Coal Biting

Apparently, when you spend copious amounts of time lingering by the fire, you are biting coal. So I guess I would say that has been my primary activity of late. I've also spent a lot of time reflecting on the Civil War. It's not an past time I'd recommend, since it has led in my case to headache upon headache, general confusion, and a loss for words. It is rare for me to struggle to form a definite opinion; however, this particular historical dilemma has me completely flummoxed. Here are a few of my unresolved problems: 1. Slavery. It seems to me that the typical Conservative response is that legislation on "domestic institutions" belongs to the State and not Federal legislature. But isn't that unacceptable? Maybe you could allow States to determine the punishment for trafficking in human beings; but surely it is morally defunct to leave the determination of absolute moral standards up to the whims of a legislative body. Moral apathy is not healthy. Nor is it healthy to let people assume that it is up to them to decide good and evil. 2. Secession. Lincoln says that he does not dispute "the right of revolution" but claims a long train of abuses is needed for a right of revolution to exist. Of course he would insist the South had nothing to complain of; it must have looked much more threatening from their point of view down there. This situation becomes unbearably confusing since of course you cannot get a consensus on who is getting oppressed and if they are being oppressed. Lincoln's two more interesting point was that the Union existed prior to the States and that a State has no right to withdraw without asking the permission of the Federal Government and the rest of the States. This does make sense when you consider that secession affects every State in the Union. Seen from the South's point of view, however, this excludes any possibility of escape...of course the North would never let them get away. There is also the inconvenient fact that the debt on the Louisiana Purchase was still being paid off. Quite a few of those Southern States were taking off to become their own country while allowing the Federal Government to continue paying for their land. This seems (to me at least) to be a case of inexcusable fiscal irresponsibility. 3. Geographical Faction. After assessing the situation through the Lincoln Douglas debates, all I could see was George Washington with his head buried in his hands. His farewell address was one long admonition against factions forming on a geographical basis, and then it went and happened anyway. I seem to remember Jefferson delivering a morose line about the "current generation" throwing away with careless ease all that their fathers fought and died to earn. And in the end, the feeling I most often carry away from studying the situation is intense frustration. They could have worked out their differences without the histrionics, hysteria, and ultimate bloodshed. After reading some of those ridiculous speeches (the Cornerstone Speech comes to mind) all I could say was "Oh, come ON!"

The Winter of Our Discontent

I refrained at first from posting on the results of November's election from a desire to adopt quiet resignation in the face of what I felt to be rather bombastic elation and despair. Surely there have been greater catastrophes in the history of the world and this nation. But now I feel impelled to address the expectation of those others who seemed poised on November 4th for the explosion of an inevitable Glorious Summer. There could be entire essays and books on the relative merits of and problems with Obama's policies at home and abroad. His Progressivist and Socialistic leanings certainly bring me no joy. But the insurmountable problem has little if anything to do with an emasculate foreign policy or ineffective medical system. These and other issues do not just pale, they fade into meaninglessness in the face of his flagrant pro-abortion position. This country was founded upon a certain principle: that just rule was derived from the consent of the governed because all men were created equal. Considering that Obama is our first African American President, it would be logical for him to be a champion of the rights of disenfranchised citizens. Granted, the unborn child is not a citizen of the United States of America because he or she has not yet been born. But the Declaration of Independence does not say that all men are "born" equal. It says we are all "created" equal. If we discard this principle and decide that certain individuals among us are not equal because they are not as developed, intelligent, or capable as we are, we risk all the rights we ourselves hold dear. If we deny the humanity of the fetus because he is less intelligent, we forfeit our right to life to the first person we meet with a higher intellect. If we deny the humanity of the fetus because he is less developed, all children forfeit their right to life to the first adult they meet. Once one member of society's rights are thus threatened, the rights of all are threatened. This is why abortion, in vitro fertilization, and embryonic stem cell research are the paramount issues. If we as a nation can no longer rise up and declare that the Founding Fathers were right and the equality of man pertains to all men, that abortion is murder of the cruellest and most heinous nature, then we have ceased to exist as America. We have become the ghost of a beautiful idea. This applies to those who concede that abortion is morally wrong. Those who do not believe that embryos and fetuses are human are at least not betraying the founding principles of the country; they are merely deceiving themselves. But those who will both say abortion is murder and then vote for a man like Obama are hypocrites and traitors of the blackest kind. They committ treason against their country and act as accomplices in the passive submission the ultimate moral evil of our day. At least the citizens of Nazi Germany could protest that they didn't know; these villains have no such excuse. They were staring straight into the eyes of the Innocents as they voted. No promise of a bright new future for America is worth the cost of your soul. This phenomenon of nominally pro-life voters throwing morals and ideals to the winds in order to participate in a hopeful love fest with change knows no parallel in America's history. It was both an act of suicide aginst themselves and an act of treason against the hopes and expectations of the world. With Jefferson, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."



Watch carefully.


The Abyss of Madness: Acatalepsia as Horror in the Tales of H.P. Lovecraft

In his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, H. P. Lovecraft declared,“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Not only does this thesis establish the basis for Lovecraft's literary approach, it also, in the end, sheds light on the manner in which he dealt with his own philosophical premise; belief in an absolute mechanistic materialism.

The themes and elements this essay is primarily concerned with occur most often in what has become known as Lovecraft's 'Cthulhu Mythos'. These are the interconnected stories concerned with Lovecraft's invented cosmology of bizarre, pre-human races, and a pantheon of supremely powerful, extra-dimensional beings such as Cthulhu, who slumber beneath us, waiting for the day they will be awakened to ravage the world. Lovecraft's tales tend to follow a simple framework; a level-headed, sceptical scholar comes across some strange bits of occult knowledge, usually related to the dreaded (fictional) tome Necronomicon, pries too deeply into realms man was never meant to see, and is promptly driven mad by the revelations it brings.

Or, perhaps, the lack of revelations. China Miéville, in his introduction to At the Mountains of Madness, points out that the key to Lovecraft's horror is not an intrusion into the status quo, as in most horror, but a realization of the true nature of the universe in relation to oneself. This is true, but it ought to be noted that the nature of the realization itself is one of acatalepsia, or unknowability; Lovecraft's universe is implacable, eldrich, and incomprehensible by the human brain. The protagonists are often unhinged as much by the idea of nature as insane, as by the malicious forms it takes on. More often than not, Lovecraft omits detailed descriptions of his creations because they cannot be described at all. In what is perhaps his most effective story, The Colour Out of Space, a family comes across a meteorite with properties unexplainable by modern chemistry, and which begins to infect their farm with a strange, dim luminescence of a colour “...almost impossible to describe; and it was only by analogy that they called it a colour at all.”

Another common method Lovecraft employs in displaying the truly foreign is in how he describes the architecture of his inhuman races. In coming upon the nightmare city of R'lyeh, in The Call of Cthulhu, the narrator recalls the dream of a friend: “He said that the geometry of the dream-place he saw was abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from our ours. Now an unlettered seaman felt the same thing whilst gazing at the terrible reality.” Attempting to explore the city, the characters become nauseous and disoriented, as, “twisted menace and suspense lurked leeringly in those crazily elusive angles of carven rock where a second glance shewed concavity after the first shewed convexity.” Even direction and parallelism are revoked. This is horror through incomensurability.

