January 30, 2009

You'd Think We'd Learn from Japan...

...but it appears we haven't:
The Japanese tried every trick in the Keynesian playbook. Zero interest rates, public works projects tax rebates and tax decreases. The government built thousands of bridges and roads, driving up government debt to enormous levels. Between 1990 and 2000, the Japanese government instituted 10 fiscal stimulus programs totaling $1 trillion. None of these programs worked. Sound familiar?....Dr. Benjamin Powell clearly explains:
Japan created a structure of production that did not meet consumers’ particular demands. Producing things that nobody wants and propping up mal-investments cannot possibly help any economy. This policy is equivalent to the old Keynesian depression nostrum of paying people to dig holes and fill them. Neither policy will revive the economy because neither forces businesses to realign their structures of production to match consumer demands.
Japan's economy has been nearly stillborn for two decades now and it's likely our economy will be for a similar timespan.

The stimulative package sort of reminds me of the surge in Iraq. I remember thinking the surge would work, but only as long as we had 100K troops over there. Similarly, the stimulative package - if done right - could stimulate the economy but to what end? As soon as the government quits pumping money into the economy won't it sink again? It's not as though people have a lot of money to spend and are just waiting for a feeling of confidence, it's that nobody has any money to spend because everyone is nearly up to their eyeballs in debt. Isn't the longterm solution to free people from debt so spending can resume? And won't that take, like, forever?

On the nat'l debt issue, I hadn't been worried about in the past because as a measurement against GNP (rather than GDP) it's much smaller than it was during WW2. So I don't know whether GDP or GNP is the important measure. Regarding median income may not be rising but it will never rise enough.

To play the blame game likely isn't all that helpful or even possible to figure out, but it seems as though Maestro Greenspan let us down. The one grown-up in Washington, he had the ears of the lawmakers and presidents. Place not your trust in princes as the bible says. Or you can simply say that free economies are supposed to boom and bust and without the busting you can't have a boom.

Greenspan was doing what most everyone does: exercising pain avoidance until the avoidance of pain causes causes major arterial damage:
"The crisis was caused by the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates low for too long, investment banks leveraging their balance sheets 40 to 1, banks marketing 120% loan to value mortgage loans on overpriced houses, consumers borrowing at obscene levels from their overpriced homes and credit card companies handing out credit cards like candy...".
Didn't we know awhile know, deep down, that something was wrong? Didn't we know it by the way corporations became ridiculous in their efforts to please their quarterly Wall Street masters? How mergers and acquisitions were viewed as a magical, painless form of earnings growth? Didn't we know it when friends or relatives somehow ended up with 50K in credit card debt? Didn't we know it in the unnaturally long recession-less prosperity from '90 thru '01? Didn't we know it when houses suddenly became viewed as a source of money via refinancing instead of a place to, like, live?

Bible Canon Reference

Douay Rheims/RSV Conversion

Younger Than... a Fogelberg Song

Saw "Evan Almighty" as the snows thundered down but was distracted by the seeming pretence of the wife of Noah, played by an actress named Lauren Graham, having been married for twenty years to the main character. It seemed as though they had cast a younger actress than the role called for.

I couldn't wait to get on to IMDB database to check her age. But now I have to admit defeat: born in 1967, she was 38 or 39 at the time of the filming in '06 and so she could've been married at 18 or 19. The picture at right is of Graham at the Evan Almighty premiere. I suppose this shows that I'm getting older since 39-year olds look 25. Or it shows the effects of makeup and good lighting.

January 29, 2009

Honesty Comes to Scammer Subject Header

As a longtime follower of the wiles of Nigerian scammers, it's rare when there's a true breakthrough in the "art form". Generally they read as form letters although admittedly with more comedy, pathos and grammatical errors than is typical.

The general pattern in the early era was to focus on widows of dead African presidents and later it morphed to a nakedly Christian angle with salutations invoking the name of Jesus. I don't much read them much anymore. The genre seems as tapped out as "spam poetry". But today I received a new form of Nigerian scammer comedy with a subject header guaranteed to disarm: "Be inform That Any money you send to Africa to receive your payment is at your own risk". Truth in advertising! Ye gods, the scammers must be desperate. Necessity is the mother of invention and perhaps at time's the truth as well. Here it is:

Subject: Be inform That Any money you send to Africa to receive your payment is at your own risk

Date: Wed, 28 Jan 2009 21:47:14 +0100
To:

Dear

I am Mr Ebeson Ike the Permanent sectary of Senator Tunde Ogbeha. The Chairman House committee Payment and verification on foreign contractors and Foreign Affairs office of the presidency Republic of Benin.

He told me to Contact all the Foreigners that waiting for their Payment , regards to series of petition we receiving from unpaid (Foreign Contractors, Inheritance next of kin and lotto beneficiaries that was originated from America, Europe, Asia, and Middle east) on how African government usually don’t pay them their contract funds, And other Debts owned them by the Government based on this the African Government made a through investigation to ascertain the cause and find out that there are some officials that cooperate with outsiders to extort money from foreign contractors.

So the United Nations then held a meeting and made a resolution that all foreigners contractors and those that are waiting their draft payment and ATM Payment to be paid by Cash through Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in other to beat those fraudsters in Africa that export money from Foreigners with out release their Fund to them...

You have to Contact Senator Tunde Ogbeha The Chairman House committee Payment and verification on foreign contractors and Foreign Affairs office of the presidency Republic of Benin as soon as you received this mail to give you the full contact information of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China that will transfer your fund Directly to your account, have to call him also for more clarification .

This is contact Address
His Name ;Senator Tunde Ogbeha
E-mail Address ;senatortundeogbehe@gmail.com
Phone Number ; 0022998244622

Note ; Any money you send to Africa to receive your payment is at your own risk, you don’t have to send any money to received your payment .

Thanks

Mr Ebeson Ike
The Permanent sectary
of Senator Tunde Ogbeha
The Chairman House committee
Payment and verification on foreign
Contractors and Foreign Affairs
Office of the presidency
Now there's your exhibit A of title inflation: "The permanent Sectary of Sen. Ogbeha the Chairman House committee Payment and verification on foreign contractors and foriegn affairs office of the presidency." A mouthful.

What to Make of Updike's Output?

Must lives, well-lived, imitate stories? For example, would the gospel message have penetrated so thoroughly without the Crucifixion? Let's say Christ performed earthly miracles, died out of the public eye, rose, and ascended into Heaven. Would He have left the impact He did given our lust for story (i.e. conflict) that seems hardwired into our DNA? The story of Jesus, on a purely natural level, is very compelling, which is why Malcolm Muggeridge once said that Mary had to be a virgin if only for the purposes of the story. Grace builds on nature even if the the genesis of nature or story is supernatural.

I hesitate to bring up the personal example of aunts and grandparents on this public blog, but their deaths remain so vivid precisely because they were in such conflict with their lives. The story remains incomplete, of course, pending the general Resurrection. But certainly the seeds of one are sown here. There was no continuity; the iron graciousness of an aunt, her productivity in terms of civility and friendliness and sociability was unimaginably prolific until it completely lapsed to the point where she refused to see her children in her final year. There was no fault involved whatsoever since her disease affected her both physically and mentally, but the contrast in her personality was the stuff of stories, in how the most consistent of persons was laid low. (Death, of course, lays everyone low, and so there is no human story without that particular conflict.) We see Pope John Paul II, the most articulate of popes, the skiing, mountain-climber suffering great disabilities in his final years. I'll never forget an uncle saying that he should retire, give over his duties to someone who can do them. My sad, sad defense was that the "Vatican runs itself" and can handle a semi-incapacitated pope for awhile. We'd both missed the whole message of Pope John Paul II's weakness, of how he was trying to teach us of the sanctity of life from cradle to grave and how we are not our productivity. How would the legacy of JPII be changed if we never saw his weakness? Why do all of our heroes, from Achilles to Superman, have something that weakens them, be it their heel or kryptonite?

Updike seemed to break the pattern, cheerfully writing presumably up until his death. Two months ago anyway he was his gracious, smiling self as reported by one of the literati. He also never had to face his Achilles' heel, that which he most feared: the diminution of his talent to the point where he couldn't go on. For those whose main pleasure is in their talent, the risk of embarrassment is omnipresent (in sports, see Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali). Updike died while still in decent form.

