November 28, 2008

Bank Regs & Somalis

This story caught my eye, in that it's an illustration of the way the world works and I'm not sure how it could've played out otherwise:

Terrorists inflict carnage on a level not previously imagined (9/11). Regulations added to require money-transfer services to track where the money is going. (Good idea.) Banks drop money transfer services as too expensive as a result of regulation. (Understandable reaction to regulation.) Somalis can no longer send money back home. (Unintended tragic consequence.)

I think it illustrates a couple things. One is how crucial it is for economies like Somalia's to develop so that it doesn't have to rely on outside money. (Mexico is in a similar position.) But that requires a lack of corruption, an entrepreneurial spirit and the rule of law.

Second, since the great majority of Somalis are Muslims, you might think this would provoke a greater sense of urgency against their jihadist Muslim brethern. But it will likely work in the opposite manner: outrage against the U.S. for taking away money-service lending services!
Give an Inch, Take a Mile

Cloning Woolly Mammoths sounds unbelievably cool, right? Well, next up Neanderthals. Darwin Catholic has the story. A post-Christian culture inevitably takes things too far.

November 27, 2008

Eucharist Means Thanksgiving

Interesting link from the Pontifications blog of a Lutheran perspective on the nature of faith and sacraments. Lutherans, Catholics and Reformed were mentioned, but unfortunately no mention of the other lung of the Church, the Orthodox...

November 26, 2008

Fiction for a Wednesday
It was 1963 and I was working undercover for the London Underground. February 26th began like any normal day. The first hurdle was getting through the revolving doors.

As a subway agent I was given access to the secret tunnels but a certain percentage of colleagues would get stuck in the revolving doors because of poor card timing. I got stuck myself once. You have to swipe the card and then wait for "accepted" to appear on a small computer screen (the Underground was ahead of its time). But many would swipe their cards and then enter immediately without waiting for the verification. The doors would slam, shutting you inside the little glass cocoon, helpless as a fish in an aquarium. Ever afterward your breath would catch in suspense in those long two seconds before the door breached the other side.

Beyond that was warmth and coziness. Ten steps to your left there were banquet rooms, semi-ornate by the usual standards. They held appeal just for the fact they never seemed to be used. I'd always peer in as if in hopes of catching someone with their feet up reading a novella.

About twenty yards later there was the cafeteria that held within it donuts and coffee, or coffee and donuts as is colloquially known. Comfort food. There was a newspaper stand at the entrance with the pleasing sensation of print and I'd scan the headlines. Sometimes I'd pick one up, like the day "The Flying Scotsman" in its British Railways guise as No. 60103 made its last scheduled run before going into the hands of Sir Alan Pegler for preservation.

Once inside the cafeteria - on that Februrary 26th day - I was ineluctably drawn to a fabulous new creation, something I'd not seen in the previous ten thousand days spent working undercover at the Underground.

It was a holistic in its wholeness and its roundness, a sight for sore eyes as it sat there unassumingly on a table full of other delectables. The label read simply "Cinnamon Rolls - £2" but it looked like one continuous cinnamon roll to me, a sort of bundt cake with white icing gushing from peaks and crevices like a circular Alpine range.

An impulse purchase, it sat on my desk at the Underground for approximately 52 minutes untouched. Was the scent of vanilla in the air my imagination or did it escape the confines of the tightly sealed container? I opened it, rather noisely it seemed, annoying co-workers. The white icing was as nectar, a taste that combined the freshness of a May dew with the sweetness of those German castles along the Rhine that look almost fake...

(To be continued later, I'm too hungry...)

November 25, 2008

Various & Sundry

Today is the memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, who was removed from the calendar in 1969 and placed back in 2002. Here's a link announcing the eleven new celebrations of that year:
....the Most Holy Name of Jesus (Jan. 3), St. Josephine Bakhita (Feb. 8), the Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima (May 13), Ss. Christopher Magallanes and companions (May 21), St. Rita of Cascia (May 22), Ss. Augustine Zhao Rong and companions (July 9), St. Apollinaris (July 24), St. Sarbel Makhluf (July 24), St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (i.e., Edith Stein) (Aug. 9), the Most Holy Name of Mary (Sept. 12), and St. Catherine of Alexandria (Nov. 25).
I particularly like that St. Rita of Cascia (May 22) was added.

* * *

This, from Eric Scheske, is the sort of thing that I really like. The opinions of the long departed can be shown to be dead wrong -- or dead right. More so than present prognosticators which is partially why I've been reading the Orestes Brownson biography; a prophet is interesting. And I like the opinions of giant figures of the past on the subject of religion. In the link above we read of D.H. Lawrence's views and Mr. Scheske's reactions.

* * *

For our "so many books, so little time" file: this book about Irish immigrants looks intrinsically interesting.
* * *


"Laugh In" was sort of the SNL of its day and the producers there wanted William F. Buckley on the show in the worst way, eventually saying he could say anything he wanted, could control the edit, etc... WFB's eventually went on, but his initial response was telling (from "Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription"):
In re Mr. Schlatter's kind and terribly amusing invitation, my answer is not notwithstanding the admiration I feel for his program. I would rather be a comedian than a teacher, but it was not meant to be, and by dressing in the robes of the former, I diminish my usefulness as the latter. I hope Mr. Schlatter understands. At any rate, please give him my best. As ever, Bill
Now Republican politicians feel the need to play the comedian - it's a bit of a cliche now for McCain & Palin to have their turn on SNL. Bending to liberal media outlets may show flexibility and a generosity of spirit or may shown an embarrassing tendency to suck up to bullies. I report, you decide.

* * *
Another excerpt from the Bill Buckley book: A high school correspondent asked
1) Why is there war? 2) How far out does the universe go? and 3) What happens after you die?
Buckley responded:
1) Because people disagree. 2) Twice half way. 3) I will go to heaven. I don't know where you will go.
         

Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion. - Robertson Davies

Though [Gerard Manley] Hopkins scrupled over his love of nature-infused poetry (wondering whether the art was suspect for its worldliness and emphasis on delights of the senses), his instincts were correct. As Hans Urs van Balthasar wrote in Seeing the Form, “The resurrection of the flesh vindicates the poets in a definitive sense: the aesthetic scheme of things, which allows us to possess the infinite within the finitude of form (however it is seen, understood, or grasped spiritually), is right.” - John Murphy in Godspy via "For Keats' Sake"

Last year The Passion of the Christ film was shown throughout the Muslim world to overflowing theatres. Never before had any Christian medium impacted the lives of tens of millions of Muslims. Missionaries in the Middle East rejoiced that more people had seen The Passion in a single day in their city than they had been able to show the Jesus film in the previous four years of full-time missionary work! While the Jesus film was illegal and could only be shown secretly, at great risk, The Passion was being openly screened in the shopping mall cinemas! This, taken along with the phenomenal response to SAT-7, a Christian mission broadcasting Gospel programmes in Arabic throughout the Middle East, is also unprecedented. - Rolf of "Western Civilization and Culture"

Anthropomorphism, or the search for a human face, is a common theme in the history of man....The human person desires to look upon the world with awareness and to feel the look of the real gazing back upon him and her with sentience. This profoundly human desire should not be brushed aside like a gnat, but should be recognized as a sign, something which points us beyond itself. And where does this sign point? Only those who take it seriously will discover. - Frederick of "Broken Alabaster"

God is everywhere, but that doesn't mean we always see Him. God is like subtext. Sometimes we don't see the subtextual forest for the textual trees. - Sancta Sanctis

Mr. Brende makes mention of a tribe in Africa whose members work only 2-3 hours per week to live (gathering nuts and berries). The rest is leisure time. The trend is there: the more (and more advanced) technology that a society has, the more the members have to work to maintain it. There is a balance between being enslaved by our desire for comfort provided by technology and the nut and berry gatherers mentioned herein before. Each of us must decide that balance for ourselves ... - Jim of Bethune Catholic

Green movement is gangrenous: Presumably named after the chlorophyll-based color of living plants, the Green Movement has told those same plants to prepare for a permanent diet of less carbon dioxide. - RB of Social Engineer

I chose to interpret my new habit of daily Mass attendance as a sign of long-awaited spiritual maturity at best and a sneaky attempt to strike a bargain with God at worst; but Antony saw through my crap immediately. Nevertheless, a good two weeks passed before he managed to convince me that I wasn't just innocently meditating on Scripture. What I was really doing, you see, was turning the Liturgy of the Word into my personal oracle. As Mark Renton would say, my dependency simply shifted from straightforward divination to a backwards approach to the Mass. Divination is a habit. (Perhaps all sins are, if we commit them regularly enough.) In my youth, I fell into the habit of treating everything as some kind of sign; and apparently I haven't dug myself out of it yet. - Sancta Sanctis