Beyond these and many other particulars, Lovecraft says it best when he expressed that, in properly weird tales,

“A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguards against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”[1]

Here one can see that Lovecraft considers the real essence of terror to be helplessness rather than the perception of peril. If one recognizes a threat from a certain quarter, one can prepare to meet it. Even if one is hopelessly outmatched, one can at least have the comfort of understanding the threat itself. In Lovecraft's world one cannot even do that. The terror originates from a contradiction of man's nature, the desire to know; man fears the unknown only because he fears it may be unknowable. The consequence of this is the crux of the matter; Lovecraft's horror revolves around the understanding that if the universe is not rational, then we cannot be sane. Indeed, The Call of Cthulhu opens:

“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in their own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

It is only natural to speculate on why Lovecraft was driven to write along such lines. A lifelong atheist, he once wrote that, “[A]ll my tales are based in the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large...[O]ne must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate...have any existence at all.”[2] One might add to this list, perhaps, truth and falsity. In such a way, Lovecraft portrays a brutal, unflinching, and honest representation of the necessary intellectual consequences of atheism. Rather than declaring our existence to be 'beautifully tragic', 'internally meaningful' or any of the other platitudes one at times hears, he states that given an untranscendent reality, we, as a race and as individuals, are truly pointless. Rather than the deterministic, mechanical laws of the universe preserving its knowability, a universe of such laws destroys the possibility of a rational human soul, and thus possibility of rational laws. To be intellectually honest (if such a thing exists) is therefore to rebel against our nature, and to surrender to the madness of an uncaring and irrational universe.

Through his weird tales, Lovecraft leads one to the conclusion that this view of reality is nothing other than a horror story, which, true or false, remains an ultimate revolt against what man perceives to be his nature and his sanity. That many atheists, including Lovecraft himself, continued to act out their own lives as if they were in fact meaningful, only demonstrates that they have taken the advice of Lovecraft's protagonist and fled from the deadly light, stopping their ears from the sound of Great Cthulhu slumbering under their feet. Perhaps they have realized that intellectual dishonesty is a small price to pay for sanity, however illusory.


I'll tell you a tale

That week went by about as fast as any week I've ever experienced. So now I feel like discoursing on something I've had occasion to think about recently. Ever since I read The Story of the Irish Race I've felt very protective of the country whose heritage I claim. This sentiment causes extreme reactions to fake Irish accents, stereotypes, among other things. Drinking songs are one of those things about which I feel very strongly. One, once in while, I don't have a problem with. But when congregations of people who want to get together, be Catholic, and bellow out some tunes, lapse into one drinking song after another, something in me begins to smoulder. There are so many songs which are more truly Irish (all our wars are merry, and all our songs are SAD). Why would you wish to prolong the stereotype of the drunken, whiskey obsessed Irishman? Especially when it's stereotype propagated by the British to give Irish Catholics a bad name? I would instead suggest breaking out some more respectful and stirring music, a la "The Foggy Dew" or "Wearing of the Green". Just a thought.


Good Salad Day

I knew things were going well when my salad included apples, chicken, and sunflower seeds. The Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist gave a talk this evening. The sisters were so joyful and charged with positive energy, it was wonderful and inspiring. It struck me because I've talked to so many girls (recently and in the past) who want romance in their lives and someone with whom to share hopes and dreams. It can be frustrating for anyone to feel like they are the only one noticing other people; but I think it's particularly hard for girls when they don't get attention from guys. There's a sense of not being note worthy, and, above all, a desire to be the one pursued for a change. Which brought to mind these lines: "From those strong feet that followed, followed after...'Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee, Save Me, save only Me?'" We are all so desperate to be loved, wanted, needed, understood; and it's hard to for us to understand that there is a Terrible Lover pursuing each one of us drawing breath today. One who did the unthinkable to win us back, though it was our fault to begin with. You can find it in that small ache in the corner of your soul that's never really gone. An ache that sometimes expands to match your happiness because every joy you find is just another reminder of what we've all lost. Why else would the beauty of a sunset make us weep, if not for overwhelming homesickness? Augustine acknowledged this as our "restless" hearts. Hearts restless until they rest in what Yeats so appropriately named "The Threefold Terror of Love." It's something I know and try to recognize every day, but sometimes a talk from those who have found the truest romance helps a bit.


Valerie Plame - The Decemberists

No video, but nevertheless, a new Decemberists single is always cause for celebration.


The Guggenheim Grotto

Such a catchy song...I love these guys. Why are they so unknown?


men, marines, and maple syrup

I find it frustrating that the more intellectual, supposedly highbrow, of the Catholic males here tend to fit into a neat stereotype. Which is that they tend (again, emphasis on "tend". sweeping generalizations are my strong suit.) to be disappointing. Rife with non specific inclinations to Latin, inability to distinguish Old Rite from New (if it's Tridentine, it's the "Latin Mass", as if you can't say Novus Ordo in Latin), and a most singular predisposition to tobacco, alcohol, and antisemitism. And on top of all this, of course the understated attitude that women should be covered and silent in church, and probably shouldn't vacate a building unless attired in a full skirt. That last one is more of a vibe I'm getting, although it was alluded to in a passing conversation. As was a subtle but definite slight of the USMC. At which point I say: OK. I understand you think it's cool to grow beards, smoke pipes, and bellow Irish drinking songs (a whole separate issue I might address later). But that doesn't make you manly. Put simply, it's emasculate to be that nonathletic, sallow skinned, and the longish hair isn't helping either. Perhaps dreams of becoming Celtic warriors are simmering somewhere in the subconcious, but let's be honest. You wouldn't last five minutes against the Marines you feel superior to, and I'm guessing some real Celtic beserkers would take you down in roughly the same timeslot. Before you demand unequivocal femininity from all women, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if you actually approximate any reasonable definition of manhood. Because I would much rather take a guy who's more of a Marine mindset and less of an egghead. And finally, the maple syrup here does not tast like maple syrup. I'm hard pressed to tell you what it tastes like, but maple isn't really the first thing that comes to mind. I fear to know what they make in or out of.


Oh, Wes

I always forget to mention how much I love Wes Welker. He came out of nowhere last season and became one of those staple players; not too flashy, but so dependable. All the buzz was about Randy Moss and Welker ran around in the background picking up key yardage and my vote for top ten Pats.


thing I have discovered at Hillsdale

1) Alexander is even more awesome than I thought he was 2) James Madison is brilliant 3) Honors kids are a doozy of a mixed bag 4) Don't play capture the flag with Niedfeldt 5) If there's a really long line at Saga, it's probably worth the wait 6) Always go to a free performance at the Sage 7) Get boots before you get here 8) I love George Washington. A lot. 9) If you're going into the library, take a sweatshirt with you 10) Put on sunscreen before the Football game.


Kat Dennings

Found a new blog, by Kat Dennings, who turns out to be the reclusive, literary, homeschooler type. She's also apparently an actress, and is playing Norah in that 'Nick and Norah' movie. Go figure. She's also a good writer. While you're at it, check out the Literary Voices section of the blog for super-rare audio of famous literary figures speaking, like Flannery O'Connor and G. K. Chesterton.