The literary critic James Woods seems to find this discipline of Updike's a point of offensiveness. Updike was never laid low, never let himself be fallow. (Cue Olivia Newton John lyrics: "Have you never been mellow? Have you never tried? To find the comfort from inside you?") This very persistency and steadiness is seen as the flaw, the reason Updike never achieved the greatness he was capable of:
For some time now Updike’s language has seemed to encode an almost theological optimism about its capacity to refer. Updike is notably unmodern in his impermeability to silence and the interruptions of the abyss. For all his fabled Protestantism, both American Puritan and Lutheran-Barthian, with its cold glitter, its insistence on the aching gap between God and His creatures, Updike seems less like Hawthorne than Balzac, in his unstopping and limitless energy, and his cheerfully professional belief that stories can be continued; the very form of the Rabbit books – here extended a further instance – suggests continuance. Updike does not appear to believe that words ever fail us – ‘life’s gallant, battered ongoingness’, indeed – and part of the difficulty he has run into, late in his career, is that he shows no willingness, verbally, to acknowledge silence, failure, interruption, loss of faith, despair and so on...Updike’s language, for all that it gestures towards the usual range of human disappointment and collapse, testifies instead to its own uncanny success: to a belief that the world can always be brought out of its cloudiness and made clear in a fair season.

Updike is really a kind of pagan writer, for in fact, traditionally, God does not always enable language and its easy flow, but beggars it, forcing the writer into approximations and helpless ineffabilities: the Psalmist, after all (in Psalm 90), is ‘consumed away in thy sight’. One would wish Updike’s prose a little more ‘consumed away’, and a little less consuming.
What's interesting to me personally is how Mother Teresa became such a figure of interest to me only after it became clear that she had a story, i.e. that she struggled. Mother Teresa was the least interesting modern saint to me in that hers was a story of iron will, utter predictability in terms of her devotion, dedication, and closeness to God. She was, before the revelations of her long dark night were made known, a "plaster saint". She was like Jesus, only she was like Jesus if He had never been crucified.

But I'm not sure Updike should've just "embraced his inner writer's block" one day and refused the discipline to get up and write. I tend to think that writing for Updike was perhaps the greatest source of pleasure in his life, the way eating is for the very old. And one cannot live without pleasure. If it wasn't always producing of pleasure, then certainly there is something to be admired in someone who plugs along. Fellow writer Paul Theroux admired Updike's output saying "His capacity for work was huge. I think of something V. S. Pritchett once wrote. 'The fewer novels or plays you write—because of other parasitic interests—the fewer you will have the ability to write,' Pritchett said, lamenting his own small fictional output." So I'm not convinced he should've just given into despair for awhile in the hope that it would produce greater depth in his works or a higher-quality book. To simply break something that isn't working the way it ought isn't the way of God. I think it would've been better for Martin Luther to have not let his personal demon of scrupulosity lead to the fracturing of Christianity, for example.

Mother Teresa prayed and worked despite her dryness while Updike produced some books of lesser quality during similarly lean times. It's true that God doesn't like lukewarmness, that he would prefer we would be either cold or hot (Rev. 3:15), but fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and fear of God would suggest plugging along in the absence of direct divine revelation is not a bad thing.

January 28, 2009

John Updike, R.I.P.

A memoriam here:
In an autobiographical essay, Updike famously identified sex, art, and religion as "the three great secret things" in human experience. The grandson of a Presbyterian minister (his first father-in-law was also a minister), his writing in all genres has displayed a preoccupation with philosophical questions. A lifelong churchgoer and student of Christian theology, the Jesuit magazine America awarded him its Campion Award in 1997 as a "distinguished Christian person of letters."
A fellow Updikephiliac mentions the late author's desire to have a large family after the experience of being an only child.

I learned about in the usual 21st century way: via the Internet. I was checking out the Columbus Metro Library website to see if I had, via them, a free subscription to JSTOR in order to read an analysis of the catalyst for the poem "The Naked and the Nude" by Robert Graves, when I saw the book I'm reading featured (see picture above). I was taken aback by the dates associated with Updike; it took a full second or more to register that the dates weren't publication dates of some kind, but of the birth and death variety. He was 76.

January 27, 2009

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

Just yesterday, a Catholic woman who had previously been a Baptist told me that she often feels that many Catholics do not realize what a gift they are receiving in the Eucharist—that they are receiving Jesus Christ. I took it to heart, for I know I have been guilty of it myself. I once contemplated writing a book about the Midwest entitled “In the Ruins of Catholicism.” When I lived up there, I often visited abandoned shrines, monasteries, and churches—all now closed. They spoke of a glorious day in the distant past. Why did they cease to exist? People stopped caring, I presume. Here the Church is thriving, new buildings are going up, new shrines are dedicated, and thriving religious communities are filled with young souls. Let us never forget the first zeal we felt at the onset of our Christian journey; but if we have forgotten our “first love” (Revelation 2:4), let us start afresh to ever watch for Him in the people and places around us – in our immediate daily life and be mindful that He comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament. - Michael Dubruiel of "Annunciations"

I agree with a bit of this post at the Volokh Conspiracy critiquing the inaugural gestalt that seems more in common with a monarchy than a republic founded, in part, out of a desire for limited government. This is not an Obama issue. It’s an issue related to the increasingly vexing matter of the role of the president in American government and life. I say “increasingly vexing” because I do believe the confusion and pressure is getting worse as government grows. I thought about this often during the campaign, particularly during the debates. Think about it - these candidates are put up there in the debate context, not allowed to use any notes or references, and are expected to be comfortably expert on any and every aspect of domestic and foreign policy that might affect a nation of 300 million people as evidenced by their ability to speak extemporaneously and unaided. Why? Does this expectation meet in any way the realities of presidential decision and policy-making? - Amy Welborn

After that long campaign I had no idea [Obama] was one of us!
"We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."
Strong words against the abortion mafia. - Bill of Summa Minutiae, who hat tipped Ellyn of Oblique House

On Assumed Transitivity and Proof By Counterexample - - actual title of Zippy Catholic post

This is my fourth year redressing the lack of Dinosaur Media coverage with an online photo journal...Following 2007 and 2008, when marchers each year numbered 200,000, we wondered what would happen in 2009 - two days following the inauguration of the most proudly pro-abortion president in this sad episode of our nation's history. This year there were 300,000! I stood on a column in front of the Department of Labor for 2 1/2 hours shooting over 700 pictures. - Barbara, mother of twelve and of "Mommy Life"

Crowd estimates are a thankless task and anyone who has seen the estimates for the Obama inaugural crowd ranging from 800,000 to 1.8 million can understand that. But the headline for this Associated Press video of this year’s March for Life actually had me gasping:
Scores March Against Abortion
Scores? As in groups of 20? Really? Really? I literally have nothing to say about that headline. A GetReligion first: a headline so unfair and inaccurate that I’m left without anything to say. - GetReligion blog

Excommunications Lifted; Media Ignorance Descends - title of a post on Maureen's "Aliens in this World"

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money. - Jules Renard

While reading blog comments this week, I've noticed that the same question comes up over and over from the other side: "Why does the right refuse to shut up about abortion?" Ooooooh, pick me! Pick me! For the same reason that the Jews refuse to shut up about the Holocaust. - Karen of "Some Have Hats"

[Now] the weirdest hope. The hope that an Obama presidency will “change” America. Or buck us up as a country. Or make things all better, not because of a policy, but because this guy and his nice family is in the White House. No check. Don’t get it. The first thought that comes to me are general questions about how one discerns a country’s “mood” anyway. I know it is common to do so, and a convenient shorthand for how we view history, but I am unconvinced that it ever has any validity, except perhaps in exceptionally dramatic moments in time such as during or after a war. Reading Obama’s speech - and recalling some of his more important campaign speeches - one senses that the primary problem the United States faces is a crisis of identity, purpose and self-regard. We have lost hope, we need to be recharged and inspired again. I seriously have no idea what any of this means. When I look at the primary problems facing the United States, I see two: the threat of terrorism and a new kind of war-making, and the economy. Neither of these issues are related to emotions or a need to retrieve a lost vision of hope. The economy, in particular, is a complex, global and extremely technical problem that requires clear-headed, objective problem-solvers to even begin to get a handle on. Ideological and even sentimental patriotic language serves to obscure, not solve the problem. - Amy Welborn

I have learned from a reliable source that James Dobson recently prayed for Barack Obama that he might have uneasy nights. When I passed this suggestion on to a friend who was urging us all to pray for Obama (following the scriptural command), he was inclined to think such a prayer mean-spirited, or at least to think that if he prayed it, it would be mean-spirited. I cannot speak for my friend, and of course he must follow his conscience in this matter. But I do not believe that such a prayer is mean-spirited. In fact, I believe it is quite important...The scriptural injunction to pray for kings is unequivocal. So I think that Dobson's idea is a very good one. It is not to wish ill on a man as badly wrong as Barack Obama to wish that he may be made uncomfortable by his conscience in the areas where he is wrong. It is, in fact, to wish him great good. Nor are the pro-life issues I am most thinking of (and they are only some of the issues) merely "political." They are moral, and it is a grave and potentially soul-destroying sin for one to further the pro-death agenda as Obama has done and intends to continue to do. The grace of God does not come to us comfortably. All who are Christians know this. Christ sometimes, indeed, appears to us as disaster. I do not mean personal and physical disaster, though of course God can use that for good as well, but rather that sense of an imminent overturning of one's categories, that sense that one may be called upon to do something one very much does not want to do, that sense that good is good, and bad is bad, that God is good, but that one may not after all be on His side. - Lydia McGrew of "What's Wrong With the World?"

