Saturday, December 31, 2011

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Monday, December 26, 2011

Robert's Rules

"Thank you," Anselmo said to her and Robert Jordan realized suddenly that he and the girl were not alone and he realized too that it was hard for him to look at her because it made his voice change so. He was violating the second rule of the two rules for getting on well with people that speak Spanish; give the mean tobacco and leave the women alone; and he realized, very suddenly, that he did not care/ There were so many things that he had not to care about, why should he care about that?
Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Sunday, December 25, 2011

No, Really, Just No

Netflix e-mailed me today to say, "Now is a great time to come back to Netflix." But really, no, just no. We're coming up on new year's resolution time and unlimited streaming Netflix is not the way to meet my "be more productive" goal.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Book Culture's e-mail newsletter says:
Fun Fact: On this day in 1970, prominent Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima committed ritualistic suicide (seppuku) after taking part in an unsuccessful coup.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Seamus Heaney at the 92nd St. Y

I was at this wonderful reading earlier this fall:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Legio Patria Nostra

Helen Rittelmeyer writes:
H. W. Crocker III declares the French Foreign Legion one of the ten best thing about Catholicism: “It seems to me that as the product of a Catholic culture, showcasing a Catholic militarism by accepting men of all nations and backgrounds, devoted to one common goal, and by bestowing a sort of secular forgiveness of sins via its traditional offer of anonymity for recruits, it is a good reflection of the Catholic spirit.”
Here's the Choir of the French Foreign Legion singing one of their traditional songs, "Ich hatt einen Kameraden":

Monday, October 31, 2011

Another Bit from the LRB

Another bit from the current (Nov. 3) London Review of Books. This from an essay by James Meek:
"The lightness of the ebook medium, literally and figuratively, holds a terrible allure and an insidious threat to the heavily booked-up among us. How many marriages, seemingly held firm by the impossibility of moving several hundredweight of vinyl or CDs out of a family-sized home, have already foundered post the digitisation of music? How many more will break if apparently inseparable and immovable matrimonial libraries become something that anyone can walk out with in their pocket?"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Materialism: Then and Now

Mary-Kay Wilmers reviewing Joan Didion's new book Blue Nights in the London Review of Books:
"Three months later he rang Didion and her husband to say he’d just delivered ‘a beautiful baby girl’ to a mother who was unable to keep her: were they interested? After they’d been to the hospital and looked at the baby and made up their minds to have her they called on Dunne’s brother and his wife in Beverly Hills for a celebratory drink (‘only when I read my early fiction, in which someone was always downstairs making a drink and singing “Big noise blew in from Winnetka”, did I realise how much we all drank and how little thought we gave to it’). Lenny, Didion’s sister-in-law, offered to meet her at Saks the next morning to buy a layette (in the 1960s people still talked about ‘layettes’); if she spent 80 dollars Saks would throw in a cot – a ‘bassinette’.
I took the glass and put it down.

I had not considered the need for a bassinette.

I had not considered the need for a layette.
It’s hard to imagine that happening now, when having a baby and having the stuff seem to be inseparable parts of the same enterprise.

Monday, October 03, 2011

For the IMLDB

Another entry for the IMLDB, the Internet Movie Liturgical Database (like the IMFDB mutatis mutandis).  In the 2nd episode of the new TV series Pan Am, from which this screenshot is taken, this is a Catholic Church in 1963 in Paris, France:

Which it's obviously not, but actually Riverside Church in New York City.  They haven't even bothered to dress it to look like a Catholic Church in 1963 (6 candles, sanctuary gates, tabernacle for starters).

Addendum: in the a street scene set in NYC in the first episode, I spotted a Muni Meter, first installed in 1999.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Homer Nods

The New Yorker is famous for its fact checking "et idem indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus."  Here's Rebecca Mead writing about Daphne Guinness (subscription only) in the September 26, 2011 New Yorker (my emphasis)
[Guinness] often wears a veil: "What's great is tying a bit of net around your face, and everything looks like it's in Super 8. It gives a bit of grain to the world." Even before J.K. Rowling came up with the idea, Guinness dreamed of wearing a cloak that would render her invisible.
What? Anyone over 25 with a bit of D&D in their misspent youth—or anyone who's read some Tolkien—knows that J.K. Rowling didn't invent the cloak of invisibility. Here's a version from Emily Watson's book Fairies of Our Garden
This book was published in 1867.  That's a few years before Rowling could have "c[o]me up with the idea."

Saturday, October 01, 2011

There Is No Mafia

The New York Post reports on some religion news:
“Family” health coverage has proven pretty pricey for one high-level mobster.

The third-ranking member of the Colombo crime family is facing an 18-to-24-month prison stint after pleading guilty yesterday to a shakedown scheme designed to cover another mobster’s medical bills after a stabbing.

Richard Fusco, 75, admitted that he joined in a health-care reform “sit-down” of Colombo leaders.

At the meeting -- which was secretly taped by a mob turncoat -- it was agreed that the Gambino crime family would pay the injured mobster’s bills because a Gambino had done the stabbing.

Most of the $150,000 tab was to come from the Gambinos’ illegally skimmed cut of proceeds from the annual Figli di Santa Rosalia celebration on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said.
One of the indictments that led to the arrest of more than 120 alleged NY and NJ mobsters last January has more details on the alleged mob involvement.
81. It was a part of the scheme that, on or about May 27, 2010, a “Preliminary Income Summary Statement” was submitted on behalf of the Figli di Santa Rosalia, in which the defendant ANGELO SPATA falsely stated that the estimated gross income from vendors’ fees at the 2010 Feast of Santa Rosalia (“Gross Income”) was $51,000, and thus the estimated payment to the City of New York, at 20 percent of the Gross Income, was $10,200, significantly understating the estimated gross income and the estimated payment due. It was a further part of the scheme that following the 2010 Feast of Santa Rosalia, a “Final Income Summary Sheet” was submitted on behalf of Figli di Santa Rosalia, in which a conspirator falsely stated that the Gross Income was $43,000 and the total payment to the City of New York was $8,600, significantly understating the actual Gross Income and the total payment due.
The annual festival didn't happen this year.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Anything New Under the Turtle Bay Sun?

I first read poet and novelist May Sarton's memoir Plant Dreaming Deep back in 2003.  I've reread it a couple of times since then.  It's so good that it's perhaps more accurate to describe Sarton as "memoirist, poet, and novelist".  Sarton describes here move to Nelson, N.H., near where I lived as a child and the people she met there and the life they lived starting in 1958.

Wednesday, I started reading a later book of hers, The House By the Sea, which recounts the period from November 13, 1974 to August 17, 1976, after she left Nelson and moved to the Maine seacoast.

