October 28, 2011

Yes Indeed

"Amazon is investing (and hiring) while many other American corporations are milking incumbent businesses, under-investing in research and development, and hoarding cash. To the chagrin of some traders, Amazon is distinctly NOT “maximizing near-term profits” — it is sacrificing near-term profits. It is making less money now in the hopes of making more money and creating more value later. And it is ignoring the howls and screams of short-term traders who couldn’t care less about Amazon’s long-term prognosis, add nothing to the economy, and just want to make money now.

If more American companies started to do what Amazon does — ignore short-term pressures, sacrifice near-term profits, and invest for the long-term — the American economy would start to heal itself quickly. America would create more innovation, more jobs, and more long-term wealth. And, just as important, more Americans would be able to go back to being proud of our corporations and innovators and entrepreneurs… instead of camping in parks and protesting them."

--Henry Blodgot, DEAR AMERICA: It’s Time To Say A Big ‘Thank You’ To Amazon

October 27, 2011

On Point

As a collector of corporate neologisms (such as the term 'deck' being used to describe a Powerpoint presentation), I note with glee a new one found in an up & comer's note:
Hi guys. Are you familiar with this data? Not sure who pulled it the first time... Please let me know who is on point and when we expect we'll be able to deliver.
I suppose "responsible for this" is now passé and a bit wordy.

October 25, 2011

Oops!

There's an error in the title of this book: Know Your Bible: All 66 Books Explained.

Hate when that happens! Doesn't inspire confidence.
Ways to fix this include but don't preclude:
Know Your Bible: Lots of Books Explained

Know Your Bible: 90.41095% Biblical Books Explained

Know Your Bible: 66 Books of Either 66, 73 or 75 Books Explained Depending On Whether Your Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox

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

From Heather King's "Shirt of Flame":
Msgr. Albacete’s story leads me to reflect that maybe this is why we need suffering, and why we need love: because without one or the other of them to blow us apart, we will comply with the letter, rather than the spirit, of the law like sheep. We will suffer from a fatal reduction of desire. We will dumbly go along with the dictates of our culture.

Love is the wild card that gives us the incandescent drive to subvert all power systems. Desire is the unpredictable x that throws off all bets.

Had I fallen through the cracks completely, as I’d secretly feared since birth I would?

I began to see that to ache for tenderness myself was to ache for the world. I began to see that in my loneliness, I entered into the loneliness of Christ. I began to see that to hold the tension of my longing, frustration, and fear was to help hold the tension of a husband who wanted to cheat on his wife; a college student who was contemplating making a quick buck by working at a strip club; a teenager, in despair over a crush gone wrong, who wanted to pull the trigger.
From "Boomerang" by Michael Lewis:
Given the chance to take something for nothing, the German people simply ignored the offer. “There was no credit boom in Germany,” says Asmussen. “Real estate prices were completely flat. There was no borrowing for consumption. Because this behavior is totally unacceptable in Germany. This is what the German people are. This is deeply in German genes. It is perhaps a leftover of the collective memory of the Great Depression and the hyperinflation of the 1920s.”

A German traffic jam is a peculiar sight: no one honks, no one switches lanes searching for some small, illusory advantage, all trucks remain in the right-hand lane, where they are required to be. The spectacle of sparkling BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes in the left lane and immaculate trucks in a neat row in the right lane is almost a pleasure to watch. Because everyone in the jam obeys the rules, and believes that everyone else will obey them, too, the cars and trucks move as fast as they can, given the circumstances.
From Kingsley Amis's "Everyday Drinking":
A team of American investigators concluded recently that, without the underpinning provided by alcohol and the relaxation it affords, Western society would have collapsed irretrievably at about the time of the First World War.

I feel that there is very little we can safely add, in discussing our motives for drinking, to the verdict of the poet who said we do it because “we are dry, or lest we may be by and by, or any other reason why.”

“If I had a thousand sons, the first human principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations.” —WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (Falstaff, Henry IV, Part 2)
From "The Marriage Plot" by J. Eugenides:
All over College Hill, in the geometric gardens of the Georgian mansions, the magnolia-scented front yards of Victorians, along brick sidewalks running past black iron fences like those in a Charles Addams cartoon or a Lovecraft story;

That Alton and Phyllida had driven up from New Jersey to see her graduate, that what they were here to celebrate today wasn’t only her achievement but their own as parents, had nothing wrong or unexpected about it.

October 21, 2011

The Next Bubble?

Interesting thoughts from James Taranto:
Here's a puzzle: Try to figure out what we're describing.

It costs a lot of money, so much that most people have to go into debt to buy it. It has considerable intrinsic value, but it is also understood to be an investment. And it is a status symbol--indeed, almost a necessary condition for achieving middle-class status.

Its acquisition by as wide a swath of the population is widely seen as a social good. Thus the government heavily subsidizes it through tax incentives and other means. That, however, creates an artificial demand that drives prices up and, in a vicious circle, spurs demands for more subsidies...

In the current economy, it has turned out to be considerably less valuable than promised. As a result, many Americans are under water, with debts that they will not be able to pay off easily.

