January 31, 2004

Ham of Bone Update

Ham of Bone continues his “interesting" life as unpublished screenwriter, an occupation I don’t recall seeing in What Color Is Your Parachute, not that I ever actually read it. Has anyone? I think it might be the most purchased but unread book with the exception of the Bible.

We had lunch at the local Irish pub, he torturing me by slow-drinking a Guinness while I sipped a diet Coke (it being a workday). He continues his life outside the corporate teat without any visible signs of distress other than the obligatory eight-day growth of beard. His second screen play is good and deserves to be produced. But that and a quarter will buy a cup of coffee since the odds of getting any screenplay made are equivalent to acquiring a winning lottery ticket, only with a lot more effort. Ham says he spent 1,000 hours working on it, an astonishing figure but probably not far off from the average blogger spends on his blog over a generous enough period of time.

Ham has shocked and appalled us with the news that he is going to purchase a $250K house (when he gets a job). He’s given up the ghost of any early retirement plans. Marriage and age have rubbed off the sharp edges of his frugality. I don’t know what to make of it; there’s still an element of shock I’m working through. Talk amongst yourselves while I recover.

In the past he’s asked, by the way, that I not blog about certain things, which surprises and interests me. Why? Because it shows that even though the anonymous public reading this blog has no idea who Ham of Bone is, he still wants to protect his ‘virtual’ image. Even behind the mask we feel vulnerable, don’t we?

A few statistics, in case you’re interested. Ham’s freedom train began on May 31st, 2003. Unemployment compensation continued past the original 6 months by another 13 weeks. He has approximately half of his generous severance package left (12 weeks pay). He’s decided to eschew law school in favor of staying with his current career choice while writing on the side.

I’ve always thought that you had to have something to say in order to be a writer, i.e. something no one else has said, something you can give fresh to the reader. But I have a feeling that if you wait for that you may have a very long wait. Not that everything that has ever been said has been said, but close enough for guvmint work. I used to think that writers ought to be extremely well-read, especially of the classics, but I think as our education system inexorably declines this will be less of a requirement.

So Bone has discovered his one true love – writing – but so far she's been a reluctant lover and he has (count ‘em) four kids. This tension, this fascinating story, is the stuff of screenplays if you ask me. Desperation lay at the lows of the X and Y axis's of the graph, where X is the cash you get from the job and Y is the satisfaction.
O'Connor and the Mick

Blame it on my Irish heritage for the morbid streak that caused me, as a baseball card-collecting youth, to check the rows of statistics of old heroes for the first sign of decline. I wanted to know the exact moment Mickey Mantle was no longer Mickey Mantle but was something less. There is something ineffably sad about the decline of heroes, sports or otherwise. It happened to the novelist Graham Greene; he admitted it matter of factly to his friend Shirley Hazzard.

I am cheered by small resurrections, by a .300 season after a bad year or two, by the smart novel by Greene in his 60s. But there is also a comfort in seeing the great not suffer the indignities. Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash on a charitable mission just after his 3,000 hit and before he could go the way of Ali. Flannery O’Connor died from lupus in her prime – or more likely just before it – and so she is in some way ever the ascendant star.

In the spiritual sphere decline may be avoided - look at Mother Teresa.
Greene. Graham Greene

Shirley Hazzard's book about Graham Greene is fascinating, both about what she says about Greene and other topics such as travel. Here are some excerpts:
Cyril Connolly sought to distinguish "between the flight of the expatriate which is an essential desire for simplification..and the brisker trajectory of the travel addict, trying not to find but to lose himself in the intoxication of motion."
She also excerpts a poem from W.H. Auden:
Out of the gothic north, the pallid children
Of a potato, beer-or-whisky
Guilt culture, we behave like our fathers and come
Southward into a sunburnt otherwhere

Of vineyards, baroque, la bella figura,
To these feminine townships where men
Are males...

        Some believing amore
Is better down South and much cheaper
(Which is doubtful), some persuaded exposure
To strong sunlight is lethal to germs

(Which is patently false) and others, like me,
In middle-age hoping to twig from
What we are not what we might be next, a question
The South seems never to raise...
I travel less than I used to which I hope it isn't due to a deadening of curiosity or a creeping provincialism. I don't think real travel includes beach vacations and cruises since they are not about seeing or learning but mostly about creature comforts, i.e. relaxation.

January 30, 2004

Various & Sundry Deux

Two Sleepy Mommies (can you believe I almost typed "My Two Mommies"?) graciously thanked Davey's Mommy for being the first to recognize them. I should do the same with Zounds, who I believe was the first to link to this blog.
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Get yer links here to the Theology of the Body.
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Interesting new book called "FDR's Folly". The author, Jim Powell, makes the surprising claim that FDR prolonged the Great Depression, pointing out that the depression of 1893 was shorter but deeper and that eleven other countries recovered from the Depression before the U.S... He claims that shortening the Depression wouldn've prevented Fr. Coughlin and Huey Long to gain audiences, or so says this author. It also strikes a chord with me because there is a parallel with our relationship with God; attempts to avoid pain by resisting obedience to Christ tends only to prolong the pain. Of course, easier typed than done.
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I'll be darned. All this time I thought Robert Bauer was being self-deprecating with his blog titled HokiePundit. But now I see from this new blog that Hokie is a school nickname. Learn something every other day. And I obviously need to brush up on my spelling.


Via Jeff Miller, natch.
Love, Love, Love

Occasionally I catch my dog doing something right. If my wife notices she'll erupt in a storm of praise and suggest I chip in. So I'll tell the dog "you're being above average", which is a dose of cold water. My wife objects: "Above average! He's the best dog in the world!"

I mention this because the easy road is to think cynical thoughts and to be "hard to impress". (My wife doesn't have this problem where our dog is concerned.) We may be tempted to think God is not only hard to impress but chronically displeased. But the tendency to anthromorphize God is a collossal failure of the imagination. To think that He loves us just a little bit more than we love him is a heresy. God is love. Now that's a concept, and one I see the Israelites struggled with.

I'm slowly ploughing through the Old Testament, thinking it a scandal I haven't read the bible through, and I've reached Deuteronomy where I happened upon a passage where the Israelites don't attribute to God neglect but actual hate:
Then I said to you, "You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the LORD our God is giving us. See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD , the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."..

But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, "The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go?"
St. Peter changes the question from 'where' to 'whom' in the NT: "To whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life."
Various & Sundry

Good link from Amy concerning the F-word.

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Plus, Ham of Bone sent me this bon mot from Goethe, Faust, Part I, on the hope of wives that a suitor's obedience to God will translate to obedience to wife:
MEPHISTOPHELES

Of all that pass’d I’m well apprized,
I heard the doctor catechised,
And trust he’ll profit much thereby!
Fain would the girls inquire indeed
Touching their lover’s faith and creed,
And whether pious in the good old way;
They think, if pliant there, us too he will obey.

January 29, 2004

Randomized Thoughts

Picked up a couple new reads at the library: "Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture" by Thomas Hibbs and "The Perfect Wife" about Laura Bush by Ann Gerhart. I started "Shows About Nothing" and I'm fascinated by the premise that we bathe in a popular culture derivative of the ideas of Nietzsche. The film "The Matrix" depicts a surface unreality - one could easily say the same of popular culture. We, like Kneau Reeves's character, need to constantly break out of our culture and stay in contact with Reality (i.e. God).

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Alicia asks just what is triumphalism? The triumphalist tendency I have to fight against is thinking I can't learn from those outside the Catlicker fold or that though they may be wrong in one area, they may be right in another.

Steven Riddle seems to see triumphalism as saying what you are thinking: "Witness the recent Catholic rash of 'Well what can you expect from a bunch of heretics' (with respect to the Episcopalian debacle). While the statement has a certain logical validity, it is a kind of crowing that simply isn't very pretty or terribly civil when phrased in certain ways."
Update: See Flos Carmeli for a clarification. I just wanted to see if he was still reading my blog.

One thing about enlightenment is that it is a privilege, not a right, like any other gift from God. I have a boundless respect for Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson even though I believe they were wrong about slavery and Catholicism. Perhaps that is part of what fascinates - holy, devout personages who missed the boat in some sense.

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Speaking of boat, I'm post-cruiseopausal. I get these hot flash(backs) of sea, sun and rum. Call it the cruise equivalent of phantom limb syndrome - sensations of sea air, recumbent reading and warm temps. But then I walk outside and my true geographical location becomes all too apparent.


Virtual reality.
Outsource This!

Amy Welborn discusses the future of American jobs. Globalization and the internet have speeded everything up; the future will involve constant re-training for many folks. It used to be that inefficiences in the marketplace would linger for decades (often preserving jobs for the short-term) but now they are immediately exploited.

U.S. programmers are dead men walking. Six Indian workers = 1 US worker in terms of cost. (My brother recently survived a 70% cut in staff (they were replaced by Indian workers)).

