tell them to do XYZ, through an inspiration, a calling of the heart. Certainly those impulses to obey are most likely to be true if in line with Church teaching like, "volunteer at the local food bank".

But private revelation is not always reliable, even among saints. St. Vincent Ferrer felt that God told him that the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world would come in his generation (the 15th century). He was still a saint, he just believed a wrong thing. For much of his life Pope John the 23rd believed and preached, heretically, that the dead would not see God until after the Last Judgement. Trust in the Church seems to be the best possibility that what we believe is true.

So what about the "Just War" theory? I don't know, other than it's not prudent to abandon it until the Church does, and the Church has not. The Pope seems to have an intuition towards pacifism...he may be a saint but that doesn't mean what he feels God is telling him is correct.
President Bush's poll numbers are in a free-fall, no doubt due to the mess of post-Iraq. Americans want their casualties all together, not spaced out in ones and twos over a period of months. And the enemy knows that and will use it. Our troops are targets for terrorist attacks and it appears that we simply don't have a military solution to terrorism. Israel, with her strong military, has tried to find a military solution and failed. It's hard not to fault George Bush for not seeing this coming or at least warning us this was going to happen. (Andrew Sullivan says we shouldn't be surprised).

The former Soviet Union didn't have a terrorist problem because they didn't play by the rules. They were ruthlessless and invoked fear the way pitcher Ryne Duren used to invoke fear in batters because he was near-sighted and he didn't always know where his 95mph fastball was heading. The U.S. telegraphs her moves via CNN, gives ample warning, eschews assassinations, minimizes enemy casualties and is no Ryne Duren. This is a great and wonderful thing. But it also means we will have to adjust our policies accordingly, understanding are capabilities.

Bottom line, it will be surprising if we can change the hearts and minds of potential terrorists. We are at the beginning of this experiment pitting the realists versus the neo-conservatives. I think we had the right to go into Iraq given Saddam's failure to comply with the conditions ending the first Gulf war, but that doesn't mean it was the prudent thing to do. The jury's still out.

July 21, 2003

Mr. Dreher

But the desire to go out had almost vanished since the day I met Julie in an Austin bookstore. I'd assumed I'd want to get in as much carousing as possible before I was lashed to hearth and home. But I was wrong...

Rod Dreher talks about his taming.
Interesting tidbit/comment on Amy's blog:

...Rodney Stark over-states Aquinas' influence in medieval and renaissance Christendom. It really wasn't until Luther's revolt cast a shadow on the legacy of Augustine that Aquinas began to rise to the primus inter pares of theologians -- or even higher.
I like the sense of strangeness in poetry...In country music this is now the exception given how banality rules (during the '90s country music became surbanized and sanitized and feminized). Sure it's not Milton or Shakespeare, but here's a snippet from “Almost Home” by Craig Morton:

Then he said,"I was comin' round the barn"
Bout the time he grabbed my arm
When I heard Momma holler son hurry up
I was close enough for my own nose
To smell fresh cobbler on the stove
When I saw daddy loadin' up the truck
Game poles on the tailgate
Barbers blowin' in the wind
Since July of '55
That's as close as I've been.
-“Almost Home” – Craig Morton
             Silly Stuff... a grab bag of disconnected thoughts

Received spam entitled "You Don't IM me anymore", which I guess is this generation's You Don't Bring Me Flowers.

*
Preoccupation (to tune of ‘Anticipation’)

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway, yay
And I wonder if I'm really with you now
Or just chasin' after some future day

Ref: Preoccupation, Preoccupation
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' me waitin'...

*
Romantic or Not?

Wonder how Annie Denver took it that loving her was a difficult matter.... The first two lines of John Denver's Follow Me:

It's by far the hardest thing I've ever done /
To be so in love with you so long


Chesterton wrote that for a thing to be entirely romantic it must be irrevocable... Love as an act of the will sounds much more romantic in the marriage vows:

For better or worse, richer for poorer till death due us part

*

Hiking in the woods Saturday, I notice leaves beneath the canopy flat as patens, seeking stray rays of the dappled sun.

July 20, 2003

Prayer and Writing

Karen Hall of Disordered Affections fame urges we write about what we feel passionate about. Writing with passion removes self-consciousness, makes you forget the very act of writing. The words tumble out in forgetfulness like an orgasm makes you forget the physical act of sex.

I was reading a passage from Spiritual Combat Revisited and the author mentioned that if you are aware of the act of praying then you are essentially not praying because you are not focused on or conscious of God. The truth of Christ's words, "do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing" marvelously encapsulates this truth.

July 19, 2003

  End of an Era

Our charismatic Dominican friar is leaving, going to become pastor at a church in Kentucky. I knew he wouldn’t be with us forever; he occasionally gave intimations of his mortality. He’s very overweight, he once mentioned in a sermon he dreamed he had a heart attack and died.

I grew to acquire a proprietary feeling towards him. He was always there, available on Wednesday nights for a seeming endless stream of bible studies or RICA classes. I didn’t go as often as I wanted, but it was a comfort to know he was there. He was an inexhaustible resource. He was opinionated and imbued with a different world view. It was from him I first learned the Enlightenment was ill-named.

Every hot August he’d dress in this eighth century Celtic warrior uniform, holding a spear, playing dress-up at the annual Dublin fest. I loved him for it. The innocence. The love of all things Irish. The strength of his convictions. The sense of honor, humor, chivalry and masculinity, the latter too rare today.

Every St. Patrick’s Day parade he'd march in that outfit while bagpipes played, “Risin’ of the Moon” and the sight and sound would send chills thru every beating heart. Past midnight, at the Hibernian party, he’d be singing some stirring Irish anthem. He had the aura of celebrity about him.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. I was taking an Irish language course at a local Catholic college. In the middle of class he rushes in in these strange Dominican robes, gigantic rosary at his hip like a Colt on a gunslinger.

I shamefully admit to be initially off-put by his enormous girth and beard. He sat forward in the tiny chair the classroom afforded and eagerly responded in Irish to queries, showing off I thought. I didn’t know then that in an earlier life he’d graduated Summa Cum Laude with a biology degree and later became a lawyer. His vocation was late in coming, although he's still relatively young, maybe late 40s.