It is interesting that I started reading it in this week, when Mahmoud Abbas goes to the United Nations to request full membership in that body for a Palestinian State, for November 13, 1974 is the date of Yasser Arafat's famous address to the U.N. General Assembly.  This goes unrecorded in Sarton's journal on the day it occurs, but she brings it up in her December 5th entry. This excerpt starts with Sarton and then quotes at length from an article in the New Statesman, which apparently occasioned the reflection:
I have a leaden feeling when I wake up and need to shake myself awake like a dog. But the lead is in my mind, of course. It is not only the coming on of winter, but the coming on of old age that I shore up against these days. At all ages we are learning how precarious life is, as it slowly penetrates consciousness that we live in a dying civilization. It was dreadfully borne in on me when the UN allowed Arafat, a holster showing under his shirt, to speak, and so sanctified the most brutal terrorist organization in the world. At that moment something went out of us all in the West. Trust that the generality of nations would stand, at least theoretically, for justice under law? "The Age of Terror," Paul Johnson calls this one in the New Statesman (November 29) Now the truth is out after The Age of Anxiety when we felt vaguely uncomfortable and alarmed. Now the the truth is out—there is no court of higher appeal, no public generality to express revolt. We are all in the same boat and the boat is commanded by thugs. Johnson says,
"Here we come to the essence of the argument. No state throughout history has had completely clean hands. What marks the progress of civilization is the systematic recognition of laws, the identification and punishment of crime, and the reprobation of the offender. A civilized society is one which sees evil in itself and provides means to eliminate it, where the voice of conscience is active. the horrific record of Britain's indiscriminate bombing of Germany is in part redeemed by the protests of Bishop bell of Chichester. The brutalization of Vietnam by the United States is balanced by the critical millions who eventually brought it to an end. We need not despair at the devastating events of our times so long as we retain the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, between law and disorder, between justice and crime, and proclaim these distinctions from the roof-tops.

"The tragedy of the U.N. is that the distinctions have been first blurred, then wholly abandoned; and that its judgements are now delivered not according to any recognized set of principles, however inadequate, but solely in response to the pressures of political and racial groupings. Racialism is condemned in South Africa but applauded in Uganda; and the fruits of aggression are denied or blessed according to the race and political leanings of those to whom they accrue. Thus the UN has become a kind of kangaroo court; far from protecting international order, it undermines it. Not even the wretched League of Nations gave a welcome and a platform to Hitler."
It is possible, I suppose that we are returning to a Dark Age. What is frightening is that violence is not only represented by nations, but everywhere walks among us freely. One might even make a distinction between terrorism for an ideal or a dream such as the PLO and that which we condone here at home, violence for no reason, as a game or a way of snatching a few dollars. Are we in the West on the way out partly because we have provided our people with almost everything except an ideal.
Now there's plenty here to disagree with. The Whig View of History for a start, which plays out in the idea that the West doesn't have an ideal to propose—a consequence of believing Whiggishly that the ideals of the past have been surpassed and discredited. But there's plently to reflect on profitably as well, I think on the day that the Palestinian Leader again goes before the U.N. General Assembly.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Potok Compares Himself To...

Chaim Potok describes his relationship to "Catholic" writers in a 1981 interview with S. Lillian Kremer collected in Conversations with Chaim Potok (edited by Daniel Walden)
Potok: ... Interestingly enough, I feel closer to someone like Joyce [than Roth] who really did, in terms of models, precisely what I'm trying to do. Joyce was right at the heart of the Catholic world and at the same time at the heart of western secular humanism. And this confrontation, both as an artist and as a human being in the twentieth century was a core-to-core confrontation. As a human being, he fused his Catholicism with his secularism and produced a Catholic-secular way of writing, if such a thing is possible. His epiphanies, his sacrament of language, the way he structures and sees things are all Catholic, Jesuitical, and he went the secular route through his Catholicism. That didn't happen to me. I stayed inside the Jewish tradition and took the secular into it. He took the Catholic into secularism and I took the secular into Judaism.

Kremer: Do you feel a similar kind of kinship to Flannery O'Connor?

Potok: To O'Connor, and interestingly enough, in no small measure, to Greene, who grapples with the problem of evil in a strange Catholicism. There are models, in this century, for what it is I'm trying to do with my work, but they aren't people like Roth.

Monday, September 19, 2011


WKCR (89.9 FM) at Columbia University has a clever name for their morning classical music program, "Cereal Music"
An eclectic mix of music, spanning the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern periods. Tune in to hear such composers as Bach, Shostakovich, Bartok, Stravinsky, Schubert, Janacek, Carter, Schoenberg, Haydn, Hindemith, Debussy, Part, Boulez, and many others. From time to time, we present entire shows focusing on everything from 19th century lieder to 20th century string quartets, from Bach's cantatas to Scriabin's piano works, from the American art song to modern Russian masters.
They are, of course, punning on "Serialism."

For related sounded offbeat radio programs: KBOO's Celebration of Dada and Surrealism.

Meanwhile, artist Michael Albert creates collages out of cereal boxes. He calls it... wait for it... “cerealism.”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Power of Photographs

Sid Grossman (American, 1913–1955).
Mulberry Street, 1948.Gelatin silver print;
33.7 x 26.5 cm (13 1/4 x 10 7/16 in.). 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift,
through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990 
The night and particularly the electrified night are the topic of a show of photographs closing this weekend at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Night Vision: Photography After Dark."

Sid Grossman's "Mulberry Street" (at right) is part of the show. It depicts the lights and gates of the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy (coincidentally in its first of two weekends today and tomorrow).

There's some really fascinating work in the show, but it's appeal is damaged by the installation.  The room is small and dark with a lowish ceiling and dark blue or black walls.  The effect is claustrophobic, even on what was a relatively uncrowded day at the Met.  But furthermore, this unpleasant presentation strikes me as unnecessary.  Shouldn't part of the point of photographs of the night be that they convey the feeling of the experience when you're not actually in a darkened space?

The relative uncrowded condition of the museum today can be attributed partly to the passing of the seasons from Summer into Fall and partly to the Steuben Parade marching up Fifth Avenue, which made getting to the museum more challenging than usual.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fr. Dougherty's "Marching Song"

I've been looking at some old copies of The Remnant. The February 28, 1995 issue includes Fr. Eugene J. Dougherty's "'Marching Song' for the Traditionalist Movement." It's written for the tune AUSTRIA (MIDI), also known as the tune for the Kaiserhymne and the German national anthem.

It's not the world's greatest rewrite, but it's at least an historical curiosity and perhaps still has some value as a reassurance/examination of conscience for "traditionalists." I've preserved the somewhat idiosyncratic capitalization and punctuation.
"Lord Preserve the Old Tradition

Lord, preserve the Old Tradition: Save the Mass that stills my soul,
Fills my heart with veneration, guards my Faith and makes it whole.
Let the Church not split in schism; Falsehood, heresy prevent.
In they loving arms, enfold us, in the Blessed Sacrament.

Lord, commend me to Thy Mother, trust me to her loving care,
Lest Thy present crucifixion lead me into dark despair.
Send her forth in Apparition, Comforting the penitent.
In they loving arms, enfold us, in the Blessed Sacrament.