I understand, intellectually at least, that inefficiencies are a drag on the economy and thus drag down the standard of living. This impacts not the millionaires; they do fine in good economies and bad. We need a robust economy for those vulnerable in the lower and middle classes. But I have mixed emotions. How much is enough?

One unbridled capitalist defender (I don't have his name, only his quote) wrote to refute a Professor Wolf:

"What Ms. Wolf is really saying is that we should all stop driving each other to improve, kick back and relax, and be content with society's current economic state. The disadvantages to that should be obvious. And while Ms. Wolf is being lazy, others will be curing cancer, settling Mars and doing currently unimaginable things. But the beauty of capitalism is that Ms. Wolf can't afford to be lazy, because an innovative, hard-working individual is waiting in line for her job."

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Quality of life doesn't appear to be an issue for him. Competition might lead to 60, 70, 80 hour weeks. He goes on to say:

"Economics (and by extension education) is not a zero-sum game. There is not a finite amount of goods and services available. If that were the case, we would be no better off than the Middle Ages. The truth is that, given competition and certain freedoms, wealth actually creates wealth. And while someone may remain in the 40th percentile economically speaking, their total amount of wealth will have risen dramatically. If people aren't satisfied with that (and usually people aren't), it's strictly because of greed, and usually not out of a need for more goods and services."

Increased profits have not been passed along to the worker, at least in the form of raises or shorter work weeks, but have been delivered to the stockholders. This makes it crucial for workers to become stockholders if they want to get a piece of the pie, and this is increasingly (happily) happening. The rise of the investor class is big news and is the silver lining.

Our head downsizer recently got downsized. I wrote this (too harsh) spoof, coming from the CEO, concerning the downsizer's demise:
From: Jerry Tolensen, CEO

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. The challenges we face are daunting, and at the top of that list is the goal of meeting the arbitrary $8.95 EPS figure we thought up. We told a bunch of stock analysts in New York that we would make this number and sure, I know they are weasley types with slicked-down hair who'd sell their grandma on Ebay if they could, but we're beholden to them and not you, since you're just employee ass-ociates.

So, because of this Great Depression of earnings, I've found it necessary to eliminate Steve Blankenship's position. While Steve brought great energy to the table, we decided that eliminating his salary and perks would save a hundred jobs. I talked to Steve this morning and he was very enthusiastic about his loss. Steve told me that "the savings to the company will be fantastic. I'm really glad that you have the courage to do what's right for me by doing what's right for the company."

I think Steve's enthusiasm over getting laid off is wonderful. He truly lives the Vision!
Arrrghhh

Great Disputations post on the idiocy of voting for a pro-death politician. What really irritates me about it is this fallacy that some think the policy can be changed by their presence within the party. Pro-life voters for pro-abort candidates are enablers - no different than the wife who is chronically beaten but thinks her husband will change. What will change the husband? A zero-tolerance policy on domestic abuse and a period of separation. Similarly, battered and bruised pro-life Democrats enable bullying NARAL types to have their way within the party. If the party began shrinking due to the life issue, believe me - it would change!

You already see it on the gun issue. Gun control used to be a major issue in the Democrat party. But Al Gore lost Tennessee and other southern states and now you don't hear a peep from any Democrat about it. They're even flirting with nominating a NRA sanctioned candidate (Howard Dean) for goodness sakes.

As Catholics we believe we have the True Faith, the fullness of the sacraments. Our vision should be greater; we should be leaders. It is tragic that the reason we still have abortion on demand is due to us. Yes us. Because if 75% of Catholics (instead of 50%) were pro-life, it would swing almost every election towards the pro-life candidate. The fault, dear Brutus... I don't blame Howard Dean. I don't blame the village atheist. I blame the fact that Catholics can't even vote enmasse concerning the great moral issue of the age. It's putrid and disgusting.
A Year in Grovetucky

This book deserves to be read just for its title. "A Year in Provence" indeed. How about a year in Grove City? Grove City is a nearby suburb that has acquired the reputation of being "hillbilly-ish". Its moniker is "Grovetucky", the "tucky" coming from the state to our south. Kentucky is looked down upon by Ohioans, since every state has to find a neighboring state to feel superior to. One of the side effects of Original Sin.

Btw, I don't think I've played the "What is killing my shoulder today?" in awhile. Let's see what the bookbag contains:
* Hazzards' "Greene on Capri". Graham Greene fascinates me. He was an admitted bad Catholic but said something like "you think I'm bad, see what I'd be like without the Church."
* Chesterton's "Varied Types"
* Ham of Bone's 2nd Screenplay entitled "-- (if I say, he'd have to kill me)
* De Sales' "Introduction to the Devout Life"
* Boswell's "Life of Johnson"
* Cussler's "The Sea Hunters II" (Did you know the ship that saved some of the Titanic passengers later sank?)
* Twomey's "The End of Irish Catholicism?"
* The Florence King Reader
* Theroux's "Dark Star Safari"
Don (of Mixolydian Mode) and Steven Riddle have listed some books they consider "comfort literature", an idea I'd never thought about before. What books do you turn to for comfort or an escape? Mine would include humor - not to steal Don's idea but Flo King is the pluperfect example because when you're down you want her type of misanthropic humor. Others might include Thoreau's "Walden", Carter's "The Education of Little Tree" (save your emails, I know about the author), Foote's Civil War books - actually anything about the Civil War; I'm strangely comforted by Lee & Jackson & Lincoln & company. I mean to read more about Longstreet - a Catholic convert!

January 28, 2004

National Review Excerpts

Lots of good tidbits:
Tucker Carlson may look too young to have written a memoir, but we can be glad he did. Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News (Warner Books, 208 pp., $24.95) is perhaps the funniest political book of the year — and I mean laugh-out-loud funny. A number of times, while reading this book, I practically gasped: Doesn’t he know he’s not allowed to write this stuff? What makes Carlson such a valuable conservative voice on CNN is his courageous willingness to resist all forms of political correctness — conservative as well as liberal. When he defends Gary Condit as a victim of the media’s “sexual snobbery,” and a man “deeply wronged — by the press,” it becomes impossible for lefties to dismiss his scathing criticism of (say) Bill Bradley’s speeches as merely the predictable squawking of a partisan hack. This book is strongly recommended for anybody who likes politics — or just likes terrific stories, engagingly told. -- MICHAEL POTEMRA

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I don't believe there were any speeches at the actual "ceremony," but there's been plenty of retrospective commentary about the nuptials of Mrs. Jason Allen Alexander, previously and subsequently Miss Britney Spears. Miss Spears had a night on the town in Vegas and woke up the next morning married to Mr. Alexander, the latter having neglected to observe the niceties by formally asking Miss Spears's management and record company for her hand in marriage. A judge stepped in and sorted it out, and the bride was restored to the status quo ante. --MARK STEYN

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The encounter between faith and reason remains a central problem for man as he tries to come to grips with reality in its fullness. Political philosopher Thomas L. Pangle addresses this issue in a challenging manner in his most recent book, Political Philosophy and the God of Abraham (Johns Hopkins, 285 pp., $39.95): "If the Bible is true, then what is called for above all is obedience to the biblical God as simply authoritative. Philosophy as such — so long as it remains true to itself — cannot wholly surrender to such obedience, but philosophy can strive to understand what it might mean to do so. . . . The danger for us today is that we remain at too great a skeptical distance ever to enter into such a dialogue . . . and therefore we risk wallowing in longing for God instead of grappling with God — as Jesus and Socrates, each in his radically different way, teach us to do."

Much of the book is devoted to a close reading of key passages in the first half of the book of Genesis. The fall of man in Genesis 3 involved the first couple's decision to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil; great minds have wrestled for millennia with the question of how a just God could have viewed the pursuit of knowledge as bad and unworthy of man. Pangle suggests that in the divine perspective this is simply not man's proper calling: "Insofar as the Bible presents the knowledge of good and evil as demonic, it does so out of a recognition that to seek to know adequately what is good and evil necessarily entails a quest for an autonomy that is not compatible with obedience in any strict sense." Man's struggle after the fall, therefore, involves seeking "the path of the self-conscious submission or trammeling of independent judgment that is implicit in genuine obedience. We must in mature judgment decide to become again as children." Of this kind, Pangle points out, was the trust of Abraham when he showed himself willing to obey God's command to sacrifice Isaac. --MICHAEL POTEMRA
Atlantic article

I'm sort of surprised that praise for Dr. Laura is coming from the Atlantic and not, say, Focus on the Family magazine:
She's a fishwife and a bit of a kook, a woman given to comically dramatic changes of heart and habit, but Dr. Laura gives some of the best advice about marriage and family life available on the radio, or perhaps anywhere in popular American culture. I say this somewhat wearily, for it is no easy task defending this woman.
Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts


Nothing says colonial authenticity like turquoise vinyl upholstery. - Lee Ann of Literarium, reviewing 'The Encyclopedia of Homemaking Ideas' by Barbara Taylor Bradford