Ah, but a beacon can’t be hid, and he is a beacon. He gathered a small coterie of followers, perhaps thirty or forty who went to every lecture, every bible study, every Theology on Tap. Many went to RCIA classes year after year just to hear the charismatic preacher and to wait for his fascinating digressions (which came early and often). He made you want to be better, and he felt a sense of responsibility for your improvement such that you would let him down if you weren’t better. The Holy Father triggers similar feelings.

I bought the good padre's series of tapes on the Catechism, so at least I’ll always have those. Obviously this will be tough on him. Change is difficult and this is a big one. He asks we pray for him.
Shane McGowan

Watched a sad documentary on the former lead singer of the Pogues, the brilliant lyricist who wrote “Fairytale of New York”:

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew


Toothless and seemingly lobotomized by drink, his wife seemed like a care-giver to a retarded person. She laughed at his incoherent gags and jokes and it was painful to watch, painful because it juxtaposed by interviews when he was young and sane and coherent and full of potential. But at the same time inspiring given his wife's unconditional love. Now he lurches from bar to bar, followed by cameras over period of months. So sad that his lyricism and sublime voice were purchased at the cost of so many brain cells. Art is a jealous god, more taking than giving.
He read of the sacrament of Baptism as if cherishing the box score of a Dodger's World Series win, savoring every detail, one victory won, one gift given, one great advantage, like a sprinter admiring his splendid fast-twitch muscles. Would that he ponder the Giver instead of the Gift.

July 18, 2003

Mastication is Normal judges books by their covers. Amazing how the internet fills a niche.

I much agree with her on the physical beauty of Steinbeck's "East of Eden":

The centennial editions have beautiful covers that hark back to an earlier era of design, featuring restrained typography and gorgeous woodcuts. I’m not so keen on the title treatment, but that’s quibbling....Even the paperback edition’s pages have those wonderful rough edges of classic hardback editions, for that old-time flavor.
Vast Auden Excerpt on Poetry & Sexual Love:

Why should so much poetry be written about sexual love and so little about eating--which is just as pleasurable and never lets you down--or about family affection, or about the love of mathematics? Sexual love has, in very acute form, the double impress of nature and spirit and is therefore ideally representative of our human condition. The weak self that desires to be strong is hungry. The lonely self desires to be attached. The spirit desires to be free and unattached, and not at the mercy of natural appetite. It also desires to be important, and that conflicts with its desire for freedom. The weak self wants other things to exist so it may encroach on them, the lonely self wants other existences to hold on to, in extreme cases to be absorbed in. But the spirit wants to be only "I," wants its attachment to other things to be its free choice. Consciousness plays the least part in the pleasure of eating, but it plays some--that's why we recognize gluttony as a sin. But the element of consciousness is so small that gluttony is a staple only of comedy--for example, the story of the man who gives up a beautiful girl to marry an ugly woman who happens to be a good cook. His choice can't involve difficulty, for eating is a comparatively innocent occupation. It also has a generalized object of desire: it doesn't make very much difference what the food is. It is comic to see an individual overcome by something general. Take the man who is conversing very elaborately, very beautifully, on matters of the highest spiritual nature. Suddenly, when no one is looking, he snatches a cake. As in all natural humor, though, the amusement to be derived from this sort of situation, where the individual comes in contact with the universal, is limited. For example, there's a party. Everyone is waiting expectantly for the great writer to put in an appearance. He enters. Instead of producing illuminating conversation, the first thing he does is ask where the bathroom is. At the other extreme, the passion for mathematics, though it can be in selected persons quite as intense as any love affair, is too spiritual. But because mathematicians are still obstinately people, you can still get a mild comic effect from the contrast between their interest and their human situation: for instance, the absent-minded professor who forgets the day of his wedding.

Sexual love has both nature and spirit and the desire for personal choice. The desire begins with the individual object but ends in bed where things are generalized. I think that there's a good American story to illustrate this point. A man is on a visit to Chicago. He enters a restaurant. Yes, he sees a very beautiful girl in the restaurant, exquisitely beautiful, ravishingly beautiful. Yes, she is friendly, she smiles at him, she talks to him. Yes, her conversation is very witty, she is very agreeable, she is immensely entertaining. They go to the opera. Yes, she is very intelligent, she has a fine appreciation of the beautiful things in life, is keenly aware of values. They go to a night club. Yes, she is a wonderful sport, she enters wholeheartedly into the spirit of things. Later, yes, she responds beautifully to his love-making, is very understanding, says she loves him too. In the taxi, yes, her kisses are thrilling. And after that? After that it was like it is in Cincinnati. You see, any description of the sex act must be pornographic. To an outsider, to a child watching, it looks like eating. There is no realization that individuals are concerned. But they are, even at the last, though the fact may be not be evident. The nature of the act is that we must not remain self-conscious, it is destroyed if we do. Of course, to the child the act is comic, but it is not to the adult because he knows that spirit is involved. Literature makes people fornicating self-conscious and so violates the nature of the experience.

Why is love so peculiarly the subject of lyric poetry? War and work are dealt with dramatically, not lyrically. You often get people writing poetry when they fall in love who are not moved by their other equally important experiences to do any writing about them. It isn't at all because love poetry has any practical value. No one was ever seduced by a beautiful poem, though a bad one may be effective on occasion. Work and war are less subjective, they can be imposed on one for pragmatic reasons. Of course, subjective reasons, the combative instinct, loving your work, may enter in, but you always advance pragmatic, causal reasons--I have to defend my country, I have to earn my living. Now, these reasons are never advanced in love. The sex drive is enough, and reasons are always inadequate. It is an entirely personal affair, it is my love. It is a matter of necessity, I can't help myself. Duty does not enter into falling in love, though it may later enter into love itself.

Falling in love is the discovery of what "I exist" means. Now here we see the difference between essence and existence. I can readily imagine other people's feelings by analogy with my own, but I cannot readily imagine other people's existence by analogy with my own. My feelings, desires, etc., can be objects of my knowledge and hence I can imagine what other people feel. My existence cannot become an object of knowledge, and hence while, if I have the necessary histrionic imagination and talent I can act the part of another in such a way that I deceive his best friends, I can never imagine what it would be like to be that other person but must always remain pretending to be him. Falling in love is an intense interest in the existence of another person. That existence is not alone an object of knowledge, nor is it exclusively a goal of desire. That is why people write under these circumstances as they do not at other times. They are confronted with the question, "What is existence?" and with a tension between nature and spirit...

