Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Marcel Proust

Is it, in the words of an old professor, the greatest thing ever written? I can't say that it is, because part of me feels that admitting that would be to narrow the scope of my world to that of Proust's. But is it the greatest success ever written, a book that sets out very specific terms and fulfills them beyond any expectation, comparable to Joyce or Kant? Possibly. --Waggish, Waggish Reads Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, December 08, 2003 through May 27, 2008

Recommended reading:
by Marcel Proust at Reading Rat

Criticism (articles, essays, reviews):

Proust's Way, by Roy, alicublog, Tuesday, February 21, 2006 12:07 AM

Getting to the bottom -- or edges -- of Proust, review by Bob Blaisdell of The Proust Project, edited by Andre Aciman, San Francisco Chronicle, November 21, 2004

In search of Marcel Proust: A new version of In Search of Lost Time makes Proust less stuffy, but has something been lost in translation? by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Observer, November 17, 2002

Proust regained: on Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, by Daniel Mark Epstein, The New Criterion, October 2000

Monday, March 30, 2009


This is the classic statement of why men form institutions and the benefits they derive from them. It includes the heretical idea that one of the purposes of institutions is to encourage virtue among those who live in them. --Mark Moore, The Harvard guide to influential books: 113 distinguished Harvard professors discuss the books that have helped to shape their thinking (1986), edited by C. Maury Devine, Kim D. Parrish, and Claudia Dissell, p. 178, on Politics

Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics: ... It argues that the happiness all humans necessarily desire is more than a feeling, more than a possession. It is, rather, our being personally engaged in a set of activities that are done for their own sake, which fully integrate all aspects of human life and which are exalted enough to be worthy of human nature’s essential rationality. --David Novak, What to Give a 'First Things' Reader, First Things, December 2008

Modern philosophy has never recovered from its false start. Like men floundering in quicksand who compound their difficulties by struggling to extricate themselves, Kant and his successors have multiplied the difficulties and perplexities of modern philosophy by the very strenuousness-and even ingenuity-of their efforts to extricate themselves from the muddle left in their path by Descartes, Locke, and Hume. To make a fresh start, it is only necessary to open the great philosophical books of the past (especially those written by Aristotle and in his tradition) and to read them with the effort of understanding that they deserve. The recovery of basic truths, long hidden from view, would eradicate errors that have had such disastrous consequences in modern times. --Mortimer J. Adler, The Superiority of Aristotelian to Modern Philosophy and the Failings of Modern Aristotelian Philosophers, Philosopher at Large (1977), p. 304

Reading Aristotle, by David Weinberger, Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization, July 25, 2004

Just for the Thrill: Sycophantizing Aristotle's Poetics, by Anne Carson, Arion 1.1, December 2001

Aristotle and the Christian Church, by Brother Azarias, 1888, at Jacques Maritain Center

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I have the impression that Saki is not very much appreciated in the United States. Good. That means I can put into my debt many of you who are reading these words. Go and get an edition of this Edwardian master of the short story. Begin with, say, “Sredni Vashtar” or “The Lumber-Room” or “The Open Window.” Then see whether you can put the book down. --Christopher Hitchens, Where the Wild Things Are: The enduring, untamable appeal of Saki's short stories, The Atlantic, June 2008

Recommended reading:
by Saki at Reading Rat

Friday, March 27, 2009

We preach Christ...mas tree trunks

Another thwarted wheel and point at Mass last Sunday at St. Al's. Our new deacon was speaking on the theme of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary, and wheeled, and, there being no Crucifix, pointed to the Cross formed from bundled Christmas tree trunks. (Months ago parishioners were asked to trim the branches from discarded Christmas trees and bring in the trunks.)

This Catholics United for the Faith "Faith Facts" on Lenten Traditions Within the Home includes "3. Lenten Centerpiece".
It is ideal to use the trunk of a Christmas tree as the cross. The tree symbolizes the fullness of Christ’s incarnation, coming to us as a humble baby and saving us humbly on the cross 33 years later.

This is another case of a home devotional practice being scaled up for liturgical use at St. Al's. At the same time, the liturgy team seems phobic of a conventional symbol, such as the Crucifix, see Just doing his job and Crucifixes in government buildings.

Perhaps the homily was connected not only to the Season of Lent but to our pastor's column in the January 18, 2009 bulletin (no longer on-line). He discussed a June 2008 Priest Magazine article by Rev. Ronald Witherup on the Lutheran and Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. In the years since its October 31, 1999 signing, Rev. Witherup writes, the Declaration
has not sifted down to the general public thoroughly.

Our pastor's column does not mention if some review will be undertaken of the thoroughness of our parish's religious instruction on the doctrine of justification and the Reformation, or if there will be sermons or other instruction to reach those no longer of school age. For starters, remember
If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
--Canon I, Decree on Justification, January 13, 1547, The Council of Trent, The Sixth Session

Get people looking into things, though, and someone might come across this.
The cross with the image of Christ crucified is a reminder of Christ's paschal mystery. It draws us into the mystery of suffering and makes tangible our belief that our suffering when united with the passion and death of Christ leads to redemption. There should be a crucifix "positioned either on the altar or near it, and ... clearly visible to the people gathered there." [footnotes omitted] ...
--The Cross, §91, Other Ritual Furnishings, Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship, Chapter Two: The Church Building and the Sacred Rites Celebrated There, Committee on Divine Worship (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc., 2000)


Martin Buber

God, Buber felt, could not be discussed but only addressed—and that in the second person as “you.”...