One of the advantages of blogging less frequently is that I’m back to more disciplined reading. - Jeff Culbreath of El Camino

If we're condemned under the Law, how can its precepts rejoice the heart? Because the simple fact of the Law is proof of God's love. The Law of Moses proved God's love for Israel; its fulfillment in the Person of Jesus Christ proves God's love for all of us – that is, for each of us. It seems to me this is the better way to understand sin. We do not overcome sin in order to become close to God, but because God is close to us we desire to overcome sin. Tom of Disputations

Gaillardetz's proposals for an "authentic" apologetics are very much like Hillary Clinton's suggestions for "responsible" talk radio -- they ignore the fact that, given a choice, people will listen to what is really important to them, as opposed to what their betters have decided should be important to them. In what might serve as a museum-piece of liberal imperviousness to irony, Gaillardetz comes up with a program guaranteed to act on his conversation partner like a tranquilizer dart, and then calls it "dialogical." A dialogical apologetics will not shy away from enthusiastically presenting an account of the Catholic faith, but it will do so with an openness to genuine dialogue and an eschatological modesty that acknowledges that the church does not so much possess the truth in its doctrinal formulations as it is possessed by it. We all remember that famous exhortation to the Corinthians given by the Father of All Apologists, when he'd been asked whether one should follow the cult of Demeter, the laws of the Jews, or the commandment of love in the New Covenant: "Woe to me if I fail to employ condign eschatological modesty in acknowledging that the church does not so much possess the truth in its doctrinal formulations as it is possessed by it!" And of course we all remember the Corinthians' response: Zzzzzzzzz. -Diogenes of CWR

You've got to give up a lot to be content in life. - blogger at "It's nice to have a few memories"

I value eccentricity. An eccentric is usually just a personality who's refused to grow neatly along the trellis of bourgeois life. Catholics are generally eccentric, although we don't think of ourselves that way. – Secret Agent Man

I remember reading a statistic that estimated that two billion rosaries are said around the world in a single day. I was the only one of my friends who was impressed by that figure. Everyone else just mumbled something about the huge number of nuns and monks who have to pray the rosary everyday, and didn’t get the point I was trying to make. That point is that it is one thing to pray a daily rosary all by oneself and in private, and a whole other thing to pray a daily rosary along with millions of other Catholics all over the world. There is only one thing that can top the devotion it takes for one person to shut out the tumult of the world in order to be alone with Mary; that is the devotion it takes for the world to shut down its own tumult in order to honour Mary as one. Anyone can receive the beautiful grace that is the former, but one has to earn the right to the latter. Since we do not live in a Catholic world any longer, it is the first grace we receive in abundance and so it is private devotion that we know. - Enbrethiliel of Sancta Sanctis

I'd better say something clever quickly: Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor is quoting my commenters rather than quoting me. (Also spelling my name wrong.) I'll try to think of something. - Henry of Plumbline in the Wind (Btw, orginators of quotes appearing herein are not compensated. This blog is an exhibition, not a competition. Please, no wagering.)

Most truly great art comes out of a tremendous struggle of the artist. Either interior or exterior. Much of the success of art deals with struggle and resolution. It's one of the reasons that I readily acquiesce that my very favorite school of poets isn't particularly successful. Imagists don't often record a struggle. Where is the struggle in Mallarmeacute;'s "Faun" or Rimbaud's "Le Bateau Ivre?" - Steven of Flos Carmeli

That all 20-22 year olds are idiots is a practical truth apparent to most people who are no longer 22 years old. There's no more shame in this than in the fact that toddlers aren't good jugglers. It's simply the nature of us time-bound creatures to start out as idiots, and these days a college education only exacerbates it. - Tom of Disputations

I shall start a magazine. The clergy will not be allowed to subscribe...I shall call it. . . "The Laity's Home Journal". - John of The Inn at the End of the World
Happy Feast of St. Thomas

 In philosophy, the Thomist revival was probably this moderate aggiornamento's most striking achievement. Outside the Church, St. Thomas and the scholastics had for centuries been treated as philosophical non-persons. But by the 1940s, sixty years after Leo XIII's call for the restoration of Christian philosophy, the situation had been completely reversed. Thinkers like Gilson and Maritain had forced even die-hard adherents of the 'religion equals superstition' school, represented by Bertrand Russell, to admit that St. Thomas, even if wrong, was a figure of world stature.
- Philip Trower, "Turmoil & Truth"

...And...a St. Thomas poster.

January 27, 2004

Long Black Train Lyrics

Recent country song...
There's a long black train
Coming down the line
Feeding off the souls that are lost and crying
Tails of sin only evil remains
Watch out brother for that long Black Train

Look to the heavens
You can look to the skies
You can find redemption
staring back into your eyes
There is protection and there is
peace the same burn in your ticket for that
Long Black Train

Cause there's victory in the Lord I say
Victory in the Lord
Cling to the Father and his holy name
and don't go riding on that long Black Train

Theres a engine there on that Long Black Train
making you wonder if your ride is worth the pain
he's just a waitin' on your heart to say
let me ride on that long black train

but you know there's victory in the Lord I say
victory in the Lord
Cling to the Father and his holy name
and don't go riding on that long Black Train

Well I can hear the whistle from a mile away
it sounds so good
but I must stay away
that train is a beauty making everybody stare
but its only destination is the middle of nowhere

But you know there's victory in the Lord I say
victory in the Lord
Cling to the Father and his holy name
and don't go riding on that long Black Train

I said cling to the father and his holy name and dont go ridin on that black train
yes watch out brother for that long black train
the devil's a ridin that long black train.
Hmmmm.....

Saw Wesley Clark cheerfully holding a "I'm Pro-Choice" sign for the cameras, while Kerry and others fall over themselves trying to get to the left of the abortion issue. I realize you have to run to the left to win the Democratic nomination, just as Bush had to run to the right in '00, but there seems to be more pride on the pro-death side. Bush didn't mention the pro-life issue during the State of the Union speech, and I don't recall him holding any pro-life signs. I thought the presidency was supposed to be a bully pulpit? Wouldn't it have been great for the President to have made an appearance at the Right to Life march on the 22nd? Wouldn't it be awesome to see Republican candidates trying to get to the right of each other on the pro-life issue? If the country is split 50-50 on the issue then it seems the Republicans should be less sheepish about it.
Mary and Haiti

The cruise sparked a strong interest in Haiti...this book looks interesting, but it's not at our downtown library and I'm not in the mood to spend money. For obvious reasons. The alcohol on board wasn't cheap.
Spot the Oxymoron!
Presbyterians for Sharpton
Rastafarians for Bush
Coptics for Kucinich
Catholics for Dean
Wahabis for Lieberman
Arians for Kerry
Anabaptists for Edwards
Yes, Catholics for Dean.
On Planned Parenthood.
Politics

Well the scream heard 'round the world carried to our boat in the Caribbean. The stateroom, as they call it, had a TV in it and we got a couple channels including CNN (did you know that there are only 57 TVs per 1,000 Haitians? I like Haiti more and more.)

The scream I'm talking about of course is Howard Dean's at his post-Iowa defeat party. He finished third but I sat slack-jawed watching him, thinking this was Clinton taken too far. Clinton, if you remember, lost the New Hampshire primary in '92 to Paul Tsongas but simply acted like he just won it. He called himself "the Comeback Kid" and apparently forever taught losers of primaries to act as though they'd won and perhaps fool some of the people into thinking they actually had.

But this went way too far. Clinton, master politician that he was, always had that deft touch. Dean, finishing third, apparently thought he had to ratchet up the enthusiasm another twenty notches. Can you even imagine if he finished fourth or fifth? The poor man'd have a heart attack.

In Dean's long litany of states, I noticed he mentioned Ohio twice. Ohio is the uber battleground state, with arguably with more electoral votes up for grab that any state in the union. How so? Because Texas, New York, California are all done. NY & CA would vote for the Democratic candidate even if the Dems nominated a dead person. Texas will obviously go for the home town boy. Florida and Ohio and Michigan are the states to watch.

As far as Kerry's remarkable comeback, well I may be eating crow. I'd thought he was deader than the undead, especially when he cheesily drove a Harley on to the set of the Tonight Show. Ono must be happy; I haven't checked his website in awhile.

It's ineffably sad how bad the Democratic field is from the perspective of the life issues (as Michael Dubriel mentions). Chris Matthews refers to the Republican party as the daddy party and the Democratic party as the mommy party, but daddy is spending us broke and mommy wants to kill the kids. Disfunctional parents the both of them. Dick Army says that conservatives are too enamoured of facts and not enough of emotion and liberals too enamoured of emotions and dismissive of facts. But you can't get much more emotional than a partial-birth abortion. Rule by the heart ought to include defense of the unborn - you would think it a natural Democratic issue. They claim they are for the "little guy", for the underdog. Don't get more underdog than the defenseless baby in the womb, does it? Oh - that's right - babies can't vote.

