Wednesday, June 30, 2004

We interrupt our regular programming...

...to take care of a damn kidney stone. And I had so much to share with you today. Oh well, I should be back tomorrow, "ship-shape and bristol fashion," just in time for Canada Day... eh?

Monday, June 28, 2004

This space reserved for Saint Irenaeus. Stay tuned...

Friday, June 25, 2004

Before heading out for the weekend...

...I just gotta tell ya this one.

A few weeks ago, I got a Palm IIIc at a yard sale for twenty dollars. Yes, I know they're phasing it out, but not before I get me some nifty downloads. Thanks to a recent entry by Don Jim of Dappled Things, I've been referred to this great freeware site from Canada, eh? Thanks, Padre. Now I can read Sherlock Holmes, the Rover Boys novels, the history of the Reformation, catch up on emergency First Aid, and pray the Scriptural Rosary -- all in all, enough light reading in my pocket to keep me going through the summer, especially since my cell phone doesn't work in the subway. (As a wise man once said: "You can't have everything, where would you put it?")

Gotta help me son move to his new digs. May even have to give up dancing. (gulp!)

Thursday, June 24, 2004

How Then Shall We Live?: One

Until his passing on December 12, 1998 (The Feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe), Dr William Marra was an enigmatic presence on the traditionalist Catholic lecture circuit. A professor of philosophy at Fordham University, he had been a student of the great Deitrict von Hildebrand, a man whose work and legacy continued to inspire Marra throughout is life. His Faith knew no secular political alliance. For decades he crusaded against the dangers of sex education in both Catholic and public schools. However, lest anyone be quick to label Marra a typical "conservative," he also maintained that the State had a responsibility to provide public assistance to single mothers, thus enabling them to stay home with their children.

One of the most inflential events of Marra's life, was during World War II, when he was a radio operator for the Army Signal Corps. In the decades that followed, his lectures on living the Faith would include mention of his ability to take radios apart and put them together again. As time went on, this tenured professor of philosophy also became a master plumber, and jack-of-all-trades for the Marra household.

The ingenuity of this man, combined with his intellectual rigor, was the starting point for a unique perspective on the role of Catholic laity in the world. He admonished his fellow-Catholics to put aside their petty differences, in favor of that which truly mattered. This was not confined merely to questions of Old Mass versus New Mass (even as he was a tireless promoter of restoring the former), or those of homeschooling versus the parish scchool system. Marra wanted to reach beyond distinctions in profession and social class. He envisioned a lay apostolate where bankers and lawyers would rally alongside laborers and shopkeepers, where the benefits of a classical Catholic liberal arts education would be of service to them all -- whether as a means of understanding one's relationship to God, or as a proper formation for entering the business world.

Listening to his recorded talks in recent weeks, years after first hearing them, one is reminded of a saying:

"We do well to heed the advice of both our plumbers and our philosophers, lest both our pipes and our theories become full of holes."

While contemplating the building of a "Catholic college town," one wonders if people of varying walks of life, while sharing a common faith, could realistically be compelled to move there. Would a banker be willing to see a bricklayer as his neighbor? Or will Ave Maria simply become a suburban retirement village (This is Florida, remember?) for 20,000 frustrated Republicans, who want to drive their SUVs a few blocks to daily Mass?

We'll find out soon enough. But some of the influences that could be brought to bear, is a subject of our next installment. Stay tuned...

From our bulging "Takes One To Know One" files...

A just released book takes on Michael Moore as never before. Its title screams: 'Michael Moore Is A Big Fat Stupid White Man.'... And surprisingly, this book has been published by the same publisher who gave us Michael Moore's own runaway bestseller 'Stupid White Men.'... Apparently, more than a few people want to take revenge on Michael Moore and the timing couldn't be better -- with the release this week of his 'documentary' attack piece on George Bush -- 'Fahrenheit 9/11'..."

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

To boldly go where no man without a government has ever gone before...

Yesterday saw the first manned flight of a privately-funded spacecraft:

"There were tense times during the sky-blistering flight of SpaceShipOne here this morning. Fighting control problems, pilot Mike Melvill wrestled with several anomalies that cut short a pre-planned altitude mark... However, the first non-governmental rocket ship did succeed in flying to the edge of space, earning the craft?s pilot, Mike Melvill, the first set of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-issued commercial astronaut wings... At a post-landing press briefing, the 63-year old [pilot Mike] Melvill described a series of technical snags that haunted his record-setting flight..."