Rather, the use of the word God, in the context of address, absorbs one in a way of life that touches on the real. All that we can really say of God is what we can say to God. --Alan Mittleman, Asking the Wrong Question, First Things, January 2009

Recommended reading:
by Martin Buber at Reading Rat

Criticism (articles, essays, reviews):

I and Thou is a sort of Rochester in reverse. As Rochester’s poems are typical seventeenth-century hymns in which the name of the Deity has been replaced by the name of his mistress, Buber’s wonder and excitement at the discovery of love in a loveless world, his astonishment that there is another “out there,” mount steadily to such a pitch that by the second half of the book no human object can contain the burden of awe and ecstasy. Love is essentially a relationship — it and its parties are relative, contingent, it is this which gives it its pathos. --Kenneth Rexroth, The Hasidism of Martin Buber, Bureau of Public Secrets, first published in Bird in the Bush (1959) and reprinted in World Outside the Window: Selected Essays of Kenneth Rexroth (1987)

Buber’s Middle Way, by Leora Batnitzky, review of The Martin Buber Reader: Essential Writings, edited by Asher Biemann, First Things, February 2003

Buber Without Tears, by Werner J. Dannhauser, First Things, March 1994, review of The Letters of Martin Buber: A Life of Dialogue, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer and Paul Mendes-Flohr, translated by Richard and Clara Winston and Harry Zohn

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sinecure of Ars

Substitute for patron saint for parish priests who think they're overworked.


J. K. Rowling

Rowling had literary reasons for her triumph—these were pretty good books—but she had social reasons, as well. Europe and America still have a hunger for the shared topic of conversation that is the main benefit of a middlebrow literary culture. --Joseph Bottum, Children’s Books, Lost and Found, First Things, December 2008

There, in the Tamga village, [Pam] Shy learned something she found amazing. The Kyrgyz children loved reading about the adventures of Harry Potter. But they had to read in turns, in small doses and always in the library. They couldn't check it out because the library had only one Harry Potter book for the entire village. --Geeta Sharma-Jensen, Harry Potter books head to Kyrgyzstan with love, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, posted February 28, 2009

Iranian TV Presents: Harry Potter and the Ziono-Hollywoodist Conspiracy, translated by MEMRI TV, at YouTube (via Mark Krikorian at The Corner)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

National Public Newspaper

Under the legislation, newspapers would operate as nonprofits, having 501(c)(3) status. This equates to newspapers operating for educational purposes, similar to public broadcasting. ...

Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax-exempt, and contributions to support coverage or operations could be tax-deductible.

--Darrell A. Hughes, Bill Would Let Newspapers Operate as Nonprofits, The Wall Street Journal

Update: This would also have the potential to provide stimulus to the promotional tote bag industry.

Cathleen Kaveny's shorter Chaput

Everyone who disagrees with me is stupid or morally obtuse.

Cathleen Kaveny's title for her dotCommonweal post on a report of Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's keynote address at the Hands-On Conference Celebrating the Year of St. Paul, at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.


Linus Pauling

His first Nobel Prize was a rare tribute to a career of superb science, rather than to a single discovery. ... from then-new quantum mechanics (which worked well for simple atoms but not for molecules) and the chemistry of atoms in molecules and crystals (their “valencies”), the first adequate theory of the chemical bond. --Paul R. Gross, Emperor of chemistry, The New Criterion, December 1995, review of Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics, by Ted Goertzel & Ben Goertzel, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling, by Thomas Hager, and Linus Pauling in His Own Words: Selected Writings, Speeches, and Interviews, edited by Barbara Marinacci

Recommended reading:
by Linus Pauling at Reading Rat

The Nobel Peace Prize 1962

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1954

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Catholic academic ayatollah shows true colors
Cardinal Newman Society uses McCarthyite tactics to promote a fundamentalist agenda

Joe Feuerherd on the Cardinal Newman Society's opposition to Notre Dame University's inviting President Obama to deliver this year's commencement address, National Catholic Reporter, March 23, 2009



...he comments on the Bible, interpreting it in a Christological key, that is, combining two things: on the one hand he listens to exactly what the text says, he really seeks to hear and understand the text itself; on the other, he is convinced that the key to understanding Sacred Scripture as the one word of God is Christ, and with Christ, in his light, one understands the Old and New Testaments as "one" Sacred Scripture. The events of the Old and New Testaments go together, they are the way to Christ, although expressed in different signs and institutions (this is what he calls the concordia sacramentorum). --Benedict XVI, Saint Bede, the Venerable, General Audience, February 18, 2009

Recommended reading:
by Bede at Reading Rat

Monday, March 23, 2009

Supporters lobby for Catholic lay worker in Beloit

(1) [Ruth] Kolpack insists she upholds Catholic teachings in her work as a pastoral associate but may hold some views contrary to the church as a matter of personal conscience. ...

(2) "It's a question of private conversations vs. my professional role in the parish, and they have to be kept separate," said Kolpack...

(3) Kolpack ... said they [the allegations] might stem from hypothetical situations she presented in discussions with a Catholic student group at Beloit College or in a private conversation with students afterward.

That was a slippery slope on which she slid out of a job as a pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in the Diocese of Madison. Annysa Johnson reported in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Spokesmen for the diocese have declined to comment on the allegations, but one said Friday that lay workers responsible for teaching the faith cannot stray from established church doctrine.