--W.H. Auden, Lectures on Shakespeare
Interesting quote from yesterday's Magnificat:

Wisdom begins when we stop wanting to fight the reality of the present as if it should not exist, and start to accept it as it is.

Our hearts must be filled with hope and they must be impatient, but our hope and impatience must be based on the reality of the now. It is in this reality of the moment that Jesus will speak to us, that the Spirit will give himself to us.

It is only when we learn not to fear, but to trust in God's love, to surrender ourselves, that we learn to relax. God likes relaxed children. He doesn't want us to strive to be perfect. He wants us to be confident that he will give us strength.

--Jean Vanier
Spectator Cartoon


‘One day, all of these will be Harry Potter books.’
Taking the "unexplained" out of the phrase "unexplained weight gain"

Bill O'Reilly was recently chastized by a letter-writer who chided him for being unsympathetic to overweight (weight-challenged?) Americans. The writer said that O'Reilly didn't understand the phenomenon of "unexplained weight gain", a phrase I'd never heard before. I always crudely thought that weight was the result of too many calories chasing too little activity.

The combination of our inactivity, the plentitude of bad food and our tendency to mask negative emotions with food makes weight gain in Americans not surprising at all. (Personally, my favored euphemism for being overweight is "big-boned").

That having been said, I understand that women have a more difficult time losing weight than men do (due to having a lower percentage of muscle, which decreases metabolism) and that metabolisms slow as we age, but I consider a tumor to be an unexplained weight gain rather than something we have at least some control over. From a practical viewpoint, the pains we have to go to be at a 'right weight' are for most people not worth the trouble it takes to stay there, IMHO.
I commented on Irish Elk concerning gay priests:

I echo Andrew Greeley who worries about the cumulative effect of so many gay priests. I don't think it's prudential to be ordaining more priests with homosexual inclinations for awhile. It is similar to the immigration problem - immigrants are a great boon when arriving in managable groups and learning English. Just as there is too much temptation to not learn English when your whole town is Spanish, there's too much temptation not to remain chaste (or to not assent to Church teaching) when your priest friends are all gay.
I Did Not Know That...

"NFP" is derived from the Latin phrase 'haec jocatus sum, per jocum dixi' roughly translated as "male so horny".

July 17, 2003

Also from Nat'l Review

David Klinghoffer reviewed a book by Rodney Stark examining the role of monotheism on culture titled "For the Glory of God". Stark "writes as a sociologist and historian, not a theologian, and is careful to say nothing about his own faith except that he is not a Catholic." That last remark is presumably to fend off those who think him biased, given the credit he gives to the Church.

Some excerpts from the review:

."...[Isaac Newton] regarded the universe as a cryptogram set by the Almighty."

A 'cryptogram set by the Almighty.' That is a beautiful thought, rightly depicting science and religion as twinned disciplines, both seeking to find out God's secrets.
_______________________________

As a final instance of what religion has wrought in the West, Stark gives us an economically rendered history of anti-slavery activism....As an advocate of total abolitionism, the Catholic Church was far ahead of everyone. 'In the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas deduced that slavery was a sin, and a series of popes upheld his position, beginining in 1435 and culminating in three major pronouncements against slavery by Pope Paul III in 1537'.
________________________________

The very last sentence in his book is intriguing: 'In these ways, at least, Western civilization really was God-given.'...the point is that Scripture gives its readers the key to understanding how the world works. In this sense it's a blueprint. If you understand the bible, you understand the world. A corollary is that the civilization that possesses such a key is bound to flourish beyond the advancements of rival cultures. It's no coincidence that Biblical civilization developed as it did. Happily for those other cultures, the key can be duplicated. The fortune enjoyed by Christians and Jews is fully transferable. If Rodney Stark is right, it would follow that introducing the Bible to other peoples is indeed to impart a gift. Whether others are ready to accept the gift is another question.
From latest Nat'l Review

Excerpt of poem Summer Storm:

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won't stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.


--DANA GIOLA
Good post on the importance of prayer from the Pew Lady

July 16, 2003

Mailbag Wednesday

Mailbag xxxxxx, where xxxxx=the day of the week, is one of the most rare Video, Meliora... features because of a dearth of email. But today we find ourselves with some bon mots worth quoting. Mailbag XXXX can now hold its head high next to Fictional Friday, Verweile Doch, Poetry Thursday and other regular features.

First, a reader named "leila" wrote suggesting I call her "for any pricing needs for home remodeling". Delapuente Irving wrote to say she lost 50 pounds in 3 months. Hawkins_Brittney3 made some unfortunate x-rated comments unsuitable for a family blog.

Fortunately there were others!

Bone received his first kinda/sorta fan mail. Kathy the Carmelite writes: I can't WAIT!! Who should play the Bone? Is there a love interest? Somehow I see a Debra Barone-type woman as the foil for all the cheapness.

The Debra Barone character needs to be able to roll her eyes a lot, place hands on hips and say with her actions "I can't believe I married this guy".

Not sure who might play 'da bone'. Will run it by him!

*
Another emailer commented on my post about a certain commenter. Preserving his privacy, I'll offer my reply:

How to debate civily on the 'net is an interesting thing. It's rarely done well because those moved to comment do so usually because they are married to their opinion and consider it and themselves of one substance. A sort of homoousious if you will. And that leads to people defending not the truth but themselves. Not that I'm any better. "I'm no hero, that's understood." - (name that Springsteen song).

*

Having had eight children, Jeanne of God's country (i.e. Ohio) writes with authority:

How we raise our kids is how they will perceive God. At the first sign of difficulty, if they don't have experience in how to deal with those things, then they will see God as a cash cow always ready to give what they ask for. Not so. Now we have to have books written about "Why do bad things happen to good people". We never had to ask that question many years ago. Bad things always happened to good people, that was the way of the world then, and they learned faith to pull themselves through. No one thinks they need God now and don't realize they need him more to fill that hole.

