Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Square Knots

For this last February entry on Scouting in America, we look at the square knot. Since the early 1940s, its image has appeared above the left pocket of Scout uniforms, as the equivalent of military ribbons. (At this time, I only have one -- the red, white, and blue of Eagle Scout. That's on the second row, to the viewer's right.) Some adults manage to rack up the entire gamut of training awards. Mine will be a modest effort, I'm afraid. I always said I'd be satisfied with one row, thrilled with two, and embarrassed by three. The "official" maximum for proper uniform wear is six, not that this would stop the real die-hards in the crowd. Then there was one incident as a boy, where I probably would have received the Medal of Merit (blue and gold, tan background) for saving some guy from bleeding to death (sigh!)... but that's another story. (Click on the image of knots to learn more.)

The knot is also one of the basic ones required for the Tenderfoot badge. This Mac Daddy of All Knots is a good all-purpose knot for tying two pieces of rope together. A demonstration appears above.

Spring is on the way, so "Be Prepared." We'll see you on the trail.

Eagle Scout Michael Strasburg, and his brother, proudly raise Troop 111's flag at the North Pole on 21 April 2003. (Photo courtesy BSA Troop 111, Arlington, Virginia)
Eagle Scout Michael Strasburg, and his brother, proudly raise Troop 111's flag at the North Pole on 21 April 2003. (Photo courtesy BSA Troop 111, Arlington, Virginia)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I'm Not Who I Was

The genre known as "contemporary Christian music" gets a bad rap. Their "cutting edge" artists are posed in magazines trying desperately to look hip, and critics tend to label the aforementioned "edge" as a few years behind the secular counterpart. And then there's the usual canard about being too "preachy." (Well, they are, kinda...)

Some are worthy of recommendation, even at the behest of sophisticated palates like... well, moi! From a mention at The Dawn Patrol comes an artist named Brandon Heath, who has a story to tell, and a video which is the compilation of kindred spirits. For my money, he could just let the song and the video tell it, instead of spending more than a third of this clip talking about it. If you agree, skip the part before 03:43 and after 00:49, and enjoy an excellent -- and not overly "preachy" if you don't count the obligatory scriptural reference -- piece of work.

He gets better. Click below to learn more. Tell him some guy in a Black Hat sent you (and that I don't do this for just anybody).

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Anna Nicole Smith?

It's a question broached by writer Douglas Kern for TCS Daily, and what its impact on popular culture says about the human condition:

I met dozens of Anna Nicole Smiths back in my state prosecutor days: women whose looks and shamelessness far exceeded their self-control and intelligence... Right now, in family courts all over the United States, the Anna Nicole Smith saga is being replicated a few hundred times every hour... [W]hen you strip away the money and the impossible good looks from this sorry tale, you're left with a simple story: "irresponsible but sexy person screws up lives of family and friends." And that's a story to which nearly everyone can relate.

I can't say anything like this has happened in my family. If we didn't know how to behave, we didn't get away with it for long, and if we did, we had the good sense not to brag about it. At least not at reunions.

In any case, it may be one of the few items on the entire Anna Nicole Smith saga that is actually worth reading.

And so it goes.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Business Meeting

This is an SNL Digital Short. Watch it now, before the YouTube lawyers tell the boys in the content department to yank it.

God Bless America, Despite Herself

I missed the Oscars last night. It was on purpose. Not that I don't enjoy the comedy stylings of Ellen DeGeneres. But she was a lot more fun before she became the poster girl for lesbians. Of course, she made some stupid comment about the irony of Al Gore having been elected President, and the Hollywood crowd lapped it up. What most of these pinheads slept through in Civics class, is the discovery that the people of the United States do not elect their president directly, and never have. The "free and independent states" elect him (or her), through their representatives, or "electors" to the electoral college. The founding Fathers did this to ensure that smaller states would enjoy parity with the larger ones. (History buffs and scholars of constitutional law, feel free to join in and clarify, but you gotta admit I was damn close.) Al Gore knows this, but he also knows how badly he needs the publicity.

Then there was this bit of nonsense, provided courtesy of Newsbusters:

Zach Braff: “You know America, here’s a little interesting tidbit you probably don’t know about me. My middle name is Israel. We’re both named after countries. “

America Ferrera: “Wow, that is interesting.”

Braff: “So do you think that you have any traits in common with the country that is your namesake?”

Ferrera: “Well, you know, I mean I guess I’m a free-spirited person and America’s supposedly the ‘land of the free,’ right?”

Braff: “Well, I guess.”

Ferrera: “Or at least we will be in 2008.” [loud applause] Well how about you, Zach, I mean do you have anything in common with Israel?”

To the right of this posting, listed below "The Usual Suspects," are the number of citizens since the Iraq War started who will never know the freedom to live, without which there is little point to any other freedoms. The fact that Ms Ferrera is dead wrong is proven by her not having been censored, nor blacklisted, nor ever having to suffer any sort of reprisal as a result of this public remark.

So, this week's Smack Across the Back of the Head with the Black Hat goes to America "Ugly Betty" Ferrera, even though it's not nice to hit a girl.

Hey, this is America. I get to misbehave too. You got a problem with that?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sermon for Shut-ins: Lent I

Much of the central and northeastern USA is being hit by snow today. I was lucky to get to church at all. Others may err on the side of caution, which is morally permissible given sufficient risk. For them, mwbh is on the job.

"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil..."
(Luke 4:1-13)

His Eminence Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, offers the first in a series of reflections for the Lenten season.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Another View

Hot Air has been covering the escapades of the case of The View, in particular the adolescent rants of panelist Rosie O'Donnell. This writer has occasionally watched select clips from the show, mostly out of curiosity as to the source of the excitement. Surely even Barbara Walters could do better than this.

Now comes an Asian poet named Beau Sia, who has a message for Rosie about her "ching chong" remarks from several weeks ago. Allahpundit thinks little of it: "Asians being pummelled by Louisville Sluggers while their assailants chant 'ching chong'? Either I missed that epidemic or this tool’s straining awfully hard for victimhood."

Well, the guy is a little over the top, but his message is not without merit.

You decide.

Friday, February 23, 2007

For this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy, mwbh presents the following:

Billy Collins, former US Poet Laureate and one of America's best-selling poets, reads his poem "The Dead" with animation by Juan Delcan of Spontaneous. Noted for their intelligent humor, accessibility and observations on daily life, Collins' popular poems come alive further in a series of animated poems produced by JWT New York.

Der Tommissar: The Prisoner of Love

Tommy Boy comes out of more than two months of hibernation at The Donegal Express to talk about the art of love, and the crazy things men do for it.

I knew a guy once, he met a girl and dropped out of college to move hundreds of miles to be with her. It was the stupidest thing I ever heard of...

I know another guy that most people would think was crazy. He was in love with someone who rejected Him. However, His love was so great that He took one of the worst beatings in history...

St Benedict loved God... One of the toughests temptations he faced was the memory of a beautiful woman he had met once. St Benedict overcame his thoughts for this woman by rolling around in a bush bristling with sharp thorns. To just about everyone else, this was lunacy. To St Benedict, it was love.

This brings us to Lent.

The Nomad Deluxe model by Fernandes Guitars

I feel better already, now that I don't have to give up blogging for a penance. There's that new guitar I wanted sooner rather than later. Lent is sooner, so it'll wait until later. And I'm just getting warmed up. Just don't expect me to roll around in the bushes anytime soon.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for lunch. I have to go to McDonald's and get me a couple of fish sandwiches.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

No I would not give you false hope...

On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away.

The Chair of Saint Peter

I mentioned today's Feast earlier. I was doing my routine blogroll during lunch, when I came across this stunning photograph taken by Father John Zuhlsdorf, of the great high altar at the Basilica of St Peter's in Rome. Just looking at it, you can almost imagine being there, bearing witness to this magnificent splendor ad majorem Dei gloriam. Click on it to see more, along with the good Father's usual erudite commentary.

Meanwhile, a rumbling in the distance. Could this be...?

Critical Mass: "Is there need of a new liturgical reform?"

