Sunday, December 30

I love birth stories. So maybe this is the show for me:

The new special World Birth Day is the purest of drama, drawing on the real-life miracle of life.

The two-hour special, premiering at 9 p.m. Tuesday on TLC, took one calendar day -- July 5, 2001 -- and tracked 11 different families as they welcomed a new child into the world.

Those families were in nine countries -- the United States, Ethiopia, Germany, India, China, Egypt, Mexico, Brazil and England -- and from varying economic backgrounds. That lets the show examine cultural, religious and political attitudes toward childbirth as well as presenting the personal stories of the different families.

Christopher Hitchens on why the Left can't bring itself to condemn the 9/11 attacks or give any sort of support to the current war effort:

In other words, all the learned and conscientious objections, as well as all the silly or sinister ones, boil down to this: Nothing will make us fight against an evil if that fight forces us to go to the same corner as our own government. (The words "our own" should of course be appropriately ironized, with the necessary quotation marks.) To do so would be a betrayal of the Cherokees.

Here's the piece.

Bishop Spong strikes again. Thank goodness he's Episcopalian.

Ah yes - what the good bishop has written this time is a piece in Beliefnet entitled "The Theistic God is dead. In the piece, Spong ruminates on the necessary questions raised by the attacks of September 11, and emerges with totally unoriginal answers that fail twice: because they're unoriginal, bland and owe everything to Paul Tillich, and secondly, because they raise more questions than they answer:

God is not an external, supernatural entity, ruling the world from above the sky. God is rather the Source of Life, the Source of Love, the Ground of Being. It is a non-theistic definition. Life has taught us that theism is dead. There is no supernatural God directing the affairs of history. Atheism, however, is not the only other viable conclusion. Supernatural theism is nothing but a human definition of God. We need not despair when our human definitions of God die. We use that death to force open our eyes to new possibilities, to see God as the wind that animates humanity; as the love that expands humanity, and as the rock that is the ground of humanity's being.

One has to wonder if Spong has read any post-Holocaust Jewish theological reflection - he writes as though September 11 were the most profound challenge to theism ever grown by human beings. It's not. The attempted obliteration of God's Chosen People trumps it by a mile, in my opinion, and Jewish theologians have spent decades meditating on the problem, with various answers, not all, I hasten to assure Bishop Spong, affirming that "Theism is dead."

Not that this is my concern right now, but I thought this was an interesting product: a software program to assist women in detecting fertile days in their cycle. (I'm sending you to a cached version of the story since I don't know how long the original URL will be active)
A beautiful little meditation on the sadness edging Christmas from across the sea in Aberdeen, to be exact. It's worth printing out and saving for a day and a year you might need it.
Just added a couple of new photos Go here for that.
The leader of a Christian church has been sentenced to death in China. The story is here. This event follows closely upon the heals of President Bush granting permanent normal trade status to China, ending the yearly battle that brought China's human rights abuses to the public, at least for a few days. This is disappointing, to say the least, but I suppose the battle was really lost when Beijing got the Olympics.
Excellent piece by Mark Steyn, as usual. This one's on the uselessness of the present airport security measures, a point with which I'm in full agreement after watching the security lines at our Fort Wayne airport twice this week: watching random shoe searches, watching middle-aged women being told to take off their belts and put them through the x-ray machine, and seeing none of what Steyn says is, indeed the missing ingredient in all of this: judgment.
I like Ebay a lot, but you've got to be careful. Apparently, one purported seller was running auctions for Playstation2's, but not really. The description of the item said, "You are bidding on the Sony PlayStation II Xmas bundle picture below," so what about 75 buyers got after they won auctions was just that - a photo of a Sony PlayStation. Here's the story.

Saturday, December 29

Today is the feast of St. Thomas a Becket. As is the case with so many of our holy men and women, a fascinating person. Maybe you saw the movie based on the play by Jean Anilouh (forgive the spelling - I think that's close, but I'm too lazy to look it up. Plus, with Joseph cruising aroung my study, my time is very limited here) with Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole. Maybe you know that the reason Chaucer's pilgrims were on the way to Canterbury was to honor Becket in the spot in which he was murdered by the king's men who may or may not have misunderstood Henry's words wondering "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" his former best friend and closest counseler. It's a story worth revisiting often, particularly in these days of compromising and accomodating faith.

Friday, December 28

I forgot to mention that today is the Feastday of the Holy Innocents, the children murdered by Herod as he sought to kill the rumored Messiah. Here is a photo from El Salvador of a quiet scene in a church honoring the Innocents. Remember our Innocents, killed by abortion, neglected and abused by parents. Take a moment, if you have it, to just offer a prayer for a girl or young woman in your town who is struggling with the crisis of an unexpected pregnancy. You may not know her, but believe there is one - on your block, in your neighborhood, perhaps in your family, unbeknownst to you. Pray for her, that she may listen to the voice in her conscience calling her to life. Pray for us, that we may be a people who welcome life.
The Archdiocese of Boston is offering a lower-cost alternative to cremation. It's a good idea, and is an example of what the Church can do well when it sees disturbing trends: provide alternatives. Provide alternatives for women and girls in unexpected pregnancies. Provide alternatives to religious-hostile government schools. Provide alternatives to profit-centered health care. (well....maybe we need some work on that one). About the only thing for which the Church has not succeeded in providing attractive alternatives is media. Catholics still get most of their news about religion from secular sources, most of which do a spectacularly clueless job.

Update: The one Catholic figure who has done a good job with media, Mother Angelica, is in the hospital in critical condition

Here's a piece about a phenomenon that makes me squirm - and worse. All those plays featuring Catholic nuns as either the objects of mockery, satire or "gentle fun," (like Nunsense). I think they do nothing more than play on stereotypes and lazy thinking about Catholicism, and I don't know why religious sisters don't rise up in arms against them.
Brief Joseph update: We have a tooth! You can feel it better than you can see it, but it's definitely there. He's also started sitting up on his own, going from his stomach to his side and right on up without a second thought.

Thursday, December 27

This month's issue of The Atlantic Monthly is a good one. Defying my own knee-jerk prejudices, I read most of the main article, Women of God , about Catholic nuns, by my least favoirte ersatz-Catholic writer, Mary Gordon, in Borders today. It's actually not too aggravating.

There are also several good pieces on Islam and an overview of the work of a writer I'm often asked to discuss, but never have because a) I have no interest in her work and b)I'm pretty confident I wouldn't like it, and that's not what the people who want me to discuss it would like to hear. It's Jan Karon, author of the folksy Mitford novels.

I'm tackling a new book in a genre I'm not too crazy about. A couple of days ago, in some Web wanderings, I came upon a Science Fiction/Fantasy writer of whom I'd never heard (not unusual), but who is a Catholic convert and, according to some accounts, weaves some sort of Catholic subtext into his work. His name is Gene Wolfe, and I will attempt to read Shadow and Claw which is really the first two books of a tetralogy called The Book of the New Sun. I dunno. Ray Bradbury was really the only SF writer I could ever enjoy, and I tried quite a few of them. This one sounds pretty complicated and dense, but I'll give it the old post-collegiate try, for the sake of Catholic Lit.

Wednesday, December 26

We went and saw Ali tonight. What a wretched, fairly dull mess. It's hard to figure out what the director, Michael Mann, was thinking in this film, which was very episodic, atmospheric, and very much like an extended music video. The Nation of Islam stuff was presently so quickly, with no explanation, so that if you didn't know anything about the internal strife of the Nation of Islam, you'd be very confused. Adding to the mystification was the compression of time, so that in one scene, we see Ali speaking to a young Nation of Islam woman in a bakery, and a scene later, they're lying in bed with their baby crying in the next room. For a modern film, there were some terribly awkward, lame plot devices - like having Ali's lawyer call him from a pay phone at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, hang up, and - of course, MLKJr is assassinated. (And if that really happen, I take back the "lame" part. But somehow, I don't think it did.)
I added a few more photos. Go back here and scroll down to see.

Tuesday, December 25

My sentiments exactly: A Brit's takedown of Disney. It's great.
A work in progress: Thanks to my father, we now have a very nice digital camera. Our web pages will never be the same. I'm still trying to figure it out (with David's help), and have not had time to properly pose anyone, but if you go here, you can see the first fruits of my efforts.

Ah, yes. A Merry Christmastide to all of you!