It is important to observe that nowhere does Holy Scripture speak of call and election in a negative way, as though God deliberately chose not to call some human beings to salvation—as though some human beings were somehow outside of God’s love and care. Call and election are always spoken of in positive terms in Holy Scripture, never negative terms. - - Patrick Henry Reardon of "Touchstone"

Last night someone told me that the rumor sailing around DC is that George W. Bush will become a Catholic upon leaving office. Anyone else heard this? Will definitively establish us as a church of sinners! - Margaret Steinfels at Commonweal reminds me why I don't read Commonweal; via Terrence Berres

I have noticed that intelligence does not make it easier to keep the needs of the heart foremost. If the intelligence that I have does not help me be more faithful then I doubt that great intelligence will either... Something else is needed, and the Church calls this something grace. It occurs to me that the notion I have of grace is amorphous, vague: a cloud, a force, something interior or psychological. But Scripture and Tradition insist upon angels: intelligent agents that are unfailingly faithful to the will of the Father. I look again at the visible world: the wild variety of plants and birds and life: the diversity of human forms and temperaments. Why should not the invisible world be every bit as articulated and diverse as this? ... A Boy Scout in the woods recognizes the great diversity and order of life — he knows the names of things. If I feel that grace is amorphous and vague, then likely it's from the same cause: I never bothered to learn the names and seasons and order and in short, I lack familiarity with grace. - Frederick of "Broken Alabaster"

I recall one of my Scripture professors in the seminary, a man who had struggled heroically against alcoholism and won, saying that the Psalms provide a better study in human emotion than anything we find in the writings of Freud. - - quote via Dylan of "dark speech upon the harp", author unknown

Blessed O Lord and these my gifts which we are about to receive from my bounty, through Christ Our Lord. Amen. - prayer of seven-year old Joseph, son of Michael Dubriel & Amy Welborn
Dude needs food stimulus package.

November 24, 2008

Street Painting Juliet

Cuong Nguyen says:
"Last year in San Rafael, California, I painted a portrait of actress Olivia Hussey, an actress best known for her Golden Globe-winning role as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I have loved Olivia Hussey since I was a little boy and I was lucky enough to meet her in person last April in San Francisco. I promised her that I would do a portrait of Juliet at the San Rafael festival, and the painting turned out great and I got lots of compliments from the viewers."
Stocking Stuffer Suggestion

I got this book for my mom for Christmas and starting enjoying it my own self. It seemed especially apropos after watching 24:Redemption last night, a movie set in Africa with a plot very reminiscent of what happened in Rwanda.

ISI's Civic Quiz

I tied brother Bill, with 31 of 33. (Missed numbers 29 & 33.) It appears that we the general public are weakest in our understanding of economics, no surprise there. And no surprise that the Puritans were misunderstood by 81% of the public.
No Public Schools for the Obamas

I certainly don't blame them for making that decision, since it's what I or anyone else in their situation would do, but it seems to highlight the disingenousness of his opposition to vouchers. From the WSJ:
Michelle and Barack Obama have settled on a Washington, D.C., school for their daughters, and you will not be surprised to learn it is not a public institution. Malia, age 10, and seven-year-old Sasha will attend the Sidwell Friends School, the private academy that educates the children of much of Washington's elite...

Mr. Obama says he opposes such vouchers, because "although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom." The example of his own children refutes that: The current system offers plenty of choice to kids "at the top" while abandoning those at the bottom.

November 22, 2008

McCain's Campaign

There never seemed any "there" there, that is in the McCain campaign. Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review examines:
The type of campaign McCain ran eliminated whatever chance he may have had left. Liberals spent the fall pretending that it was the nastiest campaign ever, in part to justify their own abandonment of the senator, over whom they had previously fawned, for Obama. Almost all of the McCain campaign’s attacks on Obama were fair game, as were a few it did not make. (If McCain thought that keeping silent about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright would protect him from charges of racism, he rather badly misjudged.) But the campaign lacked substance, particularly on domestic policy, which neither McCain nor his running mate, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, seemed particularly interested in or knowledgeable about.

While McCain’s campaign rarely stuck to any message for very long, federal spending was a policy issue about which McCain did get passionate. His central economic message for most of the campaign was that he could be trusted to control spending. Most voters would like the federal government to spend less in general (while favoring spending more on nearly every specific program any politician proposes). But spending cuts will not lead to any direct improvement in middle-class Americans’ well-being, and McCain never even bothered to argue that it would help them in the long run.

Much of the time McCain made an even narrower argument: He would eliminate earmarks from the federal budget. A lot of conservatives have come to hate earmarks in principle. Their elimination is not, however, a major priority of most voters.

For the most part, McCain adopted the most unimaginative possible Republican agenda on taxes: Keep the Bush tax cuts, and throw in a reduction in corporate tax rates too. There was not much for the middle class there, especially since the Democrats had already pledged to keep Bush’s middle-class tax cuts. McCain gave Obama the opportunity to present himself as a tax reformer for the middle class.

When McCain had proposals that could appeal to middle-class voters, he never made anything of them. His health-care plan would have made insurance more affordable, increased coverage, and given individuals more control and, especially, the ability to take their insurance with them from job to job rather than depending on their employers. But McCain rarely explained the plan’s benefits or defended it against Obama’s many misleading attack ads. In the middle of the fall campaign, the senator’s aides made major changes to the plan, as though to emphasize how lightly they took the whole issue. His tax plan would have increased the tax exemption for children. But neither McCain nor his aides presented his proposals as a program to help the middle class, and indeed McCain repeatedly bungled his descriptions of the tax exemption. The McCain campaign wasted the months between the effective end of the Republican primaries and the end of the Democratic ones. What if McCain had spent that time establishing himself as someone who would fight for reforms to benefit the middle class? Had McCain run on a middle-class tax reform, for example, he would have simultaneously separated himself from Bush on economic policy, addressed his party’s longstanding weakness on domestic issues, and made more voters feel that he sympathized with their concerns...

McCain’s campaign disproved Thomas Frank’s [author of "What's the Matter with Kansas?"] thesis. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush succeeded by appealing both to voters’ values and to their interests. If the median voter had seen McCain as a protector of her interests, it would have been easier to get her to see Obama as out of the mainstream. On their own, however, these attacks [Ayers, Wright] were not capable of winning an election.

When the financial crisis hit, McCain carried a triple burden: He was in the incumbent’s party, his economic platform strongly resembled the incumbent’s, and he had done nothing to make middle-class voters consider him an answer to their anxieties. He then briefly suspended his campaign and tried to cancel the first presidential debate while he went to Washington to work on a financial-rescue bill. It was an act of considerable folly. McCain had no particular economic expertise, and there was no reason to think he would be able to deliver a deal. He reinforced his image as an erratic showboat at the worst possible time.

Some conservatives have suggested that McCain should instead have voted against the financial-rescue bill, taking up the populist cause against Wall Street bailouts. That course of action would have separated McCain from Bush pretty dramatically, but it might also have looked reckless, particularly if McCain had sunk the bill and the markets had nosedived. McCain was never going to take this advice in any case. He had made a second career out of bucking his party in favor of conventional wisdom; he was not about to buck both.

According to the exit polls, voters whose top issue was the economy went for Obama over McCain by 9 percentage points. Worse, 60 percent of voters concluded that McCain was not in touch with people like them — and 79 percent of those people voted against him. Those voters alone put Obama very close to victory: He had to win over a mere 6 percent of the voters who considered McCain “in touch.”

Governor Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy ended up conforming to every bad pattern the McCain campaign had set. Once again there was no follow-through. If her selection made any sense, it was as a way of underscoring that McCain was a fresh-thinking reformer willing to take on his own party when appropriate, as she had done. After the selection, however, no further attempts were made to develop that theme, and Palin was placed in the traditional veep-candidate role of attack dog, specializing in cultural attacks on the elitist Democrats. She was not the first, second, or third most important reason McCain’s campaign failed, but she illustrated those reasons.

Because McCain’s campaign was so weak on the issues, he would have had no mandate if he had won. He would have been elected not to be an inexperienced coddler of radicals.
Will Obamas Spread Their Wealth? (i.e. Their Children?)

Interesting test will be whether the Obamas choose to share their wealth, that is their intelligent and gifted daughters, with the D.C. public school system. Or will they let the "rich schools get richer" by sending them to private schools?
Week in Reviewership

Well, as a week it was one. That much I can say. The sun officially checked out and winter came in screaming like a lunatic: “Yes, yes, I can see you’re here. Welcome!” But the winterly embrace was a bit too effusive for my taste.