Movie legend Paul Newman dies, 83

" The blue-eyed star of movies like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid died in his Connecticut home on Friday, surrounded by family and close friends.

A statement from Newman's family said: "His death was as private and discreet as the way he had lived his life."

His Butch Cassidy co-star Robert Redford paid tribute, saying: "There is a point where feelings go beyond words... I have lost a real friend." " - BBC


Corpus Christi Carol by Jeff Buckley


Alexi Murdoch



If there was one group of people I would choose as the one I'd least like to run into, it would be followers of the Society of St Pius X. Yeah, they're here. At Hillsdale. Lounging around with the monarchists, as you might expect. My pastor point blank told me not to argue with them, which is something I will have to bear in mind as these next months stretch on. It's a terrible thing when you are driven back to the Catechism, Church Fathers, and the Bible, not to strengthen yourself, but to protect yourself from other Catholics. The Society leaves a wake of bitterness and anger, and the rotten fruit I gain in debate with them is a horrible spiritual aridity and weakening of my faith. There is a point where you have to admit you simply aren't strong enough; argument in this quarter causes depression, anger, exhaustion, and cynicism. My Kenyan friend Gladys was appalled at what she had seen. She had never before seen Catholics arguing, desperately fighting with themselves. "God is watching over the Holy Father. It will be alright", she said. And that in the end is what we have to cling to. Arrogant legalistic arguments thrown to the wayside, let us drop to our knees in simple childlike faith that the God who made us will not abandon us or His Church. That it is all in His hand, that it always has been and always will be, and that we cannot save it ourselves. Had it been up to us from the beginning, we would have had as much success as if we were battling the ocean. Where Peter is, there is the Church. Where the Church is, there is Christ. Where Christ is, there may I be, now and forever.


Monday morning Quarterback #1

Notre Dame played a divinely inspired (and aided, I doubt not) game on Saturday, causing many Michigan fans here to slouch off in primal misery. Meanwhile, our ND contingent went running all over the place, broadcasting the good news. The Brady-less Patriots played a decent game against the Jets; of course, the only thing the Jets had going for them was the ever aging Brett Favre, so this victory can't get us too excited. Matt Cassell is lucky to get some sub par teams to go up against in the first few weeks. But our defense looks solid and Wes Welker looked in top form. I'm hoping he'll get to share the spotlight with Randy Moss a little more, he's way underrated. Also the running game is nicely split up between Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and others. The season may not be a disaster! Charlie Weis's strange sideline mishap, which led to a torn ACL and MCL (I think...) humorously mirrored Tom Brady's injury. Leaving the field, Weis smiled at the camera and said "You ain't got nothing on me, Tommy!"


Kings of Convenience - Misread

A great band, along the lines of Iron and Wine.


New Memorials, New Remonstrances

America has a tendency to pull through crises, sometimes with the aid of a just a few of her children. At Valley Forge, Washington's young men survived on animal intestines and tree bark. The British tracked them in the bitter cold by following the bloody footprints of the discalced men. At Antietam 100,000 perished in 24 hours; the intensity of the gunfire ripped through and demolished a forest and left acres of corpses. On the Bataan Death March US soldiers were whipped and beaten down a jungle path; deprived of food and water, they saw the bodies of their comrades lying in the ditches they passed. In Vietnam, American POW's were starved, tortured, and murdered. And the question that should come to our minds should not be "How did they take it?" but "Why did they put themselves in that position?" On September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer and the passengers of United 93 commandeered their hijacked plane from the terrorists and met death at 574 miles per hour rather than see another building full of people get hit. Why? Because everything that is good and true and beautiful in this nation is worth starving for; worth suffering for; worth dying for. "The price of liberty is constant vigilance". But it is also sweat, tears, and blood. Every day that we wake up with ability to exercise our free will and live our lives to the fullest, we must remember that. Every breath God permits us to take should be exhaled with a silent prayer of thanks for blessings given and a petition for strength to carry our weight if the time ever comes. There seems to be a Divine Plan for this unlikely country of ours that gives us exactly the heroes we need in our darkest hour. Each time America falls to her knees, gasping in agony, a silent Hand lifts her gently to her feet and points to the men and women willing to give it all in the cause of truth and justice. The American way. To bring together a couple of things I've been thinking about, I think that whenever America asks God, "Do I make you proud?" He answers. "Every day."


Holy Moses

I cannot think of any penance severe enough for Bernard Pollard.


Here we go again

Football season is here again, a weekly drama more distracting than any TV show for yours truly. Brett Favre played as usual and led the Jets, oddly enough, to victory. The Patriots proved their defense and running game are still there, as well as some promising talent from Matt Cassell. Yeah. Matt Cassell. Tom boy got turned into our very Gimper today; some clumsy (or malicious/paid off) Kansas City oaf did a number on his knee. Looked ugly, but we won't find out until Wednesday how serious it is.


Edvard Radzinsky

If you aren't interested in Russian history, you might want to look in to Edvard Radzinsky's historical works. If you are, like me, deeply interested in Russian history, Radzinksky's books on Nicholas II, Rasputin, Stalin, and Alexander II are must reads. He combines masterful historical research with sweeping dramatic prose and at times apocolyptic Biblical references that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. He also has an uncanny ability to make the characters in his books seem as real as people you really know. Names, dates, and events lose any dusty dryness they might have had and take on the intensity and drama of action movies and spy thrillers. From the heartbreaking fate of The Last Tsar and his family, to the frightening enigma of Grigory Rasputin, to the dark and menacing presence of Josef Stalin, Radzinsky never fails to deliver heartpounding prose and amaze the reader with his meticulous and in depth research. (The man is never happy unless he talks to someone who was actually there or reads first hand accounts in diaries or personal correspondence.) I'm just starting his biography of Alexander II, and recently finished his work on Stalin. The Stalin biography was without a doubt the best biography I've ever read and one of the most powerfully written books I've read as well.


And while we're at it...

I'd like to use this unexpected explosion of new posts to say happy birthday to our fearless contributor Catherine. She always looks like this.


Here's something you won't hear every day. Flannery O'Connor, a year before her death at 39 from Lupus disease, gave a lecture at Notre Dame. It consisted of a short talk on some aspects of the grotesque in southern fiction (along with some insightful remarks on what it means to be a Catholic writer) and a reading of her short story A Good Man Is Hard To Find. I went looking for a recording of the talk, and found that the only place it was available was if you ordered a copy from ND's archives, which was way too expensive. After a bit of researching, I found an obscure internet radio station that had obtained a copy and had broadcasted it a while back. I streamed the radio episode from their website with Realplayer, recorded the lecture with an audio capture program, converted the .wav file to .wma (mp3 was too lossy) and uploaded it to the internet.

Anyway, for those of you interested, here's The Morning Oil exclusive of one of Catholicism's best writers ever reading her own work (you've got to love that accent).

Note: The files have been re-uploaded as of January 15, 2010

1. Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction
2. A Good Man is Hard to Find

Also, check out the recording of Chesterton here.

Kodak Moments

So, I've been really into photography lately and consequently I've been scouring the internet for cool blogs and websites. These are two of my latest finds: The Ones We Love and Show + Tell.