This was the final question posed in an interview with Abbot Christopher Zielinski, of the Olivetan Abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Pecos, New Mexico. His response is a summation of the growing call for a liturgical counter-reformation (a "reform of the reform," as once termed by the former Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI). A text of the interview can be found at The New Liturgical Movement. The answer to the above question is thus:

I believe that the Dogmatic Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium was a response to a widely held conviction that the liturgy needed a reform. The Council Fathers were seeking to bring out the community aspects of the mass, as well as make it more effective in teaching the truths of the Catholic Faith. Unfortunately, the theological necessity for a continuity in the underlying doctrine and structure of the celebration of the Mass in its preconciliar and post conciliar forms had undergone a rupture or break with Tradition. That is what we are dealing with today. The Second Vatican Council clearly called for some modest reforms in the liturgy, but it intended them to be organic and clearly in continuity with the past. The Old Rite becomes a living treasure of the Church and also should provide a standard of worship, of mystery, and of catechesis toward which the celebrations of the Novus Ordo must move. In other words, the Tridentine Mass is the missing link. And unless it be re-discovered in all its faithful truth and beauty, the Novus Ordo will not respond to the organic growth and change that has characterized the liturgy from its beginning. This is what should be prompting many of us to the founding of a new liturgical movement which will be able to give back to the liturgy its sacramental and supernatural character, and awaken in us a faithful understanding of the Catholic Liturgy.

Sunday Liturgy at the Benedictine Monastery of Abu Ghoush, Israel.

Today is the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, one of the days upon which the "motu proprio" was supposed to be released. At least that was the word on the street -- again. As evening falls in Rome, and with the date having come and gone, all bets are now on Holy Thursday, which is on the fifth of April this year.

I'm not holding my breath, are you?

Founder's Day

Sir Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, Lord of Gilwell, Chief Scout of the World (Image courtesy of Wikipedia).
Sir Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, Lord of Gilwell, Chief Scout of the World (Image courtesy of Wikipedia).

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell was born in Paddington, London, England, on this day in 1857. He is the founder of the worldwide Scouting movement.

He developed a handbook called "Aids to Scouting," as a reconnaissance manual duing the Boer War, where its skills were brought to bear in defending a garrison at Mafeking for 217 days, until reinforcements arrived. After the war, and upon learning of the book's popularity with young boys seeking outdoor adventure, he re-worked it to his newfound audience, and re-titled it "Scouting for Boys." In August of that year, on an island off the English coast known as Brownsea, he led an experimental training camp for twenty boys of various walks of life. Dividing them into patrols, developing team-building exercises, and teaching various "scoutcraft" skills, the experiment was a success.

The rest, as they say, is history. Today is known as "Founder's Day" by Scouts around the world. Among Girl Guides (including Girl Scouts in the USA), it is also honored as the birthday of B-P's wife, Olave, the foundress of Girl Guiding, and is known as "Thinking Day." A century after the year of Brownsea, Scouting and Guiding now have a combined membership of over 38 million in 216 countries.

B-P died on 8 January 1941, and is buried in Nyeri, Kenya, near Mount Kenya. On his tombstone is the image of a circle with a dot in the center, the old trailmarker's sign meaning, "I have gone home."

More information on the "Chief Scout of the World" can be found at the Pine Tree Web site.

Scouts and Guides from different countries on World Scout Moot, Sweden, 1996 (Image courtesy of Wikipedia).
Scouts and Guides from different countries on World Scout Moot, Sweden, 1996 (Image courtesy of Wikipedia).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Egg on Trappists' Faces

This just in from the National Catholic Reporter:

Interior shot of the egg production facility at Mepkin Abbey. (Courtsey of PETA)
Interior shot of the egg production facility at Mepkin Abbey. (Courtsey of PETA)

Armed with the words of Pope Benedict XVI, an animal rights group is calling on a South Carolina Trappist monastery to shut down its egg production facility because, the group claims, the monks mistreat the monastery’s 38,000 hens.

In a press release, the Norfolk, Va - based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the group’s undercover investigation of Mepkin Abbey’s egg production facility “revealed shocking cruelty to chickens.”

I'm not making this up. Developing...

You giving up fries for Lent?

It is said, and rightfully so, that the Catholic Church has been the greatest contributor to Western Civilization; whether it's the Gregorian calendar, or double-digit accounting. (???) You can read more about this in a book by Dr Thomas E Woods Jr entitled How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Indeed, Her influence has been felt in some unique sectors of our culture. To wit...

When I was a kid growing up in Ohio, someone told us that the fish sandwich at McDonald's was invented by some (presumedly Catholic) guy who ran a franchise in the city, and wanted something for his Catholic customers to eat on Fridays. This was back when Friday abstinence was a year-round thing. (And it still is, strictly speaking, but that's another story.) I never saw the tale verified in print, until last Monday.

The Cincinnati Enquirer anticipated the Lenten season for its predominantly Catholic audience, by telling the story of Lou Groen, the man responsible for the filet in question.

Lou Groen opened the area's first McDonald's on North Bend Road in 1959, selling 15-cent hamburgers. In 1962, he added fish. (The Enquirer/Ernest Coleman)
Lou Groen opened the area's first McDonald's on North Bend Road in 1959, selling 15-cent hamburgers. In 1962, he added fish. (Photo by Ernest Coleman/The Enquirer)

Groen's restaurant was the Cincinnati area's first McDonald's. His problem: The clientele was heavily Catholic. Back then, most Catholics abstained from meat every Friday, not just during Lent, a 40-day period of repentance that begins this week with Ash Wednesday.

"Frisch's dominated the market, and they had a very good fish sandwich," recalled Groen, now 89.

"I was struggling. The crew was my wife, myself, and a man named George. I did repairs, swept floors, you name it.

"But that area was 87 percent Catholic. On Fridays we only took in about $75 a day," said Groen, a Catholic himself. "All our customers were going to Frisch's.

"So I invented my fish sandwich, developed a special batter, made the tartar sauce and took it to headquarters."

Apparently, he succeeded. In the USA alone, McDonald's buys more than 61 million pounds of fish per year for the sandwich. (The original was halibut, but the corporation went with whitefish, which was cheaper. It's all about the cost per unit, folks.) There are other fun facts in the article. It seems that franchise owner/operators were also responsible for the Big Mac and and Egg McMuffin.

Now you know (whether or not you care about) the rest of the story.

(Tip of the Black Hat to Rich Leonardi of Ten Reasons.)

Remember, man, that thou art dust...

Photo of Lenten procession from the archives of The New Liturgical Movement
Photo from the archives of The New Liturgical Movement

The buzz at Saint Blog's this week, at one place or another, is whether to give up blogging for Lent.

The idea behind "offering up" anything at all, is to be an exercise in self-denial, a symbolic form of suffering, so as to heighten the senses, and eventually the joy that is at suffering's end, which in this case would be the Paschal season. When you look at it that way, you begin to realize (or at least I do) that what you give up depends on where your excesses are, and how they need to be corrected. If blogging was like, oh, eating chocolate cake, I could see cutting back for awhile.

I remember a young lady who gave up her blog because she was getting married, and maintained that hers was a vocation "from which blogging detracts." She said it as though it would apply to the rest of us. Now, if she's on her third or fourth child by now, I'd say that she'd have a case for herself (if one that would cause many of Ms Welborn's readers to beg to differ). But only for herself. Most of us aren't so lucky, and so at the time I begged to differ. (Boy, did I catch hell from the button-down crowd for that one!)

And I also differ with those who invariably conclude that their weblog is only a mere indulgence of the appetites, to be denied as a form of self-mortification -- in which case, why do it at all? If one views their work as a form of apostolate, a means of witnessing to others, then what does it say when we give it up? Now, in the case of mwbh, I did shut down in late 2002, as I remember, for a pre-determined period of forty days. I was going through a bit of a rough patch back then, and definitely needed to turn inward. That's not the same as doing so on schedule every year.

There are a few blogs who can take a few months off and still keep their fan base. I'm reminded of one guy who did just that to finish a book he was writing. His latest combox continued to be filled right up until his return. I just don't see that happening here. But whether it did nor not, mwbh will continue to publish during "the acceptable time."

Far be it from me to desert my adoring public. Both of you.

Just when you thought money couldn't buy happiness...

...there comes a report that Tom Monaghan, former pizza guy and now Catholic philanthropist, is moving the Ave Maria Law School to Florida. Out of the goodness of his heart, no doubt.