Two Takes on the Rwandan Holocaust

I recently happened across two different theories concerning the roots of the cause of the Rwandan killings. One is from the newly infamous SSPX Bishop Williamson, the other from the book "Led to Faith" by Immaculee Ilibagiza and Steve Erwin.

Williamson's belief in conspiracies (he'd have a lot in common with Obama's former pastor Rev. Wright) suggests that he might well be a contrary indicator of truth but it's still interesting to line up his views next to another. In this essay the blame goes to "modernism, or democratism, in the Catholic Church":
In brief, God makes different men with widely differing natures, for instance some natural leaders, many natural followers, so that by men's different gifts completing and complementing one another, all men may together make up a harmonious society...

Likewise in the little "country of a thousand hills" of Rwanda, lost in the centre of Africa until the first white man arrived in 1894: for some eight centuries prior to his arrival the minority pastoral Tutsis had peacefully ruled the majority agricultural Hutus because as a tribe the Tutsis had the natural gifts to do so, and they had been wise enough on the whole not to misuse those gifts.

Nor was this natural order disturbed when Catholicism arrived soon after with Belgian missionaries teaching the true religion in the wake of the first World War, in fact Tutsis and Hutus who speak the same language mingled happily in the weeks-long celebrations to commemorate in 1933 the consecration of their joint land to Christ the King by the Tutsi King Mutara III.

The troubles only came when modernism on a large scale began to contaminate Catholics in Europe between the wars: man is God; so man, not Christ, is king; so all men are king, so one man must have one vote. As this democratism spread to Rwanda, so the Hutus were progressively indoctrinated by their clergy and leaders with the insufferability of their undemocratic status as one tribe ruled by another over which they enjoyed numerically a three-to-one majority.
Now let's see how Immaculee Ilibagiza characterizes it:
As is the case in much of Africa, many of Rwanda's modern problems were rooted in the colonial past.

For more than 500 years, Hutus and Tutsis has lived in peace under a long line of Tutsi kings. But that peace was shattered when European colonizers - first the Germans, and later the Belgians - arrived in Rwanda in the 19th century. To more easily conquer and control the country, the Belgians supported the Tutsi monarchy and exploited the existing social structure. The Belgians favored the Tutsis because their lighter skin and finer features made them seem more closely related to the Europeans than the Hutus. The Belgian overlords even introduced an "ethnic identity card" to guarantee that the two groups remained as socially segregated as possible.

When the Tutsi king pressed for independence and asked the Belgians to leave Rwanda in 1959, the Belgians retaliated by helping Hutu extremists seize power and topple the centuries-old Tutsi monarchy. The bloody Hutu Revolution that followed left more than 100,000 Tutsis dead. After the Belgians pulled out of Rwanda in 1962, Hutu extremists began a decades-long campaign of terror and slaughter aimed at Tutsis.
I'm much more inclined to accept the hypothesis in Led by Faith, especially since Williamson is like the guy who has a hammer and sees all problems related to the lack of hammers. He's not an unbiased observer: he's looking for modernism and democracy within the Church as the cause of all troubles foreign and domestic, so naturally he'll find it.

Especially telling in the Led by Faith account was the mention of the introduction of "ethnic identity cards". I suspect that modernization and democratization is less the problem than the social Darwinism that infected the West around the time of Nietsche and bore its ultimate fruit with the Nazis. It seems a clear path from the Darwinism to extreme nationalism to ethnic identiy cards to genocide.

January 26, 2009

Get Yer Opinions Here, Half-@ssed $1 & Full-@ssed $2

Andrew Sullivan gleefully links to the reprehensible opinions of newly reinstated SSPX Bishop Williamson. Since none of the opinions Sullivan linked to were of a heretical nature, I'm scratching my head at the non-sequitor nature of his post. Since when does the Church excommunicate the misinformed and grossly ignorant? I'm much more concerned about politicians voting for government policies that result in dead babies than obscure prelates with likely the same size audience as this blog making hateful statements.
___________

Angst about Obama being Obama seems misplaced. Rather, it's simply proof that bad voting leads to bad results. I don't blame Obama for being Obama; I blame Americans for voting him into office. (Democracy is a poor system but it's still the best we've got.)

My thinking-aloud theory for why it's tougher for conservatives to be elected is that the number one axiom of politics is voters never appreciate what you prevent, only what you do. That is, a politician will not get credit for avoiding a terrorist attack, avoiding a deep recession, avoiding a war, or avoiding a tax increase, government bankruptcy, etc..(not that conservatives are always adept at avoiding some of these things of course).

By contrast, extremely expensive middle-class entitlement programs are still seen in a positive light. More surprinsgly, FDR is called one of our greatest presidents despite the fact that the Depression lasted a decade and ended not through his efforts but via Japan's (i.e. Pearl Harbor).

___________

Well, in the interest of being "fair and balanced" I have to say I shouldn't be totally giving up on mainstream media (in this case TIME), especially when it goes and produces something like this. It felt like a Goincidence since I came across this link on the very day of receiving a nice handwritten note in the mail from one of the sisters in that very cloister.
___________

Alack and alas, if I knew twenty years ago I'd have a blog and would get linked by a German-speaker I would've studied harder in German class.
___________

Interesting thoughts touching on free will, about a writer who volunteered to go to an insane asylum:
She is consumed by the question of whether she, and society, have chosen madness, or what has been called cosmetic psychopharmacology, as an easier path than free will and its attendant terrors. (A third meaning, about whether madness and will can exist at the same time, hovers in the distance.) ...

But it’s moving to watch her relearn the basic lessons of life: Sit with your anger, and its handmaiden, shame. It isn’t real, but you need to know where it comes from. Figure it out, then don’t worry about it too much. “Just hand the apple back,” she writes. “Just unknow. Because you can.”

Of course, this is not enough to wean Vincent off her daily Prozac. And by taking it, she answers the question about whether madness and will can coexist. Everyone must take responsibility for his own mental health, even those among us who are touched by darkness. As a compromise in an age of psychopharmacological doubt, this seems about right.

___________

As much as I like my avatar, that of meself holding a fine pint, I'd rather have pictures like these adorn that right corner:
But how does one do so without peeps assuming I'm a gal? Especially since I don't even have mits yet?
___________

Speaking of girls, Kim gives us a Bingo report, although reluctantly since she's of a mind to ostracize me for my non-volunteering. Understandable as just as elections have consequences so does quitting bingo. But she did offer this:
Anyhow, while cleaning up the tables, I found a note. I am typing it word for word as it is written. I thought you might find it amusing.
To Whom It May Concern

I thank you need to invest in a new coffee pot because the one you got up there tast [yes tast] like shi-

Thank you

A Bingo player
The entitlement mentality grows! Now free coffee is supposed to taste like Tim Horton's?
___________


To end on a much happier if no less expletive-y note, saw this from a friend of my aunt's concerning a boy undergoing radical chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant:
The most important thing is that after his bone marrow aspiration test results came back my heart was overjoyed with happiness that now my grandson can truly be happy with his life again. There were no cancer cells found. Although this is fantastic news he will still need periodic checkups for the next four years just to be safe for he is high risk. It was told early on that even though he may not have any cancer the grace period is five years. So with the love of God we pray that he will remain cancer free for the next several years and on...All his blood workup were fantastic. They ran test on his heart, liver, kidney, eyes and ears, everything came back great. We had a meeting with the entire transplant team, and the head of the transplant team who was Dr. W, I couldn't believe this doctor and what he told my grandson . . . he was looking at all the test results that had come back on the computer and when he was done he came right over to J and put his hand up and for the high five to J and said to him at the same time there hands contacted . . . . . . Jordan you are F . . . ing amazing!!!! I looked at him and told him I can't believe who actually said that with me sitting right here . . . he laughed and told me that this is the kind of results that he would like to happen to all his patients . . . it's amazing and J is awesome! I guess he was so happy that he couldn't help himself but he also knows that I didn't appreciate the swearing . . ha! He any case it was great news and we thank God for his answer to so many of you have prayed for J and we as a family thank all of you so much for all your prayers and support.

Orestes! Orestes! ....

For Orestes Brownson fans - and who among us is not? - Eric Scheske has a tri-posting here.