Even I, as an untrained catechist (see Catechists Needed) assumed if I said one thing to students in class, I was not to undercut it in conversations with them outside of class. Presumably that would likewise apply to a catechist with a master of divinity degree.

Here is her thesis, which she says is involved in the controversy. Among other things she finds the Church's theological and liturgical use of words like "Father" and "Son" problematic, to say the least. While this sounds like an alumni magazine class of 1973 reunion anecdote, it was still masters thesis material in 2003 at St. Francis Seminary.

P.S. It happens that in last year's presentation St. Al's by Jim Smith from Pastoral Planning.com (see Spontaneous combustion), he cited as one source of parish problems staffers who think they know how everything should be done because they have masters degrees. That got a hearty laugh from the parishioners and staff present.


Frankly, the fastest way to terminate Kolpack's reputation as a scholar is to keep her thesis on-line and give it the widest possible readership. --Diogenes, Madison Hatter, Off the Record

She denies that this was ever done in her role as a lay minister, but that she may privately hold views that dissent from Church teaching. --A Faithful Catholic, Morlino fires Woman for Private Thoughts, Catholic Wintertime In Milwaukee

Moreover, how many DREs and pastoral associates share these views but are too clever -- or lazy -- to publish them? --Rich Leonardi, A troublesome overall teaching mentality, Ten Reasons

A. L. Wegener

Every student of geology learns about Alfred Wegener (1880-1930), the German atmospheric scientist who showed that rocks, fossils, and mountain belts match exactly where the continents can be fitted together. As a specialist on climates, Wegener was particularly interested in the distribution of glacial deposits from the Permian geologic period found on all the southern continents. He argued that if the continents at that time were in their present positions, an ice sheet would have implausibly extended from the South Pole to the equator, covering wide expanses of open ocean. --Stephen O. Moshier, The Upper Crust, Books & Culture, July/August 2008, review of Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet, by Ted Nield

Recommended reading:
by A. L. Wegener at Reading Rat

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Donutist Heresy

Since time immemorial – or at least since 1968 – any Catholic perceived to spend too much time defending doctrines or liturgical norms has been labeled a “Pharisee.”

So wrote Rich Leonardi at Ten Reasons on Sympathy for the Pharisee, and so I've been called at St. Al's for raising a liturgical issue.

It turns out that at my parish one is a Pharisee if one believes that the rubrics of the liturgy are more important than the rubrics of after-Mass donuts, see The call to holeyness. If, as Bishop Richard Sklba has written, there is a ‘heresy’ of rubricism, then, alas, St. Al's is in the grip of the Donutist Heresy.

The Donutist Heresy turns pet projects and pet peeves into policy, and puts pet phrases into mission statements, vision statements, even liturgy.

For another example, some time back our pastor was attempting to make a homiletic point by repeating gossip from another pastor about parishioners concerned that the altar candles should be beeswax. This was characterized as a negative that kept people from embracing the positive message of the Gospel. He summed this up as a call to "turn our 'nos' into 'yeses'". He then went on to insert that phrase into every part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Any "rubricist" present might have wondered if this didn't lend some support to those unnamed parishioners' larger point about rubrics, even if they were wrong on the specifics of altar candles.

Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2005 homily on today's Feast of St. Joseph that "The 'nos' of the Commandments are as many 'yeses' to the growth of true freedom." That might be applied to rubrics and liturgy. And if there is a law of the conservation of rubrics, better they all be used up in liturgy so that none are left for pastry.

P.S. Bishop Sklba points out that Pharisees come across pretty well in USCCB pamphlets compared to in the Gospels, see Renewing our Jewish roots during Lent.

Update: today's Pearls Before Swine, by Stephan Pastis
Pearls Before Swine


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Federalist

by "Publius" (Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison)

There aren't better insights or more ingenious polemics anywhere than in these originals. --Hale Champion, The Harvard guide to influential books: 113 distinguished Harvard professors discuss the books that have helped to shape their thinking (1986), edited by C. Maury Devine, Kim D. Parrish, and Claudia Dissell, p. 44

This is the enigmatic great white whale among Founding-era documents.

Partisans of Senate (or congressional power) agree with Hamilton (or, at least, they think they agree with Hamilton). These commentators look back to the Tenure in Office Act and to any number of statements made on the floor of the House when statutory removal was first debated in 1789 -- all purportedly consistent with Hamilton's statement here. Partisans of presidential power disagree with Hamilton (or, at least, they think they do). They affirm that Hamilton erred. These commentators look to Myers v. United States [272 U.S. 52 (1926)] and to statements made by Madison on the floor of the House during the statutory removal debates. The consensus view, nay - the universal view, is that Hamilton was speaking to the issue of the "removal" of federal officers. --Seth Barrett Tillman, The Puzzle of Hamilton's Federalist No. 77: It Turns out Hamilton was Right After All, abstract of an upcoming article, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 33, pp. 1-15, 2010

After the New Deal in particular, policymaking power is often wielded by those with technical expertise—specialists in environmental protection, occupational safety, communications technologies, banking, financial stability, and much more. Some institutions—the Federal Reserve Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission—often seem to combine the power to legislate with the power to execute the laws. It is a serious question whether Publius's claims about republican government can easily coexist with modern bureaucratic structures. --Cass R. Sunstein, The Enlarged Republic—Then and Now, The New York Review of Books, March 26, 2009

When I began the series, I thought I might just pull out a pithy quotation here or there, and I doubted whether I would have something to say on each and every one of the 85 essays of Publius. But once I got going, I thought, why not every one? ...

