October 31, 2012

Election Thoughts

Polling around our extended family unsurprisingly reveals: the two employed in the public sector are voting Obama, everyone else voting Romney. Not surprising - pretty hard to vote against your self-interest. In general, nobody wants big government more than a government employee I suppose.

The pros of a Romney win include: better choices of SCOTUS judges, a repeal of the HHS mandate, greater respect for freedom of religion, better fiscal discipline (of course all of these have a low hurdle to exceed).

The cons of a Romney win include: potential ruination of the Republican "brand" due to having to make hard choices regarding spending on popular programs like Medicare & Soc Security, resulting in potentially a twenty-year Democrat reign (the latter already a possibility due to shifts in demographics).

While you can ruin your political brand by cutting spending, I don't think you can ruin it by running up huge deficits (exhibit A: Obama, who is still favored to win this election, as well as George Bush in '04). That, no doubt, is why Republican and Democrat alike run up large deficits, including Reagan who was far fonder of cutting taxes than cutting spending.

One proposition: once you go big government, you don't go back. The states, as laboratories, offer interesting experiments in whether voters "learn" from failed Democrat policies. It would seem the answer is "no". California used to be a moderately Republican state and yet now is a lock for Democrats despite a state managed about as poorly as one can manage it. Notwithstanding the state's flirtation with Schwarzeneggar (who pretty much had to govern as a centrist), you get the sense that CA (and the Northeast as well) are pretty much married to big government now. Perhaps it's less whether people learn, then in the effect of changes in demography. California Republicans arguably destroyed their brand by coming out hard against illegal immigration and not courting Hispanics and minorities in the early '90s.

In Ohio, we seem to have had about as stark a difference between governors as you could have: John Kasich versus the previous governor Strickland. Job growth has soared to fourth best in the nation since Kasich took over. You can't argue the numbers, both in terms of job creation and in deficit reduction. When Kasich took office, the Columbus Dispatch opined that he'd be a one-term governor given the draconian measures and tax-raising he would presumably have to do to balance the budget after Strickland's mess. And yet Kasich has an approval number above 50% and would be even higher except that he foolishly took on the firefighter and police officer unions early in his term.

And yet....Ohio is right on the cusp of re-electing the Democrat Obama. Go figure.

October 30, 2012

Wondering Why Dems Have Gotten Worse on Abortion

Carl Olsen opines:
It's not entirely clear to me why most people in the early days of the abortion debate would have thought the Democratic Party would have opposed abortion more strongly than Republicans, especially as it seems the Democratic Party shifted much more sharply and radically in the 1960s and 1970s on social issues. It is, I suppose, something of a chicken-or-the-egg discussion: did Catholics of that era go along with the Party out of loyalty, or did Catholics who embraced contraception and supported abortion help re-shape the Party? Put another, and more specific, way: did Sen. Edward Kennedy change his views in the 1970s because of changes in the political climate, or did he lead the change? I suspect it was a combination. Still, as of less than twenty years ago, in 1996, the Democratic Party platform welcomed anti-abortion Democrats:
Choice. The Democratic Party stands behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of ability to pay. President Clinton took executive action to make sure that the right to make such decisions is protected for all Americans. Over the last four years, we have taken action to end the gag rule and ensure safety at family planning and women's health clinics. We believe it is a fundamental constitutional liberty that individual Americans -- not government -- can best take responsibility for making the most difficult and intensely personal decisions regarding reproduction.

The Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party.

Our goal is to make abortion less necessary and more rare, not more difficult and more dangerous. We support contraceptive research, family planning, comprehensive family life education, and policies that support healthy childbearing. For four years in a row, we have increased support for family planning. The abortion rate is dropping. Now we must continue to support efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies, and we call on all Americans to take personal responsibility to meet this important goal.

New Mexico Trip Log


DAY 1:

"The light, the light," all the artists and mystics and dreamers say of this region of the cosmos but I was unconvinced. Light is light, right? And on the long-ish car ride from Albuquerque to this isolated ranchero I grew even more skeptical. The barren landscape gave off a pinkish hue and the colors of the homes and buildings seemed unimaginatively bland, the color of sand and rock.

But I appreciated the drive in the sense of it being different. It was an introduction to a landscape foreign to me. If I hadn't seen the Las Vegas environs last year, and Salt Lake City's mountains the year before, this would've been even more terra incognito.

But then we arrived at the house we were renting and it was instant "wow". The view incredible, setting spectacular, and surely this was because we were surrounded by juniper and spruce trees. This was no barren desert, but one with modestly tall trees that didn't obstruct the view. A dry arroyo with some coyote tracks, puffs of desert plants clumped artistically here and there in the sand...ahh...

I was sold, in short, and immediately noticed a spectacular quality of light. The shadows pregnant with meaning, the sun gilt against the wood frame porch.

And then we went in and I was blown away again. Picturesque to the nth degree, with a generous number of windows to let that special light in, plenty of books to slake my literary thirst, and all under the benevolent gaze of Our Lady of Guadalupe from a wall niche. I picked up a book and found some poems printed as large bookmarks, poems authored by the owner of the house. Affecting poems about another terra incognito, death. Yes I liked this place, and almost immediately a sense of panic set in: How could I read all these New Mexico-themed books and soak in this stellar view and magic light all in just three days? I was instantly grateful we'd decided not to explore Albuquerque after getting the rental car.

To top it all off, literally, in back of the house lay a treasure, "Black Mesa", and it was just begging to be climbed and I wasn't there a half-hour before I was picking my way up amid a fine variety of rocks, many old remnants from a lava flow, it being an extinct volcano. Up and up, completely out of breath but loathing to pause. Finally after about 45 minutes of this anaerobic climb I found myself about 3/4ths to the summit but without a seeming safe way to get there. Two ravines on either side, very narrow passage way that was lousy with sand. I could've gone back some distance and found a different way up but I was tiring. All I kept thinking was, "Oh man Doug (my brother) needs to come here and climb this. This is just too perfect." Worse still, the very peak area looked Half-Dome steep even if of course it wasn't. Going down was easier on my heart rate than going up, though it wasn't great for my weakish ankles. Could've used a good pair of hiking books.

*

Yesterday found a nugget via Frommer's: an isolated Benedictine monastery not far from where we're staying. It's so isolated that supposedly you almost need 4-wheel drive to get there (it's off a forest service road) but I'm gonna try to get there anyway. Their schedule is pleasingly full of prayer opportunities as one would expect.

The other must-see seems to be Bandelier park. The thing about the trip is how much to treat it as recuperative and how much to treat it as a sight-seeing orgy. I'm tempted to spend at least one day just enjoying the homestead in that tiny little spot on the map called La Lomita.

Taos, NM: not sure. It sounds like a kind of hippie wonderland. But that's about as far in attitude from a suburb of Columbus as can be wished and thus is welcome in the traveling scheme of things. We seek "the other" in travel.

*

So we waited till the sun went down then headed out, famished, to the neighboring town called Espanola and went to La Cocina (don't call it "La Cochina", which means "filthy") restaurant, as recommended by the friend of the owner's who'd let us in.

"I wonder what 'La Cocina' means," I said as we studied the menus.

"I hope not cockroaches," Steph said.

"Maybe it means 'stink bugs'."

The waiter arrives and asks, after we order, 'Red or green?". Hmmm...red or green what? I'd shamelessly not done my pre-vacation reading so was not prepared.

"Green," I said, figuring "red" meant hot if this meant some sort of spice. Steph then asked whether green or red was hotter and he said "green" and so I changed my order accordingly.

The joint was loaded with atmosphere and eclectic furnishings (a picture of a priest next to a painting of the same priest) and the food tasty and reasonably priced.

Day 2

After a long sleep we leisurely began the day with coffee and oatmeal cooked overnight in a crock pot. It was 20-something degrees, but a "warm 20-something". 25 being the new 40 down here apparently. Later that morning, with the strong sun and little wind, 35 degrees felt comfortable and later that afternoon a t-shirt was enough in 50-something degree weather.

We hiked around the property again before heading to 11am lunch at La Cocina, the "right" one this time. The mystery of the two La Cocinas was solved: there were in fact two La Cocinas and right across the street from each other. Whoda thunk it? It was a New Mexico curiosity, like the fact that Highway 285 had speed limits that alternated between 45-60mph and changed for no apparent reason. Like the fact that all the houses seem to have gates (is crime that bad?). Like that our property here has a garage being built with a bathroom & shower. There seems an eccentricity to this land of adobe houses and Indian reservations. I can say one thing, if I lived here I'd be tempted to just drive a steady 60mph and look at speeding tickets as a cost of living.

Lunch done, we headed to Bandelier National Monument, run by the U.S. Park Service, and I briefly wondered about the difference between a national monument and a national park. I should've asked the ebullient park ranger, a young woman who definitely loves her job and who guided us swiftly towards the pay booth.

I always underestimate how long it takes to visit a national park (or monument) and this was no exception. Turns out you can't drive in, you have to be shuttled a dozen or so miles. (On the shuttle back we would inexplicably take a roundabout way through a particularly banal suburb of Los Alamos.)

