Tuesday, April 22, 2003

For all those who read WMD absence of evidence in Iraq as evidence of absence, go read this.
Why do comments always go kerblooey right when I ask the readers to chime in?

Monday, April 21, 2003

Poll: Parents of Middle Schoolers and Homeschoolers

If you enjoyed "Holes" what book would you most like to see made into a movie next? What are your kids reading (besides other Louis Sachar works)?
I honestly cannot, for the life of me, understand any call to hand over the Iraqi people to the UN. This is an organization that is dominated by thugs, that places Syria and Lybia on the Human Rights Commission, that places Iraq in charge of the Disarmament Agency, and that actively promulgates policies directly (and sometimes explicitly) in conflict with the Catholic Church's teachings. It is an organization that seeks to facilitate abortion, that interferes with international adoption, and that has very few redeeming characteristics. It is not designed to act swiftly, but to obstruct: that is its purpose. I have disagreed with the Holy Father on this whole war, but I have felt challenged by that disagreement, until now. It is with very, very great sadness that I now find myself repelled.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Daily Record News - Laci Peterson case tied to Roe debate

It's official. The "National Organization of Women" has publicly declared it cares more about murdering babies than about women. Happy Easter.

"If this is murder, well, then any time a late-term fetus is aborted, they could call it murder," Morris County NOW President Mavra Stark said on Saturday.

No shit, Sherlock. What truly frightens me is that this obvious revelation hasn't caused her to rethink her own position.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Thursday is Winesday

Since I missed Winesday last week, I’ll give you three recommendations this time. The first two are from Friday night’s dinner with friends that you have by now heard about several times.

It is a very great challenge, on a Lenten Friday, to feed non-vegetarians who don’t eat seafood, especially when one of them isn’t a big fan of cheese. They are accustomed, like Central Asian Sheiks, to meat with every meal, and taking it away means the meal needs another big asset. I chose to stake the success not only on the food, but on the pairing of wine with it.

Since the appetizer was fresh, homemade pico de gallo (chunky garden salsa) and chips, I greeted my guests with a bit of dry sparkling wine. (Jargon alert: Champagne is all well and good, but it’s also a very specific wine, from a very specific place in France, no matter what your television tells you. If it’s fizzy, and not marked “AOC Champagne” or “Champagne appellation control” it’s sparkling wine, not Champagne. That, by the way, is not necessarily a sign of poor quality; in fact, the opposite is more likely true. If it is called Champagne, but not actually from that part of France, it is probably of somewhat poorer quality than other choices. There are excellent sparkling wines from other parts of France, from Italy, Spain, Australia, and California. New York State even shows real promise, specifically Long Island.) Since the salsa was spicy, a dry wine was called for to avoid being overpowered or dampening the taste of the chilis. Langlois Cremant de Loire ($10.50) was my choice. (“Langlois” is the vintner, “Cremant” is a term for certain French sparkling wines, and “de Loire” indicates the region from which it came: the Loire valley.) Langlois makes it fizz primarily from the Chenin Blanc grape (which should not be confused with that awful stuff Gallo sold under that name in the late 70s and early 80s), mixed with a bit of Chardonnay (the major grape in most Champagne), Cabernet Franc (most French fizz has some red grapes involved unless it is labeled “blanc de blancs”) and a minor grape called “Grolleau,” about which I can tell you nothing that matters. This wine is absolutely bone dry, with a mild, pleasant “nose” that had almost a freshly mown field, “grassy” touch to it. It’s sparkle held up well for the 45 minutes from opening until we sat at table. The medium body and very pleasant mouth feel worked very well with the salsa, and its pleasant, soft flavors and high acidity meant it didn’t get overpowered. Langlois-Chateau is a very well regarded producer, and I can see why.

Dinner proper was a bit trickier to pair. The main course was pasta carbonara, which is spaghetti (fresh from our neighborhood pasta store) served in a sauce made up primarily of heavy cream and parmesan cheese (with a bit of Italian bacon, pancetta, thrown in for flavor, and a small diced tomato for color). Accompanying it were a tomato, basil and mozzarella salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette, and a green salad with homemade croutons. The problem is, vinegar destroys wine flavors, and I had two possible sources of it. The cream-sauce pasta pointed towards a light to medium white, but the salad and tomatoes pointed to something heavier, or even other than wine if I couldn’t limit the vinegar. I managed that last part by dressing the salad with a drizzle of olive oil and the juice of a lemon, plus a smidge of salt and fresh ground pepper. Then I had only the vinaigrette to worry about, and knew that the cream sauce would help there—a bite of the pasta would eliminate the vinegar effect, something the guests would no doubt realize before long.

So, what then to serve? Well, there are really two white grapes in the world that wine snobs praise above all others, and I only love one of them: Chardonnay (not my favorite); and Riesling. Don’t let all that stinky Liebfraumilch that has been sold recently fool you (by the way, I like some liebfraumilch, especially in August, when you can drink it by the gallon for less money than cheap beer): Germany produces some of the world’s great white wines. In fact, you should be grateful to the Blue Nun people: their mediocre product has helped keep demand for (and hence the price of ) German wines depressed for years.

