I met a real live Russian today

Sunday brunch became more interesting than usual when I met Hillsdale's own student from the Motherland. In the course of the conversation I mentioned that Russia has been my favorite country to read and hear about since I was three years old and he said, " are very strange." Which is, I suppose, undeniably true. But my fascination with that country remains with me to this day; and I would love to reach a point in my life where I could spend a year traveling all over that country which uses up one sixth of the Earth's landmass. I think what has always drawn me is the deep understanding of pain and suffering that permeates Russian art, music, literature, and history. From Dostoevsky to Rachmoninov, I feel connected to a people who have accepted and lived with suffering more completely than any other culture I've ever encountered.


In Memoriam

Today we commemorate the thousands who fell under the sword and bullets of the Spanish Civil War. The Republican extremists slaughtered 13 bishops, over 6000 priests, and 4000 more religious, with the number of lay faithful as yet unnumbered. So many see this conflict in terms of political absolutes, fascism vs. democracy, that the element of religious persecution remains entirely neglected. Catholics should understand, as so few do, that this was the most intense, most ferocious persecution since the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Enemies of the Church, driven by a nearly indisputable demonic rage, razed hundreds of churches to the ground, mutilated statues, and subjected those they did not kill to unspeakable atrocities. While Franco's Nationalist army did not stay free from crimes and murders, their deeds strayed out of bounds in typical wartime actions. It should not be forgotten that it was the Republican tolerance of violence against the church and her faithful that precipitated the military uprising in the first place. Those who suffered martyrdom in that contest have not received due attention, partly due to the unwillingness of most media to accept that these events did indeed transpire. Even C. S. Lewis expressed doubt that the stories coming over the water about the intense persecution were true (this rankled Tolkien). Much of the crimes perpetrated by the Republican government and army remain shadowed in obscurity because it was (and is) so popular to be on the side of the elected government. It is a pity these same people do not recall that Hilter was also elected. May the beatified martyrs of the Spanish Civil War pray for us and this troubled world, that injustice everywhere may be fought, despite inconvenience or discomfort.



A collection of rare photos of the destruction of Hiroshima can be found on Design Observer, along with the story of their discovery. The images are haunting in a way similar to the emotions evoked by images of dead Chernobyl, but more intense because of the deliberate will behind them, and the sheer scale of the human slaughter under the blasted landscape. A visceral reminder of the consequences of total war, and the brutality possible when war is unhinged from Christian principles.


sometimes I can take good pictures

Home, around 6:15 AM.


Cetaceous Conflicts

Having recently completed the arduous task of reading Herman Melville's alleged masterpiece Moby Dick, I feel compelled to offer a few thoughts on it. Despite Melville's overwrought turn of phrase and fascination with beating an already tired metaphor into the ground, the book succeeded in revealing the dangerous and almost mystical world of whaling to an ignorant audience (namely, me). The idea of a handful of men in a tiny boat paddling furiously after a creature of such terrifyingly large proportions staggers belief (at least in my case). It seems to me to be an endeavor worthy of comparison to the scaling of Earth's most treacherous mountains. In both cases Man seeks to overcome a daunting force of nature, and I could not believe how paltry the equipment was on those whaling boats! A harpoon, some spears, and quite a quantity of rope, and off they went, risking life and limb to hunt a monstrously large animal in a lethal environs. Incredibly, they succeeded often enough to make it a profitable industry I know it is the custom these days to side with the whales and certainly if there is real danger of their extinction, I concede the case. But I have acquired a whole hearted admiration for the men who undertook such a perilous enterprise. And I hope the Makah will soon be able again to take to the open sea in a little canoe to spear the leviathan, as they did a few years ago. In a world of modern convenience and comfort I feel somehow relieved that there are still men who have the pluck and the nerve to dart over the waters after a creature as big as a house, armed only with small pointed sticks and their courage.


We have followed this series for too long to let the new one go by without recognition. Therefore, just a reminder that tomorrow at 12:00: HP6. haven't they come a long way?