I found that huge windowic privacy in the cafeteria after-hours and punched up the Kindle and “read long” from a Cardinal Ratzinger speech given in ’85 predicting a global meltdown based on an ethical breakdown. Followed by a long talk given by Cardinal Stafford on the fight against the culture of death that concluded with a moving rendition of Christ.

The Amazon Kindle seems a sort of magic, a personal genie serving up of whatever tasty prose or poetry I might want. I still dream of those cast-iron seats in the sun that perch along a frequent lunchtime walk and which call out: “sit in me and read awhile!”. The spot exudes a Parisian Left Bank hoariness.

I am scrupulous about Kindle housekeeping in the form of reading the short clips from blogs and links first such that sometimes don’t have time for what I’d originally planned to read. Today I’d had visions of Bill Buckley dancing in my head. I was looking forward to reading something whimsical and witty and light-hearted on this cold November day, specifically his anthology of responses to letters titled “Cancel Your Own G-D Subscription”. I’ve a hankering now and then for the resoluteness of a Buckley or a Kathy Shaidle or a Florence King. They are “comfort food” for the conservative. The other is always an attraction and though the aforementioned are similar to me politically they are my opposites in their confidence and lack of self-reproach.

In the café I fell into that all-too-rare delirium of noticing my surroundings. The bright effusion of Ohio State flags festively draping the cafeteria denote the local equivalent of Christmas, aka “Michigan weekend”. The workers go about their laborious tasks even now that the cafe is closed. I see a cashier pushing a cart topped high with bottles of soft drinks. She is the most interesting cashier to me mostly because she is the least interesting. She seems the most simple, always robotically smiling and saying the same thing, “how are you doing today?”. It would seem to me no one could ever find fault with her, and I do admit part of my curiosity is that once I believe she was wearing a scapular. I see her daily yet she’s as foreign as the most obscure laborer in distant China. There’s a sense of satisfaction in her work that isn’t present in the other workers. You get the impression she thinks this is a good gig.

Not too long after she’s walking out of the cafe wearing a huge novelty hat of some sort presumably because it’s Michigan weekend. It's like Mardi Gras North.

Two other workers, not cashiers but workers cleaning the tables, are carrying on a very loud, though interesting, conversation:
“I want to be buried in a pet cemetery.”

”No you don’t!”

“I want to be buried next to the dogs and kitties.”

“No you want to be buried in a people’s cemetery, not in an animal cemetery. Your mother would want you to be buried in a people’s cemetery!”
Her interlocutor remained unconvinced.
TV & Politics

For good or ill, we’re in heavy TV rotation with the advent of cold weather. “My Own Worst Enemy” stands heads above any other show on television these days imo. Not that we can know what we’re missing; our universe of reviewed shows is miniscule. But to find one we really like is pretty shocking. We watch “My Name is Earl” out of habit though I could take or leave it. “The Office” is intermittedly brilliant. I especially liked the episode of Michael Scott’s failed love affair. His HR gal was leaving town and by the end he was singing the blues, literally. “Chuck” is also good although, like Earl, it’s a bit soft-porny.

Speaking of soft porn, news of potential Obama cabinent appointments appears to be soft porn to the beltway political junkies. What is this obsession with the Hillcat getting the Sec of State job? Who cares? I mean it sounds like a one day story of mild interest along the lines of “hmm…I wonder why Obama would okay her for a cabinent job when he wouldn’t for VP?”. It’s turned into something ridiculously overblown. The State Dept is a huge bureaucratic organization that will function pretty much the same under the Hillcat or whoever. My impression is that the Department serves primarily a diplomatic purpose but diplomatically the President sets the tone and can’t be much altered by the Sec of State. (See Powell under Bush.) Anti-Americanism occurred way before the Bush administration and it doesn't take a psychic to predict it will continue during & after the sainted Obama administration. To a big extent it doesn’t matter who you have as chief diplomat. But then for liberals hope in earthly princes (or princesses) springs eternal.

November 21, 2008

Embroidered in Red

Powerfully moving analogy of Christ's nuptial love for us: do we believe it? From Cardinal Stafford:
Over the next few years, Gethsemane will not be a marginal garden to us. A model, I suggest, is medieval. With an anonymous author, our restless minds search in a dark valley during this exhausting year. With him as our guide, we find a bleeding man on a hill sitting under a tree “in huge sorrow”. It is Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church and of mankind.

Thirdly, we listen to the words of Christ as narrated by our mediaeval ancestor. Jesus pointing to his gloved hands says that these gloves were given him when he sought his Bride. They are not white but red, embroidered with blood. He says that his spouse brought them and they will not come off. Fourthly, we focus our attention on the constantly repeated refrain of the Bridegroom and the reason for his “huge sorrow”, “Quia amore langueo - Because I am sick for love”. And finally, we find that before this vision of the wounded young man, our frustration and tears become one with his “huge sorrow” and we make his love for the unfaithful Bride whom he seeks and never fails, our own. I will close with a citation of this spousal model. It serves as a measure of what we need to recapture for the whole Church in 2008:

Upon this hil Y fond a tree,
Undir the tree a man sittynge,
From heed to foot woundid was he,
His herte blood Y sigh bledinge:
A semeli man to ben a king, (handsome enough to be a king)
A graciouse face to loken unto;
I askide whi he had peynynge, (suffering)
He seide, “Quia amore langueo. (Because I am sick for love).

I am Truelove that fals was nevere.
My sistyr, Mannis Soule, Y loved hir thus.
Bicause we wolde in no wise discevere, (because in no way would we part company)
I lefte my kyngdom glorious.
I purveide for hir a paleis precious; (prepared, a palace)
Sche fleyth; Y folowe. Y soughte hir so,
I suffride this peyne piteuous,
Quia amore langueo.
In the autumn of 2008 we must begin anew with that sentiment of our medieval brother. Quia amore langueo. With Jesus we are sick because of love toward those with whom we are so tragically and unavoidably at variance. The reader has now become one with the narrator who is addressed in line one as “Dear Soul”. As Humanae Vitae with the whole Catholic tradition teaches, we are to “be true with body and soul”.
Nice "Punishment" If You Can Get It
Government sees you when you're sleeping,
It knows when you're awake...
Helen Jones-Kelley, who I hope isn't doing record searches on Ohio bloggers who cross her, has survived with her job intact despite seeking dirt on Joe the Plumber after he became briefly famous.

The discipline was a bit of a laugher if you can afford it - a month vacation without pay. She evidentally can afford it because she donated five thousand dollars to Obama last July. That ain't chump change.
From Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong

15 E-books for $25!
Even Before the '87 Stock Crash...

...Bloomberg.com reports that then Cardinal Ratzinger predicted a global collapse:
German-born Ratzinger in 1985 presented a paper entitled ``Market Economy and Ethics'' at a Rome event dedicated to the Church and the economy. The future pope said a decline in ethics ``can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.''
Here's the full text of Cdl Ratzinger's article (via American Papist). (Haven't read that yet but look forward to doing so soon.)

Put not your trust in market timers (*cough* *cough* Bob Brinker!). It's not that I'm upset about Brinker being wrong so much as my own gullibility. I thought that the unpredictability of the markets was mostly linked to a possible massive terrorist attack of some sort, rather than a slip in ethics. (What's ironic is part of this slip of ethics was trying to get people who couldn't afford a house into houses. The road to hell is paved with good intentions & all.)

The problem with markets so globalized and interconnected is that it would seem to requires a high-wire act in terms of ethics. A few bad cooks will spoil the broth since the whole thing is based mostly on trust.

November 20, 2008

It's All Good Until Somebody Gets Hurt ...and someone did

Well the worst possible scenerio came out of our post-Engagement poll meeting: more meetings.

I honestly didn't see it coming though surely I should have since meetings are outward signs of inward grace, er, at least that's what our leaders think. There's no problem that can't be lasso'd into submission via more meetings, so defacto the low engagement surveys guaranteed more meetings.

The group democratically chose two of the questions to work on via a non-secret ballot. The floor was then opened as to how to combat those particular items. Fatefully, someone mentioned the 'm' word - someone said that he thought a monthly meeting would help. The connection seemed remarkably tenuous to me since the task was to improve our score by maximizing the opportunity to do what we do best. (Of course it's not tenuous if what we do best is meetings.)