Friday, December 21

This I didn't know. There's a carving of Darth Vader's head on the National Cathedral in Washington. Those wacky Episcopalians.
Oh, those childhood Christmas decorations. The decoupage'd reindeer David made in Cub Scouts, the big star with macaroni pasted all over it and spray-painted gold that Christopher fashioned in first grade, and the little ornament with a photo of 4-year old Katie in the middle, decorated along the edges with crayon. Unwrapping them every year makes my heart skip a beat and brings tears to the edges of my eyes. It's gone so fast, and it just keeps going....
There are lots of good Christmas pages out there, but here's one of the better ones: Dave Armstrong's Old-Fashioned Christmas Page with links to all kinds of interesting and substantive information, including some nice quotes from Chesterton on Christmas, as well as an illuminating on one of my favorite carols, the Huron Carol.
Finished my Oprah piece. Phew. I'm tired. But the show must go on - the Christmas show, that is. Clean, shop, cook. Sporadic blogging.

Wednesday, December 19

We just had carpets cleaned, which is all well and good except for the fact that I'm presently crammed against my desk with a stack of kitchen chairs at my back, the baby can't crawl anywhere, and Katie is having to deal with - one- more - day until we can get those decorations up. Maybe not. Maybe the carpet will be dry by nine or so, and she can have at it.

Oh, yes. The only other problem with getting the carpet cleaned was the carpet cleaner backed his van into a pillar holding up part of the roof that hangs over our front door. Why can't anything be uncomplicated?

Is this the world's funniest joke? We report, you decide.
I've thought for a long time that cable (and now satellite) makes PBS unneccesary. News? Got it, of any ideological stripe you require (CNN, Fox, MSNBC) or none (CSpan). Children's programming? Got it, even with minimal commercials (Nick Jr.) and without the painful PC contortions. I hadn't watched Sesame Street in years, but knew immediately what I'd happened upon the other day when I saw a scene with a child in a wheelchair playing wedding with stuffed bears, one white and one brown, explaining to Elmo that it didn't matter what color married people were. Educational and science programming? History Channel, Discovery, etc...etc...

Now I have to stand up and say, along with this columnist, I don't need PBS for another reason: I already get the Home Shopping Network. I thought PBS couldn't go lower than Yanni. I was apparently mistaken.

Go me. Just got done writing two columns, finishing off those particular responsibilities off until after the new year. I'll have you know that this was only possible through repeated - and I mean repeated playings of Christmas Time's A' Comin' on my computer's CD player for the benefit of the musical connoisseur in the playpen behind me. Every time I hear a whimper even start, I hit it, and the whimper is immediately replaced by happy bouncing. Thank you, Emmylou.
Looking to move beyond Ebert? There are lots of good film review sites out there not tied to the entertainment establishment. Just this morning I discovered Decent Films, a site featuring the reviews of Steven D. Greydanus, who writes for a number of Catholic publications. Then there's the relatively new website of James Bowman, film critic for the American Spectator. Also invaluable is Christianity Today's Film Forum, appearing weekly, which casts a net far and wide to collect pertinent reviews of current films.
Ron Rosenbaum has a good piece that starts from the point of Johnny Walker Taliban in the New York Observer, and then moves into an exploration of the bogus quest for "authenticity":

But while he might have switched allegiance from the gods of hip-hop to the God of Islam, there is something common to both of his quests: making a graven image, a false idol, out of authenticity. Just as he’d pledge allegiance to the hardest of hard-core hip-hop to fashion a simulacrum of authenticity, so he had to seek out the most extreme, most puritanical sects of Islam, confusing authenticity with purity. A confusion evident in the mistaken assumption that authenticity must always be found not just in Otherness, but Oppositeness.

Why Elitist Schools are a Waste of Money, part 376. See Michael Kelly's column on a piece in Newsweek by a Yale student who's pained and hesitant about judging the September 11 attacks for what they were.

Tuesday, December 18

Finally, my son David has stopped counting the days until the release of The Lord of the Rings.

Now he's counting the hours.

Much to my relief, his anticipation won't be in vain, either. The reviews are coming, and they're consistently ecstatic:


The New York Post


Another dumb personality quiz:

If I were a Dead Russian Composer, I would be Sergei Prokofyev.

I was born in the late 19th century and was a child prodigy, composing at a very young age. I kept this talent up, earning myself quite a name and fully exploiting the bragging rights. I was disliked by Stalin, however, and I died the same day he did. My most famous work is "Peter and the Wolf."

Who would you be? Dead Russian Composer Personality Test

Here's the funny thing: Prokofyev probably is my favorite Dead Russian Composer. Love that Fifth Symphony. Especially the second movement

Put up the Christmas tree. Yes, Ma'am, we're moving a bit slowly here - think about buying the thing for a few days, go look at one the next, wait two days, actually put the cash down for it, let it sit in the back sun room for a day getting used to the place, put it up the next, hang some lights, go to sleep. Tomorrow: decorations. Maybe.

(Actually), there's a good chance the tree will be covered with ornaments by 8am if Katie has her way.

Christianity Today has a list of "Books of the Year" offered by the John Wilson, the editor of Books and Culture. It's an interesting list, with a few titles I'd not heard of , but am now quite interested to read. He puts Muriel Spark's Aiding and Abetting on the list, which I don't think I would. At all. When it comes to fiction, I can't deny that my affections lie with Richard Russo's Empire Falls as novel of the year - it's a crime that it wasn't nominated for a National Book Award.
Some quick notes on my favorite Christmas CD's in the "popular" category:

A Light in the Stable from Emmylou Harris is a classic. Joseph particularly likes to groove to "Christmas Time's a'Comin'". Really.

Good News from Kathy Mattea is really a fine album. She was, I believe, the first to record a wonderful song which is gradually becoming a standard (someone played it at Katie's piano recital last night), Mary, Did You Know?

The Sweetest Gift from Trisha Yearwood is also very good - I particularly like Take a Walk Through Bethlehem and It Wasn't His Child.

And, of course, there's Dwight Yoakam. Come on Christmas which has its ups and downs, but can't be matched for Dwight's great version of Santa Claus is Back in Town and the truly bizarre Santa Can't Stay.

Finally, one of the great Christmas songs of the modern era is not on a Christmas album. It's on Robert Earl Keen's Live No.2 Diner album: Merry Christmas from the Family.

Here's an interesting little throwaway column by a Brit in The Guardian: John Sutherland writes about fifty-two things we do better in America. You might disagree with a few things: is it really "better" that "Happy Holidays" is overtaking "Merry Christmas" as the greeting of choice during the month of December? But then perhaps you'll be surprised as some other items he mentions, as this decidedly non-cosmopolitan reader was. Do they really not have busboys in British restaurants? Grocery stores don't have baggers?
Google continues to amaze. First, they come up with only the finest search engine known to humanity. Then they keep improving it - and I mean really improving it, as opposed to complicating it (cough...Amazon...cough). They've got an excellent image search ability now, and have all of Usenet's discussions forums from 1992 available for searching, too. Now they've come up with something really nifty: Google catalog search in which you can easily search a bunch of online catalogs in one step. If only I'd had this a month ago, when I was looking for....never mind.

Monday, December 17

More from the Airline "Security" file: Via the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sunday, December 16

They said on the local news the other night that normally by this time of year, we have an average of 11 inches of snow. We have had practically none - just the slightest trace back in November. As a result, I have overheard the following several times over the past week:

"Gee, it just doesn't feel like Christmas, does it?"

Well...I'd have to say, snow or no snow, 40 degrees feels like Christmas. Try 75 degrees and palm trees, if you want to know what "doesn't feel like Christmas" really feels like!

One of my recent interests has been clerical mysteries: those with clerics or religious as detectives, or mysteries set in a religious milieu.

A recent headline reads like the plot of one of those mysteries, but tragically, this one isn't fiction:

Irish Nun found murdered

Another story highlights some other bizarre (and unrelated) incidents that have occurred in this town in the past:

Nun strangled in town of scandals

Charles Peguy was a late 19th/early 20th century French poet and sometimes "Catholic polemicist" Roger Kimball has a good article about him in The New Critereon. Definitely limited as a poet, but possessed of great passion, there's one element of Peguy's thought that's worth careful consideration today: his skeptical and even prescient attitude towards modernity, particular intellectual trends. This quote was penned about a hundred years ago, but it is startling in its pertinence to the current academic scene and fashions:

the modern method comes down essentially to this: given a work or given a text, how do we proceed to know it? Let us start by ignoring the text; above all let us be careful not to pick up the text or even to look at it, that would come at the end, if it were ever to happen. Let us begin at the beginning or rather because we must be complete, let us begin by the beginning of the beginning; the beginning of the beginning is to find in the vast, moving, universal, total reality, the exact vantage point which, though bearing some relation to the text, is the farthest removed from the text

Another good quote:

It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.