January 26, 2004

Philip Trower Excerpt (from "Turmoil and Truth")
Completing our trio of quasi-modernist movements was Americanism...It could be described as the absorption by the American Catholic mind of the dye of the secular American spirit. The quintessential element of the American spirit is, presumably, the belief that every man is as good as his neighbor, that there are no difficulties he cannot surmount by himself if he is the kind of man he ought to be, and that he needs no help from outside authority. It is the independent, practical, self-sufficient spirit of a pioneering people, which in the right place is admirable. But in the raw, it is not easily reconciled with Catholicism and the spirit of the Gospel.

Leo XIII explained what he saw those dangers as being in his apostolic letter, Testem Benevolentiae to Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore. They were: making good works the heart of religion, rather than obedience, humility and union with God; downplaying the role of grace; and the idea that certain aspects of faith and morals should be adapted to suit the culture of each people. He had previously warned the American hierarchy against taking the American constitution as the model for relations between Church and State always and everywhere. Separation of Church and State was not to be considered the ideal. The best state of affairs was when a people was religiously largely of one mind, and as a politically organized body acknowledged and worshipped God according to the one true religion.
For the bibliophile.

January 25, 2004

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…a tale of a fateful trip

We arrived at the airport just before 6 am and the flight was painless – the soft cacophony of voices, the drunken fog of sleepiness, the disembodied voice of the pilot. You feel like a child again when you're on a plane, like you’re on a bus ride, the flight attendants are the “adults” who bustle by you and serve you like your mother did when you were sick. We arrive to the blinding sun of Miami, Florida. Is there a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, held captive too long by Old Man Winter? The sun is discomfiting; too faux, too ripped from context.

Before long we are in our cabin and I’m sitting on the balcony in the the G-force winds smoking a cigar. All horizon, all the time, a sea broken by whitecaps. Call me Ishmael. I am Mogli, raised by the sea. This balcony is a wondrous thing. At Hilton Head, the balcony over looking the ocean has a view that never changes, but here every day you wake up expectantly to see what the port of call looks like, pre-tooth brushing and still in underwear. Cruising does have its moments. No wonder William F. Buckley is so enamoured by it, although his sailing is to this cruise as hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail is to a walk in the park.

Cruises force you to make time to do what you’d really like to do, once you run out of things you think you should do. After the obligatory exercise and morning ablutions, there is, at some point in the long afternoon, a joy. This came today at the adult pool, “adult” not for pornographic reasons but because it is farther from the rockin’ music. I was buoyed by Philip Roth’s “The Human Stain” and by our location, which was mercifully far from the endless drum beat of the music at the main pool. The music was fine the first hour – how would I know that I’m on a cruise without hearing, “Hot, Hot, Hot!”? – but unaided by much alcohol the music wore. I popped in a CD – instant bliss. Twenty-two Marian hymns by the choir at the National Basilica. When the sopranos take it up a notch in “Hail Holy Queen” it’s all goosebumps. I look over at the Asian gentleman across from me and he’s reading “Deconstructing Schizophrenia”. I wonder how relaxing a read that can be. His wife is reading a mystery novel. Roth’s prose is so seamless that you forget you’re reading him, or reading anything for that matter. There’s something self-effacing about it – he disappears behind the story, unlike with Updike. Updike is often so lush and poetic that you never really forget you are reading him; it’s like trying to forget you are watching Jack Nicholson play someone other than Jack Nicholson.

The ship has its share of the very attractive. My wife notices a beautifully built woman and mentions that fact. I’m not sure why after the resurrection glorified bodies have to be wonderful bodies, such as the ones we had at 25 or ones we potentially could’ve had at 25. I think it would be wonderful to look through the eyes of Mother Teresa, eyes without prejudices. An ugly person would be completely without stigma in heaven, perhaps the greater exalted for it. But also you would want for the ugly person to receive a beautiful body as part of their recompense.

First Stop: Nassau

Our first morning was Sunday and they fortunately celebrated Mass on board. In fact, Mass was every morning thanks to the presence of a priest. The first port o’ call was Nassau, Bahamas where I walked/jogged around the city both for the exercise and to see more. My wife went shopping with her friends; shopping is an anathema to me. The guidebooks had warned not to go on the “other side of the hill”, the hill being at the heart of downtown. I wasn’t sure which side of the hill they meant until, of course, I got there. Then it became immediately apparent. Mean streets look mean anywhere. I wasn’t sure I wanted to ignore the guidebook, but I ran down the street anyway coming to the old 1885 church St. Francis Xavier, where Mass was going on for an impressive 90+ minutes. And it was packed to the rafters. Amen.

I liked the Mass times sign:

Mon: 7am Tues-Thurs – 7am Fri: 7am
...along with the less regular weekend Mass times.

I peaked my head in a window of one of the many doors of this large church and saw many, many very well dressed folks. Blacks tend to dress for church better than whites, and Nassau appeared to be no exception. Since I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I couldn’t go inside though I was invited by the usher. I waited outside awhile and listened to the music. At first it was as though I were standing outside a Baptist chuch in Harlem. No “Amen’s” and “Hallelujah” ejaculations but the singing was right there, with a little bit of Dixieland jazz thrown in (I realized later that came from the presence of a saxophone in the church ensemble. There was a LOT of music in this Mass. Mostly music, in fact, punctuated by words instead of the typical words punctuated by music. But after this unfamiliar tune I suddenly hear the words of the creed: “There is one God..” recited fervently and without affectation and it was melting, this Church universal. These were my brothers and sisters in every sense, including their incipient reception of His Body and Blood, creed and sacrament.

Sunday Night
This ship really gets the details down right. Our room has curved shower doors that form a half-capsule when closed. Huge full length windows in the topside deck bathroom allow you to easily imagine engaging in every guy’s primal desire – to pee in the ocean. But the main thing is the easy availability of food, really an astonishing thing. Oh for my youthful metabolism. Today I interrupted my sunning for a late lunch by simply grabbing a bowl and filling it with grouper and salmon and taking it back up to top-deck. It certainly feels free, although we paid for it a couple of months ago. (The price was reasonable because we put a deposit on it about 9 months ago aided by discounts.)

The variety of foods offered at lunch is jaw-dropping. I went on a cruise in ’87 and I recall nothing like this. There is an amazing lack of scarcity. I constantly pass ice-cream cone dispensers and the hassle-factor in having one infinitely approaches 0. I’m amazed at my own restraint. I only eat one all trip.

Irritations of varying degrees nip at the vacation; a sense of disorder pervades. The routines, rhythms, and small disciplines vanish – in a moment you forget to return your eyeglasses to their case, sticking them in your pocket instead. Moments later you pull them out, broken. (Okay. I broke my glasses. “You” would be presumptuous in assuming my folly is the norm. I scotch-taped up the glasses as best I could. Arrgghh.) You misplace your cruise-issued towel at some point between lunch and the stairmaster and you get charged a cool $20. Arrgghh.

Twenty-five mile an hour winds today; folks in their 70s lay in it for hours, placid as though in the eye of the hurricane. One fellow wears a NY Yankee cap and I figure it must be superglued to his head for it not to be blown off. I see the eldery Sox fan and think “Stoic, Frugal New Englander”…i.e. “I paid for this trip and bygummit I’m going to enjoy it!”. The sun comes and then goes. Our watches are so helplessly derivative, as if they have any intrinsic meaning. On a vacation, where the sun is the raison de etra, clocks derive what power they have strictly from the sun’s time piece.

After dinner we went to one of the on board shows. The entertainment was light, but enjoyably light, like key lime pie. They also have these improvisationalists circle around the ship doing things that bordered the surreal. One guy, dressed as a plumber, went around with a toilet plunger randomly plunging the floor. Another sprayed room deodorizer after guests pass, as if they smelled.

Dinners
Our dinner companions were better than expected. At the table of eight, four I didn’t know before the cruise. One couple was from Ohio and one from Boston, Mass, and they were as different as ice from fire. The Ohio couple, at least the guy half, was very easy-going and easy to get along with. The girl was sort of a live-wire. She didn’t get along with the Boston guy. The Boston couple was older, about 60 years old, and they have been on 19 cruises (“2 every year – we don’t want to leave anything behind”). Chuck was very opinionated and brash, exactly what you would expect from a blue collar Italian guy from the east coast. Very quick-witted, he made the dinners infinitely much more interesting. Having met him three minutes before, he made it clear he was very much against this war in Iraq and said he couldn’t stand Fox’s news coverage of the war, which he said was biased. Didn’t like Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly (although at a later dinner called him ‘brilliant’). Perhaps we “looked” conservative, how else to explain this preemptive strike? Best I could tell about his politics is that he’s a Democrat except on taxes. Told us how bad it is in Taxachusettes. Has to go up to New Hampshire to buy things (since they don’t have sales tax). Both he and his wife were full-blooded Italians. The closest we came to discussing religion was that his wife mentioned that he’d wanted to be a priest when he was little and my wife interjected that all Catholic boys want to be a priest when they’re young.