One or two kind readers have told me that my series of itinerant observations makes a useful companion to The Federalist, for teaching or for private study. ... In the first essay of The Federalist, Publius invites us not to think about him but to think with him. That’s still a good suggestion to follow. --Matthew J. Franck, The Perennial Publius, January 22, 2007-May 29, 2007

Renewing our Jewish roots during Lent

Many are rightly concerned that those unacceptable comments might reflect the attitudes of the entire Society membership.

So says Bishop Richard Sklba of comments by Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X. By that standard, one would be rightly concerned that comments by (or about) Pharisees, recorded in the Gospels, might reflect the attitudes of the entirety of the Jews. Bishop Sklba notes Gospel readings in
some final weeks before Holy Thursday highlighting the growing animosity between Jesus and the religious leaders of Jerusalem in his day.

This might lead some to reconsider whether it is right or wrong in principle to attribute any leader's expressed views to all members of a group, as opposed to having this depend on disdain or esteem for the group.

[Herald of Hope column
Milwaukee Catholic Herald
March 12, 2009]


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Poll finds changing religious trends in Wisconsin

the number of Wisconsinites who identify themselves as Catholics dropped from 39% to 29% of the population between 1990 and 2008

That according to the American Religious Identification Survey 2008, reported by Annysa Johnson in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The drop would extrapolate to a decline to 0% in 52 years, unless there's hope in these percentages being
despite a 1% increase nationwide over that period and a similar uptick in Wisconsin since 2001.

My early December conversation with a St. Al's insider, see Bubble and panic, included being told that anecdotal evidence indicated that other denominations had the same kinds of declines the Catholic Church did. As I said, such assertions at my parish are usually followed by the contrary facts popping up.
Wisconsin residents identifying themselves as other Christian faiths fell from 52% to 47%

Half the percentage of the Catholic decline, and even less proportionately.
Milwaukee Archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf said the Catholic decline in the study doesn't jibe with the archdiocese's own membership numbers, which show an increase over that time, but added that the church's numbers aren't scientific.

"Not scientific" here meaning an error margin larger than 10% of the whole population. See The 40% solution.
While Catholic parishes in the central city might be struggling to hang onto members, some suburban counterparts are booming, said Wolf of the archdiocese.

After all, it's not the preferential option of the poor.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Flannery O'Connor

She never knew for certain whether she would survive a flare-up from her disease. And her while faith undoubtedly soothed and buoyed her against massive anxiety on the matter, she writes like a person pursued. Her writing is violently good. --Jessica Ferri, review, Bookslut, May 2009, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, by Brad Gooch

Hey I read the new biography of Flannery O'Connor and made some comics while I read it hoping a good comic would come out but nothing did and here they are anyway: --Stereotypist, Brad Gooch's Biography of Flannery O'Connor (via Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor)

Then came the dramatic turning point of her life: the diagnosis that she, like her deceased father, suffered from lupus, which compelled her to return home to Andalusia, the family farm outside Milledgeville. There she lived with her mother, raising peacocks and other rare birds as she moved about on crutches. In those 15 years, she shaped the stellar short fiction and two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), that have led many critics to declare her the greatest Southern woman writer of the 20th century. --Carlin Romano, Virginia, Jean, and Flannery: A Good Role Model Is Easy to Find, The Chronicle Review, March 13, 2009 (via Arts & Letters Daily)

Robert Giroux sent a copy of Wise Blood to Evelyn Waugh hoping for a blurb, and Waugh replied, “The best I can say is: ‘If this really is the unaided work of a young lady, it is a remarkable product.’ ” --Joy Williams, Stranger Than Paradise, The New York Times, March 1, 2009, review of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, by Brad Gooch

O'Connor did not travel widely, socialize (as such) or date, and she spent most of her life in the company of her mother and her beloved menagerie of birds, yet her fierce insight, imagination, faith and craft create a universe that fairly burns through geographical or cultural boundaries. --Joanna Brichetto, Southern charmer, Book Page, March 2009, review of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, by Brad Gooch

Sheltered, plain, shy, she preferred feathered creatures to people and identified with them; underneath she was all beak and claws. Her father was diagnosed with lupus when she was 12 and in many respects she remained stuck at that age, looking out at the world with a childlike detachment and not letting anyone in, except God. A Roman Catholic, she wrote about grotesques, she explained, to convey the shocking Christian vision of original sin. --The Economist, All beak and claws, February 26, 2009, review of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, by Brad Gooch

She was very concerned with the intellectual life of American Catholics and indeed saw what she was doing for the papers as in some way an act of charity in which readers might be encouraged to read beyond the pieties. --Amy Welborn, Under Flannery’s eye, Charlotte was Both, December 29, 2008. Review of The Presence of Grace and Other Book Reviews (1983), by Flannery O'Connor

...there are at least three main reasons for the continuing fascination with O’Connor. First, readers are intrigued by the sense of humor and the hard yet radiant wit evident in nearly all of her productions; second, they are attracted by the Christian vision illuminated in her essays, letters, and incarnational art; and third, they are astonished by her gifts as storyteller, gifts which are evident in the depth of her especially unsentimental realism, in her eye for the absurd and the grotesque (for freaks and sinners like you and me), and in the shocking plots and violent characters in her fiction. --Michael M. Jordan, Flannery O’Connor’s Writing: A Guide for the Perplexed, Modern Age, Winter 2005