The report in the online edition of the Detroit Free Press carries this one interesting comment from "Super Steve":

"When I think of Tom Monaghan, I remember how he used to fly over the unwashed masses entering Tiger Stadium in his Dominos helicopter. I remember 3rd baseman Darnell Coles in Tom's office sitting in a $160,000 chair and being told the team could not offer him a higher salary. What I remember most of all is the way the Tigers sacked Ernie Harwell, catapulting the team into nearly two decades of local shame and national embarassment.

"Tom had hot nuts for the Tampa/St Pete area way back when threatening to move the team was his strategy for getting a new ballpark built and now it's Naples. I think Tom simply realizes he's got no juice to get anything done in Michigan -- he's alienated all the power players -- and is betting his money will buy greater inlfuence elsewhere. Good luck and good riddance."

Hey, Steve, it can't be any worse than Reds' owner Marge Schott's dog leaving its, uh, calling card in the middle of the field between innings at Riverfront Stadium. But, I digress...

In the past two years, we've been hearing about the College (to graduate its last class this spring), the University (which never meant to have a glass-walled oratory, right?), the Town (if you can call it that). Is it just me, or does everything with the name "Ave Maria" attached to it have a certain "carry a big stick" quality?

Yeah, it's probably just me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Eh toi! MWBH's Ticker Tape Parade

We all remember that occasional feature of mwbh known as "I read the news today, oh boy...", don't we? Well, it will still be here with us. But as part of our Mardi Gras promotion, there is even more for the huddled masses yearning to keep up with the world.

Starting today, you'll see a news ticker powered by Google appearing below the title box. I learned about it from Dom. Now you don't have to go to those other Catholic blogs just to get links to wire stories, and you still have the benefits of sparkling wit and insightful commentary, that has already made mwbh your first (and dare I say the last?) stop in the Catholic blogosphere. Topics for now include the Catholic Church (since we're a Catholic blog and all that, so I figure, what the hey...), life, money, music, news, sports, and technology -- in that (alphabetical) order. More topics will be added each time an apple falls on my head, and I am once again inspired.

Soooo... get your news fix here today, and "laissez les bon temps roulez!"

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Not-So-Missing Link

The most recent column by Mark Abbott of Renew America is devoted in its entirety to an essay by Father James Farfaglia, a priest of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas. Farfaglia contends there is a link between the chaotic state of sacred worship, and the scandal of clerical sexual abuse. There are those who would take issue with his defense of the liturgical reform as officially implemented, citing problems inherent in the reform itself -- you know, that whole "reform of the reform" thing. Still, he gives a well-constructed overview of the situation, and provides a recommended reading list.

The good Father also tells us of the contention he witnessed in the parish of his youth, in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. But what is particularly troubling is his conversation as a young priest in 1988 with then-Bishop Walter Curtis of Bridgeport:

As I told Bishop Curtis that I was from Ridgefield, I sensed from his reaction he was only too well aware of this sad history. He looked embarrassed.

Bishop Curtis died in 1997. He had attended the entire Second Vatican Council and was known as an excellent orthodox moral theologian. Why, then, did his diocese fall apart after the council? Why is the Diocese of Bridgeport, like most of the dioceses in the Northeast, still an epicenter of clergy sexual and financial scandals, parish closings, and continual bizarre liturgical abuses?

Here's the answer.

At the end of our meeting as we stood at the threshold of his office door, Bishop Curtis turned to me and said: "Well, Jim, I never thought that it was my place to tell my priests what to do."

Farfaglia also defends the state of affairs in his current diocese of Corpus Christi, giving credit in large part to the work of former Bishop Rene Gracida. Now, this could be nothing, but I remember in the late 1980s seeing a picture of Bishop Gracida being attended by female altar servers. This would have been some years before their approval. (Funny how you remember little things like that, isn't it?) I realize that bishops are known to visit situations where things occur beyond their control, and have to keep smiling anyway. At least until the crowd leaves.

Like I said, this could be nothing.

Presidents and Other Bedfellows

Sculptures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln represent the first 150 years of American history. (From Wikipedia)

I'm old enough to remember two holidays in February; Washington's Birthday on the 22nd, and Lincoln's Birthday on the 12th. The Father and the Savior of Our Country, respectively. It was the least we could do. At some point, Congress decided we needed a three-day weekend, at least for some of us; banks, government offices, libraries, schools, places like that.

I'm also old enough to remember when Kennedy was shot, and exactly where I was and what I was doing. (Third grade, just got back from recess.) He was Catholic, and none had ever been President. Even so, my parents were not fans of the Kennedys, so I never grew up learning to admire him much either. The family all seemed to have a certain magic about them. But in 1960, Mom and Dad both voted for Nixon. I was going on six when I asked them how they could do a thing like that. Years later, when I lived in Georgetown, I would hear stories of how "Jack had a way with the ladies." Thirty years after his passing, the neighbors still talked about his days in Congress, how he would walk from his home at 3808 N Street to Martin's Tavern, and meet a different blonde every night. Seems he had a thing for blondes. (???) Oh, and for all the talk of his being Catholic, he never admitted to being very good at it.

Fast forward to the present. The Kennedy family would appear to endure more tragedy than most, but I would question that. Many families lose their loved ones, but very few do so with an audience, and it's harder to grieve when strangers are watching. You give up something for your notoriety. Some members of this family could be given some credit, having forsaken more lucrative careers (as if they needed the money, right?) for a life of "giving back."

ABC News reports that ex-Congressman Joseph Kennedy is helping poor families buy heating oil at bargain prices -- from Venezuela.

In a TV commercial, former Rep Joseph Kennedy stands aboard an oil tanker moving across the Boston skyline and promises that millions of gallons of discounted heating oil are on their way to poor, shivering families, courtesy of “our good friends in Venezuela.”

What he doesn’t mention is that those “good friends” include Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a socialist and staunch U.S. critic who famously called President Bush “the devil” in a speech last year at the United Nations.

The reference to Venezuela has led to accusations that Kennedy is a shill for Chavez.

And so, See Dubya of Hot Air shines a spotlight on strange bedfellows: "[T]hose price controls of Hugo’s ain’t working out to good. Funny that he would give us evil Americans a break on the oil price, while his own people starve and inflation spirals out of control."

There are plenty of fingers to point elsewhere in this case. Our own government had no difficulty dealing with Saddam when it suited them, only a few years before Bush the Elder was calling him "worse than Hitler." And few of us are going to lose any sleep buying appliances (and eventually automobiles) made in China. After all, capitalism brings democracy, right? The price of empire is not only getting your hands dirty with unsavory people; you become overextended to the point where you can't take care of your own. Or you placate them with "bread and circuses" to the point where they cannot take care of themselves. It's not hard to imagine the poor in uppity-rich-liberal Massachusetts buying heating oil at forty percent off, regardless of who's selling. Kennedy doesn't have the telegenic talents of the previous generations, and comes off a little too nervous in an interview with Neil Cavuto of Fox News. But still, he may be on to something.

Is Venezuela taking advantage of a situation? Probably. But so are the disadvantaged of the Northeast. They'd better make the most of it, before the disadvantaged of Venezuela decide the honeymoon with Hugo is over. They will soon enough.

Friday, February 16, 2007

And now, a word from someone else's sponsor...

(H/T to Mark Shea -- yeah, I stole it, like the rest of would never do such a thing. I'm outa here...)

My Other Favorite Jersey Girl

Malkin, having recovered from her experience with public speaking in the sixth grade. (Photo: Linda Davidson, The Washington Post)
Malkin, having recovered from her experience with public speaking class in the fifth grade. (Photo: Linda Davidson, The Washington Post)

Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the subject of a piece in The Washington Post today.

"She's a very tough lady," says Bryan Preston, her business partner in the daily video blog Hot Air. "You've never met a happier person than Michelle when she's in the thick of a fight. She enjoys the combat of ideas."

I'm a regular follower of her right-wing yahoo site Hot Air, and have seen her on The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News. Now, I don't agree with everything she writes. That book where she defends the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II, is a bit of a stretch (and the subject of another post; someone else's, not mine). On the other hand, it is to her credit how she connects a lot of dots in the public square, that many in her age group (or any other age group for that matter) don't have the guts or savvy to do.