Marie tended to finish Chuck’s thoughts a lot, after which he would invariably heave a long sigh and say, exasperatingly, that he threw his voice, ala a ventriloquist.

“Are you finished?” he asked her.
“You should know if she’s finished since it’s your voice you’re throwing!”

This Is Your Cruise Director Speaking...
I’m unduly fascinated by our cruise director, mainly how he can be so enthusiastic cruise after numbing cruise, saying the same things, making the same jokes (“Man, are you folks eating or what? I found a white suit lying on the dining hall floor. Oh no, I said, they’ve eaten a waiter!) . You can’t fake enthusiasm, can you? He appears ageless, a cross between Dick Clark and Pat Sajak. Can a game show host afford to have the dark night of soul? Is the unexamined life so bad? Saw him leaning on a post outside the San Juan pier. I thought how different it would seem if he were smoking a cigarette, as if that would seem cynical. Cigars, less addictive, seem to lend more detachment.

St. Thomas
Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering St. Thomas and the Virgin Islands during his second voyage to the New World in 1493. I assume it was named for the apostle and not Aquinas; I wonder what either man’s reaction would be to the plethora of “St. Thomas’s” across young girls’ backsides.

Today we did the “Bob” excursion. “BOB” stands for breathing observation bubble, basically an underwater scooter with a bubble helmet. You go eight to ten feet down and tool around. The problem with such a device is that I like to be in control of my breathing situation. I’m far too fond of oxygen and don’t like the scarcity principle applied to it. I’ve never felt a moment’s dread in an airplane, but for some reason I just wasn’t enjoying BOB so I got down to the bottom and then said I was ready to come back up. I snorkeled happily. Snorkeling seems a fine activity. God never intended for man to be eight feet below the surface of the ocean for very long if’n you ask me.

As luck would have it we were filmed by a crew from NBC. They say we’ll be on the Today Show some time within the next 2-3 weeks. My wife enjoyed BOB more than me and was interviewed. I hope she makes it on TV, although it’s embarrassing for me. The Captain thanked us for being here, for without us he’d have to get a real job. Industry seems light here on St. Thomas. Andy Rooney, hardly an authority, says that the colder the climate, the more work gets done.

Back at the cabin, I notice a man in a tiny coast guard boat floating about. How contemplative an existence! The only thing close I could think of is maybe a forest ranger during off-off season. How different his life must be, constantly sitting in a boat in the sun.

I can’t get enough of looking over these hills from the private balcony. Verdant, conical hills like green pyramids bedecked with white houses with Santa Barbara-ish red roofs. Sailboats sit in the harbor maintaining a proper British distance. Amphibious planes happen by. The sun lights up everything exquisitely. For some reason, I recall postcards sent by a penpal when I was in grammar school of her fjord in Norway.

Age may be the determining function for your location on ship at any given time:
<30 – at the main pool, with the band in front of you and the bar behind you
30-50 – at the quieter adult pool
>60 – upstairs on the private balcony (i.e. cruise as floating retirement community; assisted living, heavy on the ‘assisted’)

San Juan
Today was San Juan, and the day was hotly glorious. After a night of gastric distress, I stumbled to 8am Mass and then read until 10am at which point the group headed on a shopping excursion on the mean streets of San Juan, mean on your wallet that is. Store after store after store of jewelry and arts and crafts and t-shirts. Fortunately after an hour of this my wise wife and I bolted and explored the Old Cathedral of San Juan. Lots of side altars, one of which was being used for Mass. I bought a beautiful Marian t-shirt in the nave after exploring the undercroft which included a couple of fake bodies of saints under glass coffins, the sort of thing my evangelical wife finds creepy and strange. I try to explain that this was the style of 19th century Catholicism. The bloody crucifix was much blooder and gorier than perhaps any I’d seen – but how is it different than Mel Gibson’s upcoming movie, which, by all reports, is extremely bloody and gory? Doesn’t it take blood and gore to get our attention? Is this part of what Flannery O’Connor meant when she said you have to shout to get the attention of deaf people?

We walked down the florid streets of pastel buildings to the old fort of San Juan. Built in the 1700s as a defense, it played a role in the Spanish-American war. The Spanish built a small chapel to St. Barbara, which was hit by an American shell but didn’t explode, leaving the altar intact.

As we pulled out of San Juan harbor after a painfully short day (we had to be back on board by 1:30), for fifteen minutes or so a tiny coast guard vehicle clung to our side like a barnacle. Touching. Like an offensive lineman being guarded by the 90 lb kicker. Goodbye San Juan, we hardly knew ye. We shoved off and at once the blue desert, billiard-smooth, re-asserts itself.

I recall disparate books about the sea I’d read like William F. Buckley’s sailing books and Steven Callahan’s remarkable Adrift, about his seventy-six days lost at sea on a five foot inflatable raft. And always John Masefield's Sea Fever:

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume and the sea gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gipsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife,
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.



At dusk the clouds look like islands as the sun leaves behind phantasmagoric aurora borealis-like lights. It’s only by concentrating that I consider we could be vulnerable out here in the middle of the Caribbean. The life boats seem like needless precautions, but then that’s what they thought on the Titanic.

Vacations teach you to “look” again – to see. When everything is new, such as a foreign port of call, looking “pays off” and you begin to notice more with begets noticing more. I notice the little sea light about the door of the balcony and the carpet and fine wood railing. And I notice the wording above the bathroom toilet: “Please do not thrown foreign objects in toilet bowl”. I make a mental note to make sure only domestically-made objects are thrown in said toilet bowl.

*

At dinner, the conversations deepen. Chuck tells us of his near death.

Self-disclosure is a tricky thing. Too much, too early and it seems a desperate thing, or it cheapens it. Self-disclosure by an author, whether in fiction or a memoir, seems respectable by virtue of it being his profession (a poor analogy might be disrobing for a doctor). Self-disclosures in blogs tends to be more disreputable, but I’m not sure why it matters whether you or not you are being paid for something.

So it came up in conversation, and he was initially reluctant to tell us of his disease, still obscure to me, that almost took his life. It was five years ago and he couldn’t move or respond but he could hear the doctor tell another doctor that in 12 hours it’d be one way or the other. 50-50 chance. Imagine hearing that and knowing that in twelve hours you’d be either alive or dead? If I understood correctly, he had a cyst on his intestine wall the size of his fist and if it had broken he’d have been instantly dead. So he was lucky to even be at the twelve-hour point. You always hear “if one more” or “if this had happened” and they’d be dead, and it never gets old because by definition the teller of the story has come through it. Dead men tell no tales.

Chuck mentioned how his father would drink like a sieve – wine, of course, as a good Italian, but also an obscure drink that starts with a ‘b’. We marveled at how much that generation drank – his father’s, my grandfather’s. Functional alcoholics, I’d say, with a tinge of envy. Their world was far harder than mine though, so I don’t begrudge them. I knew someone who was given the stark choice of “the drink”, as the Irish call it, and a wife. She gave him an ultimatum shortly after he proposed marriage – either me or the booze. To his credit, he was honest and chose the booze. To her credit, she stuck to her ultimatum. People were tough then. He died young, in his 50s, and his sister was distraught but heard his voice. “Don’t mourn, don’t be sad,” she swears she heard him saying, “it’s wonderful here.” As witnesses go, she was solid gold. Didn’t touch liquor, ever prayerful and religious without a touch of sentimentality. Visions and voices from beyond are only as believable as the trustworthiness of the witness, I guess.

Chuck and I also talked about the near slave labor conditions of the crew. We did win the lottery, as the Pearl Jam song goes, by being born in the U.S.. Six months of twelve hour days, seven days a week. Then two months off. Then six more months, 12 by 7. Ouch. (When do they go to Mass?) Our waiter, 35, has been doing it for five years. A look at where our wait staff comes from – the Philippines, Columbia, and Jamaica, is pretty much a statement on the poverty of those countries. An out-of-date but perhaps still ballpark indicator shows 1989 per capita income at $1,200 for Jamaica, $710 for the Philippines. The U.S. was at $21,000.

Labadee, Haiti
Haiti wasn’t what I expected it to be, but then we really didn’t see much of the “real” Haiti. Labadee is a private Caribbean resort, a little fenced off edge of the island. I jogged around the perimeter, feeling like a zoo animal. Just beyond the fence sat a couple of Haitians, surely wondering why this fool was jogging in the noonday heat. I wondered what they were doing; what is it like to have all that time and be patient enough to sit around with nothing to do? The world is divided into readers and non-readers, and non-readers must entertain themselves more easily. What is it like to be unemployed on a tropical island, rather than employed in frigid Ohio? From the ship you could see the tiny village of Labadee, a little collection of brightly colored and greatly weathered homes nestled in the bay and humbled by the great green mountain/hills above and beyond them. To call it picturesque doesn’t begin to cut it. I could’ve gazed at that bucolic scene all day.