Chew on that for a while. I can certainly relate. In my early twenties I was certainly pro-life, but reluctant to actually do anything about my convictions. Why? Because I didn't want to be even faintly associated with "those" people - you know, the big-haired, culturally retrograde, misogynist creature that the media and popular opinion likes to say is the typical pro-lifer. And then I got brave, went to a meeting, and found my stereotypes shattered. And then I found Feminists for Life and was even more humbled.

Peguy was absolutely correct, wasn't he? Why are we like that?

Mormon dropouts shunned by families, friends. An interesting, if not terribly surprising account of the disapproval Mormons Who Leave bring upon themselves in the heavily Mormon West. A little bit different from Suburban Catholicism. I taught at a Catholic high school in which the Director of Students was a woman who'd left the Catholic Church (along with her whole family) for the Mormon church. Michael taught at a (different) Catholic high school in which (I think) the Athletic Director was an ex-Catholic who regularly testified to the inadequacies of his former church. Shun or keep on the payroll - no- promote? Surely there must be a middle ground here....
This afternoon, Katie, Joseph and I went to see the Youtheather production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, for which Katie had auditioned a couple of months ago and obviously not won a part. It was a cute show and actually sort of moving at the end: this story of the "worst" kids in the town who somehow commandeer the church Christmas pageant. Joseph was fairly quiet, but pretty squirmy. Fortunately, we were pretty far back in the theater.
Meant to do some blogging last night during Joseph's and mine nightly meeting, but Blogger wasn't co-operating.

Friday, December 14

Forget Senior Superlatives, grade inflation and academic non-freedom: Here's what's really wrong with education today:

Teacher, student allegedly made bomb threat so they could go shopping

Brief Joseph update: He's sleeping right now.

Okay. You want more? Well, he's perfected pulling up on stuff and is starting to stare thoughtfully as he stands there, clearly trying to figure out how he can get from here to there without having to resort to the humiliation of crawling. He's gone from despising and screaming through his baths (from birth to three months) to enduring them quietly (three months to eight months) to going absolutely nutso in them: splashing every limb, screaming with delight, soaking me...

He talks non-stop, and in the great tradition of family members over-interpreting their baby's sounds, we are certain that when he sees Katie, he says "Ka-ka" and he seems to say "Da-da-da" much more often when Michael's around.

He eats toast, pancakes (plain, of course, but pretty much perfect baby food), Cheerios, baby cereal, fruit, and, if we have chicken, some of that ground up with whatever starch and vegetable we're having, all done with great ease with my little miracle baby food grinder, which I think cost $7.99 at BabiesRUs.

Oh, and sometimes he sleeps.

Much good commentary on The Tape this morning. Here's one by James Robbins in The National Review:

Bin Laden grasps for concrete signs of success. One tangible benefit of the attack — people wanting to learn more about Islam. "In Holland," he says, "at one of the centers, the number of people who accepted Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than the people who accepted Islam in the last eleven years." Eleven times the usual number? I'm guessing that they were starting from a very low base. And if the impending Dutch jihad is the best thing bin Laden has to show for his efforts, it is hardly a prudent trade-off considering that over 300 million people in the strongest country in the world want his head.

Atlanta radio personality Neal Boortz reports on a not-surprising decision by an Atlanta-area high school:

I have received word that a particular principal of a particular high school in the Gwinnett County system has notified the student council that there are to be no more references in the school yearbook to “students most likely to succeed”, “most popular student”, or similar references. The reason? Some of the students left off the list might have their feelings hurt.

Now, I have no great attachment to Senior Superlatives, as they're called - I myself was voted Most Likely to Succeed, and look at me. At the time, I was just deeply relieved not to have been voted Most Studious - no one really wanted that one, since it seemed to imply something else besides intelligence.

For all of our school's protestations of seeking "excellence," stories like this indicate how hollow those words really are. Teaching is a hard job, and its difficulty, particularly in an anti-intellectual culture such as ours, is rarely understood by those who've not ever tried their hand at it themselves. Nonetheless, teachers and school administrators continually undermine their own stated "missions" and goals by wrong-headed moves like this.

When we lived in Florida, the Catholic school which my daughter attended had strict library policies. As a first-grader, Katie was reading on about a fourth-grade level, but she was not allowed to check out "chapter books." Why? Well, the policy was that students could check out only picture books until second grade, no exceptions, and couldn't even wander over to the older kids' section. Even more laughably, the next year, an announcement was made that the label on these picture books now had a different meaning. The "E" on the spine had previously signified "easy." Well -- that was making some kids feel bad. So they changed the meaning of the "E" to "everybody."

So, you can see, as I point out with great regularity, that the silliness isn't confined to government schools. It runs unchecked there, certainly, but it has a firm foothold in our Catholic schools, as well.

Another excellent column by Mark Steyn. I don't know how he does it. Reminding us of this past summer's Big Issue, sharks, Steyn writes:

In an eerie pre-echo of the world to come, progressive opinion came down on the side of the shark. The New York Times said that we should bear in mind all the sharks we humans kill, and fretted that the uncle’s retaliation might have been disproportionate. The experts agreed that we needed to look at the ‘root causes’, to understand ‘why they hate us’; just blundering into their territory in ever larger numbers was only going to provoke them into even bolder assaults on our shores. Above all, we should resist any hysterical over-reaction to the many non-violent members of the shark community. Substitute ‘Muslims’ for ‘sharks’ and you’d have a dandy post-11 September editorial thumbsucker. Go on, try it. Here’s the NYT back in July:

Knowing something about the biology, behaviour and world status of sharks [Muslims] does not mitigate the terror.... Even knowledge cannot alter some emotions. But many people now understand that an incident like the Arbogast attack [World Trade Center attack] is not the result of malevolence or a taste for human blood on the shark’s part [Islam’s part].... Inevitably, an incident like this one reinforces a nearly pleasurable cultural hysteria about sharks [Islam] when ...what it should really do is remind us yet again how much we have to learn about them and their waters [them and their extraordinarily rich culture]...’

Today is the feastday of St. John of the Cross. Quite an interesting fellow: An associate of Theresa of Avila and a co-reformer of the Carmelites, met with much more overt hostility than she was, though. John was actually imprisoned by his fellow monks twice in an effort to discourage him from pressing for monastic reform - one of those imprisonment sessions lasted nine months, in what amounted to solitary confinement. It was during these times that John started composing poetry in his head - the result being the great mystical poetry like The Dark Night of the Soul which we associate with him.

Thursday, December 13

I've often recommended the Christianity Today weblog as a valuable source of religion news. It is! They did something amusing and illuminating today: Go here and scroll about halfway down. They line up all the headlines from the major news services regarding the Pope's most recent statement on the war and find startling differences between what is communicated.
Waiting for the world's Moslem leadership to decry bin Laden's religiosity as a perversion of Islam. Waiting for this country's Moslem leadership to separate their faith from what bin Laden articulated today in The Tape. Waiting. Waiting......
Go to Michael's blog for news of upcoming speaking engagements and book signings for both of us. Add to that a talk at the National Catholic Education Association convention in April for me.
It seems to me that anyone who thinks the current conflict will end with Afghanistan, or is only between the US (and Britain) and al-Qaeda, and will end once bin Laden is captured or killed, needs to take a look around the globe. Islamist militants have been on the rise for years, and after some quiet this fall, things are heating up again, and it looks as if yet another redefinition of this conflict is in the near future, and yet another re-evaluation of Islam:

Indonesia group tied to al Qaeda kills Christians

Israel breaks off contact with Arafat in wake of terrorist attack on bus.

Suicide Squad attacks Indian Parliament; 11 dead.

If you've ever seen a picture of a girl holding her eyes on a platter, know that it's St. Lucy you're looking at. St. Lucy, whose feast is celebrated today, was one of those early Christian female martyrs who got into trouble because she refused marriage. It's an interesting subtext in female sanctity, and one that runs right up through the Middle Ages: Girls and women vowing themselves to God alone, only to have their parents try to force them into betrothals and marriages. St. Lucy was denounced by her pagan intended and then martyred in the most spectacular fashion:

The governor planned to force her into prostitution, but when guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; they went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger

There are stories of others with similar desires who, once Christianity was legal, weren't martyred for their refusal to marry, but in order to avoid it, resorted to rather dramatic measures: St. Oda of Hainault left her own wedding ceremony, announced that she would "not have this man, nor any other mortal man for her husband, since she had already chosen her heavenly spouse." She returned home, withdrew to her mother's bedroom, got a sword, and sliced off her own nose.

On another level entirely are the actions of many groups of nuns during the brutal days of the Dark and Middle Ages who, in response to threats from marauding attackers, would, en masse disfigure themselves before they had a chance to be assaulted. Most well-known is St. Ebba and her nuns of Coldingham.