What is it? A house, but that's the obvious answer. We're thinking of a college education. The similarities between the housing bubble and the higher-ed bubble are remarkable, aren't they?

"The amount of student loans taken out last year crossed the $100 billion mark for the first time and total loans outstanding will exceed $1 trillion for the first time this year," USA Today reports. We'd seen that $1 trillion figure before--last Saturday, at New York's Zuccotti Park, where a 23-year-old Occupy Wall Street protester named Taylor was carrying a sign that read "Where's our bailout? $1 trillion in student loans outstanding."

You can see why young people like Taylor would feel aggrieved. Growing up, they were told they needed a college education as a ticket to a productive life. Now they find themselves deeply in debt, their employment prospects limited in the Obama economy. So they're lashing out at the banks that hold their debt and at the corporations that have made a college degree into a license to hunt for a job.

Their anger is understandable but misplaced. The banks were merely doing what banks do; if they had refused to make student loans, these youngsters would have been just as upset. As for the corporations, the reason they demand college degrees, as we wrote in 2007, is that the government forbids them to screen applicants directly for basic intelligence under a doctrine of antidiscrimination law known as "disparate impact" that the U.S. Supreme Court established in the 1971 case Griggs v. Duke Power Co.

October 19, 2011

Dickens: An Author of Demonic Energy

TIME magazine piece on a new biography.

Lapsed Atheism

From Fr. Charles:
In other words, the religious person is not someone who has become special by adopting some extraordinary outlook or worldview, but someone who has become ordinary by just accepting things as they are.

On Good Authority...

Some are quite worked up over the new words to the Mass, in particular the infamous "for many" in the words of consecration. I'm not fond of the changes, but the pedigree for using the new translation seems astonishingly good; here's the persuasive way our bishop explains it:
                     
And the Orthodox use "many" as well.

National Review's Take on the Occupiers

"It is true that many kids finish school with a heavy debt load they find it hard to pay. But that is an argument for rethinking the way we encourage young people to borrow to get overpriced degrees — not for funneling even more taxpayer resources to a relatively privileged group of Americans.

We trust that the liberals and Democrats who are attempting to ingratiate themselves with or burnish the reputations of the protesters — Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson declared, “I love every little thing” about the protests, with no explicit exclusion of the defecation on a police car they have entailed — will at least blush the next time they denounce the alleged radicalism of the tea parties.

But mockery, and the use of the protests to discredit liberalism, should not be our only responses to this spectacle. We do not believe that the public burns with a desire to punish Wall Street (or to protect it from punishment); but it does have a justified concern that the Wall Street–Washington axis does not work to its advantage. And while many of the layabouts on the streets would have sub-Marxist thoughtlets in their heads under any circumstances, it is also true that hard times can radicalize young people — even people who are not directly affected by the hard times, and especially people who have been miseducated. There is reason for worry as well as scorn."
In the same issue of NR, James Lileks more pithily expresses something I wrote on Parody is Therapy a couple years ago. He says, "Last week's drum circle was intended to raise awareness about consciousness."

This & That Wednesday

Sat in the bookroom petting our German Shepherd mutt this morning for some ten minutes, simply enjoying the "temple of peace". I love books, but that is precisely what led me to go the e-reader route. I bought so many of them and am so reluctant to give any of them up that it would irresponsible to "adopt" any more of them. Already I often lose books, or at least can't easily find them. That is the point - when you can't find books you own - that it's probably time to buy an e-reader. For with a Kindle you can never lose a book again. I have about hundred books on the e-reader, a hundred books I would have to shelve, and the cost of a new bookcase exceeds the cost of a new Kindle. But the good thing is I can still enjoy the physical books, the look on the shelves; the e-book revolution came at the perfect time for me. And at $79 a pop now, pretty darn affordable. The Kindle Daily Deal has been a fun addition to my day. It's like playing the lottery: Every morning I check to see if I "won". (Winning being them offering for $1.99 some book I might actually read, which occurs maybe once a week.) I bought a biography of Bismarck and "Eyewall", the fictional story of a hurricane set near Hilton Head over the past two or three weeks.

So I looked around at the lovely expanse of books that wrap around the room. I felt a yen for Chesterton (oh but his name ought be Chesterten, for rhyming purposes), and I picked up what I thought was the Ignatius Press copy of his essays but instead was of his poetry, and a single line struck me: "Finds the wild windfall of a little kindness."

Speaking of Chesterton, read a bit of a bio which, I thought later, was no substitute for his own inimitable writing. It's like with Dickens, how sometimes I want to read his biography more than his work when it works better the other way. (A potentially interesting new biography explores the impact of love in Dickens' life and writing.)

Tempted to get James Martin's "Between Heaven and Mirth" if only because I'm curious how he squares the seriousness of the stakes of religion (eternal joy versus eternal torture) with a feeling of lightness and levity. He makes the case early that religion is too grim. A quick flip through it revealed a reference to the Protestant work ethic: "after all, it's not called the Protestant play ethic."

