Sunday, August 9, 2009

By way of explanation

No, I am not dead, or even ill. However, I am in the process of moving so I have not done anything on this blog for a while.

As for my move, it is with the same employer, but to a new country -- following a long dream of mine, I am moving to Europe for a 2-3 year rotation.

So I will continue my hiatus for a while longer or maybe I will occasionally pop in with comments.

But in parting, I will ask one question -- are you birthers serious? He was born in Hawaii, deal with it.

Good bye for now and God bless.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some more Hymns

In my lonely quest to get better hymns in Catholic Churches, my thoughts on some Lenten and Easter hymns:

1. Where You There?

Probably my favorite Lenten Hymn

2. Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones. This hymn has been stuck in my head since Easter.

3. Ye Songs and Daughters. This is an easy hymn to sing and probably one of the oldest in the Catholic hymnals.

4. Alleluia, alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise.

Tea Parties

There were more tea parties last week and they are now getting some push back from the left.

So what do I think about them? The parties themselves have been focusing on taxes and of course the left is focusing on that. And even when spending is raised, the left counters by asking where "we" were when the Bush administration was spending. Granted, I would argue that many of us were complaining about Bush's spending. Porkbusters for one flashed across the sky like a meteor, even getting under Trent Lott's skin. But while I see occasional references here and there, the whole Porkbusters "movement" just died out.

But further on spending, while Bush was spending too much (and the GOP in the early 2000s was using pork to solidify its position), the "stimulus" act has exploded the deficit. No one read the bill before passage. President Obama reneged on his promise for a public review period for all bills, so no one really read the thing before signing. And while much in the act is probably defensible and good, most of these items should have gone through the regular appropriations process.

This may sound strange, but the whole thing leaves me a little depressed (and generally, I do not believe in getting depressed on matters political). For one thing, as a conservative, I really don't DO the whole protest thing. Other than the tea party a few months ago and the occasional political rally, I have not been to a protest since I don't know when.

But my main concern is more philosophical. My complaint is not really with the taxes but the spending. And not really the spending but about the feeling that the relationship between the people and the state was perhaps irrevocably changing. It has been moving that way for a while, but it seems now to be accelerating.

I am not sure what if anything will come out of the tea parties. But the GOP needs to be kept out. The GOP's hunger for political power through earmarks and pork have helped get us to this point. The GOP needs to prove it can be trusted again on fiscal matters and they are for from proving to me (I am not longer a registered Republican, my disgust raised so high). Some argue the tea parties can turn into a third party, but I doubt it.

If anything, the parties can at least slow down the drift to a managerial state.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday

Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones,
Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
Virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

An Italian Holy Saturday (and some final thoughts on Lent)

So yes, again this Holy Saturday I ate the traditional Italian foods such as meat pie and macaroni pie, filled with eggs, cheese, meat etc.

I read something interesting recently regarding the Lenten fast. I always knew that in the old days, Catholics would refrain from meat, cheese and eggs for much of Lent, hence the reason Holy Saturday foods in Italian tradition were so filled with them. But why Lent itself? Obviously, some self sacrifice is good for you. But there may be practical reasons as well.

In pre-modern northern Europe, by February, food was starting to get scarce. No new foods would be harvested until spring of course, so the food from last fall needed to last longer. So Lent gave some religious meaning to the hungry season. And by spreading the burdens of the hunger, so that prince and peasant, priest and burger, felt the pangs together, it helped social cohesion.

It makes sense, but then again, I always find Catholicism eminently reasonable and practical.

Some Late Thoughts on Holy Week (Part 2)

On Monday, the Diocese of Brooklyn declared "A Day of Reconciliation." All churches stayed open late so Catholics could partake in the sacrament of Penance.

I called my wife as I left work to say I would be late, as I was "going to confession." Her first response was an accusatory "what did you do?"

Part of the problem is that we have made confession so difficult these days. Many churches offer it now only on limited days. Partly this is due to the change in Catholic society the past 4o years. As a child, my mother would take me to confession at least once a month. I admit now I do not go as often as I would like.