According to The People Who Declare Such Things, 2001 was a truly spectacular vintage for German and Austrian Riesling. The weather was perfect for concentrating fruit and sugars in just the right proportions, and even some of the sub-par producers managed to turn out some pretty good wines this year. But with guests coming, I had to look for something a little more certain.(I started to give a lesson on German wines here, explaining how the markings on the label work, but it was quickly getting too long. Since the Reisling-drinking season is almost upon us, I will save it for another Winesday. But I will tell you this much: When choosing German wines, stick with wines marked at least QbA, and try for QmP, which are quality levels defined by the government.) We drank what turned out to be perhaps the best $10 bottle of wine I have ever had: Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2001er. (“Karl Erbes” is the producer, “Ürziger Würzgarten” designates the particular village where the wine was made, and “Kabinett” indicates a riper grape than plain Riesling, but less than Spätlese or Auslese. Generally, the riper the grape, the sweeter the Riesling.)

Some wines really require a good long sniff to get the bouquet off them, but not this beauty. Before the cork was off the screwpull, the magnificent scent of fresh flowers and apple orchards was climbing into my head. A few deliberate sniffs with my nose just above the wine in the glass confirmed that more than just plain Reisling was going on here. It has a delightful pale, apple color, and its surprisingly full body (surprising because the wine is unusually light in alcohol at only 8.5%) just coat the mouth with overwhelming tastes of apples, peaches and citrus, with a soft sweetness that is simply magnificent. If I sound rapturous, I was: I have had some really excellent Rieslings before, but none this good for this price. (Imagine what I might sound like if I ever get my hands on one of those Riesling produced in quantities of a few dozen cases only!) If you cannot find Karl Erbes, look for other Rieslings made in the Ürzig region, but stick with Kabinett or Spätlese, and you will very likely find something very similar to the delights I found. (The village is located in the Mosel-Sarr-Ruwer region, where on the whole the wines are good, but I would ask the wine guy about specific villages.)

Dessert was another tough thing to match with wine: chocolate. Specifically, frozen chocolate Tortoni (whose recipe may be found in the St. Blog’s Cookbook). Now, I personally find that big bold spicy reds go very well with dark chocolate, but wine writers seem to have agreed to complain about how hard chocolate is to pair with wine. On the other hand, I also agree with the solution most writers offer: Porto. Specifically, Tawny porto. Since I can’t afford really good Port, I tend towards palatable cheap port, Offley’s in particular, though Fonseca’s low-end Tawny is also not bad.

At the end of the day, though, I’d say the meal was a success, since we finished eating around 8:15 or 8:30, and the guests lingered over the port until 11. And, never having made such an effort to match just the right wine with each part of the meal, I wound up finding the challenge of (mostly) meeting Lent’s restrictions while pleasing finicky guests to have been one of the more enjoyable puzzles my kitchen has offered in recent years.

* * * *

And speaking of big, bold, spicy reds, the Porto wasn’t really a “Kairos Guy Recommends” kind of moment, and I promised you three wines. My final recommendation, reaching to the upper end of the Kairos list’s price range at $16-17, is Atlas Peak 2000 Sangiovese (Napa Valley). This is a wine that benefits from decanting an hour or so before serving. A rich, dark red color, it has the earthy nose of most big Italian wines, and, even though it is made in California, retains much of the Italian style of Sangiovese, one of Italy’s most important grapes, best known to Americans in Chianti. There is very little that is subtle about this wine. Its spicy, peppery, coffee flavors don’t sneak up on you so much as jump up and down on your palate like a favorite nephew on your new trampoline. The tannins lend it a nice body and structure, but if you don’t aerate the wine by decanting or an awful lot of swirling in the glass, they will increase the pucker factor significantly in your first few sips. This is not a wine for someone who thinks Merlot is really strong and exotic, but for those who like their reds to finish cooking the rare steak for them, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

No rules. Just right.

I have reached a stage where I find my tendency towards legalisms to be interfering with my desire to be good. My first attempt at a solution appears to be working, but it is not a solution I would recommend for most people. For now, I am trying very hard not to pay very much attention to the Catechism.

It’s not that the Catechism hasn’t been helpful to me, for it has. But it is intended to be completely comprehensive, and so it contains a seemingly precise list of every conceivable category that could arise. That is in fact helpful, but most life is lived in the spaces between categories. Friday night’s dinner party was a perfect example (of a very minor sort). Guests had been invited and thought if not to be Catholic, then at least seafood eaters. But they were not, and were a challenge to feed because mister also does not like cheese. (Eliminating flesh, seafood and cheese largely exhausts my standard culinary repertoire. I long ago foreswore Vegan friendships.) I ordinarily like a culinary challenge, but instead of simply reveling in that, everywhere I turned I found difficulties and rules that had to be overcome. Finally, I decided (and the Kathy the Carmelite reinforced with a few pithy citations) that the truly operative function here was Christian charity. I hadn’t invited my guests in the hopes of evading a Lenten discipline, and I could not possibly disinvite them, but if I couldn’t at least nudge my way around the rules then I was going to serve them a meal of uncertain quality in the name of my own selfishness.