But it was such a beautifully concrete thing that our leader snapped it up and wrote it down as gospel. Who wouldn't be impressed by something as solid as a monthly meeting? I suggested it be held at a local bar, or "Conference Room F" as a co-worker calls it. I don't think that's going to happen since our leader happens to be a Mormon (not that there's anything wrong with that) and I don't think they go to bars.
On Travel...

Steven Riddle mentions a familiar downside of globalization, that of the robbing the world of its heterogeneity. In a way, travel is the opposite of money and not just because the former burns a lot of the latter. With the time value of money, dollars saved now and invested are worth a lot more in the future. With travel, travel done in the future will be worth less in terms of novelty. But then that's been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years now and is partially due to man's success combined with a finite planet: there are no unexplored lands left.
Tote the Note

This paragraph, concerning a street in South St. Louis --

For many years, Carondelet was nicknamed "Vide Poche" or "Empty Pocket." The source of the nickname is obscure. Some say it was because Carondelet inhabitants were not very ambitious, others say it was coined by more affluent St. Louisans who looked down on residents of the settlement to their south and at least one historian says it is derived from the fact that the Creoles of Carondelet were so skilled at gambling, they sent visiting St. Louisan home with "empty pockets."
-- reminds me of the old Joe Diffie song:
If the Devil danced in Empty Pockets, he'd have a ball in mine.
With a nine foot grand, a ten piece band and a twelve girl chorus line.
I'd raise some loot in a three piece suit, give 'em one dance for a dime,
If the Devil danced in Empty Pockets, he'd have a ball in mine.

Well he said friend it ain't the end let's see what I can do.
If you own a home, I've got a loan, tailor made for you.
Then above the racket a voice in my jacket said, "I'll tote the note."
The devil made me do it, talked me in to it, and that was all she wrote.
Mark Steyn & Alexander Tyler Quote

In the late-18th century, the Scottish historian Alexander Tyler wrote:
"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship."
But I've always wondered why, if he was right, it hasn't happened already in America. Two-hundred plus years is not long in the grand sweep of history, so you might say there is a tipping point and we simply haven't reached it yet. Mark Steyn writes:
"The president-elect’s so-called tax cut, will absolve 48 percent of Americans from paying any federal tax at all. Just under half the population will be on the dole. By 2012 it will be more than half. This will be an electorate where the majority will be able to vote itself more lollipops from the minority still dumb enough to prioritize self-reliance, dynamism and innovation over the cocoon of the nanny state….That will be the death of the American idea."

November 19, 2008

Didn't Anticipate a Perfect Storm

In the quest for big government with low taxes, most of us seem to want not "either/or" but "both/and". In practice, this means tax cuts are not usually accompanied by spending cuts, nor spending increases with tax increases.

But not all government spending is the same, just as not all drugs are the same. Some are good drugs and some are harmful. Some are powerfully addictive, some are not. Military spending, for example, is not addictive. We saw a tremendous decrease after the Cold War ended, just as we saw after the First World War and after WWII. Spending for the poor is also not addictive. We saw a decrease in that too in the welfare reform.

But there is addictive, 'third rail' spending: that is entitlements. Social Security and Medicare are programs that continually expand in terms of the percentage of the federal budget simply because they are middle class programs. And the middle class is where the votes are. Meaning once you start them, you're married to them forever.

So the implicit Bush Administration strategy seemed to be to "starve the beast" by reducing tax rates (which arguably actually increased revenues) while at the same time spending more and more on non-addictive spending programs like Bridges to Nowhere, the Iraq War, earmarks and aid to Africa. The theory might be that if you spend enough money and shrink the revenues, you can starve entitlement programs. Because, in the end, it's entitlement programs that could bankrupt the government (or at least lead to rampant inflation via printing new money).

But something happened on the way to the forum. That theory completely overlooks that you could have a perfect storm. You could have a financial economy requiring a massive Dopamine injection such that the entitlement programs starts to look minor by comparison. You could kill the goose that lays the golden entitlement program eggs, that is the job market.

I think Greenspan saw that this whole house of cards was tumbling and that's why he got out of the Fed Reserve job just before the storm. The simultaneous failure of the Big Three automakers with banks and other financial institutions makes for a witch's brew of gloom and I wonder if the $25B proposed to the automakers seems to be only enough to get by for six months in the hope of the recession being over by then. If you can delay the automakers inevitable bankruptcy till a more favorable time economically, then some of the out-of-work auto workers may be able to find jobs elsewhere. The timing of this sucks, but it was bound to happen in precisely this way because the Big Three were sick even before the economy got sick, so it's no suprise at all that they're puking now.

Of course this post is likely way too pessimistic and 'chicken little'. Economists predict what is coming will be a nasty recession but not a depression and that we will get through it.
Semi-Fiction for a Hump Day
Into each life a few business meetings must fall, and today they fell on me. (Which reminds me of Hemingway's famous line: "Ask not for whom the meeting bell tolls, it tolls for thee." (That may be a paraphrase.))

The latest corporate fad is to fuss over "engagement", which I think is a synonym for enthusiasm. The cynical view, one that I don't necessarily subscribe to of course, is that engaged workers will work more unpaid overtime. This is what we in business world call a win-win.

The big picture is that engagement scores have fallen perilously in recent years and so the response has been more engagement meetings, resulting in ever lowering engagement. It's sort of what's happening in the financial markets; a vicious cycle that's hard to escape. I'm hoping that our company's Fed will arrange a sudden drop in engagement meetings which will raise the level of engagement scores such to pull us out of this trough.

This meeting in particular began with what I could only assume was a trick question: "What do you like to be called?"

We went around the room and there were fine epistolary expositions, such as how Philip did not like to be called Phil and how that indicated to him a false familiarity as if someone was pretending that they knew him better than they did.

I could see it wasn't a trick question.

Since we all knew each other and what we liked to be called, I stated what I don't like to be called, that is late for dinner. Sure you groan, but consider the environment. In a comedy-free environment, the groaner is king! One of my co-workers helpfully provided a finger roll along the desk as a "ba-dump!".

The next question was if we could be a tree, what would it be?

Actually I don't remember what the next question was, but afterwards much discussion ensued on the company doing our engagement scores and how high scores on their questions track those of high-performing teams. I inquired about the engagement score of the polling company. I was told that the person presenting the information appeared to be highly engaged. I suggested that could be the cocaine talking.

The next question asked us to consider the best co-worker we know and list some of the attributes of that person. Now it just so happens that last week a co-worker had brought me four different kinds of beers that he wanted me to try. Now that's my kind of co-worker! Am I blessed or what? And what's more, he refused any and all offers of payment. (One was a "bourbon beer" if you can believe it, with a very strong taste. Another was Sam Adams' Winter Brew, and one a good porter -- but I digress. My bosses' boss happened to see the brews in my cubical and asked if I had a bottle-opener. I said I didn't which was a good thing else I might be tempted to drink one!) (joke!)

The next talking point from the meeting leader was how people are not rational. I bit my tongue in order to avoid saying, "yeah, look at the results of the election!". He emphasized the Orwellian-sounding truth that "feelings are facts". I wanted to trot out that old chestnut from John Henry Newman about how men are governed by their sympathies and not by argument. I also wanted to ask if this wasn't a good thing in some way, since wouldn't we be robots like Spock if not? At the very least the world would be far less surprising if we were all as smart and rational as Tom of Disputations. Not that I'm accusing him of being Spock. Besides being far more likable, he's very irrational when it comes to the sports teams he roots for.

Our leader confessed a recent car purchase made not because of any rigorous analysis but because he felt comfortable at the dealership and he liked the cut of the car's jib. Since he happens to be Mormon, there was the sense that perhaps there's a little tiny bit of lack of rationality involved there too but I'm not sure if it's charitable to think that so don't quote me. (We'll edit this out in later editions, so if you're reading this you're reading a very fresh copy.)

A co-worker perused the handout of the engagement questions and mentioned that some were what he called "control questions". I immediately thought he meant those questions they ask you on lie detector tests that are really easy, like "you live at such-and-such avenue". Were there some questions on the engagement survey that were deviously intended to discern your truthfulness on the other questions? But no he meant that some questions have a binary answer - 'yes' or 'no' - despite the fact that you rate it on a scale of 1-5 where 5 is strongly agree and 1 is strongly disagree.

I thought he might be overthinking things just a bit but I was nevertheless impressed by the cognitive skills he demonstrated in a meeting in which others were just trying to stay awake...
It's Ponderous

In the Wizard of Oz, in the encounter with the wicked witch, can someone explain to me why the good witch of the North not only holds Dorothy (keeping her from running away, presumably for plot purposes) but also has a smile on her face?
This is one of those occasions when the past feels a "foreign country" since no film made today would allow an expression other than horror on the good witch's face.