SpaceShipOne, built by a private comapany called Scaled Composites, was launched in mid-air by a mother ship, and went as high as 62.5 miles, or 100 kilometers, altitude at which "outer space" is determined to begin by international agreement. It then returned safely to its destination runway in the Mojave Desert. It engaged in what amounted to a "sub-orbital" flight, which means it went up and down, as opposed to around the planet. But it paves the way for further private manned missions, and eventual mass commerial travel.

There is a related story, with a fascinating history. In Canada, there is a craft under development known as the Canadian Arrow. Like the SS1, it is a three-man suborbital craft. But rather than being launched in mid-air from an aircraft, the Arrow takes off from the ground atop a two-stage rocket based on the old German V2 (also the model for the US Army Redstone, which launched the first Mercury space capsules into suborbital flight.

In the 1930s, the German Rocket Society began promoting the idea of high-altitude rocketry, based on the work of the American Robert Goddard. Rumanian-born Hermann Oberth wrote, in 1923, a highly prophetic book The Rocket into Interplanetary Space. The book enthralled many with dreams of space flight, including that precocious German teenager, Wernher von Braun, who read the book in 1925. Five years later, von Braun had joined Oberth and was assisting with rocket experiments. Von Braun was eventually hired by the Germans to develop the V1 and the V2, and was among those Germans who left their homeland after the war to assist the Americans, using the same models he developed for Germany, including the V2.

But even during this time, sights were set very high, up to and including the stars: "The V2 technology, although discarded in the 1950's, could have been used to launch mankind into space even earlier in our history. In fact, the British Interplanetary Society had produced plans (shown at left) for a V2 rocket to carry a man into space." I remember seeing pictures of such proposed models as a boy. There is much more to this history, which can be found in Germany's plans on the drawing board for sending multi-stage rockets to attack the USA from launch sites in Europe:

"It was intended that a pilot be included on the A9/A10 to guide the missile on its flight path to America. Once the A10 booster was jettisoned the A9 would continue to target with the aid of the pilot, who would use radio positioned guidance from German U-Boats positioned along the target path across the Atlantic. Once the pilot reached the intended target area, it was also planned that the pilot would leave the A9 (A4b) missile by means of an ejection seat, and parachute to an awaiting German Submarine or to be interned as a POW."

Monday, June 21, 2004

Really, let's be honest...

...weren't we all getting tired of calling her "Madonna" anyway?

Viva La Difference!

One of the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity (for the benefit of those Muslims in America who still don't get why they're having trouble fitting in), is that, while the former involves men controlling women, the latter involves men complementing women. Call me crazy, but I'll bet dollars to donuts that nothing resembling the fifth chapter of Paul's Letter to the Ephesians exists in the Qu'ran.

"Some people have something to say, while others have to say something."

Two years ago today, I had the unmitigated gall to consider myself among the former, within the context of this medium. I have only Peter Vere to blame, for talking me into this. To say nothing of the following, which I like to consider the MWBH Manifesto:

"Our entire daily lives cannot be occupied with purely religious practices; all of us have to eat, and most of us have and want to do many other activities besides. So though we cannot always be religious in this sense, we can always be Catholic, that is, the round of our daily activities can be conducted in such a way as to express and be in harmony with our Faith. And [this] can involve more than avoiding sin and exercising virtue..." -- Thomas Storck, The Catholic Milieu

On the premise that our Faith is indeed "more than avoiding sin and exercising virtue," I responded at the time, of how "the way in which I was raised was ultimately more than a religion, in terms of pious practices and trying not to have too much fun. It is, rather, what the Greeks called a phronema -- that is, a 'mind set,' or a 'way of looking at things...'"

With the above in mind, the last two years have been spent trying to find the proper niche. By now, I may have found it. There will be several significant issues dealt with this summer, that do not find an audience elsewhere in the Catholic blogosphere, but which are nonetheless a reflection of the world, and how our Common Way of Viewing It bears witness.

If I'm not careful, it just might find an audience. Stay tuned...

Friday, June 18, 2004

How Then Shall We Live?: An Introduction

With the next five installments under this title, this site will explore the possibilities within the scope of a project, such as that which is planned for Ave Maria University, and the adjoining town of Ave Maria, Florida.

One: Remembering the late Dr William Marra, and his reflections on cooperation within the lay apostolate, sadly ignored in the present day.

Two: The gospel of economics according to AMU: How would theory meet practice?

Three: The domestic church; how "it takes a village" to create one, why the suburban model doesn't work, and proven models that will.

Four: "Cultural Calvinism": the greatest stumbling block to building a Catholic social order, and how it might be avoided.