This Is Ivy League

So, for the next bit, I'm going to be posting music videos of new bands I'm finding. One of the most interesting and engaging has been This is Ivy League, who sound remarkably similar to the Beach Boys, but with more thought out lyrics. I'd recommend you also go to and search for their spectacular covers of The Magnetic Fields' "You and me and the Moon" and Arcade Fire's "Crown of Love."


Hey, this little blog has been around for over two years with more or less continuous posting. Go us! Right now I really feel like complaining about Classical Latin. It's disgusting. At the convocation, Dr. Whelan stated Hillsdale's motto "Virtus Tentamine Gaudet" the way it should be pronounced, with a V, and then smiled and said "I know I just hurt some of you Classical Latinists when I pronounced it with a v, that some small, cramped part of your soul just went 'ouch!'" I laughed and continue to laugh whenever I run into someone who actually thinks that Caesar said "Weni, widi, wiki." Really? You think that's what would have come out of the mouth of a general who galloped around wasting barbarians? I think not.

Josh Schicker

I've been listing to allot of new Portland artists recently, but this guy by far is the best. He needs all the support he can get, so check out his music here.

Urban Exploration

Ever since reading a travelogue by a woman who took a ride through Chernobyl on a motorcycle, I've been fascinated by all the strange abandoned places people have forgotten about. Whole cities, castles, tunnel systems or amusement parks that people just left at one point or another and were reclaimed by nature. This website has photos of a lot of these places, a great deal of which (go figure) are in Russia. If I had the money and the time, I'd be exploring places like these...


Olympic Spirit

When I heard the 2008 Summer Olympics were going to be held in Beijing, I was disappointed, but did not give much thought to the matter. I have little faith in the punitive power of boycotting Olympics, and was not dead set on never watching these. A few days ago I remembered that the Olympics were indeed going on and so I turned on the television to see what I could see. Five minutes later the TV was off and I was almost physically ill. They had been showing a bike race, athletes joyously and fiercely competing, the crowds cheering, and the commentators excitedly filling in details that would no doubt escape biking neophytes. I followed the progress of the madly peddling men with less than absorption, when I suddenly felt my blood freeze in my veins. They were madly peddling past Tiananmen Square.

The site of the student protest of 1989, the place of death for two to three thousand (Chinese Red Cross estimate) deaths on June 3 and 4 of 1989. And all the commentators had to say was "What a spectacular location for today's race."

The camera panned up and I saw the massive gilded photograph of Mao Tse Tung. A man who has been held responsible for 70 million deaths; his own people, murdered for the devil's own cause. I switched off the TV.

There probably are worse locations for the 2008 Olympics, and I am sure I could name some off the top of my head. But why does the civilized world do nothing? Why do we rely on badly organized protests and cheap bumper stickers to salve our consciences? The People's Republic of China is a communist state with capitalist economic power. Which makes the possibility of its implosion frustratingly remote. This government uses Yahoo and Google to track the computers of those dangerous citizens who dare look up Tiananmen Square or any other incident with less than perfect PR. This government still makes liberal use of arrest without warrent, surpression of political debate, and religious persecution. Families are held to completely unnatural standards of reproduction, and our own State Department record of China's human rights violations reads like a 1930s NKVD For Dummies.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't know whether we should have boycotted these games or not. I would like to believe that somehow our sense of right and wrong is not dictated by what is politically expedient, financially beneficial, or even by the possibility of athletic immortality. As much as world records matter, some things are simply more important. And as long as China continues to treat its citizens (not to mention the denizens of those countries China has invaded) as cogs in a machine, to be tinkered with or discarded at will, I think the rest of the world has a duty to put up some kind of a fight.


December 11, 1918-August 3, 2008

A year ago I read Joseph Pearce's magnificent biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, A Soul in Exile. One of the most moving and beautiful things I've ever read, passages from it still echo in my head. I remember deciding then that one of my life's goals would be to meet Solzhenitsyn someday, and to prepare for that day I read The Gulag Archipelago, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, Cancer Ward, Lenin in Zurich, among other essays and prose poems.
Today my dream ended with the death of this incredible poet, philosopher, and lyric warrior. I do not have suitable words to mourn his passing and can only count it an honor to have shared this earth with him the past eighteen years. I will continue to study his work and now go to quietly live out the final day he drew breath.
The Soul in Exile has gone home at last.


course of action

I don’t relish violence. I find the concept of men spending all their energy trying to kill each other nauseating. Yet I find pacifism more inhuman and cold than all the arms races and MAD in history. It is human to defend your family or loved ones if those precious few are attacked. Given the choice, I believe most people would kill to keep those loved ones alive. It’s not about what you want or what you are most comfortable doing. It’s a question of doing what is morally necessary.
In the sixties and seventies, there were huge war protests and much upright condemnation of our actions in Vietnam. Songwriters poured out their frustration at our foreign policy in their lyrics, from the poetically vengeful:
"And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead"
To the straight up ridiculous:
"(C'mon)Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
Minister, Sinister, Banisters and Canisters,
Bishops, Fishops, Rabbis, and Pop Eyes,
Bye bye, Bye byes
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance"
I don’t believe for a minute that Lennon or Dylan were interested in America’s withdrawal from Vietnam in order to aid the spread of Communism, although that has been offered as an explanation of their songs to me several times. I think it had more to do with a misplaced and poorly thought out sense of righteousness, a belief that if America stopped fighting, stopped killing, that some kind of peace would emerge. The horrifying side of pacifism is that it only appeals to decent people; that if it takes hold the good people will do nothing and evil will freely reign over the weak. The peace that Lennon and Dylan advocated was a Neville Chamberlin style situation where peace means we can turn our heads, look away, and really believe everything will be alright. The minstrels of the sixties inculcated their obsessive desire to avoid reality into the naïve youth of America, penetrating the fog of their drug induced stupor long enough to pound a message into their brains. War is not the answer. But what is the answer? To stand by and watch as millions perish because taking up arms to protect them would further the cause of violence? The true brutality of pacifism is its preoccupation with the self, with ensuring that everything stays comfortable. Seeing the numbers of the dead read off the TV at night was too hard for men like Dylan to handle, and in their anger they condemned the people who were running the war badly, not the men who were causing it. Dylan said
“Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do”
It makes me wonder. Dylan and people like him were a major factor in our withdrawal from Vietnam. If Dylan had seen the legions of Vietnam’s refugees, the “boat people”, who came drifting across the water without hope or purpose, lost souls in a world that took their families and their homes--maybe he would have said that to himself.



I can't recall if I've posted this before, but if you haven't played these, you ought to.