Some well-meaning soul is no doubt now scrolling down to the bottom of this post in order to add a comment that says something about the pursuit of holiness not being selfishness, possibly even backed up with a quotation taken from some papal pronouncement, probably written by John Paul II. (The man is nothing if not prolific.) But, you see, what happened is that the rules got in the way, and that’s what made it selfish. Instead of simply being able to say, “Aha! Now I have the opportunity for some real grace here, because I have to find a way to meet the duties of charity to my guests while preserving the Lenten discipline!” I had to add “Let’s pull out the handy dandy list of rules and see what we can manage here!” Every time I thought I found a solution that got me within clear and unarguable boundaries, I began to feel that I was cheating my guests of a meal I could know in advance would be worth serving. (For the record, I went with simpler food and staked the quality of the meal on pairing the food with some good wine at each course. It was only partially successful, because mister used up most of his quota of drinking with the aperitif.)

In any case, this is a minor example, and you shouldn’t get caught up in the details. My larger point is that this illustrates a tendency of mine towards a tender conscience. And I find that tendency growing. So, my solution is to cast the rules to one side for a while, to set them down, and to live.

BUT, in order to do this and not turn into some sort of namby pamby “social justice” “protestant,” I am stepping up my occasional practice of the “Examen.” This, you will recall, is a principle of Ignatian spirituality in which a person spends some time each night examining the day, and seeing the ways in which he succeeded or failed. My particular question (not all that far from what Ignatius prescribed) will be “How have I taken or failed to take the opportunities for Grace that the day presented?”
Another query

I have written a blogpiece that I want to post, but I cannot think of a particular word. can anyone tell me a word, beginning with "c" that roughly means "a comprehensive list or categorization, that seeks to take into acount all the permutations"? I'm drawing a blank, though it was clear as a bell last night. (An example of this kind of thing would be an animal classification chart, but "classification" isn't the word.) As soon as my brain uncramps, I can finish the blog. Plus, I owe you some more wine comments, and I found a couple of really outstanding ones last week.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Can anyone tell me...?

Does the obligation to eat no meat on Friday's include broth, or food prepared with broth? I have guests coming to dinner tomorrow night, and they are not Papists, and also dislike seafod and cheese. This was unknown to me when we agreed on the arrangements, so now I am trying to plan a menu that is appealing to them and still meets my obligations. In particular, I was thinking of making a recipe involving Polenta, but I don't know if the chicken broth in the preparation is perfectly fine, a bit of a cheat, or verboten. Thank you for your help.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Before Tom pulls my words out of his comment box, and causes me to steal my own thunder again at his blog….

I wish Catholics would stop talking about death like the death of the flesh is, in and of itself, an evil. It is not. Death by certain means, for certain purposes, surely can be evil, but it need not be so.

There is a creeping materialism about many Catholic arguments against war, that seems to imply that physical death caused by anything but God’s own Hand is inherently evil. That is the argument for people who see existence as random and life is meaningless. Death is not bad; it simply is.

UPDATE: Tom informs me in the comment box that what I've said here makes me a heretic. Well, I disagree with the word choice (I would not call death an evil, though the reasons for this have as much to do with emphasis as anything else), but since my main point is that materialists view death as a literal annihilation and Catholics shouldn't, I'll not quibble about whether it is evil per se and leave it there.
Take THAT, monsieur!

So, I'm riding home on the subway train the other day, and I manage to snag a seat, without denying any frail or obviously pregnant people one. This woman sits down next to me, and starts talking to the man standing in front of her, in French, and he responds fluidly: native speakers, obviously (even I can detect an American accent in French). I keep my head down, but am trying to think how I can really show these guys, how I can let them know how aggravated we Americans are with their snottiness and constant complaints about us, and their outlawing of Anglified-French, and all the other items on their list of backbiting and complaining. Then, in a flash, it came to me:

I offered the man my own seat, so he could sit next to his companion.

That will show the batards!

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

A note, and a late intention

I will only be adding names of individual military personnel killed in Iraq and other places at the specific request of someone. I have no wish to publish a name here that might later cause problems or offense to a family member.

Having said that, please pray for the repose of the soul of Chad Bales, USMC.
Let's talk about sex

[Note: I find it curious the way sometimes your thoughts run in certain directions, even before you know why. I had been mulling this comment, composing in my head for several days as usual, when I learned about Mrs. K-G's students. So far as I know, she has not given the blog URL to any of them, so if they read this, it is entirely fortuitous. But it is interesting that I had begun to formulate certain thoughts and ideas right before I needed to have them in order.]

We Catholics have a bad reputation when it comes to sex, and, like it or not, that reputation is not entirely undeserved. Yeah, yeah, I know it's not totally deserved, and for much of the time in which the reputation was formed Catholics were hardly the only ones who seemed to view sex as something essentially nasty (Queen Victoria, your phone is ringing!). But, others have been forgiven by popular culture because they have repented and embraced sex as something common and not worth worrying about (rather the way society has decided that belching and farting are not worth worrying about, which is interesting in itself). We, however, have held the line, seeing sex as something fundamentally sacred, which everyone else translates as "dirty," even while the Kama Sutra is proudly displayed on coffee tables.