It stands in the face (no pun intended) of today's culture of "authenticity" which requires facial emotions match the gravity of the situation, while in the past there was the sense that you should fight against that tide and that you should smile in adversity. For the good witch to stop smiling in that situation, or any, would presumably be a poor influence on Dorothy (although she obviously can't see the good witch in this scene). It reminds me of how the actress who played the mother on "Little House on the Prairie" said that the role was exhausting because she always had to smile and be sunny. And yet part of leadership is sort of self-control of emotions, of providing an example for the people. If George Bush came on television looked panicky about the financial markets that would not be a good thing, even though panic is likely the appropriate emotion.
GWB! GWB!

The Daily Show recently had a montage showing George W. Bush at the economic summit looking not quite a member of the group. Given his lack of popularity in Europe and his lame duck status, that's not surprising, but I felt an unaccountable warmth towards him. I thought about how meaningless the perception of the world community really is, and I remembered how it is to be an outsider.

Sure I disliked most of his policy decisions (except for the tax cuts and the judges). But there was always a good-heartedness about him and a remarkable lack of bitterness towards his legion of enemies. Most especially his decision to give massive aid to Africa was telling.

So it was good to see this nice tribute to GWB on the American Catholic blog. I often think of GWB when I'm reading his favorite Psalm (Ps 27):
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

November 18, 2008

The Parable of the Talents

The Pope's homily:
...the parable talks about gifts that “the master” gives to his servants. “For this reason,” he continues, “these gifts, in addition to their natural qualities, represent the riches that the Lord Jesus has left us as an inheritance, so that we might make them bear fruit: his Word, deposited in the holy Gospels; Baptism, which renews us in the Holy Spirit; the prayer - the ‘Our Father’ - that lifts us up to God as sons united in the Son; his forgiveness, which he has commanded be brought to all; the sacrament of his immolated Body and his Blood poured out. In a word: the Kingdom of God, which is He himself, present and living in our midst.”

“Today’s parable,” he continued, “insists upon the interior attitude with which this gift is to be received and valued. The wrong attitude is that of fear: the servant who is afraid of his master and his return hides the coin in the ground, and it bears no fruit. This happens, for example, to those who having received Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation hide these gifts beneath a blanket of prejudices, beneath a false image of God that paralyzes faith and works, betraying the expectations of the Lord. But the parable puts greater emphasis on the good fruits borne by the disciples who, happy over the gift they have received, have not kept this hidden out of fear and jealousy, but have made it bear fruit by sharing it, imparting it.”
I'm Getting Vaklempt..

I got my first Chinese spam. I thought only the Russians loved me.
Help a Brother Blogger with a Mouse Click

Via Holy Whapping:

Shrine friend Thomas Peters, the American Papist, whose newsy, well-researched blog has more professionalism in its pinky finger than I'll ever have in a week of Sundays, needs your help! (Mixed metaphor much?) He is in line for a scholarship, and needs your help. Here's how:
I'm in serious running to receive a $10,000 scholarship for blogging as a student. Voting for me here ("Thomas Peters") only takes a few seconds, and I would deeply appreciate you spreading the word amongst your friends, facebook, readers, email lists, etc.
If this cause goes viral among the Catholic online community, I could have real shot at winning, which would mean more time blogging as opposed to, well, trying to pay the electric bill. Reading in the dark is no fun. Think of it as a little good deed for today. Thank you!
Currently, he's number two in the running, which is pretty impressive. But you can make it even more impressive with a click of the mouse. What are you waiting for? Go vote! You don't even have to stand in line for an hour, with a headcold, surrounded by Upper East Side yuppies like last time!
         

When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now. - Mother Teresa, via Exultet

The scriptures give a clear and consistent condemnation of same-sex sexual activity. However, the research of the natural and social sciences and the lived experience of ordinary Catholics should all play a part in how we approach the issue of homosexuality — particularly in subjective culpability and how the truth is to be preached. I find that a rigid and coldly objective application of the Church’s teaching can be most discouraging. The least effective way is to be stridently objective, not taking into account the spiritual journey of the person you are advising. When we focus on the homosexual orientation, we’re ignoring the whole of the person. Each human person is a story in his or her self. A person that is thrown into the mystery of life, trying to uncover its meaning, living in a world with all its unanswered questions of history, of competing philosophies and religions with even more stark differences in how they view the human person, as well as with different life experiences that influence how we respond to the question of what it means to be human. Sexual orientation does not encompass the entirety of humanity, but it does play a vital role and this needs to be taken into account, not just in the Church but in American life, particularly in our public policies. In dealing with the complex issues surrounding homosexuality, it is very easy to give simple and at times caustic answers. It is more difficult and more rewarding to travel the road less traveled and to listen with an open heart and apply objective moral norms sensitively to basic human needs, concerns, and aspirations. Conversion is normally not something that happens in an instant or overnight, it is an ongoing process; we grow only gradually. - Eric Brown on "American Catholic"

I am sorry if you think I claim unusual prescience but the number of people surprised by President-elect Obama's winning has startled me. I think it was 1947 that Jackie Robinson started playing Major League Baseball. Didn't everybody born in 1940 or before guess that we would have at least a partly Black president one day? Well, maybe you had to be a child to know that. I mean, in our minds, if you could play second base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, why could you not be the president? - Blogger at "Muellerstuff"

Andrew Sullivan, forensic gynecologist - title of Terrence Berres' post concerning Sullivan's Palin obsession

Heard about the most clever [Halloween] costume ever: a friend's nephew dressed in a t-shirt that said POLLSTER, and then carried an Obama bag and a McCain bag, and people could choose which one they put candy in. He evidently got a really impressive haul of candy from people who expressed their emotions about this election by dumping handfuls of goodies into their candidate's bag. - Jennifer at "Conversion Diary"

So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause. - George Lucas

After spending an hour window shopping (well, browser window) bridesmaids dresses, MrsDarwin has resolved to get in shape for her sister's wedding. She is now off do so some aerobic cookie making. Floating in from the kitchen, "Oatmeal chocolate chip. Oatmeal is healthier." - Mrs Darwin

The prescription of joy is to be understood as a command to think on and rest in the goodness of God, which is something we can choose to do. Joy is counted as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not as a gift. I take that to mean it will come along in due season, and is a sign that we're cultivating ourselves properly, as opposed to it being something we can only experience if it is superadded to our lives. - Tom of Disputations
Flannery O'Connor's Prayer Book

I came across this line in Brad Gooch's biography of Flannery O'Connor:
Immediately on waking, she read the prayers for Prime, prescribed for six in the morning, from her 1949 edition of A Short Breviary.
Out of curiosity I wondered if the prayer book was available on the 'net. It doesn't appear to be, and other editions are expensive. (I distrust anything put out after 1965 so I put that as the ending date in the Abebooks.com search.)

A Short Breviary was produced by the Benedictine monks, published by their Abbey press in Collegeville, Minnesota for "monks and the laity". Amy Welborn, in her wonderful book "The Words We Pray", mentions she owns a 1944 copy. Amy quotes Flannery's letter to a friend:
Anyway, don't think I am suggesting you read the Office everyday. It's just a good thing to know about, I say Prime in the morning and sometimes I say Compline at night but usually I don't. But anyway I like parts of my prayers to stay the same and part to change. So many prayer books are awful, but if stick with the liturgy, you are safe.

November 17, 2008

Defending Thomas Merton

Interesting post on Thomas Merton's interest in Eastern religions.
Selections...

From Joseph O'Neill's novel "Netherland":

I traveled in a rented car up the Saw Mill and Taconic parkways. My preparatory examination of the road map had turned up such place-names as Yonkers, Cortlandt, Verplanck, and, of course, Peekskill; and set against these Dutch places, in my mind, were the likes of Mohegan, Chappaqua, Ossining, Mohansic, for as I drove north through thickly wooded hills I superimposed on the landscape regressive images of Netherlanders and Indians, images arising not from mature historical reflection but from a child’s irresponsibly cinematic sense of things, leading me to picture a bonneted girl in an ankle-length dress waiting in a log cabin for Sinterklaas, and redskins pushing through ferns, and little graveyards filled with Dutch names, and wolves and deer and bears in the forest, and skaters on a natural rink, and slaves singing in Dutch.
Another (WARNING - SPOILER ALERT):
I conceived of myself no longer as the idiomatic man who stands between the rock and the hard place but as the more happily placed idiomatic man who can take it or leave it: “it,” here, being my marriage...