Went to the annual Columbus library book sale and thought almost immediately, "Why am I here"? Shades of Ross Perot's old running mate. James Stockdale. Full of old library books from the 70s, 80s and 90s, I couldn't pull the trigger and add to the books I already have. Perhaps it's natural that the combination of age and collection size would eventually flatten the desire to buy books "just because you can". (There were $2 for hardbacks, $1 for paperbacks.) The books I eventually had in my hands were middlings like "Inventing Niagra: The Story of Niagra Falls". I thought to myself that there is more gold in one page of Heather King's Shirt of Flame than in this whole sale.

*

So the big New Orleans trip is o'er. Would've been nice to have gone but circumstances weren't favorable. All my favorite bloggers went, or at least some of them. Betty Duffy, the Darwins... Amy Welborn couldn't make it due to a death in the family. I'll bet a fabulous time was had on the Duffy Merry Prankster's bus. They drove the 13 hours or so to the Gulf port and later sipped bourbon in the warm southern air. It was ostensibly an academic conference about Walker Percy, and that would've been interesting too I'm sure.

*

Three potential novels, now that Middlesex has been finished: A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafona and The Marriage Plot by Eugenides.

*

The perennial dust
on the entertainment center
bespeaks an unfamiliarity
with a dust rag.

*

I can't write a siesta
or whatever it's called
at least not while drinking.


*

Liturgy Sunday at the Byzantine parish. It feels of entering a different world ("Heaven on earth"). A comment from a priest at St. Pat's last week still resonates: the reason, he said, that Christ comes to us in the Eucharist is because it makes Him approachable. He knows we wouldn't come to Him if He appeared to us in His glory. What a unique way to look at it! And of course that's also part of the reason for the Incarnation. God became man because man perhaps had trouble approaching an invisible, all-powerful God. Eve became flesh of Adam's flesh and similarly Christ became flesh of our flesh. Thus our Creator became our Spouse, and we are even more joined to the Body of Christ than Adam was to Eve, they who were joined to each other, having shared a rib.

Read the Roman rite's readings and the first reading was from Isaiah chapter 45 about how God empowers even when we don't know it's Him. That was oddly comforting since I took it to mean he will give us strength even when we're not smart enough to ask Him for it, when we don't know how helpful he is and longs to be. If we haven't totally personally inculterated his loving nature. The actual meaning of the text may be more along the lines of God using even Pharaoh to indicate God's power but...

*

Amazing weather last weekend. Seventy degrees and blue sky backdrop to evergreens and an aging yellow maple. Certainly October has its moments; both last weekend and this weekend have been pretty tolerable, especially by late afternoon. October definitely picks its spots though: you can go a week or more with lousy weather.

Speaking of which, Ireland came under some criticism on that front by Michael Lewis through an African visitor who said that it was always raining or thinking about raining: "Who would want to live here, under an elephant?"

Lewis also mentioned the German's strange fixation with bodily excrement. From Luther to Hitler, the "clean people" are obsessed with dirt. Very odd. Lewis also mentions how Greece and Ireland are opposites: Ireland not complaining a peep about an austerity caused by their banks, while Greece violently protesting that which they themselves are guilty of (the whole country is made of tax cheats and corruption). It is quite striking how different cultures are, how there has arisen not just a single successful way to live but apparently many. Or perhaps I should say the differing cultures have found many middling ways to live.

October 17, 2011

Boomerang

Riveting read is "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World" by Michael Lewis on my Kindle. I doubt I'll ever look at Greece (or Germany) the same way after reading this. Some selections:
The [easy] credit wasn’t just money, it was temptation. It offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge. Entire countries were told, “The lights are out, you can do whatever you want to do and no one will ever know.” What they wanted to do with money in the dark varied. Americans wanted to own homes far larger than they could afford, and to allow the strong to exploit the weak. Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers, and to allow their alpha males to reveal a theretofore suppressed megalomania. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish.

*

EVEN AT THE time, the decision seemed a bit odd. The Irish banks, like the big American banks, managed to persuade a lot of people that they were so intertwined with their economy that their failure would bring down a lot of other things, too. But they weren’t, at least not all of them. Anglo Irish Bank had only six branches, no ATMs, and no organic relationship with Irish business except the property developers. It lent money to people to buy land and build: that’s all it did. It did this with money it had borrowed from foreigners. It was not, by nature, systemic... if the Irish wanted to save their banks, why not guarantee just the deposits? There’s a big difference between depositors and bondholders: depositors can flee. The immediate danger to the banks was that savers who had put money into them would take their money out, and the banks would be without funds. The investors who owned the roughly 80 billion euros’ worth of Irish bank bonds, on the other hand, were stuck. They couldn’t take their money out of the bank. And their 80 billion euros very nearly exactly covered the eventual losses inside the Irish banks. These private bondholders didn’t have any right to be made whole by the Irish government. The bondholders didn’t even expect to be made whole by the Irish government... When a bank forces an Irish person into receivership, it follows up with a letter to his blood relations, informing them of his insolvency—and his shame. “It’s not like the United States, where being bankrupt is almost a badge of honor,”