But really, it's no good quoting "The Theology of the Body" at me or anyone else as proof that the Church has always viewed sex in a certain light, first, becuase it was written by the current pope, who is something like the 12,000th pope, and, second, because it's simply not true. We have always viewed it as necessary, and always drawn certain proscriptions around it, but we have also had a spotty record at teaching the people in the front lines--the priests, deacons, and male and female religious in general--how to talk about its sacredness in ways that don't seem to point straight to hell.

The point here, however, is not to analyse the Church's history in this regard. After all, as I noted, the Roman Catholic Church was hardly unique in this regard for the past thousand years, and was often a bit more progressive than other faiths in terms of both sanctifying sex and approving of it in appropriate contexts. The point is to emphasize that things are different now, and our way in fact has much to commend it compared to many more "open, realistic" churches. (Not to go all Andy Rooney on you, but, have you ever noticed that "realism" attached to "sex" almost invariably means promiscuity is just hunky dory?)

The strongest, clearest aspect of Catholic teaching on sex is the reservation of it for marriage, which certainly does seem "unrealistic" in today's culture. But it is in fact no more unrealistic to expect people to wait for marriage for sex than to expect them to wait until they have money before they acquire property. (Though in today's easy credit markets...) It is this distinction that makes the Church's teachings clearest to me: it is not that sex is wrong, anymore than property holding is wrong. In fact, both are explicitly approved of in Scripture. It is only the wrongful acquisition of property, along with the wrongful obtainment of sex. Having sex before you are married is like taking a car before you can afford it. You are, in effect, stealing from your future self.

Some might argue that since they give it of their free will, they are not stealing at all. But the person you will become does not exist yet, and cannot grant privileges into the past. You can take from your future self, preventing him from having something, but he cannot give it. Worse, you have damaged yourself, by lowering the value you place on sex. If you will give it to someone without the binding commitment of marriage, you cheapen its value. "But we are IN LOVE!" some protest. I find it curious, though, that one can simultaneously assert that the sex is not cheap, because he is "in love" while denying that sex has an inherent value and sacredness that must be preserved.

Not all extramarital sex damages and steals in quite the same way, of course. An engaged couple who simply can't wait any longer for the Big Day haven't commit exactly the same offense against their future selves as the common fornicators, who throw their sexuality around like waste paper. Many couples are somewhere in the middle, not quite common fornicators, not quite "virtually married." It is they for whom I feel the most pity: they steal and feel vaguely guilty about it. They protest and excuse and rail against the aspect of their consciences that causes them to claim "marriage is just a piece of paper, that doesn't change how we feel about each other." Well, then, why do you feel the need to demean it?

Worst of all, the damage to the self is damage to the couple. Instead of being a force for unification, sex becomes the agent of destruction. One is always suspicous of a deal that seems too good to be true, and sex without cost is a punchline on TV shows so often precisely because we know it doesn't exist except as a fantasy.

For the students mentioned in the Special Intention. May God guide their decisions.

For Maj. Chris H, USAF, and LT (jg) David C, USN, who are both “in the Persian Gulf region.” For all the members of the Armed Forces, and for the people of Iraq. For a true, just and lasting peace there, and across the Middle East. For the people of Afghanistan. For POWs, MIAs and those killed in military conflict, whatever their nationality. For Dylan and for Karen Marie Knapp. For Robina's son, who is in urgent need of a job. For the Kairos Guy family. For Kendra. For Reynolds, during a tumultuous time, and for his son. For Victor Lams and his family. For Bishop Richard Lennon. For Rev. Steve W. For Roger, Randy, Deb and the ones whose names I did not know. For Katherine G. For Michelle. For me, a sinner. For Monica M. For Alicia and her sister. For victims of terrorism in so many places. For Karen and Dale.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Your karma ran over my dogma

So very, very many problems in life are made up entirely of things other than actual problems. Most often, it is our own expectations---the plans and contrivances we arrange for ourselves, the things that are made up of at least 50% pride--that are the actual cause. It's not that looking ahead to the future is a bad thing inherently. It is that we get attached to a particular vision of the future, and get angry at fate, or the universe, or God Almighty himself, for not conforming the future to our particular vision of it. There has to be a way to prepare for the future without actually planning for it, but I'm damned if I know what it is.
Kairos Kudos

(Greek lesson: "kudos" is a noun, singular in number, meaning "glory," not a plural meaning "Nice going, dude." Come to Kairos for the wisdom, stay for the pedantry.)

This blogging thing is weird. Every time I start to think I've said enough, or used it all up, I find another reason to keep it going. Thanks very much to alicia huntley for being extraordinarily helpful to the Kairos Guy family this evening. It is no exaggeration to say what she is helping with is a matter of life and death, and I would never have known of her, nor had this help, without St. Blog's.

On April 2, I posted the story about Martin Savidge on CNN. I could find nothing to dispute the story when I posted it, but now it appears to be false, according to a summary posted April 3 at the indispensible "Snopes" website. Sorry to have pushed you towards a hoax. I still like the LT-Smash blog, but I will view it much more skeptically now.