Strong Feelings Change Nothing

That was the headline in a recent copy of the Reflector; I found it painfully applicable to a situation detailed in a different article. That article, titled instead "State invites comments on SR-502 project" explained just exactly what will happen when WSDOT turns 219th St into a four lane highway, changing the lives of everyone in the area. Let me quote the article itself, as it displayed unusual genius for listing each catastrophic effect in a numbingly banal fashion. "Create 28 acres of new impervious surfaces"--Well that's an incredible way to put it. A full 28 acres of asphalt poured between us and the ground. Hopkins wrote "nor can Man's foot feel, being shod". I think this lends new meaning to his poem...oh, the world is still charged with the grandeur of God, but in an age of progress and efficiency, society will try to keep God's handiwork to an absolute minimum while vaunting Man's creations to the utmost. How anyone can really view "impervious surfaces" as an improvement on grass remains mysterious to me. But then I was always the one asking why today's society values money over land. True value seems beyond anyone's ability to grasp these days. "Convert 54-60 acres of grassland, forest, and agricultural land to roadway"--Tell me I am not the only human being left on this earth whose heart does not cry out in agony at that chilling statement. I cannot further expound on it: it is devastation. "Displace 16-22 businesses and 20-30 homes"--Here we come to something I cannot regard as other than evil. I understand that Eminent Domain is within the government's prerogative, and that building roads is considered necessary for the common good. (Thank goodness there are still some who question the governement's power to arbitrariliy throw up strip malls where it chooses.) But something in me rebells at the thought of any man coming onto my property and telling me I must sell or the government will condemn my land and do with it whatsoever it pleases. It is vile to set a price on the roots we send into our land, to so calculatingly evaluate the deep and natural love we have for home. Vile and loathsome to tell a homeowner that his protests amount to nothing and that if he does not sell he will be forceably evicted. (Oh yes, with compensation. How kind.) "Adversely affect three historically significant properties"--At this point, that's just icing on the cake. Tomorrow is our independence day. I wonder how independent we can truly say we are when we, American citizens, cannot own property. We rent it from the government through property taxes and live there at the government's pleasure. If the day comes when the government decides it needs what we jestingly say we "own", it's a wry smile, wad of cash to the hand, and swift kick in the back. Do I have strong feelings about this? Strong feelings about the fate of those who live in places WSDOT has decreed should be highway instead? About the government's legal right and indisputable propensity to ruin lives? Yes I do. But as the headline so aptly stated, it changes nothing.


guess whose feast day it is!

The Magnetic Fields song "All My Little Words" on a Gameboy


First I decided I had writer's block. Then I started thinking about beautiful my home environs is. So I thought I would post a picture and have done. But the more I think about my home, the less able I am to remain silent. It is in my personality to cling with fierce loyalty to that which is familiar and loved. I prefer my house to all others, my street to all others, my county, my state, my region of the country, and so on. However, I think even laying aside my natural bias, there is a strong case to be made here. The Pacific Northwest may be the most beautiful place in the world. I remember flying over the Willamette Valley as I came back from Michigan from the summer and actually catching my breath as the color hit me. Your eyes almost refuse to believe that anything could be that green. After months spent in the Midwest, it was all I could do to stop myself from believing my home was, in fact, enchanted. I don't deny that Michigan has a beauty all its own, but in comparison with Washington or Oregon it is staid and almost bland. There is something exotic and eerie about the forests and waterfalls here; something that makes you wonder if you aren't toeing the line between this world and the land of Ireland's Sidhe. I grew up surrounded by woods and water, bounded by the Ocean and in view of three massive volcanoes. Mountains were my horizon and I could smell the freshness and mystery of the sea with every breath. So I started google imaging the Pacific know, to post a picture. I had to cut myself off. There were just too many. As you can tell.


A Canticle Resung

The first book of the summer for me was A Canticle for Leibowitz. It was the second time around, and definitely intensified upon the rereading. While before I was distracted by the strangeness of the setting and trying to figure out why a creature of primal innocence was frolicking in the wreckage of a nuclear disaster at the end, this time I was blown away by the power of its Catholic core. It is one of the most Catholic novels I have ever read, and were I to create a list of best Catholic novels ever written, it would go in my top three. It is an extraordinary work that masterfully propounds the Church's position on human life and man's relation to God. It also is the reason I first became intersted in the Wandering Jew, who is far and away the most memorable character of the story. The first time I read it, I did not catch how clearly he is supposed to be Lazarus (I don't know how I didn't notice--it's pretty blatant) and it prompted me to look up the Wandering Jew story on Wikipedia. It sounds like an interesting Medieval tale, and I'm very interested to further explore its relation to the Joseph of Arithemea Arthurian legends. I also found a Wandering Jew plant in Shorty's and have since found references to him in all sorts of literature.


you ain't no kind of man...