At the visitor's center we viewed a film that was impressively substanceless and forgetful before beginning our jaunt on a delightfully sunny afternoon. We'd decided to take the main loop trail, just over a mile, and it was interesting to see the 14th century remnants of the valley dwellers and their "kivas", underground pits in a circular shape where they had serious political or religious meetings (church and state then not as sundered). It was also interesting to learn the meaning of the word "kiva", which is the name of a micro-lending institution.

Unfortunately the tranquil atmosphere was rent by two women surprisingly annoying, loud and talkative. They were not the ideal tourists, the ideal being ones who are seen and not heard. If they hadn't been tipping the bottle before I'd sure hate to see them after a couple. After dogging our heels at a couple of stops on the trail, I made the huge tactical mistake of allowing them to go ahead of us at a critical juncture: at the base of the ladder to the first cliff dwelling. Suddenly their paced slowed. One of them went up for awhile, then the other went up and they took up residence, measuring the openings for window dressing, making inane interjections like, "Oh, look, it's like a big picture window!"

Perhaps needless to say when we finally went up the ladder to see this room of wonder we were disappointed. There was nothing much to tell that it couldn't have happened via natural processes. Worse, we soon caught up with our bete noires! So we skipped a stop and headed on ahead, finally getting a faint zig-zag in a dwelling that indicated human presence from 700 years ago. Again I noted the irony of being irritated by humans in the present while searching for signs of those who lived hundreds of years ago.

When we arrived back at our car, the day mostly spent already. I knew it'd be tough to fit in a second event but plowed forward with the plan to visit the Benedictine monastery. We headed back past our place and into the uncharted territory to the north and west, up in Georgia O'Keeffe country. And beautiful it was. Astonishing figures appeared in the mountain fastnesses. Some of it seemed surreal, as if wind and water made works of giddy natural art.

Belatedly we arrived at the forest service road, a gravel road that led to the monastery. Slowly we realized that the math wasn't in our favor: we couldn't go faster than 20mph on this rough-hewn one-laner and we had 13 miles of it and it was already 5pm. By the time we got there we'd have to turn around almost immediately unless we wanted to drive it in the dark, a thought that concentrated the mind wonderfully given how difficult it was maintaining 20mph in the light. We turned around at mile 4 in, so close to the monastery and yet so far away.

Back we headed, down to the highway where we soon found something we'd never seen in Ohio: cows on the highway! A guy in the four-wheeler looked to be doing a cattle drive across the highway although it was more likely that they'd simply escaped outside their fence and the poor guy was trying to get them back. We pulled over off the shoulder and signaled drivers coming the other way by flashing our brights. After a couple false moves, he got them cows apparently where he wanted.

We drove on, past tiny little villages of trailer houses and flat-topped Indian pueblos. There's something fascinating about these little enclaves of ethnicity, kind of like Amish but with a less fertile landscape to work with and a lot of problem drinking and chronic unemployment. I constantly glanced from the road towards these pockets of probable poverty and I longed to see more Native American types outside. Not a lot of outdoor activity in places so rich in scenery if not money.

So at least the long drive to within nine miles of the monastery wasn't totally wasted given the interesting scenery. It looked a lot better than the scenery between Albuquerque and Santa Fe encountered on day one.

I checked out the Benedictine monastery website afterward and found this testimonial from fellow "civilian" visitors there, which convinced me that an hour visit wasn't the purpose of the place anyway:
"I first came because I literally had no choice. I was recovering from a radioactive cancer treatment and I couldn't be around pregnant women or children for three weeks. Since you never know what women may be pregnant, I had to go somewhere where I thought women and children would not go - a monastery.

I had never before been to a monastery and knew nothing about it. The first week, my entire being was in rebellion against the order and the silence. And then something strange happened.

During the second week, I made peace with the order and silence.

During the third week, I became friends with the order and silence.

Those three weeks changed my life. I was introduced to a completely different dimension of life, one that I craved to explore and develop.

Now, 15 years later, I go as often as I can.

I thought I knew God before I went to a monastery. Now I know better just how little I knew God, and am only now finding out how much I crave God."
***

Then back to La Cocina II it was, back to a surprisingly delicious steak dinner for $12.95. You can't get that in Ohio. But you can get HGTV, and we watched a bit of it after dinner and it was a powerful, Gresham-like force as far as causing the inability to turn one's eyes from a show called, "Home, Strange Home". It featured, in part, a "Beer Can House" in Texas where a guy apparently draped his house in beer cans. You can't make it up.

Eventually, mercifully, the narcotically entertaining beer-can house was switched off. Outside desert temperatures plummet lacking the aegis of the sun and I feel a twinge of that familiar last-day-of-vacation-eve feel even if it's technically true that Sunday is our last "day" here, where day is "two hours". The cruel ergonometric of western USA trips from Columbus is clear: four-day trips look suspiciously like two-day trips with travel days appended. You can't fool Mother Nature or geography. Not living at an airport hub means rarely having a non-stop flight, the only way of having an off-chance of avoiding the travel day bookends.

I'd overbought on beer, especially given the single brew we had between us last night. So from now forward it feels like every night is "free beer" night because what we can't drink we can't take with us. So it's "drink it or lose it". So much for my policy of "leave no beer behind." It looks like we'll leave at least six. Ah well, vacations always have an element of inefficiency associated, like driving to within a few miles of your destination and then turning around. Funny, but all the misdirections and anticlimaxes now have a sort of hazy, nostalgic glow. The beatification of vacation.

Day 3

Woke up again to that amazing view of the land of enchantment. And more of "The Last Eagle" by the late Tony Hillerman before jogging a couple miles up and down the killer hills in the "neighborhood".

Then off to visit pueblos, specifically San Juan and the San Ildefonso. The latter was a tad forbidding: the list of NO's was rather extensive, including a sign saying "No Tourists Allowed After 5 pm". There was also no hiking allowed. I visited a couple pottery shops and noted the large kiva in the large open plaza. Unfortunately very little activity to speak of, no local color. San Juan was friendlier, with a Catholic church actually open. Not surprisingly there was a large display devoted to the newest saint, Saint Kateri, a Native American. There was also a side altar with a huge icon screen of paintings depicted events in her life. Eventually a handsome looking group entered, possibly for a baptism since one lady was holding an infant.

No pueblo is complete without its kiva and large empty plaza, and San Juan is no exception. It was neat to see a kiva built in the 14th century yesterday and one built in the 20th century today.

The police station had Halloween decorations in the window. You gotta love a police force with Halloween decorations. The drive for Obama in this part of the world is intense. Lots of signs saying "Obamanos! Gotta vote!" Obama's apparently also our first Hispanic president. Who knew? I'd love to put up a sign in the area saying, "Romneynos! Gotta vote!" The Santa Fe New Mexican, unsurprisingly, intemperately editorialized for Obama its endorsement piece.

After the pueblos we headed to Santa Fe and parked near the Cathedral of St. Francis. A pleasing enough shopping area presented itself, so we walked by the plaza area, a park, visited a coffee shop and a bookstore (oh if I wasn't such a e-book convert I'd have been tempted). The people were surprisingly friendly for such a presumably "snooty" environment, even the folks who were obviously natives.

Then to the cathedral for mass. The church was more modern (on the inside) that I expected. I guess a lot of the paintings behind the altar we done in the late '80s. The juxtaposition with an old fashioned side niche of Our Lady of Consolation was maybe a tad jarring, but perhaps what you need to do to appeal to both elderly Hispanic ladies and younger hipsters.

Mass was very evangelical with praise & worship songs from my wife's non-Catholic church and with the priest coming down the aisles asking everyone from out of state to announce themselves which, naturally, took a very long time. Two other couples were from Ohio.

*

Steph looked at me like I'd taken out a lighter and lit a napkin on fire. We were at a Mexican restaurant at the Albuquerque Sunport (don't call it airport) when I pulled out a beer from my carry-on and quickly decanted the sucker. This was outrageous to her and I was amused by it.

One low alcohol beer is pretty close to having none, but I thought it worth it for medicinal purposes, given the strenuous morning climb up the Black Mesa. I'd run out of gas at around 6,360 feet, which sounds impressive except for the fact I started out at 6,000 feet. Evidently I should've trained for this event. I don't know if it was the altitude or the foreign activity of climbing hills, there being none in flat Columbus, but it was a tough sled. Apparently the equivalent of going up 35 sets of stairs, with the added invigoration of a rocky, uneven surface. Certainly not what I'm used to.

We'd spent a few last precious moments on the porch at La Lomita, me reading a bit of "The Last Essays of Bernanos"*, a book from the owner's stock. They say that New Mexico is laid-back and slow-paced, and I wondered if there a high capita of readers here given hard it must feel for readers, given the press of unread books in the bibliophilic life.

Then a pause, thinking of the unheeded wisdom of the verse, "Be still and know that I am God."