Middle Ages were warmer than today, say scientists
By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent
(Filed: 06/04/2003)

Claims that man-made pollution is causing "unprecedented" global warming have been seriously undermined by new research which shows that the Earth was warmer during the Middle Ages.

Must have been all those gas-guzzling donkey carts.
Special Intention

A couple of Mrs. K-G's students have gotten themselves in what another generation would have described as "a little bit of trouble." Unfortunately, the outcome here is very much in doubt, so any prayers you can offer up for the three people involved would be most wonderful.
Truer words

The old saying "Children should be seen and not heard" is never truer than when you are trying to slide through the "15 items or less" line with 18 items in your cart.

Friday, April 04, 2003

There is a line in the play 1776, attributed to George Washington, that runs through my head every time I read about the individual men and women of our armed forces. Writing on the eve of the battle for New York, Washington tells the Congress, "Dear God, what brave men I shall lose before this business ends."
Tom and I just keep stealing from each other's blogs

Weighing in on Tom's points about torture. I don't disagree with his assessment of torture. But I do point out that one aspect of determining a person's moral culpability for an act is the extent to which the person is free to choose to act or not to act. A person under threat of nuclear annihilation has very much less free will than a person not under such threat, in determining how best to extract information about the threat.

Most people don't frame the argument that way. Most say "torture is justified" which it is not. But torture may likewise not turn out to have been mortal sin either.

Michael Kelly, age 46.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Caption Contest

Okay, now it's a contest. Caption this photo:

My entry:

US Army MSGT Jonathan Pullings demonstrates the Army's new M-449 APMPGL (Arnold Palmer Man Portable Grenade Launcher). Raytheon asserts that the cost of $8,129.64 each provides "superior distance and satellite-guided slice correction."
Thursday is Winesday

Another Italian red this week, tasted at Best Cellars (which is a chain that delivers in many parts of the country), Flaio 2001 Primitivo ($7.50). Primitivo is genetically very similar to the zinfandel grape, and this one tastes it. (Another Primitivo I tried tasted more like an Oz Shiraz.) It was nicely fruity, with a bit of roughness in the tannins, so it caused a bit of pucker, but it had a classic Zinfandel "jammy" taste, couple with the somewhat rougher edges that is so enjoyable in many Italian wines. This wine would not compete very well with spicy mexican or Thai food, but would be great with a mild red sauce and about a pound of dark chocolate after. At $7.50/bottle, you really ought to stock up--especially if your wine store gives the case discount!
Seen on the "T"

(Around Boston, the subway system is the MBTA, or the "T" for short.)

A woman got on my subway car last night: a very "Cambridge" looking young woman, complete with severe, masculine haircut, granny glasses, and the weight of the world very obviously on her shoulders. On her pouch was a sticker that boldly commanded "Save Roe Now!" On her arm, a homemade armband, attached with safety pins, that angrily demanded an end to the war. All I could think was, "How sad that this young woman is more passionate about saving a brutal dictatorship than American babies."
It sure is starting to look like the Bush Administration is planning on nominating Jessica Lynch to become the first female recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. If the stories we are hearing are true, she certainly sounds a worthy recipient. But it would be nice if the media campaign didn't seem so orchestrated.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Okay. Actually, this is why we fight.

"Where do they get young men like this?”

Martin Savidge of CNN, embedded with the 1st Marine battalion, was talking with 4 young Marines near his foxhole this morning live on CNN. He had been telling the story of how well the Marines had been looking out for and taking care of him since the war started. He went on to tell about the many hardships the Marines had endured since the war began and how they all look after one another.

He turned to the four and said he had cleared it with their commanders and they could use his video phone to call home.

The 19 year old Marine next to him asked Martin if he would allow his platoon sergeant to use his call to call his pregnant wife back home whom he had not been able to talk to in three months. A stunned Savidge who was visibly moved by the request shook his head and the young Marine ran off to get the sergeant.

Savidge recovered after a few seconds and turned back to the three young Marines still sitting with him and asked which one of them would like to call home first, the Marine closest to him responded with out a moments hesitation “ Sir, if is all the same to you we would like to call the parents of a buddy of ours, Lance Cpl Brian Buesing of Cedar Key, Florida who was killed on 3-23-03 near Nasiriya to see how they are doing”.

At that Martin Savidge totally broke down and was unable to speak. All he could get out before signing off was “Where do they get young men like this?”

I like this blog: 1) because it is the named for a character on the Simpsons; and, 2) because it seems authentic. I like this post a lot.

Why we fight

Last night, somebody visited my site right after reading this. And a couple of days ago, I got a hit from al Jazeera and then an Air Force base. This ole blog sure is getting multiculti.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Am I the only person sick and tired of people who commit symbolic acts, devoid of substance, and then get in my face about it, as though they are really, really super people for their highmindedness and right thinking? Maybe THAT is the reason acts of penance and abstinence are in decline. The latter are far from symbolic and devoid of substance, but they share certain common appearances that can make them seem to be unappealing to a person who is accustomed only to the symbolic. I'm particularly thinking of the Patriarch from the Church of the Nativity, who has "excommunicated" Bush, Rummy, Blair and Straw. (You have to be a communicant before you can be excommunicated, fella!) But there are all kind of such things that go on every day among people who have no fundamental guiding principles--and, sadly, among those who do.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Uh oh

Greg had to go and agree with me, which clearly means I need to rethink what I wrote. (Just kidding, Pop Daddy!)