Her gotham sojourn included her famous encounter with
Mary McCarthy, who "departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual." O'Connor and Lowell arrived at a literary soiree at eight o'clock, and by 1:00 a.m. the Georgian "hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say." Finally conversation turned to "the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend." McCarthy condescendingly allowed that it was a lovely symbol. O'Connor immediately piped up, "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it." --Scott Walter, The Strange Case of a Hillbilly Thomist, Claremont Review of Books, Spring 2004, review of Flannery O'Connor: A Life, by Jean W. Cash, Flannery O'Connor: Spiritual Writings, edited by Robert Ellsberg, and Return to Good and Evil: Flannery O'Connor's Response to Nihilism, by Henry T. Edmondson III

O’Connor’s talent was recognized during her lifetime, although critics sometimes mischaracterized her work as nothing more than Tobacco Road meets Edgar Allen Poe. --Amy Welborn, Stalking Pride, Our Sunday Visitor, August 8, 1999

The Way of Distortion, by Christopher Benfey, The New Republic, June 3, 2009, review of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, by Brad Gooch (via Arts & Letters Daily)

The Way of Distortion, by Christopher Benfey, The New Republic, at Powell's Review-a-Day, May 28, 2009, review of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, by Brad Gooch

Flannery O'Connor's Vision of Faith, Church and Modern Consciousness, by Most Reverend George H. Niederauer, Archbishop of San Francisco, Lane Center Lecture Series, September 28, 2007

In Search of Flannery O’Connor, by Lawrence Downes, The New York Times, February 4, 2007

A Proper Scaring, by Kathleen Lundquist, posted 8:00 PM August 29, 2006, Mystagogia

A Good War Is Hard to Find: Abu Ghraib, Flannery O'Connor, and the Problem of American Innocence, by David Griffith, Godspy June 28, 2004

A Dog Named Spot, by Paul Mankowski, First Things, March 2003, review of Flannery O’Connor: A Life, by Jean W. Cash

Flannery O'Connor, weblog in Spanish (via Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor)

The Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home, weblog (via Flannery O'Connor)

Andalusia, Home of Flannery O'Connor, weblog (via The Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home)

If Flannery had a blog, by Thomas Smith

The call to holeyness

Last Sunday's St. Al's bulletin gives a rare glimpse into the inner workings of our pastoral staff.
We recently discussed our hospitality Sundays at a staff meeting, and we all agreed that this is a very important part of our parish, since it allows families and friends to linger after Mass and socialize. It was also mentioned that the cost of donuts, milk, juice and paper products has been increasing steadily to the point where the "free will" offerings cover less than 75% of the cost. Additionally, it was noticed that more than a few people (adults and children) were taking 4 or 5 donuts at time…. not for their table…. but for themselves. Some even were seen taking donuts home with them. Just a reminder that this hospitality is not meant to be a FULL breakfast but a time to have a snack and socialize. Thanks for your cooperation.
--From the Pastor's Desk, March 15, 2009 Bulletin, page 2

See Spontaneous combustion.


Shaped by History

Jenny Price asks Mark Stein why Wisconsin is shaped like a mitten. Mr. Stein is author of How the States Got Their Shapes and Ms. Price interviews him in the alumni magazine On Wisconsin, Winter 2008.

(Actually lower Michigan is shaped like a mitten, and Wisconsin is shaped like a handprint. One explanation is that these are each Paul Bunyan's hand print, one with a mitten on, the other with it off.)

Mr. Stein says Wisconsin's shape resulted from a chain reaction of losses to territories that became states earlier, and the belief that other states should have access to a Great Lake. The former lead to the Upper Peninsula being added to Michigan. The latter prevented the Wisconsin's boundaries from running through Chicago and the Twin Cities.

John Lindquist summarizes the Evolution of Territories and States from the Old "Northwest Territory". The northern boundary of Illinois was originally to extend from at or near the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Michael D. Sublett and Frederick H. Walk explain at Location that this involved
the last-minute shift in 1818 of the boundary from its intended location at 41° 44' North to 42° 30' North, a distance of approximately sixty miles. That deviation from the boundary prescribed in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 increased Illinois' territory by nearly 20 percent, an area roughly equivalent in size to Massachusetts.

Mr. Lindquist says this part of Illinois is sometimes "referred to informally as 'Baja Wisconsin'!" In a lifetime living in southern Wisconsin, I'd never heard that before.

The official state highway map shows the Illinois-Wisconsin boundary angling slightly south of latitude 42° 30' North as it runs west to east. If that's accurate, Sharon and parts of Beloit and Pleasant Prairie are indicated as being in Alta Illinois.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Adam Smith

Smith viewed markets and capital as doing good work within their own sphere, but first, they required support from other institutions—including public services such as schools—and values other than pure profit seeking, and second, they needed restraint and correction by still other institutions—e.g., well-devised financial regulations and state assistance to the poor—for preventing instability, inequity, and injustice. --Amartya Sen, Capitalism Beyond the Crisis, The New York Review of Books, March 26, 2009

Recommended reading:
by Adam Smith at Reading Rat

Criticism (articles, essays, reviews):

Tammy Wynen stands near the back of a crowd outside a paper mill in Kimberly, Wisconsin. At a bank of microphones, speakers rail against Adam Smith; one, from the United Steel Workers, literally blames The Wealth of Nations for the mill’s impending closure. --The Economist, Of beer and bikers, September 11, 2008

Books That Changed the World, address by P. J. O'Rourke to the Commonwealth Club of California, February 2, 2007

See The God Squad

Adam Smith, the sensible philosopher, by David Frum, on The Life of Adam Smith, by Ian Simpson Ross, The New Criterion, March 1996

A Smith for All Seasons, by Michael Novak, First Things, August/September 1993

Bram Stoker

What, then, is the source of Dracula’s power? A simple device, used in many notable works of art: the deployment of great and volatile forces within a very tight structure.