When I lived in Chicago, I would go more. Near my office was Saint Peter's in the Loop, a Franciscan church where one of the Friars was always available to hear confessions. One additional benefit was that the Franciscans were very easy on penance -- so long as you were kind to animals that is.

So why Confession? I get comments from non-Catholics at times not understanding the whole thing. They see it as some sort of institutionalized guilt trip. Partly this is due to Catholics ourselves not understanding it.

It is not about guilt but about forgiveness. God is Father after all. A stern but extremely loving father at that. He wants us to do right, but even if we do wrong, loves us so long as we are truly sorry. After all, when Jesus refused to order the adulterous woman stoned ("Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"), He not only said "I do not condemn you" but also said "sin no more."

So we leave the confessional, saying an Act of Contrition promising to sin no more. But we do. For most of us those sins are minor. We say a few white lies here and there. We lose our temper with our spouses or children. We get too caught up in the ways of this world. But it is OK. Maybe it is the struggle that is important.

In the end it is all about redemption and forgiveness. So I tell this story I read once in Lord Norwich's history of the Byzantine Empire.

There once was a Byzantine Emperor named Romanus the First. Romanus was one of Byzantium's greatest emperors. He worked hard to protect his people. Leading a nation beset by enemies, he protected the empire's borders from attacked by the Arab, Turkish and Persian countries to his south, and Slavic nations to his north. He worked hard to protect the lands and property of the common workingmen from grasping aristocrats. He worked hard to expand commerce and trade. In short, he gave the Empire peace and prosperity.

But Romanus was troubled, for in reality he was a usurper. He elevated himself to co-emperor, married his children into the royal family, but ushered the rightful emperor off into obscurity. He mourned the many soldiers who died or were wounded fighting his wars. And Byzantium was not a democracy, so although he was fairly benevolent, he had, as Emperor, sent men to the dungeons to protect his throne.

His sons, realizing this and fearing for their future power, sent Romanus, to his relief, off to a monastic exile.

There, Romanus stripped his garments, knelt before the altar, and while his brother monks chants hymns of contrition, confessed his sins while another monk wrote each into a book. Romanus sent the book to another monastery, one know for its piety and asceticism and asked the monks to pray for him.

Romanus received a message back -- the pages of the book were empty.

Whether or not yo believe the monk was speaking literally (that a miracle had occurred) or metaphorically (which is how I read the story), I find this as the essence of the Sacrament. It is about forgiveness, not guilt.

Some late thoughts on Holy Week (Part 1)

I have been meaning to write a few thoughts about Holy Week, but have not gotten around to it until now. So here goes.

Palm Sunday -- Last year I gave some thoughts about the big issues of Palm Sunday. This year, as I sat there I thought about something else. Namely, my Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. A donkey is, after all, a somewhat ridiculous creature. But in that way, it was the perfect animal to transport the Lord into the city.

A donkey is not much like a horse. A horse is an animal of war and money and power. Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a horse would have been confirmation to many that he was about to restore Israel by force.

A donkey though is the animal of the hard working farmer or peaceful merchant. Armies may use donkeys as draft animals, but the ca;vary rides war horses.

In short, the horse is the animal of war, but the donkey is the animal of peace.

So it was fitting that Jesus entered the city as he did.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

WWMD (What Would Mencken Do?)

HL Mencken was probably one of the most disagreeable yet entertaining public critics in American history. The man was incorrigible, reactionary, misanthropic, a class snob, and opposed to just about everything that Americans then and now hold dear and sacred. Yet, he was a walking paradox. His public statements were often racist and anti-Semitic, but he spoke out against lynchings, was married to a Jewish women (and apparently conversant in Yiddish) and counted WEB DuBois as a friend.

And if Milton Friedman is the father of American libertarianism, and Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, Hayek and Mises the founding grandparents, Mencken is one of the founding great grandparents.