The Limits of Apologetics

Having never heard any Catholic apologetics as a kid growing up in Catholic schools (we weren't even taught the term 'apologetics'), there was later a sense that some of the Church's doctrines were embarrassing or at least extraneous. That there were sound reasons for the doctrines I didn't know until Ott and Keating, and moreoever I couldn't have imagined then how much light and consolation many of these "extraneous" doctrines afforded some of my brethern. But I was more focused on Christian unity with non-Catholics (seeing how all my friends have been Protestants).

One such friend, Ham o' Bone, said something very interesting after I sent some apologetic material his way a few years back. He said something like "if any church doctrine is false then the whole thing is false". And the Marian doctrines in particular seemed false to him. But of course one could apply the same standard to the Bible, and many atheists and agnostics have. They believe they've found something in the Bible that is contradictory and false and so they can discard the whole thing.

The missing ingredient is faith, be it faith in the truth of the Bible or the Church. I remember going so far as to send Mark Shea's "By Whose Authority" book to an anti-Catholic Baptist radio preacher; call me naive but not late to dinner. I was naive in thinking that apologetics, even good apologetics, are in any sense sufficient. Faith is always required.
Weekend

Fresh as hibiscus it came on horses
home again to gather forces
Frietag's thirst is slaked by Faulkner
playing quarters with strong porters
till the reluctant tuck at two.

Saturday dons my new, blue sweatshirt
(it feels so Yale) to fetch breakfast
Then the mid-hours a bit unsettled,
like the mid-years less 'spiration
the weather yuck as day-old biscuits.

Another Sunday the paper says
to church and wor su gai I do attend
the weekend hours shrunk too fast
I walked and read and blogged it past.

January 25, 2009

The Risk-Takers

It's a figure of perpetual wonderment to me to the extent we Americans have spent ourselves into debt. In our sympathetic local paper, there were a few lines yesterday about a woman, an accountant, who is seeking help from our U.S. House representative because she was denied a conventional fixed-rate mortgage from her bank and so got an ARM which she now can't afford. This is bedazzingly bedfuddling because one of the solutions to our financial management problem, I thought, was for high schools to require financial planning classes and yet here this lady was an accountant. (Of course, accountacy isn't the same as financial prudence; after all Arthur Anderson - the most bedrock of bedrockian accounting firms - went out of business years ago.) But you would think though that the fact that she couldn't qualify for a fixed-rate loan might - just might - be telling her something. In this age there is no admission of where the buck stops.

I've decided that perhaps part of it is that we are simply a nation of risktakers and taking on debt, though risky, is part of our cultural DNA. If you can get an A.R.M. loan, well why not? Sure it's a bet on your performance and your company's performance and the economy's, since an A.R.M. would assume a rising income but... One thing that the Puritan immigrants of the 1600s had in common with German and Italian immigrants of the 1800s is an acceptance of risk, albeit not necessarily of the financial variety.

That's one spin. Ben Stein says simply that we lack discipline, calling us "free spending Peter Pans":
I have been pondering what advice to give them about money. What I keep coming up with is this: Do not act like typical Americans. Do not fail to save...I wish I could teach that work ethic to those close to me. I wish I could teach them that money is a scarce good, worth fighting for and protecting. But I very much fear that my son, more up-to-date than I am in almost every way, is more of a modern-day American than I am. To hustle and scuffle for a deal is something he cannot even imagine. To not be able to eat at any restaurant he feels like eating at is just not on his wavelength.
This isn't academic, since of my seven siblings counting my wife's side two have had to recently borrow in order to pay their mortgage and at least two more are in serious financial distress.

Never do I feel more the old fogey when I look back with what trepidation I put my John Hancock on my first mortgage document ('mortgage' means "dead note" I believe). Getting an A.R.M. that could float with interest rates was unthinkable.

I feel an old fogey also when I not only think about the possibility of losing my job but anticipate it.

It may be the result of a chronological accident, having become politically and economically aware during the period from 1975 to 1985. These years featured a severe recession ('82), as well as severe inflation ('75 to '79) and very high unemployment ('77 thru '82). So perhaps those of my exact age (45) might understand, though in a far less vivid way than those of the Depression-era, that "money doesn't grow on trees".

Springsteen's Contentment

I'm all for a happy Bruce, and yet it is interesting to see what effect that has had on his art. Word on the back street is that his latest album is lyrically-challenged. Most, though not all of course, great artists seem troubled to some extent: Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Van Gogh, even Shakespeare. Not to compare the Bard of New Jersey with the Bard of Avon but you get my drift.

I feel a bit of a prophet since a couple years ago I imagined Bruce Springsteen writing a song about a grocery store and blaming Bush for fewer choices:
Sixty Minutes correspondent Soft T. Baller asked: "Theoretically, what if the gap between the ideal and performance narrowed such that the darkness, the shadowlands of humanity as it were, was primarily the fact that only ten varieties of Kelloggs cereal were available in some foreign countries due to Bush Administration policies?"

Bruce answered, "Then I'd write a song about that! It'd go something like this [strums guitar while making a low, moaning sound]:
Marshall Bush took the stand
declared the oath but broke the band
when denied he Raisin Bran
to the stores of Ireland...

REF: Yeah there's a darkness in the supermarket...
There's a darkness in the supermarket...
Well it turns out his latest album does wax semi-lyrical about a grocery store, although in a reverse image ala Obamaland according to this WAPO review:
"Queen of the Supermarket" [is] a marvelous, majestic song, save for the lyrics, in which Springsteen goes shopping at a store "where aisles and aisles of dreams await you" -- specifically, where "a dream awaits in aisle number two" -- and winds up snatching a hidden-beauty metaphor from the clearance bin. (Leave it to the Boss to try to romanticize the mega-mart shopping experience.)
Depth and contentment often seem to be inversely-related which is why during good economic times there is a lot of entertainment news and fluff (i.e. see Clinton era). Springsteen's apparent contentment, personal and political, apparently hasn't done him any favors lyrically:
It's a recurring problem. "Surprise Surprise"...sounds like the best Traveling Wilburys song you've never heard, only with strings and, unfortunately, the sort of lyrics that Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, et al., might have laughed out of the room: "And when the sun comes out tomorrow, it'll be the start of a brand new day/And all that you have wished for I know will come your way."

On the driving rocker "My Lucky Day," over ringing guitars and piano fills, Springsteen plays with the old love-is-a-gamble motif, but can only come up with this couplet: "Well, I lost all the other bets I made/Honey, you're my lucky day."...

Throughout the album, Springsteen sounds relatively content -- a far cry from his state of mind 16 months ago, when the bitter and oft-bleak E Street album "Magic" was released. Then, Springsteen was downright disturbed by the realities of this American life under the watch of George W. Bush. Now, he sounds optimistic and occasionally giddy. But it's hardly a celebration of Obama-era political change: "Working on a Dream" is an apolitical album that goes for subtlety over Big Statements as Springsteen, at 59, considers personal relationships and the passage of time.
Well, just maybe it's not a coincidence that political change has changed his tune, I mean lyrics. But it is interesting to wonder if there's connection between happiness and artistry.

January 23, 2009

Paradise by the Art Institute's Lights

It was a case of severe vacationi interruptus; I'd misunderestimated ecstasy's trajectory. Best not peak too late, but I'd peaked on Tuesday, of all days, with nary a book eaten before Wednesday's mournin' bell nor scarcely a beer drunk.

It was a bit ridiculous, racing 'gainst the clock like that, chugging a couple beers Tuesday at 5pm before 6pm dinner while watching a televised Meat Loaf concert featuring an explosive rendition of "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights". I was quaffing the beer because I was back late from what I'd assumed would be a pedestrian art museum but which had left me surprised by beauty. Happy hour was delayed, but man has a natural right to beer on vacation. (Note to self: check Thomas Paine's "The Rights of Man" for confirmation.) I find my mood greatly improved by regular beer much as a famous great evangelist found his greatly improved by daily sex. The great Hilaire Belloc saw his sense of humor atrophy during a wineless Lent; I find my far less witty version similarly afffected without the hops or prospect thereof.

It became increasingly clear though that I was experiencing an idyllic vacation high at precisely the wrong time. New vistas suddenly lay before me for it is only the relaxed who are open to mystery ("Americans can't relax enough to be able to pray well" said Blessed John XXIII). If I took the next day off I would surely read the Douay, King Lear, I would find some secret long eluding me, I would linger awhile in the uplands of my library, gathering in the sheaves, making love to my many splendored volumes. Pick your own metaphor. Like the businessman too consumed with work to visit his mistress, so too did I give scant attention to the many beauties within arms length. Tis better to be a contemplative with three books than owning thousands along with a distracted attention.

So the thought of calling in sick to work was just so...obvious. It should be easy now as there's no lie in it; our vacation days and sick days go into the same pile. And yet I'm a miser, a vacation day miser, and I was unwilling to go with my gut and read like a mo' fo'. "Save your vacation days," I thought, "for a pretty day. The year is not 20 days old, for heaven sakes! Hold your fire, keep your tinder dry."