Five: Is Ave Maria the catalyst for similar endeavors elsewhere?

These installments are the result of reading and research compiled by myself over the last decade, and will be featured over the next two or three weeks, schedule permitting.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

"Music to me is just like breathing. I have to have it. It's part of me."

Ray Charles died a week ago today. He was 73.

With everything else going on last week, we didn't do justice to the man. A lot of recording artists are said to "transcend musical boundaries." Ray Charles defined the term. He not only recorded music for soul, jazz, blues, rythym and blues, country and western, and gospel audiences, but he excelled at all of them, as if each was his primary genre. He gave early rock and roll its "tent revival" underpinnings, and lent passion to the vignettes of Saturday night, as well as Sunday morning.

One of my favorite moments in television was on NBC's The Cosby Show, when the Huxtable family mimed his tune "You Know The Night Time (Is The Right Time)" for the grandparents. And, who could forget his cameo appearance in the movie "The Blues Brothers" with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.

In an era when "stars" are created by New York producers, more for their looks than for their talent, we have lost another one who kept it real, and "in love with the street." When an artist is content with his own company and his own art, and stays true to himself regardless of what Hollywood or Madison Avenue tells him, history will remember him long after he is gone. The "Milli Vanilli's" of the world will come and go. But Ray Charles could "see" where he was going, because he knew that from which he came.

May he sing the Master's praises, in the holy city of Jerusalem.

The Ave Maria Chronicles: Don't say she didn't warn ya???

The latest wrinkle to our continuing saga is a "blast from the past," courtesy of the Ave Parents website.

"As the Ave Maria project moves forward, he [Monaghan] must continue to depend upon others to help him achieve his vision, and to no little extent his success in doing so will depend upon how he treats those that he has enlisted in the project and his willingness to seek and follow good advice."

Sooo... just when you thought this was another case of axe-grinding professors, along comes a warning, dating back to May of 2003, which could hardly be characterized as a vicious attack on anybody. (Thanks to one of the commenters for bringing this letter to my attention.) Over a year ago, this well-known philosophy professior and Catholic speaker wrote this letter while a visiting Professor at AMC Michigan. At the time, she became aware of serious problems with AMC's administration, which was then led by President Nick Healy (before he moved down and started AMU Florida).

Dr Smith is a Chair of Life Issues at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, author of Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later, editor of Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader and has written many articles on ethical and bioethics issues. She taught for nine years at the real Notre Dame and twelve years at the University of Dallas. She speaks nationally and internationally on the several issues, especially the Catholic Church's teaching on sexuality. Smith is also a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family.

There are those within the Catholic blogosphere, who would dismiss the controversy as a sign of poor character and a lack of good faith in the AVC/AMU leadership and their misson. After all,they say, if you can't trust Father or Doctor So-and-so,who can you trust? That is beside the point. This is less a question of orthodoxy, than of orthopraxis; less a question of talking the talk, than of walking the walk. Our faith is to be in Christ, not in the ability of some button-down-suit-with-a-title to talk a good game.

Some of us used to tell ourselves, if you can't trust Cardinal So-and-so to be orthodox, who can you trust?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Our "Burning Question of the Day" is...

...why in the hell does anybody still care about THIS???

One hundred years ago today, nothing happened!

Then again, it depends on your point of view. They certainly don't believe that in Dublin.

"Mr Bloom walked unheeded along his grove by saddened angels, crosses, broken pillars, family vaults, stone hopes praying with upcast eyes, old Ireland's hearts and hands. More sensible to spend the money on some charity for the living. Pray for the repose of the soul of. Does anybody really?" -- James Marcus

Today, one of the most celebrated novels of the twentieth century is being celebrated. James Joyce wrote his classic novel Ulysses, about a day in the life of one day -- June 16, 1904 -- in the life of its two main characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, who go on their separate ways, crossing paths with a variety of fellow-Dubliners. We watch them teach, eat, stroll the streets, argue, and, to quote it's review in Amazon.com: "[T]hanks to the book's stream-of-consciousness technique -- which suggests no mere stream but an impossibly deep, swift-running river -- we're privy to their thoughts, emotions, and memories. The result? Almost every variety of human experience is crammed into the accordian folds of a single day, which makes Ulysses not just an experimental work but the very last word in realism."

That day in June is today known as "Bloomsday," and throughout Dublin -- indeed, throughout the English-speaking world -- devotees of James Joyce will gather to read his work; sometimes to themselves, sometimes out loud. This in honor of a fictional day that time has made as real as any, to those who believe.

They recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and then...

...members of the James Madison High School Class of 2004 received their diplomas.

As Paul David Alexander began to walk up to the stage, his cell phone rang: "Hello... Look, I can't talk now, I'm graduating." (Okay, okay, we had the whole thing planned. How else was he gonna distinguish himself?) That night, he and the boys were up late (what else?) playing video games, when I get a call from him. He and three other guys are planning to go in on renting a townhouse near Fairfax Circle. Nice location; he could walk to the Metro, and to shopping. Good thing too, because today the insurance company tows "Dorothy Dodge" away for the last time. The little accident he had at Ocean City was just enough for them to write it off as a loss, but fortunately he's got a Toyota Tercel lined up. Good thing he's also got a job, in the coffee business.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

In honor of my son's graduation...

They walked in tandem, each of the ninety-three students filing into the already crowded auditorium. With rich maroon gowns flowing and the traditional caps, they looked almost as grown up as they felt.

Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, and moms freely brushed away tears.

This class would not pray during the commencements -- not by choice but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it. The principal and several students were careful to stay within the guidelines allowed by the ruling. They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned divine guidance and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families.

The speeches were nice, but they were routine... until the final one. A solitary student walked proudly to the microphone. He stood still and silent for just a moment, and then, it happened.

All ninety-two students, every single one of them, suddenly SNEEZED!!!! The student on stage simply looked at the audience and said, "GOD BLESS YOU, each and every one of you!" And he walked off stage.

The audience exploded into applause. The graduating class found a way to invoke God's blessing on their future with or without the court's approval.

(Then again, maybe if they recited the Pledge of Allegiance...)

Monday, June 14, 2004

And speaking of somebody not kidding...

"ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- An elementary school teacher was placed on paid leave for washing a boy's mouth out with soap after he shouted an obscenity at a classmate..."

FLASH: Los Angeles and San Francisco to be renamed "Sodom" and "Gomorrah"!!!

Hey, I'm just kidding. But not everybody:

"Some constitutional law experts say the American Civil Liberties Union's campaign to remove a small cross from the Los Angeles County seal and similar efforts elsewhere in the country help build a foundation for challenges against communities like San Francisco, San Diego or Santa Barbara..."

No word yet on whether the Episcopal Church will be asked to relenquish possession of the Washington National Cathedral. Stay tuned...

52 years ago today...

...at a little country church in a farming town east of Cincinnati, 2nd Lt Paul Andrew Alexander, USAF, married Dorothy Ann Rosselot. Paul was an English teacher at the local high school, and Dorothy finished second in her class. Other than her being one of a group of students with whom Paul shared a special rapport, he paid her no particular attention until after she graduated. At least that's what they told their children.

The oldest once asked him where they went for their honeymoon. He replied that they were still on it.

Today is also Flag Day in the USA. In its early years, it was rarely produced the same way twice. My personal favorite is a close tie between the "Bennington Flag" of 1777 (which always flies at the entrance to my home), and the "Indian Peace Flag" of 1803, as featured by Mark Sullivan at Irish Elk.

The important thing to consider here is, that the day these two lovebirds pledged their lives together, the American flag is flown "from sea to shining sea."

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Ronnie, We Hardly Knew Ye

"And now he has left us... It's not hard to imagine him now in a place where his powers have been returned to him and he's himself again--sweet-hearted, tough, funny, optimistic and very brave. You imagine him snapping one of those little salutes as he turns to say goodbye..."

So wrote Peggy Noonan in the Opinion Journal on the passing of the 40th US President, Ronald Wilson Reagan. She was one of many who served under him, and who authored books about him, hers being titled When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan. You'd think people knew him well enough.

But according to Dinesh D'Souza: "Virtually everyone who knew Reagan well or observed him closely... [is] familiar with the public Reagan, but their efforts to discover the individual behind the mask have proved frustratingly elusive." Apparently this included his children, and at times his own wife. D'Souza, a domestic policy advisor under Reagan and the author of several books on political and social issues, elaborates on his admiration for his former boss, in his recent book Ronald Reagan: How An Ordinary Man Became An Extraordinary Leader.

I came to Washington in December of 1980, at about the same time as did Reagan, to begin my Federal service career. I didn't hesitate to vote for him. No sooner was he in office, though, than I thought I might live to regret it. One of Reagan's first official acts in office, was to impose a hiring freeze of Federal employees. This was expected by everyone. But he went one step further. He back-dated the order to the day in early November when he was elected. I was hired on December 15. It was a clearly partisan move designed to stem the padding of career civil service ranks with former Carter appointees. Why that had to have something to do with me, I'll never know. The order was even upheld by a Federal judge, perhaps one who was caught up in the enthusiasm to rid Washington of all those wasteful parasites in the Federal ranks.