Lord, protect the Holy Father, Give him strength to lead his flock.
While the tempest rages o'er us, shelter us upon this Rock.
Make him strong his Church to shepherd, Make our hearts obedient.
In they loving arms, enfold us, in the Blessed Sacrament.

Lord, restore Thy Holy Priesthood; Raise Melchizedek of old.
Offer up the New Oblation, Which his sacrifice foretold,
Changing bread to thine own Boday, Wine to Blood our nourishment.
In they loving arms, enfold us, in the Blessed Sacrament.

Lord, bestow Thy Benediction, Foretaste of Thy Paradise.
Shining forth in Awesome Beauty, Lo the Holy Sacrifice!
Thus restore the Ancient Mystery, Eucharistic Wonderment
In they loving arms, enfold us, in the Blessed Sacrament.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Prayer to Overcome Sin in One's Life

The following prayer is printed in the Summer 2011 issue of Cum Petro, the newsletter of the Confraternity of St. Peter (previously) in honor of the Feast of St. Peter in Chains (Aug. 1):
O God, who didst break the chains of blessed Peter the Apostle, and didst make him come forth unscathed, loose the bonds of Thy servant, N., held in captivity by the vice of (Name it); and by the merits of the same Apostle, do Thou grant me to be delivered from its tyranny. Remove from my heart all excessive love for sensual pleasures and gratifications, so that living soberly, justly and piously, I may attain to everlasting life with Thee. Amen.
Photo of St. Peter's Chains from Flickr user Alex Beattie under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Searching for Socrates

Adam Kirsch writes about Socrates and the Loeb Library in the Barnes and Noble Review:
Pursuing the figure of Socrates through the Loeb Classical Library leads, then, to troubling conclusions. There's no reason to think that Xenophon's dull moralist or Aristophanes's comic foil is closer to the real Socrates than Plato's philosopher -- rather the contrary, since Plato was the closest to Socrates of any of them. But the three portraits are a reminder that we have no direct access to the real Socrates, whoever he was. We have only interpretations and texts, which both reveal and conceal -- just as ancient Athens has exercised such enormous sway on the imagination of the world based solely on the texts and images it left behind. Even so, the Loebs' promise of completeness is spurious -- after all, the Library can only give us what survives from 2,500 years ago, which is a tiny fraction of what the Greeks and Romans wrote. (We have eleven plays by Aristophanes, but we know he wrote forty.) The image of the Loebs on the bookshelf is an emblem of total knowledge, yet the totality is an illusion -- even if it's the kind of illusion that may be more intellectually empowering than truth.
These are clearly the reflections of the literary man Kirsch is. It's not a philosophers way of writing and speaking, but it's interesting nonetheless (and probably for some people, because it's not the philosophical voice!)

For what it isobviously aimed more squarely at selling books than other literary reviewsI'm impressed with the seriousness and quality of the Barnes and Noble Review for what it is, though it's more .

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Zukofsky, Heine, and Greenberg

I'm awaiting an ordered copy of Louis Zukofsky's poem A. In the meantime, I was reading his Wikipedia page. There, I spotted mention of how
"The final lines of [another poem] Autobiography express Zukofsky's fear of permanent alienation from his upbringing and tradition as a bitter triumph of successful assimilation: 'Keine Kadish wird man sagen'. The lines are a variation on lines from Heinrich Heine’s poem Gedächtnisfeier [Memorial]: 'Keine Messe wird man singen, / Keinen Kadosch wird man sagen, / Nichts gesagt und nichts gesungen / Wird an meinen Sterbetagen'. ('No Mass will anyone sing / Neither Kaddish will anyone say, / Nothing will be said and nothing sung / On my dying days')"
That Heine poem is quite interesting. Looking around for a translation, I found that Martin Greenberg's had been published in the New Criterion in 1993. Here is an excerpt:

Keine Messe wird man singen,
Keinen Kadosch wird man sagen,
Nichts gesagt und nichts gesungen
Wird an meinen Sterbetagen.

Doch vielleicht an solchem Tage,
Wenn das Wetter schön und milde,
Geht spazieren auf Montmartre
Mit Paulinen Frau Mathilde.

Mit dem Kranz von Immortellen
Kommt sie mir das Grab zu schmücken,
Und sie seufzet: Pauvre homme!
Feuchte Wehmut in den Blicken.
No mass will be sung for me,
No Kaddish recited either,
Nothing said and nothing sung
When I depart forever

But maybe on a morning when
The spring has brought fine weather,
Frau Mathilde with Pauline
Will walk out in Montmartre.

With a bunch of immortelles clutched in
Her plump hand, she will come
And lay it on my grave and say,
Tears in her eyes, “Pauvre homme!”

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"It was two days before the Nativity of the Mother of God..."

"It was two days before the Nativity of the Mother of God, and they were reciting the litany of the day. It was an inexhaustibly eloquent outpouring of praise for the Virgin, and Yakonov felt for the first time the overwhelming poetic power of such prayers. The canon had been written not by a soulless dogmatist but by some great poet immured in a monastery, and he had been moved not by a furious excess of male hunger for a female body but by the pure rapture that a woman can awake in us."
Solzhenitsyn, In the First Circle, p. 169

Sunday, July 24, 2011

War Bonds and the Debt Ceiling

At the Metropolitan Museum this afternoon, looking at this and that.

In passing in the hallway, we saw war bond posters that are part of the excitingly titled exhibition, "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection". The selection on show is described this way on the Met's web site: "Also on view will be a group of World War I posters that focus on the ever-changing image of the Statue of Liberty..."

What struck me, however, in the midst of the debate over raising the federal debt ceiling was the difference in tone from our current debate. America had a great goal it was seeking to achieve--winning the World War. It raised the money the politicians felt they needed not only by raising tax revenue--though they certainly did that too--but by persuading Americans that America was a good bet and getting them to pony up their own cash voluntarily as a loan to the government.

This post would be better with photos.  Another reason my next phone will be fancier!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why I Stay Out of Bookstores (or should)

Mutatis mutandis, though not quite so dire:
Even though we get a lot of people into the shop, only a small percentage of them buy anything. The best customers are the ones who just have to buy a record on a Saturday, even if there's nothing they really want; unless they go home clutching a flat, square carrier bag, they feel uncomfortable. You can spot the vinyl addicts because after a while they get fed up with the rack they are flicking through, march over to a completely different section of the shop, pull a sleeve out from the middle somewhere, and come over to the counter, this is because they have been making a list of possible purchases in their head ("If I don't find anything in the next five minutes, that blues compilation I saw half an hour ago will have to do"), and suddenly sicken themselves with the amount of time they have wasted looking for something they don't really want. I know that feeling well (these are my people, and I understand them better than I understand anybody in the world): it is a prickly, clammy, panicky sensation, and you go out of the shop reeling. You walk much more quickly afterward, trying to recapture the part of the day that has escaped, and quite often you have the urge to read the international section of a newspaper, or go to see a Peter Greenaway film, to consume something solid and meaty which will lie on top of the cotton-candy worthlessness clogging up your head.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Friday, July 15, 2011

Traditional Catholics: Just Like Spies

A quote from the former head of MI5 reported in The Telegraph sounds just like some folks I know:
One Dartington audience member asked Dame Stella for her opinion of security services in other countries. She replied: “The Italians were all ex-admirals and terribly courteous - lots of hand-kissing and bowing. The French were extremely good and seemed able to do anything. We worried about laws, they seemed able to do exactly what they liked so we rather envied them.”
I think we can conclude that traditional Catholics are just like spooks in these respects.

via Jay Nordlinger

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Shrimp and Watermelon

Shrimp and watermelon was a combination new to me. It was one of the fun flavor combination dishes that we ate last night at Queen's (relatively) new Salt and Fat restaurant.   Another was pork buns with apricot mustard.  The buns themselves, meh, but the apricot mustard idea (with or without pork) I can really get behind.