***

* - In one of his essays, on freedom, Bernanos sounds so current & prescient. Writing in 1955 he says,
"With each war to preserve freedom, they take from us twenty five percent of the freedoms that still exist... [In the future] I think police troops will compromise nine-tenths of the population and a citizen will no longer be able to cross the street without twice taking off his pants in front of a policeman anxious to be assured he isn't hiding a single milligram of the precious stuff [nuclear materials] that will destroy cities."





















Downloaded "Current Elevation" app after starting downhill.

October 29, 2012

Fads Found Here

New hire at our company reports that she "geeks out on a 'Primal Blueprint' approach to nutrition and fitness and can often be found wandering German Village in five-fingered shoes."

I had absolutely no idea what any of this meant, no doubt showing my age. A couple google searches later I'm a bit more in the know.

October 24, 2012

Quotable

Blessed John Henry Newman: “What is meant by faith? It is to feel in good earnest that we are creatures of God; it is a practical perception of the unseen world; it is to understand that this world is not enough for our happiness, to look beyond it on towards God, to realize His presence, to wait upon Him, to en- deavor to learn and to do His will, and to seek our good from Him. It is not a mere temporary strong act or impetu- ous feeling of the mind, an impression or a view coming upon it, but it is a habit, a state of mind, lasting and con- sistent. To have faith in God is to sur- render one’s-self to God, humbly to put one’s interests, or to wish to be allowed to put them into His hands who is the Sovereign Giver of all good.”
 

Yes


Various & Sundry

Spent the morning reading indulgently (pardon the redundancy) "In the Pleasure Groove" by a Duran Duran band member. I don't know why it's so interesting to me given that I have a slight interest in the band and only know maybe a half-dozen of their songs.  Perhaps it's partially that the intensity of our adolescences mostly coincide: he was born 3 years before me, went to Catholic schools, and ended up in a band during the 'wild years' of the '80s.  Perhaps it's the nostalgia aspect, but also a curiosity over what maturation he's experienced over the years.

Also read more of a Lincoln biography. Odd this sudden Lincoln interest given that I've never been particularly interested in him and have long gravitated towards biographies of devout Christian Southern types like Robert E. Lee,  Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

Kind of neat that as I'm reading about Lincoln's difficult childhood I see a Columbus Dispatch article describing a travel writer's visit to Abe's boyhood home in Indiana.  Makes me want to visit there.  I have a much better feel for Lincoln's early life due to the vivid beginning of Burlingame's two-volume bio.  Lincoln had that Calvinist streak just as strong as Emily Dickinson did.  Once you go Calvin, you never go back it would seem.  Abe had a Roman Catholic teacher for a year, one whom he liked a lot. The teacher did not proselytize.

*

From Catholic Bibles blogger:

It was a reminder to me, at least, that there is a place for dynamic-equivalence translations.  As I refer back to Msgr. Knox's On Englishing the Bible, it becomes very clear that Knox would have been a proponent of that style of translation.  I wonder what he would have thought about translations like the Jerusalem or New Jerusalem Bibles? Or how about the NLT?

At the end of her review Elizabeth [Scalia] mentions how she just opened to a particular verse of the Song of Songs in the Knox translation and:

Yes, I read it and I wept. Not in fear, not in despair, but in consolation at the reminder, rendered so beautifully by Knox, that the world has resided in the madness of sin and shadow since Eden, but we are never abandoned, and need never be afraid.

 It is always good to remember how powerful the Holy Scriptures can be, even in a non-formal translation. 

*

The weather is summerish, even warmer than Monday.  Could probably now qualify as "freakish".


*

Betty Duffy's leaving her blog.  Like she says, "it's just a blog," but sentimentally (to the extent one can become sentimental about a URL and web-design) it feels poignant. I think she's smart to go out on top.  I always think everything is "forever" even though in truth the windows of opportunity are vanishingly small. 

October 23, 2012

Jots and Tittles or Diaristic Wanderings

Looking out over the Little Miami river last weekend I thought about that flood of 1913, and how the gigantically sloped sides are a silent testimony to how terribly the flood affected that community. The human effort or engineering involved was surely impressive for that era and there's an element of overkill to it, for now it would seemingly take a flood of Noahian proportions to overflow its banks, which is to say it's permanently flood-proof several times over. Hamilton didn't just create levees, they created small mountains on the banks as if to say, "Take THAT Mother Nature!".

The horse in the picture at right has a story attached from the Hamilton newspaper:

"No one knows where he came from, but an old blind horse named Dobbin eventually found his way to safety during the 1913 flood in Hamilton and became one of the iconic figures of the disaster as a result of this post card showing up making his way up High Street."

*

Appreciate that Romney had a "rapid response" twitter feed for last night's debate.   A way to give Romney voters instant ammo against statements Obama makes.  I'm cheered by it because it shows the sort of fight and youthful social media-friendly angle that McCain so desperately lacked. It's not that McCain lost, it's more the way he lost in '08 that rankles.  I'd have preferred he'd gone all Reverend Wright on Obama's ass and cared less for his personal legacy as viewed by the New York Times and more about winning.  Maybe McCain didn't feel pro-life enough, since the life issue is the one that can drive a thirst for winning since you're trying to save lives, instead of pocketbooks. To the admittedly marginal effect any president can have on the life issue given the way the Court has ruled.

Feel a tad discouraged that Springsteen gave a huge concert in Ohio last night and supposedly had thousands of people voting early, voters would likely would not have voted otherwise.  In a close state like Ohio a "finisher" like Springsteen must be invaluable for Obama.  But ever since Bush's '04 victory I felt like any Republican presidential victories in the future would be all gravy given the demographics.  You can't fight City Hall or demographics.  I'm a bit more sanguine about the future as far as accepting whatever happens next month as the decision of the American people.   If God can put up with our sin, then I guess we can put up with the "voter sin" of voting for Obama.   Ultimately if you trust in democracy you have to put up with the results.  It's humbling that we may have four more years of PBO, but there is a part of me that wants to see him try to clean up the mess he made.

*

Interesting homily from Fr. at St. Pat's the other day. He said that he'd been hearing of folks who aren't going to vote, who are of the pox-on-both-their-houses variety. Fr. wasn't too pleased by that, saying that trying to "remain pure" is not possible, that we're all complicit, we're all citizens. We may feel above it all but the laws these jokers (my term, not his) make affect us all. He said that it's important to realize that we as Catholics don't believe in voting for the "lesser of two evils", because we cannot do any evil, but that we can adhere to the principle of double effect, where we do an action and intend the good result even though we understand there's a possible, or even certain, chance that some evil will come as a result. That would seem to leave voting for Obama open though, since people will say, "I'm voting for the good he'll do, not the bad."


*

Every once in awhile I get a glimmer into how left-leaning Heather King is, which is a tad jarring. Like her statistic that we spend at least a third of our budget on the military. I found a Paul Krugman-approved site that says it's 20%. It's a minor thing, but likely shows she's getting her information from left-wing websites/outfit which, of course, makes me think she's only getting one side of things. I think the downside to being somewhat apolitical and not a heavy news consumer (like HK presumably, who is seeking beauty more than mud!) is that there's a higher likelihood of being misinformed.


*

So the campaigns finally wind down. Debates, I've heard a few, but then again, too many to mention... Tonight's number three and it feels like overkill.  Foreign policy is the topic, one that doesn't interest me as much as it should.  One view of foreign policy is not to owe trillions to China. By going into debt we are simply playing into the hands of our enemies.  In Europe, don't we see that Germany has choices now and Greece does not?

*

Oh that second beer when I long to do everything all at once like only God can, when I long for every day to be a Saturday night, long to read-whirl and reap a bookwind, to fly dream catchin', sink nose sunk into the fresh print of Merton's letters or Vatican II docs where I plain-fire my imagination, kindled by the journals of Yves Congar, fresh-cut, seeded by the weight and delight of the Bibles on the table, gold-edged fire-breathin', Holy Spirit-ing live wires of the Word, the textbook-tightrope walk between presumption and despair, each perilously calling us like sailors to Scylla or Charybdis. I feel rich with words, whole habitations and plantations of words, sitting there in my books or in my Kindle, waiting to be consumed like collections of future promises. 

*

Killer gospel the other day. "Grow rich in the things that matter to God."  Oh gosh but how often do I note the cleavage between what I think important and what God does!  Meanwhile I liked to get that Baronius Press edition of the Knox Bible despite the slim chance that I'll read it in quantity.  It's based on the Vulgate and is thus bereft of the benefits of modern scholarship and better manuscripts, but I'm just so intrigued that the Knox spent his worldly capital on such a herculean and mostly unrewarded task.  Surely the Knox Bible can't be seen as a triumpth in earthly terms given its lack of widespread usage. It's no King James. One can't help but wonder if he misheard God's call in that regard.  Others wiser than me have wondered what Knox would've been had he not taken on the Quixotian task. But Knox was obviously an exquisite writer and a translation requires as good a stylist (or better) as the original author.  Of the making of Bibles there is apparently no end.

State of the Weather Address

Honored guests, pilgrims, and fellow Americans, today I deliver this State of the Weather address and must report that the weather is fantastical. Sunny and warm this afternoon with temps up to 75, 76 degrees. Perhaps not freakishly warm given that the average high for this day in Rocktober Columbus is 65 degrees and I'm not sure ten degrees constitutes "freakishly high" any more than a high of 55 degrees would be "freakishly low". Especially since we've had both in recent days.