If you make a kid pray beyond what he's capable as a kid, it will "spoil" him wrongly. But he needs to pray. Walk that fine line.
Update to Bone Update

Talked to Bone and he says that the production company in question is well-known in the industry and has produced and released dozens of movies. They specialize in resurrecting dead franchises (that is they deal in sequels to sequels). Since Bone's script is a sequel, it looks tailor made. They are cheap to produce, they don't bring in a lot of money, but they would give him a foot in the screenwriting door.

He's 35 pages into a second screenplay about an extremely frugal guy. "Autobiographical?", he answered of course! This is going to be a killer script and something I'd like to be writing because it writes itself! I mean he gets to write about the modern corporation - like the time at our old company we had to go into a room and paint ourselves to discover our inner something or other. Or the time we played this "interaction exercise" that involved squatting and allowing someone else to sit on our lap to "build trust" (I'm not sure why having a young woman you don't know sitting on your lap builds trust, but then I'm not paid the big bucks). It's Dilbert on the large screen. Plus he gets to write about his sublime cheapness, like the "urine only" toilet he's infamous for. Finally I figure prominently (too prominently!) in that I'll be one of the characters in it, the staunch Catholic to his devout Protestant. A veritable fertile crescent of material!
The Bone Saga

Excerpts from his email:

I'm sitting here at 22 minutes after midnight. After 3 whole days of spiritual and legal scrutiny, I signed the agency contract.

Two of my biggest concerns were the fact that 1) he wanted to sign me without reading the script and 2) that he wasn't a signatory member of the Writers Guild.

He answered 1) by saying that he has a head of a production studio that wants to read my script. End of story. Whether he has read it or not, he wants to represent me for the chance that it offers to both of us.

He answered 2) by explaining that the Writers Guild will only except agents that are agents exclusively. Since he is a producer, writer, agent, and manager, the Guild is uncomfortable with conflict of interest issues.

His contract that he offered was a boilerplate agency contract approved by the California State Labor division, and he agreed to a term of 2 instead of 7 years

All in all, he was very frank with me saying, that he would never have considered signing me in a million years, if he didn't have this unique opportunity fall into his lap.


For the life of me, I can't understand why the agent wouldn't invest an hour of his life and read the script. He's probably not a reader - he probably is a salesman and salesmen don't generally make good readers.

July 15, 2003

Just Put a Rosary in My Hands ...and say one for me

Fellow Ohioan Jeanne emailed this concerning the following, concerning this tendency of prolonged adolescence:

One reason our culture allowed us to grow up in the past was the sense of responsibility we took on or was placed on us. As we did that, we were brought into the real world of what life is all about. Our culture now tries to keep us perpetually children and it succeeds in many ways. We have sports now which are good to keep the kids occupied because there is no real work to do, but there isn't any quid pro quo in getting anything out of it that helps us grow up. Yes, we learn working with each other and following orders, but our lives don't depend on it. We no longer have a survival society where we have to grup for a living, but an intuitive society which is the opposite. We have to develop other ways of growing up...

I think we tend to grow to the extent it is necessary that they grow. If I play tennis, I'm not getting myself in shape for golf - we only exercise the muscles we need, referring of course to spiritual muscles.

There's a big picture in the paper today of a funeral of a Cleveland Browns fan, and his recliner & Dawg slippers & TV & pennants were all placed in the "chapel" next to his coffin at the visitation. It depressed me, and I wasn't sure why. Maybe because he never grew up? Or maybe because it trivializes death, the very moment we are most likely to think religious (instead of sporting) thoughts?
One of the greatest, and, I think, the most tragic lines in Latin verse is that famous phrase:

"Video meliora, proboque: deteriora sequor."

It is a very epitome of the human story: of one man and of all.


--Hilaire Belloc, Survivals and New Arrivals
Go Figure Deux

The following vehicles are now listed as "collectible cars" for insurance purposes:

Chevy Vega
AMC Pacer
AMC Gremlin
Chevy Nova
Ford Maverick
Ford Pinto
Plymouth Duster

Can the Yugo be far behind?
Fictional Tuesday

The smell of rain permeated the air, but then it always did in Ireland. The villagers laughed and said that you have to prepare for all four seasons on any given day but in my experience it was mostly just spring. Rains and mists varied in intensity, but the temperature was moderated by the Atlantic to a steady 50 to 70 degrees.

The tourists flocked for the Aran sweaters and Waterford Factory but I begged off to experience spring in all her myriad manifestations. I found an obscure bookstore/pub, an unusual combination in Ireland where reading and blarney are rarely mixed. There in the Yeats section lay his latest biographer’s effort. I shook the faerie dust from it and began to read.

Soon aft a ne’er-do-well arrived appearing flummoxed and breathing threats.

“Fenian Bastards!” he yelled to no one in particular.

“Unrepentant Fenian Bastards!” he yelled for emphasis.

He could tell by my tennis shoes, the blasted neon sign saying “tourist”, that I was American. But nevertheless I asked him where the unrepented Fenians were.

“What’s the Yank doing here?” he said to no one in particular.

I quoted Yeats by way of response:

“Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!”


& then we sang:

"An seanchrácamas, sparán folamh,
Nó baois an lae, aiféala oíche!"


“Aye, you'll be an Irishmen yet!”
East of Eden Quotes
"Lately I never felt good enough. I always wanted to explain to him that I was not good."

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good. Is that it?"

*

"I had to find out my stupidities for myself. These were my stupidities: I thought the good are destroyed while the evil survive and prosper.

'I thought that once an angry and disgusted God poured molten fire from a crucible to destroy or to purify his little handiwork of mud.

I thought I had inherited both the scars of the fire and the impurities which made the fire necessary - all inherited, I thought..."

"Maybe you'll come to know that every man in every generation is refired. Does a craftsman, even in his old age, lose his hunger to make a perfect cup - thin, strong, translucent?" He held his cup to the light. "All impurities burned out and ready for a glorious flux, and for that - more fire. And then either the slag heap, or perhaps what no one in the world ever quite gives up, perfection." He drained his cup and he said loudly, "Cal, listen to me. Can you think that whatever made us - would stop trying?" --John Steinbeck
Erik Keilholtz & Kathy make good points in discussing the difficulty of getting thru adolescence (on KTC's blog):

The whole thing is a cultural problem. "Teenager" as a state of life is a relatively modern invention. One used to go from childhood to adulthood in a short amount of time. I think that we have lost something by creating a period in which one is expected to basically be a consumer without contributing much to society. Then we wonder why our adults are in such messes!