But to return to shrimp and watermelon, today I get this in my e-mail from Havana Central:

a promotion for a "Watermelon Fiesta" featuring shrimp and watermelon.  Is this some new trend?  Nope, it goes back a ways.  Here's a related recipe on Google Books from 1998.  So not as creative as I thought, though still darn tasty.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Pot of Gold at the End of the Ethernet Cable

Back in the days of MUDs and MUSHs there was a story going around about a guy—addicted to cocaine—who got so addicted to MUDding that when his "friends" laid out a line of cocaine next to his keyboard he couldn't stop playing long enough to sniff it.

But a couple of weeks ago, I read in the New York Observer the most outrageous internet overuse story since those days.

Here it is:
One college student sustained permanent minor brain damage due to heatstroke after he dozed off in his room next to four computers furiously mining Bitcoins. “I wish I was joking,” he said in a forum post that was reposted on the website

Bitcoins are a virtual currency, created (or "discovered") by solving a mathematical problem with a computer.  People can use their home computer setups (very powerful home computer setups) to create new coins and that's what caused the accident in this case.  A later post on provides more details.

The gold standard is the most exhausting topic in politics, but discussion of Bitcoins has the potential to combine all that economic wonkery with hard core computer nerd-dom.  Bitcoins may take over the world, but only if everyone doesn't fall asleep first.

Friday, July 08, 2011

You Can Buy Lots of Hats for 2,000 Sestertii

Caesar militibus pro tanto labore ac patientia, qui brumalibus diebus itineribus difficillimis, frigoribus intolerandis studiosissime permanserant in labore, ducenos sestertios, centurionibus tot milia nummum praedae nomine condonanda pollicetur legionibusque in hiberna remissis ipse se recipit die XXXX Bibracte.
C. Iuli Caesaris
Commentariorum De Bello Gallico
Liber Octavus ab A. Hirtio scriptus
Caesar might have saved himself a bit of money if he'd outfitted his troops in warm and stylish knit hats like this from Etsy:

Thursday, July 07, 2011

New Independent High School to Open in Norwalk

The Society of St. Hugh of Cluny posted this news a few months ago: New Independent High School to Open in Norwalk:

A new independent Catholic high school, Cardinal Newman Academy, will open this fall in Norwalk, CT. The school will be closely connected with the highly successful independent Catholic elementary school, Anchor Academy. The photo above is a scene from an Anchor Academy classroom. The idea for the school arose from the desire among parents to provide a high school program for the graduates of Anchor Academy and to any students who are interested in receiving a solid Catholic, academic education. This fall the school will have a 9th grade, with plans to add a new grade each year until the school is complete. Anyone who is interested can direct inquiries to Kristjana Underhill, 203-536-3800 or
This is really great news. Catholic schools with authentic Catholic distinctives are our chief weapon (o.k., amongst our weaponry) for building Catholic culture and Christian society.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Noli Me Tangere

Many months later, I've finally finished reading José Rizal's, Noli Me Tangere.  I don't recommend it.  Aside from the setting, it feels derivative of writers like Dumas and Hugo.

It's place in the literary canon, enshrined in the Penguin Classics, is similar, it seems to me, to that of Uncle Tom's Cabin.  They are books that are politically important, but not only secondarily artistically interesting, if at all.

Harold Augenbraum's introduction in this edition is interesting and useful, but the notes are idiosyncratic, one example suffices. Rizal's biblical quotations from the title on are offered in Latin. Augenbraum has used the King James Version to provide translations rather than the Douay or another Latin-based edition.

I wrote a previous post about anti-clericalism in the novel, which can be found here.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Debt Ceiling, Fail-Safe, and Fire Ants

Jonathan Alter has a nice piece at Bloomberg on the debt ceiling.

Alter gets some bonus points for his discussion of the wonky Fail-Safe, though not as many as if he'd mentioned the 1962 novel and not just the 1964 film. I've read the novel several times since discovering it in our middle school library. I like it a lot. The movie, which I saw at Film Forum a few years ago is not as good as the novel, but the novel sets a high bar (for the sort of thing it is anyways).  The plot and conclusion (no spoilers!) are still profoundly upsetting in the film version, but the back-story is not explained as effectively. IMDB points out that the movie will air next Saturday, July 9, on TCM at 8 P.M. It's also coming to Lincoln Center's Walter Reade theater as part of a retrospective on director Sidney Lumet later this month, where there will be a Q&A with screenwriter Walter Bernstein.

(The live television adaption in 2000 was technically interesting and impressive, but ultimately not as good as either the novel or the movie. The sometimes odd casting choices did it no favors.)

But returning to the article, the part about Grover Norquist is fun:
Norquist Looms

Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader recently described by Alan Simpson as “the most powerful man in America, including the president,” has convinced the majority of House members to sign his pledge to oppose all tax increases. He’ll fight even these fail-safe triggers, just as he fought them under the first President Bush.
But even being the dark prince of the GOP doesn't prevent Stephen Colbert from stealing the show right from under you, though Norquist has a pretty good comeback:
(When Stephen Colbert asked Norquist this week whether he would support a tax increase if it would save grandmothers from being bitten to death by angry fire ants, he said: “I think we console ourselves with the fact that we have pictures and memories.”)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Liturgical Objects in Museums: Analogous to Musical Instruments?

The Metropolitan Museum has published its program of Concerts and Lectures for the 2011-2012 season.  One in particular caught my eye, because it seems linked to a topic discussed here a couple of days ago: the place in museums of religious ritual objects and how it isolates them from their proper context.

In October, the Met will offer a lecture "On Imprisoning Violins" presented by Jayson Kerr Dobney an Associate Curator and Administrator of the Met's Department of Musical Instruments and Sean Avram Carpenter, described as co-founder of the Salome Chamber Orchestra. The lecture is described in the program:
In 1920 Dwight Partello died, leaving his important collection of violins to the Smithsonian Institution and sparking a national controversy about whether fine instruments should be kept in museums or used by performers. The Partello collection did not go to the Smithsonian, but, soon after, two Stradivari violins did enter the Met. This lecture examines the context of violin collecting and the ongoing tension between preservation and performance.
These are certainly at least partly analogous issues. Instruments are used to enact music in much the way liturgical objects are used to enact liturgy.