*

A distinguished American anthropologist named Alan Dundes set out to describe the German character through the stories that ordinary Germans liked to tell one another. Dundes specialized in folklore, and in German folklore, as he put it, “one finds an inordinate number of texts concerning Scheisse (shit), Dreck (dirt), Mist (manure), Arsch (ass). . . . Folksongs, folktales, proverbs, riddles, folk speech—all attest to the Germans’ longstanding special interest in this area of human activity.” .... Perhaps Hitler was so persuasive to Germans, Dundes suggested, because he shared their quintessential trait, a public abhorrence of filth that masked a private obsession. “The combination of clean and dirty: clean exterior–dirty interior, or clean form and dirty content—is very much a part of the German national character,” he wrote.

it was hard to come away from his treatise without the strong sense that all Germans, high and low, were a bit different from you and me—a point he made in the introduction to the paperback version of his book. “The American wife of a German-born colleague confessed to me that she understood her husband much better after reading the book,” he wrote. “Prior to that time, she had wrongly assumed that he must have some kind of peculiar psychological hang-up inasmuch as he insisted upon discussing at great length the state of his latest bowel movement.” The Hamburg red-light district had caught Dundes’s eye because the locals made such a big deal of mud wrestling. Naked women fought in a ring of filth while the spectators wore plastic caps, a sort of head condom, to avoid being splattered. “Thus,” wrote Dundes, “the audience can remain clean while enjoying dirt!” Germans longed to be near the shit, but not in it. This, as it turns out, is an excellent description of their role in the current financial crisis.

October 14, 2011

From 1947 Book Inside USA by John Gunther

Excerpts:
Next to New York, [Cleveland] is probably the best-run big city in the country.

Cleveland has about as much charm as an automobile cemetery; Cincinnati is packed with charm. Like all the river cities partly German in origin (Louisville, St.
Louis, Milwaukee), [Cincinnati] has a certain stately and also sleepy quality, a flavor of detachment, soundness and je m'en fiche-ism....Cleveland lives in the competitive orbit of Detroit, Buffalo and Pittsburgh more than with the rest of Ohio. I asked Cleveland friends what they thought of Cincinnati. Answer: "We're quite friendly to Cincinnati, when we happen to think about it."...I asked some Cincinnati friends what they thought of Cleveland. Reply: "Cleveland is contentious, introspective, and not really part of the United States!"

The capital of Ohio, Columbus, does not think of itself as a metropolis; it is in transition from what Cincinnati was to what Cleveland is...Columbus today is a spacious and friendly town; a big issue is apt to be whether or not to cut down the trees and so make a street broader. It is a fanatic and frenzied football town; if you don't go to football games on Saturday, people think you're an odd fish and a pariah. It is a strong religious town; there are more Methodist, I hear, within a hundred-mile radius of Columbus than any other city in the world. Roman Catholic influence;, though not nearly so weighty as in Cincinnati, is also considerable; for instance the film Mission to Moscow was withdrawn from exhibition after one day's showing...As to politics, the "Catholics can nominate, but not elect," I heard it put.

Sympathy for the Occupiers


Wired for Complaint
There is the smell of leftwing extremism in the Occupy Wall Street crowd, or perhaps that's just the result of a lack of bathing facilities. (And just where are they going to bathroom?) Sometimes I sense that they are merely picketing reality, that they are upset over a fallen world. And who can blame them for that? For in a fallen world you would see a divergence between jobs tailored to humans and humans tailored to jobs. In other words, in a fallen world it seems you have to go where the jobs are and wrench yourself into a very imperfect fit, rather than having the jobs come to you, designed for your temperament and skill set.

In a mature post-industrial economy, it seems work comes mostly in the form of low-paying service-oriented jobs or decent-paying white collar jobs. It's blatantly unfair that there aren't many jobs for the high-school graduate blue collar worker. In a healthy job market you'd hope for jobs for those with both brain and brawn. But then the whole history of mankind seems to be a series of adjustments to the job environment, rather than the job environment modifying itself for man.

Over the hundreds of thousands of years of the hunter/gatherers, we evolved towards a lot of exercise (running after prey) without undue mental strain in the form of mundane office work. Today we have the opposite - little need for exercise and a general favoritism for mental activity over brawn. The difficult transition to agricultural system left many at a loss; think about how devastating it was for American Indians to go from semi-nomadic tribes to an agricultural, reservation-based lifestyle.

I think there are a couple assumptions that are implicit, a sort of "social contract" (rightly or wrongly) with and by the American people. One is that if we are going to have the largest military in the world, then we want our money's worth: we expect to be safe. To the extent we are not, we will retaliate and retaliate to the max. (Hence two endless wars.) Second, the bargain with capitalism is that we go with it if we have nearly full employment. When we don't, as in the 1930s, there were fears that we would become Communist - which supposedly was the rationale behind some of FDR's moves. "I have to move left," he seemed to say, "to prevent us from going all the way left."

Herman Cain said that the protesters should be occupying D.C. rather than Wall Street and there's some truth to that although I can certainly understand the fury at Wall Street. The investment banks are treated with kid gloves since like it or not they seem to be the oil of the overall economy. They are the gate-keepers of capital and loans, the engines of capitalism. And Wall Street did have a big role in the financial collapse, by making huge uncoverable bets that the housing market would never fall. Charles Krauthammer calls Wall Street a scapegoat, but some scapegoats do give off the whiff of rightful blame.