So WWMD? It is dangerous to try and impose modern questions on someone who live two or three generations ago. But this 1932 quote from the American Mercury (reprinted by the Mencken Society) is quite interesting and relevant :

The psychic effect of the depression, it seems to me, is generally a good one. It has made multitudes distrust such charlatans as Hoover and [Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W.] Mellon who were quite willing, three years ago, to credit them with the magic of saints and archangels. It has busted a long line of popular wizards, running from Henry Ford to [head of Bethlehem Steel] Charlie Schwab, and from [economist] Irving Fisher to [newspaper editor] Arthur Brisbane, all of them as hollow as jugs. It has taught people the difference between speculative values and real values. It has hastened the death of sick industries, and proved the vigor of sound ones. It has blown up the old delusion that the amount of money in the world is unlimited, and that every American is entitled to a police captain’s share of it.

Best of all, it has taught millions that there is really no earthly reason why there should be two cars in every garage, and a chicken in the pot every day. A few years back we were all leaping along after the pacemakers, and making shining fools of ourselves. Life in America had become an almost unanimous effort to keep up with the Joneses, and what the Joneses had to offer by way of example was chiefly no more than a puerile ostentation. So many luxuries became necessities that the line separating the one from the other almost vanished. People forgot altogether how to live well, and devoted themselves frantically to living gaudily.

It seems to me that the depression will be well worth its cost if it brings Americans back to their senses. Once they rediscover the massive fact that hard thrift and not gambler’s luck is the only true basis of national wealth, they will discover simultaneously that a perfectly civilized and contented life is possible without the old fuss and display.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Vatican and Evolution

I have been very dismissive of creationist and "intelligent design" advocacy. Personally, I think that both try to turn God from Supreme Creator into a hum-drum engineer. By requiring God to review the plans for the earthworm, I believe we reduce God.

The Vatican has gotten involved, though as usual the press tends to misunderstand it. About a 15 years ago, Pope John Paul II made some statements in support of evolution and the press acted as though this was a major change in Vatican policy. I noted to an evangelical friend that it is not really a change. The officially commentary on the Scripture had recognized evolution at least since the 1950s, and in fact the church had been OK with evolution before that.

Of course, there were some controversies, such as the Omega Point theory of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which argued that evolution was leading to man converging with God. But the controversy was with the endpoint so to speak, not the theory of evolution.

I saw this item on Little Green Footballs that the Vatican is having a conference on evolution and the intelligent design folks were kept out. Pope Benedict a few years ago got himself enmeshed in the intelligent design controversy, mostly because he probably did not understand how that term had become so loaded in the United States. Hopefully, this conference signals an end to the Vatican getting mixed up with intelligent design.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I probably should have waited to read the book

I just finished the new history of the Great Depression "The Forgotten Man." Probably not the best time to read this book.

Wait until (if?) the recovery comes to read ANYTHING about the Depression

A Swiss Ski Slope as a Metaphor for Conservatism

As I was skiing, dodging snowboarders, I was reminded of something that first crossed my mind in 1996. On January 1, 1996, I was hit in the head by a snowboarder. And it hit me -- a ski slope is the perfect metaphor for the conservative movement.

Stay with me here a minute.

The skiers are like the traditional conservatives. You ski basically the same way you did in 1900, though the equipment is updated and better. Change tends to come slowly and in an evolutionary manner. And the skiers are used to being the ones for a long time to be skiing around.

The snowboarders represent the libertarians. Brash, not really into the old rules but like to make them up as they go along.

The problem is that both groups have to share the same ski slope. And they both are looking to get to the same place. But they have a tendency to get on each other's nerves and each other's way.

Granted, this breaks down a bit. I cannot fit the social conservatives into the mix. As for the neoconservatives, I figure they are the guys on the anti-avalanche patrol shooting off cannons every now and them to move snow.

A Quote for Lent

“A church that doesn’t provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a Word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, what kind of gospel is that? Preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed do not light up the world!” -- Oscar Romero, bishop and martyr. HT -- The Anchoress)

Let's Have a Tea Party!

I went to the NYC Tea Party yesterday. The tea parties have been held around the country to protest the stimulus bill. The parties seem somewhat small right now, and amateurish. The one I attended in New York had a bunch of people in City Hall Park listening to a series of folks speaking through a megaphone.