But, actually, since he and I *do* disagree about some things related to this, let me say what they are by amending my "what I want" post about Bishops with a few words about the rest of us.

Just because I want my bishops to be one way, does not give me permission to speak loudly and negatively about them personally for their perceived failings. Nor should I (or you) start down the path of "squandered moral authority," or at least get too far down it. The problem is, I want certain things in a bishop, but I am not entitled to wait until I get all, or even most, of those things before I start heeding my bishop. I may have reason to do other than what the Church (and my local bishop) teach, but the reasons need to be more substantive than "because he's a twit, a fact about which I remind you every week." He may be a twit indeed, but he is still the twit the Holy Spirit has seen fit to give me, for reasons that may not have anything to do with my particular desires, however just or fair those desires may be.

In fairness to "la Popcak," I think he would agree with what I just wrote, except that he would see public invection against the twit in question as a permissible corrective, where I am a great deal more cautious. Please check the comments box later for what I expect will be comments/disagreements/corrections/swear words from Greg.
I keep trying to get away from blogging on war

[pacino]...But every time I try to get out, they PULL me back in! [/pacino]

Mark at Minute Particulars quotes (via some intermediaries) from JP II's Centesimus Annus, along with commentary. I have not yet read the original document, so please understand how provisional my comments here are. (I make them at all without having read it only because I am not quite sure when I will find the time to read it over the next few weeks.)

Finally, Centesimus Annus, with echoes of earlier 20th-century popes, presents John Paul II's negative judgment about war as an instrument of policy:

No, never again war, which destroys lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked the war.

This passage has become almost a leitmotiv in the Vatican's response to the use of force, repeated again and again in papal statements and other Vatican declarations.

As a rule of thumb, I would suggest that here as elsewhere the Pope should be taken at his word. While the form is rhetorical, the substance is serious. The point is that the consequences of war are beyond calculation. We should consider soberly whether the use of force does, in fact, do what the Pope says. Above all, does it take the life of innocent people? Does it leave behind a trail of resentment and hatred? Does it make finding a just solution more difficult? These objections do not rule out resorting to force, especially in case of humanitarian intervention. They do imply that every effort must be taken to avoid the vastly unpredictable consequences of taking up arms.

This is the undertone that has been troubling to me. If, as the author Mark quotes (none of what is here is his work) suggests, we are meant to take the Pope at the plain meaning of his words, he does not "imply that every effort must be taken to avoid...taking up arms." War is now prohibited: "No, never again war."

I can accept that war is undersirable. I can even admit (sort of) that "war is always a disaster" (albeit with major provisos to the precise meaning of that sentence). But--and I have said this over and over and over again--if war is ever just, then peace is sometimes sinful. "No, never again war" denies that essential truth, that has guided Catholic teaching since Augustine. But, instead of saying "our just war teaching has been wrong all these years" (for you know, we never make that sort of error) we say that the consequences of war are so terrible that we will no longer acknowledge any particular war as just.

Now, the Holy Father has not, in fact, quite gone so far as this. He seemed more or less to admit the justice of "Operation: Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan after September 11 (though he was decidedly more vague about approving of that than he has been about disapproving of war in/with Iraq). But this undertone of "No, never again war" that rules out a priori the use of force is present, if not quite enforced as yet. Some of us who have been having a hard time with the Church's teaching at the present moment have sometimes been chastised for suggesting that the Pope and the bishops were inching towards exactly that. It is now on them to show that the Church is not slouching away from just war doctrine.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Honestly, what possesses newspaper and TV editors? "Hey, some US soldier has been taken prisoner in Iraq! Joe, check the story file! We got any ex-POWs in town? We do? GREAT! Get on out to the dude's trailer and ask him how he feels seeing other people taken prisoner!"

(I'm not linking to the story that prompted this, for fear of encouraging the idiocy.)

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Solipsis sliding away

A horrible fear possesses me that one day I will forget to say my perpetual novena to Mary and Patrick for a disruption of terrorists, and that that will be the day that terrorists achieve their next major attack.

In spite of the flippant title to this entry, I'm very serious about this. We're all possessed of a certain amount of solipsism (ask anyone why it rained on the day they forgot their umbrella, and you know the umbrella-forgetting will be blamed) but honestly....
the Pope

I really haven't jumped onto the "The Pope is an idiot for not seeing things my way" bandwagon, in spite of the fact, perfectly clear to all even casual readers of this blog, that the Holy Father and I are not in total sync on the whole "Kill that evil mofo Saddam and set his people free by force of arms if necessary" thing.