October 13, 2011

A Diary By Any Other Name....

Buddy lies sleeping flat in the dirt bed next to the concrete patio. He's a sublime dog full of aspirations and hidden demons. He will smilingly hold forth in the backseat of the car one moment and in the next bark ferociously at an innocent biker or walker. There is no rhyme or reason to his irrational hatreds; some humans pass inspection, others are apparently worth getting exercised over. My parents' dog has a hair-trigger bark induced by any event outside the house. In fact, she barked over nothing I could see. Perhaps a ghost.

An extraordinarily good weather weekend last weekend still resonates in memory if not in fact: 80 degree high and cloudless. We spent Saturday well, biking through downtown Hamilton past the old Hamiltonian (now a Marriott hotel), down Dayton Street with its Victorian mansions, down a twisting 9th avenue full of atmospherics (as my brother said, "nothing says Hamilton like a homemade sign announcing pitbull pups for sale"), and then finally to the cemetery where so many relatives lay buried.

After the bike ride last Saturday there was nothing better than that first taste of Warsteiner Dunkel. I could've drank it like I did root beer or lemonade back in the '70s: in one big gulp. It's amazing how thirst-quenching beer can be. Usually I drink it with little thirst, unlike Bill Luse who drinks it after completing grass-cutting chores on hot Orlando days.

*




To tune "Thank Heaven for Little Girls":
Thank heaven for all my books
the list of them gets bigger every day!

Thank heaven for all my books
I read them in the most delightful way!

Those little tomes so helpless and appealing
one day will weigh so much to crash right thru the ceilin'!

Thank heaven for all my books
thank heaven for them all,
no matter which no matter who
for without them, what would little me do?

Thank heaven... thank heaven...
Thank heaven for all my books!
Succumbed to buying "Boomerang" by Michael Lewis on the financial crisis in the first world simply because I can't put down anything he writes. And began Amy Welborn's tragic story of her husband's death and subsequent travel to Italy. Not sure about Fr. Robert Barron's "Catholicism" since it appears to go over mostly familiar ground.

Almsgiving

Good gospel the other day in which Jesus says that God made the inside and outside and the way to clean the inside is to give alms.

I notice that I tend to donate perhaps less as the Spirit moves, and more as what moves me. I like e-readers, so I want the troops to have them. I like Word Among Us (rather than Magnficat) so I donate towards getting that publication to prisoners and service men and women. I used to like EWTN more than I do now, and thus donate less to them.

I feel a tiny bit responsible for the trials and miseries our soldiers are undergoing: I voted for Bush, who then of course put them in harm's way, apparently forever. Wounded Warriors and "E-readers for the Troops" get my attention.

I'm not sure giving to those causes that I most identify with should be the criteria. It's akin to those who have a rare disease and contribute to the funding towards a cure for that, despite the fact that cancer is claiming one out of every two people. Rational, other-directed charity demands we put ourselves in the shoes of others and try to help as many as we can in the way they need.

October 12, 2011

Reviews of Christian Smith Book


I found The Bible Made Impossible enriching, and for those interested there is a review here, with links to other reviews.

October 11, 2011

October 10, 2011

Spendin' the Hours RSS'in

(Extra credit for those who recognize the song referred to in the title.)

A lightning round of posts sighted elsewhere in the wild. From Reading for Believers:
No, it wasn't a dream," said Edmund.
"Why not?"
"Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been - well, un-dragoned, for another."

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
"Crap," I thought, when Betty Duffy pointed out that I was not, as I thought, dashing off occasional notes to friends, but in some sense Blogging My Conversion, "now, since it's the next way-point, I'm going to have to write about First Confession, aka Reconciliation, aka (in these parts) Hohou Rongo, and I really don't want to do that."

People say they loved their first confession, and some practical people advise taking a large handkerchief, but my problem is with the examination of conscience. Fifty-mumble years old, committing mortal sins on a regular basis: it's Zeno's Paradox. However fast I tally the sins, I'll never catch up to the present. It's dreary work, too. It consists largely of discovering that I am far from being the person I think I am (mostly moral) or the person I pretend to be (mostly harmless).

I've also made the strange discovery that, however intimidated I have been all these years by my mother-in-law, she is more frightened of me. Poor woman. All these years when we could have been, if not besties, then at least comrades-in-arms.

But my worst problem has been a failure of memory altogether. This is partly because the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity combined with the doctrine of Imputed Righteousness adds up to excusing moral failure as unavoidable while passing the penalty Higher Up. Why register failure when the books are cooked? But some sin is so heinous that the Calvinist cop-out cannot cope, and then memory corruption kicks in for self-protection. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"

So, I had such a sin straitjacketed away, and I'd half-forgotten it. It was pretty bad. It was bad, and not pretty. It was the work of a moment. I cried off and on for about a year after I committed it. If I'd managed to fornicate on the Sabbath while committing it, it would just about be a perfect strike against the decalogue. Somehow I had suppressed the memory till this very week, till this day, Sunday.