To borrow from Calvin Coolidge, who when asked what the market will do he replied, "it will fluctuate" we can attest that our weather will fluctuate. The record is 83 for this day and so perhaps we could only count 80+ degree days in late October as properly freakish.

*

What's left of the wizened leaves of the maple out back look precarious on the half-dressed limbs. There's a nerdish part of me that longs to record the date the leaves turn and when they fall each year. Just as it somehow feels important to note, say, September 24th was the last day we saw a hummingbird at the feeder.

The sky is wide as the ocean and just as panoramic. If the sky were only seen in certain locations there would be sky-high prices for those pieces of land. We don't appreciate what we have. We may not have an ocean in sight but each day the sky is free and we're given a view tumblr can't approach. To be outside is to be in wonder, and to experience the truly immersive experience.

October 15, 2012

Stephen Windwalker on Gadgetry

From here:
I suspect that many of you reading this share a love of new gadgets, especially when they help you to read in a better way. So you might share my surprise in hearing that gadget lover Stephen Windwalker made a convincing case to me this week that—gasp—it’s not really about the gadgets any more.

“When you look at all these devices that are out, the air is kind of coming out of the balloon in terms of the competition between devices,” he told me after putting the Fitbit away.

He praised the iPad 3, the iPhone, the new Kindle Fire HDs, the Kindle Paperwhite, and even the new Nook tablets, which look very sharp as hardware.

“But,” he said, “the idea that people are any longer at the point where when a new device comes out they’re going to throw the old one away and grab the new one—I’m just not convinced of that any more.”

Steve emphasized the importance of focusing on what people actually do on these devices, “rather than some proposition that 11 left-handed redheads might use.”

Within a range of, say, five percent in terms of functionality for what people actually do on devices, customer motivation is not centered on hardware features, he said.

“What’s really important,” Steve said, “is the delivery of content.”

He offered a good analogy in suggesting that you don’t decide where to buy a washer/dryer by how nice and modern the store looks. What matters is the value proposition, price, and how good the washer/dryer is.

The Other

Take a boring pharmacy sign, put it in a foreign language and VOILA! It's almost art...

I feel a little ping-pang of envy while viewing Amy W's crew viewing a parade in Paris:

Poem from latest National Review

By now, the books have almost filled their shelves
Like some slow love affair reaching its end,
When little space is left for richer selves,
And all have spent the last cent they can spend.

The volumes lined in perfect rows await
A book or two. Then they will be complete,
Standing for hard-won knowledge taken straight
And upright, serving wisdom bound and neat.

Till then, they lean on one another, covers
Touching as they inch on toward the finish.
Who would ever think of books as lovers?
Day by day, the spaces left diminish.

--Len Krisak

Sundry & Various

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?


Riveted by the first reading the other day (above) from Galatians 3 where Paul calls his flock foolish or stupid and mentions "Christ crucified" (?) in the context of condemning the Galatians tendency towards seeing legal contrivances as their salvation rather than faith. The Collegeville commentary puts it plainly in saying that Paul was asking, "were you experiences of the Spirit the result of legal observances or of faith?"

Meanwhile glad to see Steve Ray, one of the early lights of the wave of 1990s-era Catholic apologists, joining the Catechism-reading group for the Year o' Faith. He set up the "Catholic Defender" forum and billboard, a precursor to the blogs, and I loved posting on there way back when. Now he does pilgrimages to the Holy Land and says he's on the road 200 days a year giving speeches and whatnot but hopes to read the Bible and the Catechism in one year.

*

Surprised to learn on the way via His Eminence's radio show that Cardinal Dolan had sent a chastising letter to Yanks manager Joe Giardi after the latter had said that boringly usual thing, "I was raised Catholic but didn't meet Jesus until meeting him through my evangelical wife." Dolan said he wrote Girardi saying how a billion Catholics the last two thousand years have met Jesus via another woman: the Church. Kind of surprising he would publicly spar with the Yankee skipper; this seems a "new thing" where Catholic leaders more forcefully defend the Faith.

*

"Travel writer Tim Cahill summed this up for travellers in with the following truism: ‘Adventure is simply physical and emotional discomfort recollected in tranquility.’ It’s a classic travel paradox: if you’re willing to suffer a little here, get scared out of your wits there, memories from your trip will be stronger – and fonder – than from one spent in action-free leisure."

*


Took a walk in the woods with our dog yesterday. Air temp moderate, but a huge wind made things interesting. Would one of the huge trees hovering over me snap a branch and kill or injury me? This fear was offset by the natural beauty of a carpet of yellow leaves and a wondrous yellow-green combination in the tall trees of this pleasing local park.

Thought about the fragility of life. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis and that's not an abstract datum from history. I was in my mother's womb at that time, a brand new embryo and likely death would've come to us all. Even more shockingly, my brother and sister would've never been. There's nothing more haunting than the children that have never been, much more even than the victims of abortion who, at least, have the promise of eternal life if a tragically shortened temporal one.

Fr. Terry at Mass said that it's not well known that Kruscheve called Pope John XXIII and said, "Get me out of this!" And that a few days later Robert Kennedy called and said, "Get me out of this!" Two superpowers and they're appealing to a pontiff with no earthly armies, weapons or power. And this "old man in Italy" in response gave an address, just a three minute address, in which he prayed for peace...

*

I wonder if there's a common thread to my likes of running and reading. In both cases, they require little set-up and the least amount of equipment. Path of least resistance. They are both very simple. With running, you don't need much other than your legs. No expensive golf equipment or tennis rackets or greens fees or travel to course or court. You derive much joy from simply moving.

With books, similarly, you don't need anything but your local library or simply access to a computer. You are looking at scribbles on a page but you derive much joy from those simple scribbles. Art is expensive; there's a charge to go to the art museum and to buy works is cost prohibitive. But with books you can go to the library for free or purchase a classic work of literature, the literary equivalent of a Picasso painting, for less than ten dollars.

*

At Half-Price Books I'd anticipated a fulsome amount of money from the twenty-five books I gave them (I half-joked afterward that some of the books must've actually cost me money given the $3 final figure), so I gathered a half-dozen books I'd planned in getting with my found money. In my quiver was a dirt-cheap Roger Maris biography, a de Bottom book on the "joys and sorrows of work", but most beguilingly a re-telling of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" by Peter Ackroyd. Here was that famous work in the modern vernacular, which I assumed was how it must've sounded to the original readers or hearers. I read a bit of the Miller's Tale and it's just a completely different experience from reading the original, or semi-original. I was thirsty for the book by virtue of the promise on the fly-leaf to help explicate the Middle Ages (Does not pagan Rome in some ways feel more familiar to us than the Middle Ages?). But ultimately I thought I wouldn't put the time into Akroyd/Chaucer's book so I went with Thomas Merton's far more engaging letters. (Merton's letter on nuclear war and the problems with pacificism was enlightening and kind of surprising.)

I think some of the excitement of the original recipients of Chaucer's tales would be lost on me. The sort of vivid sexual punnery might now seem corny or jarring.One amazon.com reviewer calls Chaucer's work the "greatest poem ever written in Middle English", which is a bit like saying the Bengals are the greatest team in the middle part of the AFC North division. You're narrowing things there. One problem with Ackroyd's retelling is you would certainly never think it was ever a poem.

October 12, 2012

¡Ay, Caramba!, Redlegs!



Ach, what a difference a couple games makes.

Feel a bit discombobulated by the swift and sudden Reds' left turn and subsequent demise. Once up 2-0 in a best of five, soon deadlocked at 2-2, now out.  Glad I didn't crow early to old boss Rick, a Giants fan. Lord knows in baseball it's never over till it's over. And worse, ace Cueto is out with a muscle injury. What a difference one pitcher makes but then he's 25% of 50% of the game. (Four starters as a rotation, with pitching representing at least half the game.) Mike Leake got leaky with runs in game 4. If the Reds could've pitched Cueto, Arroyo, Latos and Bailey they'd have won the series. But injuries are part of the game.

Most puzzling to me is why Dusty took Homer Bailey out after seven innings of one-hit ball the other day. The game was screaming "extra innings" so why would you go to the bullpen earlier than you have to? Baker's a very good manager but he contributed to that loss. If you say, "oh but he wanted to pinchhit for Bailey" I say Bailey's a good-hitting pitcher and even if your pinch-hitter is hitting .280, that's only .080 better than Bailey, which means he has less than a 1 in 10 chance of doing better than Bailey would do. Not good math, especially since pitching is the name of the game. Bailey's coming off a no-hitter, why not ride him? Instead we were left with one of the weaker members of the bullpen to start the 10th.

But ultimately no team can lose their ace pitcher and expect to do well in the playoffs. Totally unrealistic, which means you really can't blame the Reds for going "one and done". The marginal difference between playoff teams is small to begin with, so when you lose your best pitcher you're at a big disadvantage. It's almost like you're giving your competitors an extra game lead in every season.