An article from a musical instrument forum describes some of the views aired in the dispute from the 1920s
As executors of his estate, Partello had named George W. White, President of the National Metropolitan Bank, and his “life long family friend,” Flora B. Thompson, with whom Partello had been very close in his last years. Partello’s daughters didn’t trust Thompson and charged that she had unduly influenced Dwight to leave his valuables to the Smithsonian instead of to his children. Carita was still in Germany, so it was left to Adeline and her husband, Arthur Abell, to contest the will.

Since her father’s testament seemed to be in order, Adeline and her husband decided that their best chance of recovering Partello’s violin collection was to convince the Smithsonian to denounce the gift as not in the public good. To this end, they rallied the musical community to their defense. Arthur Abell, who had been a music critic for more than 20 years and was therefore acquainted with all the great international musicians, was particularly effective in this part of the strategy. Word was spread through the music grapevine that Partello’s collection of 25 important instruments were about to be lost to musicians forever and that the best chance of preventing this calamity was to write letters in opposition.

The letters began to stream in. On October 27th, Fritz Kreisler wrote that “In my opinion it is wrong to place fine instruments of old masters in museums.” Not only does it deprive musicians of their use, argued Kreisler, but instruments stored in museums often seem to deteriorate. Like many other letter-writers to follow, he highlighted Paganini’s violin at the Museum of Genoa, “which in spite of great care became worm-eaten and utterly useless. . .”

Others who wrote included such luminaries as Leopold Auer, Eugene Ysaye, Walter Trammell, Jacques Thibaud, Franz Kneisel, Kubelik and Leopold Stokowski. The great conductor Arturo Toscanini wrote a letter in Italian, which (translated) included this memorable analogy: “To put rare violins in a museum and thus deprive them of their tone is like condemning valuable paintings to a cellar and depriving them of a light.” Along the same lines, Auer wrote that “it would be equivalent to shutting up a Caruso, or a Schumann-Heink in a glass case where they could be looked at but no longer heard.” Kubelik wrote that “there is a crying need of such master violins among artists of our day.”


The controversy was played out in public following an editorial by the NY Times columnist Richard Aldrich on Feb. 27, 1921, in which he stated that “the collection of fine violins is an injurious pastime” and that “the assemblage of fine violins for any other purpose than having them used for the purpose for which they were intended is an injury to the whole musical world.” Without mentioning Partello by name, Aldrich made it clear that he was deeply offended by the idea of leaving the instruments to the National Museum.
You can read Aldrich's full column on the New York Times web site.

Thanks also to Eve Tushnet, who linked to my previous post on this topic. Her reflection "Mary, in the Glass Coffin of the Museum" is definitely worth reading.

Photograph by Wikipedia user "Husky" of a Stradivarius violin. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


In my last blog mention of Freemasonry in May 2010, I wrote
When Baronius brought out a book on Freemasonry a while back, we joked that you're not really a traditionalist publishing house until you have a book on your list about the evils of Freemasonry. This despite Masonic plots not being high on the list of things most people, even traditionalists, worry about these days.
Now a Catholic prelate is talking about Freemasonry again. This time because of the anglican ordinariates. In an address at an "Ordinariate Information Day", Bishop Peter Elliott, Auxiliary of Melbourne mentioned two specific obstacles that might keep Anglicans out of an Australian ordinariate. He said, "Again I need to raise a delicate but unavoidable issue. I urge Ordinariate-bound Anglicans who have remarried after divorce to take your situation to a diocesan marriage tribunal so that your reconciliation in the Ordinariate will in no way be impeded next year." This problem has been widely discussed. But the followup paragraph was a bit of a surprise
Another question is membership of a Masonic lodge. In spite of what you might hear from time to time, Catholics are not permitted to be Freemasons. Men seeking to enter the Ordinariate will need to resign from the lodge. This raises the spiritual challenge, whether commitment to Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour and membership of his Church takes priority in your life.
Don't be mislead, the Catholic Church hadn't ever relaxed its stance on Masonry (as Cardinal Ratzinger reiterated in 1983), but it's not something you've heard prelates talking about since at least Bishop Bruskewitz's excommunication of Freemasons (along with SSPX members, Call to Action members, and Planned Parenthood supporters among other groups) in 1996 (confirmed in 2006).

There's actually been a blowup over freemasonry in the Church of England as a result of the ordinariates.

It turns out that the man appointed as the new Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet  (the previous holder of the office, the now Msgr. Andrew Burnham, resigned to become a Roman Catholic), the Rev. Jonathan Baker, was a Freemason and indeed a national chaplain for the organization in England. It didn't stop his appointment, though the Archbishop of Canterbury apparently asked him to consider resigning his membership, which the Bishop-elect has now done.

Back in 2003, Rowan Williams apologized to Freemasons after making harshly critical comments about "The Craft".

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Catechism In France

In its latest issue, First Things carries a review (subscription only for now at least) by Eleanor Everett Pettus of a new book by Brigham Young University professor Karen Carter, Creating Catholics: Catechism and Primary Education in Early Modern France. Pettus writes
Before the seventeenth century, few rural French laymen knew basic prayers, let alone many tenets of the Christian faith, but by 1800 almost every child in France had access to some form of religious education. Boys as well as girls were expected to recite the entire catechism as a condition for first communion—and the could. ... By 1800, though ... Bishops took personal responsibility for educating the young laity, selecting a catechism and distributing it in increasing numbers. During the bishops' visitations, the curés were required to produce children who could recite that catechism perfectly.
This history lesson was particularly interesting to me, because I have just started reading John S. Kennedy's Light on the Mountain: The Story of LaSalette.

La Salette was a Marian apparition that took place in France in the 19th century. Here's an excerpt from the account from the Catholic Encyclopedia
On 19 September, 1846, about three o'clock in the afternoon in full sunlight, on a mountain about 5918 feet high and about three miles distant from the village of La Salette-Fallavaux, it is related that two children, a shepherdess of fifteen named Mélanie Calvat, called Mathieu, and a shepherd-boy of eleven named Maximin Giraud, both of them very ignorant, beheld in a resplendent light a "beautiful lady" clad in a strange costume. Speaking alternately in French and in patois, she charged them with a message which they were "to deliver to all her people". After complaining of the impiety of Christians, and threatening them with dreadful chastisements in case they should persevere in evil, she promised them the Divine mercy if they would amend.
The story of the rise of religious education in France is useful background for understanding Kennedy's emphasis on the seers' religious backgrounds.
What prayers did Melanie, who had had not a day's schooling, know? The "Our Father" and the "Hail Mary" in patois, for she ahd just scraps of French. These prayers her mother had taught her, that perpetually worried woman who distractedly wondered what would ever become of her scrawny little ones. A few bits of the catechism, too, Mme. Mathieu had drilled into her daughter at long intervals. But they were no more than odd bits, which Melanie could repeat only laboriously and understood hardly at all. She had been to church but a few times in her life. Wasn't there the begging to be done, or the duty demanded by closefisted employers who considered Sunday simply another day of work? Fourteen years old, almost fifteen and she had not yet made her first Communion. How could she have? That had to be prepared for, at length in catechism classes conducted by the curé of Corps, M. Mélin, and he had not so much as set eyes on this professional herder, generally so far from home.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Objects of Art and Ritual Objects

Sandro Magister's recent column "Only Beauty Will Save Us" excerpts from art historian and "immortel" Jean Clair's speech to the "Court of the Gentiles" in Paris in March.