Me? I just wanted to make a positive contribution to public service (the publishing industry being the largest in the Nation's capital) through the use of my professional talents. I remember hearing at the time, of one Reaganite who spoke at a meeting of government writers, taking them to task for such allegedly superfluous publications as a USDA piece on brown-bag lunches. This was met by a response from one writer within that agency, who pointed out to Mister Know-It-All, that they were getting thousands of requests a year for such information, and a ready-made publication on the subject was cheaper than answering each inquiry individually. Duh...

Anyway, in the end, I was able to keep my job, since the paperwork to hire me had already gone through, and the freeze on hiring had no provision for firing. I also survived a reduction-in-force two years later, thanks to the personal intervention of my supervisor at the time.

In the early years, I would wade through the criticism of political hacks, bragging about their "real world" experience before coming to Washington (as if political life could possibly resemble the real world), then leave after one or two years to go work for a think tank or some other "Beltway bandit." Many of the fat-ass white boys who wanted to reduce the size of government went on to feed off the Federal trough in some other fashion.

I wasn't sorry to see them leave. But I was sorry to see a few people go, from among the political ranks, whose work and personal character I came to admire. I stayed in touch with many of them for years afterward. (One of them will be mentioned in this weblog next week. Stay tuned...)

In the years since, I've seen a change of attitude toward the Federal employee. It seems that some people are now convinced we do a genuine public service, especially after "9/11." Even the quality of employee has improved. The Reagan years may have touched off the end of complacency that settled into the Federal ranks during the 1970s. The agency for which I work had a reputation over the years of being what is called a "turkey farm," a place where you put managers -- be they political or career -- when you have no place else to put them, and you can't get rid of them (on the latter point, don't ask me why). I watched many of my agency's "old boy network" retire in the last ten years, to be replaced by younger, more qualified (or just plain qualified in a few cases) public servants. Even working alongside contract employees may have helped to raise the bar on performance. We've taken on a new confidence, and so have I. The last five years have seen some of my finest work.

I was never sorry to be a Federal employee. Nor was I sorry I voted for Reagan twice. It was the character of the man himself, not the unscrupulous attitudes of a few of those who bathed in the glow of his guiding light, that won me over. Starting out life in a small town in the Midwest, coming from a poor family, and son of an alcoholic father, he could have been my father or someone a lot like him.

And so he was a father figure to this Nation, reminding us that, whatever our faults, we were better off loving ourselves and the God under which our republic was founded, than joining our enemies in beating ourselves up. It was that charisma that helped to overthrow communism, and change the shape of the world forever -- to say nothing of how we looked at ourselves.

After he left office, close friends would stop by to see him and Nancy. One commented on how they showed little if any interest in politics. Shouldn't that surprise us about a man who made such an impact on the world? Or shouldn't he be allowed to emulate Cincinnatus, who after saving Rome from her enemies, passed on the emperor's throne to return to his plow?

I do not believe that many who surrounded Reagan, much less those who benefitted from his position, were as altruistic as he was. It seems everyone is lining up to win his favor, even before he is in the grave. Several years ago, back in my hometown of Cincinnati, the interconnector once known as Cross County Highway became known as "Ronald Reagan Highway." Closer to the Beltway, someone wants to introduce a resolution in Congress naming the Pentagon after him. This is ridiculous, when you consider that less than a mile away, is the former National Airport, now called Ronald Reagan Airport, where members of the same Congress can park free of charge and get a ten-minute drive to the office. Meanwhile, in the midst of downtown Washington, is what was considered at the time the biggest cost-overrun boondoggle in the history of Federal buildings -- the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center. (It's a nice building, though.)

As if that weren't enough, there is movement in Congress, in the form of a resolution to put Reagan's face on either the ten- or twenty-dollar bill, as if Alexander Hamilton or Andrew Jackson were suddenly out of favor. There's also talk of putting his likeness on the ten-cent coin. Would the man who first espoused the privatization of Social Security take the place of the man who first conceived of it? Will the ironies never end? There is also the wish to put a Reagan Memorial on the Mall, a plaza that is already overcrowded with memorials, to the point that even the World War II Memorial caused concern.

Are they raising monuments to the man, or to themselves and how they benefitted from him?