....the abbess, with an heroic spirit, affording to all the holy sisters an example of chastity profitable only to themselves, but to be embraced by all succeeding virgins for ever, took a razor, and with it cut off her nose, together with her upper lip unto the teeth, presenting herself a horrible spectacle to those who stood by. Filled with admiration at this admirable deed, the whole assembly followed her maternal example, and severally did the like to themselves...

It sort of worked. The Danish invaders were, indeed horrified at the spectacle of the blood-covered, facially disfigured sisters, and set aside any plans they had to assault the women, but they burned the place down anyway, and the sisters perished as martyrs.

By the way, I quoted these stories from Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, 500-1100, an excellent study which moved Christopher to ask, when he saw me reading it a couple of years ago: "What - did they get amnesia or something?"

Eye-catching headline: Church accuses Santa of being a fat drunk. It reminds me of our parish's associate pastor who, last week on the feast of St. Nicholas, told the children in his homily at the school Mass that because of Santa, we'd "thrown St. Nicholas in the monkey hole." He's from Sri Lanka. I guess that's what they do with the unwanted in Sri Lanka: into the monkey hole.

Wednesday, December 12

Excellent piece by Norah Vincent on the Palestinian issue:

The posture of victimhood may be exploited in the West, but consider for a moment what things might be like if the shoe were on the other foot. If Israel were a Palestinian state, complete with superior firepower and all the privileges of internationally recognized statehood, and the West Bank were a Palestinian occupied Jewish enclave, do you really suppose there would be any Jews left to protest?

What's more, do you imagine that Palestine, like the vast majority of the rest of the Arab world, would be anything other than a repressive dictatorship bent on crushing its God-given enemies? Would it be any different from, say, Egypt, where vicious anti-Semitic rants, and fabricated conspiracy theories routinely run unchallenged on the Op-Ed pages of major newspapers? Would it really be any different from Iraq, where Saddam Hussein gassed hordes of his own people, simply for the crime of being Kurds? Or would it more resemble Pakistan and Afghanistan, where vigilante mobs beat and murder neutral journalists just as remorselessly as they burn their detested white devil in effigy? And all in the name of Allah....

Finally, would Jews, and for that matter Christians and Hindus and Buddhists, if left alive, be allowed to practice their religion freely under what would more than likely be an Islamist regime? Well, of course, we know the answer already. Look at Sudan, where Muslims in the north murder and enslave Christians in the south, taking children from their families and banishing them to lives of servitude. Look at Iran, where Muslims, let alone persons of other faiths, fear to transgress strict religious provisos, or Saudi Arabia, home of the perfidious mutawain (religious police), and birthplace of Wahabism, the worst of fundamentalist Islam's factions.

The piece is in Salon.

Not so fast, Dr. Clone:Cloned monkey embryos are a "gallery of horrors"
Here's a good summary of some current anti-Christian holiday fun:

I guarantee you will feel ill after reading this report from the Washington Times.

Some samples:

Two middle school students in Rochester, Minn., were disciplined for wearing red and green scarves in a Christmas skit and for ending the skit by saying, "We hope you all have a merry Christmas."

• A teacher in Plymouth, Ill., was warned by her principal not to read a book about Christmas to her second-grade students. The book was in the school's library.

• The county school board in Covington, Ga., deleted the word "Christmas" from the school calendar after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action

As far as I'm concerned, we have two basic options regarding education at this point:

Strip government schools of all responsibilities except teaching basic subject matter. No celebrations of any kind, no parties, no seasonal decorations. Or:

Shut down the government school system completely, give each parent a voucher for $5000 for each child's educational expenses with only minimal restrictions for its use, and let the market rule.

Back from the library . I really need to remember to take the stroller with me next time. Although hauling all of those books and the baby is fantastic for my biceps, I guess. As if that's the part of my body that needs working out.
Katie Couric's about to sign a 100 million dollar contract. Why? Who cares about Katie Couric? Who sees Katie Couric's name listed on a program and says, "Oh, gotta watch that. She'll expand my horizons and offer prescient analysis." The bottom line is, who sees Katie Couric at all and doesn't want to slap her?
Today, of course is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. One of the strangest tellings of this story in recent years was on the PBS children's series Wishbone. For the uninitiated, Wishbone is a dog who reads. The programs had two storylines intertwined: one concerned the adventures of Wishbone and the boy who owned him, and then the other involved Wishbone imagining works of literature with himself as a character. Yup - they did it all. Wishbone as Hamlet. Wishbone as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. And Wishbone as Juan Diego. It sounds insane, but it actually worked, a prime example of one of the basic rules of storytelling: if you can get the audience to buy your premise, the piece will work, no matter into what strange heights it soars.
You've probably already seen the list of most dangerous toys. I like James Lilek's take on it:

One of the toys to which the director objected was "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots," - the commercials of which were a staple of my childhood. The cry of "You knocked my block off" was as common in the playground as the plaintive lament "You sunk my battleship!" Yet none of us grew up to be mass murderers. John Walker no doubt played with neither the Robots or Battleship, and spent his childhood moaning "You negatively impacted my self-image!" and "You scuttled my Rainbow Warrior!"

Okay - got both columns done. After a bit of surfing and blogging, I'll head to the library. On the menu: Science fair project books, copies of Oprah's magazine (you can check out magazines at our library. Gotta start working on that article about Oprah.) and Temperament: The Idea that Solved Music's Greatest Riddle.

Tuesday, December 11

A holiday arrangement of flowers in City Hall. Many flowers, pretty stuff. Except for one thing: No red poinsiettas. Why? Someone complained they're a Christian symbol. Oh. But it's a ....Never mind.
Whew. Done with that - at least for now. I just finished writing the family devotional booklet for Advent 2002 for Creative Communications for the Parish. Under great duress, I might add. You'd think after going to bed at 11 and rising at 6:30, a baby would want a good, long nap. Not this morning, it seems. But through creative typing, constant change of venues, and new and surprising objects being tossed in the playpen behind my desk chair at regular intervals, we did it. NOW will you take a nap, Joseph? Mommy's got two columns to write in the next 24 hours, after all....
More memories of Tush. See? It wasn't just me.
Speaking of hermits, today is the feast day of Daniel the Stylite, a disciple of the more famous pole-sitting ascetic, St. Simeon Stylites:
Saint Daniel chose a spot in the neighboring desert mountains towards the Euxine sea, four miles by sea, and seven by land, from Constantinople towards the north. A friend erected him a pillar, which consisted of two pillars fastened together with iron bars; whereon another lesser pillar was placed, on the top of which was fixed by other friends a kind of vessel somewhat like a half-barrel, on which he abode, encompassed by a balustrade

Why sit on a pole? My first response is - why do anything? Why work fourteen hours a day so you can buy a big house that you only sleep in? Why bear children whom you're just going to hand over to others to care for? Why bother to go to a church service when you really don't believe anything is true? In light of all of the ways that people spend their life on earth in selfish, pointless pursuits, sitting on a pole as penance and as a way to get people to sit up and pay attention to the Gospel doesn't seem so crazy. To me at least.

Monday, December 10

Boy, this movie had better be good. A little more than a week before its release, I have just about had my fill of The Lord of the Rings. Maybe it's because I just wrote an article on it. Maybe it's because every magazine I read, online or print, has to chime in with its take, all of which differ in some particulars but seem to share the same nostalgic When-I-was-twelve-I-thought-I-was-a-hobbit reverie. Maybe it's because I've read the books - or - let's say, I slogged through the books - and was enchanted by little of the opus, although I can see how others could be, just as I can see how other readers could be less than intrigued by my own favorites - like Flannery O'Connor. Or maybe it's because my son David has been telling me every day for fourteen months how many days it is until the film's release.

So yes, I'll be going. And not unwillingly. I like and appreciate Tolkien's theme, even as I don't give a whit about Elvish grammar, the mythological background or detailed descriptions of Middle-Earth. I'm hoping the film will digest and envision the books in a way that's faithful to Tolkien but gets the whole thing going a little quicker.

St. Anthony, call your office. Oh, that's right. You didn't have one. Because you were a hermit. A real one. As opposed to most of the hermit wanna-be's described in this article from the Christian Science Moniter. Praying a lot, transcribing Gregorian chant and living by yourself does not a hermit make, especially when you've got television, vcr, computer and maintain a website.
Why we don't trust doctors Part 278: X-Ray showing a 13-inch long surgical instrument left in man's abdomen.
More on the Sacking of Tush at TVBarn: Here. The grief and anguish spreads.
Here's an op-ed from the New York Post on the strange sight of Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers picketing in solidarity with striking New York City Catholic high school teachers. Why is this strange and wickedly ironic? Because, as the writer points out, the United Federation of Teachers represents NYC's public school teachers and is, like all teacher's unions, vociferously and adamantly opposed to any type of government aid to parents who choose to send their kids to those same Catholic schools. Good call.