It seemed pretty unlikely from the outset of game five that they'd win given the huge momentum swing of going from 2-0 to 2-2. Theoretically that last game is independent of what has gone before but that's to think of humans as robots or computers. We know what has gone before and it influences us.

So it's almost like it would've been better to have to play game 5 back in SF. Heck, they may as well have played all the games in SF given the results. Fr. Rob Kegron of "The Catholic Guy" radio show was ecstatic, which means there's one degree of separation between me and two Giants fans (once with ex-boss Rick and also with Fr. Rob).

I feel the prophet since I remember saying I didn't trust Latos or Leake in the playoffs. Latos looks the part of a troubled youth. Of course Latos proved me wrong in the first game, pitching four great innings. But to consider him your game five ace just made me miss Cueto. And with Leake I just thought all season he wasn't quite experienced enough.

In the end pitching wins championships and we got only two quality starts out of the five games so really the die was cast there.

Various & Sundry

Interesting that I'm reading about Abraham Lincoln's father while a relative's financial problems continue. Thomas Lincoln was poor and always on the edge of bankruptcy mainly due to poor choices and laziness. (For example, Thomas picked about the worst farm land he could.) Lincoln's father always needed money and never changed or was able to change, and there's a lesson in that. Some people are going to live close to the edge and it's tricky to figure out how not to enable bad behavior while being compassionate. And to not become emotionally invested in trying to change them.  Some people can't handle money, which seems infinitely puzzling to people who can, but I suspect it's like that whenever we encounter someone different from us, whether for better or for worse. A recipe for frustration is to try to influence financial choices. People are pretty married to their monetary habits. Perhaps part of the problem is the heretical 'health and wealth' view of Christianity. I don't think one can pray your way out of debt. God seems pretty big on letting us figure things out on our own, and to let us make a lot of mistakes. Lord knows I have and do.

*

Related, from Chabon's "Telegraph Avenue": 

He absorbed from his poor black and Latino clients powerful notions of the sovereignty of bad luck and death. He had suffered no ill fortune throughout the length of a tranquil, comfortable, and fulfilling life and so at any moment anticipated—even felt that he deserved—the swift equalizing backhand of universal misfortune.

*

Picked up "Arguably", a big collection of essays by Christopher Hitchens. The $9.99 e-book price seems a steal given the immense book and the undeniable erudition of the late author. (By the way, I learned recently that Fr. Barron is a fan of Hitchens, though obviously not of his atheism.) I gobbled up essays about Ben Franklin, John Brown and Abe Lincoln. Learned much, and Hitchens pointed me to a two-volume Lincoln biography that I'd love to have if money was no object (it's a ridiculously pricey $74 even on Kindle!). Lincoln had an admixture of doubt and faith to make him more interesting in some ways (to me) than saints and pagans.

*

There's certainly no substitute for looking upon the Cross and trusting that that's how much He loves us. That is the answer to all frets, fears and accusations. That alone, in one act, can solve the questions and silence the inner critic. If I think about the ways God seems absent in the world that is of no use. Instead I should ponder all the ways He seems present - i.e. in the beauty of sunshine and trees, in the astonishing sweep of mountains and sea, in the saints. God seems present to me most obviously in the Cross and Eucharist, the saints, and nature. Nature, because how come beauty exists if God doesn't care or sweat the details? The saints because they are so certain of God's love that they are able to do seemingly impossible things like love their neighbor and levitate. The Cross and Eucharist because on the Cross God chose to pin himself there for our sake then, and the Eucharist because that is where God chooses to pin himself for our sake now.  Year of Faith indeed. Thank you Holy Father.

*

A couple lines from Chesterton, the prophet of joy and gratitude:
Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?


*

Wherever there are happy men
they will build beautiful things.

The Rich Prose Sylings of Chabon

From Telegraph Avenue:

Decades of avian companionship had raised a fuzz of claw marks at the shoulders of Mr. Jones’s green leisure suit, tussocks on the padded polyester lawn. 
*
His wife, though no doubt she loved him, was the latest in a long line of experts and connoisseurs, reaching back through the army and high school to his aunties, to underrate the rarity and condition of Archy’s soul. 
*
[She] found herself blown off course by an unbearable craving into the cumin-scented gloom of the Queen of Sheba. Steeled by a lifetime of training in the arts of repression, like Spock battling the septenary mating madness of the pon farr, Gwen had resisted the urges and surges of estrogen and progesterone for each of the first thirty-four weeks of her pregnancy, denying all cravings, battened down tight against hormonal gusts. 
*
She flung aside the beaded strands with a left hand that could splinter pine planks and reduce cinder block to gray dust. Strings snapped. Hundreds of brown and tan beads rattled down, darting and pinging and scattering in whorls, mapping, like particles in a cloud chamber, the flow of qigong from her black-belt hand. 
*
Her hair was a glory of tendrils for the snaring of husbands. 
The girl looked up. In those ibex eyes, Gwen saw guilt and mockery; but above all: contempt. 
*
A small black Buddha greeted her from a low table by the front door, where it kept company with a photograph of Lydia Frankenthaler, the producer of an Oscar-winning documentary film about the neglected plight of lesbians in Nazi Germany; 
*
The fog had burned off, leaving only a softness, as tender as a memory from childhood, to blur the sunlight that warmed the sprawl of rosemary and purple salvia along the fragrant sidewalk and fell in shifting shafts through the branches of the monkey-puzzle tree.
He had to this day never forgotten the strange horror of glimpsing one of Mr. Oliveira’s many tattoos, like something out of Nathaniel Hawthorne, consisting of a ragged rectangle, a bar of black ink scrawled across the cordovan hide of the old sailor’s upper arm in order to blot out, like the pen of a censor, some underlying name or image whose memory, for mysterious reasons, was abhorrent. 
*
A lamentable lamentation of the door hinges, sounding like the gate on a crypt filled with vengeful dead folks being thrown open, and Valletta Moore got out of the car. Big-boned, shapely, on the fatal side of fifty, high-waisted, high-breasted, face a feline triangle. Beer-bottle-brown eyes, skin luminous and butterscotch, as if she herself had come fresh from the spray gun of Sixto Cantor....The architecture of her ass was something deeper than a memory to Archy, something almost beyond remembrance, an archetype, the pattern of all asses forever after, wired into the structure of reality itself. 
*
...the lady most definitely giving off that heavy 1978 Spencer’s smell of love candles and sandalwood incense but, laid over top of it, the stink of cigarette, the instant-potatoes smell you might find in the interior of a beat-to-shit Toronado.

October 09, 2012

Reads Like Parody!

I rather enjoyed news of this "non-event" in my non-diocesan newspaper (click to enlarge):

Moving Letter...

Wonderful to hear of a religious vocation discerned. And I thought it was pretty good that this young lady (a worker at LifeSite News) admitted to being a birther. Kind of honest. Usually people try to sweep their old opinions under the table. She was also spot-on about supporting McCain. Good Lord I can't believe some people sat out the '08 election in some search for 'purity'. But then everybody's got to follow their conscience and that's as it should be. Also a great final paragraph from the excerpt below:
My Final Letter to You

By: Kathleen Gilbert, Former U.S. Bureau Chief
Dear readers,

I'm sorry to say this is my final letter to you.

A previous letter hinted at my mysterious disappearance from LifeSiteNews' roster a few weeks ago. So tonight I'm picking up the metaphorical pen one last time before I enter the Carmelite monastery in Buffalo, New York, to begin my postulancy there on October 14. The feeling is difficult to describe, but bittersweet is a large part.

...Very few are so privileged as to fight evil as a form of gainful employment - I was. I am leaving one deeply spiritual work, for another.

When I began as a very nervous novice journalist in August 2008, it was only weeks away from Obama's victory. As I set to work keeping up on the election, I began reading up on this strange character with the silky intonation, and soon came to the conclusion that he was not just bad - a mortal enemy of unborn children (somehow a ho-hum feature of political candidates now) - but a real force of destruction against America and its spiritual roots.

Panicking, I dove headfirst into the birther world, clamoring before family and friends that even though McCain was a tepid pro-lifer at best, if we elected Obama, America would never be the same again. Whether or not I was right about his birthplace, I was right about the outcome. We have ended Obama's first term with Christian retailers fighting a $1.3 million dollar-per-day fine in the United States of America, just for being Christian.

I came in with Obama, and, God willing, I'm going out with him too....

It's a mission that pro-life actress Vanessa Ore summed up eloquently in an encounter with an abortion-minded friend: “I love you, no matter what you do, but ... I have to be the voice of this child right now for you.”

There is a desperate need for that voice.
Full piece here.

October 08, 2012

In Praise of Books


Link here:
There is something about books, something wonderful, something mysterious. We have somehow symbolized reality by a miracle we call language. And one of the most precious and enduring form of language is the written word. Where did we ever think to denote our sounds with the lines and angles and curves we call letters. And where did we think to combine them endlessly into words, phrases a sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books, and libraries. Yet here you and I are now, mysteriously connected through this medium called language and the written word. Somehow these shapes on the screen symbolize reality and light up our mind.