She would appear to evoke sympathy because she is a young conservative and non-Caucasian. She should have tried being a young conservative in college in the mid-70s like I did, and see if she would have gotten half the accolades she has enjoyed today. Not that she didn't earn her stripes, mind you, but I can assure the former Miss Maglalang that the playing field began to level in her favor by the 1980s, or Reagan would never have been elected twice. What's more, most Filipino Americans I know who don't stray far from their roots tend to be very conservative, both socially and politically. No stereotype-breaker here, kids.

There are also those who say she's not a true journalist since she didn't pay her dues, but went straight to the opinion column career track. Something like that. One guy I read -- hey, I'm just relating here; you decide -- observed that she failed to ever 1) write an obituary, 2) cover a fire, or 3) cover a local election -- the supposed rites of passage for any practicioner of the craft. Of course, I don't even know if that's true. But even if it were, neither did I, and my readership is growing by leaps and bounds among the unsuspecting. (For the record, I'm not a journalist, I'm a writer. It's a distinction I've learned to live with.) Maybe some people have something to say that's worth dropping everything to read, ever stop to think about that? Besides, you don't see anyone from the Post whining about how Ana Marie Cox (the original "Wonkette") got where she is today, do you?

Keep it up, Mrs Malkin. A girl could do worse.

[H/T to See-Dubya of Hot Air. UPDATE: The Post article ends by Malkin describing hers as a "lonely existence." A poor choice of words, albeit a rare occurance. Her existence is precarious, perhaps, and even then by her own choosing. No, "lonely" is when her kids get uprooted after she breaks the Big Exposé. Here's hoping for their sake she's not too successful.]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


A lone young shepherd lived in pain
withdrawn from pleasure and contentment,
his thoughts fixed on a shepherd-girl
his heart an open wound with love.

He weeps, but not from the wound of love,
there is no pain in such affliction,
even though the heart is pierced;
he weeps in knowing he's been forgotten.

That one thought: his shining one
has forgotten him, is such great pain
that he bows to brutal handling in a foreign land,
his heart an open wound with love.

The shepherd says: I pity the one
who draws herself back from my love,
and does not seek the joy of my presence,
though my heart is an open wound with love for her.

After a long time he climbed a tree,
and spread his shining arms,
and hung by them, and died,
his heart an open wound with love.

-- Saint John of the Cross (1542-91)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What is a camel?

(Another installment in the occasional "Catholics Are Stupid" series.)

A horse designed by a committee.

The point of the joke is to illustrate what happens when people stop thinking for themselves, and spend most of their time wondering what the guy next to them thinks. If you've ever watched an annual meeting of the American bishops, you've got the idea.

Rich Leonardi wonders out loud about their sense of priorities:

In 2004, a full two decades after Mario Cuomo taught pro-abortion Catholic politicians how to use Catholic universities as campaign props, the bishops' conference issued a statement criticizing the practice.

In 2006, almost a decade and a half after Pope John Paul II promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the bishops released the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

In 2007, less than two weeks after a stacked UN panel circulated an excerpt from an unreleased report on global warming, the bishops urged Congress to take action.

It's reassuring to know they can "act with urgency" when the occasion requires it.

That's the way Rich sees it. But let's step back for a moment...

Years ago, I had press privileges for the bishops' conference. There was one year when Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln was making his unique presence known. Members of the press would obviously not be allowed in the meetings, and they did not get to watch closed sessions on the viewscreen. But we'd see them leave, and go about from one part of the hotel to another. Several of them walked by one evening; Bruskewitz in front, and three or four others behind him, ribbing him mercilessly, if only in fun, about whatever it was he said in that room. Something no one else would have had the nerve to say out loud.

They say the priesthood can be a lonely way of life. If it is, being a bishop can be even lonelier. All the more reason to get along by going along. Even where the rest of us are concerned, consider the difficulty of agreeing on something once enough people get involved. Consider also how (getting back to them again) many of these guys don't get where they are by being too sharp, so much as offending the least number of people. Now, consider the need, not just to do something, but to assure the rest of the world -- including Rome -- that something is being done. It's not hard for the lot of them to agree that global warming is bad. Then again, how to translate the Mass into English, how to teach the hard parts of the Faith, how to think for your damn self...

But it's getting easier, with one bishop after another drawing the line where it hurts. Politicians who favor "abortion rights" are starting to feel the pinch. A dramatic transformation won't happen overnight, not with a few of the old status quo still in control, but it will happen.

Otherwise, Rich would still be waiting for the above. So would the rest of us. Including Rome.

[FOOTNOTE: For the purpose of this series, Rich is the smart one. That would leave...]

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Day at the Races

On this day in 1809, Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, was born at Nolin Creek, Kentucky, in the southeast part of Hardin County, what is now part of LaRue County. Exactly one hundred years later, as if to remember "the man who freed the slaves" (although scholars might consider it more complicated than that), The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded.*

It seems appropriate that February be designated as African-American History Month, and that we remember the contributions made to society by a proud and noble race.

Then again, lest we forget...

Cynthia McKinney lost the bid for her congressional seat last year. She was the congresswoman who decked a US Capitol Police officer for laying so much as a hand on her, after she failed to stop for proper verification, only after being asked three times to do so! Now, most of us who enter a Federal building know the drill; you empty your pockets, you go through the metal detector, you might have to go through again, you might be reminded by the contract guard that you're holding things up because you have to put your belt back on so your pants won't fall down because they're too damn lazy to use the wand... all of which is to ensure the safety of the Federal workplace, but none of which will impede the progress of a commercial jetliner.

Or a public official of the appropriate demographic.

Michelle Malkin of Hot Air, from a webcast of August 2006.

There is no question that Americans of African descent have had to contend with a form of second-class citizenship until recently. As an American of European ancestry, I cannot claim to be an expert on being Black in America. But mere observation after over a quarter of a century on the Federal payroll, has shown how some members of a younger generation are seeking "the dream" for which their parents and grandparents marched, suffered, and in some cases, died.

And so, I will present two examples from the Federal workforce. Their names are changed, but their stories are true.

Leon was hired while an art major in college to intern at a design office of a Federal government agency. As an exceptionally bright and talented young man, he showed great promise at the offset. Without a college degree, he was classified as a "clerk-typist" at a lower pay grade. Upon graduation, he petitioned to be reclassified according to his proper duties, and at a higher pay grade. His supervisor, a white male, kept putting him off. So Leon took matters into his own hands and filed an EEO complaint. In the meantime, he refused to do anything other than strictly "clerk-typist" duties. After increasing the workload of his co-workers, as well as the tension in the office, he lost the complaint, but managed to get his promotion. In the years that followed, there were other incidents of latitude. At a general meeting with a top-level agency official, Leon acted disrespectfully toward her in the course of a disagreement, in front of the entire staff. Nothing happened to him. A few years later, he was even considered for a promotion, on equal footing with a white male with twice the experience, and no such record of behavior. (Both lost to an outside appointment.)

Lawanda was a very capable procurement agent and contracting specialist. There was some loose talk that she had "an attitude problem," thus was fair to say that she was no shrinking violet, but in any case was transferred from elsewhere in the same agency, to the same office as that of Leon. Lawanda certainly got the job done -- when she showed up. This was usually up to two hours past the appointed arrival time, followed by leaving at least one hour early. This went on nearly every workday for several years. Yet she proved invaluable to her supervisor, by this time a black male, who appeared from the outside not to hold this shortcoming against her, beyond lip service at staff meetings. It certainly was not an issue when, upon being transferred out of the office in question, she was promoted to a rank over her former co-workers and given a private office. There is reason to believe she presently keeps a more responsible schedule. (We can only hope.)

In their glory days, both would stand by their cubicles, complaining of the injustices imposed on them in their careers on account of their race, bellowing in a manner loud enough for everyone to hear. In recent years, the outcry has ceased. Perhaps there was no one left to listen. These days, Leon appears to keep his own hours, coming and going at irregular times, no doubt putting in an honest week's work, if on his own terms. Lawanda is now an important person in her organization. Inasmuch as false reporting of time and attendance in the Federal workplace is a felony, you'd never know of her humble beginnings.