Sunday, December 9

I'm tempted to say "only in Tennessee" on this one. But I won't. Because it probably could have happened in Kentucky, too.

What gets you interested in this story is the fact that it concerns a scenario right out of some sort of nightmarish children's book: a little girl keeps saying there's a monster in her room, mom keeps returning telling the child it's okay, honey, don't worry. But then it turns out that the "monster" is real - a thief hiding behind the curtains. Then it gets really strange. Read about the thief who couldn't leave his blue fly swatter behind.

Andrew Ferguson is one of my favorite commentators. You'd see most of his work in the Weekly Standard, where he's an editor of some sort, but I've discovered a little trove of his writing here, as well.
I had high hopes for this evening, but it was not to be.After sleeping soundly in my arms for ten minutes, Joseph awoke with a loud belch, two minutes after being placed in his crib, and is now enjoying the nightlife.

Saturday, December 8

Yesterday, Katie made the prettiest tree ornaments. I helped with the first one, since we'd never done anything like this before, but she took it from there. I bought clear glass ball ornaments (got 'em in the craft store - 60% off already!) and acrylic paint. You shoot little streams of paint inside the ball and then let them rest, turning them every ten minutes or so to let the colors blend, which they do in a soft, psychedelic marbelized kind of ooze. They are very pretty, and didn't take long to make. Good Christmas gifts for teachers, and so on. More instructions here.
Here's some news for your morning: Bill Tush fired by CNN. Now, you may know Bill Tush as the host of CNN's "Show Biz Today": mild-mannered and calm. But those of us who lived in the Southeast in the mid- to late 70's remember and revere Bill Tush for another reason: his bizarre newscasts on WTCG, which was the name of WTBS before Ted Turner bought it and subsequently turned it into a "Superstation". These were three-minute newsbreaks that aired in the evening, through the middle of the night. His co-anchor for much of the time I watched it was a dog. Most of the time, the dog was wearing a tie.

Even on the Internet, MotherLode of information that it is, I couldn't fine much about this or about Tush's short-lived variety show on WTBS in 1980. Here's what I did find:

WTCG...boy, that brings back a memory or two. Before it went on the bird, it was relayed by microwave to a number of cable systems in the Southeast, including the one I subscribed to in Knoxville, TN back in '79. They had a "newscaster" named Bill Tush who was an absolute the three-minute newsbreaks 'TCG had in the evenings, he'd come on in anything from a jacket and tie to polo shirt to spaceman suit, and just tear the copy apart...and for a while his co-anchor was a German shepherd dog ("Alex"?) that the camera ops would feed peanut butter while Tush read the lines. As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. (from a newsgroup.).

And this, from Jump the Shark:

Tush" was a comedy-variety show (like SNL or Fridays) that aired on Superstation WTBS starting in January of 1981. It was hosted by Bill Tush, one of the station's news anchors, and he was surrounded by a large and hilarious supporting cast most of which were getting their start, which included Jan Hooks (one of the funniest and sexiest women alive, who went on to SNL and "Designing Women) and the brother-sister team of Terry and Bonnie Turner (no relation to Ted) who went on to write at SNL and to create, write, and produce "3rd Rock From The Sun" and "That 70's Show". The highlight sketch each week was the "Hour of Inspiration with Tammy Jean", in which Hooks, as Tammy Jean Pickens (Pickett?) is all sweetness, honeyed voice, and inspirational light in front of the camera, and all ballbuster off of it. Terry Turner played Wade (and guitar) in the sketch, and Bonnie Turner played mousy Rona (and the organ). This show was probably the last gasp of local-station madness for the Superstation before Ted Turner got corporate and compartmentalized on us (Bill Tush, who began as a wacky newsman on WTBS, is now a tame reporter for CNN's "Showbiz Today"). "Tush" was also scheduled against "60 Minutes" for much of its run, so it didn't have much of a break. But "Tush" was a minor, very funny classic--better than SNL or "Fridays" of that same period (though that's not saying a lot), and it deserves to be shown again.

....The most memorable sketch had to be the visit by Mamma, Enigma Jean and Sonny to the drive through funeral parlor to plan Jennelle's funeral. "You know she retained water," said Mamma. "She retained Twinkies and Old Milwaukee" was the reply....

I remember Bill Tush doing the late night news on WTCG-Atlanta back about 1976 prior to Turner buying the station. Funny, funny stuff. One Easter morning broadcast (about 2:00am), Bill did the entire show dressed in a rabbit outfit.

Jan Hooks was, indeed, hilarious on that show, especially as Tammy Jean. She's a lot more talented that most of her subsequent work has given her a chance to demonstrate (although she had her moments on SNL).

Anyway, so long, Bill. Not that I watched "Show Biz Today" or anything. But I'll always associate him with those early days of cable. My mother and I were big fans of those newscasts, and, I'll admit to you now, somewhere in one of my boxes is an autographed photo of non other than Bill Tush - my father must have gotten for me as a sort of joke, but I don't remember the exact circumstances. I wish someone would dig up those newscasts and make a Tribute to Tush. You'd laugh.

Friday, December 7

This evening, we meandered down to a Protestant church down the street to their outdoor nativity type of pageant called "Walk to Bethlehem". It was kind of goofy, but in a quite endearing kind of way.

You arrive, and you are guided by a Roman centurion to your first stop, which is a nail-maker. Now, I'm thinking they wanted to make some kind of connection between this and the nails of the crucifixion, but if they did, it didn't quite come off, but that's okay. Once enough people gathered around the nail-maker working the metal in his fire, you'd be grouped in a tribe, given a fake gold coin and led on to Bethlehem to pay your taxes. (which didn't make sence, because not all the tribes would have gone to Bethlehem to pay taxes, but again...that's okay.)

Your group (we were Zebulon) was then led past various tableaux - Joseph working wood, the Annunciation, the shepherds (with a couple of real sheep), Mary and Joseph getting ready to set forth (with a real donkey! Joseph (ours) couldn't keep his eyes off that particularly strange creature), and then the nativity itself. After the outdoor part, you went to the church basement to pay your taxes to the emperor - an old guy dressed in purple with olive leaves around his head - and browse around their various stalls of Middle eastern food and handiwork, then upstairs to the church where they had dozens of nativity sets on display.

As I said, it was kind of awkward at times, and all the Mary's in the various tableaux looked to be about 45, but it was rather charming. My absolute favorite part happened when you were walking along the path from the shepherds to the nativity. A wire was strung up alongside the sidewalk, about ten feet up, and hooked on the wire was a big star, which moved along with your were following the star! Get it? I liked it.

The Lord of the Rings hasn't even opened yet, and now we're being given news of a new Inklings film to which to count down: a big screen version of the Chronicles of Narnia. Read about it here.
Aside from the occasions that an article of mine appears online with a link to this site, there are two times of the year that I regularly see spikes in page views: Late April and May, and then late November and December. After studying my page stats, I've figured out why: students are writing papers on David Lodge. I'm sure that's it. My page on Lodge has more total hits than any other page on the site besides the main one, and the numbers rise dramatically at the end of semesters. At this point, I think the page is coming up on either the first or second page of a Google hit for David Lodge, and is the first to come up if you enter "David Lodge" and "Catholic". So...all you students...welcome. And get some sleep!
Some rich people live behind us. It's a doctor, his wife, and two children, one of whom is at college now. Thank goodness, because that older child - a son - likes to have big parties when he's around, parties which don't seem to get rolling until about 3am.

They also have a couple of dogs. Two lively little beagles. There's no actual physical fence that separates our properties, but one of those inground electrical fences that keeps the dogs in bounds via sensors on their collars that shock them when they cross.

One of the dogs is content with the arrangement and never tries to escape, but the other regularly does. You can tell this has happened when you hear the animal yelping. It's happening right now. The dog is racing around in our back yard, sniffing and yelping in mild pain. Soon he'll come around the front and then make his way to our next-door neighbor's, yipping and hopping all the while.

Is he stupid or brave? I can't decide. Is he simply so dense that he doesn't even respond to Pavlovian tricks? Doesn't he understand the connection between the pain and the boundary? Or does he just not care? Is his freedom worth the price of a little pain?

What keeps us within our boundaries, properly trained and docile? Are we smart or are we simply cowards?

Feast of St. Ambrose

A quite fascinating story and a brilliant saint. St. Ambrose was not even a Christian when the people of Milan acclaimed him as their new bishop. He was a catechumen, to be sure, and probably had been enrolled as such for a while - that was not uncommon in those days, since many, especially those in ruling classes, did not want to make the serious sacrifices that Christianity entailed back then until they were sure they didn't have any more time to enjoy what was being sacrificed.