However satisfied with themselves would be those who would ingratiate themselves to Ronald Wilson Reagan, I believe those who managed to look beyond personal ambition, enough to really know the man, would well imagine him rolling his eyes from within his coffin, at all the fuss being made. Those who believe otherwise might take a clue from the humility shown in the letter he wrote to America November 5, 1994, when he found he had Alzheimer's disease. I reproduce it here, in its entirety, as my own tribute to the measure of his character:

My Fellow Americans,

I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way.

In the past Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had my cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that as a result many more people underwent testing.

They were treated in early stages and able to return to normal, healthy lives.

So now, we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.

At the moment I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life’s journey with my beloved Nancy and my family. I plan to enjoy the great outdoors and stay in touch with my friends and supporters.

Unfortunately, as Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.

In closing let me thank you, the American people for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.

Sincerely, Ronald Reagan


Happy trails, Dutch, and may God ride with you... until we meet again.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

"Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your 'lives fought for life...and left the vivid air signed with your honor'... You all knew that some things are worth dying for... One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you."

Friday, June 04, 2004

Before I head out for the weekend...

...I'd like to invite everybody in the DC area to Glen Echo Park, just over the District line in Maryland, for the annual Washington Folk Festival, as it makes its triumphant return to the Park, after a hiatus of a few years due to construction. My son Paul will be on the sound crew, and since I'm editor of the program guide, my job's more or less done, so I get to walk across the Park and back looking busier than I really am. Not a bad life.

(Note to "Ambrose": Please contact me directly by e-mail. I require your assistance.)

The Ave Maria Chronicles: Responses and Addenda

I'm getting responses to my material -- for a change, to my own site rather than Mark Shea's.

In fact, Ambrose brought up a very good point: "To my knwoledge there are only two econ professors on staff at AMU Naples at this time: Gabriel Martinez and Guillermo Montez. I confess I know almost nothing about these gentlemen, but some quick searches reveal some rather esoteric works with few sniffs of a 'neo-conservative laissez faire' bent - whatever that is." (Well, if you don't know, how could you "sniff" it out if it was there?) "Given that the econ departments of many Catholic schools are overrun with Marxists and socialists of various stripes, I'm wondering what a Catholic econ department should look like, and whether the Holy Father would find AMU's any more exceptionable than, say, Georgetown's. If I didn't know better, I'd think that your ideal would be one filled with distributists..."

As a matter of fact, Ambrose, I do think so. So would several popes of the last century. After the fall of communism, John Paul II was quick to remind the West of the excesses of capitalism, in the rush to rebuild the East.

Closer to home, there was a lot of word on the street that Michael Novak, and one other gentleman of that ilk, was going to be on the economics faculty. Maybe so, but I took the time to check the economics course of study at the AMU website: "Because the ultimate goal of economics is to understand the truth about the economy and to suggest ethical and appropriate courses of action, the study of Catholic Social Teaching is crucial. Understanding that the economy is a means for the fulfillment of the human person and not the converse, we guide our study of economics by the three pillars of the Social Magisterium: human dignity, solidarity, and subsidiarity. Thus our courses emphasize the primacy of labor, the right to private property, the right to economic initiative, the just regulation of the economy by government, and the role of intermediate organizations."

Now, that's more like it (and they do include Belloc on the reading list, by the way), and if they can live up to that, I'm happy to stand corrected. In fact, I'm more than happy, I'm damned delerious, if the project as a whole reflects that philosophy.

You see, in a classic sense, a university is not merely an isolated enclave. It draws a segment of the larger society to itself. That's why college towns have a certain characteristic about them. This is more than just building an educational institution. Mr Monaghan and those who assist him have a unique opportunity to inculcate a Catholic way of life on the larger society.

To that end, the original plans for the Town of Ave Maria, Florida, appear to resemble a "Catholic suburb," with all segments of land use carefully segregated, and accessible to one another mainly by automobile, as opposed to pedestrian traffic. This post-war phenomenon of urban planning has led to a waste of resources, and a push toward material excess that is characteristic of the "cultural Calvinism" that is American life. That is, you have to be a two-car family with a big house on a half- or one-acre lot to have "the good life" -- to say nothing of living the Catholic vision, as made manifest in this case. On the other hand, the proposal from the Notre Dame architecture students shows a careful mixed-use approach, more in keeping with traditional neighborhood development, and thus more conducive to various segments of the local culture interacting, and thus learning from, each other. One would hope for more emphasis on alternative forms of housing, including affordable options such as townhouses and garage apartments, to allow for a more balanced social structure in the town.