He writes
How many of the works in the state museums concern Catholic iconography? 60 percent? 70 percent? From the crucifixions to the depositions in the tomb, from the circumcisions to the martyrs, from the nativities to the Saint Francis of Assisis . . . Unlike the Orthodox who kneel and pray before icons, even when they are still found in museums, it is rare, in the grand gallery of the Louvre, to see a believer stop and pray in front of a Christ on the cross or in front of a Madonna. Should we regret this? Sometimes I think so. Should the Church ask for the restitution of its assets? I tend to think this also. But the Church no longer has any power, unlike the Vanuatu or the Haida Indians of British Colombia, who have obtained the restitution of the instruments of their faith, masks and totems . . . Should the Church be ashamed of having been at the origin of the most prodigious visual treasures that have ever existed? Being unable to have them back, could it not at least become aware of the duty not to leave them without explanation in front of millions of museum visitors?
I think about this every time I go to the Met. Could not, for some objects at least, some accommodation be made. Could relics be venerated liturgically? Could chalices be used, say, once every ten years without seriously endangering them. Could we sing a Missa Cantata (because they probably wouldn't let us use incense and thus a Solemn Mass is out) on a portable altar in the Fuentiduena Chapel at the Cloisters. Etc.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Boys of Pointe du Hoc

Monday was the 67th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy, "D-Day". National Review Online reminded us that it is also, therefore, the 27th anniversary of the speech Ronald Reagan gave on the 40th anniversary of the landings, "The Boys of Pointe du Hoc".

What struck me in reading the text of the speech (which you can also watch below), was the strong religious language in it
What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought -- or felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.

Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: ``I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''

These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.


Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: ``I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''

Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.
Can you imagine President Obama giving that speech? Or even President Bush? How about presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty?

The question always arises though, was this sincere religious belief—civil and personal religion, if not institutional religion— or was this acting?

I remember Ronald Reagan as president, but just barely. Being born in 1981, my earliest strongly political memories are of the 1988 presidential election. But working after college as a research assistant on a biography of Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, I got to know the man, to the extent one can from reading books, as I got to read all the major biographies, many of the memoirs written by administration figures, and some other books like the excellent and important Reagan in His Own Hand. My verdict from that study was that this is not just great speechwriting (by Peggy Noonan), but that these religious sentiments were parts of Reagan's true self.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jimmy Fallon On Why He Doesn't Go to Church

Comedian and former altar boy Jimmy Fallon talks with Terry Gross (story) (transcript) about why he doesn't go to Church anymore:
GROSS: Do you still go to church?

Mr. FALLON: I don't go to - I tried to go back. When I was out in L.A. and I was like kind of struggling for a bit I went to church for a while, but it's kind of, it's gotten gigantic now for me. It's like too, there's a band. There's a band there now and you got to, you have to hold hands with people through the whole mass now, and I don't like doing that. You know, I mean it used to be the shaking hands piece was the only time you touched each other.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FALLON: Now I'm holding now I'm lifting people. Like Simba.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: I'm holding them (Singing) ha nah hey nah ho.

(Speaking) I'm I'm doing too much. I don't want - there's Frisbees being thrown, there's beach balls going around, people waving lighters, and I go this is too much for me. I want the old way. I want to hang out with the, you know, with the nuns, you know, that was my favorite type of mass, and the Grotto and just like straight up, just mass-mass.
Sure, some of this is comic bluster, but it's not all shtick.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"The Best Guitar Mass"

This past Sunday, we had a Solemn Mass and Benediction (with a Te Deum) in the afternoon at Holy Innocents (no Vespers this week) in thanksgiving for Fr. James Miara's 10th anniversary of ordination.  

The choir sang Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli for the ordinary and the schola (including your faithful correspondent) the Gregorian propers.  At the offertory, the choir sang Gregor Aichinger's Regina Cœli with accompaniment on lute and baroque guitar, causing a friend to quip, "That's the best guitar Mass I've ever attended." I'd embed a performance of the piece from YouTube, but I don't like any of them.

Picture above via Teddy Barboza. I'll link to more photos if they become available.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

This Beats the Submerged Gong

The New York Times reported last Sunday on a production of "Sonntag", the final opera in Karlheinz Stockhausen's seven opera "Licht" cycle.

The article notes that
Despite several attempts no company has found a way to pull off “Mittwoch” (“Wednesday”), partly because it incorporates Stockhausen’s infamous “Helicopter String Quartet,” in which each member of the ensemble flies in a separate helicopter, but also because the music is so fiendishly difficult.
However, while the opera that contains it has not been mounted, the string quartet itself has been. A 1995 article from the Times describes a performance of the work:
As part of this summer's Holland Festival, the composer staged the premiere of the Helicopter Quartet, written for four string instruments and, no less, four helicopters.

The work took off from a field on the outskirts of Amsterdam, at the Westergasfabriek, a former gasworks that has become a theater. Here, in the gentle evening light last month, Mr. Stockhausen said goodbye to the members of the Arditti String Quartet as each went off to his own helicopter and pilot.

Somewhat bemused, the audience stayed behind in the theater, with Mr Stockhausen in their midst, directing the event. At a large control table, he mixed the video images and the haunting tremolos that were sent down from the heavens and projected into the theater. Other sets of microphones picked up the whir of the motorblades, also delivering them to the composer's mixing desk. The audience could follow the event through banks of loudspeakers and television monitors that carried images from cameras aboard the aircraft.
The concert's four helicopter pilots belong to a stunt team of the Dutch Air Force known as the Grasshoppers, but the composer declared them to be musicians because the sounds of their engines were an intrinsic part of the highly detailed score. The pilots "played," so to speak, as their aircraft changed speed or turned, maneuvers that to the keen ear yielded different timbres from the rotorblades. It had taken several days of testing to know which microphone position on the rotor would yield the most desirable rendering.
Here's some video from another performance:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The American Colonel Who Spared Chartres

Chartres Cathedral is (as you all know) one of the world's greatest architectural and spiritual monuments. It survived a plot to blow it up during the French Revolution. Less well known, is that it came close to being badly damaged by shelling during the Second World War. Worried that its tower was being used to direct attacks against the allied forces, an artillery attack was planned. Colonel Welborn Griffith volunteered to go enter the city and determine whether the Cathedral was occupied by Axis forces. It wasn't and the Cathedral was spared further damage, unlike the ancient Abbey of Monte Cassino, which was leveled in the fighting in Italy.