But Ambrose had done such a smashing job as the procurator of Milan, especially in opposition to Arian heretics, that when the old bishop died, the people of the city called for him to be bishop. He initially declined, of course, but then assented, concluding that God must be making His will known through the people's voice. He received the sacraments of initiation and ordination within the space of a week and then went on to become a great bishop, instrumental in battling the Arian heresy and, of course, in the conversion of Augustine. One of the passages I remember, I think from The Confessions about Ambrose describes a scene in which Augustine spied Ambrose reading a book. He was very impressed. Why? Because Ambrose was reading this book silently - it was still the practice in this late Roman culture to move one's lips and read aloud, even when reading alone.

The story of Ambrose is instructive on countless levels. It reminds us that the history of the church is rich and varied, and that not everything has always been the way it is - the process of the selection of bishops, in this case. Secondly, I think it's a good corrective to those in the church obsessed with process, organization and committees. This net sweeps up a lot of people, no matter where they fall ideologically - the "conservatives" who get hyped up about rubric and canon law as well as the "liberals" who think of their commissions, committees and sacramental preparation programs as the equivalent, not only of Canon Law, but of the Ten Commandments, as well. Memo to All: You can't make a box big enough for me. Signed, God.

More on St. Ambrose

Thursday, December 6

This little test insists that if I were a work of art, I would be Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

It has discerned that I am extremely popular and widely known. Although unassuming and unpretentious, my enigmatic smile has charmed millions. I am a mystery, able to be appreciated from afar, but ultimately unknowable and thus intriguing.

Which work of art would you be? The Art Test

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra. Much of what we know about St. Nicholas is legend, but there is no lack of those legends. Some say the story of Santa Claus coming down a chimney is rooted in the story of St. Nicholas trying to help out a father of three daughters: And when his father and mother were departed out of this life, he began to think how he might distribute his riches, and not to the praising of the world but to the honour and glory of God.

And it was so that one, his neighbour, had then three daughters, virgins, and he was a nobleman: but for the poverty of them together, they were constrained, and in very purpose to abandon them to the sin of lechery, so that by the gain and winning of their infamy they might be sustained. And when the holy man Nicholas knew hereof he had great horror of this villainy, and threw by night secretly into the house of the man a mass of gold wrapped in a cloth. And when the man arose in the morning, he found this mass of gold, and rendered to God therefor great thankings, and therewith he married his oldest daughter.

And a little while after this holy servant of God threw in another mass of gold, which the man found, and thanked God, and purposed to wake, for to know him that so had aided him in his poverty. And after a few days Nicholas doubled the mass of gold, and cast it into the house of this man. He awoke by the sound of the gold, and followed Nicholas, which fled from him, and he said to him: Sir, flee not away so but that I may see and know thee. Then he ran after him more hastily, and knew that it was Nicholas; and anon he kneeled down, and would have kissed his feet, but the holy man would not, but required him not to tell nor discover this thing as long as he lived.

In elaborations on the story, St. Nicholas dropped the last bag of gold down the chimney. This version is from The Golden Legend, a medieval compilation of saints' lives.

St. Nicholas came to our house last night. David couldn't be bothered to put out a shoe, which is too bad, since, considering its size, he would have brought in quite a haul. Joseph put his shoe out, and this morning there was a little bag of Cheerios in it!

Wednesday, December 5

So why do Michael and David think it's cruel when Katie and I put Joseph in a Turbie Twist after his bath and then collapse into helpless laughter? After all, his hair's wet. He needs something to dry it off!

Tuesday, December 4

Katie's Catholic school is having a book fair this week. You know, a week-long event in which the library is taken over by commerce and fund-raising and portable shelves housing books from Harry Potter to Tom Sawyer to various biographical tomes on Britney Spears. Scholastic is the biggest sponsor of book fairs, although there are others, and bookstores sometimes get into the act.

I was struck this time around by a couple of things:

The preponderance of victims-overcoming-adversity and white people-gaining-understanding books. I think most of the novels concerned either the Holocaust or Civil Rights issues. This has been the trend in children's literature since the 1960's, and while it's important that there be a place in children's literature for consideration of such issues, the tone of most of these books is almost unbearably prescriptive and, as a result, predictable and uninteresting to children.

The absence, in this book fair at a Catholic school, of any religion books. Yes, it was sponsored by Scholastic, and, as such, was selling only that imprint, but it still made me wonder. Why have Catholic schools become such sell-outs? It used to be that publishers produced textbooks that were Catholic specific for Catholic schools. I have a small collection of them on the bookshelf behind me. Readers, social studies, and even science textbooks were produced strictly for the Catholic market. When I was in eighth grade (in 1973) in a junior high school in Tennessee, my English teacher (in a public school) used an old Catholic grammar textbook as a supplement in our class. She mainly used it as a resource for sentences for us to diagram. She explained this to us once while dictating a sentence to us that had some religious content - I think it was about the Holy Spirit - briskly noting that she really didn't care if anyone might be offended - it was the best grammar textbook she'd ever seen, and she was going to use it.

No more, of course. The accommodation has gone completely in the other direction now. Catholic schools seek, not excellence and integrity, but acceptance by the educational establishment, and that acceptance has a concrete form: it's called accreditation. Accreditation is the cause of a host of ills ranging from the mind-numbing waste of time called the "in-service" to eviscerated and dumbed-down to course offerings to the capitulation to secular textbook publishers.

Anyway. Back to the book fair. As I said, no religion books - I take that back. On a small table displaying items adults might be interested in for themselves, right next to an Italian cookbook, was a book on Chinese astrology. Pardon me.

Wouldn't a book fair be a fabulous time for a Catholic school to get religious books into the hands of parents and children? Why don't they see it this way? Are there any organizations or companies out there that do Catholic book fairs for Catholic schools? Shouldn't there be? Shouldn't they all prominently feature my books?

Instapundit, one of the more popular Weblogs out there, is the handiwork of Glenn Reynolds, who teaches in the College of Law at the University of Tennessee. Today he noted a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal written by Sheldon Cohen, a UT professor of philosophy. Ah yes. Sheldon Cohen. Here are my memories of Sheldon Cohen:

A guy with a mob of crazy black hair, short, squat and a little wacked out. I took one class from him. Half a class, rather. It was on 17th and 18th century philosophy - Locke, Hume, and so on. A month into it, I was lost. Totally and absolutely lost. (I was also taking four other classes at the time.) I would read a sentence of one of the primary works, then move on. After reading the next sentence, I would sit and try to understand how the two sentences I had just read were related. I just couldn't do it. And Cohen's lectures were no help. I never had any idea what he was talking about.

I'm not a person who has particularly vivid memories, but this is an exception. I vividly remember lying in my bed in my dorm room, experiencing some of the worst anxiety I'd ever felt over this class. I had never been so clueless in my entire life, and I didn't see how I was going to pass an exam, much less write a paper. Then I realized something. Little Miss Achiever, Little Ms. Only Child Star of the Class figured something out. I didn't have to go on. I could actually drop the class. Sure. I wasn't majoring in philosophy. What did I care? What did anyone care? A little moment of liberation there in Melrose Hall. All thanks to the Inscrutability of Sheldon Cohen.

Joseph is 8 months old today. He spent yesterday roaring again, although sometimes it sounds more like a pirate "Aaaargh!" Either way, it's pretty darn scary. He's perfected pulling up on stuff, and has the most catholic sense of humor. The slightest things can send him chortling. Last night, it was the sight of Katie brushing her teeth. This morning, the guy at the convenience store just said hi to him, and Joseph threw his head back and started laughing. The poor guy wasn't that funny looking!
Puts my worries about my own 19-year old in perspective. Here's the Weekly Standard's excellent take on The Boy Who Loved Bin Laden.
My husband, Michael Dubruiel, has written a new book that will be out in March. You can see the cover here: Praying in the Presence of the Lord with Fulton Sheen.

Monday, December 3

Speaking of secular Advent calendars, here you go: The world's largest Advent calendar was unveiled in England last week. It's essentially a billboard, which means it's essentially a billboard: for Coca-Cola. Check it out:

Giant Advent calendar unveiled

Advent has begun, and as I noted on the main page, I am not going to have time this year to offer any daily reflections, as I did last year. Not that the world is clamoring or anything, but still.

Let me point you in the direction of some good Advent resources: There are lots of online Advent calendars, but I like this one very much: the Artcyclopedia Advent Calendar offers fine art and substantive reflections each day.

More Advent links can be found at the always trustworthy Religious Education Webzine site.