Response from KTC
I think the artificially-induced isolation of high school (Eve referred to it in the college context as the "hothouse environment) foments character problems, too.

Kinky Freidman said that a happy childhood is a terrible preparation for life, but it could apply to an extended adolescence also.

July 14, 2003

David Brooks review of new book on West Point:
Sometime during his stay, he realized that ''of all the young people I'd met, the West Point cadets -- although they were grand, epic complainers -- were the happiest.'' The academy, he found, was ''a place where everyone tried their hardest. A place where everybody -- or at least most people -- looked out for each other. A place where people -- intelligent, talented people -- said honestly that money wasn't what drove them. A place where people spoke openly about their feelings and about trying to make themselves better.''
Belloc's Prediction on the Church
Not a few profound observers (one in especial, a modern French-Jewish convert of the highest intellectual power) have proposed, as a probable tendency or goal to which we were moving, a world in which a small but intense body of the Faith should stand apart in an increasing flood of Paganism. I, for my part (it is but a personal opinion and worth little) believe, upon the whole, a Catholic increase to be the more likely; for, in spite of the time in which I live, I cannot believe that the Human Reason will permanently lose its power. Now the Faith is based upon Reason, and everywhere outside the Faith the decline of Reason is apparent.

But if I be asked what sign we may look for to show that the advance of the Faith is at hand, I would answer by a word the modern world has forgotten: Persecution. When that shall once more be at work it will be morning.

--H. Belloc
Online Debating

Today Tom of Disputations debates the value or lack thereof, of online debating:

If, however, one party's primary interest is not to uncover the truth -- showing off, scoring points, annoying others, and feeling like a proud witness of Christ are some other interests that might take precedence -- the debate will be a failure, both for the people directly involved who were seeking the truth and for all those observing the debate.

Very true, although, as is often the case, the parties who most need this advice are the least likely to take it, or to even think it applies to them.

Theoretically, folks who annoy could serve as agents of Christian charity, in that we have to love them anyway and how much merit is there in loving a Mother Teresa compared to an abusive commenter? Of course, the annoying person could just as easily become an obstacle by fostering anger and negativity.

Regardless, when I read a commenter like the one I recently saw on Disputations, one whose mean-spiritedness comes through loud & clear, I tend to have an equal and opposite reaction in the opposite direction to his thesis regardless of what truth he might possess. This isn't good, given that truth should not be judged on the worthiness of the messenger, but I see more clearly how powerful the witness of the messenger is.
Depressing link from the NY Times entitled, "Why People Still Starve":

Late one afternoon, during the long melancholia of the hungry months, there was a burst of joyous delirium in Mkulumimba. Children began shouting the word ngumbi, announcing that winged termites were fluttering through the fields. These were not the bigger species of the insect, which can be fried in oil and sold as a delicacy for a good price. Instead, these were the smaller ones, far more wing than torso, which are eaten right away. Suddenly, most everyone was giddily chasing about; villagers were catching ngumbi with their fingers and tossing them onto their tongues, grateful for the unexpected gift of food afloat in the air.

''There is no way to get used to hunger,'' Adilesi told me once. ''All the time something is moving in your stomach. You feel the emptiness. You feel your intestines moving. They are too empty, and they are searching for something to fill up on.'' -- Barry Bearak
Another Malcolm Muggeridge remembrance.

I came to Carthage, where I found myself in the midst of a hissing cauldron of lusts. I had not yet fallen in love, but I was in love with the idea of it, and this feeling that something was missing made me despise myself for not being more anxious to satisfy the need. I began to look around for some object for my love, since I badly wanted to love something.
—St. Augustine, Confessions

Diversion is the only thing that consoles us in our wretchedness, and yet diversion is itself the greatest of our miseries. For it is diversion above all that keeps us from seriously taking stock of ourselves and so leads us imperceptibly to perdition.
—Pascal, Pensées

In part, [Muggeridge's] criticism [of liberalism] was reminiscent of Tocqueville’s. Unchecked, the impulse to equality became an impulse to homogeneity: the drive for democracy involved a democratic despotism that did not, as Tocqueville put it, so much tyrannize as infantilize. “The welfare state,” Muggeridge observed, “is a kind of zoo which provides its inmates with ease and comfort and unfits them for life in their natural habitat.”
—Roger Kimball, Malcolm Muggeridge's Journey
Roberto Pazzi in the NY Times:

Germans and Italians are made to love each other, but never to esteem each other. They are doomed to attract each other without mutual understanding. They fill the empty spaces in the others' mind. A military alliance between two such different peoples, apart from the representation of the two mad dictators in Chaplin's film, is unthinkable. The Germans are the people of Luther, Leibniz, Bach, Goethe, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Wagner and Nietzsche. Germany's psyche is tempted, as Thomas Mann warned us in "Doctor Faustus," by a Luciferine dream of the Absolute, an intoxicating dream in which the Self dissolves into the All.

Italy, however, cradle of Greek and Latin Mediterranean civilization, is still infused with the Euripidean assumption: character is man's destiny. Italians have always been incurable and marvelous individualists, resistant to any dream of the absolute, including the Christian one. Their Catholic faith is but a veil covering the pagan cult of beauty, imagination, youth, glory, etc. We call it success, but really it's the need of an exceptional Self — a Greek hero like Ulysses or a saint like Augustine of Hippo — to distinguish oneself from the crowd.

Just look at our prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. He's a rich man who derides professional politicians and who has made millions of Italians dream of emulating his luck by voting for him. What better expression of the Italian individualistic soul could there be?

July 13, 2003

Algorhythm predicts our sex (not amount but gender) based on our writing style.
From the God gives us what we need, not want we want File:

My wife and I have longed to live on five or ten acres out in the country, far from the madding crowds. This is more a romantic rather than practical vision since we are presumably taking the phrase "the grass is always greener" literally, and Little House on the Prarie exists only imaginatively. Though Horace in Epodes wrote of the happiness of country living, working the ancestral acres "like the pristine race of mortals". Samuel Johnson translated: "Like the first race in Saturn's reigh, /When floods of nectar stained the main.".... "Whom no contracted debts molest / no griping creditors infest". Don't know about that debt part.