Hellboy II

Hellboy II was a bit different than I'd expected. I'd expected more of the first movie, which would have been nothing but a good thing. The Golden Army, however, took on a different tone, with mixed results. Its dialogue was sharper and lighter, assumedly because the characters had already been established, but I felt it lost Hellboy's blue-collar, world-weary attitude that made him so likeable. The snappy pacing and banter felt like the film was trying to be sleeker and more accesible, more like the mainstream Spiderman or Iron Man films, something it in no way needed to do. The heavy, oppresive, Lovecraftian tone of the Hellboy I was something that distinguished it, and while the Folklore side of the Hellboy world was something that's entirely fair game for a movie (I'm glad, in fact, that it moved in this direction) I felt the spirit of the Hellboy books had been violated in a way the first movie did not. The Golden Army just felt too light.
Even in the Hellboy's folklorish adventures, he's taking on entities like Baba Yaga (who is scary) a cursed family of eastern European werewolves, or ramapaging, megalomaniacal homunculi. They're strange, dark, and otherworldly, and their humor comes from Hellboy's unfazed attitude and straightforward sense of right and wrong. Not that the new movie did not have some of these elements, it simply didn't do them as well.
Also, The Golden Army feels more like a superhero team movie, like X-men, especialy with the addition of the ectoplasmic Johannes Krauss, than the continued adventures of the red, loveable, Beast of the Apocalypse. B.P.R.D., an excelent spinoff title from Hellboy, is a team comic, Hellboy is not. It felt like Del Toro was beginning to lean in that direction.
All those things being said, I still recommend the movie. Del Toro's fantastic imagination is on full display once again, and some of the movie's set peices like the Angel of Death, or the Miyazakian forest god, are worth the price of admission alone. The sheer exuberance and creativity demonstrated gives me real hope for the future of fantasy films, especially the commitment to old-school prosthectics and physical effects, which, let's face it, still look better than CGI. Several days after seeing the movie, I want to go see it again, which is probably the truest measure of my real feelings towards it.
Rating: B+


Look what I did!

I changed the layout all by myself, yes I did. I think the picture is either the personification of the blog in the act of informing the world, or it's Me/Sophie trying to get Ben to post something.


Fairie and Falsehood

Chesterton once famously said, “Not facts first, truth first.”

This is the essence of fairy stories. Based on fact, imbued with truth, they are a child’s bedtime Sunday school. Whether or not you think unicorns or griffins ever existed, the lessons we learn from true fairy stories are as real as can be. Because a real fairy story has to have definite morals, clear representation of good and evil, and rules that must be followed, I believe Guillermo del Torro’s Pan’s Labyrinth was a failure. Its antithesis is M. Night Shyamalan’s perfect fairy story, Lady in the Water. The chief difference to me is the beautiful innocence of Lady in the Water as compared to the total lack of it in Pan’s Labyrinth. Story flees from those who would harm her; Ofelia, trying to escape from her father, doesn’t just put enough sleeping drug in his drink to knock him out. She puts in what should be enough to kill a cart horse. The good guys in Lady in the Water are genuinely likable. They unite to save Story, putting aside personal convenience and differences. Meanwhile, back in Pan’s Labyrinth, del Torro presents us with a band of Communists hiding in the woods plus Ofelia (unless you count Ofelia’s mom, who is essentially a non character). These guys heroically euthanize their comrades and don’t kill their enemies…they just torture and mutilate them. Lady in the Water is all about following the rules; the climax of trying to get Story home involves the characters discovering their roles in her survival and fulfilling them. Ofelia breaks the rules in the Guy-With-Eyes-On-His-Hands house, but escapes. The consequences of this misdemeanor turn out to be no consequences at all, since Pan doesn’t desert her for good, like she was told. It was more like five minutes. And of course, one of the worst things about Pan’s Labyrinth for me was that the whole fantasy was in Ofelia’s head. None of the magical kingdom was real. She sees it all one last time while lies dying…then she’s back on the cold hard ground and breathes her last. In Lady and the Water everything was real. There was no death of the child; rather, Cleveland must become like a child to hear the rest of the story, and the veteran says at the end “I wanted to be a child again.” Then there’s the overall message. The only thing I could really pick up from Pan’s Labyrinth was that “life is pain.” Funny quote when it’s made by a guy talking to the love of his life while dressed up as a pirate; there, the irony is that he’s about to make all her pain go away. In Pan’s Labyrinth, we have one dead mother, one dead little girl, one fake world where everything’s interesting and magical, one real world where the people you care about die, one evil father who is nonetheless shot dead in cold blood, and one baby in possession of a supposedly good maid who has a suspiciously sadistic side. On the other hand, with Lady in the Water, life has meaning. “Every living being has a purpose,” Story tells Cleveland. The man who was a doctor wasn’t supposed to be a building superintendent. This is made clear all through the movie, as he is late to fix the plumbing, can’t fix the sprinklers, keeps getting calls from a lady complaining of the smell upstairs, and fixes the light bulb above Vick’s desk weeks after being asked to do it. We see rusty handrails, grass overgrowing the courtyard, and other signs of neglect and decay. Only when he accepts his role as Healer is Cleveland able to ask forgiveness from the family he wasn’t there to protect, and go back to doing what he was born to do. He thanks Story for saving his life: she saved him because he saved her. I feel like Lady in the Water wasn’t received well due in part at least to the fact that our world’s nature is steadily growing more jaded and cynical. If you’ve outgrown fairy stories, then of course Lady in the Water seems a bit much, what with the strange names, the improbable creatures, and unworldly plot. However, if you’ve outgrown fairy stories, you’ve mistaken what is childlike for what is childish, which is exactly the mistake so many make when viewing Lady in the Water.

“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”


oh, and this stuff over here...

SOOooooo....anyone interested that we hauled 550 metric tons of yellowcake uranium out of Iraq? Apparently we shipped it to Canada, where it will not be used to manufacture weapons; the energy will be used instead for such peaceful purposes as producing Celine Dion's Christmas album. As Mark Steyn put it: "Wouldn't it be lovely if we could solve all world problems this way...just pick them up and store them in Canada." I just want to know why Bush doesn't defend himself more. I realize he's going more the "justified by history" route, but this needs to be covered! The WMD's that didn't exist were just removed from Iraq. Given Saddam's personality, I think that much yellowcake makes sense of invasion.

couldn't resist

I didn't come up with this, but it's been making me laugh for a few days. "Seen outside a funeral home: 'Keep Driving...we'll wait." Of course, if you actually saw that, it might be more terrifying than humorous.