(later)

It was not the case that I’d heroically bowled her over (my hope) or that she’d tragically decided to settle for a reliable man (my fear). She had stayed married to me, she stated in the presence of Juliet Schwarz, because she felt a responsibility to see me through life, and the responsibility felt like a happy one. Juliet turned her head. “Hans?” I couldn’t speak. My wife’s words had overwhelmed me. She had put into words—indeed into reality—exactly how I felt. “Yes,” I said. “Same here.” Though not exactly the same, I thought, stepping down from my stepladder and squinting at my handiwork. Rachel saw our reunion as a continuation. I felt differently: that she and I had gone our separate ways and subsequently had fallen for third parties to whom, fortuitously, we were already married.
And...:
I said, “There’s a difference between grandiosity and thinking big.” I might as well have punched him on the nose, because for the only time in our acquaintance he looked at me with hurt surprise. He began to say something and decided against it. I could see what had happened. I had knocked him off his pedestal. I had called into question his exercise of the New Yorker’s ultimate privilege: of holding yourself out in a way that, back home, would be taken as a misrepresentation....

"We’re the romantic sex, you know,” he said, fighting a burp. “Men. We’re interested in passion, glory. Women,” Chuck declared with a finger in the air, “are responsible for the survival of the world; men are responsible for its glories.”
One more...
The blackout gave rise to an outbreak of civic responsibility. From the Bronx to Staten Island, citizens appointed themselves traffic cops, gave rides to strangers, housed and fed the stranded. It also transpired that the upheaval provoked a huge number of romantic encounters, a collective surge of passion not seen, I read somewhere, since the “we’re-all-going-to-die sex” in which, apparently, everybody had indulged in the second half of September two years previously—an analysis I found a little hard to accept, since it was my understanding that all sex, indeed all human activity, fell into this category.

...

He nattered about his salmon-fishing vacations in Ireland, which by coincidence had been precisely the pastime of my Dutch former dentist and led me to wonder if there was a connection between angling and tinkering with teeth. Certainly he seemed as happy as a fisher, this New York practitioner, and why not? One of the great consolations of work must be its abbreviation of the world’s area, and it follows that it must be especially consoling to have one’s field of vision reduced to the space of a mouth.
Quotable

From "Orestes Brownson" by R. A. Herrera:
Orestes Brownson is the Catholic thinker par excellence of the United States. There are no rivals. The decks have been cleared. No Catholic thinker has equaled him in national prominence, international presence, density of thought, variety of concerns, or sheer volume...

In many ways, Brownson was ahead of his time and prepared the way for the vicissitudes and conflicts of the twentieth (and perhaps the twenty-first) century...He was agonizingly aware of the depredations that a Catholicism become worldly and humanitarian would cause. He repeatedly marked the danger rampaging democracy presented to both the American republic and the Catholic Church. Though it is possible to choose either the liberal or the conservative Brownson as guide, a question remains: Was Brownson a prophet, a man who transcended his epoch, or simply an atavistic or Utopian malcontent?
Full disclosure: I especially like him because he really liked his ale. He was of the Hilaire Belloc mold when it comes to ascetism.
The Evolution of Schwarzneggar

It's been interesting to watch the career of Arnold. Once the Great Republican Hope, (though never the social conservative's hope), is it just me or has he been humbled by governance, which is to say he's recognized that he can either stick to his conservative principles or keep his job? Or is that to frame it the wrong way - has he grown in office by which is meant he sees reality and lives with reality?

So he's kept his job. He's learned that the customer (the voter) is always right. In customer service it isn't true, but it's the lie they tell themselves in order to give good customer service.

A couple of striking things in yesterday's interview with George Stephanapolis that are perhaps even contradictory. One is that he does not believe Republicans should attempt to placate Latino or African-American voters. No shake-down, no payment of protection money (figuratively of course, although with Jesse it was literal). He says, rightly, we are all Americans and if we concentrate on making the country better everyone, including Latinos and African-Americans, will benefit.

But he also says that he represents California and that his job is to do whatever is best for California. This seems a defense attorney form of government in which the goal is not to get to the truth - that which is best for everyone, i.e. America - but to represent your client even if it turns out to be at the expense of society at large. And so Arnold brings up the stat that California only gets 80 cents on the dollar it contributes to the federal purse. First off, if everyone got a dollar for a dollar then who is going to pay the overhead? Because, you know, even the most efficient charities have overhead. So I'm thinking if every state got 80 cents on the dollar that's pretty darn good.

Now I'm not saying CA shouldn't get more aid. But Arnold's focus on the amount CA gets back from the Feds doesn't cut it.

My impression is that our large budget deficits are mostly caused by national programs, i.e. the military, Social Security, and Medicare. But this defense attorney form of government is at least partially the mindset that gives us budget deficits since every state wants at least, if not more, than what it put in. (Speaking of states, West Virginia benefited from tremendous federal largess via the auspices of Sen. Byrd. Has it really benefited that much though? Aren't the poverty and unemployment rates about the same now that they were back pre-Byrd?)

Anyway, as Christopher Buckley says in his novel "Supreme Courtship":
Members understand that their main job, their highest calling, their truest democratic function, is to take money from other states and funnel it to their own. What greater homage to the Founding Fathers and the men who froze at Valley Forge could there be than a civic center in Tulsa paid for by the taxpayers of Massachusetts?

November 16, 2008

Saved by Humor?

From Reid Buckley's "An American Family":
Like most Roman Catholics, I was born knowing the eschatology of tragedy and its ontological significance, which is redemption. This keeps one from taking oneself too seriously. This is the necessary perspective of a sense of humor, upon which salvation may depend. Only at the expense of his faith may a Christian wallow in grief.

This is the hard thing: to know simultaneously that one is infinitely precious to the Lord God and infinitely important in His economy of salvation (oh, what comfort there is in this mystery!), yet to know also that one is nothing-- nothing at all, not a speck more than a bubble in the frothing stream of existence..

November 14, 2008

Ruminations...

All these years later I have to laugh at the incongruity of our 7th grade science teacher playing Donovan’s Jennifer, Juniper in class. At the time it seemed perfectly appropriate. Now I strain to see the connection between folk music and science. But then I’m far less creative now alas.

It's interesting how my perceptions of the past are colored by unrealities. I thought Mr. V's music was, for all intents and purposes, aborigine music. So ancient that it could be seen as a science project. Yet my own historical study proves this was not the case. I have found out that Donovan sang this hit song in 1968, a mere seven years before I heard it in class. This would be like me playing a 2001 song to my class, had I a class. Mr. V was not even indulging in nostalgia as it was almost new to him!

* * *

Had I known, as John Updike attests, that all our writing comes from our first twenty years I might’ve tried to live more during them. I wasn’t conscious then of drawing upon it as a source, though things done for an ulterior motive are likely disqualifying anyway.

What I’ve found is that there is much to draw in those first twenty in terms of self-knowledge even though we typically react in the years afterwards as if to disprove the narrative formed in the initial years. In high school, Nixon was the person least likely to become president. And so JFK; his brother was supposed to be president - he was like the third in line of the royal family so he could relax.

The bullfighters in Spain find much more self-knowledge in the manly art of courting death. But JPII tells us in his encyclicals that God tells us the most about ourselves so when we read the bible we learn the most about ourselves!

* * *

I wasn’t old enough to remember Johnny Cash in his prime nor was I with Pope John Paul II. Both became familiar only in their extreme agedness, both betrayed by a body that had served them well in their youth and late middle age. When at their best both had a charisma that touches only the very few, although it's likely that they, like Christ, taught us more when they were with cross. When I was a kid the only words of Christ that really moved me were the ones that were said on the Cross.

I saw the movie “Walk the Line” about June and Johnny Cash but watching videos on YouTube gave off an entirely different feel. I wonder if it is even possible to ever really portray a person given our uniqueness. But I also wonder if "Walk the Line" was truthful without being accurate in the externals. How much importance should we put on historicity given that June Carter Cash was a moving target visually while Reese Witherspoon was not? And yet to say that only the words and story matter is to ignore the undeniable part that body language plays. I can write words on a page and say them in person and there is much more meaning when the words are married to body language and inflection than when stripped to mere skeletal words: "The letter killeth..."

Entertainers, more than most, have to stay current with the culture in order to stay popular. They donate themselves like canaries in the coal mine and we see the effects of cultural movements in them before we see them in us. Every age has its drugs, be it cocaine or alcohol or caffeine or materialism or pride or whatever. Entertainers, if successful, are on the front lines of the age's drug of choice.