No guts, no glory. I went into work semi-begrudgingly. Oh sure, I played the radio up high on the way in. Oh sure I was alit with calm and peace when my boss stopped by Wednesday morning. I was filled still with the glorious images of art, invigorated most especially by the unaccountably moving scene of George Washington's death bed. He too was mortal, the greatest president of all. All images of him I've seen were of strength yet now I'd witnessed him supine.

There was also that huge panoramic of Cincinnati in 1853 and I searched the large canvas in vain for where my great-grandfather may've worked or lived or worshipped. Call it art as time-travel - be it at George Washington's bedside or my great-grandfather's town. I get to see what he saw, which reminded me of the time I became moonstruck because it - the moon - was the only thing I could be sure I'd seen and Christ had seen, and it was like we had shared something very significant.

There was no shyness in the musuem curators at the Dayton Art Institute in displaying nudity; artists and curators are professionals, like doctors, and so they have their reasons. I marvel at those who can remain pure while painting a nude. I can't imagine the discipline a male painter must have in really seeing a woman's hand when a few inches away lay...

I read long from Updike, "Widows of Eastwick", and received that filling sensation I sometimes feel from his prose. Updike wrote about the desire of one of the older women to stay in the warm sun of New Mexico rather than travel to cold and snowy Boston to visit a friend. And it struck me how it is no accident that Florida is filled with snow birds and that the elderly seek warm climes during the winter. I began to wonder if I'm old before my time in my sensitivity to climate. Certainly if the 'plaints of the elderly are any indication, my own dislike of winter will only grow. It's not something I am particularly concerned about except as an indicator of character. That is, whether it's an indicator of my unwillingness to adapt to nature rather than force nature to adapt to me, since it's modernity's sin to think it can control nature. Embracing the winter seems an indicator of toughness and character and for that reason I should be interested in increasing my tolerance for Ohio winters. Lord knows my life is soft enough as it is.

They say it's the little things that matter, and it's true that I appreciated the little thing of the return of those golden fish filets at the cafe today. To eat when one is truly hungry is a good thing. But my mind goes back to that time of the idiot savant, that of the time spent in the DAI where I looked. I even made my own art, carefully removing the condesation from the window in order to get a shot of the courtyard beyond. I left part of the condensation in the picture in order to preserve the ambiguity.

I recall how startling it was to come around one blind corner and find the bright, airy modern art room with the very tall transparent doors fronted by vines of iron leaf. I remember too the room where I could rest my elbows in the window well and enjoy the bright sunny winter scene beyond, overlooking the mighty Miami river next to the signs of the highway that would take me home. I felt a feeling of exquisite comfort in the moment. I was immaculately preserved from interruption while surrounded by beauty, both outside and inside. I reveled in the moment as I made notes about all the things I wanted to explore. That moment, that single moment looking out the window, was impossibly filling. I was a child again and could’ve leaned in that window well for an hour or more. I walked twice to those great transparent doors with the iron leaves twice.

Contra FOCA

I was going to send Ham of Bone this link and ask he contact our senators about FOCA but then I figured I'd just put it on the blog. I wrote to Sen. Brown saying that while we disagree on the issue of abortion rights, I hope he would vote against the Freedom of Choice Act. Even apart from the pro-life issues, this proposal would radically strip away of the rights of the states to make laws that reflect the will of the people.
________

Press Bias 101

Ground zero of media bias is coverage of pro-life activism:
Crowd estimates are a thankless task and anyone who has seen the estimates for the Obama inaugural crowd ranging from 800,000 to 1.8 million can understand that. But the headline for this Associated Press video of this year’s March for Life actually had me gasping:
Scores March Against Abortion
Scores? As in groups of 20? Really? Really? I literally have nothing to say about that headline. A GetReligion first: a headline so unfair and inaccurate that I’m left without anything to say.
I'd often wondered whether the creation of the alternative media - primarily FOX News and conservative blogs - have stripped the audience from MSM television shows and newspapers causing them to tilt leftward more easily (since the conservative audience has already deserted them). But I see that as early as 1990 the laughable coverage, or in this case non-coverage, already existed.

Moi? Naive? Perhaps...

Snippet of a conversation:

Me: I always had confidence Aaron would come back to the faith. Especially back then when I was in the midst of my reversion and had great trust in the sacraments. He'd been baptized, a mark left on his soul. I didn't fully realize how one could resist grace...

My wife: Yes I thought you were naive.

January 22, 2009

A Couple of Parodies

From the soon-to-be published Guide to Political Slang:

Personal reasons -- a phrase often used to explain the withdrawal from consideration for appointment or as a candidate in a campaign. Typically means "stuff I hadn't thought was going to come out". (That is, for those possessing a modicum of shame, unlike Timothy Geither.)

Example:
Usage: "I am withdrawing for personal reasons."
Meaning: "I am withdrawing because I embezzled funds, worked briefly as a Nigerian scammer, cheated on my taxes despite supporting tax hikes, and frequented prostitutes."
In the latest demonstration of the use of the phrase personal reasons, the NY Times seems to have failed to recognize the all-encompassing nature of the personal:
"Problems involving taxes and a household employee surfaced during the vetting of Caroline Kennedy and derailed her candidacy for the Senate, a person close to Gov. David A. Paterson said on Thursday, in an account at odds with Ms. Kennedy’s own description of her reasons for withdrawing."
We here at the Slang Guide are confused. How could the explanation of the person close to Gov. Paterson be considered "at odds" with Caroline Kennedy's? We hope the NY Times will understand the extremely personal nature of having tax and household employee problems.
_____________


Dogs Won't Bite Under an Obama Administration

PARIS, FRANCE-- Former president George Bush was blamed for a recent dog bite perpetrated upon ex-French president Jacques Chirac by what was obviously a Republican dog.

The dog named Sumo is taking anti-depression drugs.

"Vee feel that all physical, moral, emotional, and intellectual evils can be ultimately placed at the feet of zee American neo-cons," said Chirac through a statesman. "If our beloved poodle wasn't depressed by the success of the surge in Iraq, then he was obviously reacting to global warming brought on by the failure of America to sign the Kyoto protocols."

I Wasn't Alone

When I heard Obama re-took the oath of office, I was taken by surprise. I mentioned to Dylan how it sounded like secular liturgy, as in the conveying of sacraments. A quick Google search later, I learned another soul was thinking along those same lines.

 

And this will be a sign for you.. (Luke 2:12)

"The America in which we were schooled had only two commandments: be nice and be cool...So, one day around 1983, I'm sitting in the smoking lounge of the Georgestown University library - remember when college libraries still had smoking rooms? - reading Tom Jones (education is nice, our teachers told us) while tendrils from my Marlboro (smoking is cool, the movies showed us) spiraled up in blue-gray swirls to break and pool on the stained acoustic tiles of the ceiling. And, growing tired at last of young Tom's long journey to reconcile with Squire Allworthy and the all-too-worthy Sophia, I let my eyes drift to the window.

Down on the sidewalk, across the street, was a woman with a toddler in a baby stroller and a small black dog on a bright red leash. April is Washington's best month, and the sun filtered in a glow through the leaves of the new-green trees as the overexcited, overhappy little dog bounced and yapped, weaving his tangled leash through the stroller's wheels while the mother stumbled after him and the toddler laughed and laughed, clapping her small hands at the slapstick world into which God and her parents had unexpectedly delivered her.

I wish that words could fully re-create that scene - the sharp blue of the stroller, the mother in her red jacked straining for the dog as her snarled purse spilled coins and baby wipes across the brick sidewalk - for it was at that moment I began to fail at the great American goal of niceness and coolness at which I had aimed since grade school. And it all started with the sudden, absolute conviction that babies are good." - Jody Bottum, from here.

Ratings Approval Graph

Since I blogged the other day about presidential approval ratings, thought I'd share this interesting graph and post from Darwin Catholic on the context of past approval ratings:

January 21, 2009

Day Trip to Dayton

Judge not a city by its size. I'd not been to Dayton as a travel destination since a grade school trip to Wright-Patt despite the close proximity to Columbus. I figured two hours in Dayton would be plenty but boy was I wrong.

It happens there are some 26,500 results in the Google search "lost in a painting", and I got lost in a few at the Dayton Art Institute. It was a satisfying, wonderful refuge into art on this, an appendage'd vacation day to the MLK holiday. I took so many pictures that I had to start a new blog for display purposes. (Disclosure: I'm an art virgin, so it doesn't take much to excite me.)

The museum is next to an imposing Masonic temple, a registered historical landmark, so I wandered over there out of nosiness. Unfortunately there was a guy behind a desk, the universal symbol of "hey, you can't wander around in here freely". He looked a bit like one of the unwholesome characters in Koontz's "Odd Thomas". When I asked if I could look around he said that they don't really allow people to look around.