An African American drinks out of a segregated water cooler designated for 'colored' patrons in 1939 at a streetcar terminal in Oklahoma City. (USDA Photo)
An African American drinks out of a segregated water cooler designated for "colored" patrons in 1939 at a streetcar terminal in Oklahoma City. (USDA Photo)

For both of these young people, whose parents and grandparents suffered indignities that they could not imagine, there could be mitigating circumstances. Perhaps there always has been. Then again, perhaps there never had to be.

It has to be tiring after awhile, for everybody. That guy you've been working alongside for years, through thick and thin, stops being a black man or a white man, and is simply a man. He earns a just wage at the end of the week, and deserves the prize for going above and beyond. If he's the man in charge, you'd follow him anywhere. He'd do the same for you. That's how it should be.

But then, just when you feel that we, as a nation, have "overcome, you discover that one double standard is replaced by another. It's perfectly alright to call a white man a "cracker," whether in the office, or on television. But we can't use "the 'n' word" anymore, even though young men of color use it among themselves. (Ever have to sit through a lab session at school and listen to "n" this and "n" that for ten or fifteen minutes?) It's also perfectly alright for Ms McKinney's security detail to use ethnic slurs against whites and Jews. It gets them on the news, so it must be perfectly respectable, right? Is this what the Freedom Riders died for, so people could act like slobs in public? Is this why Dr King risked his life, so that others could behave as if they were raised by wolves?

Don't believe me? Click on this.

I do not doubt that a successful man or woman of color might have more difficulty than their white counterpart, with flagging down a cab in the Nation's capital. In twenty-six years, I have come to know and respect quite a few of them. But if what I've described above is how some have learned to get ahead, what is to be gained by any sympathy toward them? Has "the dream" been realized, or merely replaced by a fleeting and hollow victory? Meanwhile, as the Federal workforce becomes more diversified, not only will there be less need to resort to "playing the victim," but we can hope that such connivance will be stopped in its tracks, by those who overcame the same obstacles... honestly.

Obviously, the voters of Georgia's 4th Congressional District decided their time had come. Like the song goes: "Free at last, free at last..."


* Contrary to popular belief, the NAACP was originally founded not only for the advocacy of African-Americans, but also Asian-Americans, Jews, and Native Americans. I looked it up at Wikipedia. Anybody got a problem with that?

Further Consideration

This week, the nominations for the 2007 Catholic Blog Awards have been posted, and everybody gets a chance to make their mark in the Catholic blogosphere.

It is clear that some of you enjoy living dangerously, since I was nominated in eight categories, including; Best Designed (in which case the fresh color scheme introduced last month really paid off), Best Individual, Best Insider News (huh?), Best Overall, Best Political/Social Commentary, Best Written (the least one of you could do), Funniest, and (lest we forget) Smartest. Of course, I had no idea there would be so many nominees. Maybe they've always had anywhere from 34 to 107 in each category. On the other hand, maybe this is a devious plot to circumvent my rise to fame and glory at the behest of an adoring public. We may never know.

But it would appear that the organizers of this event have seen my recent commentary on their endeavor, and are determined that I continue to have a reason to complain. They are clearly not ones to disappoint. In every category, I am listed as "Man with a Black Hat." This happens from time to time. I'm either "The Man in the Black Hat," "The Man in a Black Hat," or any combination of words but my own. There was a religious news service I wrote for a couple years ago that could never get it right, so I decided I was better off doing my own spelling, than repeating myself to some yutz halfway across the planet with a short attention span.

Once more, the trademark is...

man with black hat

man. with. black. hat. Four words. All lower case. Can you say "marketing device"? Now, breath deeply...

On a more promising note, the huddled masses chose not to nominate me for "Most Spiritual." This takes a lot of pressure off me, and I'm not very good under pressure. (see above.) Remember, consider your vote carefully. And after three days of prayer and fasting, you'll know in your heart that you need look no further. (Hey, where are you... no, DON'T CLICK THAT!!!)

[VALENTINE'S DAY UPDATE: I have been informed by the CBA people, after discovering that the link to my site was incorrect as well, that my blog name was posted as submitted. They immediately corrected the problem, and now I've got the same shot as the thousands of other nominees. One can only imagine how caught up in the moment was my adoring public, that they failed to double-check. Fortunately, I am generous in my forgiveness. Just this once.]

Grammys: Ready to Make Nice?

The Grammy Awards were on last night. There was a time when a broader variety of categories were featured, as popular music artists would step aside for the presentation of classical or opera awards. These days, it's one set of skanks after another, as the less mainstream categories are shown in a series of "grips and grins" from earlier in the day. So this writer waits to read about it in the papers the next morning.

As most people know, the Dixie Chicks walked away with five awards, including Record, Song, and Country Album of the Year, all in connection with their latest hit, "Not Ready to Make Nice," from their album "Taking the Long Way." "NRTMN" was their response to the backlash from country music fans after their antiwar statements. A casual observation would betray an irony that the Chicklets would win anything country, when they have taken pains not to classify themselves that way anymore. But one should remember that this is not a tribute from Nashville, but from Hollywood. So where country music really matters, and to a fan base that is traditionally patriotic to a fault, this doesn't matter anyway. It comes down to the music itself, and that some will accept their artistic merits and set the politics aside, while others will not.

Nor does it matter much that Jimmy Sturr, the pre-eminent polka artist of America, won Best Polka Album ("Polka in Paradise"), as he has nearly every year for nearly a quarter of a century. (A rare exception was the north Texas-based Brave Combo, who seized the title in 2000 for "Polkasonic.") On the other hand, it was a relief to read that Bruce Springsteen won Best Traditional Folk Album for "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions." An interesting comeback was Ike Turner, who took Best Traditional Blues Album for "Risin' With The Blues." Bryan Sutton and Doc Watson won Best Country Instrumental Performance for a fiddler's classic "Whiskey Before Breakfast." As if to prove he isn't out of the game, Bob Dylan took Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album for "Modern Times." (So there's a category for "Americana" now. Hmmm...) Meanwhile, the award for Best Reggae Album went to -- who else? -- Ziggy Marley ("Love Is My Religion"), and The Klezmatics won Best Contemporary World Music Album ("Wonder Wheel").

There were some interesting developments outside the "roots music" realm, at least where yours truly was concerned. Bryn Terfel, that dashing teddy-bear of a Welshman (Isn't that right, girls?), snapped up Best Classical Crossover Album for "Simple Gifts" with the London Voices and London Symphony Orchestra. Finally, the hometown Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, through its engineer Michael Bishop, won Best Engineered Album, Classical, for "Elgar: Enigma Variations; Britten: the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Four Sea Interludes."

Finally, Natalie Maimes announced that she's "ready to make nice" now. It's the very least she could do, dontcha think?

Or don't you?

Sunday, February 11, 2007


It had been decided, in the middle of the semester, that all Catholic children in the one-room schools were to attend parochial schools in the towns. There was now school-bus service to Fayetteville and we wouldn't have to walk as the older girls had, but I still hated to leave Quinn's.

My throat felt tight as the derisive farewell shouts followed us down the road, "So long, Catlickers!" and "There go the stuck-up crossbacks!" They were the friends that had shared my lunch and crayons, my good times and bad, the very same ones, I told Mother.

"It's just because they don't understand," she said.

-- from The Lark's on the Wing, by Mary Carlier, 1955

It is a word that was occasionally used to refer to Catholics. The countryside to the east of Cincinnati was originally settled by Methodists, and the town in that area where I was raised is dominated by them to this day. By the time I was starting school in the early 1960s, the term wasn't heard much, but I know I heard it at least once, at my expense. Where a local businessman was expected to join the local Masons lodge to gain respectability on Main Street, the occasional snide at the expense of some of your neighbors would have been understood. The way it was handled was quintessentially Midwestern; you didn't toot your horn too loud on certain matters. Like the time Mom called the three of us to the dinner table to admonish us on two particular matters; one was talking to strangers, the other was talking about religion to our non-Catholic friends.

Yep, right up there with getting kidnapped.

Members of the so-called "religious right" like to tout America as a "Christian nation," or when they're in an open-minded mood, a "Judeo-Christian nation." To the extent that any sectarian beliefs played a role in its formation, the plain fact is that the USA is more accurately known as a Protestant nation.*

This is an important consideration, as it should surprise no one that a campaign worker for Democratic candidate John Edwards would publish the following screed against a belief system held by twenty-one percent of the American population:

"Q: What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit?