I know it's not really commonplace to write reviews of reviews of movies, but in this case I feel compelled. The review in quesiton: "Windy", penned by one Ross Douthat, of National Review. I'm not sure if he writes regularly for NR, but I do know one thing about him. He needs a good head soaking. "Windy" was a childish and painfully comical review of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, which some of my more loyal readers may recall left me shaken and unhappy. That being said, I am still able to acknowledge the film's power and poignance, and put it up with all of M. Night's other films. I.e., pretty high. Of course, I saw where the review was going from the first sorry sentence: "For the world's dwindling band of M. Night Shyamalan admirers--a group in which I still count myself, thought increasingly reluctanctly--the best case scenario for his latest film, The Happening, was that it would represent a return to form after his disastrous previous effort, Lady in the Water." Depending on your natural disposition, this sentence could be either humorous or infuriating. For me it was a slight combination. Funny enough to make me think "Who is this guy, and why is he reviewing films?" and irritating enough to make me blog about it. Mr. Douthat (whoever he may be) went on to do exactly what I thought might follow: languish in fits of literary self righteous (and remarkably self confidant) agony at what he found to be a sub par horror film. Yes. The Happening was nothing more than a badly written, badly produced, badly made horror film. Which of course, wasn't that scary "the only thing that's scary about it is the fact that three talented actors--Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, and John Leguizamo--actually thought appearing in this fiasco would be a good career move." For a guy who goes great lengths to criticize Shyamalan's big head, he seems to have ignored his own ego trip pretty blithely. I wonder if it ever crossed his mind that actors might have motives other than money and fame when it comes to the work they choose to do. I wonder if he ever gave a thought to the concept that some actors might choose to be in movies they feel are a step above the rest. Somehow, I doubt these thoughts ever made an appearance in the vortex of this man's cogitations. His review is that of a man who goes to the talkies to be entertained, and doesn't mind a brain teaser while you're at it--just make sure that it's all spelled out in black and white by the credits. Go to a film to think? Why? Isn't that an oxymoron? I don't know quite how to address people who went to Unbreakable because they were in the mood for a superhero movie, to Signs for an alien flick, or The Village for a period piece. These same people (and I suppose this specimen) would naturally view The Happening as a horror film and take only what was on the surface away with them. I realize the comparison is a bit extreme, but to me trying to draw some equivalent between The Happening and The Birds is akin to comparing Crime and Punishment to one of Jack Chick's comic book morality tracts. I can't say for sure how Mr. Douthat missed the significance of Zooey Deschanel's character's name, the stops Elliot and his family made on the way (what Douthat terms the "hilarious" run from the wind), or the circumstances under which The Event ended. I know that I don't always understand the great poetry of T.S. Eliot, or the classic literature of Flannery O'Connor. But at least I have the good grace to admit it before trying to turn it into a laughingstock instead of me. "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."


Sore throat

It's my experience that minor ailments are among the most demoralizing things God ever came up with. (I ended that sentence with a preposition! ---!) People will feel sorry for you if you have influenza, and indeed you are justified in feeling a bit of pity for yourself; but if you have a sore throat, there is only the slight smile and nod, indication being "Buck up, worse may yet come." Unfortunately, I would rather be very ill than have a nagging sore throat. Also, I would rather have a serious slash in my arm than a paper cut. The little things always get to me.


trampling out the vintage

I forgot to say that I finished The Grapes of Wrath and found that (to me) the storyline itself was not all that compelling. As a written work, however, it is very moving. Steinbeck is a tremendous author who knows exactly how to craft words so that they convey his emotions to the reader. What I liked most about it were the chapters that were not devoted to the plot, but to his musings on the entire situation of the refugees. I did not feel that it made socialism something to be desired; I just came away knowing that capitalism is an ugly beast when it runs amuck. So basically, if everyone had followed Catholic ethics, the problem would not have been so problematic. Unfortunately, there aren't as many people willing to follow Catholic social teaching as you might hope, so they turn instead to the government. Which should ring a few alarm bells on principle (I'm thinking that you don't want the people who brought you the DMV to taking care of anything you care about) but also seems to be a fairly evident means of slowly sapping the will of man to provide for himself. Private charity, taken when needed, is another matter. When you get down to the local level, where you know the people in question, then you can help them. Why would you want a group of people thousands of miles away deciding what your family gets and when they get it? It's common sense. But then, common sense is hardly ever anybody's strong suit.


one of those things

In Europe and America,
Theres a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
It would be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too

How can I save my little boy
From Oppenheimer's deadly toy?
There is no monopoly in common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the President
There's no such thing as a winnable war
Its a lie that we dont believe anymore
Mr. Reagan says he will protect you
I dont subscribe to this point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me and you,
Is that the Russians love their children too

I love this song for two reasons. For one thing, the music itself is so haunting and compelling that I think of it almost as an audial rendition of Chambers' masterpiece Witness. Secondly, it's all quite wrong! The lyrics are as misguided as they are poetic. It serves as something of a reminder of the seeming permanence of the Soviet Union, and the impossibility of ever ending a Cold War. The truth is that the fall of communism as a world wide threat was nothing short of a miracle. and that's what this song makes me remember.

Plus, I love Sting's voice.


My life is just so hard

It was a long and tiring day. Catherine's feet hurt, she was feeling a little emotional after listening to some old choir music (almost twenty year old choir stuff) and her feet hurt. What with knowing she had to get up for work tomorrow and not being terribly excited about that, she was pretty happy to see that a new National Review had come in the mail. "I know", she thought. "I will listen to my new Coldplay cd and read Mark Steyn's piece. That'll pick me up." Imagine then her distress when she opened up the magazine to the last page and Happy Warrior column. Not on the last page, or the page before that, or any page. Why? Because Canada has reached that point where common sense has fled the metropolises and lesser burghs of that country and is hiding no one knows where. The powers that be in the great white north have become enamored of nonsense in the form of tolerating everything except the people who don't tolerate everything. Those particular people must needs be stifled. Mark Steyn wrote a book implying that Muslims have more children on average than most non Muslim Westerners. Oddly enough, that happens to be true, but Canada is apparently so desperately afraid of Islamic malcontent that they hauled Steyn (basically the love of my life) out of New Hampshire, where you can say what you think, to his home base, where you can only say what the State thinks. Bear in mind that this is the country where a Catholic priest could be (and has been) arrested for preaching the Church's position on homosexuality from the pulpit of his parish. Obviously the situation in Canada is an unpromising one for Canadians, but it's also incredibly inconvenient for Americans. All those subscribers to National Review wanted to read Mark Steyn, but no. He's on trial for straying from the official government line.

The Swell Season

So, this is rather late in coming, but I seem to have fallen pray to an irresistible urge to put up as much info and pictures from this concert as possible. Criticism seems to abound on his blog (ahem...Catherine) about Once. I would just like to point out that the two musicians in it, Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard, are very talented and that their music is unique and beautiful. I had the privilege of attending their latest concert, and it was phenomenal. It somehow held all the charm and fun of an Irish gig, while filling the Keller, which was packed to the rafters, with the full sound of a classical performance.


Time for something else

I am reconciled to The Happening. Now you must guess which books these first lines come from. 1. In undertaking to describe the recent and strange incidents in our town, till lately wrapped in uneventful obscurity, I find myself forced in absence of literary skill to begin my story rather far back, that is to say, with certain biographical details concerning that talented and highly esteemed gentleman, *name*. 2. Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. 3. At five o'clock that morning reveille was sounded as usual, by the blows of a hammer on a length of rail hanging up near the staff quarters. 4. When he was nearly thirteen, my brother *name* had his arm badly broken at the elbow. 5. In 1937, I began, like Lazarus, the impossible return.


What Happened?

M. Night Shyamalan's latest offering has confused me. While I retain some remnant of belief that this must be a good film because of the guy who made it, the fact remains that I have never been more horrified by a movie in my life.

There were things I liked about it, of course. Mark Wahlberg's character was great, and the husband/wife relationship was fabulous. As in most Shyamalan films, the portrayal of ordinary people was touching and rang very true.

However, the violence in this movie was of a sort that I found nauseatingly reminiscent of Pan's Labyrinth. There was that same cruel calmness in it, although in this case I might be persuaded that there was a point to it. The levels of sheer violence were much higher. And when it ended, I was more shaken than I've ever been at the end of any movie, including such emotionally disturbing examples as Hotel Rwanda, Beyond the Gates, Schindler's List, and The Killing Fields.

