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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Prices' Best Christmas Present This Year?

How about our lives?

We went up to visit our parents for Christmas this year, as my sister-in-law came up with the inspired proposal to get the three Price households together for perhaps the last time for the next several years (my brother works in Washington State, and we don't know where he'll be assigned to next). So, we went up on Thursday, had a great time, watched the five kids fill the air with wrapping paper confetti and came back on Christmas Eve.

It also meant reduced sleep for me, so I passed off control of the Family Assault Vehicle, heavily laden with children and children's loot, to Heather.

We were about here



on southbound I-75 at about 3:00pm when Heather started to make a lane-change on an overpass. Unfortunately, there was a car in our blind spot, and Heather swerved back into the center lane.

Or tried to. That's when I woke up. Fully. The road was wet. Not icy, but it might as well have been.

The Venture started fishtailing--badly--at 70 mph. We swerved into the right lane, heading toward the fence as Heather tried to steady the vehicle and slow us down. No good. We started to hydroplane.

The minivan began to spin slowly but surely in a clockwise direction. In a seeming instant we were facing northbound but still moving to the south. We were slowing down, yet still spinning. We faced east, and then hit drier pavement, arresting the spin and, mirabile dictu, leaving us facing southbound again, and in the center lane. Stalled out.

But otherwise unharmed. The traffic behind us, despite being beguiled by the show (I will likely recall the expression on a middle-aged woman with glasses for as long as I live), had managed to slow down in good order, and passed us at a relative crawl. Nobody else even so much as left the road. Heather managed to get the van over to the side of the expressway and stopped shaking a few minutes later. I am morally convinced that I couldn't have done any better, and quite probably would have done worse, than she did. Our children were shaken, but since we didn't freak out, they didn't. In fact, Dale now seems to think it was great fun and would like to try it again. [Memo to self: he can have a Segue when he turns 16 and like it.]

The wonder of it is that absolutely no harm was suffered by anyone. We could have hit another car or cars, spun right off the steep overpass embankment or even hit the drier pavement at the wrong time and gone into a barrel roll, with all of the stuff our van was crammed with going flying about and hitting the kids.

So, no, it's not technically miraculous, it just feels that way.

Oh, and by the way: my sister-in-law gave me this visor clip for Christmas. It's staying in the van, if you are curious:


"Fictional" saint, my tuchus.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Intelligent Design Post.

Since the decision has come down, I thought I'd chime in.

Three points:

(1) Full disclosure: yes, I'm sympathetic to it. I'm also impressed by the arguments against it by such luminaries as Fr. Edmund Oakes, S.J., and Fr. Stanley Jaki. Not coincidentally, both also deploy their formidable logical and rhetorical firepower against materialism, too.

(2) I have a degree in political science, so I lack the tools to say whether ID is good, bad or, indeed, no science at all.

(3) Science and philosophy are inextricably intertwined. That's the reason these disputes keep popping up, and will keep popping up, all the permanent injunctions by flustered judges notwithstanding. [BTW, the First Commandment of Lawyering is thus: Never, ever piss off the judge (the late, great barrister F.E. Smith excepted). From what I've read, the Dover Board did that in spades. It was a horrid litigation vehicle, and the judge was right to be hacked off about the behavior of many of the defendants.]

I have no problem with the teaching of science, including natural selection and evolution--as long as science acknowledges its limitations and stays within purely scientific boundaries--i.e., what can, and more importantly, cannot, be established by the scientific method.

It is the latter where the scientists, including the invariably blustery spokesbeings at the National Center for Science Education, drop the ball. The battle rages on because Dr. Bunson Honeydew and Beaker keep wandering out of the lab, drawing philosophical conclusions that cannot even be verified by the scientific method, and flatulating endlessly about metaphysics. To whit:

Sir Julian Huxley: "In the Evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural," Huxley wrote. "The earth was not created, it evolved. So did all animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind and soul as well as brain and body. So did religion. Evolutionary man can no longer take refuge from his loneliness in the arms of a divinized father figure."

Richard Dawkins: "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

Michael Shallis: "It is no more heretical to say the Universe displays purpose, as Hoyle has done, than to say that it is pointless, as Steven Weinberg has done. Both statements are metaphysical and outside science. Yet it seems that scientists are permitted by their own colleagues to say metaphysical things about lack of purpose and not the reverse. This suggests to me that science, in allowing this metaphysical notion, sees itself as religion and presumably as an atheistic religion (if you can have such a thing)." [For more proof of this, check out this story about the recent intellectual lynching at the Smithsonian.]

Derek Ager: "I suppose I had better mention the concept of a divine creator, but personally I do not find that particular hypothesis useful and I am tempted to ask about the cosmic accident that created Him (presumably before the 'big bangs' that started the universe). And what did He do before He created the world and mankind?"

And, my personal recent favorite:

Daniel Dennett: Dennett claimed that Darwin had shredded the credibility of religion and was, indeed, the very “destroyer” of God. In the question session, philosophy professor Jeff Jordan made the following observation to Dennett, “If Darwinism is inherently atheistic, as you say, then obviously it can’t be taught in public schools.” “And why is that?” inquired Dennett, incredulous. “Because,” said Jordan, “the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution guarantees government neutrality between religion and irreligion.” Dennett, looking as if he’d been sucker-punched, leaned back against the wall, and said, after a few moments of silence, “clever.”

OK, the last one is a bit of a trick--Dennett is not actually a scientist--he's a philosopher. But you sure can't tell, can you? The proper response to every last one of the holders of the atheistic mindset is this: Prove it, professor. Using the scientific method, put up, or shut up.

Of course, they can't prove it--as the Shallis quote helpfully notes, their atheistic conclusions are inherently metaphysical and not susceptible of scientific proof/disproof. But that doesn't keep them from yammering on endlessly about it and muddying the waters.

That's why the backs keep getting up--people keep (wrongfully) using the science to buttress philosophies directly opposed to religion. If the NCSE tried half as hard to keep Dr. Science Who Knows More Than You on a choke chain as it did working itself into its dog-annoying shrieks about ID, it would quickly find itself enjoying something akin the quietude of the Maytag repairman, and, perhaps, not so often finding itself constantly "pushing down the lumps in the water bed," to use the memorable analogy of one of its spokesladies yesterday.

As badly as many religious folks need to take science classes, just as many in the pocket protector crowd need to take a few courses in philosophy and religion. The ignorance is hardly all on one side.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What more needs to be said?


The worst thing about this model of the Motor City Kitties is that you get the distinct sense that no one has the faintest idea how to fix it--even if (and it won't happen) Millen gets the axe. Nobody from the Lions is saying it--nobody dares--but it is obvious that the team will have to be blown up and rebuilt from scratch.

Oh, joy--rebuilding. Again. And a metronome chanting "patience, patience, patience..."

You go ahead and do that, Ford family. Serve up the cornbread 'n kool aid to those willing to buy your never-good-enough-to-cause-heartbreak product. I've got better things to do with my Sundays in 2006, thanks. And I won't be alone.

That's the last thing I'm going to blog about the Detroit Lions this year. They didn't deserve the space I gave them in the first place.

[Update: OK, one more. This was too good to pass up:]

Victor Morton has a very worthwhile essay about That Pudding-Deficient Gay Cowboy Film.

It's here, and it's Exhibit A why he was right not to retire his blog.

It's also not brief, so be prepared to put your feet up.
From the Far, Far Too Much Free Time On His Hands Files.

A Changeverse fan has drawn up a Deathzone map of the U.S., basing it on Steve's theory that the post-Change dislocations would destroy everything within a certain radius of metro areas bigger than 50,000 people (I forget the precise ratio of population to mileage).

Hair-raising, especially given where I live now. Leaving aside the fictional/fantastic horror of the novels, there's always the sobering real-world nightmares like the impact of electromagnetic pulse attacks (make sure to take the time to read and print this one--I have). I've always been strangely drawn to the Upper Peninsula, and now I am getting an inkling why.

More seriously: as regards electronics and electrical generation and transmission, an EMP assault is the functional equivalent of the Change, and would quickly leave us facing many of the same scenarios.

Have a great day!
From the Jesus Never Said Anything About Dwarf-Tossing or Seal-Clubbing School of Christian 'Thought'.

Mark brings us the stylings of one Paula Gott, self-proclaimed "biblical investigator," proclaiming a Deus lo volt! in favor of embryonic stem cell research.

Initial impressions: (1) Her research has a telling, Didache-shaped hole at its center that leaves the remainder suspect (note Chapter 2).

(2) I doubt she's an evangelical, though she tries to appeal to that audience in the way she structures her arguments. (a) They generally avoid the New Revised Standard Version like it was herpes and (b), they don't argue that Plutarch wrote the Gospel According to Luke and Acts of the Apostles. [H/t to one of Mark's commenters for this great find.] I suspect the terms she uses are a direct appeal to the predominantly-evangelical audience of outstate Missouri.

And while I agree that her thesis about Plutarchian authorship of this large swath of the NT is...sui generis...I strongly object to Mark's commenters calling the Rev. Ms. Gott a "loony." In fact, those are fighting words.

She is not a loony! Why must she be attired with the epithet 'loony' merely because she has established that Luke is Plutarch? I've heard tell that John Shelby Spong has posited that Mark is Stephen King, and you wouldn't call him a 'loony'! Furthermore, Brett Favre, the gentleman quarterback, argued that Matthew was Dean Koontz; Dennis Kucinich hypothesized that Voltaire wrote both Philemon and Hebrews, and Jackie Collins conclusively proved that Douglas Coupland wrote Revelation! So, if you're calling the author of Hollywood Wives: The Next Generation a 'loony," I shall have to ask you to step outside!

Do try to keep a more civil tone next time.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Interoffice Memos from the Department of Redundancy Department.

Greg ponders, and I respond.

Door Number 2. Ever and always. On very, very rare occasions, the American ecclesial bureaucracy issues something worthwhile or challenging, but invariably fails to follow up on it or runs like hell from it once the implications become apparent (Living the Gospel of Life comes to mind). Most of the time, they serve up gruel thin enough to raise salmon in (e.g., the "official" voter's guides).

It helps if you remember that there are two essential features for every official USCCB statement, both of which are closely-related:

(1) Giving the widest possible latitude for the in/actions of its individual members; and

(2) Being sufficiently malleable to function as a big-tent consensus statement, papering over the gulf between opposing camps.

The problem is, of course, that you end up with a mess of ambiguous pottage. Could be veal, could be headcheese--hard to say. Depends on the angle and the lighting. Either way, tastes like chicken.

The end result reflects the dictum that no one has ever been successfully called to arms by a committee. Which is why the Conference statements almost never have any positive impact, nor do they even sharpen the issues.
Blogivaria.

Der Tommissar proves that it's all about public service this time of year:

First, the unacknowledged dangers of making Albuquerque a space hub. 'Ware The Created and the Zoopremists, too.

Second: the perils of long-term Toronto Maple Leaf fandom. I've always known it is safer to huff sarin, and now DT has photographic evidence to back me up.

As was ordained from the beginning of time, Hilary is about to de-pope. Actually, she's probably just going to Scotland's magnificent western isles, as it is hard to picture her as a Presby.

[Much harder to picture her as a Unitarian, to be sure, but there you have it.]

Rich Leonardi brings to our attention yet another work continuing the demolition of the tattered-but-fashionable Myth of the Backward Medievals. If the new book is half as good as The Rise of Christianity, it will be magnificent.
With that, you might be able to understand the paucity of postings of late.

The Prices are attempting to reach Target: Christmas with a couple of redlined engines and even more redlined travel schedules.

Add in the fact that The Boy™ is exploring the rudimentaries of potty-training (with all the bad aim, awful timing and origamy that implies), I'm still not finished shopping (two more nephews), andI haven't slept for crap in a week, and I'm pretty well redlined myself.

Blogging may have to continue to sit on the (inoperable) back burner.
It's a bad sign...

...when you get a call from your credit card company indicating its concern regarding a run of recent card use.

But it's much, much worse when you know there's no fraud involved.

Man, am I dreading next month's Discover statement.

Monday, December 12, 2005

An even better way to hack off a pre-schooler.

Take a run at St. Nick:

Here comes sphagnum moss/
Here comes sphagnum moss/
Right down sphagnum moss lane...

"It's 'Santa Claus'!!!!"

My mom kept calling him "Dental Floss," and my horrified brother and I were sure that he was going to skip our house in retaliation.

Try it--works every time.
At least the book post is getting some comments.

So I'll move it up here.

First, there's a query from the author:

So, if you had to live in the Post-Change world (as an ordinary shmo, no getting to be King) where would you prefer to be?

Bearkillers? Clan Mackenzie? Corvallis? Mt. Angel? England? The PPA?

Peggy arrived and stated:

Mrm. I would choose Clan Mackenzie, admittedly, in that it is shown how deeply faith/religion informs their daily life and the way they mark the seasons - had the same been detailed for Mt. Angel, I'd no doubt opt for them.

Count me among those who would not see the Change itself as a bad thing - it grounds the characters, as Dale and others have said, in realities that are too easily passed over nowadays.

Not a bad choice, and for the reasons stated. The Mackenzies are a likeable bunch, and are genuinely hospitable, to boot. But I'm going to stick with the home team and say Mt. Angel (or the Benedictines' Brigittine affiliates in Amity), for obvious reasons. My second choice would be the Bearkillers, with the Mackenzies as the bronze medalists. While Charles can't reign forever, England is going to be tense (and facing a possible civil war) as his eccentricities continue to wax, and the PPA is horrid beyond words. I prefer my antipopes laughable, and not wielding the power of death over me and mine, thanks.

I'll take the Bearkillers over the Mackenzies for two reasons: (1) I was in a music fraternity, and musicians can be...maddening to deal with; and (2) despite my qualms about the society, I really like the fearless "I got your back, no matter what" approach. If the PPA-ish lord mentality can be reigned it, the BKs have a lot going for them.

Finally, more light is shed on reader reaction to the new-old post-Change society:

I think the other thing that put some people off post-Change life was precisely that it wasn't a buffet, as Dale put it. Not just in matters of religion, but generally. In most areas of life there would be fewer choices. You eat the foods seasonally available because that's what there is; you farm or work at a craft (or you don't eat) rather than picking a career; no 500 channels of TV so you read or listen to a storyteller or find someone to play chess with; no Gap so you wear the clothing that's customary/available in your area; you make your own music or go without (which implies getting other people to agree with your choices).

That sort of thing. Likewise, you're stuck with the people you live with -- and you -have- to get along with them, or move, and moving isn't like switching towns in our society. It's more like emigrating to a strange foreign country, and may not be possible at all without loss of rights and status. You can't pick and chose who you associate with on a daily basis; it's your family and local community or nothing, and nothing really isn't an option since you need these people to _live_. The lack of urban anonymity and commercialized choice are things that would impact people very strongly. People tend to forget these days how desperately important your relations with the circle of kin and neighbors used to be. That's why "reputation" was so crucial, and why things like "shunning" were such terrible punishments. Being generally viewed as a jerk or a shirker or someone who wasn't a decent person... that wasn't just annoying, it threatened your existence. You can't get -away- from these people, or they from you; and you can't keep much secret from them, either.

The thing that strikes me about this analysis is that the same could be said for most of settled rural America, right up to the 1920s [and this is a helpful way to explain how they revived more quickly, too, post-Change--the survivors are out in the sticks]. Sure, there were mass-migrations, most notably European immigrants generally, and internally southern blacks and Appalachian whites to the industrial Midwest, but generally small towns managed to avoid or absorb this and didn't change much. There are even some remnants of this today--I've heard "Hey, you're Dale's boy!" both in my own small hometown and my dad's even smaller one more than a few times, so the family ID still matters some in rural Michigan. It certainly does not in metro Detroit. But post-Change, it's another faded strand of the past firmly woven back into a survivor's identity--and one not entirely unwelcome, at least in the circles I travel in. It also plays on a few strings that have an increasing appeal, such as distributist economics, a beat of life more in tune with nature, putting a bullet into the unblinking eye in the living room, etc.

Though I can see the good arguments on the other side (apart from the obvious, namely the horrors of the first Change year)--for example, the downside of the family bond is that you can wear the mark of Cain for something a forebear or current relative did, the lack of genuine goods like advanced and readily available medicines, inexpensive printing and a few other things I've come to appreciate.

Anyway, keep the comments coming.
How to get a round dozen comments on a Catholic blog without really trying.

Rule 1: talk about the music at Mass.

Todd had a couple of interesting posts (I don't think his permalinks are working) concerning this online survey.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the traditional classics, mortified by more than a few and somewhat bummed to not see either Charles Wesley or a recent Catholic classic (not quite an oxymoron) like To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King.

I'm going to steer clear of the usual grumbling about the cotton candy ditties and focus on Todd's point that the newer songs are grounded in scripture.

Well, sorta. Kinda. They are grounded in certain consistent images taken from scripture, and almost always the God-As-Eternal Comfort Blanket images, to boot. Take, for example (please) the #1, On Eagle's Wings, based on Psalm 91.

Here are the lyrics:
You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord,
Who abide in His shadow for life,
Say to the Lord, "My Refuge,
My Rock in Whom I trust."

Refrain:
And He will raise you up on eagle's wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

The snare of the fowler will never capture you,
And famine will bring you no fear;
Under His Wings your refuge,
His faithfulness your shield.

Refrain

You need not fear the terror of the night,
Nor the arrow that flies by day,
Though thousands fall about you,
Near you it shall not come.

Refrain

For to His angels He's given a command,
To guard you in all of your ways,
Upon their hands they will bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Refrain

Here's Psalm 91:

1He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."

3For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 5You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.

9Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place--the Most High, who is my refuge-- 10no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.

11For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

14"Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation."


Rather close--certainly far, far better than Hosea (urk), which turns the prophet into a less-flinty version of Stuart Smalley. But you can see what OEW edits from Psalm 91 in bold, and it is telling. So much for the notions of sin and salvation, the girding for strife, and proceeding boldly with the Lord at your side--OEW makes the singer a passive recipient in a way that the Psalm manifestly does not. And that's all the worse when you consider that the Psalms were written to be sung in worship. Not to pick on OEW, though--as I said, it's better than most of the popular ones that claim to ground themselves in scripture, which are even more incomplete and distorted in their use of imagery. Comforting, to be sure--but dangerously tame and fragmentary.
Iä! Iä Lakeside Ftaghn!

Why, yes, I went Christmas shopping at the [guttural] Maaaaaaaaauuuuuuulllllllll on Friday.

Actually, wasn't too horrid, but the week itself was devoid of joys. Starting with the furnace going on the fritz, then the kids going on the fritz (some kind of cold), then the kids getting insufferable, then dad getting hoarse at the insufferable kids, and a host of additional unwanted bills and tasks that have taken the small cushion out of our checking account.

So, my Christmas cheer is on a respirator at the moment.

On the brighter side, The Boy™ asked to use the toilet on Sunday, and, wonder of wonders, actually used it. It almost made up for his Vikings-At-Iona behavior at church earlier in the day.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Some Wolverine fans are upset about the Bowl selections.

I'm not. Come on--you're talking Outback Bowl vs. Alamo Bowl. Paper or plastic, fellow UM sufferers?

Is it really so important to be hunched in front of the TV at 11am on January 2, just so you can say your team played in "a New Year's Day [sic] Bowl"?

The correct answer is "No," by the way.
The sound of crickets.

What's with you people? And by "you people" I am specifically referring to Zach, Peggy, My Pagan Associate and everyone else in the unofficial blog S.M. Stirling Reading Society:

We have the God's honest author in the comment box for The Protector's War, and you go all "Silent Spring" on me.

It's legit. Really.
Prescription: Several paper lunch bags and a grip.

Boston College's admin cancels a GLBT dance.

The student newspaper goes the full Cayce and predicts the school will soon be falling off the continental shelf.

Favorite part, in what is a target rich environment:

BC's rise in national prominence has been fast and significant, but the University can go much farther. As BC aspires to become one of the top universities in the country - and steps have certainly been made to do so - it has a choice to make. Regardless of varying views on homosexuality, every BC student wants their BC diploma to mean more 20 years down the line as BC becomes an even more respected university.

But will that be possible if a school that claims to espouse the values of a man who accepted prostitutes as his equals cannot give the same respect to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals?

I'd like to be the first to note that the BC writer is a first class hater: note that in the last line above the editorial ADVOCATES DISRESPECT TOWARD THE TRANSGENDERED! AREN'T THEY PEOPLE, TOO, BIGOT?! YET ANOTHER MINDLESS HATE-FILLED MINION OF THE HITLER YOUTH POPE IS REVEALED, SURPRISE, SURPRISE! SILENCE = DEATH, TRANSOPHOBE!

[Draws prolonged breath.]

Hypoxia--what a rush!

Anyway, the other funny part is the suggestion that the canceling of a dance is going to somehow render the BC parchment worthless.

[Scene: Bright-eyed BC Class of '06 grad, sitting down for a job interview with a Fortune 500 headhunter.]

HH: Well, Ms. Smith, I have to say I'm quite impressed--Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, spending 20 hours per month tutoring the illiterate, and a starter for the varsity soccer team. That's a remarkable resume', and all the more so for having been accomplished at a demanding academic environment like Boston University. Kudos to...

BC06: Actually, Mr. Hunter, I attended Boston College, not Boston University.

HH: [Stunned silence, followed by a croaked whisper]: Boston... College? You mean the place that cancelled the GLBT Safe Zone Dance right before Festivus last year?

BC06: [Reluctantly]: ...Well, yes...

HH: Get out of my sight! And take your glorified JuCo transcript with you! Consider yourself lucky if you get any job that doesn't come with a paper hat!! Rest assured, though, it will be my personal mission in life to ensure that you and your Eagle ilk won't be so fortunate!!!

BC06: [Flees, weeping...]

[Link via CWN's Off The Record.]
The Christmas Special That Almost Wasn't.

Great article about the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, forty years old tonight. About the only one who believed in it was Charles Schulz:

When CBS bigwigs saw a rough cut of A Charlie Brown Christmas in November 1965, they hated it.

"They said it was slow," executive producer Lee Mendelson remembers with a laugh. There were concerns that the show was almost defiantly different: There was no laugh track, real children provided the voices, and there was a swinging score by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.
Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez fretted about the insistence by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz that his first-ever TV spinoff end with a reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke by a lisping little boy named Linus.


"We told Schulz, 'Look, you can't read from the Bible on network television,' " Mendelson says. "When we finished the show and watched it, Melendez and I looked at each other and I said, 'We've ruined Charlie Brown.' "

It's on ABC at 8:00pm tonight.

Monday, December 05, 2005

No, I don't know what's wrong with Haloscan.

For some reason, the top post to the blog frequently doesn't have a comment box.

Hopefully, it's just a hiccup.
Fundamentalism is the theological equivalent of a fever.

Think of it as the Body of Christ's attempt to fight off an infection. It's a sign that there's a deeper problem. You shouldn't celebrate the fever, but it's better than no temperature at all.

Or at least that's what came to mind while reading this ho-hum bath of lukewarm modernism passed off as "biblical scholarship" in the latest issue of U.S. Catholic (Motto: Helping the People of God Coo Into The Mirror Since 1963). Not to put too fine a point on it, it's the usual crap, tarting up, warming over and serving leftovers of Renan and Loisy covered in a generous frappe' of semi-ass-covering ambiguity. The crust long ago formed over the jacuzzi's contents, but people still like to cavort in the scuzzy water.

Oooh, the scandal: Joseph could have been Jesus' biological father! The Resurrection is not historical (which is what the "verifiable" tack boils down to)! Matthew cleverly cobbled together the story of the Virgin Birth!

In addition to helpfully pointing up how moribund Catholic biblical scholarship is (Quick: Name a significant Catholic biblical scholar under age 60 whose last name does not rhyme with "Ron"?), there is another helpful observation (emph. added):

Because historical-critical scholars try to get to the historical base of the text and the intent of the author, they begin to call into question some long-held beliefs. For example, are virginal conception or Resurrection things you can prove historically? How are we to understand this material? Are gospels biographical statements or are they theological statements?
When historical criticism began to raise these kinds of questions, the reaction was fundamentalism.


There is a real insight here, albeit wholly unintentional. You'll often hear progressives talk about "reception," the concept that if the "People of God" do not "receive" an irritating magisterial teaching, it is null and void. E.g., the ordination of women, non-affirmation of Pelvic Issues 1 through Infinity (inclusive), etc. More often than not, the "People of God" tend to be coterminous with the chancery staffs and Catholic university faculties of North America, but no matter. What's interesting is that "reception" does not apply when the prerogatives of the establishment are at stake. So, when the laity barf up the expired headcheese of biblical scholarship, the reaction is not "hmmm...maybe there's something wrong with what we're doing here."

Instead, the Inner Sadistic English Schoolmaster takes control and tells the benighted pupils that they will not be getting any pudding until they eat their "beef." After all, "We Catholics are not fundamentalists." Never mind the fact that that popular empty catchphrase is usually said with a preening self-regard worthy of the most accomplished Pharisee.

Given the choice between the baptized agnosticism of the scholars and fundamentalism, it's not surprising lay people choose the latter--better to be staggering around with a fever than on your deathbed.

Remember that the next time your bishop, chancery or episcopal conference gets worked up about "fundamentalism." They are concerned about the symptoms, not the underlying illness.

Friday, December 02, 2005

How to irritate a child in one easy step.

Change the words of a book or song they know by heart.

Thusly:

(1) Last night, as SpongeBob came on Nickelodeon, I joined in with my dulcet tones:

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?/
[Me:] SpongeSquare BobPants!
[Maddie and Dale: No! It's SpongeBob SquarePants!]

Absorbent and yellow and porous is he/
[Me: SquareBob SpongePants!]
[The Kids: NO! IT'S SPONGEBOB SQUARE PANTS!]

(2) Later, after baths, reading to them before bedtime:

Me: OK, what do you want me to read? It's Maddie's turn to choose.
Maddie: The Itsy Bitsy Spider!
Me: OK, fine. [Picking up book.] [Reading title:] The Achy Breaky Spider.
Maddie: NO! Itsy Bitsy Spider!
Me: The Artsy-Fartsy Spider?
Maddie: No, it's the Itsy Bitsy Spider, you geek!

Methinks the eldest has been listening to Heather very closely of late.
The Change, Eight Years After.




[Obligatory Full Disclosure Notice Here. And no, I'm not going to tell you anything about AMAC.]

The Protector's War is the second installment in the first trilogy set in the Change universe. For details on what the Change involves, go here. By 2006, the population of the Earth has started to recover from the catastrophic dieoffs (somewhere in the neighborhood of 98%) of the first Change Year. The fledgling Oregon survivor bands (good and ill) seen in DTF have shaken out and formed into something resembling nation-states of their own. What's more, we get a "what" of the Change, if not the "who" or "why." Essentially, mother Earth has been targeted with very precise changes [rimshot!] in the way certain gasses behave and the way molecules "glue" together--bottom line, the energy from compressed gasses is but a fraction of what it was before the Change. The same appears to have happened with electrical voltages, and something similar with fission reactions. The effect is, bye-bye engines that rely upon the compression of gasses--internal combustion, firearms, etc. If it's not human-, animal- or hydraulically-powered, it doesn't work.

We also get a glimpse at the state of the rest of the world: pretty much totalled, with the exception of Tasmania, New Zealand's South Island (which both managed to survive unscathed), the island redoubts of Britain (Wight, Man, Anglesey, the Hebrides), northern Scandinavia, the deep interiors of the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, along with a few isolated, remote, or improbably lucky regions. And nothing--nothing--else, as it is explained that the rule of thumb is that everyone within 100 miles of a major metropolitan area either fled quickly or died. Assuming that flight was possible, of course. The description of the grisly discoveries by explorers probing into the salt flats surrounding the necropolis of Los Angeles is chilling.

Continuing the focus of the first book, we get a detailed look at three of the Williamette states: Clan Mackenzie, Mike Havel's Bearkillers, and the dread Portland Protective Association, the last a weird fusion of gangbangers, the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Inquisition into a very dark Norman kingdom. Actually, check that--by our standards, they're all "weird." But thriving, if in very different ways. By Change Year 9, a stalemate of sorts has developed between the PPA and "Free Oregon."

(1) Juniper Mackenzie, erstwhile gifted busker, current Wiccan high priestess and reluctant chief of state, has managed to deftly herd 20000+ cats into a successful agricultural power, one very handy with the longbow. If anything, the book is Mackenzie-centric, focusing more on Juniper and her unruly, if capable and good-natured, Clan. Mackenzie remains the most likeable of the characters, one whose practical moral groundedness is only matched by her mysticism. The mysticism (even if it's hardly mine) is one thing I appreciated, in that it dispels the idea that mystics are invariably feverish, unblinking and detached souls. Not so. Anyone who thinks that needs to get acquainted with St. Teresa ("God save me from gloomy 'saints'!") d' Avila, whose connection to the Almighty was so close she felt comfortable with carping at Him for letting her get tossed into a creek by her horse.

Again--to make it clear to the peanut gallery--I find Wicca unpersuasive at a number of levels. But the depictions are fascinating, and, especially in the dedication of Sutterdown, truly "other" and even unnervingly alien. If I have one gripe about Juney's character, it's that she tends to be non-interventionist when it comes to her people pursuing paths she recognizes as destructive. Perhaps Wicca doesn't have quite the same "brother's keeper" angle as Christianity, but still. Overall, though, the Mackenzies remain perhaps the most attractive of the societies depicted so far. While increasingly and overwhelmingly Wiccan, they are democratic and genuinely tolerant, as is seen in the treatment of a Catholic refugee family in the book.

(2) Then there's the Bearkillers. Dear reader, my question is this: Is Mike Havel an Arminger with a conscience? It is clear from the book that the Bearkillers are the only Williamette state that engenders real respect from the lords of the Protectorate, who go so far as to address their Bearkiller opposites with the term "Lord." The BKs and the PPA resemble each other in ways too close for comfort, with the essential difference being the former possessing a benevolent leadership cadre. The BKs are also doing well, but are starting to bifurcate into a class of lords and everybody else, which, to his credit, worries Havel. But something else is more pressing, namely:

(3) The Portland Protective Association. In the years since Norman Arminger's goons drove most of the desperate population of Portland out of the city to die, the Lord Protector has managed to recreate feudal Norman England, or a SCA revision of the same. A particularly hellish DisneyWorld version, but live-action, as it were. Arminger even has his own anti-pope (though the denizens salute him as the Successor of Peter) and Inquisition installed to keep order. The Sunday obligation is quite mandatory, indeed, in the PPA. We get a longer look at the Protector and his kingdom, as opposed to the briefer treatment in DTF. Interestingly, Arminger has dispensed with some of the outwardly kinky aspects of the early Protectorate, even if he otherwise remains the same dangerously charming and capable sociopath we've come to know and loathe. His even more dangerous wife, Sandra, gets more time as well--also charming, she gives the impression of having been cloned from the DNA of Elizabeth Bathory and Martha Stewart, perhaps with Tamerlane as Dad. Because the PPA cannot abide free states along its long borders, war is inevitable and preparations on all sides are underway.

An increasingly strong focus of the series is on adaptation to the Change, and what kind of mindsets work (or don't). The most striking example is that of Astrid Larsson, who treats Tolkien as the Revealed Word. It would be insane--in certain respects it still is--but it works in the Changed world. What is more insane is to try to live as though the Change never happened--which has broken more than a few of those who have managed to survive. Another intriging example of this are the hints of a gradual morphing of the brutal gangers of the PPA into something much better, and the suggestion that their children will be better still. Even the Armingers seem to have been caught up in their creation, and are as often being carried by it as directing it. It is an interesting process, and one that mirrors the experience of the Nantucketers in the Island series.

Plot-wise, there's plenty of action, as well as the introduction of several new perspective characters, starting with three doughty Englishmen: Sir Nigel Loring, his son Alleyne and "Little John" Hordle, 6'7" of bastard sword-swinging fury. Just the kind of guy you'd like to see taking on Baron Liu's hulking buddy, Mack, in fact. Sir Nigel is an old-school Edwardian and ex-SAS colonel who quickly recognized that the Change wasn't changing back, and recommended fleeing to the defensible islands off Great Britain. It worked, after a fashion, saving upwards of 200,000 British souls. Charles became king, and went a little...eccentric ("bloody barking mad"), and Sir Nigel fell out of favor. Sir Nigel and the other two go into exile, and, through an interesting, er...coincidence...end up in Oregon.

Much rollicking adventure happens, we meet a famous royal personage, villains are battled, the Protector goes to war (if not quite in the way a reader might expect from the title) and the good guys come into possession of a few items of great importance to Mr. Arminger. There is a revelation which changes the dynamic of several relationships, and we are also left at the end with a cliffhanger regarding the fate of two characters. There are also several amusing cultural references, overt and implied, from such diverse sources as Bored of the Rings, The Wicker Man, Blood of Heroes, Lonesome Dove, Dirty Harry and Monty Python, to name but six.

As far as the reading goes, remember two things: (1) It's a middle book. Much is set up and left unresolved, so there's a natural unsatisfied feeling. (2) Check the dates at the beginning of each chapter--they are essential for keeping the plotlines from getting confused, especially where the "flashback" sections begin. One of my few gripes with the book is with keeping the plot strands straight. I understand why it was done that way, and there is a payoff, but it can be difficult to follow at times.

My other essential gripe is that the Catholic characters come across as a little generically Christian--not that they do anything "unCatholic," so to speak, but not distinctively Catholic. That's fixable, though.

Finally, as to the religious angle: Amazon reviewers are a hoot. The whining about "all the Wicca" is a little funny by this point. It's a little like reading, say, James Fenimore Cooper, and asking "What's with all the effin' Indians? It's kinda the idea, guys.

The important thing to remember is that we are seeing only a couple slices of the post-Change Williamette (CM and BK), so to say that Wicca dominates the entire region is, to borrow an Ayl-word, gormless. Wicca dominates the Clan, true, and has made serious inroads into the BKs, but with regard to the latter, so has Catholicism, as is noted in a scene where Mike issues a ruling in a domestic matter. The "founder effect" ensures that the Huttons' religion will be as influential as Astrid's among the Outfit. And, lest we forget, there is a thriving Catholic presence at Mount Angel which is referenced at the early meeting and in spaces throughout the book. So to say that Christianity is in terminal decline is reading into the text something that is not there.

The striking thing, from a religious perspective, is that religion is not an optional thing in the Changed world. There is no spiritual buffet. It is ground into the lives of most of the characters, and, whole and entire, is an essential part of their identities. It is also interesting to note that Wicca is becoming less "spell" and more "prayer," so to speak. Juney's conversations with the divine are not really different in form (as opposed to content) from that which goes on in the head of practicing Christians. At least not from my head--YMMV.

Overall, TPW is a worthy sequel to DTF, and one that leaves the reader primed for the final book of the trilogy.

Take--read.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Go congratulate Steve Skojec on the birth of his daughter!

The happy news, with a pic of the beautiful little girl, is here.

Congrats to the growing Family Skojec!

My advice is to start drinking [coffee] heavily.
And in local news...

[With Editorial comment and synopsis, where necessary.]

(1) Subdivision association gets well-deserved bloody nose. A human toothache protested the Christmas display on his/her/its neighbors' lawn. Frosty and Santa were OK, but lose the Holy Family. Subdivision association sends letter ordering removal of Holy Family (Rudolph's kosher, though) and threatens fines for noncompliance. Family contacts Detroit News.

Detroit News runs cover story entitled "It's Away With The Manger." Furor erupts. Subdivision association sends regrets, fruit basket and full authorization of creche. Human toothache fumes over bowl of Grape Nuts and latest issue of Vanity Fair, and everyone else lives happily ever after. Editor develops glimmer of respect for the white-glove libertarian dishrag that is the News.

(2) That Document meets with mixed reception in Detroit. Seminary officials welcome it, Jesuit priest "comes out" in protest. Surprise vanishes upon discovering fact that Fr. O'Brien turns out to be an established Dignity supporter. Editor quaffs Pepto-Vicodin cocktail upon noting terms "transgender" and "transsexual" each appear twice in the priest's presser while scripture is not referenced at all.

(3) State mulls stupid plan to permit potentially toxic form of mining in the Upper Peninsula. Editor recalls that mining booms have not been good to the UP, long term. Blinky has yet to comment.

(4) Local suburb misplaces time capsule. Editor recommends intercession of St. Anthony.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Being a Lions fan is great--except for that down time between Drafts."

The Time: December 29, 1957.

The Place: Tiger Stadium.

The Event: The NFL Championship game.

The Score: Detroit Lions 59, Cleveland Browns 14.

When the victorious NFL Champion Lions walked off the icy turf that day, Lions fandom could not have imagined that, nearly forty-eight years later, the Lions would have 1 (one) more playoff victory to their credit.

Flash forward to December 24, 2000: the 9-6 Lions need a victory over the lowly Bears at home to secure a playoff spot. Final score, on a stunning last second field goal: Bears 23, Lions 20. It's an especially poignant memory for me because it was the last game my Lions-devoted grandfather ever saw.

The Lions clean house, appointing TV commentator and four-time Super Bowl champion Matt Millen to head the organization. The record since? 20-55. That's .267, which is not what the Tigers are looking for in a hitter, let alone a winning percentage.

Younger Lions fans (those who frequent the independent, more popular and, frankly, better of the two Detroit sports radio stations, WDFN) have developed their own lingo in the past several years, the most popular term being "cornbread." The term derives from the fare served by southern plantation masters in the slavery era. A delusional fan who, say, predicts the Lions will be in the Super Bowl, calls a draft pick unassailably brilliant, or even one who simply guarantees that Detroit will beat an equally inept team, is accused of or admits to having eaten the piping hot cornbread served by the Masters Ford. In fact, being a Lions fan at all for the past decade is an exercise cornbread eating--can't bear to leave the plantation because the food is so good.

My name is Dale Price, and I am a cornbread addict.

In my time of watching the Lions, I have seen them lose every possible way a team can lose. Why the perpetual ineptitude?

Two words: Russ Thomas (rest in peace).

Thomas was the GM of the organization from the time the Fords purchased it in 1963 to the time he retired in December 1989. Ferociously stingy, he alienated the talent the Lions managed to draft, giving the team a bad reputation it has only begun to shake over the past 15 years. Trust me--the organization has positively thrown money around since that time: the team's problems do not stem from penny-pinching. More tellingly, Thomas was a true and loyal friend to senior owner William Clay Ford, and Ford reciprocated. In fact, Ford is an admirable and likeable man by every account, and the same goes for Bill Ford, Jr. Whatever else you can say about them, they are loyal to their people and handsomely reward loyalty in turn. Throwing people under the bus is not what they do.

While admirable in and of itself, that has proved to be a problem in the bottom line NFL. It may be the organization's greatest flaw: the refusal to jettison people when they don't perform.

Which brings me to the now-unemployed Steve Mariucci: that he was fired during the season is a bit of a shocker. Perhaps--perhaps--it is a sign that ownership's patience is, after forty two years, running out. Time will tell.

Make no mistake--Mooch's firing is really unobjectionable: the hand on the tiller was too gentle, as even Mooch guy Jeff Garcia admitted during an interview. He's a nice, just folks, UP guy who was accustomed to dealing with veterans who were self-starters at SF. That's not the situation he had here, where he had to mold and develop young talent. He manifestly did not do that here, especially on the offensive side of the ball. More damagingly, he let a divided locker room develop and fester, as can be seen by Dre Bly's appalling shots at Joey Harrington yesterday on the NFL Network. Harrington deserves criticism, and even from teammates, but not on national television. Don't worry too much about Mariucci, though: I have a strong suspicion he may be coaching up the I-96 at MSU next season. It's simply a hunch, but do not be surprised at all. He's an ideal fit for the Spartans, and he has the ultimate reference in his best friend, basketball demigod Tom Izzo.

Which brings me to the final question many are asking: why not Millen, too? Isn't this the sixth year of the Five Year Plan? Well, yes, but he's secure, at least until the end of the 2006 season. There are two reasons: (1) the dogged loyalty of the Fords, and (2) he's been the best personnel guy the Lions have had since the Fords bought the team. That might not be saying much, but it's true. The Lions have gotten younger and faster, and much better on the defensive side of the ball. I could rant and rail about his multiple stupid decisions, but it's a little like complaining about the moon ruining my night sky: there's not much I can do about it. But he'd better find the right coach this time, or he will be done.

OK--should be.

Ding! Anyone for cornbread?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Mooch gets the axe.

You know, I'll have more to say later, but the most depressing thing about the Lions is this fact, fellow suffering post-1957 fans:

the Wayne Fontes Era is our Golden Age.

What more needs to be said?
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

Fr. Jim Tucker offers a fascinating rumination on a story reporting that ABC is developing a couple of futuristic shows set after the fall of America. He wonders--gloom being the mood of the times--about other blog inquests into the future death of the Republic.

After all, every great civilization eventually dies.

Or does it?

Certainly the city-states of the Greeks, Alexander's empire, the Egypt of the Pharaohs, Zoroastrian Persia, and, everyone's favorite comparator, the Rome of the Augusti, have all passed into history. But what is striking is the persistence of some civilizations, namely China, India and Japan, and even the pedigree of some European nations: England, France and Russia, to name three. Granted, none of the above exists in the same form or currently speaks similar languages to the time of their respective foundings, but the national idea has existed in the collective consciousness of each for more than a millenium, often in the face of pestilence, invasion, crushing defeat, colonization, or near-slavery.

So it is overstating the case somewhat to assert that America will vanish from the face of the Earth a la Imperial Rome or Athens. Yes, I can see a similar scenario along the lines of Fr. Tucker. Absent the arrest and reversal of the continuing declines of civic republican (note the small "r") virtue, a common culture and a basic natural law ethics, it is pretty easy to see the rise of governmental power to the authoritarian level posited by the good Father. I like to remind people that, in a republic, you can have a critical mass of individuals who practice certain essential virtues (amongst which are , say, self-restraint, willingness to delay gratification, and commitment to an open public square for the presentation of grievances and the advancement of ideas) or you can have government attempt to make up for the lack of virtue with the old iron fist standby--coercion. There is no option "c."

So, can I see some future Gibbon setting forth the decline and fall of North America (sorry, Canucks and Mexicans--you get to go down with us)? Sure. Huxley's Brave New World seems to get a little closer every day.

But. While I am a naturally gloomy individual inclined to agree with a sic transit viewpoint, I also must point out a common flaw of such hypothesizing: namely, the error of the "straight-line projection." It presumes that all the negative trends will either continue or accelerate, and any self-correcting or countervailing trends will necessarily fail. It doesn't work that way, and I'll use an example from Fr. Tucker's list: gun control. A few years ago, the pro-control forces (I own three long guns, so guess where I stand?) were on the march, everywhere verging on triumph. The passage of the Brady Bill and gun-free zones laws were acheived and even registration was on the menu. The Columbine massacre was the cultural marker showing the self-evident stupidity of "unregulated" gun ownership.

Today? The "assault weapons [read: mean-looking guns]" ban expired last year without Sen. Kerry being able to pluck a straw of political hay out of it on the campaign trail. Laws liberalizing the carrying of concealed weapons continue to spread. Over initial Bush administration objections, Congress authorized the arming of pilots. There is even recent federal court precedent (finally) recognizing that a citizen has a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. You are free to find fault with any or all of these things (remember that open public square idea), but a fair minded observer would have to concede that the trends of the late 1990s would not have predicted it.

So, that's why I wouldn't bet against some form of America being extant a few centuries hence--and possibly even a recognizably republican one, at that. It's hard to account for all of the variables when people are involved.
Back--and a quick question.

Went to Mom and Dad's for L-Tryptophan Day (the Lions turn it into a grim form of bulimia), and we arrived back late yesterday. Getting up to speed will take time, and I have come down with the usual seesaw temperature-induced respiratory illness (a high of 15 on Thursday, 55 today--Michigan....)

Anyway, Heather has taken the plunge and is a catechist for eighth graders (in a fit of obvious negligence, the DRE has not equipped her with a Taser). Since we have arrived at Advent, she has a question in need of your answer: Why is Advent only four weeks long? We get the lengths of Christmas, Lent and Easter, but what's with Advent?

Your input will be appreciated.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Clear-eyed gratitude for America and being American.

SAM nails it. I endorse every jot and tittle.

Read--now.

If I don't get a chance to say it later, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, and safe journeys in both directions if you have to travel.
We're ignorant, but at least we feel good about it.

Rich Leonardi treats us to a pair of surveys of Catholics in Cincinnati and nationwide. Here's a direct link to the data in the survey commissioned by the Reporter.

Tables 1 and 13 are most instructive (no whining about PDF formats--the reader software is free, for pete's sake).

Note that in the first, nearly a quarter think that a "good Catholic" could believe that Jesus of Nazareth is worm food, and in the second, half are incapable of explaining their faith.

It reminds me of a friendly conversation I had with an agnostic student of Quaker background (he is studying the Greek classical era, which I admire) about the biblical canon and church councils, among other things. He said he admired the Catholic openness to scholarship and research, but was frustrated beyond words with the blinkered ignorance and utter incuriousity of most Christians regarding Christian teachings and history. All I could do was sheepishly agree and point out that in some areas, there are fledgling signs of a reversal of this trend.

Houston, we have a problem. Or so you'd think. What precisely is the Catholic educational establishment in this nation doing to remedy this problem?

Let's take a gander at the speaker and topic list for that establishment's crown jewel, shall we? Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, it is the biggest gathering of Catholic religious educators in the world, bar none. So, what's on the menu?

Liturgical Dance: Moving Through the Seasons

Dancing into Freedom! [exclamation point in original--of course (cue Krusty the Clown groan).]

The Freedom of Movement -- Learning the Steps

Women & Healing: Story, Song, Laughter and Movement

To Dance an Authentic Life

Freedom's Dance Step to Everlasting Love

But it's not all dance, of course. This is a Religious Education Congress, after all:

Why the Catholic Church Is Involved in Immigration Reform

Homosexuality, Celibacy and the Priesthood: Continuing the Conversation

A Womanist Perspective on the Church's Mission in the World

As You Enter Into Freedom, Possibility Comes to Meet You [The Guide insists that the presentation is in English.]

A Survival Guide for Thinking [sic] Catholics [Featuring our old friend, Fr. Thomas Reese, who will no doubt show up for his presentation shouting "Unclean! Unclean!" Such is the inevitable fate of thinkers in Benedict's Borg Cube.]

RCIA: Where Are Our Catechumens and Candidates After Initiation? [My personal favorite]

Pauline Controversies Then and Now: Sexuality, Women and Authority

And the evident runaway success of the past forty odd years:

Soul Formation -- The Foundation for Positive Self-Esteem

Is it all crap? Well, of course not. There are several intriguing presentations. However, the sad thing is the above was less cherry-picking than dodging the rain of apples from the branches.

Here's the rub: there are precious few hints on the list that there is a profound and well-documented crisis at the heart of Catholic life--namely, that Catholics are deeply ignorant of the fundamentals of their faith, and are incapable of communicating it to the wider world. And it is...unclear...how three days of flitting and activist tub-thumping begins to address that crisis. Which is why I think Whistling Past The Graveyard '06 is a better title. It certainly captures the tone better.

While the leadership dances, another generation gets burned. You're on your own, but the good news is it's a lot easier to DIY than it was a few years back.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

In response to Ellyn below...

Yoopers grow their fungi really, really big.

Several years ago [the science journal article was published in 1992--ed.] a “humungus fungus” (a GIGANTIC mushroom) was discovered in the Crystal Falls area. It weighs roughly 11 tons and covers 37 acres. This makes it the largest mushroom (fungus) in the world — it’s hard to believe this monster mushroom is growing in Michigan and not Texas! Based on the average rate of growth through the soil, the Humungus Fungus is probably more than 1,500 years old.

If I'm not mistaken, the Crystal Falls fungus inspired an episode of The X-Files.

Speaking of Crystal Falls, it is one of my favorite places in the entire state. The autumn vista from the high point of town (it's built into a hill dominating the surrounding area) is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Here's to you, Mr. Robinson...

Zach has a few questions for the ECUSA's best known bishop, who appears to have been caught doing a Nathan Thurm impression.
The power of an offhand comment.





Many thanks to the off-kilter genius of Steve at Speculative Catholic!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Internet Confessional.

Dom tags me with a meme spreading like an Upper Peninsula fungus.

Still, a fun one:

I confess to owning a copy of Richard McBrien's Catholicism (one volume edition). I bought it back when I first entered RCIA, so put away the iron maiden--it's venial, at most.

I confess to being a biblioaddict. For the moment, the urge to buy more is sated. For the moment.

I confess to finding Andrew Greeley to be intentionally funny.

I confess to always playing Age of Empires on the "Death Match" setting. I am not patient--I want my Elite Janissary or Cataphract War Machine NOW.

I confess to exposing my children to the concept of sarcasm at far too young an age. Rest assured, I will pay for it later.

I confess to at one point refusing to buy Catholic books published before 1965. I now live in the Bearded Spock universe where I flyspeck most everything published after 1965.

I confess to watching the Detroit Lions every single freaking Sunday during the NFL season despite the fact they are a horribly-run, horribly-coached, inept organization that has not won a damn thing since my father was in short pants and shows no signs of developing a brainwave pattern that would allow them to purchase a frigging clue as to how supremely godawful they have been for going on three generations.

I confess to having a very, very ribald sense of humor (think The Big Lebowski, and you are in the ballpark). If you think my stuff is flamethrowing now, you should see the stuff that I don't post.

I confess to liking Costco. A lot. ["The military doesn't need this much toilet paper!" "Um--your point?"]

I confess to not being fully persuaded by some of the Church's teaching.

On a related note, I confess to not being a "thinking Catholic," so I promise not to generate dirigibles full of greenhouse gases talking about how my brain trumps the generations of faithful which came before me. Because it doesn't.

I confess to being out of ideas on this one.

[Update, 11/22/05: Maybe not: a couple more that got lost in the shuffle.]

I confess to not getting the devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague. One of those "leaves me blinking" deals.

I confess to being a "wee bit" overweight. As in the Hiroshima bomb being a "wee bit of a noisemaker." Actually, I am tired of modeling morbid obesity for my wife and children, and am in the process of addressing it.

I confess to finding certain Catholic bloggers to be irritating as fiberglass catheters. No, no names. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who feel the same about me, so there you go.

I confess to spending too much time worrying about this damn blog.

There--now for the absolution.
Is the public library dying?

In one of the many unutterably stupid and petty knife fights between our mayor and city council, funding for the library system was cut (they're mostly Dems, so the evil Republican meme doesn't apply). Of course, the branch nearest our home was the one closed by the cuts. Fitting, inasmuch as we live in the part of town gifted with the quaint Indian-derived nickname of Pisonum.

So, the branch library (one of four in the entire city) sat closed for three years, while mumbled ambiguities were routinely invoked about reopening.

As with all such mumblings, the inevitable happened--the city put it up for sale. But, beforehand, there was a big sale, the opening of which permitted Heather to enjoy a solid week of dread. Why? Hardcovers were $1, paperbacks .50, and the final day was "fill a grocery bag for $2."

For less than $70, I acquired a full set of the "deluxe edition" of the Encyclopedia Americana, a fourteen volume set of science books geared toward middle schoolers, about 10 children's books (mostly Babar and Madeline); several Oxford Companions/Dictionaries (to American History; Classical History, also see below for etc.); Hibbert's Redcoats and Rebels; books on the Battles of Britain and Berlin, a carpal-tunnel inducing Johns Hopkins Family Medical Guide (1999), an equally cumbersome Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, the old Scribners Dictionary of American History, Runciman's History of the Crusades, the Shorter Cambridge Medieval History, Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples (with dust jackets--somewhat rare), Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (one volume "best-of" edition); Winged Victory, a history of the USAAF in the Second World War and, of course, religious books out the yin-yang:

A full-size Jerusalem Bible (J.R.R. Tolkien translated Job, lest we forget. Though, given the Akallabeth, I think someone should have insisted he take the Second Book of Kings. Oh, and while I'm monologuing--beware the NJB, which reverted to a conventional two column text format and caught a bad case of inclusivity);

Gilson's Christian Philosophy;

The two-volume Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas (edited by Anton Pegis and published by Random House, believe it or not);

The Wisdom of Catholicism (ditto);

Oxford Dictionary of the Saints;

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1964), which has a fine Tractarian tone to the articles;

The Book of Saints;

Woodward's Making Saints;

Oxford Dictionary of the Popes;

The Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary (1960 edition);

The New Catholic Encyclopedia, which is about as good as you could hope for from a pair of well-meaning lay Catholics laboring under the aegis of the then-archbishop of Milwaukee (1984);

Other stuff I have forgotten but which leaves Heather with that "Carrie's mom smile" on her face.

What's my point--besides bragging, that is? It is this: I didn't have to go to war to get the books (someone wanted to snaffle the Americanas, but I had half of them boxed up at that point). Sure, there were people ranging the aisles all three days, but the buyers were, with a few notable exceptions, my age or older.

There are young people going to the public libraries, but more often than not they are plugged into the internet outlets--they aren't browsing the dead-tree material. That's a bad sign for the future, I think. Not growing a customer base generally is. Given the bean counter mentality in government, a lack of warm bodies is all the incentive you need to cut them first. Here where we live, "And then there were three" can dwindle to nothing in a generation. I hope I'm wrong.

Just in case, though: If you want guarantee access to a library in the future, you might want to build your own.
"When Winston's right, he's right. When he's wrong, well, my God."

--The inimitable F.E. Smith, magnificent barrister and future Lord Birkenhead, on his close friend, Winston Churchill.

That's rather how I feel about Diogenes, whom I regard as the bourbon of Catholic blogdom: ideal for the periodic neat belt while socializing on the weekend, but not recommended to float one's morning serving of shredded wheat.

Here, he's absolutely dead on, revealing the fatal flaw with intra-church "dialogue":

Remember the push for women's ordination -- first priestly, then episcopal -- within ECUSA? In the years preceding the capitulations the cant phrase was "Can we talk?" Dialogue was essential. Waverers were assured that the questions were not going away and to decline the debate was simply to put off the day of reckoning. Well, the innovators got what they wanted. Do you hear any of them today asking the Church to re-visit the question, to continue the dialogue about whether the restriction of the priesthood to men is not, after all, the will of God? Of course not. The change has been effected, the pawl has clicked in, there's no going back, and therefore -- as Bishop Gene would insist -- nothing to talk about.

Bingo! It's what Zach Frey calls the "You talk, we'll act" phenomenon. The "dialogue" inevitably ends with: "We've won, so shut the hell up. Now." The Catholic dimension of the problem is set forth later on, so make sure to read the whole thing.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The first Michigan-Ohio State clash involved guns.

Though far less bloodletting than the annual tilt between the Wolverines and Buckeyes, it must be noted. A border dispute between the Territory of Michigan and the Future 250 Mile Wide Microwave/Radar Barrage led to the mobilization of militias on both sides seeking a fight.

Essentially, there was an eight-mile wide survey variance between Michigan and Ohio, a distance wide enough to encompass the entire city of Toledo. Who was right? Why, we were, of course:

The controversy heated up again when Michigan sought admission to the union on December 11, 1833. In spite of Michigan's presence in the Toledo Strip, Ohio Congressmen successfully lobbied to block Michigan's acceptance as a state until it agreed to Ohio's version of the boundary. Massachusetts Representative and former President, John Quincy Adams, supported Michigan saying, "Never in the course of my life have I known a controversy of which all the right so clearly on one side and all the power so overwhelmingly on the other."

Despite both sides calling out the troops, only one person was injured during the thankfully-inept military maneuvering:

Michigan's militia did end up arresting some Ohio officials, capturing nine surveyors, and firing a few shots over the heads of others as they ran out of the area. But only Ohio inflicted any casaulties, when a buckeye named Two Stickney stabbed a Michigan Sheriff during a tavern brawl.

The sheriff recovered quite nicely.

Thanks to Ohio whining and stinky politics, Ohio was awarded the territory, but Michigan got the better end of the deal:

Instead, it gained title to the western three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula as compensation; 9,000 square miles of the most valuable timber, iron, and copper country in America.

Not to mention stunningly beautiful country, to boot. And Toledo is still basically Michigan territory in its sympathies--as always, the most reliable indicators are the local sports broadcasts, which lead with coverage of the Wolverines, Wings, Pistons, Tigers and Lions, and not their Ohio counterparts.

Speaking of which: Go Blue!
Yes, I am still alive.

Rachel is recovering from croup, I went deer hunting (damn the whitetails and their stealth technology) and work keeps mysteriously appearing on my desk (who knew?).

The good news is, I am a Tom-Certified Grade-A read.

Many thanks!

Though the "over the top" thing is a bit of a head-scratcher. And Tom's Venture has seen better days, from recent accounts.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Thirty years ago tonight, the Queen of the Great Lakes began her journey into a hurricane.




The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore - 26,000 tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go it was bigger than most
With a crew and the Captain well seasoned.
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they'd been feeling.

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T'was the witch of November come stealing.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it's too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it's been good to know ya.
The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd fifteen more miles behind her.
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the ruins of her ice water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed, 'til it rang 29 times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.

So goes the immortal song by Gordon Lightfoot.
The last words ever heard from the Edmund Fitzgerald came from her captain, who said "We are holding our own" in response to a query from the Arthur Anderson, another ore carrier that was tailing the Fitzgerald in the late evening of November 10th.
The mixed bag that is the Detroit News has offered some fine coverage of the sinking of the ship, including an interview with one of the two Captains whose ships courageously went out into the teeth of the storm to look for their missing brothers. The crews of the William Clay Ford and the Anderson deserve more renown for their heroic actions of that night, volunteering to head back into the ferocious storm (several other ships, including two stronger ocean-going vessels, refused). The Captain of the Ford asked for a vote by his crew, who agreed to leave safe harbor.

Speaking of brave sailors: if you are ever in the area, stop by Mariners' Church--it is definitely worth a visit. Anglicans will be pleased to note that it is an oasis of '28 BCP sanity.

Why did the Fitzgerald sink? We'll likely never know in this vale of tears, especially since the Jacques Cousteau dive of the wreck didn't provide any new evidence. The two most likely theories are (1) a loose hatch cover or covers (there is documentation of the ship having this problem), which allowed water into the cargo hold, slowly and almost imperceptibly robbing the ship of bouyancy, and (2) the ship getting lost in the weather and straying over some dangerous nearby shoals. Frederick Stonehouse's indispensible book on the subject leans toward Theory #1 (at least in my printing).

What is heartening is that there hasn't been a major ship loss on the Lakes since the Fitzgerald (previously, there had been one every decade as long as records have been kept). However, it is heartening, sobering and appropriate to remember that every mariner experiences what the Psalmist records in Psalm 107, and that most of them these days are delivered of it:

23Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; 24they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. 25For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. 26They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; 27they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end.
28Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 29He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. 30Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. 31Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men!

Most, but tragically not all. Take a moment to remember the crew and families of the Fitzgerald, and all who go down to the sea in ships this day.