There is an old saying, “Paper has perfect recall.” And thus, even as language and culture change, our books have held a kind of lasting memory of human thought and creativity. Even when living humans forget, books can remain on a shelf, only to be rediscovered many years later. People are forgetful, but paper has perfect recall.

This & That

Often I find myself feeling sorry for those out of the spiritual loop, while Jesus seems to say that we should instead simply be grateful for what we've been given.

Example: I think back to those of Job's time, before Christ, when every calamity meant that you had offended God. I feel so sorry for those folks. I think it unfair, a chronological unfairness. It's also totally unfair that I have the benefits of modern medicine that most generations have lacked.

Jesus didn't seem focused on the unfairness of Job's time but asks us to relish our own fortunateness. "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see," he says to his disciples. "For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it." Jesus didn't seem to feel sorry for those prophets and kings but seems to want us to concentrate on our own response.

*

From Liturgy of the Hours yesterday I was struck by the famous passage from Ezekiel 37:12-14 and a perhaps rather obvious thought occurred to me after reading, "I will open your graves and have you rise from them...I will put my Spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land." I thought about how that seemed well fulfilled in Christ, who literally had his grave opened (the stone rolled away) and how he rose and how he is now settled in his land, Heaven. (Although of course "His land" is earth and Heaven and He is at home in both). But that passage in the OT always has felt like a future promise, but it's already been partially fulfilled.

*

Wow. Reading Michael Chabon is humbling. The guy puts together sentences I can't imagine concocting. He's an artist, a jazz artist, stringing together these vivid images with pyrotechnic words. My highlighter has gone dry, or would if I weren't using an electronic e-reading device with virtual highlighting. Chabon has a vocabulary that anyone would envy and he's my age too - with all a 49-year old's slightly slipping powers of recall (or maybe it's just MY slipping powers of recall). Or maybe he just often consults dictionaries and thesauruses.

Read about 12 pages of his "Telegraph Avenue", which felt sufficiently satisfying. "Telegraph" has a full complement of artistic graces about it, a nice vigor. Riveting episode of a mother giving birth and having physical problems afterward.

Also read about beer in the fabulously priced and well-written "Tasting Beer" ($2.99). Read on iPad for all the glorious in-color pictures. Like reading about the origin of agriculture and about wild grasses in Kurdistan (almost wrote 'Turdistan'!) and how those folks were the first to figure how to cultivate wheat from those grasses. Talk about spinning straw into gold, because from wheat you can make -you guessed it!- beer.

*

For all the talk about baseball being "too slow", I thought at least there isn't the time between baseball plays as there is in football. But then I measured a bit: with football (Cincy versus Miami in this case) you wait about thirty seconds between plays while in baseball (via an old Reds-Pirates game I found on dvr) it's...about thirty seconds between pitches. That certainly undermines what I thought to be true, especially since any given football play is generally more determinative to the outcome of the game than any baseball pitch. Fortunately decent baseball announcers really make the time between pitches less an annoyance though. But I do have to give football the edge on action, even if I give baseball the edge on beauty (the average baseball field is 186% more beautiful than the average football field).

The Reds-Giants game started at 9:37pm, thank you very little MLB. Which means the game could last till 1am. Feel a bit disgruntled that St. Louis got in. They had a mediocre season, soundly beaten by the Reds over the 162 game season, but thanks to this joke of a second wild card berth (thank you very little MLB), they end up beating the Braves in a "one game playoff" (which makes about as much sense for baseball as having marathon runners run a sprint to determine the winner).

Speaking of running, learned that blogger/priest Msgr. Pope from the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. ran a 4:44 mile when he was young. That is motoring. My fastest was around 5:20. On his Facebook page there are a lot of pictures he's posted of himself. I suppose as creatures of God we all ought admire His creation, beginning with ourselves. "I am fearfully and wonderfully made...".

*

Pleasant run down High Street, past the smells of coffee and chocolate bars. Found myself in a meltingly picturesque scene such that I longed for a camera: autumnally-yellowed trees flanking the old neon sign of a bar and grill. I felt such a strong sensucht for this area called the "Short North". I wanted to visit those art galleries and coffee joints but realized that it wouldn't necessarily be the same. A runner has total access to the moment, having a task to perform and considered by others a transient.

Oh moan-sad am I, for summer hast flee'd and I have nothing but fleas to remember her by. Those golden, bolden moments in the bun-sun, run till the fun, mariachi music in my ears, swinging ham-handedly on the hammock in the glade pervade. Miss I keen already! Drinking in the sun, sunning in the drink, flim-flam, Pakistan! I rue the Rue that left me on the corner, that left me high and dry, absent my Absinthe! So long ago now, that lit spring day in olde Indianapolis - how pathetically grateful I was for the sun'd gardens beside Museum proper! Statuesque statues rimmed the drunkenly green lawns and I was instantly art-toxicated. I was in Paris, at the Louvre for all I knew. I think it all hysterics, all but fuss, and I wonder if some fair day years hence if, bitte God!, I'm in heaven, I will look back and see it all as slightly hysterical, as majoring in minors? Ah perspective, you elusive bastard! You sing your song only after the Fat Lady has already sung.

*

There's a growing sense of the truth of the old bromide, "the chickens come home to roost." If there's one pattern that seems to be consistently if belatedly followed, it's that no one, for very long, gets away with anything.

We saw it with the "original sin" of America, that of slavery and how as Lincoln said in his Second Inagural that every drop of blood drawn by the lash would be repaid by the the sword.

We saw it with pederast priests and how for so long the Church was respected enough to be let alone - until a tipping point was reached in which outrage on behalf of the victims mixed with a lessening respect for the clergy created, rightly in this case, outrage over bishops who moved priests willy-nilly.

We see it with the economic crunch: millions of people out of work because banks played a fool's game by lending money without sense or collateral.

And I think we're going to see it, sooner or later, in the fall of the U.S. from a position of powerful political and economic influence simply because waste, sloth and debt don't go unpunished.

Will we see it likewise with decade after decade of aborting millions of our own children? Or because the unborn are voiceless and defenseless, will that chicken come home to roost only in the next life?

I was reading today about how hundreds would come out to see a public execution during the early centuries in America. We think that barbaric. How much worse is the execution, witnessed or not, of defenseless babies in the womb?

October 05, 2012

The Debate

Good column here:
The AP report on reactions to Lehrer’s “moderation” was brutal. The bipartisan consensus seems to be that Lehrer totally lost control of the debate. The use of the verb “control” is revealing: Since Obama declared his candidacy for president in 2007, his biography and message and agenda and record have been remarkably “controlled,” moderated, and protected by a pliant media.

This was the first debate in Obama’s career in which he was pitted against a viable and competitive and confrontational Republican... Lehrer, intentionally or not, upended the dynamic of the campaign by ceding “control” of the debate to the candidates. Obama was vulnerable and exposed.

Sad that a journalist of Lehrer’s talents and experience could be so insouciantly dismissed because he failed to protect the image and prerogatives of a failed president. Sad, but also telling. The wolf pack that is the contemporary liberal media is so reckless and slavish in its devotion to liberalism that it will turn on a moment’s notice against every alpha and beta and omega that strays.

Book of Job

Good Msgr. Pope post on the problem of suffering:
I am part of a bigger plan. I have a place on a canvas which has both light and darkness that exist in a kind of interplay that, for his own purposes, God permits.

“Enjoy” the book of Job. There is a kind of paradoxical serenity that comes to us from realizing that we see and know very little. In letting God be God, and letting go of our passion to control, and understand everything, there comes a kind of serenity.

The mysterious suffering that exists before us, is a very great mystery indeed. But it is not the only mystery. For if we are to ask why there is suffering, why is there evil? then we must also ask: Why is there love, why is there beauty, why is there justice, and why do we yearn for these?

Somehow, we know that we cannot answer these questions. If we cannot answer why there is beauty and goodness or truth, and why God has put them into our heart, then how should we expect to be answer the question, “Why is there evil, why is there suffering?”

Leave it to God. Now, he is not giving simple answers. Instead, he is reminding us that we know not whereof we speak.
From the latest Word Among Us:
In his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote that the Book of Job “is not the last word on this subject… . In a certain way it is a foretelling of the Passion of Christ.” Jesus, though innocent, endured bitter suffering— including betrayal by close friends. And in his suffering, he not only redeemed us; he revealed the redemptive power implicit in all hardship and pain. To explain this, papal preacher Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa asked: “What do you do to reassure someone that a par­ticular drink contains no poison? You drink it yourself first, in front of him. This is what God has done for humanity: he has drunk the bitter cup of the passion… . At the bot­tom of the chalice, there must be a pearl. We know the name of that pearl: resurrection!”

*

In chapter 9 Job sounds passive-aggressive. He sounds like he's flattering God but has this undercurrent of aggravation towards Him. He says something like "who am I to question God?" while meaning, "hey this is not a fair fight." The homilist said that the people of that time didn't understand that sickness, earthquakes, plagues, and even rain were NOT directly from God but are "secondary actors". God isn't shifting the tectonic plates, nature is doing that. Nature was created by God but not everything that happens to us is directly done by God.