In “Walk the Line” there was little sense of the chameleon-like quality of June, how in ’67 she was demure, with a touch of Emily Dickinson, and how by ’69 she'd become electric with an underground sexuality. By ’70 there was stasis, a comfortable confidence, with her hair grown long as if doubling for Cher. Hers was a physical transformation almost as dramatic as that of the Beatles. In some ways her story is more interesting than Johnny's, whose familiar fall and rise was penile in its simplicity. Up, down, like a pump. Hers was a more complex, ovarian journey simply because she was not under the direct control of hard drugs. He was all need while she had freedom, making her wrestlings with conscience interesting since the capacity for freedom makes us interesting.

Johnny & June seemed like different people in ’67 such that it was apparent something had happened not to just to them personally but within the culture. In the ’67 June there was a stiffness and awkward pauses (that appear so only in retrospect; they were neither stiff nor awkward in their time). And the ’69 video could’ve been made today. Whatever happened in speech and body language between ’67 and ’69 is still with us. That desire for a border and thus to be able to identify a cause, is still with me although I recognize the '50s and early '60s were not the golden, saintly time I'd thought they were.

Judging by appearances, let alone by tiny snippets of YouTube, is folly. But what is interesting is how we can hear CBS newsman Edward Murrow today and think how different and odd he sounds. While we can hear a newscaster from the '70s and feel it not too out of sort. Is that mere accident? Are the differences in cadence and mien indicative of less superficial differences?
A Stroke of Insight

A "Rad Trad Catholic Girardian" (a consolingly eclectic handle) talks about his stroke in light of the story of a brain scientist's story.

Michael Gerson in the WAPO describes more. And more at this blog. It reminds me of the Ron Hansen novel in which a religious sister's mystical experiences might have had a basis in the organic brain chemistry but resulted in no loss of faith.
This Just In..

Posted "Brimstone & John Steinbeck" o'er at Broken Alabaster.
Irish Song Friday



"Farewell To Carlingford"

When I was young and in my prime
And could wander wild and free
There was always a longing in my mind
To follow the call of the sea

Chorus:
So I'll sing farewell to Carlingford and farewell to Greenore
And I'll think of you both day and night
Till I return once more, till I return once more

On all of the stormy seven seas
I have sailed before the mast
And on every voyage I ever made
I swore it would be my last

(Chorus)


Now, I had a girl called Mary Doyle
And she lived in Greenore
And the foremost thought that was in her mind
Was to keep me safe onshore

(Chorus)

Now, the landsman's life is all his own
He can go or he can stay
But when the sea gets in your blood
When she calls you must obey

November 13, 2008

Pray for Fr. Greeley
Dog Bites Man

NPR Arrogant? Whoda thunk it?:
610 WTVN was all set to broadcast live from the Democratic party headquarters at the Columbus Renaissance Hotel on election night when National Public Radio went rogue and decided that the 610 broadcast line belonged to them.

“They literally unplugged our line from the clearly labeled phone jack, and plugged their equipment in, and never looked back,” said Mike Elliott, Program Director for 610.

NPR White House correspondent David Green apparently refused access, even as 610 engineers pointed to their shirts with logos that matched the one on the phone jack, Elliot said.

But the badass nonprofit radio correspondents wouldn’t budge, despite the fact that 610 had paid $325 to secure the line for the night. NPR told 610 that the Ohio Democratic Party gave them permission to intercept the line because they were national.

“They were pretty arrogant,” said Elliot, who said he was going to forward the bill to either NPR or the ODP. “The entitlement kicked in, the whole bit.”

So, 610 called the cops. Columbus police didn’t want the hassle and told the stations to share the line, according to Elliot. No report was filed.
Speaking of dog bites man stories, how's this one? (HT: TB.) Elsewhere in The Other Paper we learn the secret to Democrat parties:
  • Decrease food, increase beer: Responsible parties offer snack foods that help absorb alcohol to prevent sickness and drunkenness. Then there are Democrat parties: one ounce of food per 16 ounces of alcohol. Pee and repeat until liquor license expires.

  • Invite at least one person who will dance to a beat that exists only in their mind and who will let people photograph them doing it: In this case, the Dems had about 50 of these. This makes them cool times infinity.
  • Finally...Parody is Therapy Updated... with the story about the growing intolerance over long, sophisticated soundbytes like "It's the economy, stupid!" (as favored by the '92 Clinton campaign) in favor of shorter catch-phrases like "Yes We Can!" or better still "Change!"
    Haiku o' the Day

    Smock's classic all-time haiku, author unknown, is a great one:

    tiny hotel soap
    too small to wash my body
    yet i take you home

    On a semi-related note, this worthy addiction* goes out to Bill Luse who has something of a fetish on the subject and is currently attending a twelve-step program in Wisconsin. No word if Ms. Hayek is seeking help for hers.

    * - For me not to make any further comment on this story requires the forbearance of ten men. The only way I can convey the strength of the pull is to imagine Michael Scott being given the perfect opportunity to say "and that's what she said". And he didn't! Instead I'll just ask the reader to kindly provide his own punchline(s).
    This Just In...

    There is something slightly mortifying about skipping in an estrogen-soaked pool while raising "your hands in the air like you don't care" to quote an old '80s song. But that's the essence of water aerobics, with the added discomfort of passersby getting their pound of eyeful. But mortification is good for the soul and though it doesn't look gay* for women to do these things it's cringe-worthy in a guy so thus my attempt not to look at my brother-in-law, the other dude in the pool, lest I be confirmed in that opinion. I'm just glad there are no mirrors in the pool area.

    * - NTTAWWBGUYAOI applies (i.e. not that there's anything wrong with being gay unless you're acting on it).

    November 12, 2008

    A Quick Thought on Capitalism...

    I wonder how much of the evils of capitalism are actually the evils of wealth. The Renaissance popes, for example, were materialistic and greedy without any help from capitalism. Is it because we have the goods and services that we are greedy and materialistic? If, as in Soviet Russia, the supermarkets are nearly empty or you have very little choice, then won't there necessarily be less greed and materialism? Is it because capitalism is successful in reducing poverty that it increases spiritual ills? I'm just asking, hence all the questionmarks.

    How about a few more: At the very least, doesn't capitalism take on the flavor of the time and culture it lives in? Wasn't turn of the century America, still enraptured by social Darwinism and endowed with only the fittest survive philosophy (it was in the air back then; see Margaret Sanger), more amenable to child labor and other labor abuses because of that rather than something inherent in capitalism? Aren't the corporate sins of today, shown so spectacularly by Enron and others, less imaginable during the '50s in which America in general and corporate leaders in particular were more apt to play by the rules even without the hoovering eye of the Securities and Exchange Commission watching them?

    Via here.
    Matter Matters

    Though made of recycled dust
    it matters not
    since God made dust.
    New EWTN Series...

    ...with a set that looks very NFL pre-game showish:

    Hope no fights break out as that would just be embarrassing. Potential drinking game: drink every time a sports analogy is applied to the spiritual life. (Though drinking during a show like that would feel very wrong.)

    November 11, 2008

    The Writer in Winter

    John Updike reflects.

    And while linking, George Rutler on Benson's "Lord of the World" via Sancta Sanctis.
    Velvet Glove?

    Forgot where I found it, but this is an interesting link. There's almost undoubtedly going to be a lot of inflation going forward; I just wonder how to protect assets in that environ. And, on the issues of freedom:
    Will Obama's be the strong-man socialism of a Chavez, or the soft socialism that Clement Atlee used to defeat Churchill after WWII? I don't know, but I suspect something kind of in between. Despite right-wing predictions that we won't see Rush shut down by Fairness Doctrine fascists. We won't see Baptist ministers hauled off in handcuffs for anti-sodomy sermons. It will more likely be a matter of paperwork. Strong worded letters from powerful lawyers in and out of government to program directors and general mangers of radio stations. Ominous references to license renewal.
    Indeed

    From First Things:
    "We need first to recognize that politics is the art of the possible and that political battles can never be won by attacking our friends. During the annual march on Washington each January, some pro-lifers have had nothing better to do than to stage confrontations with pro-life members of Congress whose support they consider insufficiently militant. I received such an attack myself, during a previous presidential campaign, when a listener found the decibel count of a strong pro-life homily I preached too low. This is madness."
    That's why I parodied that tendency in the ol' Parody is Therapy blog recently. Of course by atttacking those who attack our friends I was probably making things worse.
             