We have a Giving Tree at church. You know - a Christmas tree festooned with gift tags upon which are written requests and needs from various needy folk via whatever charitable agency is sponsoring it. In browsing the tree for a good tag or two for us to take, I saw one which really took me aback: "Game for Playstation2". A Playstation2 costs $300. I mean, I really want to help people out, but this is absurd. I think if you can afford the hardware, you can probably swing the software, too.
I think IT is pretty nifty. Of course, I don't quite see how it fits into lifestyles that involve more than shooting to and from work. Where do you put the kids? Where do you pack the groceries?

Sunday, December 2

Joseph has been a lion all day today. Really. His sound of choice has been a roar. Not because he's mad, but just because he likes the sound. It's pretty darn funny.
I finished reading Naomi Wolf's book Misconceptions: Truth, Lies and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood. I'll muse more on it later. One of the striking things about it, though, is her probably willful blindness to the connection between so many of the problems she delineates and legal abortion, which she still supports (despite some well-publicized ambivalence a few years ago, expressed in an article in The New Republic). Why is the care of babies treated as a woman's "problem" and no one else's? Well, perhaps because for thirty years, pro-abortion feminists have bleated that the whole thing is about women's "choices", to the exclusion of every other possibly interested soul. Why are mothers and babies and pregnant mothers not given respect? Because of thirty years of dehumanizing unborn children, that's why. Seems pretty obvious to me.

Now I've turned to Jeffrey Hart's Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe: Toward a Revival of Higher Education. I think I need to start reading stuff about Oprah Winfrey for an OSV article. I think I should be figuring out what to do for my next OSV book column, due right after Christmas. But today, I just can't really care.

Phew. Finished it. I thought for sure I'd be up late tonight working on that Catholic Parent article, but no. I had the whole blasted, 4000-word thing done by 5. All that, plus worrying about Christopher, who had his usual car trouble on the way to and back from Florida. He's fine though. Apparently the victory of his beloved Vols compensates for any number of other evils. His pleasure at the victory goes more than skin deep - it seems to be woven out of a sort of complicated karmic/blood feud bitterness that involves, among other things, Peyton Manning's failure to win the Heisman trophy back whenever he almost won it, and Florida's role in that particular affront to justice.

Saturday, December 1

Tennessee 34, Florida 32. Unbelievable. Michael has said all season that Tennessee plays at the level of its opponents - witness the Kentucky and Vanderbilt games for evidence. It was true tonight as well, but this time to Tennessee's benefit.
Well, David's finally risen, so I suppose it's time to journey forth. Later.
The ubiquitous Orbitz pop-up ad has a new twist today. They're giving away meat (Omaha steaks) if you book through them. What the heck is that? Since when is the promise of meat going to move me to book an airline ticket? Shouldn't the come-on be something like: no hassles at the airport, on-time flights and decent food on the plane? Everyone's saying it, and it's true: the airline industry hasn't a clue.
Some New York City Catholic school teacher are getting ready to strike. Here's an article. Do you know what I say? Good for them. I taught in Catholic schools for nine years, and in most places, the pay is scandalous. When we were in St. Louis in June, where I was speaking at the Eucharistic Congress, teachers were handing out flyers outside of the convention hall, detailing their particular complaints, complete with a graph containing the pay scale. I should have kept it - it was really shocking how little they were paid, and a friend of mine who used to teach in that diocese confirms it, saying, as I recall, that when she moved to Florida, her pay increased by something like $10,000. Everyone loves Catholic education. Catholic leadership should put their money where their mouth is and let the teachers feel the love by paying them decent salaries.
I said a couple of links down below. Here's the other one: Radio talk-show host Neal Boortz' web page, updated daily with outrageous and enraging political news from around the land. Lately, the focus, besides the War, has been on the joke of airline security, and the stories listeners send him are enough to keep you on the ground forever.
A couple of links: A pretty good one for children's literature is Speaking of children's literature, Katie is currently racing through Eleanor Estes' series The Moffats, which is one of the most charming set of children's books ever written. (Estes was a remarkable writer - there's not a modern children's book written for the purpose of helping children to be "tolerant" [and there are many] that does so with the subtlety of her The Hundred Dresses). I love the Moffats books - they are simple, funny and truthful.

My favorite part of any of the books is from The Middle Moffat, in which Janey, one of the sisters, watches with increasing concern in the weeks before Christmas as her little brother Rufus repeats his determination that he wants a pony for Christmas, and he knows Santa will bring him one. He'd wanted a pony for years, and had been given all variety of toy ponies to meet his desires, but this year, he had been quite specific in his letter to Santa, making clear that what he wanted was a real, live pony. Janey knows this is just not going to happen, but she doesn't want to see Rufus disappointed. So very early on Christmas morning, she creeps downstairs and scribbles a note to put in Rufus' stocking. The note reads: Dear Rufus, All the ponies are at the war. Love, Santy Claus

Of course, the effect is even better than Janey could have realized: Not only is Rufus' lack of a pony reasonably explained to him (World War I is "the war"), but he has the quite exotic honor of having received a note from Santa himself. I love that little tale not only because it's ingenious and moving,but because it points to a truth that I've observed among my own children: Despite the squabbling and the competitiveness, there's a real care and concern that does come out when it's really needed.

This leads me to other thoughts. Books featuring the children of relatively big families sharing adventures used to be standard reading for children. It probably reflects the reality that for much of our history, especially before urbanization, your brothers and sisters were your primary playmates. You don't see many of those books written anymore. Modern children's books tend to feature solitary children, children cut off from family, children who relate the world as individuals, not as part of a group of siblings. (I muse on all of this as an only child, but still....)

So if you've a child looking for reading material try The Moffats. Also good in the same Adventurous Siblings genre are:

the All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sidney Taylor, The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, the wonderful Half Magic books by Edward Eager, and Five Children and It and subsequent books by E. Nesbit. All great books and all, in their own ways, better than Harry Potter.

Hope I'll get some more meaningful blogging in on and off today. Although it will be busy. The children and I are going to do some Christmas shopping and surveying this morning, then it's back home where we hope the baby will nap and David and I will devote ourselves to lessening our respective workloads - he's got a short paper on the Buffalo Soldiers due on Monday, plus he's got to finish reading The Fountainhead by then, as well. I have an approximately 3000-word article due on Monday. I did a third of it yesterday, and hope I can keep up that pace over the weekend.

Then comes The Game, plus Katie has a little friend coming over to spend the night. Tomorrow morning we get up, Katie and her friend go to sing in the children's choir, the rest of us go sit in the pews at Mass, and then, maybe, we can do some sabbath resting. Except for me and that pesky article, sadly.

Friday, November 30

Advent calendars.... but without that inconvenient religious stuff. They apparently dominate the market now, and of course aren't called Advent calendars.. "Countdown to Christmas.." is more like it. The Washington Times gives you the story here.

Thursday, November 29

I'm about a third of the way through Naomi Wolf's latest, Misconceptions: Truth, Lies and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood Here's my capsule critique so far:

My God, how stupid can a supposedly smart woman be? I mean, I've been having babies off and on for twenty years now, but even when I started, about a decade younger than Wolf was when she had her first, and in the early 80's, I knew from the get-go to be suspicious of established obstetrical choices.

I suppose I should backtrack, in case you don't know what the book is about. Naomi Wolf is a social critic who gets her ideas for her books from her personal life and concerns. So when she was a young babe, seeking to make her name, and concerned about her appearance, she brought out The Beauty Myth, a critique of our society's obssession with women's appearances. Now, since she's been through childbirth twice, she's decided to expose the underside of the American childbirth scene. You know - uncaring medical professionals who try to wrest control of the birth experience from the birth mother so their golf dates won't be disrupted. Duh. Does anyone not know about this?

Wolf, for all of her chat about her pregnant friends, seems to get her cues on how she "should" feel about pregnancy and motherhood from television. She keeps offering dire recollections of how she couldn't be the buoyant, blissful mom-to-be that "everyone" told her she should be. Who? Who tells her that? No one's ever told me that. I and every other woman I've ever spoken to realizes that there are a variety of experiences of pregnancy, and furthermore, during those last two months, everyone is pretty much uniformly miserable, hoping somehow that the calculations were wrong and the baby is really due a month earlier than we thought.

There's more. A lot more. But right now, I've got to try to get some of my own writing in, and believe me, I'll do an extra-close scouring of it for whiny self-indulgence after enduring a dose of Naomi Wolf's.

Did you know the Dalai Lama went to Fatima on Tuesday? I didn't. Here's a photo. Here's another.
Two liturgies of thanksgiving. One by Anglicans, the other by us Romans. Can you guess which is which?

Archbishop pays tribute to Trade Center Heroes

Diocese offers Mass for football teams.