...if you ain't got land. So spake Danny Glover's character in Silverado. I think he was right, at least in part. To me, wealth in the land you own is infinitely more valuable and defining than hard cash or stock options. Which is why Eminent Domain makes my skin crawl. Sure--the government will reimburse you for your loss. Sorry there's a highway running through your orchard, but here's a few thousand to ease the pain. This is, methinks, a pretty clear case of someone knowing the price, but not the cost. How can money mend the heartache of seeing something you've known and loved taken and changed unalterably? Memories cannot be bought, love is not purchasable. When you grow up or grow old with the land, the loss of it is beyond price. At that point, the idea of someone thinking they could make good the loss is almost insulting. There is a country road just two miles from my home that is going to be turned into a four lane highway sometime soon. Apparently our good representatives in the State legislature felt that the convenience of four lanes just couldn't be passed up. So those who live on either side of that road will bid farewell to ancient apple trees, blueberries, and other irreplaceable landmarks so that the devilishly impatient denizens of Battle Ground can whiz along to the freeway with even more reckless abandon. And don't worry! Not only will this be more convenient, the land "owners" whose land is being appropriated by the Department of Transportation will be compensated in full. I don't think the good folks in charge of this project have the faintest idea of what the cost will really be. In the words of the fantastically sarcastic Dirty Harry: "Marvelous."

This American Life

For those of this blog's readers who are fans of This American Life (as I am), there is a nifty way to download any episode you like. Just type in to the search bar with EPISODENUMBER replaced with the episode you want. (1-382 currently). For a list of the best episodes to try, go here



Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back, Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lack'd anything. "A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here"; Love said, "You shall be he." "I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear, I cannot look on thee." Love took my hand and smiling did reply, "Who made the eyes but I?" "Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame Go where it doth deserve." "And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?" "My dear, then I will serve." "You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat. by George Herbert


University of Florida mascot terrorizes neighborhood

You see? This is why I love Star Trek. Captain Kirk is whisked away to an asteroid to fight a man in an alligator suit with diamond eyes and what looks like a bullet hole in his head. There just so happens to potassium something and sulfer and a conveniently shaped piece of bamboo...Kirk turns into McGyver and makes a cannon with home made gunpowder from the aformentioned chemicals and some handy diamonds for projectiles. He then shoots and subdues said alligator. This is the best show ever.

French manners

So France did not feel obliged to invite the Queen of England to the 65th anniversary of D-Day ceremony being held this June. Intriguingly enough, this means that of the major countries involved in the D-Day convention (France, England, and America), England, the country who lost the most during the invasion, does not get a special invitation. So Barack Obama and Sarkozy, neither of whom were even alive when this happened, will no doubt have a field day with the press and photographers while the Queen, who is literally a veteran of World War II, does not merit an invitation. Interesting. It is tragic to note that this has become a state function with little to no memory of just what it is commemorating. This should be more than a Kodak moment for politicians who are eager to appear in touch with history to their constituency. Their neglect has made all too apparent how ignorant and boorish they really are. This is supposed to be a memorial, not another red carpet event for Barack Obama that Sarkozy can sidle in on to bask in his glow. I'm not asking for Pericle's funeral oration or the Gettysburg address here; but is it too much to expect a basic understanding of the significance of the event and the people who were involved? Granted, neither Sarkozy or Obama have enough class to be rubbing shoulders with the Queen of England, but that's beside the point. I think the dead who are buried there will mind very much that they are denied her presence in favor of a couple of self congratulating and morally bankrupt politicians. But maybe that's just me.


Bloom County

It's about time. My favorite comic strip (after Calvin and Hobbes) is finally being reprinted in complete form by IDW Publishing. I remember reading my parents' collections of these as a kid, most of the humor sailing right over my head (come to think of it, they were probably totally inappropriate for my maturity level) but loving the cartooning, and especially the characters Opus and Binkley. Too bad the recent "Opus" spin-off was a dud. The first volume releases in October.


The world is charged with the grandeur of God

These celestial works of art, products of medieval man's quest to glorify God in ways that boggled the mind and suffused the senses, are familiar to all of us. We see them and understand immediately: stained glass rose windows, that could be in any one of dozens of cathedrals across Europe and even America. What of the picture above them? Maybe my sanity is slipping. But I see an uncanny resemblance between the view down the axis of an alpha, beta, or average strand of DNA and the song of colored glass that mankind thought fit to praise God. How could that be coincidence? My study of science has been so shallow; every time I dig even a little deeper, there is something to take my breath away. My mind is not wired scientifically and it doesn't come easily to me. Yet my brief sojourns so far have impressed upon me one thing at least: my education will be deficient if I don't pursue this. It may not fit in my schedule with credits, but I am determined then to audit science courses during the rest of my stay at Hillsdale. This discovery with the image of DNA reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite Psalms: "if I fly to the sea's furthest edge, You are there, Your right hand holds me fast". Science is often regarded as a haven for nonbelievers, those who shun faith and God. But "with unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy" the Hound of Heaven follows us everywhere. As Eliot wrote:
"The dance along the artery The circulation of the lymph Is figured in the drift of stars"
Jesus said "the very stones would cry out" to praise His name. How clearly can we see that in all of creation's ceaseless, beautiful shout of joy to the Heavens.