Frankly, I find the Rod Dreher cycle of JPII worship/ridicule/repeat thing distasteful--even without getting to the question of whether it is Catholic. (And, for those of you who are tired of the "but it isn't binding!" stuff: if you don't want to hear it, then stop bludgeoning those of us who think the war just with "But the Pope and bishops say...!" It may be possible that at least a few of us are saying "It isn't binding" after a careful and prolonged period of discernment that you weren't privy too, seeing as you aren't usually present when we pray for wisdom and discernment.) And honestly, the fact that the Pope and I disagree about this is something that gives me great pause, and keeps me revisiting my opinions and judgements frequently right now.

At the same time, I have this horribly nagging, uncomfortable feeling that most American Bishops and even possibly JPII himself would be speaking different words if France had not made up its mind months ago to veto anything and everything the US seeks (including an EU resolution merely because it referred to UN SCR 1441, which the French themselves voted in favor of!!). More than any other issue, that particular suspicion (fear? concern? speculation?) upsets me.
Isn't it interesting, the way characters on TV shows routinely sleep with each other, without batting an eyelash (or even creating a subplot) but declaring "I love you!" can be the cause of am outrageous amount of freaked out screen time? Forget the whole question of whether TV shows revel in extramarital sex. Wouldn't it be really cool to see a show where the "I love you" was, first, plausible, and, second, preceded the first act of intercourse? I don't mean to be a prude, and I don't expect everyone to subscribe to my particular mores. I just want the most intimate thing two people can do to be grounded in something for once.
Attention parents of Middle Schoolers

See the post waaaay down on Wednesday's blog about Holes.com.
Somewhere (in a homily or on a blog, I can't remember which) a month or three ago I heard a comment from a Jesuit: You know you've cast God in your own image when He starts hating all the same people you do.
Thursday is Winesday….

Yes, this week I am writing about a French wine. Blah, blah liberty toast. Yadda freedom Fries. French wine producers got their money months or even years ago, and the only people who will lose money if I boycot French wines is my local wine guy. Meanwhile, I am going to do diddly squaddoosh to the French economy by not drinking their wine. Want to do something meaningful and tangible to France? Convince whatever airlines survive the next year or two to buy Boeing aircraft, instead of Airbus. Heck, no less a person than Admiral Nelson didn’t let outright war with France interfere with his enjoyment of a nice glass of claret. Who am I to quibble with the Lion of Trafalgar?

This week, the Kairos Guy recommends without reservation…Domaine de l’Aumonier Touraine Sauvignon Blanc ($8-10) Where some Sauvignon Blanc tends to have a strong “herb” or “grass” bouquet, this one offers light smells of the countryside or a farm stand in autumn, but doesn’t overwhelm—or especially impress. But the first mouthful more than makes up for its understated nose. Its crisp acidity and fairly dry flavor are surprisingly buttery: that’s the only word for it. The sharpness and light body give it a hint of granny smith apples, and the fermentation process left just the tiniest bit of effervescence in the wine, that gives it a bit more complex a finish than a lot of Sauvignon. It also lacks the Chardonnay-style oaking that many American producers have been using. I don’t have any numbers on total production or cases imported, but I have found this wine at several large and small Boston-area wine merchants, and so conclude it is pretty widely available. The Touraine region (in the Loire Valley) has produced another winner: an excellent value that is drinkable now, and will be extremely enjoyable in the July and August heat.
What I want from my bishops

Tom at Disputations and I have been having a small back-and-forth in the comments box here and on his blog about what I want. I thought I would try to sum up my answers more broadly. You can infer from these things what I think many bishops are not doing, but do understand that I am aware there are good bishops and bad bishops, and that most of them do at least some part of what I have listed here.

What I want from my bishops, in something like the order of priority I would like to see:

1) I want them to be pastors first and foremost, who speak the Truth.
2) I would like them to teach the authentic faith, not just the comfortable parts, or the social justice parts, but the whole, one, true, apostolic faith.
3) I would like them to do this in plain, everyday language, suitable for even the meanest understanding. For the life of me I cannot understand why the magnificently beautiful faith and religion we practice is so often deliberately hidden under the bushel basket of obscurantist language. The most complex idea ever expressed in all of human history can be stated in five words, none of them more than two syllables long: Jesus died for our sins. There is no good reason that simpler ideas can’t use words as simple as those.
4) I would like those statements to be as limiting and binding as necessary. Not more binding, and not less. I want blacks black, whites white, and grays gray. Yes, we are all human, and yes, life is hard, and sometimes things we want to be gray are actually black and white. No duh, Einstein. That’s why we need Christ in the first place. Stop writing epigrams and start teaching us how to do moral reasoning.
5) I would like Bishops to show that they are willing to hold public figures to account. I don’t want to be invited to the Cathedral to hear Jennifer Granholm speak: I want to be invited to her last chance to recant before her excommunication. At that point, I might begin to have the ability to discern the difference between what the Bishops really mean, and what is just the fluff they feel obliged now and again to say.
6) I would like Bishops to live their own lives as though they, too, will be judged on the Last Day.