I had forgotten it; God had not: still merciful, and still with the sense of humour. "Father," I said to our priest after Exposition today, "since I'm coming into the Church on Saturday, when would it suit you to hear my confession?" "Monday, after Mass?" he said. "Yes," I said, thinking of my half-finished Examen and this unsavoury addition, "I think I can pull it together by tomorrow." "Oh, no, how about Thursday? I have a funeral on Wednesday," he said. "Yes," I said, eyes widening a bit, "fine."

Friends, if I read this elsewhere, I would suspect the writer had sugared it up to make a better story, but I assure you this is not the case. I will be confessing this awful sin, one which has roiled years on my soul, on the ten-year anniversary of my committing it - to the very day.

See you on the other side - after my un-dragoning.
Betty Duffy comments:
I did a "general" confession about ten years ago, which is similar to what you're going through, I think. It looks back at one's entire life from the age of reason to current day. And I realized (I had forgotten, repeatedly) that a beastie has followed me my entire life. Once identified and acknowledged, I began to break free from it's various permutations. It is a grace to see your entire life in the light of Christ, to examine patterns of grace and sin, to know yourself--even when yucky things come to light.

I have wondered at times how anything good has managed to come out of my life--and doing this consecration to the Virgin thing I've been doing, it's become clear how God's mercy extends throughout space and time, sanctifying past, present and future, in spite of ourselves.

___

From McNamara's Blog:
Marquette on the Shores of the Mississippi
By John Jerome Rooney

Here, in the midnight of the solemn wood,
He heard a roar as of a mighty wind,—
The onward rush of waters unconfined
Trampling in legions thro’ the solitude.

Then lo! Before him swept the conquering flood,
Free as the freedom of the truth-strong mind
Which hills of Doubt could neither hide nor bind,
Which, all in vain, the valley mounds withstood!

With glowing eye he saw the prancing tide
With yellow mane rush onward thro’ the night
Into the vastness he had never trod:
Nor dreamt of conquest of that kingdom wide
As down the flood the spirit took its flight
Seeking the long-lost children of his God!

NOTE
Father Jacques Marquette (1637-1675) was a French-born Jesuit priest who was one of the first Europeans to explore the Mississippi River.

___

From Maureen at Aliens in this World:

Observe how frantically this particular ex-Catholic sf writer attempts to paddle away, when he hasn’t been Catholic for, like, a zillion years, and ostensibly no man pursueth. If you really don’t believe and don’t care, surely the whole argument would be a lot more distant. The only feeling you’d have would be a slight feeling of satisfaction as you roll over in bed on Sunday morning. And yet, all this effort and heat...Nobody goes around naming things for Marian stuff and giving Marian callouts unless you are looking for Mary to come help you out. It’s like saying you hate your mom and then naming your cat after her. And if you give Mary an inch, it’s not like she’s ever going to stop coming. She’s a Jewish mother, for goodness’ sake. If you never write and never call, it just encourages her. Insults? Oh, heck, that’s like a call for help.

...Why? Nobody knows. I have a hard enough time explaining humans without taking on the ineffabilities of God’s loving respect for free will. Faith, like wisdom and love, doesn’t seem to be a gift distributed in any way we can easily understand.

But the whole purpose of life is: to know, love, and serve God in this world; and to be happy with Him forever in the next. So somebody who’s an agnostic is missing out on a lot.

That one Italian cardinal said the other day, “If you’re lost in a crowd, take Mary’s hand and she’ll lead you to her Son.” This is the month of the Rosary, folks. Let’s pray for the lost, strayed, confused, and all those busy wrestling God.
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From Bill at Summa Minutiae:
Here’s a recent interview with Esther de Waal, the author of Seeking God: The Way of St Benedict, one of my current books.
There are places for all the activities of the monastery, and at the heart of the great complex of buildings, in the very center—how audacious—they put empty space. The empty space is a garden, grass, flowers in very simple colors, white and blue, and at the very heart a fountain, a spring of living water. Compare that to a human being: We have all the demands and the various activities, earning your living, making decisions, hospitality, maintaining property, all the rest of it. And in the center, Christ is empty, uncluttered space. Around Christ is the busy walkway servicing the needs of daily life, but in the middle you can refresh yourself in the spring of living water.
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From Steven Gershom:
The hard truth is that I don’t have to go to South America to be a saint. I can do that here, among the pots and pans and glowing rectangles of my life, by striving to remain fully awake, fully alive, living each moment in the presence of God. I can strive to love everyone I meet, not with my own love but the love of Christ — a love that isn’t always romantic or thrilling, that sometimes feels like drudgery, but only because its glory is hidden, like the glory of Christ was hidden on earth. Love in action means love where and when you are, not in the dream of some beautiful Elsewhere.

Hope's Not Just a Cynical Political Slogan

Thought briefly about buying a biography of Michael Jackson. Curious about THAT MOMENT that things started sliding. In a way it's similar to my curiosity over the fall of the Roman empire - you want to find that one moment when things could've still been turned around but after which it was too late. With Jackson I thought it might've been when his hair caught fire during the taping of a Pepsi commercial. My hazy memory suggests that that is when he started getting hooked on painkillers. But of course another pivotal moment might've been the first time he got his nose fixed - after having gotten it broken in some sort of accident. His is a tragic story, because even though he wanted a smaller nose he had that natural caution against surgery - a wholesome conservatism-- until he broke his nose. That made the temptation too much to resist, and the pleasure received from seeing his new nose made it perhaps inevitable from there on: like a tattoo addict, he would get his highs from surgeries.