But we did buy a house with a generous backyard that overlooks a field, giving us the illusion of privacy and space. I say "illusion", because our driveway abuts a house with three windows overlooking it, three windows from which our movements are monitored with some precision. And we were gifted with a neighbor who to describe as "nosy" would be a disservice to nosy neighbors everywhere. On the bright side, she is so intimately caring of what goes on in our mundane lives that I can scarcely take offense.

Is it providential that in craving privacy (in real life, ha) I am given a neighbor who thinks fences make bad neighbors? Surely!

July 12, 2003

Good News for Polybibliophiliacs

Ed comments on Bill White's blog:
TS, studies have not shown any correlation between adultery and polybibliophilia (the clinical term for the love of multiple books at the same time). :-D

In response to my comment:

I'm always reading twelve books at once too, and I remember my wife reading one of those "How to Tell If Your Man Will Commit" type of books, and she said that one of the danger signs is a man who is always reading a dozen books. The author wrote "if he can't commit to a book at a time, how will he commit to one woman?". Fortunately I've been faithful and my wife didn't take the book's advice and dump me for a one-book-at-a-time man.
Bone, Cal & I went on our annual Golf Outing tonight...

Napled hillocks, shaved close as fairways should, twine themselves around a horizon fading from view as the sun declines. In the middle distance mature trees dot the mercurial fairway, this elusive middle ground. I drive and putt and chip and manage to alternately find and lose this treasured real estate.

On the green I look back over the great distance spanned; the hillocks assemble themselves like graduates to “Pomp & Circumstance” and I’m non-plussed that “Par” claims I should’ve been here sooner; I listen to the bullfrogs and crickets and birds, all those natural things who have no white-ball’d compulsions and notice no distinction between green and fairway. Come to think of it, most of my drives made little distinction also.

Yet the compulsion contines, another flag is reached and conquered and another set of white tees bleat their challenge. Coming from a line of golfers, I feel the lack, as if the DNA got mishandled at conception.

I shrugged it off well enough and we got to relax and catch up at Gatsby’s afterwards. The sign outside triggered memories like an old song. Inside the memories flood; that tiny dance floor where Boris Keymon and I fought to a draw, the clusters of girls and guys clenched or hoping to be clenched, a live band accompanying air thick with second-hand smoke and proliferating pheromones.

July 11, 2003

We Have a Visitor...



Nice of ol' Reg of Disputations' fame to stop by and declare my lack of enthusiasm over the Democratic candidate for the Senate! Does Tom know you're out loose?
Ham of Bone Follow-up

Der Bone received a contract from the agent who expressed interest in him. He had someone from the Writer's Guild eyeball it and they said that it has some non-standard things in it, like requiring seven years of servitude from Bone instead of the normal two. So Bone's a lot more wary than he was yesterday and is dampening down expectations.
of Friendship & Imagination

Old Oligarch discourses vastly and discursively on why the night is better than the day...And the night, especially after a drink or two, makes us enthusiastic again that we can hop over the walls of modern anonymity and pragmatism and share souls with someone, which I believe was Plato's definition of true friendship.

Fr. Robert Hugh Benson wrote of friendship (how's that for a segue?): "Now the consciousness of this friendship of Jesus is the very secret of the saints. Ordinary men can live ordinary lives, with little or no open defiance of God, from a hundred second-rate motives. We keep the commandments that we may enter into life; we avoid sin that we may escape hell; we fight against worldliness that we may keep the respect of the world. But no man can advance three paces on the road of perfection unless Jesus Christ walks beside him. It is this, then, that gives distinction to the way of the saint - and that gives him his grotesque in the eyes of the unimaginative world than the ecstasy of the lover?)...
The day of the martyrs' victory dawned...

Read some of Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine last night and it served almost as a lectio divina for me. Deliver me, Oh Lord, from words! (Except your words! :) This book is full of acts. Novelists are constantly admonished to "show, don't tell" and reading the Gospels or reading the history of martyrs serves to show instead of telling me.

I recall the ebullient moment I chanced upon the stories of Perpetua and Felicity. Sometimes I find them in the corners of my dreams. The day of the martyrs' victory dawned. They marched from their cells into the amphitheater, as if into heaven...
           
Interesting exchange on The Corner

IS FR. RUTLER THERE? [Peter Robinson]
Just about two decades ago Rev. George Rutler received me into the Church of Rome. I adore the man--he's brilliant, witty, and (dare I?) holy--yet since he lives in New York and I in California, it's been ages since we've been in touch. But now? Well, now we're both on the Corner. Up for a question, Father?

You mention that the Church is reforming itself through "the removal of incompetent bishops." But shouldn't the National Conference of Catholic Bishops also issue an apology? I don't mean an apology for the sexual predators they've been harboring--that apology is already on the books. Shouldn't the bishops apologize for their two major pastoral letters of the nineteen-eighties? One, you'll recall, was on the economy. It was an attack on Reaganomics--at the very time when Reagan's tax cuts, restraint on spending, and program of deregulation were launching the most sustained economic expansion in American history, conferring more benefits on poor Americans than any government program could have begun to match. The second represented an attack on Reagan's nuclear policy, in effect granting the full authority of the Church to the nuclear freeze movement--at the very time when Reagan's policies were putting forces in play that would bring the Cold War to a peaceful end.

The American bishops exceeded their authority, meddled in the political life of the nation, caused scandal to thousands of devout Catholics (I have a friend who left the Church as a direct result of these pastoral letters)--and got it all wrong.

RE: IS FATHER RUTLER THERE? [Father George W. Rutler]
I have no objections at all to Peter Robinson's complaints about those defective teaching documents which were exercises in ill-advised clericalism. The pastoral letter on the economy was the work of a committee headed by Archbishop Rembert Weakland. It was thoroughly corrected, though not specifically cited, in the papal encyclical Centesimus Annus. The pastoral letter on nuclear armaments addressed a universe parallel to the real one and, had its indications been followed, there might still be a Soviet Union... I am glad to resume contact with my friend Peter. I hope that nearly two decades ago I instructed him well enough to know that adoration should be given only to God. Humans may only be objects of respect, reverence, and veneration. But if he continues to adore me, I am reluctant to discourage grassroots piety.
Bill White asks the vexing question: Dewey or LOC?
From the same quote drawer, this from the Sunday NY Times Magazine:
"I was in awe of my father's cerebral prowess. He was always intellectually trigger-happy, plus a bit hard of hearing, and the combination was deadly. If anyone happened to mention it was 'coldish' out, my father would starting bellowing Coleridge: 'Down to the sunless sea....'