Shortly after his reconnaissance, Col. Griffith was killed in action. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Colonel Welborn Barton Griffith, Jr. (ASN: 0-16194), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Operations Officer (G-3) with Headquarters, XX Corps, in action against enemy forces on 16 August 1944 at Chartres and Leves, France. On 16 August 1944, Colonel Griffith entered the city of Chartres, France, in order to check the actual locations and dispositions of units of the *** Armored Division which was occupying the city. Upon observing fire being directed at the cathedral in the center of the city, with utter disregard for his own safety, Colonel Griffith, accompanied by an enlisted man, searched the cathedral and finding that there were no enemy troops within, signaled for cessation of fire. Continuing his inspection of outlying positions north of the city, he suddenly encountered about fifteen of the enemy. He fired several shots at them, then proceeded to the nearest outpost of our forces at which point a tank was located. Arming himself with an M-1 rifle and again with complete disregard for his own safety, Colonel Griffith climbed upon the tank directing it to the enemy forces he had located. During the advance of the tank he was exposed to intense enemy machinegun, rifle, and rocket-launcher fire and it was during this action, in the vicinity of Leves, France, that he was killed.

General Orders: Headquarters, Third U.S. Army, General Orders No. 75 (1944)

Action Date: 16-Aug-44

Service: Army

Rank: Colonel

Company: Headquarters

Division: XX Corps
via Jay Nordlinger's post to The Corner. Citation via Military Times.

Monday, May 09, 2011

An Extreme Test

I came across a waiver for participation in a sporting event that starts with this language:
I acknowledge that this sport is an extreme test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries with it the potential for death, serious injury and property loss.
What sport you ask? Ski jumping? Paragliding? NASCAR? Nope, it's Pétanque.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Sandburg the Surrealist (and other attributes...)

Last Sunday, I picked up a copy of the Carl Sandburg anthology, Harvest Poems: 1910-1960 from one of the booksellers who have tables on the west side of Broadway in the 70's.

Though others of his poems, particularly "Grass"—and his biography of Lincoln—are well know Sandburg is perhaps best remembered by the wider public for his widely anthologized poem "Fog":
THE fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
That's not entirely typical of the poetry in this anthology though, much of which is closely observed and focused on industrial, not natural, topics.  For instance in "Psalm of Those Who Go Forth Before Daylight"
The rolling-mill men and the sheet-steel men are brothers of
cinders; they empty cinders out of their shoes after the
days work; they ask their wives to fix burnt holes in the
knees of their trousers; their necks and ears are covered
wit a smut; they scour their necks and ears; they are
brothers of cinders.
[Sadly I don't have the html skillz to reproduce the formatting. Each line after the first is indented.]

The tone of some of these poems compares in a way to Peter Maurin's Easy Essays, but without the direct didacticism.  I think this is partly a result of their shared fondness for the word "they".  For instance in Maurin's "Selling Their Labor"
When the workers
sell their labor
to the capitalists
or accumulators of labor
they allow the capitalists
or accumulators of labor
to accumulate their labor.
And when the capitalists
or accumulators of labor
have accumulated so much
of the workers’ labor
that they do no longer
find it profitable
to buy the workers’ labor
then the workers
can no longer sell their labor
to the capitalists
or accumulators of labor.
And when the workers
can no longer
sell their labor
to the capitalists
or accumulators of labor
they can no longer buy
the products of their labor.
And that is what the workers get
for selling their labor.
I found an amusing irony in "Number Man". Sandburg dedicates this poem "for the ghost of Johann Sebastian Bach".
He was born to wonder about numbers.

He balanced fives against tens
and made them sleep together
and love each other.
He mananged eights and nines,
gave them prophet beards,
marched them into mists and mountains.

He added all the numbers he knew,
multiplied them by new-found numbers
and called it a prayer of Numbers.
He knew love numbers, luck numbers,
how the sea and the stars
are made and held by numbers
The irony is that Bach's music is highly numerical and Sandburg, despite paying tribute to this quality in Bach, writes free verse that aggressively spurns meter, the analogical quality in poetry.

So finally the surrealism, which prompted this post in the first place, it's a bit from "Arithmetic". After reading a whole bunch of poems like "Psalm of Those Who Go Forth Before Daylight" (quoted above), I was not expecting something like this:
If you have two animal crackers, one good and one bad, and you eat one and a striped
zebra with streaks all over him eats the other, how many animal crackers will you
have if somebody offers you five six seven and you say No no no and you say Nay
nay nay and you say Nix nix nix?
Wrapping up, a couple words on this edition. It features an adequate preface by Mark Van Doren (who was an important influence on Thomas Merton and who is perhaps today not as much remembered as his son Charles Van Doren) focusing on Sandburg's humor and a valuable excerpt from Sandburg's own "Notes for a Preface" from his Complete Poems.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Trees and the Abbey

On their blog, the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer have an interesting angle on the trees used to decorate Westminster Abbey for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge:
It is related of the confessor Dom John Baptist de Feckenham, the last Abbot of Westminster, that he was engaged in planting Elm trees when he was handed the message which, by an act of Parliament, dissolved his monastery and exiled the monks.

The bearer remarked, with a significant smile, that he had planted those trees in vain; for neither he nor his monks would enjoy them.

“Not in vain,” answered the saintly Abbot. “Those who come after me may, perhaps, be scholars and lovers of retirement; and whilst walking under the shade of these trees they may sometimes think of the olden religion of England and the last Abbot of this place.” And he went on with his planting.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

May Day!

A Friend's Photo

This year we hit the flowering tree sweet spot for Easter.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gordon Ramsey Complains About Chauvinism

In this clip from Kitchen Nightmares:

Irony! This was presumably filmed before sexual harassment complaints led to a staff walkout at Gordon Ramsey at the London.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Universalism: Ascendancy or Eclipse?

The New York Times Book Review printed an essay this Sunday by Lauren F. Winner on the controversy surrounding Rob Bell's book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Bell's been accused of universalism by his critics. I haven't read his book and don't want to comment particularly on that, but on the general issue of universalism in America and its history.

Winner places Bell's work in the context of the American tradition of books about heaven, including an 1869 novel by Massachusetts writer Elizabeth Stuart Phelps "offering a comforting view of the afterlife to women who had lost loved ones in the Civil War" as a bio from the Camelot Project puts it. Winner also cites Mitch Albom’s “Five People You Meet in Heaven,” and books by Don Piper and Todd Burpo.

Winner writes this about the history of universalism:
For all the controversy, this book’s argument has been building for a long time. During the 18th and 19th centuries, many evangelicals rejected universalism, even as it began to gain traction among liberal Protestants. Yet for the last half-century, universalism has been subtly reshaping North American evangelicalism, to the alarm of many evangelical leaders. As early as 1965, the theologian J. I. Packer warned that many evangelicals had “slipped into the practice of living and behaving as if universalism were true,” even though those same functional universalists would never declare a doctrinal commitment to universal salvation. Two decades later, the sociologist James Davison Hunter detected a creeping liberalism in evangelical thought. “There is a pervasive uneasiness both about the nature of hell and about who is relegated to it,” he wrote. “It is an uneasiness which may portend a greater cultural accommodation.” “Love Wins” can be read as a fulfillment of Hunter’s observation.
Reading that previously "evangelicals rejected universalism, even as it began to gain traction among liberal Protestants," and that "for the last half-century, universalism has been subtly reshaping North American evangelicalism," you might think there's been an upward trajectory for universalism, but only because there's a missing part of the story.