The next stop was the intriguing-looking Orthodox or Byzantine church on the other side. I walked around the whole church without seeing any identification, which brings to mind a paraphrase: "if you don't know what it's called then you don't belong here." In front of a couple other halls I came across a Greek and American flags flying, dedicated to American and Greek soldiers, and then at last to the somewhat anticlimactic name: "Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church". We have an Annunciation Greek Orthodox church in town too; it seems the Orthodox are really big on the Annunciation.

At the Art Institute...

The first area I came to was African masks, which included one used for the purposes of war, circumcision, and male rites of passage. It looked the epitome of aggression: very low and pronounced brow, foreshortened forehead, nose stubby and flared, teeth showing. Power in such a society is physical. Later I would see a 19th century painting of a woman who looked like she was balding. The description said women would shave the front part of their heads in order to give the appearance of a higher forehead, which suggested greater intelligence: power in that society was intellectual.

Much of modern art is so bad that it has the school-yard quality of "made you look!" There are signs saying "please do not touch" except where they say "please do touch" as is the case of the black steel plate on the ground that you are meant to walk on. For what purpose I'm not sure. Modern art's excuse is that it is wants to mimic the state of flux and emptiness of modernity.

Sometimes you're not sure what is art and what isn't in the abstract art arena. Should I sit on that bench, or is it an artwork, a statement of the banality of modern culture? Many of the fixtures tell us this is art and not to touch it. The funny thing about good art is that awe attends it such that you don't need a sign telling you not to touch it.

It was interesting to read of the tension in art (as in life and film and Santa) over the definition of real:
One of the most significant tensions surrounding realism in painting can be found in its relationship to photography. A mechnically produced image, a photograph was considered an exact and completely objective representation of the subject. In contrast, a painting enjoyed the privileged status of a unique, subjective creation. An audience steeped in these early 20th century discussions began to expect the exactitude and "truth" of the camera in their realist paintings. While this tension was never resolved, nor could it be, both media were forced to fight for the claim of possessing "the aura of the real".
Came across what might've been the first Bouguereau I'd seen in person. It was "Song of the Nightingale", a pretty peasant girl with an expression of ambiguity, which was said to be what makes for good art. (No wonder the Mona Lisa is so admired; it seems we almost long for ambiguity - or perhaps mystery?)

Religious Paintings...

It was surprising, to me, that there were two or three paintings involving Mary Magdalen (almost wrote 'Mary Matalin'). I saw two references in the museum to Noli Me Tange ("Don't cling to me"), the words said by Christ in a Resurrection appearance. I was surprised by how little we focus on the post-Resurrection visions of Christ in church and art, although it's likely the subject is more popular than I realize. In the painting at left, it looks as though the angel is eagerly seeking insight from Mary Magdalen rather than the reverse.

Another painting or two depicted the Magi adoring Christ, and mention was made of how that subject is one of the most often depicted of all scenes in Jesus's life. That was surprising - and yet we see a similar thing in songs, in that the Incarnation is a more favored subject than the death or Resurrection.

The three kings seeing Jesus, bowing to Him, is a very rich message. This painting also contained what looked to be the devil in the background, confused, understanding only power and wondering why the wise and strong would be interested in a fragile baby of seemingly humble parentage. According to "The Golden Legends", Christ's birth created "confusion of the demons".

Another painting showed the lamentation of the good women who prepared His body for burial. You live in that moment viewing it, that moment when they had no idea He would rise. It was an unmitigated tragedy for them at the time, but it teaches us not to despair.

There was the story of St. Sebastian next to his painting, an early martyr who reverse-illustrates Jason of Friday the 13th. In our modern horror stories evil won't die; in the Resurrection of Christ and many early martyrs, the opposite is the case.

Notes about other paintings:

  • The inspiration for a painting of a Civil War widow was the poem Evangeline by Longfellow
  • Volumetric - new word I learned, used to describe painting of a fulsome woman
  • Gigantic painting illustrated Act 4, Scene 6 of King Lear
  • Mayan stone carving from over 1,000 years ago. Life is so short! Use it well! We are so truly temporary figures on this earth.
  • The Supernaturality of the Cross

    When I see the Crucifix, I usually picture two things:
  • God so loved us that He chose to die for us.
  • Just as He suffered, so must we.
  • All well and good but both betray a purely naturalistic vision. Soldiers, fire-fighters, our parents - all may die for us. It's infinitely more impressive that God did so, but it's still something that we can glean from purely human sources. The second point, the acceptance of our suffering, is no more supernatural than Stoic philosophy.

    What is unique about the cross is its supernaturality, the forgiveness of sins, so well-described by St. Bernard:
    Where can the weak find a place of firm security and peace, except in the wounds of the Savior? Indeed, the more secure is my place there the more he can do to help me. The world rages, the flesh is heavy, and the devil lays his snares, but I do not fall, for my feet are planted on firm rock. I may have sinned gravely. My conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the the Lord: He was wounded for our iniquities. What sin is there so deadly that it cannot be pardoned by the death of Christ? And so if I bear in mind this strong, effective remedy, I can never again be terrified by the malignancy of sin.

    Surely the man who said: My sin is too great to merit pardon, was wrong. He was speaking as though he were not a member of Christ and had no share in his merits, so that he could claim them as his own, as a member of the body can claim what belongs to the head. As for me, what can I appropriate that I lack from the heart of the Lord who abounds in mercy? They pierced his hands and feet and opened his side with a spear. Through the openings of these wounds I may drink honey from the rock and oil from the hardest stone: that is, I may taste and see that the Lord is sweet.

    He was thinking thoughts of peace, and I did not know it, for who knows the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? But the piercing nail has become a key to unlock the door, that I may see the good will of the Lord. And what can I see as I look through the hole? Both the nail and the wound cry out that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The sword pierced his soul and came close to his heart, so that he might be able to feel compassion for me in my weaknesses.

    Through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of his heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of his mercy with which he visited us from on high. Where have your love, your mercy, your compassion shone out more luminously that in your wounds, sweet, gentle Lord of mercy? More mercy than this no one has than that he lay down his life for those who are doomed to death.

    My merit comes from his mercy; for I do not lack merit so long as he does not lack pity. And if the Lord's mercies are many, then I am rich in merits. For even if I am aware of many sins, what does it matter? Where sin abounded grace has overflowed. And if the Lord's mercies are from all ages for ever, I too will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever. Will I not sing of my own righteousness? No, Lord, I shall be mindful only of your justice. Yet that too is my own; for God has made you my righteousness.

    Saint Bernard, Sermons on the Canticle

    Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

    I have now read Neuhaus's As I Lay Dying. It seems a lot more helpful than Faulkner's book of the same title. In addition to a quick recitation of what he remembers about his close encounter with death and dying, and some necessary philosophy and other real things, he also, in his no-nonsense honest way, also looks at other books and poems that have something to say about these matters, and then compares and contrasts them to his own experiences; and finally, without embarrassment, he talks about his "near-death" experience; actually he calls it a "near-life" experience... The outcome was not at all clear for several weeks. Finally he was promoted out of intensive care, soon after which he suddenly one night became aware of two "presences," who made it clear that he had a choice. And they clearly spoke: they said that "Everything is ready now." Not a command or an invitation, but definitely up to him. He thought that if he said Yes he would go on to die. - Ken of "Muellerstuff"

    I asked him his secret for being so prodigious a reader and writer. His response I took initially as a non-sequitur, until I had a chance to reflect on it more and put it into practice. His secret, he told me, was to make sure he did his morning prayer before he began to read the newspaper. Once he had put God first and received his help for the day, he could then get to the work God was asking him to do with greater concentration. God seemed to multiply his efforts. One of our mutual friends, who was with him to the end, told me that as his mental capacities were beginning to shut down, the one thing he continued to do lucidly was to pray his breviary. - Fr. Roger Landry on Neuhaus

    Unlike no man I have ever met, he was utterly at ease discussing the most serious things; not so much this or that influential book, but struggles in the life of virtue, mysteries in theology, the great questions of my life and his: What does the Lord want of me? That his preferred method of doing so was after evening prayers had been said, with a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other, was the practical affirmation of his theological conviction that to rejoice in the Lord's gifts was an obligation of gratitude. - Fr. Raymond de Souza on Fr. Neuhaus

    I was talking with a friend over the weekend and we had both come to the conclusion that we really didn't give a toss about one of our main topics of conversation: politics. Why would that be I wonder. Perhaps the last year or more of non-stop political reportage over loaded the circuits in that portion of the brain devoted to the public polity. Or maybe a touch of despair over the prospect of the most anti-life federal government in our history (more so even than Bill'n'Hillary!) coming into power in a few days. And when the rigging in our fantasyland democratic system, always something of an institutionalized con game, becomes so much more obvious, well, it doesn't help. You don't have to be in Illinois to see it; a good look at the California legislature will do just as well. There are so many more interesting things in life that continue on quite well without the gummint. Dr Johnson had it right 250 years ago: "How small of all that human hearts endure / That part which laws or kings can cause or cure." - John at "The Inn at the End of the World"