"A: You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology."

It gets worse.

"I suspect Pope Ratz will give into the urge eventually to come out and say there’s no limbo and unbaptized babies go straight to hell. He can’t help it; he’s just a dictator like that. Hey, fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, the Pope’s gotta tell women who give birth to stillborns that their babies are cast into Satan’s maw. The alternative is to let Catholic women who get abortions feel that it’ll all work out in the end, which is just not doable, due to that Jesus-like compassion the Pope is so fond of. Still, it’s going to be bad PR for the church, so you can sort of see why the Pope is dragging ass."

My fellow "St Blog's parishioners" are outraged, as well they should be. But they should not be astounded that such outrage is downplayed by the candidate. Edwards is not the fool we take him to be, at least not here. He knows that prominent Catholics of similar political slant will bend over backwards to ignore this gaff. They will not defend their purported convictions, but will sacrifice them on the altar that is the status quo, leaving such identification for the mere lip service while the cameras are rolling at public events, the "grips and grins" photo ops between prelates and politicos that grace the more tepid segments of the Catholic press. If they would consign the innocent unborn to a horrible death sentence, how much easier to dismiss such vile insults as mere "campaign rhetoric."

After all, it's not as if we were insulting Muslims, right?


* This is not to be confused with the original settlement of the land that is now "America," which was mostly the work of the Spaniards, who brought the True Faith to the new world before the English had a chance to bring much else. Gary Potter elaborates in a piece entitled "When America Was Catholic." This inclusion should not be construed to mean that this writer is an apologist for the group that posts the article, or their founder.

Friday, February 09, 2007

I'll know my midterm grade in Scripting Languages class next Monday. Until then, we've already been given our major assignment for the second half of the term.

"Create a simple business-to-customer web site with the following functionalities... [A] list of available products (minimum ten) with one product per line... When the add-to-cart image is clicked the product is added to the user cart... The page contains a check-out button when the user is done shopping... Next a page containing all the products... the total price will be displayed... The page will ask the user for [name, phone, address], credit card number..."

Credit card number??? I can hardly wait.

On this day in 1964...

On this day in 1895...

...the game of volleyball was invented. From the FreeDictionary:

"[I]n Holyoke, Massachusetts, William G Morgan, a YMCA physical education director, created a new game called Mintonette as a pastime to be played preferably indoors and by any number of players. The game took some of its characteristics from tennis and handball. Another indoor sport, basketball, was catching on in the area, having been invented just ten miles (sixteen kilometres) away in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts only four years before. Mintonette (as volleyball was then known) was designed to be an indoor sport less rough than basketball for older members of the YMCA, while still requiring a bit of athletic effort."

Actually, the game has taken on a more aggressive form. "Power volleyball" has caught on in the USA, at interscholastic and intervarsity levels, if more among girls than among boys, and in more recent years at the Olympics. My brother has served as a coach at a Catholic boys high school, and most of my family has played the game at some competitive level. I'm probably one of the few who hasn't.

An image from an international match between Italy and Russia in 2005. A Russian player on the left has just served, with three men of his team next to the net moving to their assigned block positions from the starting ones. Two others, in the back-row positions, are preparing for defense. Italy, on the right, has three men in a line, each preparing to pass if the ball will reach him. The setter is waiting for their pass while the middle hitter with no. 10 will jump for a quick hit if the pass will be good enough. Alessandro Fei (number 14) has no passing duties and is preparing for a back-row hit on the right side of the field. Note the two liberos with different color dress. Middle hitters/blockers are commonly substituted by liberos in their back-row positions.
An image from an international match between Italy and Russia in 2005. Click on the image for details of the game depicted. (Foto scattata da il 11/09/2005 al PalaLottomatica di Roma.)

I was more into hiking, camping and canoeing when I was a lad. Then there was karate in the 1980s. These days I'm more of -- what else? -- "a song and dance man." (See previous entry.)

Long Distance from Manila

I was getting ready to leave the house this morning when "Sal" called from a hotel in the heart of Metro Manila. She returned to the Philippines after nearly five years absent. She hadn't gotten any sleep in over 24 hours, what with her three (drop-dead gorgeous) daughters falling over her, and greeting throngs of well-wishers from all corners of the City. Even as she called, she was getting a manicure. I ask you, when does a busy girl get any rest?

I took her to the airport early on Wednesday morning. When she called me this morning, it was already this evening, as they're exactly thirteen hours ahead of the eastern USA. She will be gone for five weeks, not a day longer. That's what she told me anyway, and it's the least she could do after I got her that matching set of luggage for Christmas.

I have to admit, I'm going to miss her while she's gone. I don't suppose anyone can blame me.

February 2004

Thursday, February 08, 2007

On My Honor

Young Life Scout Indiana Jones (River Phoenix) holding the Cross of Coronado in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Young Life Scout Indiana Jones (River Phoenix) holding the Cross of Coronado in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

On this date in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was incorporated.

Its chief founder was a Chicago businessman named William D Boyce, who learned of the Scouting movement while on a business trip to England.

The story goes that Boyce found himself on the streets on London, lost in a "pea soup" fog. A boy walking by saw his predicament, and offered to direct him to his address. Upon arrival at his destination, Boyce attempted to give him a gratuity. The boy refused, saying that as a Boy Scout, he could not accept a reward for doing a good turn. This intrigued Boyce, who wanted to know more, so the boy also referred him to the Boy Scout headquarters elsewhere in London.

Boyce brought back a wealth of material with him. The corporation was established with the assistance of YMCA leaders, and two avid outdoorsmen named Daniel Carter Beard and Ernest Thompson Seton. Shortly thereafter, Boyce left the BSA to pursue other ventures, and a Washington attorney named James E West took over as the first "chief scout executive." His administrative prowess gave the BSA the sureness of organizational footing that has carried it to the present day, as the largest national scouting organization in the world. On the downside, West wasn't much of an outdoorsman, which made for numerous disagreements with both Beard and Seton.

Who was the "Unknown Scout" who helped Boyce? He disappeared before anyone could learn his name, and a nationwide search did not move him to come forward. There have been suggestions that the story was largely, if not entirely, fabricated by a man who wanted to lend a mystique to Scouting's origins in America. Nevertheless, years later, the Unknown Scout was the recipient in absentia of the BSA's highest adult service award, the Silver Buffalo. The Prince of Wales received it on the mystery lad's behalf.


If Boyce was the founder of the BSA, another man of more recent times could be considered its savior. William "Green Bar Bill" Harcourt was an advisor to the BSA for many years, and after a failed attempt to modernize the program in the early 1970s, came out of retirement to return the BSA Handbook to its more traditional focus. "Outing is three-fourths of Scouting," so the saying goes. It is a major component of the method, one by which character development and self-reliance are taught. Throughout the month of February, mwbh will be devoting several essays on various aspects of the Scouting movement, and what Scouting has meant to the author, from his boyhood to the present day.

Many famous Americans have been in Scouting. 3 Boy Scouts out of 100 eventually earn its highest award, Eagle Scout. One USA president, the late Gerald Ford, is an Eagle. (Contrary to popular opinion, John Kennedy only went as far as Star Scout, one rank above First Class.) The first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, is also an Eagle Scout. Other notable Eagles include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, some guy named Michael Moore (no kidding!), former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Antarctic explorer Paul Siple, film director Stephen Spielberg (who helped established the Cinematography merit badge), and so many others.

Including this one...

DLA in full Scout uniform, 2007

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What is a dollar worth?

That's a question for which the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has an answer. They have introduced a Consumer Price Index Calculator. I tried an example:

If in 1974, I bought a gallon of gasoline at $0.99 (and I remember the shock of it going into three digits back then), then in 2007, the same gallon of gasoline would cost... $4.13. I remember when Dom was talking about the price of gasoline a while back, how when adjusted for inflation, it was actually cheaper now. And when increased fuel efficiency is taken into account, the present situation is looking even better.

I tried another one. When I first came to DC in 1980, my starting salary was $12,266, and it was just enough to support myself, living in a high-rise efficiency at $290/month. Were that episode to occur this year, I would appear to require $30,590, and that same apartment would run for $725/month. Theoretically.