I'm thinking I need a certain brother in law to watch it. Too bad Lander won't get it in for several more months...


Educate Yourself

In ancient Greece, as well as in some modern countries, a bridegroom received some gift or dowry--money, cattle, or other property--along with his bride, usually from her parents. This dowry then became his, to dispose of as he might wish. but the bride might also bring with her certain personal property , such as slaves or jewels, for example. These, under Greek law, her husband could not touch. They were distinctly her own possessions, and were known as parapherna from para, beyond, and phero, bring, that is, belongings brought beyond those specified in the marriage contract. In present day legal usage the Latinized term, paraphernalia, carries the same general interpretation, varying somewhat in our different States. the tern is also used more broadly to designate any sort of miscellaneous equipment possessed by any individual or group. There. That's the origins of the word paraphernalia. I'm a firm believer in "you learn something new every day".


I'm ill equipped to write movie reviews. I watch a film, I like or dislike it, and most of the time I have a really hard time explaining why.
Kind of like when I saw Juno; I came out of the theatre with a sense of unhappiness and dissatisfaction, but I never was able to put those feelings into words.
Here are my words for The Incredible Hulk.
Man alive, that movie was good.



Well, my big plan was to fix up the blog to my specifications and then start posting again. But it seems my inability to handle technology has come back to haunt me yet again. As long as I never look at the actual blog, I think I can overcome the onslaught of writer's blog...I mean block. These days I'm reading The Grapes of Wrath; I was reading Witness, but then it fell onto the floor of the Water Demon and drowned. Saddest day of my young life. Steinbeck isn't the ideal replacement for Chambers. However, it has turned out to be incredibly powerful, thus reminding one of Witness. More on that later. I'm also watching MacGyver, which, while having cringe worthy dialogue/plot ideas, nevertheless has Richard Dean Anderson. As far as I'm concerned, that's a reason to watch anything. Why is it that the DOT, after taking your tax money and using it to create horrific constructions in your neighborhood, feels the need to put up enormous signs telling you that it's "your nickel" at work? It's always bothered me that they had to add insult to injury.


Albi the Racist Dragon

Has anyone else seen Flight of the Conchords?

ah well

Looks like we're stuck with Penny Pensive up there...although you'd think we could come up with someone who can afford trousers. I keep running into Jurassic Park. I watched it without my friend before my sojourn into Wyoming. Then at mine sister's house, we turn on the TV and there it is, in all it's gory glory. Then (during the course of a youtube battle with aforesaid sister) I ran into that, which I have probably watched ten times. And then mine brother comes in here and asks, "Hey, wanna watch Jurassic Park?" Amazing.


The Tuynmans Experiment

I found this on the Wine-Dark Sea. Does nobody care about art today because they're uneducated, or is it because most modern art doesn't deserve a second glance? I like how adding a Sigur Ros soundtrack to any documentary makes it more profound.



Ok, so I haven't posted in forever because I've been away for my health. Sort of. I've been halfway across the country and I'm not back yet, but if you want me to continue at any point with more of my deep insights into completely random topics, this layout has got to go. It's just boring. And so mainstream. This is what almost every blog looks like, what's the fun in that? That dancing figure may have been weird and getting old, but at least she provided some impetus for me to post. That was a blog I wanted to update. This hideous creation is just begging to be neglected. Ben, do your thing. Make it cool again.


Drummond & Son

If you haven't heard of Charles D'ambrosio, then go read his short story, Drummond & Son, immediately!


Oy, Ben, um....what's with the sudden color change?



Let me just say, Eisley is as awesome as ever!


Worst Ever

Here are my personal most hated movies. 1. Evening: I cannot find words to adequately describe this film. Avoid it like the plague. 2. Sunshine: Not Eternal of the Spotless Mind or Little Miss...just Sunshine. Just awful. It goes like this....boring boring boring boring muttered conversation boring boring EVERYONE IS GRUESOMELY DEAD. 3. Planet of the Apes: What is up with that ending? Abraham Lincoln is a monkey and Mark Wahlburg is arrested by monkeys? 4. Robin Hood Prince of Thieves: There is only one possible reason to watch this and that is to hear Alan Rickman say "I'm going to cut your heart out with a spoon." 5. The Outlaw Josey Wales: The End. Just kidding! Not the end. This is The End. Never mind, THIS is the end. No, wait, it isn't. Is this the end? HA! I'm Clint Eastwood, and this movie doesn't HAVE an end!


Observation on the Film "Once"

If you are a Czech immigrant to Ireland, make sure you brush up on all the proper expletives. If you do not precede every word you speak with the "F" word, no one will see what you're getting at.


What's cookin'?

Recently I've been sampling from rather a schmorgasborg (honestly, can anyone spell that word?) of books, so I thought I would give the rundown on each. 1. Anna Karenina. So I wasn't all that thrilled that I spent forty days of my life reading War and Peace last year, and had a skeptical view of Tolstoy in general. I read The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and that removed most of the doubt. Then I read Anna Karenina and all doubt has vanished. I concede the point, Tolstoy is a genius, and that book was amazing. Moving on. 2. Ralph MacInerny writes really funny mysteries set at Notre Dame. His predilection for bad puns (Irish Alibi, Lack of the Irish, On this Rockne, Irish get the picture) notwithstanding, they make for great reading. 3. Romola. I love George Eliot, and had not read this one of hers. Imagine my surprise when it turns out to be set in 13th century Italy! Most astonishing. 4. Grapes of Wrath. The answer is clear: leave Oklahoma. Better things await you in the Northwest. 5. Gulag Archipelago: Part II. It is incredibly difficult to find all three complete volumes of Solzhenitsyn's exhaustive masterpiece on the Soviet prison system. By luck, I've come by two. We own the first, and I found the second in Powell's. It has been awhile since I finished the first, and reading the second is just as hard. Solzhenitsyn is a little harsh, but a magnificent scholar and writer. 6. I Speak for the Silent. This anti-Soviet book was published in the thirties! Before the Gulag Archipelago was made famous by Solzhenitsyn, it was brought to at least some people's attention by Vladimir Tchernavin. Incredibly, he escaped the camps in Siberia, made it all the way back to civilization, managed to get his wife and children, and get out to Finland. I'm surprised his story hasn't been made more of. The only reason I knew of it was because in Witness, Whittaker Chambers mentions that it was the first anti-Soviet literature he ever read. I think it's apparent that I need to pull back to the days of reading one book at a time, but it's been fun while it lasted.



I've never seen or understood rightly the appeal of Presidential hopeful Barack Obama. His slogans and speeches all exhibit degrees of vagueness I would find amusing if they weren't inspiring mad devotion in people I know. This is a phenomenon I find most disturbing: the Catholic (serious Catholic) who thinks Obama is not only an option, he's the best option out there! I didn't really believe it until a few comments and conversations revealed the extent of the damage.
It's one thing for a non-Catholic to compromise on issues. But when the Catholic Church is the last bastion of hardline stances on the difficult stuff (abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, etc) there is no excuse for well informed Catholics to throw ethics to the winds for the sake of a few feel good speeches. If (however unlikely) he does turn out to be the one who pulls America up by the bootstraps and fixes all our problems, you still have to ask the question: at what cost?
Hitler did wonders for Germany after WWI. He fixed the broken country. At what cost? Was it worth a few million Jews here and a few million other people there? The Germans protested to the Allies that they didn't know. They had no conception of the horrors of Auschwitz and Dechau. But we know what they do in abortion clinics. The methods they use to "terminate pregnancies" are as terrifying and inhuman as the gas chambers and ovens. We can't say that we didn't know that abortionists were tearing children limb from, or that they were poisoning them so they could slowly die in agony. Ignorance would be bliss in this case, but we've seen the nightmare of the Silent Scream.
You can make this issue complex, but I'm going to make it simple. Are you going to vote for someone who publicly commends this practice, or for someone who publicly denounces it?
This really isn't hard to figure out, but will Catholics choose listen to Church teaching and natural law?
We can only hope.