    I’ve always said Catholicism is the easiest or most difficult religion around. You can be a peasant lady who attends says the (entire, all 15-decades) Rosary daily, who has never heard of “transubstantiation v. consubstantiation,” and assumes the U.S. Constitution was written in Latin. She’s probably very wise, but very simple. If you don’t want to be that happy and content peasant lady (and what good red-blooded American does?) and prefer to think on your own, regardless of your innate limitations, then you better be ready to buckle down. And if you want to buckle down, this volume is a good piece of exercise. Benedict Groeschel repeatedly praises this volume. I’ve struggled a bit (I bought it six months ago), but I will get through it. - Eric of "The Daily Eudemon" on Pope Benedict's "Jesus of Nazareth"

    Christianity began in the Near East. And for a long time, its main development continued there. Then it spread in Asia, much more than what we think today after the changes brought about by Islam. Precisely for this reason its axis moved noticeably toward the West and Europe. Europe -- we're proud and pleased to say so -- further developed Christianity in its broader intellectual and cultural dimensions....Europe definitely became the center of Christianity and its missionary movement. Today, other continents and other cultures play with equal importance in the concert of world history. In this way the number of voices in the Church grows, and this is a good thing. - Pope Benedict XVI

    People have enough sense not to step in front of a moving bus because they recognize the principle of cause and effect in conjunction with simple physics and tradition, but for some bizarre reason when it comes to the religion they start abandoning all previous knowledge and reason is search of making themselves as ignorant as possible mistaking ignorance for some kind of sophisticated brilliance. - commenter "Love the Girls"

    One thing you won't see on the Left: grace. - Mike Barnicle on "Morning Joe" discussing the crowds at the Inaugural who booed President Bush.

    Intelligent children often go through a phase in which they rage against the stupidity of humanity. Barring some mutation in conscience, they abandon this pose by late adolescence. By adulthood, they should realize it is not the innately dull-witted who deserve criticism and even contempt; rather, those most dangerous to the world are they who pride themselves on their own overestimated intelligence. - Kevin Jones of Philokalia

    As a Communion meditation hymn, the choir (as is their wont) performed “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” in a very soulful and improper way. (There was scattered applause when they finished, which should have so horrified them that they’ll never do that song in a liturgy again, but probably didn’t.)...Our pastor began the homily by talking about cell phones, and said something about how he was sure we had all turned ours off..I still heard two cell phones go off during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, one at the moment of elevation of the Host. - Tom of Disputations on Amy's blog

    "The priest no longer stood with his back to us, he turned around to face the congregation." This was presented as a triumph of civility and sanity. Yesterday it occurred to me that there are no (or at least few) creatures in nature wherein the head faces the body. Generally the head and the body face the same direction. It would be evolutionarily counterproductive to always be looking at where you've been. So, how is it a triumph to have the head suddenly face the body--the priest face the congregation? If he is leading us, shouldn't he be focusing our attention in the appropriate direction rather than facing the other way? How do we form one body of Christ with our head turned around and gazing back on us? - Steven of Flos Carmeli

    January 20, 2009

    Inaugural Thoughts on the Inaugural...

  • Rush Limbaugh has a high-larious term for the event: "the Immaculation"

  • Fine invocation by Rick Warren.

  • Aretha Franklin has a voice so distinctive and inimitable that "Happy Birthday" would sound interesting, let alone the sublime "My Country Tis of Thee".

  • Loved the violin quartet.

  • How unfortunate that Chief Justice Roberts called him "Barack Hussein Obama". Hasn't he learned from the conservative talk show hosts that you can't call him that? :-)

  • Somebody flubbed up the vows. Initially I thought it Obama, because I wasn't paying attention to Roberts. (The giver of the oath is like the priest at a wedding ceremony: no one's paying him any mind.)

  • I liked the speech. Good Lord was that better than that awful Democratic National Convention yawner. This time Obama spoke about such things as the market being the great creator of wealth, and of how personal responsibility is key. A bit over-dramatic at times in the sense of "the end of the world is nigh" although if we do end up in another Great Depression it'll feel retroactively accurate. As it is, in terms of desperation and danger we're not to the point of "the snow stained red" as it was during the winter of 1776.

  • About the poem, lest said is best. Writing a piece for an occasion, rather than via inspiration is difficult. Poetry, like sexual intercourse, perhaps is best done under the influence of mindlessness rather than mindfulness.

  • Benediction by Lowrey was also a malediction, as far as whites are concerned. You really show your own smallness of spirit when even after your side has won you have to get the last jab in.
  • Obi in Winter



    Odd...

    Three prominent American Catholics with a tremendous interest in politics all died before seeing Obama become president: William F. Buckley, Tim Russert, & Richard J. Neuhaus. The national discourse will be poorer for the loss.

    Regarding Immigration

    I have the proverbial mixed emotions concerning illegal immigration. I can certainly understand why desperate people would want to find work and I think the workplace raids are harsh, unnecessary, and injurious to families.

    But one of the assertions of the the Catholic bishops in regard to immigration (as we now call illegal immigration) is that the control of national borders is a legitmate right, and yet the latest comprehensive immigration reform package offered by the bishops includes "abandonment of the border 'blockade' enforcement strategy".

    So I'm scratching my head. How does that follow? I searched the USCCB site and came up with the justification:
    Components of reform which are needed include: opportunities for legalization for the undocumented currently living in the United States; temporary worker programs with full worker protections and a path to permanency; and reform of our family immigration system that will allow families to be reunited in a timely fashion. The reforms should be enacted simultaneously so that all aspects of our legal immigration system are addressed. Properly implemented, this reform should alleviate the need for a U.S. border “blockade” policy, which has not discouraged undocumented migration and has driven migrants into dangerous and remote parts of the American Southwest.
    Leaving aside the debatable point whether the fence has discouraged illegal immigration or not, let's assume that all the aforementioned reforms were enacted. Would that really stem the flow of illegal immigration? This smells like politics and wishful thinking intruding on the thinking of the bishops. I wish they were less influenced by ideology even though I realize that is something likely impossible since none of us is untainted.

    Interesting stats from Zogby, which our diocesan newspaper quoted approvingly: "60% of U.S. Catholics would opppose federal legislation to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border." (The word 'entire' is telling. It makes the statement sound extreme and thus gather more votes for opposition.) I find the other stat a bit puzzling: 57% of Catholics would oppose "U.S. government assistance and trade policies that would create jobs abroad in order to prevent immigrants from coming here illegally to seek employment." This is the way, it seems, to stem the flow of illegal immigration. Help Mexico become self-sufficient in its own job creation, although it might defy the term 'self-sufficient' to give what probably amount to handouts.

    Illegal immigration isn't something I feel strongly about but I'm interested in the history of how the bishops came to their current statement on immigration. It's entirely possible I simply don't understand Catholic social teaching. But it's hard to imagine Bishop Sheen in 1947 saying that control of borders could be accomplished through a lot of reforms that tacitly suggest no responsibility be placed upon Mexico, its government, or its citizens crossing illegally.

    Pro-Life Sunday Homily

    Commented on Amy's blog, the rough paraphrase reproduced here:

    Our pastor said the politicization of the pro-life issue is very unfortunate in that it closes people off. He said that it has not only divided society but far more shockingly has divided Catholics. He said the politicization causes both pro-life and pro-choice to shut down and the resulting discussion to lack depth. He said pro-lifers will mentally check off that he said something about the cause, perhaps saying "it's about time", while pro-choicers will simply not listen at all.

    He said the roots of the issue go back to the 16th & 17th centuries. In the wake of the exhaustion at the end of the religious wars there was new thinking among philosophers and others that God was the problem (though it was the opposite case) and so the solution was to remove God from our politics. In order to do so we would become our own god and to that end control of nature was seen as a preeminent concern. We see it today, he said, in the abuse of the environment, in the rapacious attitude towards it. We also see it in those who think that climate change is totally man's responsibility and make a religion of that such that anyone who disagrees with them is a heretic. Similarly with the life issue: our desire for control over nature has now extended to taking the lives of the innocent. Cardinal Ratzinger and others have warned us about the trajectory of this mindset.

    January 19, 2009

    Grade Inflation Comes to Baseball?

    You see it so many places. Professors routinely giving As and Bs, bosses giving out only "meets" or above...