In other words, I should be able to walk from my home at one end of town, to work or shopping or whatever, in about ten minutes, or half a mile. How can you share the Faith with your neighbor, if the setting does not lend itself to meeting him? It's easier to do so on the sidewalk, than from a car. It's also easier if the wife doesn't have to put the kids in day care and work full-time, just so the family can afford to live there.

Mr Monaghan, to his great credit, left behind much of his career ambitions, to devote his life to using his fortune for spreading the Faith. If I were in a position to advise him (and I don't tend to move in those circles), I would suggest he spend less time reading Frank Lloyd Wright (who deserves more credit as an architect than as an urban planner), and more time reading Thomas Storck and Peter Maurin. The latter was influential in Dorothy Day's establishment of the Catholic Worker movement, and told of how both the rich and poor should help, and learn from, each other.

Will the "smoke-filled room" consist of shopkeepers and bricklayers as well as bankers and lawyers? Has Mr Monaghan ever heard of a concept known as "co-housing"? Can his vision of a Catholic society make room for subsidiarity at the neighborhood level, from the grassroots?

If he can expand his braintrust just enough to think outside the box, I promise to take back all the pizza jokes. Until then, the mere mention of an unsubstantiated rumor of theft was indeed imprudent, and shall be removed from this site.

He knows where to find me.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Postscript

When I began covering the whole "Ave Maria thing," I had no idea it would become as huge a controversy as it did. Nor was the controversy itself my original focus. Rather, it can be revealed in one comment by a respondent to the Cruxnews articles: "I think Tom Monaghan's intentions are probably good, but unlike some who talk idly about getting a bunch of families together, buying a big swatch of land and starting a Catholic enclave, Monaghan has the financial wherewithal to do it."

Stay tuned...

The Ave Maria Chronicles: Let The Pizza-Throwing Contest Begin!

There has been an upsurge in the exchange of views on the Ave Maria saga. We have a letter dated yesterday from AMU Chancellor Father Joseph Fessio: "A number of emails have been circulating regarding the future plans for Ave Maria College in Michigan.  Some contain serious misinformation and harsh and even slanderous criticism of Mr Tom Monaghan.  For the sake of both justice and charity, we believe it important that the salient facts be known..."

He's not alone. Seems that a number of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and/or parents are not above citing the need for "salient facts." Trouble is, they're not matching up. Criticism can be harsh without being "slanderous." Either that, or everyone else associated with the institution in question couldn't possibly have a grip on reality. Still, as Cruxnews reports, there are a lot of them with an opinion: "A former theology professor claims that St Mary's College in Orchard Lake was mistreated by Ave Maria as its 'stepchild'... a recent Ave Maria graduate summarizes the series of broken promises that characterized his four years at Ave Maria College... a university librarian suggests that perhaps Tom Monaghan doesn't understand academia..."

So... the plot thickens.

"It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty, Delta day..."

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Ave Maria Chronicles: Lawyers, Pizza, and Money

The saga of Ave Maria College/University/Pizzaria is starting to take on a life of its own. We have reports from several fronts:

At the Bettnet Forum, another guy named "Tom" gives a summary of the crisis, which outlines a number of proposals, including moving the college in Michigan to the university in Florida (which even now are two separate legal entities), and/or renaming the Michigan location as "Newman College." Unfortunately, there are also reports that the Michigan school's accreditation status is at risk, endangering the investment of students and parents alike, and calling into question the committment made by faculty, many of whom are unwilling to relocate to Florida.

A recent piece in the Detroit Free Press underscores concerns over the uncertain future of AMC among students and staff.

In a stunning editorial, Michael Rose of Cruxnews asks "Is Tom Monaghan dismantling another Catholic College?" Rose gives an account of Monaghan's previous experience with controlling the outcome of educational institutions for which he is the major benefactor.

Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, chancellor of AMU, gives his own account of recent events, including attempts to ensure continuity in the transfer of the institution, and a defense of the chapel design heretofore criticized by Rose elsewhere in Cruxnews.

Rose responds to Fessio.

"Vincent," a student at the Michigan campus, offers a scathing evaluation of the Ave Maria leadership in the comments section of Sed Contra, dated April 21. Some of it is very serious, and demands some kind of proof.

But wait, there's more...

Conor Dugan of TriCoastal Commision produces an anonymous memo from a source reported to be close to the Ave Maria: "Some of those he has persuaded to join him, particularly the faculty and staff of AMC Michigan have made great sacrifices to help Monaghan achieve his vision. But many of them believe that some serious mistakes are being made in pursuit of that vision, ones that may, indeed, jeopardize the project itself...