There are a few sites out there featuring quirky, odd news. Those I frequent are:, Jim Romensko's Obscure Store and Reading Room, and Ananova. If you find yourself feeling idealistic about humanity, visit any of these sites. That'll fix you.
I just returned from Mass at Katie's school. Or half a mass. I dropped her off at school, but didn't have the energy to keep Joseph quiet during an entire liturgy, so I went to the grocery store instead. I returned because the fourth grade were to be giving a recorder concert after Mass. Three songs - one of unknown origin, Jingle Bells and the ubiquitous Ode to Joy. They did well, and I was, as always, simple amazed at the perfect behavior of these hundreds of Catholic school children. The audience, grades K-8, sat respectfully during the five-minute performance (except for a couple of Kindergartners who couldn't keep themselves from singing along with Jingle Bells, and the fourth graders themselves processed up to the front with their recorders and music books with great decorum, as if they were at Carnegie Hall.
Can I blog something more weighty today, you think? I don't know. Katie was sick - I mean really, dramatically sick - last night, and I have a cold that I'm fighting with a full ground troops assault of herbs and zinc and citrus. It seems to be working. It would work better if I had more than 90 minutes of uninterrupted sleep at a time, but ah well.

Right now, I'm on my way to the library to pick up the copy of Naomi Wolf's Misconceptions I had on hold. I saw her blathering about it on C-Span the other day, and fully expect to spend some time reveling in deep hatred of the book later today, and perhaps trying to write about it for someone..somewhere...anywhere...outside the Catholic press. Got to break out of this ghetto, somehow.

Tuesday, November 27

A word or two, if you please, about Ebay. An ingenious idea and a deservedly successful venture. There's a piece in Tuesday's Salon about the current CEO and the series of sound decisions that have left Ebay as one of the few internet "retailers" to turn a profit. And a hefty one.

Here's why I like Ebay: Because of Ebay, I was finally, after years of frustrated agony, able to get my parents decent gifts. The first was a couple of years ago when I found a biography of Hugh Bensen, the early 20th century Catholic writer, for my mother. She loved it. Last Christmas, I got a lot of old Latin and French missals, which she liked very much. The Christmas before, I spent a couple of months monitering auctions and picked up three postcards of landmarks for each of their youths and young adulthood - Paris, Texas, and the University of Texas for my dad, and Maine and the University of Arizona for my mother. Sure, I could have snagged any of these through online stores dealing in books or postcards, but you know - it's all on Ebay, eventually, it's simple to search and monitor, even without any effort. You tell the site what you're looking for and it tells you when something matching your needs comes up. It's ingenious.

When I was in Lakeland in my 1920's bungalow, I had a black, white and red kitchen. It was very easy to find vintage stuff to match: vintage red and black cannisters, a red and black tea kettle, and so on.

Now it's clothes I'm after. Joseph's toes recently started peeking through the feet of his sleepers, and I really didn't feel like spending much on stuff he'd only outgrow in another two months. Nor do I have time for yard sales. So it's on to Ebay, and within a couple of hours, I've got 8 good quality, very gently used sleepers (Carter's and such) for about fifteen dollars, total, including shipping. Can't beat it if you tried.
Here we are again back to our old night-owl tricks. I guess I should expect it. Joseph slept quite a bit today, enabling me to write two columns, and do a little bit on my Advent booklet, Prove It Prayer, and the Tolkein article. I also made a sort of chicken cordon bleu for dinner. But, as the babies know, there's only so many hours in the day or night a child can be expected to sleep. One must make up for lost play time somehow!

We have a new baby corrall. You know - the kind they have on Rugrats - a fence you can set up on the floor. It's more spacious than a playpen and gives the impression, to the dumb babies at least, that they're not imprisoned. So far, Joseph isn't fooled.

Well, this is interesting for those of you interested in such things, at least. One of the feast days today is of a legendary figure named Josaphat (how he stays on the calendar is an interesting question). The basic story is an apparent Christianized re-telling of the life of the Buddha, and was quite popular during the Middle Ages.
HBO is planning a film on Philo Farnsworth, one of the inventors of television. I only mention it because Farnsworth spent some about thirty years in Fort Wayne from the 1930's to the 1960's, and did some important work on his invention right here. Here's some information. See...Indiana's about more than corn!
I had a delightful interview with Joseph Pearce, author of the books noted below. Mr. Pearce, currently a Writer-in-Residence at Ave Maria College in Ann Arbor, made his strong case for The Lord of the Rings as a "theological thriller" and a strong tool of evangelization, as well.

Monday, November 26

Advertisements I despise. A continuing saga. The current one running for the US Postal Service. It's got a stirring anthem playing behind a montage of valiant postal workers. I mean, my sympathies for the anthrax-afflicted are certainly real, but this ad bugs me - the Postal Service isn't going to get to my subconscious for the following simple reason: I mailed a birthday card to my son. I mailed it from the main post office in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was going to Knoxville, Tennessee. It takes about 8 hours to drive to Knoxville from Fort Wayne. It took eight days for the card to arrive.

Another one: The new Lexus ad with the Europeans waxing enthusiastically about the new Lexus...a flamenco dancer. A little Dutch boy. Are people rich enough to buy a Lexus really influenced in their decisions by the dreamy hopes of little Dutch children to be as lucky as they are?

AFLAC. Af-LAAC! Duck for Christmas dinner, anyone?

You know, I used to like the ESPN commercials. Thought they were clever. Now, however, we get the Dish Network Colege Gameday Plan. Or something. Anyway, during the games, since it's coming through the satellite on this special Pay-Per-View deal, we don't get regular commercials, just ESPN commercials. The same four commercials. Over and over again. Even with my nose buried in a book and Joseph hollering in my ear, I can't escape Kenny Mayne in stockings and the guy being "sent down" to the minor leagues of doing sports on a high school news show. Thank goodness the season is almost over.

Sunday, November 25

Whew. Even more changes. Joseph's exploration of his vocal range continues. A couple of days ago, he was doing this weird thing in which he'd close his mouth, blink, and snort. It was very strange. Today, his sound of choice was a loud sort of "Ha!" Michael wondered if Joseph, when he actually starts saying words, will actually shout them, since that's what he seems to do all the time at the moment.
Saints in the Making: According to this report, three canonizations of the well-known are definitely in the works: Padre Pio, Josemarie Escriva, and Juan Diego, seer of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Two of them please me, one does not, particularly. You can probably guess which one. Escriva was the founder of Opus Dei - an organization, I hasten to say, that does much good. No, it's not the Opus Dei factor - it's the fact that I've read much of Escriva which points to a less-than-saintly nature - high-handedness, arrogance, and even cruelty. Many canonizations have a political aspect to them, and with this one, it's particularly noticeable, and not very pleasant to watch.
The high standards of book publishing. A new biography of Vivienne Eliot, the wife of T.S. Eliot, has been published in England. A reviewer, in a generalized skewering of the book, points out one of many errors:

Painted Shadow is often assisted to lurid hypotheses by ignorance. One of the reasons given for thinking Eliot was gay is that he often quoted from Saint John of the Cross, whom Seymour-Jones mistakes, despite the 1,500 years between them, for Saint John "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (and of course we all know what that means).

Boy. Forget the whole St. John-was-gay thing. The fact that the author could get past the secretary at the publishing house with a book that confused St. John of the Cross with St. John the Apostle is simply astounding. Aspiring writers take hope! Or despair - I'm not sure which.

Saturday, November 24

A pleasant Thanksgiving weekend. I had the traditional Turkey dinner with Michael, three of my children, my dad and friend Hilary on Tuesday. Wednesday was David and Katie's trip to Virginia, which went without a snag or delay, thank goodness. During the next couple of days, we ate on the turkey and saw some area sights: a holiday display at the local botanical gardens, a display of Christmas trees at the old, quite beautiful Embassy Theater downtown, and then yesterday, the Notre Dame campus (and an outlet mall on the way, at which I got some great stuff for Katie at an Oshkosh outlet for 70% off, but don't tell her, okay?). Today, it's back to just Michael, Joseph and me.

Much work coming up in the next week: a big article for Catholic Parent magazine which I'm doing as a last-minute replacement for another writer, various columns, and a piece on Tolkein for OSV, for which I'm interviewing Joseph Pearce, the author of two books on Tolkein - Tolkein: Celebration, an anthology centered on the specificialy theological character of Tolkein's work and a biographical work, Tolkein: Man and Myth, as well as several other books, included the highly recommended Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief.

Christmas is coming. If you have a child or young person in your life who wouldn't cringe too much at the sight of a religiously-themed book as a gift, don't forget my Loyola Kids' Book of Saints or either of the Prove It books. If you'd like an autographed bookplate for any of the books, let me know, and I'll send you one.


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