Of course I find it particularly poignant that he died in a quest for sleep, that most natural (though often elusive) of medicines. He ended up in a spiral of stronger and stronger drugs designed to achieve the simplest of things. A rich man who couldn't buy sleep. Heather King's influence over me is such that I don't have to associate Michael Jackson with failure but can hold out hope for "the rest of the story" as the dear, late Paul Harvey said.

Indeed, one of the things I most like about Heather is that her sense of hope is so finely developed, as well it might be after experiencing such lack thereof followed by that "lightning moment" of conversion and peace. The thing is though is that she's so not exclusionary, in fact she's the most inclusive orthodox person I know. It's the greatest mystery, she admits, as to why she was cured and others aren't. But she's quick to say that that's not because God loves her more. She's loathe to say that those who die in the gutter aren't included in the family of God, unlike St. Paul who said that drunkards would not inherit the kingdom. Some excerpts from the book Shirt o' Flame:
As an alcoholic, I’d always been interested in the mind-body connection, in the way God sometimes seems to take us “out of the world” for a period of time, possibly in order to work on our subconscious. I, too, had experienced situations from which there seemed to be no escape. I, too, had been in the grip of a kind of dark night that seemed impervious to all reason, all human help, all prayer. Grace is needed and yet grace also seems most likely to appear—as had happened in my case—when, from the depths of our heart we cry out our misery and ask for help.

*

Most likely, perhaps, but not inevitably: in fact, the seeming randomness of who gets out from beneath the obsession for alcohol and who doesn’t; who stays sober for decades and who dies in the gutter, makes this confluence of will and grace one of the deepest mysteries I know.

*

We can only be grateful when and if the lightning-quick opening occurs. We can only know that we are not loved one iota more if we get sober, or one iota less if we stay drunk. We can only hope to do the best we can with what we’ve been given.
What amazes me about HK is her ability not to bore. I suspect it's related to years honed in bars with tough crowds. I tried to read the "Everything is Grace" book she recommended by that Fr. Somebody but he seemed to bog down in boggish biographical details. HK cuts to the chase which helps given my short attention span. So far I've been getting really interested in Therese's sister Leonine's story. Why is the black sheep sometimes more interesting than the saint?

*

Mesmerizing first reading from mass the other day, mostly because of how it undermined my preconceptions. My cliched reflex is to think that in the OT there was an emphasis on justice, not mercy. And so I was taken off guard when in the fourth chapter of Jonah I read of the prophet resigned and annoyed, as it were, by God's gracious mercy. And then there's the quote about God referring to the plant that Jonah so cherished and how it was something that cost Jonah "no effort and that he did not grow." And of course that's in stark contrast to God who expends much effort (see Christ on the cross) and who does sponsor our growth.

October 07, 2011

This & That Friday



Happened across an advertisement for something called "Man v. Food". A terrible idea. Man and food get along great imo, why introduce a fight? Let me be on record as having nothing against food.

*

A young, pretty blonde is waiting with me to get on the elevator. Once aboard she crosses her legs and leans against the wall. I do the same and perhaps she noticed out of her peripheral vision for she suddenly exclaimed,"We could be twins!" I was not immediately aware of what she meant, and looked at her clothing (different from mine) and shoes (different from mine) and looks (different from mine). But I smiled.

A plump, middle-aged guy gets on as she gets off.

"Quite a downgrade, 'eh?"

We laughed and I said, "well I can't disagree with you."

*

Watched television host Samantha Brown visit Boston on The Travel Channel last night. A bit underwhelmed; she's not all that into history and cliche'd travel experiences, so no Freedom Trail (I just love looking at those old Puritan tombstones in the burying grounds). Instead front and center was an Italian sausage-eating contest in Eastie. She made mention of the rough town folk as the camera panned the crowd, there for an Italian festival. My view of the mean streets of East Boston is that it contains quintessential Nor'eastern folks, a representative sampling of white folks at their most ethnic and middling class. As an ethnography experiment the show was a success; didn't realize Boston had a beach, aka Revere. Don't often hear it mentioned!

Also watched a Brown episode featuring Brooklyn and Coney Island, a famous place I'd never had the desire to go. What is it about Coney Island and the beachfront that offputs? I think it's because I don't much like crowds (though why then do I like NYC?).

*

Read galloplingly from "The Bible Made Impossible", a helpful corrective given my tendency to try to make Scripture into something that it wasn't intended to be. For example, I tend to think every bit of the Bible should be valuable when clearly some passages really aren't, such as where Paul in one of his letters asks for his cloak and a couple scrolls! Scripture is "God-breathed", but that is different from saying it's all equally important or that it's all high-minded. God condescends to us. St. Paul also insults people from Crete; it's hard to find a message today in that. Scripture isn't what we worship, Christ is, and all scripture needs to be viewed through His lens. Later I caught a video of Scott Hahn mentioning how the Bible wasn't meant to prove Christ but to remind Christians of the truths they already knew.