During the many times he dragged us through Europe, every inscription on every doorway and pillar had to be decoded, whether from French or German, Latin or Greek. At museums he'd give the guards art history lessons. At a Japanese restaurant he'd correct a waiter's pronunciation. Even at a pizza parlor he'd order in extravagant Italian - a bit of Dante's 'Inferno' thrown in for good measure, complete with rococo arm gestures, kissing his fingers and writing in the air. It was always murder taking him anywhere."

A bit of Dante's 'Inferno'! Is that not rich!? Hi-lair-ious.

I'm incorrigible at attempting to communicate in other languages with strangers. I've tried snippets of Italian on unsuspecting Romans, said "danke schon" when a waitress at the German restaurant in Hermann, Mo. handed me a menu, said "gracias" to the Mexican lady at the local Wendy's, "Dia Duit" to the farmer out standing in his field in Western Ireland, "How!"* to the Cherokee Indian working at a fast food joint just outside an Indian reservation...
* - Disclaimer, did not say "How!". Made that up for humor's sake.
Serving Your Wedding Program Needs

I was going thru my old bin of collected quotes last night and came across these gems. In the unlikely event you need a quotation to put at the bottom of your wedding program, I offer these possibilities. Some are a little more romantical than others, see if you can tell the difference:
“When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married” – Shakespeare

“…their collected
Hearts wound up with love, like little watch springs.” – Stephen Spender

"I may chance have some odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me, because I have railed so long against marriage.” – Shakespeare

“Hasty marriage seldom proveth well.” – Shakespeare, apparently favoring long engagements

“Love is not love which alters what alterations finds, or bends with the remover to remove.” – Shakespeare (I'll have to show my wife that one)

“Neither me without you nor you without me.” - anon

“I’m getting married in the morning,
Ding! Dong! The bells are gonna chime.
Pull out the stopper;
Let’s have a whopper;
But get me to the church on time!” - Alan J. Lerner

“May God, the best maker of all marriages, combine our hearts in one” – Shakespeare

July 10, 2003

Knock me over... ...a Ham of Bone Update

I was waiting in line for lunch when an old co-worker by the name of Shelly asked me for a Bone update. I reported that he reads the IT positions in the want ads and tries to keep from vomiting - some of them read as though they should say, "must be willing to bend over"; such is life when employers are in the driver seat. Shelly has an innocence about her, a certain wide-eyedness that suggests gullibility. So when I mentioned that Bone was writing another screenplay her strenuous eye-rolling was amusing.

But just as somebody has to win the lotto somebody's gotta sell a screenplay, else we'd all be reading books instead of going to movies. Bone forwarded me an email today that was shocking - his agent contact, who he'd begged to read his screenplay months ago, suddenly out of the bolt blue sent this:

"Hi -----*,
How is the progress? I have, believe it or not, located a producer that is interested in [the screenplay]! We should talk about it if you're interested.

Peace,
Jack"


Despite (still) having never read Bone's screenplay, Jack wants to sign him up. He said he has only five clients, so Ham would get much of his time. On the phone he sounded like the cat who ate the canary, like he knew something that Ham didn't but wouldn't tell till Bone signed. Jack said, "Less than 1/10th of 1/10th of 1% of all screenwriters are sitting where you are. A head of a studio wants to read your script." Just not Jack apparently.

Bone will retain an entertainment lawyer to look over any deals, but apparently there is no cash up front to Jack (i.e. no Nigerian scammer deal where a mere $5,000 will eventually net Bone a major motion picture deal). Jack is a pure "10%'r" - he receives 10% of whatever Ham does.

The out-of-the-blueness of the offer lends credibility but I'd be curious if anyone has any thoughts on this. Just hit the ol' comment button and follow the destructions. Bone says his second screenplay is much better than his first by the way.

* -- the agent remembered Bone's name, I just removed it for privacy purposes, lest you figure out who it is and break into his house in the middle of the night and steal his screenplays.
(Update: For what it's worth, I updated the last part of this vast post because I thought it was way too vague and didn't reflect what I was trying to say. Believe it or not, that happens in blogging. )

Labels...We've Got Labels...

There is a natural drive toward division, towards distinctiveness. It is painfully exhibited at our "ultra-orthodox" (to use a label) church by women who wear veils in church shunning women who don't.

Protestants are now more likely to think of themselves as Protestant or non-denominational - in the 1950s, if asked their religion, they would say Baptist or Methodist, never Protestant. Is this bonding because the external threat - once perceived as the Methodists or Episcopalians down the road in the '50s - is now the Muslim or atheist in 2003? Or is it because they are apathetic about theology but passionate about politics? Have we "traded down" by getting worked up over politics instead of theology?

There are legit times to stand up and be counted, so it's not as easy as just ascribe everything to this drive towards division. David Mills makes this point in his book, "The Saints' Guide to the Real Jesus", where he discusses and recusses how the early Christian saints were so dogmatic about the words - the creed - and why it was so important to them. Now we're willing to just fudge the differences - we all love Jesus right? The early saints were willing to die for seeming slight theological nuances because they loved Christ so much they wanted an accurate picture of Him passed on. "It is hard for us, trained as we have been to think that every conflict is a fight over power and control, to realize that some men may have fought for truth and love."

Of course, they were saints and we're not and Mills is careful to say we probably shouldn't try this at home. He explains how the early saints were able to be neither cowards nor foolhardy folks taking joy in skewering, something he admits moderns are mostly unable to finesse.