But in fact, I'd be lucky to get it for under $1000. That's when the news gets bad.

The last time I bought a house was in 1983, for $86K. It should have sold in 1991 for just under $118K, but in fact it sold for $140K. In 2007 -- again, using only the cost of living as a guide with 1983 as a base -- it should cost just under $178K. In fact, even with the housing bubble deflating steadily around town, I would still be paying at least $250-300K.

I guess inflation isn't everything, is it? There is still that nagging problem with the issue of affordable housing. At this writing, the next installment on that subject is very much in preparation (with a lot of details to organize, you know?), and it should be up this week, or early next week at the latest. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mary Alexander: Domestic Goddess

Mrs A (no relation) writes about the comeback of the homemaker. Well, actually she never left. But she took a pounding for a long time, and it really wasn't fair.
Credit: Acclaim Images

"Somewhere along the way I got a clue, married the prince from Cinderella and began to have children. A fair number of them... Just when the feminists thought that they had driven every housewife from the shores of the new land something very strange happened. Home Comforts, Martha Stewart, Desperate Housewives, Crafts, Scrapbooking, and homestyle honest-to-goodness- from scratch cooking... Housekeeping is nearly all the rage..."

This writer has no quarrel with women in the workplace, earning the same as men and all that. But until they find a way for men to get pregnant -- one that doesn't involve unnatural surgical procedures, or is dangerous, or is just plain stupid -- sooner or later it's gonna come down to this.

Home School Hints

(Oh, I know what you're thinking. This is some cheap attempt to get points during nominations week by catering to the Catholic homeschool crowd. The world may never know...)

I came across what looks like a valuable resource today. Best of History Web Sites is, to read their account of it...

" award-winning portal that contains annotated links to over 1000 history web sites as well as links to hundreds of quality K-12 history lesson plans, history teacher guides, history activities, history games, history quizzes, and more. BOHWS has been recommended by The Chronicle of Higher Education, The National Council for the Social Studies, The British Library Net, The New York Public Library, the BBC, Princeton University, -- and many others."

Personally, I think some foreknowledge of history is helpful in situations like this, since history tends to be written by the victors, and in the case of Western Civilization, most of the victors in recent centuries have been Protestant. But you already knew that, right?

I figured it out for myself after watching The History Channel on cable often enough to raise an eyebrow when they discuss the Middle Ages. But when it comes to the American Civil War and World War II, they really can't be beat.

I was dreaming when I wrote this...

In case you missed the halftime performance last Sunday, this is the press conference for (The Artist Formerly Known As) Prince -- or, technically, Prince Rogers Nelson, born 7 June 1958.

The guy obviously has an inflated view of himself, it's true, but there's no denying he's a really good guitar player. (Content Warning: Girls dancing and wearing slightly more than the figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.)

(H/T to Ian of Hot Air.)

For Your (Hah!) Consideration

It's that time again, kids, when the gang at CyberCatholics calls for nominations for this year's Catholic Blog Awards.

When television first became commercially available, most of the expertise and talent came from those who crossed over from radio. Even by the 1970s, a few actors who had long made their mark on stage and screen would eschew the novelty that was television. (Jack Cassidy, husband of Shirley Jones and father of David Cassidy, is one holdout who comes to mind.) Likewise, with the advent of the weblog, the best and the brightest (and most-often viewed or touted) are already successful writers and authors in the print media. I submit that the medium known as the weblog has yet to mature to the point, where some heretofore unknown without a publisher-agent could reach critical acclaim, and on the merits of said medium alone.

Don't believe me?

Then try to find an article on "Catholic blogs" that does not mention the same one or two individuals (and you know who you are, dahhh-lings!). My point -- and it is my ONLY point -- is that one cannot claim the internet has come on its own as a tool for getting the Catholic message across. Not when it is predominated by those who are already well established in other related media. And once you concede that, you also have to concede that an award for excellence in that medium may not be saying much.

UNLESS... you're prepared to take your criterion to the next level.

(DISCLAIMER: This is not about any particular person; this is about the phenomenon itself. If you think someone is being singled out or picked on here, you're obviously not reading very closely, so you may as well stop now, since it won't get any easier.)

Last year, I established a profile of the majority of potential winners. But the last crop of awardees may have put some of those pre-conceived notions to rest. Just barely, mind you. That means I might have been wrong. It can happen.

At the same time, I may have been doing something right. Since I began mwbh in June of 2002, last year was my best ever for readership and comments/response, and 2007 is already looking better. I'm getting as many as one thousand views in a given week. In mid-January, during the week of "Biting the Hand," it was nearly double that. (For that post, I got 34 comments, not counting 5 of my own!) That's a drop in the bucket for some of you big-time yahoos, but for me it's a windfall. This increases the possibility, however remote, that I might be nominated for an Award. Being named a mere finalist would be enough to move me up the food chain that is the Catholic blogosphere. I might get more than a hundred views a day, every day. Maybe two hundred. Maybe (gasp!) hundreds. Next thing you know, I'll move on to the big time, speaking across town at Ladies' Sodality meetings.

And so, people so inclined as to forward my name to the esteemed panel should be aware of the larger ramifications of such a decision. There are considerable risks involved. I have counted seven:

1) Any medium of mass entertainment (and I use the term "entertainment" very broadly here) relies to a great degree on something called "the formula." This is especially obvious in commercial radio, but it shows up elsewhere as well. Producers and purveyors look for the comfort zone of their target audience, and aim toward the middle. To that end, I don't exactly fit the "Roman Catholic poster child" mold. No, I don't mean that I'm a sinner and others are not. That's beside the point. I don't have that fresh-shaven face and button-down demeanor, with an adorable, devoted wife and five or six obedient children wearing matching outfits. There are also no stories in passing of loading the kiddies into the van for soccer games, or staying up nights to watch the youngest one with a cold. Oh, we can all say we're our own person, very unique in God's eyes and all that, and that we all have our own crosses to bear. But it's not how we're different from the viewer that draws them to read us; it's how much they can identify with us. I'm fifty-two, with a grownup ex-Catholic son -- personally, I think he's bluffing -- who sort of lives with me, following several years of estrangement. Not the kind of guy the Knights of Columbus will nominate as "family man of the year" anytime soon. Where is the inspiration in that, I ask you?

2) An occasion to remarry in the Church is obviously the result of an "automatic" process where tribunals spit annulments out like a Pez dispenser -- a process which, in turn, would have been undertaken while forsaking that of praying for ten or twenty years that my wayward spouse would return to me. (Think that's gonna happen? Fine, YOU try living with her!) In the meantime, I am very likely up to every manner of wickedness, which all of you are too polite to mention. (Thank you very much, by the way.)

3) I do not have some adult conversion story involving a perilously misspent youth which I can now parlay into a book deal and a lecture tour on why I have seen the light, and how you can too. The truth is that my quest for virtue has been pretty dull, really, never mind successful enough for mass consumption. It could be because I never stopped going to Mass, not even while in college. Could be, mind you. We may never know until... well, you know. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on my level of virtue.

4) In fact, I don't parlay much of anything into a book deal and lecture tour. Not that I wouldn't want to someday. But many years ago, before the internet, I made the conscious decision to pursue a professional career with a large institution, one that provided for a wife and family, later one that provided regular child support payments for sixteen years, and now provides for regular mortgage payments. Trying to live the faith while living a normal life without hanging around a rectory every other weeknight for a meeting. Knowing that at no time before the Second Coming will some guy wearing the famous Black Hat -- birettas notwithstanding -- will ever appear on EWTN.* (Still waiting by the phone, though, just in case.)

5) I don't jump on every story that hits the Catholic blogosphere within the same news cycle. Don't ask me how, but others have time for that. There appears to be a demand for posting links to a dozen stories a day and connecting them to clever witticisms, and doing that day after day. Maybe I just don't have the gift. What I do have, is the unmitigated gall to wait until they've all finished re-hashing the press releases, not to mention each other, and then provide some semblance of a thoughtful analysis. Occasionally something that a few people have missed, like... oh, the big picture, maybe. In fact, if you didn't know better, you would think that I had done some serious reading on the subject. Or even had a mind of my own.