Chesterton on Canada

As a follow-up to the last Chesterton snippet, here's a rare and more substantial piece. Here, G. K. Chesterton gives an address to the Canadian Authors' Association, on December 31st, 1933.

Note: File has been re-uploaded as of January 15, 2010

Chesterton on Canada (12 min, 34 sec)



After the success of the audio recording of Flannery O'Connor's voice, I've decided to try and put up rare recordings of other famous literary figures. For the most part, these are very hard to find, so bear with me. First up, Chesterton. This is from Holy Cross College, Dec. 1930:

STUDENT - Mr. Chesterton, since you are one of the foremost crusaders in the modern world of letters, we wish to adopt you into the humble ranks of the Holy Cross Crusaders.

CHESTERTON -I have to thank you for this very great honor and I do so with all my heart. I can only say that I am not much of a crusader but at least I am not a Mohammedan and many people will testify to the fact. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking you all for your enormous kindness, especially Father Earl for having received me so hospitably today.

Student Audio

Chesterton Audio


Grim Fandango Extras

This is a random post, but I feel compelled to post it, because I find it cool. I stumbled upon a .pdf of behind-the-scenes Grim Fandango documents, including original concept art, puzzle structures (including some that were not included in the game) and snarky comments by Tim Schafer. 
What is Grim Fandango, you ask? Only the greatest adventure game ever! If you haven't played this epic tale of crime and corruption in the Land of the Dead, you ought to, right away. Beautiful art, an engrossing story, and characters you can't get out of your head. Probably my favorite game of all time.


Where the Wild Things Are

The trailer for Where the Wild Things Are is out on the Apple website. It's a beautiful piece of work (I especially like the Arcade Fire soundtrack) and I'm astounded at the creativity on display. It's my most looked-forward-to movie of the year so far. Trailer And if you haven't read the picture book yet (and if so, for shame) download and read it from here.


The Graveyard Book

I'm on a Neil Gaiman kick, so here's a series of videos of him reading the entirety of his wonderful new novel "The Graveyard Book." It's not many authors that are as good at reading their works as they are at writing them...


The Dweller in High Places

For fans of Susanna Clarke, here's a hard-to-find audio short story of hers. The Dweller in High Places


the last full measure

Today at the end of class Dr. Birzer took us out to the Civil War memorial in between Lane and Kendall. Despite the sunshine, it seemed very solemn; Dr. Birzer's voice reverberated between the two buildings. He told us about the volunteers on both sides, that they made up the majorities of both the armies. And then he told us about Hillsdale's role in the war. We'd already heard about the faculty and administration of Hillsdale storming up to Jackson in 1854 and effectively forming the Republican Party. But I hadn't heard what happened here, on this very campus in April of 1861. The college wasn't much smaller back then, with a student body of about 1000. When Lincoln issued the call for troops in mid April, Hillsdale responded like no other college in the country. 500 of her boys signed up then and there. Half the student body, nearly every male student on campus, was gone within days. Not even West Point had a comparable percentage of volunteers. Those Hillsdale Students made their impact. At the battle of Gettysburg our regiment, the 24th Michigan, deliberately put themselves in harm's way at the low ground, braving the lines of Confederate soldiers to give the Union army time to take the high ground. In the first twenty minutes of that famed battle, that regiment had suffered over 80% casualties, and 400 Hillsdale men were dead. They had secured the high ground. Dr Birzer told us that no matter how long he taught at Hillsdale, he would never have the connection to those dead men that we did. We, as students at this institution, share an unbreakable bond with them. "That's your tradition. That's your legacy. Think about that when you decide what you're going to major in or what career you'll pursue. Ask yourself why they volunteered and what they sacrificed themselves for. And then ask yourself what you're living for." After ten days of spring break, I can't imagine a more intense "welcome back to Hillsdale".


Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver

Thanks to Sophie at The Store Stump for this. La Blogotheque has an astounding collection of beautifully shot live performances of great new bands, all shot specifically for the web, and set in natural, often on-the-street settings. Amazing stuff. It great to watch The Shins wander the streets of Paris, and start playing their stuff for a random group of people at an open-air cafe. Check it out, especially the videos of two of my favorite new bands, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. Take-Away Shows



There are moments in life where I am so absolutely, giddily ecstatic that I can't help but run around with a huge silly grin on my face. For instance: I am working on my paper about de Tocqueville and Andrew Jackson, about the spirit of democracy as opposed to, shall we say, responsible republicanism, and I think something snapped inside. But in a good way! I mean, there's the Western Heritage Reader lying in front of me, there's the American Heritage Reader next to it, and everything Russell Kirk wrote about America being the culmination of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, and London bowled me over. I had just reread the passages from Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics, and then immersed myself in de Tocqueville. The more I read him, the cooler he gets. And now I'm seeing all sorts of parallels between republicanism and Catholicism and democracy and Protestantism. So before I burst a blood vessel or started dancing around the room, I grabbed the music I had wisely stashed in my backpack and took off running to Howard. I burst out the doors of Kendall and almost immediately started laughing, full of what I think Dr. Birzer calls the "fire that animates". It was cold and clear, snow was falling in the most picturesque manner possible, and the clouds were "half revealing, half concealing" a full and luminous moon. I think it helped that I was listening to Radiohead; or at least, it leant even more atmosphere to the situation. I spent some energy singing plainsong and slamming out Chopin Nocturnes, and then danced back up the hill. (Literally, I kid you not) This is the best I can do to explain it all. I once heard that the Japanese had no way to say "I love you." I don't know what they said instead, but "I love you" didn't enter their language until after considerable contact with Westerners. Since coming to Hillsdale, I feel like I'm learning more and more about what makes this country what it is, and de Tocqueville, the Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence, coupled with everything we covered in Western Hertiage, provided a new rush of understanding. I have always been one to feel deeply and am intensely emotional; but finding the words to express those feelings can be a challenge. Hillsdale is supplying the vocabulary. It is as if after years of stretching out my arms to America with shining arms and a full heart I have learned how to say "I love you." Now I have a paper to write.



"I am so coarse, the things the poets see Are obstinately invisible to me." So said C. S. Lewis, when he reflected in his poem "A Confession" that he was having a hard time appreciating the more modern sort of poetry that for its own inscrutable reasons looked at a sunset and saw "a patient etherized upon a table". I'm inexpressibly relieved to find someone I admire so much in the same proverbial boat as myself. For years I've tried to tried to grasp the appeal of poets such as T. S. Eliot or W. H. Auden without succeeding much at all. I think my problem is that I react to beauty almost entirely emotionally, without much careful ratiocination. It could be the Celtic strain in my blood manifesting in a wilder connection to natural beauty; something that to me is warmer and more human. A song rather than a thought? I don't exactly understand Yeats or Hopkins, but they produce an intense reaction for me that the coldly cerebral work of Eliot doesn't even begin to approach. I'm fairly certain this reveals an intellectual weakness in myself, and have to admit that I often wish I were less passionate and more rational. But for now I think I will continue to demonstrate such Irish tendencies as running barefoot in the wet grass and glorying in the beauty of God's Creation without being able to categorize or explain it. My mind may halt and retreat from The Wasteland; but my soul, soaked in heroic myth and the love of a native land, understands wherefore a terrible beauty is born.


Screams in the Night

Over fifty years ago, Whittaker Chambers disclosed the terrifyingly real potentiality of a Communist takeover in the United States in his immortal testimony Witness. In this work Chambers described the feelings of one former Communist who defected because while living in Moscow "one night he heard screams." This statement has been on my mind a lot recently. My trip to Washington D.C. to mourn the Roe v. Wade decision in the March for Life was not uplifting, since no matter how many people march on the Courthouse every year, progress seems to be negligent if any. This past election, together with the looming menace of the Freedom of Choice Act is like a devilish mockery of any attempt to hinder or stop legalized abortion. Because while we struggle in vain with signs and bumper stickers, speeches and letters, and tirades on the blogosphere, who has not heard those screams? This time it isn't families torn apart by the KGB. It isn't the secretive terror of interrogations and midnight arrests, nameless graves and hopeless lives. It is the voice of the voiceless, crying out in endless agony. It is the silent condemnation of their tiny bodies lying in back alleys and dumpsters. The blood stained earth prosecutes our inaction. Thousands of times a day the inconvenient among us are torn to pieces lest their existence threaten society's comfort. Those screams are deafening me as I try to carry out my daily routine. Screams of children who are never permitted to beg for their lives, though God knows they would have if they only had the words. Human history is consistent in its ability to find new and appalling ways to mistreat anyone who is weaker or less competent to defend himself. But how can we rest easy in our beds knowing that the Satanic culmination of man's inhumanity to man is legal in a country which should be the world's last best hope? May God grant our prayers and unstop the ears of those who will not hear, and may America soon experience the true silence of a quiet conscience.