Villagers get to sell arts and crafts from inside the resort, presumably a prime source of income for residents. There were three main flea markets, and the selling was aggressive, to say the least, at the first two. But at the third all was calm. I asked why there was no selling pressure and was told, “we’re always here – they have to take turns.” The difference was striking – overweight, sunburnt Americans and black, gaunt Haitians, mostly men in their late 20s, who would do everything to get you to look at their stall of little statues and cups and souvenirs. “Sir!”, “sir!” erupts when you turn a corner.

At the end of the day the ship sailed away from the newly empty resort as a little boat of workers sped back to their village. One waves at the huge ship and we wave back. Another goes to the aft and windmills his arms in exhilaration. At being done with work? At success in sales? Just because he’s alive?

The music as we pulled away from Labadee was, for once, wonderful. It was Latin but quietly soulful, which finally matched my metabolism and internal rhythms. The cruise was ebbing away, as was Haiti. Let go mon, a cruise is a series of goodbyes, and leaving Haiti was hard. That primitive impulse, always latent, gets triggered by scenes of utter simplicity like this mountain village. Jay McInerney put it in “Bright Lights, Big City”:

"You tell her there are so damn many things on your mind. You can tell her the date of the Spanish Armada, but you couldn't even guess at the balance of your checkbook. Every day you misplace your keys or your wallet. That's one of the reasons you're always late. It's so hard just getting in here every morning, let alone remembering all that you're supposed to do. So many little things. The big things - at least the big things declare open combat. But these details...When you are engaged with the main army - then to have these niggardly details sniping at you from the goddamned trees. Along the windows, the potted plants form a jungle skyline, a green tableau of the simple life. You think of islands, palm trees, food-gathering. Escape."

Of course, their life is neither as simple as I think and much harder than I can imagine. Goodness and purity come not from without, but from within, and that is what is ultimately attractive about anyone, be they city or rural folk.

Last Rites
An island off the coast. It’s Cuba. It’s also the last day at sea, so there’s Guinness, a ‘sippin’ drink’ and sun and reads. After Mass and the morning jog, the latter which feels exhibitionistic (I’m not used to running around a track around which lay two hundred supine bodies), I have time for books and music. I liberally read from Philip Roth, finish both Paul Collins’ “Sixpence House” and Philip Trower’s wonderful “Turmoil and Truth”. While reading Roth, I try to understand what is so horrible about “the American Puritanism” that he, or his character, appears to think is so bad. He is writing about the Clinton’s problems with Lewiniski, and he sees it of a piece with political correctness, seeing no difference between Kenneth Starr and William Bennett and Barbara Walters and Joyce Brothers. He claims it’s as though Sinclair Lewis had never existed and “Babbit” had never been written. I recently read an interview with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and he reacted in the same way – totally incredulous that Clinton could be impeached for oral sex. I just don’t get that they don’t get that it was about the integrity of the law and not about sex. When Clinton lied to the American people, that was something he would have to answer for to the voters and to God. But when he lied under oath and committed perjury, even after being given a heads up (i.e. senators told him that this was the time to step up and tell the truth) – he still didn’t. It was the perjury part that naturally unsettled the lawyer/politicians in D.C., because a nation is based on laws. No one considers how you murder someone particularly relevant. The crime of murder is just as bad whether by knife, gun or strangulation. That Clinton’s perjury was over sex seemed incidental, the mere instrument of perjury. Given that he would never face jail time or anything other than losing two years out of eight years as President of the United States, it would seem a very small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. But he ended up being impeached without losing office, something which no one should have reason to complain.

The lounge chairs on deck are arranged tighter together than two Sicilians at a family reunion. To my left – major snoring. I sleep farther away from my wife than I was lying next to this stranger. My wife, on the right, thought it funny.

Various
The “midnight buffet” proves that people crave ritual. How else to explain it? You’ve eaten 17 meals in 5 days, gone thru 3 packs of Alka Seltzers and yet you line up for a midnight feeding? I don’t get it. I can only assume that the very first or second cruise included an ice sculpture as an excuse to eat and every cruise since pays homage to this frozen calf with shrimp cocktail.

My theory is that cruises are devilishly attractive to women because they are constantly on diets of one kind or another and a cruise allows them to “eat like they’ve never eaten before”. I’m not that enamoured of food (Guinness is another matter). I’d have gladly skipped many of the lunches and dinners for sun and beer.

Men go for the gambling, the excuse to drink, and the food they don't get at home. No wonder cruises are so popular. They appeal to both sexes, and that’s not something you can say of everything. They also take all the work out of a vacation, something both men and women can appreciate. Your room is cleaned 3 times a day! I’ve got to buy stock in Royal Caribbean. As the population ages, this will be a huge boon to the industry since cruises attract an older demographic. Remember where you heard this. As always, buy low and sell higher. Uber-cruisers get addicted. One couple was at 101 cruises (yes, one hundred and one cruises) and another at 41. The couple with 41 currently cruise a dozen times a year. Over $25 grand a year. On the bright side, I’m sure there grocery bills are painless. Who wants to eat after a cruise?

After a few hours of head-banging music and close quarters with snoring girls, it’s nice to be on the private balcony again. This ten feet before me contains our own piece of the horizon, peaceful as our own backyard. Whatever Stockholm Syndrone there was seems to abated; the sun no longer feels faux. This sea that God covered 3/4ths of the earth with is strikingly beautiful. Why didn’t I bring something by Kipling? I wonder where the plank is on this ship, and if it’s suitable for walking. The clouds come and allow only a shaft of light to get through, under which a ship passes gloriously, wearing a diadem of rays. The last day at sea is a time to be grateful.

Last Hour
I surface top-side, one last time and find a ghost town. The stairmasters are riderless, the calypso band has disbanded. I pop in an Irish CD briefly but the songs sound sad, even the happy ones. It’s time to head home.

Plane Ridin' Home
The Da Vinci Code was everywhere. It seems like a cult book to me, sort of like “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” was a few years ago. The girl across the aisle is reading it and the flight attendant walks by and notes approvingly, “I loved it! I think I liked “Angels and Demons” even more. You’ll have to read that. The Vatican—“

She was interrupted by someone and when she turned back to the girl across from me she didn’t finish whatever she was going to say about the Vatican...

THE END

January 16, 2004

Cruise Bound

No blogging next week, as I'll be doing the cruise thing. Elinor wrote on Henry Dieterich's blog, "I've always considered it rash for anyone to try to get through the winter in Michigan - I told Cacciaguida that if he went to teach at Ave Maria Law School they'd have to pay him enough to enable me to have a HUGE greenhouse." Perhaps, but I'm leery of creeping conspicuous consumption and paying for warm weather in January is that writ large (although I suppose we could always find a cheap hotel on the Redneck Riveria, aka the Gulf Coast). Standards of livings can change in an instant and I'd rather not grow accustomed to fine cigars instead of Swisher Sweets. People older than I swear that as you age the cold winters affect you more and more adversely (hence the senior's migratory path to Florida). The problem is that any accommodations near warm weather resorts will explode in price as the baby boomers begin retiring, which will begin enmasse in 2010. As ill luck would have it, I came down with a fever Wednesday and I've been since battling it valiantly (as in 'copious sleep') to become seaworthy tomorrow. Pass me the aspirin and anti-nausea meds.


Honey, please pass the Guinness

* * *

In their autumn
they collect pains
trade with friends
taxiderm 'em
to the kitchen wall.

* * *

It's always a risk to judge motives, but maybe part of the reason that some leftists so demonize conservatives is because they have to in order to assuage guilt for voting for pro-choice candidates. If George Bush is the master of all evil, then abortion can be seen as a lesser evil. People loathe two things today: a) being seen as a hypocrite (i.e. inconsistent on their political issues, for example), b) any sort of cognitive dissonance.

*

My stepson used to be liberal on pretty much all issues, but then he went to college (OSU) and majored in Econ. Now he's to the right of me on fiscal issues. I think I got whiplash, he changed so fast. He suggested journalists who write about economics ought to have studied the subject. I agree.

* * *

Received a spam advertising for a carpal tunnel cure. Inflict it, then cure it 'eh Mr. Spammer?

* * *

Amusing

* * *

Poetry -- Ted Hughes
I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,

Not a leaf, not a bird,--
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

Till the moorline--blackening dregs of the brightening grey--
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:

Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys, in the red levelling rays--

Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.

_____


In that echo-gaunt weekday chancel I see you
Wrestling to contain your flames
In your pink wool knitted dress and in your eye-pupils--great cut jewels
Jostling their tear flames, truly like big jewels
Shaken in a dice-cup and held up to me.
Irish famine artwork

Interesting Review of...
The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke (With Surprising Solutions That Will Change Our Children's Futures)

Harvard bankruptcy-law professor Elizabeth Warren and her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi report that the feminists' coveted "two-breadwinner family" has, in practice, brought the "dance of financial ruin." Back in 1981, a mere 69,000 women had their names on bankruptcy petitions; by 2001, over 500,000 women did. Bearing a child has now become "the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse." Married couples with children are more than twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as their childless counterparts.