The narrative method of Dracula is to assemble a collage of purportedly authentic documents, most of them in the first person. Many of the materials are identified as excerpts from the diaries of the main characters. In addition, there are letters to and from these people—but also from lawyers, carting companies, and Hungarian nuns—plus telegrams, “newspaper” clippings, and a ship’s log. --Joan Acocella, In the Blood: Why do vampires still thrill? The New Yorker, March 16, 2009 (via Arts & Letters Daily)

Recommended reading:
by Bram Stoker at Reading Rat

John Greenleaf Whittier

Since he is possibly best known as an Abolitionist, it can come as a surprise to learn that during the Civil War years and their immediate aftermath, Whittier, in his maturity as both a man and a poet, is no longer writing the fiery verse propaganda in support of the cause that marked much of his earlier career, but has for some time been composing out of deeper inspiration and greater poetic resonance. His other poetic subjects apart from slavery—legend, history, nature, the past, and especially the spiritual life—come more to the fore, and even the poems he does write on the events of the day are often more skillful and fashioned with a broader scope. --Carol Iannone, John Greenleaf Whittier’s Civil War, Modern Age, Summer 2005

Recommended reading:
by John Greenleaf Whittier at Reading Rat

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Feast (and Famine) of Tabernacles

MUHS Magazine Winter 2008 features the dedication of the new Marquette High chapel. See A state-of-the-art worship facility. The pictures used for the cover and article leave the impression the new chapel's aisle runs down the long axis of the rectangular space. The photos in the Then & Now retrospective show this is not the case. Unlike the one-time large chapel, and like its smaller replacement, the new chapel is sideways, that is, has the altar on the side of the rectangle.

Notice of blank walls below clerestory windows, now a common feature in churches. They put me in mind of Mass long ago in the "temporary" basement church at St. Veronica. Someday, we said, we'll build a real church. Unfortunately someday didn't come until the 1960s, and so the new church had windows set just under the ceiling, giving the impression of still being in the basement. The 1980s church at St. Al's has windows only along the gable. Not long ago one of our Xaverian fill-in priests made homiletic use of our worshipping "in a basement".

On the plus side, as recent MUHS alumnus Andy commented earlier, the tabernacle of the new MUHS chapel is returned to a central location. That's one for Eppstein Uhen Architects. By contrast, in the simulated discussion with parishioners for the 2001-2002 St. Al's building project, I questioned again putting the tabernacle in a separate chapel, rather than in the main church. The response of the architect from Plunkett Raysich Architects included his assertion that "We're not going back." Maybe he knows his client; it looks like Marquette High never quite got to the point of eliminating the Crucifix, and St. Al's has never gone back to regularly having one.


Frank O'Hara

When Auden chose Ashbery’s first volume for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, he wrote O’Hara a thoughtful rejection, saying, “I think you (and John, too, for that matter) must watch what is always the great danger with any ‘surrealistic’ style, namely of confusing authentic nonlogical relations which arouse wonder with accidental ones which arouse mere surprise and in the end fatigue.” --William Logan, Urban Poet, The New York Times, June 29, 2008, review of Selected Poems (2008) by Frank O'Hara, edited by Mark Ford

Recommended reading:
by Frank O'Hara at Reading Rat
by W. H. Auden at Reading Rat
by John Ashbery at Reading Rat

Friday, March 13, 2009

Information Management: A Proposal

A document produced by Tim Berners-Lee in March 1989.
This document was an attempt to persuade CERN management that a global hypertext system was in CERN's interests.

This lead to the development of the World Wide Web. The proposal's twentieth anniversary is reportedly to be celebrated today at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

(via The Economist)


Subgenre of biography
It would be futile to blind ourselves to the fact that readers today find all pathography unpalatable. They clothe their aversion in the complaint that a pathological review of a great man never results in an understanding of his importance and his achievements, and that it is therefore a piece of senseless impertinence to make a study of things in him that could just as easily be found in the first person one came aross. --Sigmund Freud

Its motifs are dysfunction and disaster, illnesses and pratfalls, failed marriages and failed careers, alcoholism and breakdowns and outrageous conduct. --Joyce Carol Oates


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Capitalism Beyond the Crisis

Amartya Sen in The New York Review of Books, March 26, 2009
There is, however, also a need for better understanding of the options that exist. In US discussions of health reform, there has been an overconcentration on the Canadian system—a system of public health care that makes it very hard to have private medical care—whereas in Western Europe the national health services provide care for all but also allow, in addition to state coverage, private practice and private health insurance, for those who have the money and want to spend it this way. It is not clear just why the rich who can freely spend money on yachts and other luxury goods should not be allowed to spend it on MRIs or CT scans instead. If we take our cue from Adam Smith's arguments for a diversity of institutions, and for accommodating a variety of motivations, there are practical measures we can take that would make a huge difference to the world in which we live.