But one can't help but feel sorry for the people of Job's time then since they were laboring under this delusion that everything bad that happened was directly from God and was thus his judgment on them. You want to say, "why didn't God tell them that?" God is content to let us figure things out. He is tremendously big on giving over power to his creatures, given that we have the power to kill each other, including his own Son.

*

Lately I've been impressed by how from so many different sources I've been hearing about the "new evanglization". Sherry W's book "Forming Intentional Disciples", N.T. Wright's, the Liturgy of the Hours, the "Year of Faith", Catholic bloggers.... It seems we've reached a tipping point, as if God is trying to tell us that now evangelization is not optional. Certainly the trajectory is not good, although that's to look at it in too detached a fashion. It's not a numbers game given that the good shepherd would leave the 99 for the sake of the one.

I also think back to an argument I had with a friend and how I appealed to authority but did so in a needlessly authoritarian way. I said after he railed against priests, "Your beef is with Jesus. He's the one who left humans in charge." My argument wasn't effective in part because only love is persuasive. It's like I was saying that Jesus had outsourced his job when, of course, Jesus said he would be with us always. That he would send his Spirit and that we would be animated by that Spirit. I was the one who lacked faith. What Christ would say is not "hey Jim (not his real name) you should be getting over your past hurts by now," but "hey Jim I have a bottomless well of unconditional love for you." Love is patient, love is kind, as St. Paul wrote. If six years ago Ron was telling me exactly the same stories with exactly the same venom that only corroborates his need for grace and a sense of God's love. The Eucharistic will bring him back, not arguing that church is Christ's plan.

October 03, 2012

GoodReads review...

Found on Goodreads, a review of a biography of Pope John XXIII:
Anyone unfamiliar with the "Good Pope" will find some interesting information and anecdotes. Tobin does a good job of portraying Angelo's humble beginnings and steady rise through the Church's ranks, focusing on his diplomatic appointments in Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, and France. Yet of all these instances in the pope's life it was the account of John XXIII's passing that I found especially moving. Surrounded by family and staff, the pope endured great pain in his final days, the result of the stomach cancer which took his life. Speaking to those present before receiving the Last Rites he was heard to say

"The secret of my ministry is that crucifix you see opposite my bed. It's there so that I can see it in my first waking moments and before going to sleep. It's there, also, so that I can talk to it during the long evening hours. Look at it, see it as I see it. Those open arms have been the program of my pontificate: they say that Christ died for all, for all. No one is excluded from his love, from his forgiveness..."

Various & Sundry

When fall is good it's like Mae West: very, very good. Light gleams on resurrected grass, restored from the dog days' drought. The coolness in the air electro-charges everything while at the same time gives summer-ish weather a sense of scarcity and thus, given our human condition, value. We only seem to value what is scarce.

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Read more of N.T. Wright's book on the kingdom-making cross. Sometimes I think of how tenuous the gospels must be for them to be so routinely misinterpreted if what Wright claims is true. (Of course even the Eucharist, pretty clearly instituted by Christ, is refuted by a third of Christendom.) The Bible seems a very fragile flower. There's a long history of this failing to understand given how most of those in Christ's time didn't see Him as the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures. The OT message of the suffering servant as the Messiah perhaps was understandably muted by the example of the powerful Davidic earthly kingdom.

Wright sees our mission to evangelize not as "telling people of your new religious experience" or of "informing them that there is a new prospect of a a much better otherworldly destiny" called Heaven, but to witness that now there is "another king, Jesus" (Acts 17:7). Right here on earth. Pope John Paul II in one of his writings saw the point of departure for the new evangelization as certitude that in Christ there are inexhaustible riches, beginning with Christ himself, in his person, our salvation.

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The other night I joined the first live-on-the-'net American Chesterton Society meeting. Heard Dale Alquist talk about old business, new business. Finally he drew a name for a free trip to Rome in the spring and alas it wasn't mine. I'd entered late, but I think not too late. Had a one in 150 chance which certainly beats the lottery. You could ask questions so I asked, "Dale, why didn't you draw my name?". I also asked, in a serious vein, when the Chesterton society magazine would be available via an iPad app. Dale had no idea what "iPad app" meant, and definitely I could've been clearer ("when will the magazine be made available for iPad?). One of his helpers offered that they were "working on it".

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Steph not pleased that I occasionally have my earphones on. She doesn't like to have to repeat herself. It's her pet peeve with me but then I figure it's part of making her saint-making process, putting up with my earphones, ha. Oh but did that classical music go down well! It felt as though it'd been sooo long and long it has been. I haven't listened to classical in at least a month or two.

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Not sure I'll watch all the debate tonight - sadly I think this election is over (may I be wrong!). Romney is down 7% in Ohio (even in the poll I trust, the Columbus Dispatch), and if Romney doesn't win OH I think he's out.

The Train Guy

There's a Youtube video making the rounds of a guy in a state of physical ecstasy over trains. He's just really likes train sets and he went to some train trade show and was overjoyed and his rapture was captured electronically.

It was kind of interesting to hear the reactions of Lino Rulli & Fr. Rob of "The Catholic Guy" radio show versus that of Greg Willits of "The Catholics Next Door". Lino and Fr. Rob mainly used it as an opportunity to goof on the guy and/or say that something was wrong there, while Greg Willits admired that something so innocent could give such happiness.

Willits has a positive view of hobbies and the small pleasures of life, calling them "gifts from God." He mentioned how one of his joys used to be reading fiction and that now he's getting back into it. He invited callers to tell him what gives them momentary joy or happiness. It's kind of unusual to hear that on Catholic radio, if only because often the message (understandably) is that we find our joy in God and that we should form a sense of detachment from earthly things.

Willits mentioned ministering to a paraplegic who, on the surface, might not have a lot to be thankful for but who was intensely fascinated by planes. He'd watch five straight hours of aviation documentaries every Wednesday night. Some might call that interest trivial and "non-productive" towards the goal of Heaven, but you could also look at it as a gift from God, as this earthly life is.

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It seems as though my priorities have shifted a bit when it comes to owning things. I'm less sentimental and souvenir-oriented. I'm as rabid as anyone when it comes to new gadgets, devices like the Keurig, the iPad, the Kindle. But at least I've lost some of that huge desire to own things like books or land or a large desk.

I used to have two big desks, one with sentimental value attached since it was given to me by my parents. But eventually Steph talked me into getting rid of them both, for space reasons and because I never used them. Circumstances change and our need for things comes and goes.

I used to love my desk and used it every Friday night to write and dream and drink on. The desktop was there but now with the iPad I can write anywhere so the desk became something of a throwback to an earlier area, a symbol of my bachelorhood and Friday night pseudo-bachelorhood. A souvenir of a previous age. But when we converted that bedroom to the grandchildren room it made no sense to stick with it. I've mostly totally forgotten about it until now, when I think back to those dark nights watching the moon crisscross the sky through that bedroom window.

Books! I have too many. I can't imagine moving them, I'd have to give away half or more. It seems they multiply like rabbits. The Kindle came along with perfect timing. I'd had my dream of ceiling-high wood bookshelves, a room of wonder, and so now it feels pointlessly burdensome to my heirs to have them have to go through all that stuff. At first when I got my Kindle I felt that ownership sensibility, the fear that I would collect a great number of books and then my Kindle would break or amazon would stop making them or some other disaster would befall. But now I'm more loosey-goosey. I don't sweat it. There will be some sort of device. Or I can always read the physical books I have now - I have a lifetime reading supply just in those tomes.

Land seems less useful too. When I was younger I desired a view, an expanse of Big Yard that extended to the horizon. But I learned, after buying our current house, that land only satisfies for awhile. The capacious backyard we bought now feels crimped, as I suspect would - after a couple years - the next house's yard, even if it were acres. It's all what you're used to and I don't intended to get on that treadmill, constantly upping the amount of acres we "need". Certainly privacy was always my main goal and the tall trees on the sides have pretty much delivered that. I choose sun and privacy over a nice view and forested acres, as nice as the latter might be.

My likes seem to be moving to more transient things: a beer, the sun, fiction, vacations, new technologies: all of these last but a season, or a night, and fade. But gifts they still are.

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Read a nice quote from Pope John XXIII about the crucifix. I get a consoling feeling about the crucifix as well and it's the first thing I see every day as well. I kind of thought it was cool that I had something in common with a holy person, that we both are strengthened by simply seeing the physical object of a crucifix. I kind of like it that Popes and saints use physical objects like bibles and crucifixes and prayer books and religious art. I like that even they, spiritual giants, feel the same sort of surge of joy, that they don't simply have a relationship with Jesus that is solely based on high-level, esoteric contemplation/communication.