Two-breadwinner families, it turns out, are simply awash in debt. In 1981, savings made up 11 percent of average personal income, and credit-card debt 4 percent...Overall, inflation-adjusted credit-card debt rose from $10 billion in 1968 to a staggering $600 billion in 2000. Nearly half of American households are near the line where turning to bankruptcy makes good economic sense.

How did this happen? Warren and Tyagi argue persuasively that mass "over-consumption" is not the problem. Americans actually spend proportionately less these days on items such as food and clothing than they did in the 1960s. Instead, the authors point to the unintended consequences of sending 20 million American mothers to work. Rather than gaining more disposable household income, families saw real wages for men decline: the predictable result of more laborers pursuing the same number of jobs. Day-care bills and higher marginal taxes combined with the costs of a second car and swollen restaurant bills to absorb a good share of the mothers' new income. The higher nominal incomes of two-earner families also led to a fresh "bidding war" for nice homes in good suburban school districts, sending mortgage costs soaring.

Most important, the oft-derided stay-at-home mother proved to have been the true "safety net" in American life. When her husband suddenly lost his job or became seriously ill, the homemaker was there to find employment and protect the family living standard. Or when a child or elderly parent suddenly needed special care, the homemaker was again available to serve, without any loss in family income. Contemporary two-income households have already built their budgets around their full potential earning power. When the unexpected strikes — a layoff, a debilitating illness, a divorce — financial disaster looms...

[The authors] claim that "no one really knows" why working wives are 40 percent more likely to divorce than their stay-at-home counterparts. In fact, Gary Becker won a Nobel Prize in economics for explaining why: A married couple in which both spouses work outside the home has sacrificed the specialization of labor (i.e., breadwinner and homemaker) that gives real economic gain to their marital bond. The authors argue that "no one saw [this new situation] coming," a statement belied by even a casual look at Phyllis Schlafly's written work from the 1970s. --ALLAN CARLSON
This is Much Better

See Tom's Google Ichthus Index. Doing it as a percentage is a much fairer way.
Venerable John Henry Newman, via Quenta Nârwenion:
"And if you are conscious that your hearts are hard, and are desirous that they should be softened, do not despair. All things are possible to you, through God's grace. Come to Him for the will and the power to do that to which He calls you. He never forsakes anyone who calls upon Him. He never puts any trial on a man but He gives him grace to overcome it. Do not despair then; nay do not despond, even though you do come to Him, yet are not at once exalted to overcome yourselves. He gives grace by little and little. It is by coming daily into His presence, that by degrees we find ourselves awed by that presence and able to believe and obey Him. Therefore if any one desires illumination to know God's will as well as strength to do it, let him come to Mass daily, if he possibly can. At least let him present himself daily before the Blessed Sacrament, and, as it were, offer his heart to His Incarnate Saviour, presenting it as a reasonable offering to be influenced, changed and sanctified under the eye and by the grace of the Eternal Son. "
Via St-Ignatius-Loyola.com & Maine Catholic:
Coffee ... Probably the only food discovered by a monk and officially approved by a pope. According to legend, coffee was discovered more than a thousand years ago when a friar in an Arabian convent noticed his goats prancing on their hind legs after eating berries from a wild coffee plant. He tried the beans himself; soon afterwards a new medicine was born.

Drinking coffee for the sheer pleasure of it didn't come until years later ... and it didn't come without a fight. Sold in popular coffeehouses known as "penny universities" and "seminars of sedition," coffee was denounced by devout Christians as "the devil's brew" and outlawed by secular authorities who saw it as an intoxicating beverage that led to "discussions of rebellion and slander of those in power." Church opposition finally ended in 1594 when Pope Clement VIII tried a copy and liked it so much that he baptized it. "We will not let coffee remain the property of Satan," he announced. "As Christians, our power is greater than Satan's; we shall make coffee our own." -- http://www.st-ignatius-loyola.com's Catholic Trivia page
St. Ignatius of Loyola Converstion Story  after falling ill...

In order to divert the weary hours of convalescence, he asked for the romances of chivalry, his favourite reading, but there were none in the castle, and instead they brought him the lives of Christ and of the saints, and he read them in the same quasi-competitive spirit with which he read the achievements of knights and warriors. "Suppose I were to rival this saint in fasting, that one in endurance, that other in pilgrimages." He would then wander off into thoughts of chivalry, and service to fair ladies, especially to one of high rank, whose name is unknown. Then all of a sudden, he became conscious that the after-effect of these dreams was to make him dry and dissatisfied, while the ideas of falling into rank among the saints braced and strengthened him, and left him full of joy and peace. Next it dawned on him that the former ideas were of the world, the latter God-sent; finally, worldly thoughts began to lose their hold, while heavenly ones grew clearer and dearer. One night as he lay awake, pondering these new lights, "he saw clearly", so says his autobiography, "the image of Our Lady with the Holy Child Jesus", at whose sight for a notable time he felt a reassuring sweetness, which eventually left him with such a loathing of his past sins, and especially for those of the flesh, that every unclean imagination seemed blotted out from his soul, and never again was there the least consent to any carnal thought. His conversion was now complete.
Search for St. Therese

Was reading "The Search for St. Therese" by Rohrbach, and he makes the interesting point that canonized sainthood is incompatible with a neurotic mind. Pope Pius XII wrote that "Christian sanctity in a soul is inconceivable if a man does not start out with a healthy mind, well balanced in its activities." Rohrbach writes that the crucial problem of spiritual directors and confessors is to determine whether an intensive religious program is valid and genuine or an unhealthy withdrawal from the real world. Very often it can only be seen in hindsight. He also quotes Fr. Vaughn as saying the "fundamental aspects of a neurotic personality - self-centeredness, anger and hostility in dealing with others, inability to have concern for values beyond himself" - are "incapable of heroic virtue." "It is difficult to see how a religious could attain all the aforesaid virtues to a heroic degree, and thus be worthy of canonization." St. Therese, of course, was shown to be not neurotic at all but a true saint, arguably the greatest of modern times. Today's gospel, Mark 2:1-12, suggests a great hope for those not blessed, that those who are stronger will pray for the weak. Similarly at every every Mass we ask God not to look on our sins, but on the faith of His Church. We are not alone.

The book also convinced me that I shouldn't write about personal spiritual matters, especially graces. When one of St. Therese's novices, Sister Marie, asked permission to write her memoirs that she might record the graces God had given her, Therese promptly refused. "It's better to keep the record of God's favors in your memory than put them on paper," Therese said.

* * *
From the Tablet's Christopher House:
Newman did not intend merely to be antagonistic to Protestantism, but as a man much interested in the workings of his own mind, he had found to his delight that Catholicism was the key that turned in the lock of the prison of the self. He then noticed how matter-of-factly his new co-religionists took supernatural truths of astounding importance. He observed the queue for Confession in a Catholic church and found that “they seem to have no shame, or solemnity, or reserve about the errand on which they are come”. In another part of the church “there is a feeble old woman who first genuflects before the Blessed Sacrament, and then steals her neighbour’s handkerchief, or prayer-book…She kneels because she believes, she steals because she does not love.”

Such awe-inspiring prospects of salvation or damnation, played out in the lives of ordinary peccant people who simply accept their reality, were to give the novels of Graham Greene, and to some extent those of Evelyn Waugh, the tension of “spiritual thrillers”.
* * *

William F. Buckley has recently made available online his interesting thoughts in reaction to an earthquake in Turkey some years ago (originally published in his book, "Nearer, My God"):
The God of the random earthquake, as one might here put it, should not expect reflexive love, except by those who tabulate the odds. I promise I am not about to say that everyone who on that Sunday morning was not victimized by an earthquake figured that, on the whole, God was doing all right. No, but I would say to myself: the Christian needs to begin his adjudications by acknowledging an infinity of gratitude for being alive and a candidate for perpetual life. Ivan Denisovich in the cold horror of the Arctic labor camp felt a rush of gratitude on that day when fate conspired to give him an extra ounce of bread. People I saw on a visit to Lourdes were happy, and, in their perspective, grateful. Christianity asks that we cultivate the love of God. Some do so, one supposes, primarily out of fear. Christians know that God is to be feared, for He is the dispenser of eternal punishment. It is a common psychological phenomenon that those whom we fear we can also love; even as Ivan the Terrible was loved, or, for that matter, Josef Stalin. In analogous circumstances, they call this the Stockholm Syndrome, love-thy-jailer.

Why does God desire - command - love? Because His benefactions are critical to day-by-day living and must be lovingly besought?

Is there, in such prayer, an element of sycophancy? (Sycophant: "A servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor by flattering influential people.") A committed Christian seeks to be servile to God. He seeks to win favor from God. God is an influential figure. Here is a fine example of a secular definition inapt when applied to God. Sycophancy, whether before headmasters or emperors, is deplored. But the word is meaningless, is it not, in thinking about God?