    Just remember, we're the party that believes in the necessity and meaning of suffering--and especially humiliation. So really, we win again! Offer this $#@! up, y'all. - Eve Tushnet, listing a positive of the Obama win

    As a black conservative, I can appreciate how far we have come in this country — I even felt a tinge of pain as my family and I went to the polls and voted against Obama — but we will not have truly transcended race in America until who you voted for is not assumed because of the color of your skin. - commenter on "The Corner"

    Rather than looking at Obama as an African, or an African-American, or a fringe liberal, his story makes most sense if you think of him being the child of a broken family. It's all there -- the need to be loved by everybody, the identity crisis and drug use, the relishing attention, the search for a community to belong to (even the point of organizing a community to be a part of). So if you want to blame your (Babyboom) generation for something in particular, how about skyrocketing divorce? As for my generation, well, as you say, Gens X and Y, which I straddle, are simply practicing crass identity politics. Obama to them really is "new" and fresh, nevermind the specifics. It's really something to see, and I don't think I would have understood the depths of it if not for the Facebook account I opened in March. My generation is sinfully stupid. - commenter on Bill Luse's blog

    Politics has never really been my thing. At least that's the kind of thing I say. I say it, and try to believe it, mostly because I don't want to get in trouble...The truth is, however, politics IS my thing. It's my thing primarily because God made it my thing when he made me. He made all of us to be political - to use our gifts and talents and formed insights for the good of society. This is involves such 'nasty' things as actually listening to one another, thinking, researching, building community, and putting yourself out there both in both dialogue and action. - Mary of "Broken Alabaster"

    I must re-read Huxley's Brave New World. A feminine form of totalitarianism. How lovely. I always thought Huxley's title came from Shakespeare's Miranda in The Tempest, but Wikipedia set me straight when it points out a poem from Rudyard Kipling in 1919 with the following lines: "And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins / When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins. . ." - blogger at Muellerstuff

    I don’t mind making logical arguments in the public forum. I just think it’s a misguided use of resources to expect that they will have much impact. Amy, I don’t know anyone who was directly influenced by Catholics for Obama, but they didn’t need to be. The tide sweeping the U.S. (of which Cs for O is a symptom, not a cause) picked them up and carried them off just fine. So what do we do now? I’m feisty and I’m not just going to sit here. And, figuratively speaking, I can see Russia from my house. - Roz of Exultet

    There’s a wrenching non sequitur for you. - Tom of Disputations responding to the comment 'as an attorney himself, Prof. Kmiec surely knows the importance of candor.'

    Christians who voted for Obama told themselves that we just needed a "change."... Those folks drank a little too deeply of the Obama Kool Aid. Other Christians are patting themselves on the back for voting 3rd party, and from what I can gather are comforting themselves by thinking these are the last days I guess. And my nemesis Candy thinks Obama was elected because of the Jesuits. I kid you not. In the meantime I think for pro-life conservative Christians, we have to keep the faith, we have to live the faith and we have to be more outspoken about it. Steve Kellmeyer notes that it took France just ten years to go from a monarchy to a dictatorship. As long as we have a constitution, congressmen only have a two year term and those elections are coming up in 2010. Congressmen have a six year term, and the president is up every four. Let's calm down, regroup, and prepare to make a "change" and send a message then. - Elena of "My Domestic Church"

    Conservatism is inherently a tradition of complicity, satire, internal conflict, and cynicism. So with the Messiah as our next president, we're in like Patricia Quinn! - Another from Eve Tushnet

    That's all your money. - Barack Obama via "Social Engineer" concerning one U.S. corporation's profit

    And while the agony of having a tattoo has been likened to childbirth - the most painful areas are anywhere that is bony, and on the tender flesh of the inside of the wrist - there is only one form of tattoo that has ever denoted real suffering, or real heroism. My best friend's grandmother has a tattoo, a series of numbers, on the inside of her wrist...She was given the tattoo when she was a small child, upon entering a Nazi concentration camp. - Liz Jones

    “Abolitionists need to reach out to Jefferson Davis knowing well that he will not agree with them on some 'fundamental issues'...“Capitalists need to reach out to Joe Stalin knowing well that he will not agree with them on some fundamental issues”...“Jews need to reach out to Hitler knowing well that he will not agree with them on some fundamental issues”...Pro-lifers reaching out to Obama is as pathetic as it is stupid. - Commenter on "American Catholic" blog

    "Arbeit macht frei" (work makes you free, or work brings freedom) was not first and foremost a Nazi slogan. It originally was the title of a novel by Lorenz Diefenbach, but gained wide currency as a good progressive/liberal catchphrase in the Weimar Republic to justify big New Dealish public works programs. - Jonah Goldberg at "Liberal Fascism"

    In the last four decades, following the pattern of American Protestantism, many, perhaps most, Catholics view the Church in terms of consumption rather than obligation. The Church is there to supply their spiritual needs as they define those needs, not to tell them what to believe or do. This runs very deep both sociologically and psychologically. It is part of the “success” of American Catholics in becoming just like everybody else. Bishops and all of us need to catch the vision of John Paul II that the Church imposes nothing, she only proposes. But what she proposes she believes is the truth, and because human beings are hard-wired for the truth, the truth imposes. And truth obliges. - Fr. Neuhaus at "First Things"
    Various

    I often think of George W. Bush as the anti-Nixon. Nixon was a policy wonk who was mostly competent (though not on economic policy) and who was accused, fairly, of corruption. Bush is a non-policy with difficulties with competency but who was unfairly accused of corruption (i.e. lying). Nixon would've never planned a war without taking elections into account, while Bush was completely oblivious to any sort of "end the war before the mid-term elections" kind of talk. Refreshing. The war would end when Iraqis were ready for it to end, when they had a stable country. The opposite of Vietnam.

    Bush and Carter, born-again Christians with a strong sense of morality about them, both ended up being very unpopular. I think the common denominator is that when you feel a close relationship with Christ you have less need the reassurance of the polls or public opinion. You do unpopular things, like Carter's energy conservation program ('wear sweaters!') or Bush's taking seriously the threat of Saddam Hussein, and you'll pay the price for it at the polls.

    Bill O'Reilly I think correctly identified Bush's post-war Iraq difficulties as "rich guy syndrome", the tendency not to have a sense of urgency about a problem because things tend to work out for rich guys. For those raised in the working class, disaster is always in play, always present on the horizon. But if you're born into wealth and power you lose that fear. Things always seem to work out. So when Iraq went awry - which was almost the first day given that widespread looting was allowed - he didn't clamp down.

    It's part of what makes GWB not a true conservative. He doesn't take a skeptical view of human nature. He didn't anticipate looting in Baghdad because we would be declared liberators. It was a minor utopian vision that besets all on the left and even some on the right. Bush seemed to identify the good guys and the evil guys and not recognize that there are a lot of in between guys, due to Original Sin.

    It's hard to even begin to be objective about Bush given the way he's been treated in the media. I wonder how much of my own attitude towards him is media-derived. Much of what is associated with him he deserves no fault: Enron, the mortgage crisis, the poor economy, Katrina. But war is a big thing, and rightly so.

    * * *

    So my boss comes over yeterday and tells me about his 90-year old's aunt fixation with Michelle Obama: "She's not pretty. And would you get a look at that dress she wore!"

    I think she's pretty. Women are hardest on women I suspect, so I ask if she's that hard on Hillary. He said yes. Does she like Palin? Oh yes, he says, she was very upset about the way the media treated her.

    Speaking thereof, I was surprised by the CNN reporter's reaction during an interview with Chevy Chase. She was surprised that he said he was trying to get Carter elected when he was portraying Ford as an clumsy oaf. I thought it was sweetly naive of her. Transparency is good although ignorance is bliss. It's more enjoyable to watch SNL if you didn't know there was the ship of an agenda behind it.

    It turned out Gwen Ifill had a conflict of interest given her Obama book coming out but it was only because she had an obvious conflict of interest that made her a less obvious cheerleader. But it's not as if the other reporters didn't have an obvious conflict of interest given their ideology. It's when it's hidden, either because they are a comedian like Chevy Chase or a comedian-commentator like Chris Matthews, who recently boasted that he will do his best to make sure Obama has a successful presidency. Is that a journalist's job? But then it's especially rich he would say that given his desire to tear Bush down during a war. But there's a reason the phrase "it is what it is" has become so famous. It is what it is.

    So Michelle Obama's dress on election night seems to have drawn a lot of attention and this blog would lack the comprehensive aspect it strives for if I didn't comment on it. I thought it a bit black widow spidery. I think it represented a lot of pent-up demand in that she had to dress like a soccer mom all those campaign days in order to reassure voters. Once it was over she could be herself. It's sort of like how if you read too much cloying stuff you need a dollop of Edgar Allen Poe. That was her Poe dress.