(via Arts & Letters Daily)

The Real Absence

A drop in Sunday Mass attendance finally got a reaction at St. Al's a few weeks back when the assigned priest didn't show up.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Echo Chamber

Ben Smith reported at Politico on The new left-wing conspiracy, a daily conference call involving "officials from more than 20 labor, environmental and other Democratic-leaning groups".
The "8:45 A.M. call," as it’s referred to by members, began three weeks ago, and it marks a new level in coordination by the White House’s allies...

The Center for American Progress Action Fund is one of the two groups hosting the call. Jennifer Palmieri, its senior vice president for communications, described the need the calls are intended to fill.
"[CAP President John] Podesta’s and my experience was in the White House during the Clinton years, and we didn’t have a coordinated echo chamber on the outside backing us up," she said.

See Cocoon.

(via KausFiles)

Update: Jonah Goldberg at The Corner asks What About the Lapdoggery? And, Let's Not Forget the Lickspittles
Places like the Center for American Progress (allegedly "the liberal Heritage Foundation") were explicitly created to mimic what self-styled progressives believe to be the vast right-wing conspiracy (It was the same agenda that brought us Air America). In one sense, they were great at mimicking all this stuff, but like the aliens in Galaxy Quest they lacked a certain level of understanding of how this stuff works internally to these organizations. For instance, they don't seem to understand that the purpose of institutions like the Heritage Foundation is to make the White House and Congress more of an echo chamber of Heritage, not the other way around.

Or to put it another way, it's reminiscent of President Nixon hiring Donald Segretti in an attempt to develop a "Dick Tuck capability".


Bubble and panic

St. Al's version of this phenomenon is long stretches of complacency interrupted by a Financial Crisis.

In early December, a parish insider recounted that a parishioner had said the parish had been "transformed" by our current pastor. Long experience told me that when I hear things like that, a Financial Crisis could not be far behind.

The January 18, 2009 bulletin (no longer online) carried a bold print message from the pastor on weekly envelope giving.
We have fallen about $40,000 behind last year in just a two-week period.

A few weeks of such appeals and giving was back on target. I expect complacency will be back on target, as well.

In my files I have a January 19, 2004 "Projection for 2003-2004 Fiscal Year". The 2003-2004 budgeted income from the weekly collection was $1,413,600. Using Tom's Inflation Calculator, the equivalent for the current 2008-2009 fiscal year would be $1,629,168.35.

The "Parish Giving Results" in the February 8, 2009 bulletin (page 3) include a footnoted reminder that
The total Fiscal Year contributions needed from envelopes and offertory collections to support parish-operating expenses are: $1,370,000.00.

That is, in purchasing power, 84% of what was received five years before. Seems to me a reason to not be complacent.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spontaneous combustion

Can a parish at which the pastoral staff's top priority is not taking on more work light a spiritual fire in its parishioners? St. Al's is trying to find out.

The May 18, 2008 bulletin (no longer online) included an item called "Parish Leadership Retreat".
Jim Smith from Pastoral Planning.com will be coming to lead us in looking at a larger focus for formation within our parish, which can challenge ALL people - children, teens and adults.

This May 20, 2008 "retreat", actually an evening meeting, was titled Dreams & Visions. We sat pre-broken up into small groups at tables. A member of the pastoral staff introduced Mr. Smith. That introduction included recounting that a couple staffers had seen his presentation and were so impressed they invited him to our parish. The introduction made a point of saying that an essential part of the attraction of the program is that it wouldn't involve a lot of additional work for the staff.

It happened I was at the same table as the pastor. I looked to see if he would jump up to clarify that remark; he didn't. He spoke up here and there on other points, but not to disabuse us of the notion that our pastoral staff's priorities include avoiding more work.

The July 20, 2008 parish bulletin (no longer online) carried the official meeting summary, titled "How Do We Make A Good Parish A Great Parish?"
The first step was gathering the leaders of the parish to hear about the process.

The second step is to form a core of leaders to develop a vision of how the process will work for our parish.

Regarding my level of skepticism of "develop a vision" leading to "process will work", see St. Dilbert's.

The January 18, 2009 parish bulletin (no longer online) carried an update, "Dreams and Visions: Creating a Pastoral Plan".
Since mid-May 2008, a group of parish members and staff have been meeting to reflect on the book, Dreams and Visions, by Bill Huebsch. As we look to develop a pastoral plan for lifelong faith formation, we decided that it was important to express both the strengths and challenges facing St. Alphonsus Parish Community [sic].

This was followed by a long list of strengths, then the sentence "We do have challenges" with no specifics. One parish weakness is failing to call attention to its accomplishments, in homilies, the bulletin, or the parish website, not to boast but to build upon. Another is obliviousness to its internal contradictions. The bulletin article goes on,
Our core work is to help people deepen their commitment with Christ, and to, thereby, light a spiritual fire within our parish.

Not likely when the pastoral staff acts as a spritual fire extinguisher.

Any regular readers might recall I had raised the issue of increasing Sunday Mass attendance during discernment for parish council around May 1996. The pastoral staff members present seemed aghast and immediately responded with reasons why this was not a pressing problem. This kind of response was a regular source of frustration for me when I raised this and related issues of parishioner engagement during my three years on the council, and after.