*
the Changes of the '60s
Fr. Jim Tucker writes:
Changes [in the '60s] were swift, radical, sometimes self-contradictory, and often very poorly explained. Good changes came side-by-side with terrible ones...Most of these changes were effected by clergy and religious (who themselves didn't exactly understand what was going on), and the laity seems to have followed along with whatever Father and Sister said. It didn't take too long for people to see how arbitrary much of this was and either to ignore the religious "professionals" altogether or to follow them quite selectively...The fruits of the chaos seem fairly obvious to me: rotten for everyone....

All of these things (and the other arrangments that others come up with) are, I think, sincere attempts to make sense out of the confusion that we've had since the 1960s, even though they're not equally successful in conveying the full meaning of Catholicism.


Truth Uber Alles

If there were good changes in the Church as a result of Vatican II, that suggests that something of the truth was imperfectly understood in order for changes to have been good. Given that we believe the Holy Spirit guided the Church to Vatican 2, there is no reason not to think the changes were good, at least the changes that were specified in the documents and not simply bad interpretations. The fact that some changes were necessary suggests that the order and discipline in the Church in the '50s was acquired partially at the cost of "under-nuanced" truth. An example of less-than-nuanced truth might be the popular interpretation of "no salvation outside the church" meaning literally "no salvation outside the visible church". But that doctrine, taken in the 50s way, could possibly have produced better Catholics given that folks may've felt willing to give more of themselves to a church that was the sole means of salvation. A poor motivation compared to the pure desire of following Christ, but we do live in a fallen world. Similarly, Mormons may produce good fruits in the form of lower divorce and abortion rates even though their doctrine is haywire. But we must seek after the truth because it shall set us free.

Update: Came across this fascinating nugget from Simone Weil via Hernan's Spanish blog that seems appropo:
Dostoyevski professed a blasphemy when he said: "If Christ is not the truth, I prefer to be with Christ far from the truth". Christ said: " I am the truth ". Also he said that it was bread, that was drink; but he said: "I am the true bread, the true drink", that is to say, the bread only of the truth, the drink only of the truth. It is necessary to wish him first like truth, and only next like food.
Sandra is the Constitution

Bill O'Reilly has often called Hillary Rodham Clinton the most powerful woman in America.

Balderdash!

How can it not be Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the "swing voter" on the Court? Jonah Goldberg irreverently opines:

As Charles Krauthammer and others have noted, Sandy Baby (as John Riggins once dubbed her) is the Constitution of the United States of America. If she wants the text to mean free speech for everybody, then free speech for everybody it is. If she wants it to mean censorship for everybody, well shut my mouth!
....
And, yes, I'm exaggerating when I say Justice O'Connor can single-handedly (single-mindedly) make the American charter mean whatever she wants, but we really do need something dramatic to signal to the public that the Supreme Court is pretty much making stuff up as it goes.
Received email from a left-of-center acquaintence who said about Lee Greenwood's song, "It's not just that it's sappy cornball patriotism, it's that it's really become the Red-State Anthem, the way "Lift Ev'ry Voice" is the "black national anthem," etc. So it makes people nuts that way."

Understood. But is there a song embraced by the left that recognizes that the freedom and wealth we enjoy is on the backs of those who died, some in questionable wars but some in noble ones? I know many on the left approve of Guthrie's song, "This Land is Your Land" but I don't think that fits the gratitude bill. In fact, the final verse goes: In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple / Near the relief office - I see my people / And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin' /If this land's still made for you and me.

My sense is that many cry hysterically about freedoms not enjoyed while never paying homage to those who helped us get what we got. Gratitude is ever a hothouse flower...I recognize my own great lack in that dep't, so this is ridiculously hypocritical.

July 09, 2003

From Oprah's Book Club Page on "East of Eden".....

THE NOVEL: Timshel—Man's Ability to Choose Between Good and Evil

The main theme for East of Eden turns on the correct translation of the Hebrew word timshel, translated differently in various versions of the Bible. The word appears in the Cain and Abel story in Genesis, when God discusses sin with Cain.

What is the true meaning of this passage?
(a) God promises Cain that he will conquer sin ("thou shalt rule over him")?
(b) God orders Cain to conquer sin ("Do thou rule over him")?
(c) God blesses Cain with free will, leaving the choice to him ("Thou mayest rule over him")?

By studying the passage in the Bible, Adam Trask's Chinese servant, Lee, helps characters Samuel and Adam understand the intended original meaning in this passage from East of Eden:

"…this was the gold from our mining: 'Thou mayest.' The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin (and you can call sin ignorance). The King James translation makes a promise in 'Thou shalt,' meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word timshel—'Thou mayest'—that gives a choice. For if 'Thou mayest'—it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.' That makes a man great and that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win."

Here is the choice each of the characters in East of Eden face; as does, ultimately, every human being. No matter how deep-rooted the sin, there is always a chance for redemption. In the authoritative Orthodox Jewish translation from The Chumash: The Stone Edition the passage in question reads: "Surely if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, sin rests at the door. Its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it."

****
According to the Bible, Cain was the first murderer in history, committing a sin not only against God but against another human being because he felt unloved. After strife between man and God in Eden, here was strife between man and man; the filial bond is stressed time and again in the sixteen Bible verses, Although the Bible gives no reason* for why God chooses Abel's sacrifice over Cain's, Cain's violence is sparked by anger at the rejection of his gift, and jealousy and resentment toward his brother. As a result, not only does he kill, he lies. As punishment, he is condemned to "till the ground" fruitlessly and to be "a restless wanderer." His mark is not a curse, but a protective sign of God's enduring care. --Oprah Book Club


* -- Aquinas writes that God's love is preferential:

The good that God wills for His creatures, is not the divine essence. Therefore there is no reason why it may not vary in degree.

Everything loves what is like it, as appears from (Ecclus. 13:19): "Every beast loveth its like." Now the better a thing is, the more like is it to God. Therefore the better things are more loved by God.

I answer that, It must needs be, according to what has been said before, that God loves more the better things. For it has been shown (2, 3), that God's loving one thing more than another is nothing else than His willing for that thing a greater good: because God's will is the cause of goodness in things; and the reason why some things are better than others, is that God wills for them a greater good. Hence it follows that He loves more the better things. --St. Thomas Aquinas


Update: Kathy the Carmelite writes, "Actually, God cursed the ground as the result of Adam's sin (Gen. 3:17). Cain should have known better than to have offered God vegetables he grew from the soil!"