Ninja Parade Sneaks Through Town Unnoticed Once Again

Cool Blog

Some of you may have met Darren Cools while he was here working for the Owens. He is a really neat artist, and I've enjoyed his blog very much. If any of you are interested: Crashbox.



I like this website. When I'm not going nuts over here, I have to have a project to work on, and it's convenient to have them lined up for you. I especially like their origami CD mix cases, which are not only cooler than jewel cases, but save money, and the fact that they've taught me how to make a tetrahedral kite, which I'm now making out of tape, plastic straws, and chip bags. It's cool, really.


some thoughts

Two things. First of all, I used to be one of those people who looks at a raisin and thinks--this could not at any point in its existence have been a grape. It's just not possible. This shriveled husk of sweetness is nothing like the rounded juiciness (ew. Juicy is a gross word) I think of when I imagine a grape! But I have proved myself wrong. A few months ago, I had the misfortune to read Robinson Crusoe and in this book the hero...well, let's not kid ourselves, the protagonist decided to make raisins. (Here at least I cannot fault him. It was one of the few plausible things he did on that island.) And lo and behold, he took bunches of grapes, left them outside for a lengthy period of time, and voila! He had more raisins than he knew what to do with. So I thought to myself, I have to see if it's really true. I procured a grape, left it on my dresser for four months, and have to admit that it turned into a raisin. Sometimes it's okay not to take things entirely on faith, but in this instance, I should probably have taken everyone's word for it. Second matter. Income tax is the devil! I have started to call Howard Taft "Fatty Stupidhead" to myself. I know we shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but I mean to say. What is it about "no direct taxation" he didn't understand? The Constitution isn't that long, I imagine it wouldn't have killed him to have read it through. They should have told him there was a free bag of potato chips at the end. But seriously, this whole tax situation is out of control. What is up with the courts and deciding tax policy? They write our laws for us, and we bow our heads in consent. But I just found out (ah, the wonders of studying American Government) that federal courts can (and DO) mandate nonfederal tax hikes by requiring things like new prison construction or property tax increases to pay off other things the federal government mandated. Excuse me? Non elected officials deciding what we have to fork over out of our income?Am I the only one who remembers what happened the last time no taxation without representation got foisted on Americans? Apparently we need another midnight ride out of somebody, although who, where, and how is beyond me.


and then...

Bret Favre is gone. At least from football, he is. It's funny, but I was told he had retired, I was genuinely upset; I didn't realize I liked him that much. Maybe it's just that he's such a staple of the NFL...maybe because he's played for literally my entire life so far. He never seemed old to me because he was Bret Favre: he was immortal! Or something like that. I wonder if he will continue to make commercials for heartburn medication (hey, I have acid reflux disease) and jeans with stretchy waistbands.
Nothing to be ashamed of there; the Mannings (all four of them) are still advertising Oreos.
I will miss him next season, and I still say it would have been nice for him to retire on a Superbowl. Yes, I'm talking to you, Eli.
Incidentally, this is the day Stalin died, over fifty years ago. The KGB took over the government then....and still has control. Cue the perturbation.


the greatest nation in the world

I am not a historian, nor do I have more than a passable grasp of history in its grand sweep. But I am secure in my belief that the country God's grace has granted me to call home is so far above all other nations formed and governed on this earth that the title I have given to this post can be applied to the United States of America without much, if any, doubt.

It is evident enough that America can claim this title currently, but I would argue that it is applicable no matter how far back on the timeline you go. Certainly no other country or even empire on record has ever wielded the power we do now. We indisputably have the capability of conquering the entire world in almost a moment's notice, if only for the superhuman weapons array we possess. The only other claimant I have heard for greatest nation in the world is Rome. It seems like a fair enough claim, given that Rome did indeed conquer the known world at the time. To me, however, the fact that America, with the power it has, has not conquered the world shows more impressive greatness.

Rome was great and magnificent. But Rome was also thoroughly pagan, pagan in ways that America, with all the flaws and morally reprehensible customs has never been. Rome condoned infanticide, the father's right to demand an abortion of his pregnant wife, or even then sell the newborn child into slavery to earn money. Prostitution did not just exist, as it does here, but it was legal. It was even expected at certain religious festival in select temples. America's moral situation is hazy at best when it comes to sexual issues. Pornography and underground sex slavery does happen here. But doesn't it say something when it is still an enormous scandal when our elected officials are involved with such things? Involvement with prostitution for such an official can ruin a career for life.

Rome knew it was better than all its neighbors, and so felt morally justified and possibly even impelled to conquer them. America is sure of its golden opportunities and stands ready to welcome all those who wish to come in. "Bring me your weary, and your poor..." stands as another "Come to me all you who labor and are weary..." Rome never rode to anyone's rescue that I remember. But over the twentieth century, rescuing the weak could almost be mistaken for America's primary foreign policy. Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Somolia. Any tiny, helpless nation being attacked from within or without is not too tiny to merit America's attention. Any major catastrophe, be it tsunami, earthquake, or flood, who's there first? The United States Marine Corps. I find it hard to imagine the Roman Legions responding in like manner.

And that, ultimately, is why I believe America to be inexpressably greater than Rome. It is great in a Christian sense, not in a pagan sense. Perhaps no soldiers matched the legionaires of Rome in the millenia between them and America. But I know the Marines are a match for anyone, anywhere, anytime. And they are the ones with the order of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the pin of which you cannot wear unless you refrain from drinking, swearing, and other immoral behavior for a year while guarding the tomb. What did Rome have to match that? They watched gladiators slaughter each other and wild animals tear apart Christians for entertainment. At least we are more addicted physical contact in sports such as football, where no one has died since they stopped wearing those leather helmets. Is this weakness? No. It is greatness.


My Favorite

Seeing as Ben and Sophie have put up favorite authors of their childhood, I though I would follow suit.
Steven Kellogg might not be the best children's author and illustrator, but he was my particular favorite when I was little. It was a staple of our library runs that I would head directly for his books in the children's section and see if they had any new ones. If they didn't, no great matter: I willingly read the old favorites over and over again. His stories about the Great Dane Pinkerton are the reason I still want a huge dog today. He wrote stories on everything from big dogs, to sea monsters, to imaginary islands, to American folk heroes.
His illustrations are fabulous, and so intricately detailed that you can stare at them for hours and still find new details.
I particularly like the weird stories he makes up...such as a boy who gets a tadpole that turns into a monster that he has to keep in a swimming pool and feed's pretty awesome.