Without most bishops doing the first four most of the time, the constant temptation to suspect that their statements are caused by something other than the Holy Spirit becomes almost impossible to resist. It must be resisted, of course, for the Holy Spirit has often made beautiful garments with much shabbier cloth than Bernard Cardinal Law. But the fact that a temptation must be resisted does not relieve the tempter of the obligation to cease being an occasion of sin.

As I re-read this, it sounds a more negative, more pessimistic assessment of the Bishops than I had intended, or than is truly fair. One infers from such a listing that most people being addressed must not be doing the items presented (just as one infers from the Holy Father reminding both sides in a conflict to protect civilians that both sides must be abusing them). I only have meaningful first hand knowledge of a small number of archdioceses, and the bishops I knew of are now serving the Church in other ways. My own is presently administered by a caretaker whom I knew when I was an altar boy, and of whom charity demands I ought not speak too specifically. (And who, in any case, has served for so short a time that any opinion of mine on his service would have no value.)

Nevertheless, the things listed above are, provisionally, the things that would seem to define a bishop as something more than a politician by other means.
Eternal Father, strong to save

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy Word,
Who walked on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our family shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoever we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
Though the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air,
In darkening storms or sunlight fair;
Oh, hear us when we lift our prayer,
For those in peril in the air!

Aloft in solitudes of space,
Uphold them with Thy saving grace.
Thou Who supports with tender might
The balanced birds in all their flight.
Lord, if the tempered winds be near,
That, having Thee, they know no fear.

God, Who dost still the restless foam,
Protect the ones we love at home.
Provide that they should always be
By Thine own grace both safe and free.
O Father, hear us when we pray
For those we love so far away.

For Maj. Chris H, USAF, and LT (jg) David C, USN, who are both “in the Persian Gulf region.” For all the members of the Armed Forces, and for the people of Iraq. For a true, just and lasting peace there, and across the Middle East. For the people of Afghanistan. For POWs, MIAs and those killed in military conflict, whatever their nationality. For the repose of the soul of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. For Dylan and for Karen Marie Knapp. For Robina's son, who is in urgent need of a job. For Mark, who has just lost his job, and for his coworkers. For the Kairos Guy family. For Kendra. For my friend Tim and his wife, as he goes through an unplanned career change. For Reynolds, during a tumultuous time, and for his son. For Victor Lams and his family. For Bishop Richard Lennon. For Rev. Steve W. For Roger, Randy, Deb and the ones whose names I did not know. For Katherine G. For Michelle. For me, a sinner. For Monica M. For Alicia and her sister. For victims of terrorism in so many places. For Karen and Dale.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Attention parents of Middle Schoolers

The company I have been working with is producing a big-screen adaptation of Louis Sachar's Newbery Award-winning novel Holes. Check it out at Holes.com. It is a good, age-appropriate (roughly 10+, depending on your kid and if you've already read the book) family movie, with a great tale of sin and redemption going on. And since it is just about the only family movie opening Easter Weekend, why not spread the word?
I know, I know. I've been very lame the last few weeks. I'll blog more tomorrow, I promise. More wine, and maybe a bit of war, but mostly just thoughts.

Monday, March 24, 2003


There is a paradox in good parenting. Children are born and grow for the first couple of years doing what I have spent my entire lifetime trying and failing to achieve: living in the present. Indeed, as a parent, I spend a great deal of my time training that habit out of my son, trying constantly to get him to think far enough ahead to foresee perfectly obvious consequences to his actions. I wish there were a way to do that that didn't also wind up teaching him to live in the future or the past.

Of course, thinking of the consequences of an act is a good thing, a thing required in much moral thinking. But the unintended result is often to teach him not to borrow, as it were, consequences and duties from the future in order to welcome the next moment of the present, but to get him to worry about and even try to live in the future.

There ought to be a compromise, whereby his acceptance of and even revelling in the beauty of what is in front of him diminishes not at all--indeed, where it infects me, too--while his brain can still form expectations about the outcome and moral value of his present actions sufficient to guide him into ever better present-moments, without becoming phantasms that keep him out of the now. But having never achieved anything like such an abandonment to Providence myself, I am saddened to realize that I am much more likely to teach him anxiety and worry than joy and forethought.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Tom and Mark are wondering about how "this tendency to be so dismissive of statements from bishops and the pope has arisen in faithful, good-willed, intelligent Catholics." I will save for another day the question of the proximate cause of the question (a substantive disagreement over the prudence of the present war), and stipulate the observation for the moment.

Mightn't the fact that many bishops appear to have stopped teaching the Faith account for some portion? Warmed-over left-wing social programs may have some coincidence with the Faith--heck, I'll even grant a subtantial grounding in it for the sake of argument--but they are not the Faith itself. Possibly, our autodidactic efforts are a result of the Bishop's failings, not a cause of them.

After all: how many "faithful Catholics" even understand they are supposed to listen to their Bishops? I'm certainly struggling with their statements these days, but the only reason it's even a struggle, rather than a complete victory on my part is, I *want* to be able to follow what they offer, even when I disagree. But I can't honestly say I know that many Catholics who even struggle that much. And when the regular guy in the pews knows that little about his Faith, it may be his own fault, but there is probably quite a bit of blame to go to his teachers in the Faith too.