Parents of Ave Maria students have started their own website, in an attempt to make their voices heard, and appeal to the powers that be. It could get ugly, according to one canon lawyer: "If my son is not allowed to graduate from Ave Maria College, with a degree from Ave Maria College, based on courses taken at a functional Ave Maria College, we will sue. Period."

The drama unfolding is not untypical of the sort of political shenanigans that arises within the halls of academia. A quick read of a periodic journal produced by any institution of higher learning, is complete with photos and accounts of old geezers with lots of money and titles, with very little space devoted to the students that attend there. As anyone who spends four years in college will tell you, the food chain on campus is like this: academic research first, athletic programs second, and student welfare dead last!

Be that as it may, stories of high-handedness on the part of the Ave Maria leadership are not new, and have been related to yours truly in the past. There is one account of an otherwise exemplary student, who was expelled from AMC for being found carrying a six-pack of beer to her OFF-CAMPUS residence, after having been followed by school authories. While possession of alcohol by a minor is against state law, the beer was going to be shared with a real live adult also living at the residence, and the incident occured off-campus (yeah, we said that already, didn't we?), and was thus outside of the school's jurisdiction.

There is also concern that a listing of those appointed to teach economics at the Florida campus, reads like a who's-who of neo-conservative laissez-faire capitalism, the kind criticized by even the Holy Father himself. Chesterton and Belloc certainly won't be required reading in that curriculum.

Should this trend continue, millions will be invested in yet another attempt to equate Catholic orthodoxy with the ability to talk a good game, and the money to have one's way about it. In the face of "the best laid plans of mice and men," it is best to remember the warning given by Christ Himself concerning Solomon's temple: "Not one stone will be left upon another."

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

How I Spent My Summer Vacation... So Far

The World War II Memorial opened in DC this past weekend. Of course, if you live here long enough, the thought of going through gated entries, being picked at by guys with badges, guns, and bad attitudes, tends to detract from the magic of the occasion. So you just don't bother to take the Metro into town. You wait until the huddled masses of tourists have had their fun, and you make plans to go when the barbed wire is taken down.

But it didn't stop me from celebrating the occasion, especially with enough swing dancing going on all over town. At one of the dances, they showed a collection of film clips from the 30s and 40s featuring the swing kids of the period. The highlight was an MGM short entitled "Groovie Movie," a cute musical number with girl singers and boys in uniform. Two of the dancing couples from the movie were present at the USO benefit at Glen Echo Park on Sunday night, and the ladies still had the moves. You go, grrrls!

(UPDATE: Clips of "Groovie Movie," as well as other short films of the era, are available for viewing at the Swingstyle Syndicate website. RealPlayer required.)

I got a cell phone. This has been planned for awhile. And with Paul getting ready to move on his own, and wanting to find the little rascal wherever he is, we got our own units together, on the family plan. It was a close race between Verizon and Nextel. But because Nextel's service and equipment is slightly better, we went with Nextel. The only drawback is that Verizon works underground, while Nextel doesn't. So I don't get to be one of those obnoxious twits on the subway saying things like: "Okay, I just stepped in the door of the Orange Line... Okay, we're moving now... Okay, we just pulled into Metro Center..."

But the web access feature is nice. I can read the news headlines and the weather from the major sites like CNN and ABC. Makes for good light reading while killing time somewhere. And I rarely if ever turn on the ring tone, preferring the "vibe" mode to keep the excitement to myself.

But I turned it off when I served for the diocesan Memorial Day Mass at a local cemetery chapel, as a lay reader. The place was over its capacity crowd, with worshippers viewing a video feed in an extra room.

Things on the "broken home front" are heating up, with my son getting ready to graduate, and his mother getting ready to run off to Cleveland and marry some guy from grade school before a justice of the peace. With only two witnesses in attendance, she just couldn't reschedule the thing, preferring to get the hell out of Dodge before her son has a chance to get settled, and before I can get a place in which he can settle. Of course, the support runs out in June, and I certainly don't expect the poor little thing to support herself, not when she can get another meal ticket lined up.

Bitter? Hell, no! But it tires me out a bit, and I don't get as much accomplished as I would like.

And I've got a lot to accomplish before the summer is over. Meanwhile, we've got more news to report here at MWBH, including that whole Ave Maria thing, which is taking on a life of its own. Not to mention some issues I've wanted to touch upon for a long time now.

Stay tuned...