    Every baseball fan has a certain gut instinct about whether someone should be in the Hall of Fame or not. It might be wrong, giving too little credence to defensive skills or what have you, but while Jim Rice was a feared slugger during the 1970s it just doesn't feel like he should be in the Hall. Back watching these guys you knew, instinctively, who was special. Clemente, Aaron, Mays, Gibson, Seaver...You just knew. But guys like Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dale Murphy, well, you knew there was that tissue-thin difference between greatness and immortality, as one writer put it on the Costas show. There were great players, but not deserving of the immortality of the Hall.

    It was a decision we took not lightly. My friend and I, avid baseball card collectors, had a limited number of plastic sheets in which to encase the immortals, the ones we felt had a legitimate chance to make the HOF and thus whose cards would increase greatly in value. Dawson, Rice and Lynn and Murphy? Nope. But Bert Blyleven did make the cut for me.

    Journalists and Scientists and the Search for Truth

    I was watching a tape of William F. Buckley interviewing Malcolm Muggeridge and was taken aback by a comment from MM regarding the path to faith and how he felt it was easier for journalists to come to God: because they see the pure fantasy of everything and so begin to long for the Real.

    And yet we've seen the tendency of faith in Christ, and trust in the Word and Church, to wither in society at the same time we've seen our faith in institutions wither. Coincidence?

    Since a very high percentage of journalists do not believe in God, or at least are unchurched, it seems a bit of an anecdotal deduction from Muggeridge. It even seems to have the opposite effect. Journalists are often left with less respect for the human, seeing mostly only our seamy side, and perhaps it carries over to the divine. (Don't we routinely, though wrongly, judge the Divine by the human? How many are no longer Catholic because of a priest or nun who treated them wrong, or because of their reading of the Inquisition, Crusdades or treatment of Galileo? How many don't love God as father because they can't imagine love coming from a father since their father's didn't love them?)

    Journalists see just how much clay composes the feet of our leaders. Rather than yearning for something greater than the merely human, do they anthropomorphically apply that jadededness to God? Does it make them more egalitarian and distasteful of hierarchy? What is the relationship between awe of the people in authority and awe of God, the ultimate Authority? Is it "good practice" for people to feel awe for presidents, popes and prime ministers in preparation for a much greater form of reverence for God? Or does finding the flaws of the former actually better lead one to God?

    Perhaps it's one of the flattening quality of democratic life that we lose the ability to make distinctions. On the distinctions of awe we read:
    Latria is sacrificial in character, and may be offered only to God. Catholics offer other degrees of reverence to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the Saints; these non-sacrificial types of reverence are called Hyperdulia and Dulia, respectively. Hyperdulia is essentially a heightened degree of dulia provided only to the Blessed Virgin. This distinction, written about as early as Augustine of Hippo and St Jerome, was detailed more explicitly by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae, A.D. 1270, II II, 84, 1:
    "Reverence is due to God on account of His Excellence, which is communicated to certain creatures not in equal measure, but according to a measure of proportion; and so the reverence which we pay to God, and which belongs to latria, differs from the reverence which we pay to certain excellent creatures; this belongs to dulia, and we shall speak of it further on (II II 103 3)";
    in this next article St. Thomas Aquinas writes:
    "Wherefore dulia, which pays due service to a human lord, is a distinct virtue from latria, which pays due service to the Lordship of God. It is, moreover, a species of observance, because by observance we honor all those who excel in dignity, while dulia properly speaking is the reverence of servants for their master, dulia being the Greek for servitude."
    From St. Thomas it is apparent that a clear distinction exists among latria and forms of dulia within Catholic theology.
    Buckley asked Muggeridge why it is, if indeed a search for truth is the criterion for finding God, that something like 90% of all scientists profess no belief? And Muggeridge answered that the best ones do, like Einstein and others who are on the leading edge and realize how pitiful their knowledge is.

    Fortunately, there are surely as many paths to God as there are people. If we are no longer captivated by the excellence of our modern-day statemen or artists (we should be our recent popes, imo) Philip Yancey writes in the latest First Things about how it was beauties outside of man that led him to God:
    When I look back on my own conversion, I cannot credit a gospel tract or an altar call or an exposition of John 3:16. I had encountered these things many times over in childhood and had learned to mistrust them. Rather, nature, classical music, and romantic love formed the channel of grace that awakened my senses to perception of God. Through that channel I came to believe first in a good world and then in a good God. It is a terrible thing to have no one to thank, to feel awe and have no one to worship. Gradually, prompted by beauty and art, I returned to the cast-off faith of my childhood...Modern humanity does not perceive the world as worth God's dying for. We Christians must demonstrate it.

    Our Hyde Jeckyl Government

    ...is the government passive/agressive? I mean it's not a single entity but composed of millions but it's willing to exercise eminent domain in draconian power grabs, to enfranchise the right of mothers to kill their unborn children, and to tax us to the point where we work until May before we can begin working for ourselves. And yet there's a rebate program in order to pay for the conversion of televison signals from analog to digital? Am I missing something here? Is television our soma?

    Last Week in Review

    Cockiness will not be tolerated: the week before last was so easy, so short-lived, compared to the plains of this past one. I’d misunderestimated it. It started with the shock of supra-high blood pressure, which alerted me to a new wakefulness on dietary matters. Diet never matters until it hurts someone, and it was evidentally hurting me given the challenge of fitting into pants and blood pressure cuffs.

    On Tuesday I engaged in what might be a budding tradition in in my coffers: the weekly movie, although it would’ve been better to have read instead. This week it was Jim Carrey’s “Yes Man”. I found it only moderately entertaining. Nothing as exhilarating as last week’s “Valkeries”, and it had one nauseating scene involving a fornicating old lady. Naturally that is what lingers in memory.
    ___

    The week was a one-two punch of a half-foot of snow and brutal cold. The cold is as nothing to the snow but still... Our garage door doesn’t work when it's this cold; we have to “help” it along. Which means on the coldest days of the year we have to leave the car. Which sort of defeats the purpose of garage door openers as you want them most when it’s minus 10 degrees and one nanosecond outside freezes your nose hairs and short hairs. I whine therefore I am.
    ____

    But tis all moot now because I’m looking at a fine stretch of pony. Monday is MLK day, an off-day the positive result of our corporation’s political correctness (not meant to disparage Martin Luther King who was a great American leader, but we don't get off President's Day, for example. If you give MLK, you have to give GW & AL.) We’re always behind the times, which is why we only started getting the day off two years ago, but hey at least we get the day off so I shan't complain. Black activists may not have gotten reparations for slavery but they've gotten this honkey a day off work and for that I am grateful.

    I have the gimlet eye of McDonald’s coffee and breakfast in my reptile brain, as well as the prospect of the filling prose of Updike (for lyrcisim) or Dean Koontz (for story). Then there’s “The Education of Henry Adams” for an autobiographical break.

    I began Friday late afternoon by taking a short nap in the sun under the coincierge of the south window in our family room after devouring Max & Erma’s tasty filets of fish. Before dozing, I read of the exploits involving the story of a US Air jetliner that landed in the Hudson river yesterday. 155 passengers, no deaths. A fine respite from bad news.

    January 18, 2009

    Vortex..Can't Avoid...Help Me...

    Hep me, hep me, I'm being sucked into the vortex of politics! I made the mistake of watching This Week today and I'll never understand how journalists over the age of 18 can be surprised by the phenomenon of volatile presidential approval ratings.

    There was much lamentation and beating of breasts on the panel over the fact that GWB had a rating of 90%+ after 9/11, and now leaves office with the lowest in history. Matthew Dowd thought it tragic but how could it be otherwise? Just as housing bubbles and oil speculation bubbles eventually burst leaving foreclosures and $40 a barrel oil in its place, so too do high presidential ratings. Does anyone else recall that George Herbert Walker Bush had an approval rating of 90% after the conclusion of the Gulf War and then lost the election a year later? Did #41 change, or did the media coverage and people's perception of him change? For a media type like Dowd to lament Bush's low approval ratings is sort of like a wife abuser being shocked at the sight of his wife's bruises.

    George Will pointed to two names as the cause of Bush's unpopularity: Terri Schiavo and Harriet Miers. Which perfectly explains the cause of Bush's unpopularity with George Will, but I'm doubtful of its universal applicability. The Miers blip was something all of five people now remember, a misstep that GWB quickly fixed. (Apparently the blame GWB crowd thinks he is to be blamed not only for real blunders but potential ones.) With Schiavo, for the life of me I don't understand how GWB's signing a bill that was passed by the Senate by unanimous consent was somehow controversial, other than media types took offense that he interrupted his vacation to do so.

    What Bush's low popularity ratings reflect are three things:
  • an unpopular war
  • a very hostile media
  • an unwillingness to defend himself and/or go directly to the American people
  • The fact that the panel on This Week (with the exception of Gwen Ifill), didn't get that shows why the only institution with the same low approval ratings as George Bush is....(drumroll)... the media.