*

Read something interesting about Steve Jobs. Turns out he was adopted and his biological sister is novelist Mona Simpsons. Talent runs deep in those genes apparently. Curt Jester had a post about how he felt about Apple, about how they make extremely quality products but, alack and alas, the jack to my ipod isn't working well through no fault of my own and the screen cracked as well when I (through fault of my own) dropped it. Jeff mentioned how they don't plan obsolescence and that's all to the good although technology seems to plan its own obsolescence without any help from the manufacturer. A well-made car can run for fifteen years; fifteen years is a lifetime in computer terms given the propensity towards smaller CPUs and cheaper, better devices.

October 05, 2011

Me Eyes Must Deceiving Me Be


Hain't seen four of a kind full suns in many a moon.

October 04, 2011

Michael Lewis on the Fiscal Trouble

There's a really interesting piece in Vanity Fair that is long but well-worth the read. It touches on how and why public union employee costs have gotten out of control, and despite the general tone ends on a semi-hopeful note. Perhaps. He argues that neurologically, we're better at working with scarcity than abundance.

One blogger commented:
I was hoping the ending story would be one of a community where the stakeholders figured out that they were on a path to disaster, and managed to put aside selfishness and get themselves on a path to long term solvency, before they destroyed what made the community desirable in the first place.

Is there no such example?
Another commented:
Blaming "greed" for our fiscal woes is like blaming gravity for airplane crashes. Human nature is what it is and always has been in every corner of the world. At the start of the article, Lewis conjures up the greek debacle, so how is that explained in American consumerist culture? Why is is that with the same human nature other societies manage to thrive and keep their finances in order? Michael Lewis didn't have to travel far. He could've just gone to Utah, New Hampshire or Nebraska and asked them what they're doing different.

My RSS Magazine

Surprised by how richly instructive a relatively short period of time can be. Yesterday morning, for example. I read a bit of my RSS magazine (aka blogfeed) and wondered at the surreal weight of a fellow Catholic's cross, namely Therese Borchard's, who described a misery one wouldn't wish on one's worst enemy, were we allowed to have enemies.

And shortly thereafter, on the drive into work, I listened to someone on Catholic radio describe the very persuasive arguments that the Shroud of Turin is indeed the burial cloth of Jesus. And indeed the Lord's suffering is made manifest in that cloth but also the peace, the serenity, of that face - despite the torture. I'm always amazed that I can be perennially surprised by the fact that following Jesus involves carrying the cross in imitation. How can that be surprising after all this time? And yet my mind constantly craftily seeks the low, broad, painless route and begins to fool itself into thinking that's the normal, acceptable one.

Before Therese's post, I saw where Fred of "Late Papers" fame uncorked a fine baseball metaphor on the difference between success and merit. A very meritorious post that I wish the greatest of success. Now if there were only a blogpost about how to overcome envy over the depth and beauty of other people's blogposts!

Lately much of my reading is consuming blogs, many of which have alarmingly relevant spiritual messages. Others are about beer or politics or economics or poetry. Altogether it makes for a tasty concoction. It's like a wonderful online magazine that comes out EVERY NIGHT, not weekly. I like the mixture as much as anything, the alternating tightening and relaxing of dendrites caused by reading Eric Scheske next to Heather King next to Mrs. Darwin next to M & M! All inimitable voices making up this online magazine.

There is a time for every season, and that includes the seasons of reading and writing. Too often I try to write without having done the necessary fertilization that comes with reading. But too much reading crowds my brain with thoughts wanting to come out.

*

I think it was either Donald McClary or Mrs. Darwin who mentioned, with elegant simplicity, why they like to read novels: for recognition. And I did recognize some of the poem prose of Middlesex, a novel that I savor at the gentle pace of about thirty pages a week. The selection about one girl's not-quite coming of age in high school was riveting: writing from the perspective of the future, she sees the girls who never picked up a book as ironically smarter than her, since they apparently foresaw how little books mattered to most people. I felt similarly in the years after college - why did I study so much I thought in retrospect.

*

O'Fallon's pumpkin ale is just a mite too sweet for my tastes, now that I've tasted it on more than one occasion. My palate is definitely untrustworthy without repeated drinkings. As the weather cools, I have more of a taste for the stouts or other unsweetened brews. Fruity beers feel of summer, and we've recently took a u-turn weather-wise. Very brisk weather lately, jacket weather even. Some dark, coffee-ish beer seems appropriate given the circumstances.

*

The baseball playoffs began the other night with the brightly-plumaged Rangers playing the Red Sox-vanquishing Tampa Rays. The field was striped with streaks of that sharp Fort Worth sun, while in my neck of the woods things were already dark. I wasn't quite ready to watch the game so I paused it, and magically the sun stayed still: for the next half-hour it was immobile. I'd not only cheated the dark with a televised view of a green baseball diamond in a western state, but was able further to arrest it in its fetching, original pose. It all felt semi-illicit. How often can we claim not to be shackled by time? Baseball, the game outside of time, is even more so with the help of a DVR.