6) When it comes to assisting at Holy Mass, I'm not exactly groovin' to that rockin' Steubenville Sound (and some of you know exactly what I mean), nor am I totally in with the Tridentine-Mass-or-die crowd (having been banned for life from one related e-mail list because the moderator is a twit!). There goes two voting blocks right there. That's because, in matters of Catholic worship, I am clearly one of those "reform of the reform" guys, employing a term obviously coined by some crackpot theoretician to prolong worthless polemics and otherwise reinvent the wheel. (By the way, he's now the Pope.)

7) My weblog is not generously decorated with pictures of John Paul II (whom I thought I'd wait for the Church to canonize before I did), Mother Teresa, and other Catholic luminaries. It is, however, decorated with me. (It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.) In fact, to know this would qualify as a "Catholic" blog, you'd probably have to break down and read it. That's when you'd discover the possibility that being Catholic, in the words of writer Thomas Storck, "can involve more than avoiding sin and exercising virtue." There is also the danger of actually learning something about the Faith that comes from reading too much for your own good. That's why I do it, to save you the trouble.

Those are seven good reasons not to nominate me. HOWEVER... if you can manage to ignore all of them, and take the broad leap of faith in considering this weblog on its own merits, then together we just might do something original.

Then again, why do that, when you can be like everybody else?

You have been warned.


* Not that I couldn't win over a crowd of two hundred for an hour. But it might in part involve my guitar, a harmonica strapped to a neck harness, and an evening peppered with what the handbills term "blues, ballads, and bad jokes."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Monday Morning Quarterback

I was never what you would call a "jock."

As a boy, I played baseball, basketball, and football. I got out of school in the fourth grade for the Cincinnati Reds' opening day game at old Crosley Field. (I can still remember in the late '50s when they were known as the "Redlegs.") At a winter scout camp, we played football out in the pasture one afternoon, as the Milford (Troop 120) Sewersuckers flushed out the Goshen (Troop 732) Greasers. It was a blast. Later, in high school, I went to Cincinnati Gardens, and watched a kid from Atlanta named "Pistol Pete" do his razzle-dazzle style of basketball against the Royals, before the latter went on to Kansas City.

But while I enjoyed playing, I was never that good at it. Not that I didn't try at one time or another. But some things just take a "fire in the belly," and I didn't have it. Nor did I have the aptitude to keep up with the scores, the stats, the major debates of the day. It also didn't help that I lacked a certain, uh, social grace.

There were other kids in my hometown of Milford, Ohio, who went on to play professionally:

* Barry Bonnell would play for the Phillies, the Braves, the Blue Jays, and finally the Mariners. He retired in the mid-1980s. Last I heard, he devotes his time to charity work. We were about the same age, but he went to the public school and hung with the cool people. What can I tell ya?

* Randy Haefner went on to Notre Dame, where for the first time in his life everyone around him was taller. He played pro basketball in Europe, got a position as a player-coach for the national sports federation in Saudi Arabia, and at last report, he was living in Gibraltar. Our families were actually very close for years.

* Steve Sylvester played for the Oakland Raiders from 1975-85 and was a three-time Super Bowl winner. He was several years older than me, so I knew very little about him. It's safe to say he knew even less about me. But we went to the same Catholic grade school.

Those are just a few of them. There were at least two others from Milford who went on to the Olympics. I knew them as kids; popular, never at a loss for female companionship (whether they knew what to do with them or not). But I was never really one of them. And to this day, when the Super Bowl is on, I might watch for a little while -- this year I caught several minutes of the fourth quarter -- but if I ever watch at any length, it's for the commercials. I saw them on the web this year, on the morning after (with h/t to Allahpundit of Hot Air). None of them compare to one I saw in 1984.

Friday, February 02, 2007

I've got a midterm on Monday. What can I tell ya?


(I stole this from Brother Lawrence Lew, OP, at The New Liturgical Movement. He won't mind.)

In the Dominican Missal, the Sequence Laetabundus, is still permitted for the Third Mass of Christmas, the Epiphany and Candlemas. This was once the most famed of Nativity sequences and it was attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux (died 1153). It was proper to the Praemonstratensian liturgy and was especially popular in England and France. It is written in rhymed stanzas and thus differs from most early proses.

This Sequence is believed to survive today only in the Dominican liturgical books and the recording above is from the Dominican priory of the Holy Spirit (Blackfriars) in Oxford.

(Now, everybody sing along...)

Laetabundus / exsultet fidelis chorus. / Alleluia.

Regem regum / intactae profudit thorus: / res mirranda.

Angelus consilii / natus est de virgine: / sol de stella.

Sol occasum nesciens, / stella semper rutilans, / semper clara.

Sicut sidus radium, / profert Virgo Filium, / pari forma.

Neque sidus radio, / neque mater filio, / fit corrupta.

Cedrus alta Libani / conformatur hyssopo, / valle nostra;

Verbum ens Altissimi / corporari passum est, / carne sumpta.

Isaias cecinit, / Synagoga meminit, / numquam tamen desinit / esse caeca.

Si non suis vatibus, / credat vel gentilibus; / Sibyllinis versibus / haec praedicta.

Infelis, propera, / crede vel vetera: / cur damnaberis, / gens misera?

Quem docet littera, / natum considera: / ipsum genuit puerpera. / Alleluia.

(Once more, in English.)

Faithful people, / Sweeten all your song with gladness. / Alleluia.

Matchless maiden / Bringeth forth the Prince of princes: / O! the marvel.

Virgin compasseth a man, / Yea, the angel of the plan: / Star the Dayspring.

Day that sunset shall not close, / Star that light on all bestows, / Ever cloudless.

As the star, light crystalline, / Mary hath a Son divine / In her likeness.

Star that shining grows not dim, / Nor his Mother, bearing him, / Less a maiden.

The great tree of Lebanon / Hyssop's lowliness puts on / In our valley;

And the Word of God Most High / Self-imprisoned doth lie / In our body.

So Isaias sang of old, / So the Synagogue doth hold, / But the sunrise finds her cold / Hard and blinded.

Of her own she will not mark, / Let her to the gentiles hark; / For the Sybil's verses dark / Tell of these things.

Make haste, O luckless one, / Give ear to the saints bygone: / Why perish utterly, / O race undone?

He whom thy seers foretell / Born is in Israel: / Mary's little Son, O mark him well. / Alleluia.

[UPDATE: Punxsutawney Phil, the world's most famous groundhog, did not see his shadow today. So we can look forward to an early spring. Not that the middle Atlantic states had much of a winter. On the other hand, way out West...]

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Will the real David Alexander...?
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

That's how many people in the USA are named "David Alexander." Then there's another 68 who are listed as "Dave Alexander."

I know what all of you -- alright, both of you -- would like to ask: "Do you prefer 'Dave' or 'David'?" Before I moved here to DC in 1980, I was generally known as "Dave." After moving here, I was "David." Back in Ohio, especially among the family, I'm still "Dave." But not here.

There are at least four guys with my name in the DC metropolitan area of whom I am aware. One is (or was the last time I checked) a career official with the White House Office of Management and Budget. Another lives elsewhere in Arlington. (The same guy? Beats me.) The last guy is a Jewish attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency (or at least he was the last time I checked), originally from Brooklyn. I met him when my cousin from Kansas came to town in '81 and tried to look me up. She got this guy instead. He didn't know who she was, so she figured I was putting her on. How she could confuse our accents is beyond me.

But the fun didn't stop there. Back then, there was a folk music radio show on Sunday nights, with a call-in contest and a grand prize of two tickets to the Birchmere. It so happened that both David Alexanders were listening that night -- myself, and the EPA guy -- both called the program, and both had the right answer. It took the station a few minutes of putting one or the other on hold to figure out that it was two different guys. But I had already met him by then. Great guy. Even helped my cousin move into her place at the West End. In fact, they may have dated for awhile, I'm not sure.

Neither am I sure of any degree of success in forming a David Alexander Society, something I've considered if I ever wanted an excuse to rent office space on K Street.

But I was sure of one thing, and that was the answer to the trivia question.

Q: At the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, a young singer named Joan Baez made her debut, appearing instead of the scheduled performer. Who was that other performer?

A: Bob Gibson.

(All numbers estimated based upon statistical and demographic data from US Census Bureau. For entertainment purposes only. You got a problem with that?)