I believe it was at the first of our parish dinner and auction fundraisers that someone then in a position to know took me aside. (I think this was in 2002). That person told me that the real reason the pastoral staff opposed increasing attendance was because more people would involve more work for them. Apparently they've since repeated this so often among themselves that they've forgotten why they hadn't been saying it publicly.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Time of the more things change

This year St. Al's has requested an associate pastor, unlike last year, see Time Of Change.

Did passing on an associate last time not work out as hoped? Do this year's priests look more compatible?

Compatibility is still key, judging by our pastor's explanation in his column in the November 9, 2008 parish bulletin (no longer online).
There is an interview process, and there must be an agreement reached between the pastor (and the pastoral staff) and the potential priest-associate pastor.

There's no mention of simulated parishioner input from the parish council.

P.S. Since that earlier post mentions the parish fish fry, it's recently changed to add shrimp (butterflied deep-fried) as an entree option, and clam chowder (additional charge).


Sunday, March 8, 2009

After Dolan, who will lead the flock?

Annysa Johnson reports in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on speculation about who will be appointed to replace Timothy Dolan as Archbishop of Milwaukee.
But whoever succeeds him will face a number of challenges:

The Milwaukee Archdiocese is just halfway through a $105 million capital campaign, at a time when the economy could make collecting pledges more difficult.

See The Archdiocese Wants $100 Million.
It faces possible bankruptcy if it loses a series of fraud cases related to clergy sex abuse that are expected to go to trial this year.

See Archdiocese prepares for return to court and Judge rules archdiocese’s insurance not liable for fraud-based claims.
And the number of Catholics locally has slipped, despite the growing Latino population, which has helped keep national Catholic numbers flat.

See Catholics in Crisis.

A sidebar summarizes Milwaukee Archbishop Possibilities [if the link is now working]. The article groups them as follows.
• Wisconsin Bishops Jerome E. Listecki of La Crosse, Robert C. Morlino of Madison, David L. Ricken of Green Bay and Peter F. Christensen of Superior.

• Two others with ties to the state: Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry, who was ordained in Milwaukee and spent 20 years here; and Bishop Paul J. Swain of Sioux Falls, S.D., a former Madison priest who worked as legal counsel and policy director for then-Gov. Lee Dreyfus.

• A handful from around the country, all with Midwestern ties: Bishops Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.; Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D.; Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa; and Thomas Paprocki, an auxiliary bishop in Chicago.

For popes, it's said one factor is to avoid a successor who closely resembles the predecessor that he will start out subject to superficial comparison. Perhaps this is taken into account for bishops.

Reading Rat Vol. 3 No. 2

Also of interest:

Readability is a simple tool that makes reading on the Web more enjoyable by removing the clutter around what you're reading. --Readability: An arc 90 laboratory experiment (via Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Teachers find new ways to utilize hand-held players

John Neville reports in Franklin Now, March 4, 2009, on how iPods are being used in the Franklin Public Schools. For example,
Chad Kafka, a technology support teacher for the Franklin School District, said teachers at Forest Park [Middle School] build lesson plans around iPod use. He said students have used iPOds for video clips, audio books, podcasts and interviews (with a microphone attachment).


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Book sale stacks up in hard times

What's a used book sale like? Laurel Walker reports in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 4, 2009, on this week's by the Friends of the Elm Grove Library.

I'll vouch for it all: the pleasures and pains of pre-sale sorting, the book dealers' "land rush" at the preview sale, homeschoolers and children's books shoppers on opening morning, books bought as decoration, volume buyers in the final hours, and even books that should be thrown away.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Another rubric in the wall

Wondering if Mass at your parish follows "the rules"? We sometimes don't need to wonder at St. Al's because the pastor announces that it doesn't. The latest example was at last Sunday's 11:00 a.m. Mass when he underscored a homiletic point by noting the translation of the Gospel we're using is no longer the prescribed one.

If there are any regular readers, you know that I've raised issues of conflict between what the parish has us teach in Christian Formation and parish practice. Our parish Christian Formation program takes it for granted that the students and their parents aren't likely to be at Sunday Mass. (It's an example of what I call a "shoulder-shrugging scandal".) I'm somewhat dubious of suggesting to the kids that they should go to Mass so they can hear the pastor announce the latest thing we should be doing, but aren't.

P.S. In his column in the February 15, 2009 bulletin, our pastor writes, "it is difficult to understand why some Catholics excuse themselves from Mass for the slightest reason." In the same column he goes on to say "As part of the Lenten observance, I will not be telling a 'story' until after Easter." The story refers to the joke he tells just before the final blessing. He once explained that jokes aren't supposed to be inserted into the Mass, so he calls it a "story".


Monday, March 2, 2009

Hollywood musicals rarely have perfect pitch

You'd think a Lerner & Loewe musical starring Gene Kelly couldn't possibly fail, but only if you haven't seen Brigadoon. Long a favorite of those who prize unintentional hilarity, it's worth checking out on the off chance that you're contemplating filming an overly quaint story about an enchanted Scottish village on a Hollywood soundstage, where everything from the villagers to the last wee bit o' heather appears to be made of plastic and rented by the hour. --Joanne Weintraub, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 1, 2009

Snark launch, photo from 45th Range Squadron, 45th Space Wing, Patrick Air Force Base


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reading Rat Vol. 3 No. 1

I have revised the format for the individual items and so started a new volume number. That is more like a version number in the internet context, I suppose.

Also of interest:

Sister Salad, Yo Comments Are Whack!, YouTube (via Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor)