Tuesday, October 31, 2006

We interrupt our usual gusher of good cheer to bring you this rant.

As you know, in addition to being a national sugar high, tonight is also sacred to the nation's growing number of cognitively-impaired parents. Yes, once again it's National Tart Up Your Daughter Day! [Scroll down a bit--you'll know it when you see it.] Where parents can once again abdicate their responsibilities to a culture all too happy to commodify children and negligently send their flesh and blood off looking for all the world like a farm team for Flavor of Love.

This year, I direct my Socratic examination of the degenerating state of the Slutoween holiday wardrobe at a new audience. Not at like-minded parents praying daily for the Chapter 7 liquidation of MGA Entertainment. Nor at the corporate sellouts who market this--the people whom Chris Buckley immortalized as the employers of the American Nuremburg Defense: "I haff a mortgage."

Instead, this is for the parents who actually participate in NTUYDD.

Yes, delinquent asshats, I'm talking to you.

Come on over here and sit down. Ignore the Mossberg. Strictly ceremonial. Ditto the Louisville Slugger--a man has to have his enthusiasms, don't you know?

And no, those aren't "brass knuckles" on my right hand. Don't be silly. It's one of those magnet things that help with blood circulation. Works like a charm.

Are you sitting comfortably? Good.

What the hell is wrong with you?

No, really: what in the hell is the matter with you?

This is not "cute." This is not "funny."

This is warped.

This is wrong.

And you, more than anyone else, are responsible for it.

Because you won't get off your dead ass and be a parent--instead of a friend--to your children.

Because you think buying your kids what they want = "love."

Yeah, I know--I'm a hectoring moralist. One of those "social conservatives" the news is always warning people about. Probably even a "theocrat" (but my nuclear program is woefully behind schedule, worse luck).

Well, you see, I'm a judgmental jerk for a reason--I can't wall my family off from the world. There are only so many levees I can build against moral decay. We're all breathing the same polluted air--and I don't need you burning styrofoam next door. It affects us all, folks.

Let me put it more simply, right down to earth, in a language that everybody here can easily understand:

Cause. Effect.

Worried yet? You'd better start.
Happy Halloween from our house to yours!

Maddie says "no puking pumpkins this year."

Spoilsport. Eh--nobody said a thing about them last year, to my great disappointment.

As a consolation, I'm going to roast the seeds instead.

Good luck with the sugar rushes, fellow parents and candy donors.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Life around the Manor.

Busy weekend. Even with the Parental Bonus Hour called "Daylight Savings." Which isn't much of a bonus given that the kids' internal clocks just go off an our "earlier."

1. We have a hyperactive nephew, N, who is basically a good kid. But his favorite activity seems to be pummelling or viewing the same. I wandered into a conversation between my wife and mother in law yesterday about N the Viking:

M-i-L: "N is going to be the Grim Reaper."

Me: "Sounds about right. Say, what's he going to be for Halloween?"

Heather and M-i-L: [The Look™, followed by stifled laughter.]

Me: "Oh, riiight. Like you weren't thinking the same thing."

2. Rachel has glommed on to my voice (I can read music and carry a tune without causing the dog to howl), insisting that I sing at least one song before she goes to sleep at night. Her favorites are "Waltzing Matilda" and "Men of Harlech" [Zulu version]. Alas, she requires the annotated versions of each song: "What's 'billabong'?" "What's 'rebounding'?" Kinda throws the rhythm off.

3. I can't recommend enough changing the words to the kids' favorite shows. A surefire way to start an argument (and distract them from the unblinking eye).

Noggin is a pretty solid network for the younguns--between 6am and 6pm, the network has no commercials, and no agendae, either. The programming can be soporific, but it's about the safest thing out there (short of loading the DVDs). None of these virtues apply to the programming that runs between 6pm and 6am on the same network, renamed to the faux-cool "The N."

Noggin has its flaws, though--did I mention "soporific"? So much so that Heather and I often yearn for what we call the "Egyptian Brain Treatment." This is a reference to a favorite part of the mummification process where bladed device is shoved up the corpse's nose into the brain cavity and swirled around long enough to liquify the cranial contents, which are drained out and used as part of the embalming process.

Anyway, back to the word change: for some reason, all of the kids enjoy "Wonder Pets," an animated show featuring a duck, a turtle and a guinea pig who go out and rescue other animals in (very slight) peril. Cute to a saccharine fault, it wears thin for adults after two minutes. But the kids love it.

So fun with the theme music is a sanity-preserving necessity.

"Come on, son--wouldn't this be better with tougher animals? Say, a badger, an ankylosaurus and an eagle? It'd be called "Thunder Pets!"

[In a basso profundo:]

Thunder Pets/
Thunder Pets/
They're on their way/
To punish the wicked/
And save the day...

Heather is especially fond of "Blunder Pets"--imagine the slapstick possibilities. Ditto "Dunder Pets."

After fifteen minutes of watching, my personal favorite is "Chunder Pets."

Sad to say, all our suggestions ever receive are howls of outrage.

Which, of course, is the point.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Dave tagged me a while back with this musical quizzer. My belated replies:

Best title ever for a piece of music - Another Floyd offering: Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict. Syd Barrett, RIP.

Most underrated guitarist - Alex Lifeson of Rush. Everybody talks about Neil's drumming, but Alex wields the axe with the best of them.

Music that moves me to tears - Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet by Palestrina.

Most unusual lead instrument in a piece of music - The flute in "Aqualung" by Jethro Tull. For an explication of all things Tull, go here.

Coolest name ever for a Rock 'N Roll band - The Dead Milkmen. Yes, I owned their albums. Yes, one by Black Flag, too. RIP, Dave Blood.

Worst genre of music ever - Adult contemporary. Had to listen to it at 5am during my salad days working at the grocery store while in college. So much so that I am open to the argument that Michael Bolton is the Beast of Revelation.

Best guitar jam - "Big Bad Moon" by Joe Satriani. The man does everything but play the guitar with his teeth in this one. Ignore Satch's rare attempt at singing and instead marvel at the pyrotechnics.

Music that's ever scared your kid - Still working on that. I'll do what Dave did and say what creeped me out--Night on Bald Mountain. You can start picturing the cultists with ease on this one.

National Anthem that most gets the blood pumping - The Star Spangled Banner, of course! Try it with a couple of beers first.

Consider yourself tagged. Starting with Heather.
Sawing your own branch.

O Christians, do not give Caesar a precedent to render unto you.

1. There were complaints about a room being set aside at lunch time for Muslim students during Ramadan. This action deserves applause, not whining.

2. After a long and wholly unnecessary fight, the wife of a Wiccan soldier killed in combat gets symbol on his headstone. About time.

Though neither a Wiccan nor a Muslim, I can't shrug this stuff off. If it's not obvious by now, let me hasten to reassure you that my motivation is not closet indifferentism bubbling to the surface--"Behold the Modernist!"

Rather, it seems pretty obvious to me that if we do not stand against Caesar's refusal to accommodate (as opposed to promote) religious belief, we are implicitly asking him to do the same to us. In a world becoming increasingly secular, I don't think he needs the encouragement.

[First link via Rich Leonardi.]

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Weekend at Bashir's.

James Carroll, novelist and op-ed columnist at the Boston Globe is the examplar of a common type of Catholic who emerged in the turbulence following the Second Vatican Council. Believing that the millenium was upon them, they cast aside every Catholic distinctive with a speed that a Deja Vu pole dancer would consider unseemly.

However, since the millenium failed to arrive on schedule, and as the Anni Horribli of John Paul II and now Benedict XVI stretched into decades, they resemble nothing so much as a support group for the perpetually embittered and carping, lifting their heads from bowls of chaff only long enough to repeat the same gripy canards, over and over and over and over again. Unfortunately for the rest of us, this is good enough for the only audience that still pays attention (and salaries) to them--the opinion shapers in the MSM.

Carroll is in the running for the title of Most Tiresome of these skipping records. Given his fangs-bared hatred for the Church, he's best described as the Noam Chomsky of Catholicism.

As a consistently Catholic-hating Catholic, Carroll hasn't offered up a thought about the Church that hadn't already been pre-chewed by the leftism to which he owes his unquestioning allegiance. But you have to admit, it's a helluva gig, and it plays to a certain audience just like Mozart.

The sad fact is that Carroll, while a novelist of some ability, is an embarrassing failure as a historian and pundit about his nominal religious affiliation.

His recent Pollock-by-numbers column about the Regensburg address offers damning evidence.

ROME HAS SPOKEN. Once, that meant the question was settled. Now that means the question has been inflamed. In this case, the question is whether to accept Osama bin Laden's invitation to the clash of civilizations. Sure, why not?

Of course, he has a clash whether he wants it or not. His response is to pretend that his tired blend of multi-culti tolerance (read: contempt for the West) and shrill denial isn't unconditional surrender.

Ask the French how that's working out for them. Feel free to wait a generation--there should be a lot more of them over here to ask by then...

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by citing, on the next day, a 14th-century slur that Mohammed brought ``things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Behold--the novelist at work! Because that misquote creates a neat alternate history of Carroll's own imagining. Here's the entire relevant quote of the brilliant Manuel II, along with the essential context provided by the Holy Father (and omitted by the carping Catholic Chomsky):

In the seventh conversation, edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

IOW, the Emperor condemned only that which new in--i.e., original to-- Islam, not Muhammad's thought in toto.

As the the Pope made clear, he disagreed with that statement. I agree with him on that, too. There are, in fact, "new" things from Muhammad that are laudable--the explicit condemnation of female infanticide, for starters.

But Carroll twists the quote into a blanket condemnation. Holding true to form, he dishonestly loads the dice against his erstwhile co-religionists, making it an effective smear for his audience, most of whom are too narrow-minded to bother to pick up the actual address. The fix is in, which was probably the idea. Given his inclinations and history, it is silly to give Carroll the benefit of the doubt.

The patently false characterization of Mohammed's teaching, displaying an ignorance of the Koran, of the magnificence of Islamic devotion, and of history was offered almost as an aside in the pope's otherwise esoteric lecture about reason and faith. After Muslim uproar, the pope, while not really apologizing, insisted he had meant no harm.

From the context of this hit piece, "esoteric" = "dismiss after speed-reading." When you're a Card-Carrying critic of the "institutional church," you can automatically dispense with technicalities like contextual reading. It's from the big, bad Beast by the Tiber--he's read it all before. It's his job to filter it out to the Globe audience via the Gospel According to NPR.

In fact, if you think of Carroll as a Unitarian Gantry, you have him nailed.

As to the rest--Oh dear. The novelist properly rebuked for his amateur-night history of the Catholic Church's relationship to Judaism now styles himself as an expert on Islam.

The woodshed is ready and waiting.

And, for the record, please do show us precisely what is false about it, O Columnist? Sura 9:5 seems...free of nuance. Any possible flaws in Islam? No? Good dhimmi! Your jizya will be extracted with minimal head-swatting.

So long as it's paid on time, of course.

President Bush famously used the word ``crusade," then backed away from it. But playing by bin Laden's script, Bush launched a catastrophic war that has become a crusade in all but name.

Bush Derangement Syndrome in full-flower. If Carroll was assigned to write a column on continental drift, he'd manage to work in a reference to Chimpy W. McHitlerburton.

Now Benedict has supplied a religious underpinning for that crusade.

You mean the same fellow who unequivocally condemned the plans to attack Iraq?


[The Card also excuses carriers from any need to display intellectual rigor or consistency. Membership has its benefits.]

Claiming to defend rationality and nonviolence in religion, the pope has made irrationality and violence more likely, not less. Bush and Benedict are in sync, and bin Laden is grinning.

"Grinning," eh? Most likely. Flesh-free skulls do that. Score one for the fictionist, I suppose.

But just how did the Pope make irrationality and violence more likely?
Even abstracting from the offending citation, the pope's lecture reveals a deeper and insulting problem. Benedict properly affirms the rationality of faith, and the corollary that faith should be spread by reasoned argument and not by violent coercion. But he does so as a way of positing Christian superiority to other faiths.

And Carroll, as a good Unitarian in Catholic drag, simply will not have that. Carroll is convinced that if Jesus were still alive today, he'd sound an awful lot like, well, Jim Carroll.

That was the point of the passing comparison with Islam -- which, supposedly, is irrational and therefore intrinsically violent, unlike Christianity which is rational and intrinsically eschews coercion.

But this ignores history: Christianity, beginning with Constantine and continuing through the Crusades up until the Enlightenment, routinely ``spread by the sword the faith" it preached; Islam sponsored rare religious amity among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the very period from which the insulting quote comes.

Hilarious. Grimly so, but still hilarious. The one doing the ignoring of history is our white-washing columnist. He is painfully, stupidly, gothically wrong about an alleged Kumbaya moment in fifteenth century Islam. When Manuel II wrote, the tattered remnants of Byzantium were struggling against the surging Ottoman tide, a tide that would swamp Christendom's queen city of Constantinople in 1453 and butcher Manuel's heroic son Constantine in the process.

One of the handiest tools in the Ottoman kit was the Janissary, a fierce and devoted Muslim soldier loyal only to the Turkish sultan. The Janissaries would be the first soldiers to break through the Byzantine defenses on that bleak morning of May 29, 1453, and they would ensure the fall of the City of Constantine.

Where did the Janissaries come from? I'll solve, Pat: "Devshirme." Turkish for "gathering," it was the process by which Christian families under Ottoman rule had their sons taken from them. With Koranic justification, of course: Sura 8, verse 41. To be fair, the verse refers only to a taking of goods, but sadly, the Sultan Orhan, who initiated the practice, didn't have Carroll there to set him straight.

The practice of devshirme saw Ottoman troops march into Christian villages and remove the best and brightest of the sons from their families under penalty of death. Those sons were cut off from their families and raised in isolated schools that inculcated Islam, loyalty to the Sultan and trained them in the arts of war. Said warfare being directed at the Sultan's enemies, of course. First and foremost, the beleaguered Christians of Byzantium and the Balkans. That's some "sponsorship of amity" all right.

Carroll is a fierce critic (and rightfully so) of the taking of the six year old Jewish boy Edgardo Mortara from his family by papal troops in 1858. The devshirme was Edgardo Mortara times 200,000, across three centuries. Not that he cares, of course. The willfully ignorant will not be denied.

Yeah--I don't know about you, but I can just feel the tolerance Manuel II was so impudent to criticize.

[Those of you looking for some cheer can consider the fact that devshirme had one immortal case of blowback in the form of the Albanian hero George Castriota, better known to history as Skanderbeg. With apologies to the Scots, Skanderbeg's exploits make Wallace look very much junior varsity.]

But let's pretend for a moment that medieval Islam was All Andalusian Cordoba, All the Time. There's only one tiny little flaw all those tolerant, oh-so-multicultural I'm OK, You're OK Muslims share:

They're all very, very dead.

Waving them as totems is Weekend at Bernie's for the Boston set--hence, Weekend at Bashir's.

Spin that tale of supposed medieval tolerance to Abdul Rahman, Lina Joy, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, all of whom have seen the business end of the "no compulsion in religion" religion.

Those episodes have happened in the last two years. Unlike, say, the Crusades.

The descendants of the Muslim medievals seem remarkably resistant to their sires' alleged ideals. You'd think it would behoove Carroll to wonder why.

You'd think, but you'd be wrong. He's too busy doing his Sinead O'Connor impersonation and "fighting the real enemy."

More significant, though, for any discussion of reason and faith is the fact that Christian theology's breakthrough embrace of the rational method, typified by St. Thomas Aquinas's appropriation of Aristotle, and summarized by Benedict as ``this inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry," was made possible by such Islamic scholars as Averroes, whose translations of Aristotle rescued that precious tradition for the Latin West.

Alas for Islam that Averroes--and Avicenna--were condemned as heretics, and that Islam, unlike Catholicism, was unable to assimilate Aristotelian thought.

Inconvenient facts--always screwing up a good whitewashing.

Benedict makes no mention of this Islamic provenance of European and Christian culture.

See above. At most, they were caretakers, not "providers."

Indeed, he cannot, because his main purpose in this lecture is to emphasize the exclusively Christian character of that culture. The ``convergence" of Greek philosophy and Biblical faith, ``with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can be rightly called Europe." Europe remains Christian. That is why the pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, opposed the admission of Muslim Turkey to the European Union.

Benedict seems to have forgotten that the European rejection of violent coercion in religion
came about not through religion but through the secular impulses of the Enlightenment.

Did it, now? Well, you can certainly find evidence of tolerance in Christianity, too--I Nicaea's call to leave Jews alone, Emperor Leo III building a mosque in Constantinople in the 720s, the Navarese nobles refusing to let the Inquisition near their Muslim peasants, the accommodations following the wars between Catholics and Protestants. To name but a few. Arguing that it sprang from the Enlightenment like Athena from the brow of Zeus seems...simplistic. Then again, consider the source.

The separation of church and state, in defense of the primacy of individual conscience, was the sine qua non of that rejection of religious coercion -- an idea that the Catholic Church fought into the 20th century. Even now, Benedict campaigns against basic tenets of Enlightenment politics, condemning pluralism, for example, and what he calls the ``dictatorship of relativism."

Again, entirely too simplistic, or otherwise good Catholic men like John Courtney Murray and the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wouldn't have had a leg to stand on in their decrees on the subject of religious freedom.

But of course Carroll hates the "dictatorship of relativism" line--he has no rebuttal. The Enlightenment was hardly some unalloyed good--the same process also brought us the guillotine, the exaltation of the state and the guillotine's muscular grandchildren, Zyklon B and the Gulag. In light of this, Benedict might just have grounds for a wee bit of skepticism toward Carroll's idol.

The pope's refusal to reckon with historical facts that contradict Catholic moral primacy has been particularly disturbing in relation to the church's past with Jews.

Ah, the other Carroll hobbyhorse--the Church's relationship to Judaism. Jews of the past, that is. Please note that his solicitude for Jews ends in 1948, with the founding of Israel. Judaism is just a stick to beat the Church with, and his concern for Jews is quickly discarded where it conflicts with his leftist precommitments.

Last year, he said Nazi anti-Semitism was ``born of neo-paganism," as if Christian anti-Judaism was not central.

It's much more accurate to say Christian anti-semitism was necessary to the Holocaust, but hardly sufficient. Christian pogroms and expulsions of Jews stain our history, but the genocidal intent of the Nazis was something horribly new. Don't let that get in the way of a good slur, though.

This year, at Auschwitz, he blamed the Holocaust on a ``ring of criminals," exonerating the German nation. By exterminating Jews, the Nazis were ``ultimately" attacking the church.

Non-hacks would note that his very presence at Auschwitz belies any blanket exoneration. As to the rest, I call "fraud." Here's the relevant quote:

The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth. Thus the words of the Psalm: "We are being killed, accounted as sheep for the slaughter" were fulfilled in a terrifying way.

Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone -- to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world.

By destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.

Nope. Not what Carroll wants it to say. But why let that stop him?

He decried God's silence, not his predecessor's.

Maybe because Pius XII wasn't "silent"? A good argument can be made that he could have done more, but the silence argument is a worn canard.

A pattern begins to show itself.

In Carroll's writing, absolutely. Metronomic, even.

Forget church offenses against Jews. Denigrate Islam. Caricature modernity and dismiss it.

It is true that forgetfulness, denigration and caricature are all on display here, but only in a deeply ironic way.

In all of this, Benedict is defending a hierarchy of truth. Faith is superior to reason. Christian faith is superior to other faiths (especially Islam). Roman Catholicism is superior to other Christian faiths. And the pope is supreme among Catholics. He does not mean to insult when he defends this schema, yet seems ignorant of how inevitably insulting it is. Nor does the pope understand that, today, such narcissism of power comes attached to a fuse.

If someone wants to unpack the crowning paragraph of Carroll's shell-shocked bile, knock yourself out. But we should take heed on the "narcissism" line--he certainly knows of what he speaks.

[Thanks to Jay for the link.]

[Update: Tweaked 10/27--filled a couple of potholes that were bugging me.]

Favorite Scenes/Characters from A Meeting At Corvallis?

Curious folks want to know.

[Sorry for the raggedness and punctuation errors that fill the review. Will address that later.]

I'll start:

The battle between the Protectorate and the Bearkillers at the ruins of Salem. Tense and with great detail, demonstrating that warfare in the post-Change world is more a combination of the medieval with the American Civil War than straight Middle Ages.

I also liked Mike's joust with "dickweed," the son of the ex-Hell's Angel.

Astrid bringing her "collection" to Corvallis.

Characters: Conrad Renfrew, the Grand Constable of the Protectorate. And, unless I miss my guess, the scarring is a nod to Gothmog, the orc commander at Pelennor Fields in the film version of Return of the King.

By all means, chime in.
I have little to offer on MLB's SmudgeGate.

I didn't have a really good look at it from Section 211, Row 17, Seat 18 on Sunday night...

That, and we were too busy yelling "Weeea-ver, Weeee-ver," at the former Detroit Tigers' property.

Thanks to all who encouraged us to go--a great anniversary present for us (seven years yesterday), and one that we'll always remember.

Arranging the victory was the really expensive part, as you can imagine.

Friday, October 20, 2006

And so it ends. For now.

[For the decreasing number of newbies to the Changeverse trilogy, here are my reviews of books one and two. Please be happily advised that the second trilogy is in the works, with the first volume due in print in autumn 2007.]

I'm going to keep this as major spoiler free as possible (the exception being references to Nigel. I mean, come on--the sample chapters have been up for the better part of ten months, people). The book portends a major change (rimshot!) in the direction of the growing series, so I'm going keep a lid on major plot points.

The final book in the Dies the Fire trilogy begins at the end of Change Year 9 (AD 2007) with an audience with the tyrannical Lord Protector of Portland and his supporters (including a renegade and unbalanced Catholic bishop turned anti-pope) and ends with a funeral procession and a wedding in the autumn of Change Year 10.

The nine months in between are the most momentous of the entire trilogy, with frenzied diplomatic manuevering, raids and finally, a full-blown war between the growing might of the Lord Protector and the patchwork of free Oregon states determined to resist him. And yes, there is indeed "a meeting at Corvallis" that figures prominently in the plot.

The time since the Protector's War has seen the Protectorate trying the diplomatic route for once, attempting to neutralize the commerce-minded Corvallan city-state and separate it from the free mini-states with which it shares a border. With some success, as Corvallis has a buffer which makes the threat from the Protectorate more theoretical. That, and business is business and business must grow, as the good Doctor once said. Regardless of swordpoints in tummies, you know.

The frontline states--the Bearkillers, Clan Mackenzie and Mount Angel--are far less sanguine, with the Protector's barons spilling their blood on a regular raiding basis. Conflict becomes inevitable.

We get continuing close looks at the Bearkillers and Mackenzies, especially the latter. But we also get, at long last, solid looks at the other two major Free Oregon statelets: Corvallis and Mount Angel.

The first to be seen is the home of the Oregon State University, Corvallis. It is a finely-detailed and interesting blend of the medieval and the late 19th century, with the latter manifesting itself in methane-fueled gaslights. There is even a newspaper again, but only for the well-heeled. Corvallis is a place that has adjusted to the Change and is prospering. And wants to keep it that way, thank you. As someone has put it--when shaking hands with a Corvallan, always make sure to count your fingers afterward. There are plenty of good folk in Corvallis who see the Protector's threat, but just as many who'd rather trade with him, up to and including selling him rope.

The other realm seen for the first time is of especial interest to Catholics: the abbey, town and redoubtable fortress of Mount Angel. Any lingering concerns by complainers that the western U.S. was somehow turning into WiccaWorld are thoroughly dispelled in this book.

A salient digging into the Protector's territory, the energetic monks and citizens of Mount Angel have turned it into an unassailable fortress. As one of the Protector's henchmen ruefully notes, "20,000 men led by the Archangel Michael couldn't take the place by storm." Headed by the courageous and capable ex-soldier turned Benedictine Abbot (and now Bishop) Dmwoski, the people of Mount Angel are particularly despised by the Portland anti-pope, Leo, who is gathering the cordwood for the auto de fe. Abbot-Bishop Dmwoski becomes a minor "perspective" character (we see briefly inside his head). The good-guy Catholics prove to be likeable characters, and essential to the plot. We also get subtle hints of the growth of Mount Angel's Catholic flock, e.g., a seemingly off-hand description of "a formerly Lutheran, and now Catholic, church."

We also get, courtesy of the three British "castaways," a picture of the surviving Church worldwide: savagely battered, but intact enough to hold a valid conclave. The Swiss Guards' ceremonial weaponry proves to be handy indeed, as it were. Indeed, Nigel Loring was fortunate enough to meet and speak with an familiar surviving Cardinal at the Church's new headquarters in the Appenines.

The main characters come into fuller relief, especially the quite mad but fully-functioning (and even more fully lethal Astrid), who has taken to the Changed world like a duck to water. She moves into a former State forest and sets up an organization called the Dunedain Rangers. It is now also crystal-clear that she regards Tolkien as Holy Writ. With deliberate laughter-inducing consequences at the Meeting.

Juney is still Juney, a mystic-turned-reluctant-chief-of-state with a conscience. Ken Larsson still gets to make big contraptions that shoot pointy things, though there's a hint that he's gone eccentric himself (he's worrying about another dinosaur killer asteroid). Nigel has settled in and become an ideal military advisor to the Mackenzies. Eilir and John Hordle have become a couple, and alongside Alleyne Loring, constitute Astrid's last anchors to reality. Mathilda and Rudy become more fleshed out and less precocious, and their friendship is an honest one honestly depicted.

But in AMAC I think it is Mike Havel who comes into the sharpest relief of any of the heroic characters. Intelligent, capable and ruefully aware of his limitations, he has become King in all but name. He makes choices that in this book that will affect not only the Bearkillers, but the other Oregon lands for generations.

And the villains. Yikes. Under the influence of anti-pope Leo, Arminger has settled down somewhat. Gone are the serving girls in fetish gear, and other overt scandals. Arminger goes so far as to admit that Leo has counselled him to be more forgiving. For whatever that is worth. But apart from that, he's still the charismatic, lidless eye of evil determined to subjugate as many people as quickly as possible. As much as Norman Arminger is a charming monster, it is his wife Sandra who becomes the deadlier of the pair. The difference being, she is more patient and far more subtle, preferring to outthink her opponents. Yet both have human touches, too--their geniune love of Mathilda, a sense of humor (e.g., a prank involving the rebirth of elevator music), and rueful regrets about the pre-Change world. Cardboard they ain't.

Entering the picture is one of Lady Sandra's henchwomen, Tiphaine (pronounced ti-FAHN-ee) Rutherton, who is about as un-Tiffany as it gets. For long-time Stirling fans, she evokes images of Yolande Ingolfsson, down to the estate and her understandable motivation to hurt the good guys.

Also entering the scene is the Protectorate's Marshal, Conrad Renfrew. Ruthless, fiercely intelligent and courageous, he has the clockweights to tell Norman Arminger to his face that the Protector screwed up. In another, and much quieter, moment, he acknowledges that his atheism is shaken.

Overall, the plotting flows nicely, with none of the (necessary) converging plot lines of the Protector's War. AMAC is more conventionally linear. The descriptive detail remains top notch. It's odd how I have been able to smell plowed ground and crushed pine needles in these books, to give but two examples. Another of my favorites is the description of a female character in mourning, "looking as she would when the last of her youth left her."

It's not flawless: a confrontation between a hero character and the anti-pope does not develop further, to my disappointment. There is a detour to a Protectorate estate that also slows the book down some (though it now makes more sense with the development of the fourth book, he says obliquely). I also think the Corvallans grow complacent a little too quickly, but I have to admit that the city-state retains more of the elbow-throwing American commercial mindset than do its neighbors, so that might have something to do with it.

But the book's minor flaws are far, far outweighed by its virtues, including a stunning climax and portentious coda involving Rudi. AMAC wraps up the first trilogy brilliantly and sets the table for the second trilogy.

Again, take and read.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"The resulting mix is similar to a pirate from Kentucky with a head cold..."

That would be Eric Weaver, describing the Michigan accent. Weaver is host and creator of the incomparable Michigan Accent Pronunciation Guide website.

As much as it pains me to admit, I think he's on to something.

The Michiganisms page is dead on, and even refers to my ancestral home by name (check out "Up North"). I'd add in the following, a verbal "period" frequently used in central and northern Michigan: "I know that." It's the equivalent of "at a minimum," or "for certain."

"He had 16-gauge ammo in stock last week, I know that."
"She's full of it--I was there at five o'clock, I know that."

What say you, Michiganders?

Monday, October 16, 2006

The clearest case of false advertising I have ever seen.

The car wash said it had "free vacuums," but that proved to be total BS.

If it were true, they wouldn't have gotten all bent out of shape when I tried to disassemble one and load it in the back of the van.

Lying frauds...
With apologies to Russ Hodges and Bobby Thomson...

The Tigers win the Pennant!
The Tigers win the Pennant!
The Tigers win the Pennant!
The Tigers win the Pennant!

I'm more emotional about it now than I was at 7:53pm on Saturday. It's just beginning to sink in. The Detroit Tigers Weblog has a video here.

Welcome, Open Book Readers!

If you haven't been here before, I'm a Catholic convert (AD 1999) husband and father of three (scroll down). Known mostly for acid-hurling fisks (and on one occasion gratuitously insulting the entire Kingdom of Norway), I also have a softer side that shows itself in such things as liking good beer (life's too short for the swill), NY Times bestselling alternate history, kittens, sports, Rush, Palestrina, autumn walks in the park and interminably long histories of the Byzantine Empire.

My much better half blogs here, and she has a book question open for any who can help.

For regular readers, please note that the long-promised review of A Meeting At Corvallis will be up and running this evening.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Before the Walls of Constantinople.

Land Walls of Constantinople. This section shows restoration
efforts by Turkish archaelogists and historians.

With all due respect and admiration for Chuck the Hammer, I think the victory at Tours is a bit overblown. Yes, it was important, and yes, it was impressive (the Franks' only advantage at the battle was in leadership--they had Martel and the Arabs didn't). But Tours was actually the last in a string of three victories that secured Europe from Muslim inroads until the fifteenth century.

The first, and most important, occurred in A.D. 678, before the land and sea walls of Constantinople:

After the death of Constans II, his young son Constantine IV (668-85) came to the throne. This reign inaugurated a period of significance for world history as well as for Byzantium: it was a time during which the struggle between the Arabs and Byzantines took a decisive turn....

[The Caliph] Muawija had been settling the disputes in the Caliphate and he was now able to resume once more his attacks on the Byzantine Empire. In 663 the Arabs again appeared in Asia Minor and during the course of the next fifteen years they made annual raids. The unfortunate countryside was ravaged and its inhabitants carried off to slavery; on occasion, the invaders even got as far as Chalcedon and they frequently wintered on imperial territory. But the fight for the possession of Constantinople itself, the really decisive battle on which the fate of the Empire hung, took place at sea.

Map of Byzantine Asia Minor, ca. mid 7th Century. The places referred to in the text are on the western and northwestern coasts.

While he was governor of Syria, Muawija had been occupied with plans of conquest, and as Caliph he now resumed operations at the point where he had had to suspend them more than ten years before. The Arabs held Cyprus, Rhodes, and Cos, and Muawija completed the chain of islands by the capture of Chios, and in 670 one of his generals seized the peninsula of Cyzicus in the immediate neighbourhood of the Byzantine capital, thus providing him with a useful base for an attack on Constantinople. Meanwhile, before delivering the final knock-out blow against the very heart of the Byzantine world, part of his fleet had occupied Smyrna in 672 and another section of it occupied the coasts of Lycia and Cilicia.

Another section of the Land Walls, with intact moat.

The main action began in 674 when an imposing squadron appeared before the walls of Constantinople. The struggle went on all through the summer, and in the autumn the Arab fleet retired to Cyzicus. Next spring it appeared again, and throughout the summer the Byzantine capital was in a state of siege. The same proceeding was repeated during the following years, but all the efforts of the Arabs to take by storm the strongest citadel in the world were doomed to failure.

A section of the Sea Walls (which has fewer intact sections).

They were forced to abandon the attempt, and in 678 they left Byzantine waters after having suffered sever losses in various naval actions fought beneath the walls of Constantinople. Here, one of the most useful Byzantine weapons was used for the first time. This was the famous Greek fire, invented by Callinicus, a Greek architect who had migrated to Byzantium from Syria; it was a mixture of explosives whose formula was known only to the Byzantines and by means of an instrument called a "siphon" it could be hurled against enemy ships from a great distance, causing devastating fires to break out.

Greek fire in action, from a Byzantine manuscript.

In retreating, the Arab fleet suffered still further losses in a storm which it encountered off the Pamphylian coast and at the same time the Arab forces in Asia Minor were heavily defeated. The aged Muawija therefore found himself compelled to conclude a thirty years' peace with Byzantium and he agreed to pay the Emperor 3,000 gold pieces annualay and to send in addition fifty prisoners and fifty horses....

And indeed the significance of the Byzantine victory of 678 cannot be overestimated. For the first time the Arab advance was really checked and the invasion which had swept forward as irresistibly as an avalanche was now halted. In defence of Europe against the Arab onslaught this triumph of Constantine IV was a turning point of world-wide historical importance, like the later victory of Leo III in 718, or Charles Martel's defeat of the Muslims in 732 at Poitiers [Tours] at the other end of Christendom. Of these three victories which saved Europe from being overwhelmed by the Muslim flood, that of Constantine IV was the first and also the most important. There is no doubt that the Arab attack which Constantinople experienced then was the fiercest which had ever been launched by the infidels against a Christian stronghold, and the Byzantine capital was the last dam left to withstand the rising Muslim tide. The fact that it held saved, not only the Byzantine Empire, but the whole of European civilization.

--George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, Rutgers University Press (1957), pgs. 110-112.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Rod Dreher becomes Orthodox.

As they say, it's official.

Let's establish one thing up front--a substantial reason for the reaction (287 comments and counting as of last check) is that it is "Lightning Rod" Dreher who is converting. It is impossible to be indifferent about the man--you either love or hate him.

Count me as one of the former. Still. All my discussions with him (admittedly brief and sporadic) have been positive, and he is a fine writer. From a Catholic perspective, he wrote the most refreshing endorsement of NFP: flatly realistic, amusing and entirely free of the happy-clappy that tends to infect the presentation.

The other side has its serried ranks, too. A quick perusal of the comment boxes will show you the hate camp in vivid purple. Some of the frothing is actually hilarious in a grim, cynical Soviet-era bread line kind of way. My personal favorite is the one who says he's going to write Rod's former Catholic bishop to get some kind of official declaration of schism/excommunication.

Rod's former bishop is the estimable Charles Grahmann (I think the surname is German for "Borgia"), currently cooling his heels as he awaits the acceptance of his tended resignation offer. That would be the same bishop who is remarkably solicitous of gropers in the confessional and proved to be a noted enabler of pedophilic monster Rudy Kos. One of the latter's victims killed himself. Grahmann's also famous for refusing to resign despite the fact he had a co-adjutor bishop assigned to him.

Yeah--Go get that decree. In the improbability that such were issued (I suspect the bishop would have a daunting list of ex-Catholics embittered by the Scandal to attend to), my advice to Rod would be use it as a substitute for Pampers and mail it back to His Excellency with the appropriate regards.

Moving on.

I'm torn about this. First, it saddens me greatly to see anyone leave the Catholic faith. I wish they could see in it what I do (yes, despite my carping). Christ pulled me out of my spiritual coma and into the Church. I believe what the Church teaches. I believe that being Catholic matters, that Catholic identity matters (no matter how little you may hear this from parishes and pulpits worldwide). So I can't be sanguine about someone leaving, even to go to the admitted riches of Eastern Orthodoxy.

But it's tough--where not absolutely impossible--for me to get into the head and heart of someone who leaves. Some people are genuinely hurt--damaged--by experiences in the Church and by the people who purport to represent her. This can happen in all sorts of ways.

And the sex abuse Scandal has been the most horrific of these. Starting with the hideousness of children being violated. But not stopping there. The Scandal revealed a deep rotting disease within American Catholicism that has only begun to be recognized, let alone treated.

Rod saw it up close and personal as a journalist covering the story for years. As much as I am loathe to quote him, Nietzsche's insight cannot be denied: "And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you." There is only so much horror one can stand, especially when the atrocities are committed by those who are supposed to bear the name of Jesus Christ.

That is the troubling thing to those of us who still stand as Catholics--that such an abyss developed in the first place. And the way it has been handled should also give pause.

It is difficult--impossible, really--to hold to the truths taught by the Catholic Church when those who are supposed to present and represent those truths are instead offering up a hellish anti-witness. It is not possible, in the long run, to accept the bishop as in persona Christi when he is behaving like a corrupt CEO playing CYA. It's even worse when there is no--as in zero--temporal accountability from within the Church itself.

Perhaps the wonder of it is that he didn't pull the ripcord earlier.

To be sure, I'm less than convinced by some of his behavior and arguments. Starting with the behavior: leaving the impression that you are Catholic when such has not been the case for the past two months leaves a patina of dishonesty, whatever his constraints might have been. He could have avoided writing on Catholic topics until he made his announcement, but he didn't. Instead, there was still an insider connotation in his writing on the subject that was not above board, which he should apologize for.

The least convincing part of the whole piece is the argument about papal primacy. It feels tacked on, and given his determination to have a less head and more heart faith, I don't think it played all that much of a role to him, either. Certainly much less than it does to his Catholic detractors in the combox.

Most convincing and heartfelt to me were the passages relating to the anti-witness of Catholics in the Scandal and the positive witness of his new Orthodox parish. As another commenter noted, he does seem like a man more at peace, which has to be good for both him and his family. The worries about raising his children strike a chord, like it or not. There may be less resources (from my relatively uninformed perspective, so Orthodox readers feel free to chime in). But I think there is less official static and domineering from those who are supposed to assist the family in passing on the faith. Sometimes I think the toughest catechism task for small-o orthodox Catholic parents is trying to keep children from suffering the cognitive dissonance that follows from watching the asshattery of the so-called leadership.

His discussion of the liturgy also resonates with me--so much so that he almost persuadeth me to become Orthodox. It would be nice to escape the Five Year Planners and Perpetual Tinkerers for, oh, the rest of my life. Especially when we have to go on a trip, and uncertainty becomes the watchword of the travelling Catholic on Sunday morning.

There are other weaknesses. Yes, he strikes me as a perfectionist, and the connection to the Crunchy Con theme is obvious, if it should not be overstated. No, I have no idea why he did not consider one of the Eastern Catholic Churches, as he did while he was in New York. Most importantly, yes--with a capital Y--he bears responsibility for his actions. Separation from the Church is not shruggable. But also bearing responsiblity are those who scandalized his faith and the faith of many, many others. I suspect the judgment of the latter will be far more severe, if I understand the theology correctly. Starting with this authoritative statement.

I hope he continues to find peace. I hope with equal fervor that he finds his way back.

In the meantime, we Catholics have some soul-searching of our own to do. Thundering about excommunication, his ego, how "nasty" the Orthodox supposedly are (a laughably stupid argument), etc. won't suffice to cover one of our sins.
History Corner.

No, not another Byzantium post. Yet.

No, just passing on some good articles I've stumbled upon in the last two days.

1. First, an essay on the incomparable Edwin Bearss, Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service and the finest lecturer alive about the Civil War. Civil War students know who he is, but if you don't--get thee to the History Channel or a DVD player posthaste. The man is nothing short of spellbinding in both his knowledge and delivery. One of a kind--unfortunately. He also is a man who knows war personally:

Growing up on a ranch in Montana, he christened his favorite cows Antietam and Sharpsburg. His father was a Marine, and so was a cousin--"Hiking Hiram" Bearss, as the newspapers called him--who earned the Medal of Honor during the Philippines Insurrection and became, up to that time, the most decorated Marine in the history of the corps. Hearing their experiences led the boy to read every book he could get hold of about war.

And when a real war made itself available, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ed enlisted and became a Marine Raider. He was sent to the Pacific theater, moving from the Russell Islands to the Solomon Islands to the assault on New Britain. His fellow Marines remember him for his almost empty backpack, containing only a few grenades, extra ammunition, and a copy of the World Book of Knowledge.

On patrol in New Britain one January morning in 1944, he was nearly shot to pieces. Approaching a stream, he and another scout couldn't see the Japanese pillboxes dug in just below the lip of the declivity leading to the creek bed. I asked him once what his own battlefield experience had taught him as a guide, and he said, with a small grin, "The importance of terrain." And it's true. Walking a battlefield with Ed, you're struck by how intently he wants you to see the landscape as the combatants saw it: What ordinary soldiers could and couldn't see from any given position often determined the course of battle.

In 1944, a trick of the terrain enabled the Japanese gunners to catch him by surprise. He took bullets in his ribs, heel, buttocks, right shoulder, and left elbow. Marines who came to fetch him were pinned flat themselves but managed, after several hours, to pull him from the line of fire--dragging him with their toes. He was two years in hospital. His left hand and arm don't do him much good, other than to help balance the riding crop he uses as a pointer when he's on a tour.
"I'm a man of the battlefields," Ed likes to say--and a man of one battlefield in particular, in Gloucester Bay, New Britain. "I know how a battlefield feels, sounds, and smells."

A sensitivity to terrain isn't all that distinguishes Ed as guide and author. During his convalescence, and later as a student at Georgetown and Indiana universities, where the GI Bill treated him to an M.A. in history, he read everything on the Civil War and, from all appearances, forgot nothing. He denies he has a photographic memory, but he will say, "If I read something I'm interested in, it sticks in my mind."

Read the whole thing--and make sure you get a chance to hear the man.

2. Second, re-enactments of the Battle of Hastings are getting bigger--and more realistic. This time, the Saxon side is re-creating the grim, hard march of Harold's men from Stamford Bridge to the battle site (near an appropriately-named village called Battle). It's generally admitted that Harold's determination to close with the foe was a fatal mistake, and exactly what William the Conqueror wanted. Despite that, the Saxons came very, very close to winning anyway. A near run thing, as a later Englishman was to say of a different clash with foes of French origin.

For the first time since the Anglo-Saxons bowed to Norman might at the Battle of Hastings, 1066, the annual re-enactment show is within a missile's throw of properly imitating the original.
More than 3,000 fighters, a three-fold increase on the previous "Mega Battle" of 2000, are massing in full war dress this week to play out a specially extended script, to commemorate the best-known date in British history.

Men are marching from Yorkshire and Kent, and from Cambridge and Leicester.

But in a revisionist twist, the ranks of the Norman, Breton, Flemish and Saxon armies are also swelled this year by an army of multicultural mercenaries who could well give King Harold the upper hand.

Until the most famous arrow in history is unleashed, of course.

"It has gone completely crazy for some reason. We have got 18 countries worldwide taking part," said Alysha Sykes, who is organising the 940th anniversary event for English Heritage. Among the re-enactors flying in are Poles, Russians, Czechs, Americans and Canadians.

Must...resist...urge to...search online for...medieval armor and weaponry...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Three.

Too fast. Far, far too fast.

Rachel, 2; Dale, 3 and 1/2; Madeleine, 5.

The girls' birthdays were last month, so these are their "birthday" pictures. Which is the reason why there weren't many of The Boy.

Tim McCarver, come back! All is forgiven!

Lou Pinella and Steve Lyons are making the Cards backstopper look like Ernie Harwell.

I don't think I've heard a more squirm-inducing sports broadcast in years. It's turning into performance art, lacking only chocolate pudding, quotes from Chomsky and government funding.

[Update: Originally, I said McCarver was a HoFer. Oops. Chris called me on it.

In my defense....


Give me some time--I'm thinking, I'm thinking....]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Something mediocre for God.

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

--Some guy. [Cite here.]

I think of that passage from the Sermon on the Mount whenever I'm confronted with a certain suburban piety that manifests itself in a deliberate celebration of less-than.

For example: from the very first time I visited our parish (which, for all of its foibles, I love) as a baffled lapsed Methodist in the company of my future bride, the chalices and patens used for communion were of some kind of earthtone ceramic/stoneware construction. I didn't think much of it. They weren't tacky--in fact, they weren't particularly noticeable at all. They just were. After my conversion, I had a brief stint as an Extraordinary Minister (put on hold with the arrival of the offspring). I paid a little more attention then, but for the most part I was too worried about spilling the Blood of the Redeemer to give the cup itself much thought.

But with the Great Boom Lowering that followed in the wake of the 2005 GIRM, suddenly gold--as in the real deal--materialized on the altar.

No, Father and the Liturgy Committee didn't make an emergency run to Soboslay's Catholic Supply House to get the necessary gear.

It had always been there--locked away in storage.

At some point, our reasonably well-off parish had decided to ditch the gold for something more "modest."

I'm sure it was well-intentioned, but at its root it is false witness. The cars in the parking lot sure don't scream "stoneware" parish. If you have the resources, why not offer the best? Otherwise you're effectively lining up with the Pharisees to smear a little more dirt on the face (try under the eyes--makes you look more tired).

I was thinking of this after I saw a smug and viciously destructive manifestation of this reported by Rich Leonardi.

A new organ was purchased, a new sound system put in, the marble altar was demolished and replaced by a smaller, round wooden altar, the new tabernacle was put in a special place on the side with a canopy and pillars separate it from the main church. New carpeting was installed, the configuration of the pews was altered, a step was removed from the Sanctuary and some of the lighting enhanced.

Demolishing--not just removing, but destroying--the larger marble altar and replacing it with a smaller wood table. Lovely. More modest, horizontal and home-y, no doubt. But the best they could do for the locus of the Holy Sacrifice? Much doubt.

Telling. And tragic.
Scenes from Stately Price Manor.

Monday, Dinner Time:

We had sat down for my famous breakfast burritos (chorizo, scrambled eggs and green peppers, with shredded cheese and salsa for garnish). One of the kids' friends, a nice tow-headed 4-year old named Austin, came bounding up to our street-facing kitchen window on a scooter (the window was formerly a side door, so the sidewalk allows easy access).

Austin: "Can they come out to play?"

Me: "We're having dinner, Austin. After that, they can come out."

Austin: "How long will that take?"

Me (forgetting that preschoolers have no concept of time): "About ten minutes."

Austin: "OK." [Scooters away.]

Forty five seconds later.

A disembodied yellow head reappears even closer to the window.

"Are they done yet?"

"No, not yet. A few more minutes, Austin."

"OK." [Trundles off.]

Thirty seconds later.

"Can they come out yet?"

"Not quite done, Austin."


To Heather: "Should I grab a mask and hide under the window sill?"

The punchline? After the kids came out, Austin revealed that he didn't have permission to come over in the first place.

This morning: The McToddler Group at the breakfast table.

The roundtable participants are discussing Sleeping Beauty.

Madeleine: "Maleficent is mean."

Rachel: "No, Maleficent is not mean, she's evil!"

Madeleine: "Rachel, Maleficent is mean."

Rachel: "NO! EVIL!"
Malthusians from Apathetic, Dying Continent Worry About American Population Growth.

Just another offering from our helpful Truth In Headlining Service here at DM.

What's especially amusing about the tsk-tsking at the Independent is the portrayal of America as a black hole, with nothing being produced in return.

On a related note, here is a handy essay noting that British emigration to America has been growing in recent years. [For those of you not inclined to kvetch about the freely-available Adobe Reader format, look here.]

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Walking over history.

This has been just about the perfect Michigan autumn: temperatures in the sixties, and a surfeit of days filled with a bright, crystalline sunshine that never fails to fill me with a longing for something I can never quite express. It is joy, contentment and a sense of home, wound together with the realization that it is going to pass, all the while whispering that it should not pass, that something is looming. As I said, it is something that evades and taunts mere words. But it is the reason that I have always found Michigan autumns to be truly blessed times of year.

We took advantage of one of these ideal days yesterday, and went for a walk in Clinton Township's Canal Park.


Yes, canal. Here and there throughout Macomb and eastern Oakland County you can see the slowly-eroding remnants of what can only be called "Mason's Folly." The project was inaugurated with fanfare worthy of a coronation as "the Clinton and Kalamazoo Canal" in 1838.

The brainchild of Michigan's first governor, the 26-year old Stevens T. Mason, it was a deliberate attempt to emulate the great success of the immortal Erie Canal of New York, which had turned such cities as Rochester and Buffalo into boom towns.

The idea was to utilize the existing rivers and dig a series of canals and locks across the entire Lower Peninsula from Mount Clemens to Lake Michigan, a distance of 216 miles all told.

Unfortunately, the State underestimated the cost of the project and the holding company went bankrupt in 1843. Only fifteen of those planned 216 miles were ever completed, with the canal petering out in the vicinity of the Oakland County suburb of Rochester, and the project was officially abandoned in 1848. Even the completed sections were an economic failure, as toll revenue was far below estimates. The reason? The canal was too small for the larger barges that made the Erie such a success.

Great photographs are accessible here, via the Shelby Township Historical Society.

Canal Park has the remnants of a dam from the early 1840s which was used to channel water from the Clinton river, and some of the timber bracing still stands above water. You can also see the base of the dam, too. The remains of a lock are also visible, now seen as a steep ditch slowly being pinched by the encroaching second growth forest.

As Heather noted, nature has a way of reclaiming her own. Canal Park proves it. Definitely worth a stop, as is Yates Cider Mill, which has an attached park that preserves the remnants of a canal aqueduct.
Is that anything like fantasy football?

Going to take a break from the auto da fe of the Bronx Bombers for a little while. I keep it up, and Rich Leonardi's going to drop the "dissentient" tag on me, so...

On entirely unrelated news, the St. Blog's S.M. Stirling Cult has roped in another devotee, Theocoid at This Space Intentionally Left Blank, wherein he refers to OFA as a "fantasy crack dealer."

Oh, and while I'm flattered that Theo thinks he detected my "fingerprints," please remember that the author writes, I make recommendations and that's that. "Fingerprints" is rather an overstatement.

I'll be posting my own review this week, and discussion will abound.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Two straight nights of pitchers exorcising demons and answering serious questions about their ability to be aces.

After the humiliations of the past generation, man, does this feel good. I don't think I've ever been as uninvolved in a Michigan-MSU tilt in my entire life. Yeah, I watched chunks of it, but seeing the Tigers play dragonslayer was something I'll always remember.

On to Mickey's in Lake Orion!

[Photos via the Detroit News.]
Go easy on the Yankees: $200 million doesn't buy what it used to.

Fun fact: the Yanks have spent $1 biiiiiiiillllllion dollars since their last World Series title.

Oh, and one more--just photoshop in "2006 ALDS":

I wouldn't care to be Brian Cashman this evening.


Compare this date in history: 1571 with 2001.

Given how calendar-centric our foes are, I doubt it. In fact, I think it was a message sent in a way that the grievance-nursing could easily understand.

I'll refrain from posting the poem again this year (it's here, and worth a read, though) and just load an image instead:

Happy memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"I have never have cared for the Yankees, and for a very sound reason: The Yankees are evil."

Thank you, Dave Barry.

Even if the Tigs don't pull out the series, it was sure nice seeing them beat Team $teinbrenner at Stade Fasciste. It's a true delight to hear that crowd that quiet.

Not so BTW, I reached my Tim McCarver Saturation Point sometime during the middle of the second inning of Game 1. Oy.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I've never thought of this blog as an academic resource...

...but what the hey? Glad to help, Leigh! If you have any other questions, I or the other half-crazed Byzantinophiles who hang about here (Richard, Cacciaguida [I think]) would be happy to offer up our two hyperpyra.
There aren't words for the tragedy Patrick Coffin and his wife have gone through.

But prayers and good wishes for them all, including little Naomi, would be very welcome, I am sure.
Why educate at home?

Heather has spelled her thought process over here.

My decision doesn't focus per se on any quality problems with public education. I've known too many public educators to doubt their dedication and ability across the board. Mine is a little simpler, and can be summed up in one word: Sewage.

As in American Culture, Anno Domini 2006.

The center is not holding. Not by a damn sight. In fact, to continue the military metaphor, our exposed flank has been hit and we are reeling in a retreat that is threatening to turn into a rout.

We can raise our own children. We can instill virtues in them, limit access to the unblinking eye, dress them appropriately, refuse to buy them appalling products available in a bewildering variety and so forth.

But I can't act in loco parentis for everybody else.

Consider, for example, the moral absentee parents who buy their pre-teen daughters pants with "Juicy" stenciled on the rear, or "Bitch" emblazoned on the front (were to God I was making this up). The so-called adults who let their sons blare the gangsta rap from the speakers of the family car.

Most memorable in my mind was the case of the woman living four houses down from us who was arrested a couple of months ago for disorderly conduct on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. During the arrest, she was defended by pre-teen sons who screamed "motherf**ker" at the police. It was like watching an episode of Cops unfold, only without the spiritual uplift.

[The authorities were, not so BTW, far too indulgent of the belligerent offender and should have maced her five minutes earlier.]

Maybe it's just our neighborhood? It's not the brick ranch ideal, to be sure, but we have a local police officer and his family kitty-corner from us, and it is safe to leave stuff unattended in your yard. Not ideal, but far from the worst.

And I'll even go so far as to say that the parents who enable this behavior are not at their roots evil-minded. For some reason, they have lost the ability or the will to make moral judgments or hard/unpopular decisions. Trodding the well-worn path of least resistance, they shrug and give in. Which is the last thing their children need, or, deep down, really want.

But lack of ill-intent does not change the fact that the culture is falling to the lowest common denominator. Peer pressure is a ratchet, and it does not click upwards. I can't send my children into that maelstrom. I won't. As Greg Krehbiel put it, I don't want my kids socialized by kids who have been socialized by the television set.

Yes, I do have concerns about home education: quality, the pressure on us both time and ability-wise (we're both liberal arts to the hilt), loss of positive socialization, etc. But that's outweighed by the fear of losing my kids' hearts and minds. It's not worth the risk.

The GOP Garbage Squad.

Nine awful human beings whose views are unworthy of the slightest respect. Especially after caterwauling about spending money on Ukraine, no...