* * *

Does reality, illuminated, generate love? That is not unreasonable, to love the person who sacrificed so much. But as we move from deduction (why we worship) past the hindrances of reason to ecstasy (why we love), then an element of mystery enters (why does it happen to Alice and not to Beth?), as also of grace (why has Alice the buoyant pleasure of spiritual life, and Beth not?). In a television exchange with Malcolm Muggeridge we arrived at this point: What comes after deduction? He answered,

"The deductive process is the means, but faith is the motive force that takes you there. It's exactly like ? Bill, it's exactly like falling in love. You see another human being and for some extraordinary reason you're in a state of joy and ecstasy over that person, but the driving force that enables you to express that and to bring it into your life is love. Without love, it's nothing; it passes."

One knows what one should feel, why one should feel so, and how light is our effort alongside the exorbitance of Christ's example. Still, sometimes it is easier to do with eyes closed.

* * *
So: we come to rest with the mysteries. We have the wonderful tabulation of them done by St. Augustine. In agreeing that that is what they are, we are not violating the rule of Ronald Knox to prefer mystery to vagueness. We do not abandon reason, we merely recognize its limitations. We reason to the existence of God, it is revealed to us that His Son was the incarnation, and that such was His love of us that He endured a torture excruciating in pain, and unique in aspect ? the God of hosts, mutilated by His own creatures, whom He dies forgiving, loving. Can we do less? Yes, we do less, but must die trying to do more.
“God always loves us first and, with the blood of his Son, has already paid the price of our redemption. ” - Pope John Paul II

January 15, 2004

Oops

...something happened on my way to righteous indignation. Bill of Summa Minutiae writes:
Here's the website for the Sisters of Mercy, which scores a 75 in the Jesus Christ Google category.

So I checked a web site I came across yesterday, one that had quoted approvingly Raphael Bidawid's "There are no words left to condemn this use of force against the weak..." concerning the enforcement of "no fly" zones over Iraq. This in a nation which displayed the pluperfect symbol of force (Hussein) versus the weak (Kurds). I played the Google game and was unsurprised by the sad 6.

To be fair I googled my own site. I can now only assume there is a Google search engine error, because I received a very paltry 4. I tried Disputations, btw, and he came in with 15. That seems low for him. Bad Google, bad!

Update: My searches on the Blogspot domains were incorrect. Scoring for my site appears to be 19 and Tom of Disputations at 133. Bill of Summa Minutiae was off the charts with 879.

January 14, 2004

Hie Thee

To Steven Riddle's excellent post on the artist and responsibility, including a nice quote from Jacques Maritain.
Excerpt from Chesterton's "Varied Things"
Thomas Carlyle has his faults, both as a man and as a writer, but the attempt to explain his gospel in terms of his "liver" is merely pitiful. If indigestion invariably resulted in a "Sartor Resartus," it would be vastly more tolerable thing than it is. Diseases do not turn into poems; even the decadent really writes with the healthy part of his organism. If Carlyle's private faults and literary virtues ran somewhat in the same line, he is only in the situation of every man; for every one of us it is surely difficult to say precisely where our honest opinions end and our personal predilections begin....Where [Carlyle] failed was not in belief in God or in belief in themselves; they failed belief in other people. It is not enough for a prophet to believe in his message; he must believe in its acceptability. Christ, St. Francis, Bunyan, Wesley, Gladstone, Whitman, men of indescribable variety, were all alike in a certain faculty of treating the average man as their equal, of trusting to his reason and good feeling without fear and without condescension. It was this simplicity of confidence, not only in God, but in the image of God, that was lacking in Carlyle.
Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts


Flannery O'Connor's "The Habit of Being" is possibly the most important book I've read (other than the Bible) in my LIFE! - commenter Kath on Amy's blog

It has been noted that ironically, the motto of the abortion movement has been the same as the words of Consecration - "This is My Body" - but what a difference between the way Jesus says it and NARAL says it! -Alicia of Fructus Ventris

I just saw a stat that said 43% of living American women today have had an abortion. - Therese Z. on Henry Dieterich's blog

According to Madonna, the greatest risks facing the United States today include not terrorism or the Axis of Evil but "a total lack of consciousness."   Wake me when it's over. -Mark of Irish Elk

If we only understand mercy, say, as something useful -- to us, if to no one else -- then we don't understand God's mercy, and we can't really be merciful as God is merciful. Because mercy is of no use to God. It's just what He does. We benefit by being merciful, because we are imperfect and being merciful toward others brings us closer to perfection. God, though, is already perfect. He didn't gain anything by sending His only Son into the world. He can't gain anything; there's literally nothing for Him to gain, Who created all things. -Tom of Disputations

What happened to the Bad Catholic? Was Dr. Tom More the last one? (And if you need that explained see "Percy, Walker") It's not just the politicians - it's all of us, from bishops on down. - Amy Welborn

Like the rest of the developed world, America is not replacing its own population. If it were not for both legal and illegal immigration, we would have a negative population growth. Alan Greenspan described the consequences: “[T]he aging of the population in the United States will have significant effects on our fiscal situation. In particular, it makes our social security and Medicare programs unsustainable...”... We are lucky. Europe faces an even worse situation, and her immigrants are primarily Muslim, not Catholic. Fifty percent of Dutch children, for example, will be born to Holland’s Muslim immigrants by 2020....In short, don’t panic. They’re Hispanic. Thank God. -Steve of Fifth Column

It's not just paintball.....it's Christian paintball! One of the odd cultural differences between Catholics and Evangelicals is that Catholics seem not to have it in their DNA to want to Christianize things that, well, don't really need Christianizing. I'd be more or less happy to play secular paintball and then go to Mass afterward and say, "Thanks for the paintball game, Lord." - Mark Shea

Yes, different people play different parts in the Mystical Body of Christ, but no one is assigned a passive role. - Tom of Disputations, (although nipples appear to play a passive role in my body - sorry Tom, I couldn't resist.)

When people fall, they pass the animal kingdom on the way down. This is Walker Percy territory, specifically his premise in The Thanatos Syndrome that if scientists could isolate and then suppress that part of the brain, which "governs" the conscience, then society, could do away with the psychiatric profession, since so much angst is a direct consequence of guilt. I believe boomers have come awfully close to achieving such an end, the explosive proliferation of licit and illicit psychotropic drugs no doubt helping them along. When parents put their own feelings above all other considerations are they not attempting to leapfrog their consciences? I recall hearing from somebody who, having gotten married late in life to a woman half his age, decided to have children because he felt he had been a selfish person all his life. At first glance, his decision would seem to be altruistic, even admirable. But I’m not so sure. Hasn’t he, too, fallen into a trap, i.e. bringing a child into the world so he might feel better about himself? I wonder how the child of such a man might feel years later to realize he had been put into the world to provide therapy for his parent? - Robert Bove of Spinsters

The moral life is spiritual worship. - Catechism of the Catholic Church, via Spinsters blog
Bwaa haaahaa! I have the king of all scrabble blog names. Sighted various places.

Pholph's Scrabble Generator



My Scrabble© Score is: 64.
What is your score? Get it here.

January 13, 2004

Via Chris of Maine Catholic

Isn't the term "anti-ageing beer" redundant? It seems to have prevented a few grey hairs for me, at the risk of extending adolescence.
CWR Article Deux

The essay "Active Participation in the Parish" in Catholic World Report by Rev. Jerry Pokorsky is excellent. He asks the interesting question: "When the West underwent the cultural revolution of the 1960s, in which all authority was destabilized, could we have expected the Mass to emerge unscathed - even without the reforms of the Second Vatican Council?"
While Protestants insisted that faith is the cause of the Church, Catholics too often responded in flawed juridical terms. The words of institution, for example, became a "mere exercise of power over the Eucharistic Body of Christ delegated to the priest by the Risen Christ through apostolic succession." Consequently, "a distorted set of ecclesiologies" emerged, "the one lacking history and sacrament, the other authoritarian and voluntaristic." [The latter a theory that regards the will as the fundamental principle of the individual or of the universe.]

The neglect of the Church's covenantal nature has taken its toll. Large segments of the hierarchy...resort to juridical secular solutions in almost every aspect of their public statements. (It is noteworthy that the institutional 'solutions' proposed by the US bishops for the sex-abuse crisis are almost devoid of anything religious.)

A collapse of this magnitude could not happen without a good deal of decay. The problem clearly predated the Second Vatican Council...Is it possible that many in religious communities were held in a perpetual state of adolescence by their superiors using needlessly authoritarian measures? How else can we explain the widespread adolescent behavior that was so demonstrable after the Second Vatican Council?

Fr. Keefe believes that only the covenant - with its "full communal and personal dimensions" - "permits Catholics to perceive the full sweep of the union between Christ and his Church without falling into the juridical trap."...Love, not power, is the foundation of the covenant....Legalism and the rejection of law are simply two sides of the same coin of clericalism.