The crowd was maybe about 150-200, though to be sure, I am poor at judging these sorts of things. It did not seem angry and in fact was more light hearted. I did see quite a few Ayn Rand acolytes and Ron Paul supporters. The only angry guy I saw was an anti-immigration type wondering about.

Many of the signs were based on the principle of the stimulus bill leading to socialism. My favorite sign was "Pork -- the other red meat."

OK -- it is a beginning. Conservative/libertarian protests rarely come close to the protests the left is able to put together. Mostly I think it is cultural. The American right tends to be more individualistic and somewhat distrustful of protests. Protests too uncomfortably look like mobs.

Further, as PJ O'Rourke used to say "conservatives have jobs" and generally have better things to do other than stand around listening to people complain. They would rather sit at home and watch basketball or spend time with family.

Also, conservatives do not have groups that exist to organize action. The Left has ACORN and an array of activist groups. They call a meeting and within a day have professionally printed signs and rhyming chants. Conservative groups tend to be more like think tanks, and unfortunately, lobbying groups. Not as much street action oriented.

And yes, I would argue that much of that cultural difference is good. We do not think everything revolves around politics. Which is probably why the only major "right" protests tend to be ones that the churches are involved in -- most importantly abortion. But the churches have their own agendas and cannot really be considered part of the Right (though the more churchgoing you are the more likely you are on the right). The Catholic Church for example helps get the annual March for Life protests going, yet it also was the force behind the immigration marches (at least initially).

The rally was mostly positive and lighthearted. There was a Minuteman type running around. But the crowd seemed a mix of conservatives and libertarians, with Ron Paul supporters and Ayn Rand disciples sticking out.

The Iraq Plan

The plan has come down, 100,000 troops and combat operations to cease by 2011. 35,000-50,000 to stay in "support" roles.

I would imagine that many people on both sides feel some disappointment. But here is the deal as I see it. Basically, the war is pretty much over. Al Qaeda in Iraq seems to be defeated, the people of Iraq do not seem to want to become an Iranian style Shia theocracy and just want to get on with their lives. On most nights, it seems to be safer to be a US soldier in Baghdad than walking around certain parts of Chicago (and listening to my former mayor, there seem to be fewer "assault weapons" in Tikrit than there are on the South Side).

So those who supported the invasion (which I did), look -- it was never supposed to be about conquering the country, or so I thought. The Iraqis have to be given the opportunity to run their own affairs. If they really do not want a return to brutal military strong men or to go down the road of Shia or Wahhabist theocracy, they won't. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq is a more modern, educated country -- having climbed out of the abyss, I doubt they will want to go back there. And if they do, well, at this point it is their problem.

And in any event, what President Obama is proposing is pretty much what George Bush was heading for and what John McCain said he wanted -- basically, the combat would end and US troops, if they remained, would be in bases like US troops in Germany or Japan. (That was the real meaning of McCain's "100 year" remark -- that if there were no US troops dying, few Americans would care about keeping US bases there. We have had troops "occupying" parts of the UK since 1942, Italy since 1943, Germany and Japan since 1945, South Korea since 1950 -- no one really thinks much about it because no US troops are dying there).

As for those who feel disappointed by the fact that it will take longer than promised or that substantial US forces will remain for a period, two things. First, what was said (or what you THOUGHT was said) by a dark horse candidate two years ago has to be adjusted by the realities of office and power TODAY. Second, frankly, what the President is doing now is pretty much what he said he was going to do. I have no desire to look for the news articles, but President Obama always suggested a US military role in Iraq after combat troops were pulled out. At one point, I think, he referred to an "over the horizon" presence whereby we would pull out but stay in the neighborhood, and move in as necessary. That probably (hopefully) is not needed now. I assume the remaining troops will be there for training and support of the Iraqi Army (and not combat itself).

One thing I find interesting is the 35-50,000 number. In 2005, the last year I can find figures for, there were about 66,000 US forces in Germany (defending Germany from the threat of Serbia I guess). So basically, using the upper number, President Obama foresees a US presence similar to that of the US presence in Germany. Not sure what I make of it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

In a civilization that has seemingly banished death, it is good to remind ourselves of our own mortality every now and then.