October 01, 2012

Excerpts from N.T. Wright's When God Became King

A few highlights:
The key text of Mark 9:1 and parallels, so often read as an unfulfilled prediction of an imminent “second coming” or even of the “end of the world,” was never intended that way by the evangelists or, I believe, their sources or earlier traditions. Coming at the conclusion of Jesus’s prediction of suffering for himself and his followers, this is what the text says: “I’m telling you the truth,” Jesus said; “some people standing here won’t experience death before they see God’s kingdom come in power.” Faced with this, generations of post-Enlightenment scholars have done their best to fit the quart of the gospels into the pint pot of eighteenth-century political and theological imagination. They maintain that Jesus must have meant that either the second coming and/or the end of the world and/or a great political revolution would happen within a generation. Since none of these took place, these critics conclude that Jesus was wrong, or at least that the early church was wrong to put these words in his mouth.

Now, we must of course grant that the version of the saying in Matthew’s gospel does look as though it refers to the “second coming,” since it speaks of the coming of the “son of man”: “Some of those standing here will not taste death until they see ‘the son of man coming in his kingdom.’” (Matt. 16:28) Matthew 28:16–20 should have taught Matthew’s readers how Matthew at least understood this key saying (16:28). He didn’t think it referred to a time, still future in his own day, when Jesus would come again. Matthew believed it referred to the events of Jesus’s death and resurrection—which, after all, Jesus had been referring to a few verses earlier. Jesus’s death and resurrection have constituted him as, already, the one who has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (28:18).

It is the church’s widespread and long-lasting failure to realize that this was what Matthew and the others were talking about that has left the door open to many generations of misleading readings and consequent puzzles.

The four gospels are well aware that this central contention about the kingdom’s arrival—that is, the claim that God was already king of the world and had become so in a dramatic new way through the work, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus—was highly paradoxical in their own context, as indeed it has remained so to our day.

Then, as now, a claim about God’s kingdom being already present was likely to meet with the obvious rejoinder: “Of course God’s kingdom hasn’t arrived—just look out the window!”

However, they were in no danger of having what today we might call an overrealized eschatology, imagining (as some today have suggested, absurdly in my view) that the entire new creation had now arrived and that there was nothing more to hope for.

...for all the evangelists in their different ways, the kingdom was precisely not to be expected whole and entire, all at once. They highlighted, after all, those parables in which Jesus stressed that the kingdom was coming like a seed growing slowly and secretly or that it would involve strange reversals as well as sudden vindications. The kingdom was not, they insisted, arriving in the way people had imagined. That is Luke’s explicit point in 19:11, and it does not appear that he is out on a limb.

“Well,” said Jesus, “you will drink the cup I drink; you will receive the baptism I receive. But sitting at my right hand or my left—that’s not up to me. It’s been assigned already.” (10:38–40) The significance of this in our present discussion is massive. For Mark, it is clear that the two brigands on Jesus’s right and left, as described in 15:27, are the ones to whom “it’s been assigned already.”

But that means, as we might have concluded from other evidence too, that Jesus’s crucifixion is the moment when he becomes king, when, as James and John say, he is “there in all [his] glory” (10:37). That is the powerful—if deeply paradoxical!—“coming of the kingdom” as spoken of in Mark 9:1.

“My kingdom isn’t the sort that grows in this world,” he says (18:36). (We note here that the regular translation, “My kingdom is not of this world,” has contributed to, and in its turn also generated, multiple misreadings of all four gospels, appearing to suggest that Jesus’s “kingdom” is straightforwardly “otherworldly.”

This is the “truth” to which Jesus bears witness—the truth of a kingdom accomplished by the innocent dying in place of the guilty.

The death of Jesus is the expression of God’s love, as the famous verse in John 3:16 makes clear. For John, it is also the expression of Jesus’s own love: “He had always loved his own people in the world; now he loved them right through to the end” (13:1). And, with that, John introduces the powerful and tender scene in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. In between these two, we find the “good shepherd” discourse, where the mutual love between Jesus and the father leads directly to Jesus’s vocation to “lay down his life for the sheep” (10:15).

When Pilate says “Here’s the man!” (19:5), we are surely to hear echoes of that primal Johannine moment, the Word becoming flesh as the climax of the new Genesis (1:14). But this Genesis, this new creation, is aimed at redemption; the “lifting up” of Jesus on the cross is his exaltation as the kingdom-bringing “king of the Jews,” because the kingdom that is thus put into effect is the victory of God’s love.

How fatally easy it would be for us Westerners to sigh with relief at this point. Ah, we think, God’s kingdom is simply the sum total of all the souls who respond in faith to God’s love. It isn’t a real kingdom in space, time, and matter. It’s a spiritual reality, “not of this world.” John, though, will not collude with this Platonic shrinkage.

The work of redemption is complete; now, with Jesus having been “glorified,” having completed his work of rescuing his people, the Spirit can be given, and his followers can begin their own work. This is how—remembering how thoroughly it has been redefined!—God’s kingdom will come on earth as in heaven.

This & That

"One thing that all the seasons have in common is that in the midst of any one of them it's impossible to imagine things any other way."

    -- Richard Brookhiser in latest National Review.  

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So around 10pm-ish the other night I turned on the Reds game and saw Homer Bailey was pitching in the 9th inning. Odd to see him pitching that late but I figured they wanted to get him a shutout.  Didn't think that was too smart given you want him fresh for the playoffs but I suppose shutouts don't grow on trees. The games are meaningless now that the Reds have clinched so I half-watched and half-read my iPad. Then I heard a Reds announcer say, after a Pirate out, that that's the way all Pirate hitters have looked tonight. Which "caught my ear" since it seemed a sweeping statement.  Then a pitch or so later I hear him mention the Pirates haven't got any hits.  What?  Down goes the iPad and suddenly the game has my full attention. I turn up the sound and check the line score on a baseball app. NO hits!  Holy cow.  But then, ironically, instead of watching the game I grab my phone and text my brother and a friend, telling them to turn on the TV and watch the Reds. Bailey then completes the no-hitter with a pop-up to a wide-smiling Brandon Philips and the celebration ensues.  It's been 24 years since a Reds pitcher last pitched a no-hitter. 

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I feel a smidgeon less of the natural horror that contemplation of death brings. Perhaps that's easy to say when my own mortality doesn't seem imminent.  But recent deaths of a cousin and uncles make it seem a bit more of a familiar process. I try to look at death as less nightmare and more of transition, as if they (the dead) have simply left earlier on a trip that all of us will take.  

But there's no getting around the huge sense of loss that death brings to the living. And, as Chesterton wrote, death is a "monstrous transformation." Having grown accustomed to our bodies, and having identified them as "us" (body and soul being joined), the sudden turn of the body into mush and then dust is a traumatic thing to anticipate in ourselves or those we love. 

I feel slightly less prejudiced against death since some of my best friends are dead, or more precisely folks like Chesterton speak to me though dead via the words on a page.  It's ironic that Chesterton argued for a "democracy of the dead" -- to listen to those who have gone before us -- given that now he himself is one of the dead. 

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I sometimes think back to the seeming presumptuous when I lectured our religion teacher concerning sexual intercourse. I, having no experience whatsoever, told him after class that I thought it impolitic of him to suggest that one shouldn't get into heavy petting lest it lead to what no "red-blooded American male" can stop, and that is full intercourse. It seemed to me to give a way out to males who were in the position of being on the edge of orgasm.  Tell a man he can't hold it and he likely can't.  But perhaps my comment wasn't so dumb, inexperienced as it was, given what I read from Chesterton today, "Knowledge and innocence are both excellent things...But it is right that knowledge should be the servant and innocence the master....Dickens responded to a profound human sentiment (the sentiment that has made saints and the sanctity of children) when he made the gentler and less-travelled type - the type which moderates and controls."

Ultimately there seems to be no way to argue with a person who argues from experience. There's no comeback to "you haven't gone what I've gone through." I was fascinated by a Theresa Borchard video in which she admits to Catholic cafeteria-ism on the theory that her first priority is to stay alive. Hard to disagree.

A friend of mine was changed by his reading "Sacrilege" by Leon Podles, with its harsh view of the church and seminaries. After that he was done with organized religion. Nothing is abstract for him; there is no 'cerebral detachment'. He brought up the Sack of Constantinople like it occurred yesterday. I told him his beef was with Jesus since He left humans in charge. He didn't have to ascend to Heaven. (Although that's not to say Jesus is absent.)

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So, we employees take surveys indicating our general satisfaction with the job environment, and it's surreal how seriously they take these "engagement" surveys. Our boss lamented how back in the day these used to be timed during quarter-end, our busy time. He also lamented how someone can wake up in a foul mood and give bad scores. It sure doesn't seem like they think much of us if they think we can be influenced by something as trivial as waking up on the wrong side of the bed or a bad menstrual cycle. We can objectively provide input. I don't think my Gallup survey results would've changed one iota all year and I'm hardly a paragon of maturity.

Apparently there's a desire (five of 22 of us suggested it, which apparently makes for a groundswell) for more get-togethers like the bowling gig. Our boss was asking for other ideas and young Ben offered "3-D Dodge ball", basically dodge ball on trampolines. Youth, sweet youth. Nancy suggested a house of horrors (doesn't our place of business qualify?). Rose suggested a movie, which sounds more up my alley. Introvert that I am, I thought, "How about we all read silently to ourselves one afternoon?"

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Heather King: "People are the problem and people are the solution."