Universalist belief was a particular denominational affiliationand an important onein 19th century America, like being a Methodist or a Baptist.  There's a collection of historical universalist denominational documents here.  But universalism is no longer the independent force in organized religion it was in the 19th century.  The denominational body that universalists organized long ago merged into the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and ceased to be either Christian or universalist in theology. Part of what that means is that some of the evangelical warnings were correct. When you endorse universalism, moving away from the doctrine of historical orthodoxy and the Bible, you predictably start sliding away from Christianity in general.

P.S. One could read the essay and think Rob Bell started getting blow-back for his beliefs when the promotion for his book began, but that started years ago.  In fact, I'd be unsurprised if controversy over his views is part of what made his book attractive to his publishers at HarperOne in the first place.

P.P.S. This essay was much more of an essay than the one they printed a few weeks back on Green's Dictionary of Slang, which was really more of a review. The essay is important and we need our publications to preserve the places available for it.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Touch Me Not

This post goes in a number of different—though related—directions. It's somewhat rough, but... well here you go:

Dicit ei Iesus: Noli me tangere, nondum enim ascendi ad Patrem meum: vade autem ad fratres meos, et dic eis: Ascendo ad Patrem meum, et Patrem vestrum, Deum meum, et Deum vestrum.Jesus saith to her: Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God. (John 20:17)

I've been reading José Rizal's novel Noli Me Tangere, an indictment of colonial (and clerical) rule in the Phillipines.   (There was a hiatus due to losing it on the train and having to repurchase it.)  Described, reasonably, by Penguin's editorial material as an anticlerical novel, I'm struck by the irony of an anticlerical novel that takes its title from the Gospel of John.

Once you've allowed clericalism to define the terms of the debate, even to be anti-clerical is to participate in the religion based culture on which anti-clericalism is parasitic.  In a truly secular society, anti-clericalism is nonsensical.

I'm also reading Patrick W. Carey's fascinating biography, Orestes A. Brownson: American Religious Weathervane. In Carey's discussion of Brownson's reading of French writers, particularly the Saint-Simonians.
With the exception of [Henri-Benjamin] Constant [de Rebecque], who perceived religion primarily as religious sentiment (a view that was vigorously criticized by the Saint-Simonians), most of the other French writers understood religion or Christianity in its historical and social dimensions, and they all, even Constant, understood the significant role religious institutions had played in history and would continue to play in the post-Revolutionary world of early nineteenth-century France. These writers had what André Siegfried called "the ineradicably catholic habit of the French mind." Even when the French writers were anti-clerical or anti-Catholic, they were catholic in outlook because they could not separate religion from politics, history, or society.
Even when they're anti-clerical, the clerical/non-clerical distinction pervades their thinking.  This is in some ways similar to Émile Durkheim's sacred/profane distinction.  The sacred is that which is set apart or forbidden (as clerics are).  In Durkheim's model of how religion works, making this distinction is the fundamental characteristic of religion.  But the sacred (in Durkheim's understanding) is not necessarily good, it can also be evil.  Interestingly then, an anti-clerical view shares the same sacred/profane split as a clerical view, but reverses the polarity of how it views whether the sacred things in question (clerics) are good or evil.  Of course, since Durkheim is French, his views about religion may be a result of being immersed in the clerical/anti-clerical world-view.

I came across something similar in Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Parts of that novel are intense indictments of trends in philosophy (e.g. phenomenology).  One of the main characters presents herself as being anti-philosophical.  But, just as the anti-clerical view is parasitic on the clerical view, when you attack philosophy in the way the book does, you accidentally find yourself doing philosophy as you try to explain why this or that philosophy is nonsensical.

At left: a detail of the painting "Noli Me Tangere" by Hans Holbein the Younger, which appears to feature Karate Jesus.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

"New York's Most Obnoxious Prophets"

"Black Israelites" preaching in my neighborhood in Queens.
The Village Voice has an article about Black Israelites in their most recent issue.  It's not a great article, full of quirky detail in the alt-weekly way and light on theology, but the writer got good access to one of the Black Israelite groups.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Hero of Our Time?

I've recently finished reading Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time in the lovely Hesperus Press edition.  The book is a nice size, with easy-to-read type and a durable paperback format, with a fold-over outer cover.

I can't judge the fidelity to the Russian of the translation by Hugh Aplin, but it reads well in English. In an interview with Ready, Steady, Book, Aplin calls A Hero of Our Time, "right up there at the top of my list of favourites," and it shows.

Lermontov seems to me to be somewhat the anti-Jane Austen.  His hero (better anti-hero) is male, rather than female; Russian, rather than English; and so despicable that the respectable reader roots against him, rather than for him. But the social settings and the concerns and preoccupations of the characters are mutatis mutandis quite similar: the capital and the provinces, imperial adventures, military officers, affairs of the heart, engagements, marriage prospects, and the gambling tables.  The spa city of Pyatigorsk strongly recalls Bath, the setting for Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

For more about Jane Austen and Bath, click on this handy reference card:

One question that presents itself: is Lermontov's anti-hero, Pechorin--ironically labeled by the title "A Hero of Our Time" also--and still ironically--a hero of our own time?  His obsessions—sex, wealth, social status—are certainly not that different from the obsessions of our time.  Neither are the conditions of his society—social stratification, endless military conflict, youth in search of excitement.

But if he's a "hero" of Lermontov's time and of our own time, is he perhaps a "hero" for all times?  Should we suppose that any time is all that different from any other?  After all, "Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us." (Ecclesiastes 1:10)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Slavonic, Slavonic, more Slavonic

Saturday, I ended up, by mistake, at St. Nicholas Cathedral on 97th street. By mistake, because I was aiming for the other Russian Orthodox Cathedral, the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign, where I wanted to hear the choir again.  I'd heard them a little over a year ago when the relic of the head of St. John Chrysostom visited from Moscow.

The head of St. John Chrysostom (more photos)
But mixed up the names of the two cathedrals and ended up at the wrong one. I stayed for the Vigil anyways.  Their choir isn't as good as I remember the one at the Synodal Cathedral being, but the Church is one of the most beautiful in Manhattan.

Photo part of a set of the Cathedral by Flickr user Chad Husby
The photo doesn't really do it justice, though part of that is that I visited at dusk.  In the dark Church, the Bishop had the sparkliest miter   This was two hours of solid Church Slavonic, of which I know about 5 words.  Fortunately, the words I know, like "Gospodi, pomiluj" (Lord, have mercy), are repeated often.  People think Latin is a challenge!  I suppose it'd be easier if I had a foundation in Russian.